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A FLOWER & A NOTE ON OUR VESPA
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LISBON SCIENCE MUSEUM
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OUR HOSTS, CARLOS & LAVINIA
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CONSULATE IN THE CONSULATE'S OFFICE
I paused for a moment trying to think of an answer to his question,
“Where are you staying in Lisbon?” Lavinia interrupted, “He’s
staying at our place. He and his friend are touring the world, and they’re
going to stay at our house until his arm and hand heals.”
Lavinia looked at me and winked. There wasn’t much
I could say to her. Jeeze!… It meant I didn’t have to sleep
in a shed tonight out in some desolate landscape like last week, or I
didn’t have to sleep in our tent outside the city in a park somewhere.
My hand was swollen and throbbing. It was all red. And now it was extending
up my arm. It was tough driving the motor scooter. I was in poor health,
even coughing. I don’t do that!
Stay in the comforts of a house? And with a gal like Lavinia who truly
was concerned about my hand and arm. It made me feel wonderful. I think
she saw it in my expression.
The doctor redressed my arm and gave me two different kinds of medicine
to take. He started to give me the bottles and Lavinia intercepted them.
“Here, I’ll take those.” She smiled at me like a mother
who had just taken her teenage son in for a check-up after a bicycle scrape.
“There’ll be no charge, ” The doctor
looked at Lavinia. She had such a beautiful smile I think the doctor was
under the same spell with her that I was.
Actually I found out later that the doctor pretended I was Lavinia’s
brother and in Portugal at that time health care was free to all families.
“No charge?” I thought to myself. Another bonus! I got the
services of a doctor and didn’t have to pay for it. You couldn’t
do that in Maryland. I don’t think so. I thanked him, and when we
left I turned to Lavinia. “Are you sure it’ll be all right
with the both of you for us to stay at your home? We’ve put you
to so much trouble as it is.”
“Of course it will be all right; Carlos suggested it to me this
morning. It’s no trouble at all.”
What a swell gal she was!
That evening we drove back to Lisbon and to the apartment of Carlos and
Lavinia daSilva. They lived in a large apartment building in a residential
section downtown. They had a spot where we could keep our scooter right
next to theirs in a small garage on the first floor. We walked up three
flights of stairs to their apartment. They used the main room of their
apartment as a dining room and living room. Next to it was a good-sized
bedroom with a double bed, and next to that was a small room with a day
bed. A small kitchen and a bathroom were on the other side of a short
hallway that divided the apartment. I don’t know why it was designed
that way but it seemed to work.
“Now you fellows are going to sleep in a bed!” and Carlos
pointed to the bedroom.
“But where are you all going to sleep?” I said.
“Now don’t worry about that. Just make yourselves at home;
we’ve had guests before. We can figure it out.” And he showed
us where we could find things we might need in the apartment like the
Before going to bed we sat around sipping hot chocolate.
` “Do they have a radio station here in Lisbon?” Rudi asked.
“Of course,” Carlos answered, “They have three or four.”
“They also have a television station,” Lavinia said. “It’s
only three months old, but a lot of people watch it. Are you going to
try to get on television?”
Rudi looked at me.
Lavinia continued, “I bet if you could get the scooter on television
here in Lisbon, the motor scooter stores in Lisbon would really be happy.
Have you ever been on television?”
“No, but we’ve been on radio in Madrid.” Rudi said.
Carlos said, “And the way you have the scooter all decorated, I
bet the television people would be eager to have you. And you could sing
your songs. We love music here in Portugal.”
“Would they pay very well?” Rudi asked.
“I wouldn’t know,” Carlos answered, “But I imagine
it’d be better pay than the radio.” Carlos had a job in Lisbon
that sold tires, Michelin. I guess that’s why he spoke French so
“We’ll have to see tomorrow,” I said, taking the guitar
out and beginning a song. It pleased Carlos and Lavinia to hear us sing.
Although they weren’t musical themselves, they were always requesting
a song until the day we left. Lavinia liked one song especially, “Annaliese,”
it’s a German folk song, and she had us singing it so much she almost
knew all of the German words herself.
The next day we visited the television studio. It was located near the
apartment. It was a compound of several small offices and one large studio
that at one time might have been a summer theater. In one of the offices
we talked with a Senor Vargas, one of the program managers.
“I’m sorry boys, the only program we have that would lend
itself to your kind of entertainment is going to be filled up for the
next month. Are you going to be here any longer than that?”
“No, we’re only going to stay a few more days until my hand
heals,” I said.
“Well, I’m sorry I can’t do anything for you
fellows,” he said. “Leave your address and phone
with my secretary, and if anything comes up I’ll have her contact
you.” And he extended his hand to show that he was busy.
Disheartened… that’s what we were. We had puffed ourselves
up so much when we went to the studio, now we looked like a couple of
flat tires. I grabbed a chair at an outdoor café as we passed and
sat down. I think I dropped a couple of notches in Rudi’s estimation
what with my failure to get a singing date at the Lisbon TV station. He
didn’t say anything.
We must’ve sat there fifteen minutes without saying anything. “Lisbon
is a sailing port for cruise ships isn’t it?” I asked Rudi.
“Yes, I think it is. I’m sure we’d find some German
ships down at the harbor.” Rudi said.
Oops...that was not the right thing to say to Rudi. Anytime he saw a German
ship, even if it was fifteen miles offshore, he got nostalgic. That was
good to see. He could get soft. He knew all the words to all those brooding
German songs about love and caring but he was rarely that way in real
life. It was like he had different Rules of Life than what he was always
singing about. So often, he presented himself as inconsiderate…someone
with blinders on, as if the world was a straight road and he was bent
on moving forward, the barriers and roadblocks be damned! Even the people.
I found myself continually adapting to his moods and style. I often wondered
if he had the ability to see himself as others saw him. We never talked
much about that. What would be the purpose? Why should he care? He was
who he was. He saw the world the way he saw it and that was that. When
he would get back to Wuesterheide, in a year or two, he would be the same
person, nothing had changed, and that was good enough for him. He was
like one of those impenetrable German tanks in WWII. Solid 3” steel.
Bullets and shells bounced off it. And if he were the commander of the
tank squadron and opened the hatch and stood up to survey the battle,
bullets and shells would bounce off him too.
O.K., so I’m making an assessment of Rudi. On the other hand, I’m
like a sponge. I notice more than I should. I’m wide-eyed, and this
can be impractical if you’re on a trip like this. I have too many
ideas. Like a Jack-of-all trades. I think too much. And that’s what
I was doing right now.
“Why do you ask about the harbor?” Rudi said.
“Well, no, I wasn’t thinking about a German ship in the harbor.
I was just thinking, maybe we could get a luxury liner and sign up to
be the music entertainment on a ship that was going to the United States.”
“And why, mein lieber freund, should you like to do that?”
Rudi sat up straight. He always stiffened his spine when he was ready
to get into a discussion that didn’t fit the way he saw things.
“I just thought we could probably make some cash, store up some
travel money back in the States for our world trip. We could tell a couple
magazines what we’re doing, and they’d give us an advance
and we’d head on to South America, and hit Africa on our way back.
The States you know, is where all the money is, and that’s what
we need at the moment.”
Rudi interrupted. “What we need at the moment, Engh, is
to stay on course.”
He looked at me with those steely eyes. “We are going to Africa.
It says right here!” And he opened my trip diary and flipped to
a page with a newspaper photo of us on it. “See?” he poked
his finger at the word Africa in the headline of a Spanish newspaper clipping.”
He pounded his fist on it. “We’re not going to the United
States. What’s wrong with you…?
“Well, how’re we going to make some money in this town?”
I asked, admitting that he was right.
“We can always try one of the radio stations,” Rudi suggested.
“Yeah, but they’re already probably booked up just like the
TV station. And, anyway, they’re not going to be able to pay like
a television station. And besides, the scooter company would probably
help us out if we got on television.” I said.
Rudi folded his arms and tilted back on his chair with his patent “I
told you so” expression. “Well, what can we do? This is your
department, my friend. Now you come up with the answer.”
There wasn’t anything I could say. I had some hair-brained ideas,
like the luxury liner return to the States but I didn’t want to
blurt them out. I wanted to get it right. I didn’t want to get his
usual retort, “You Americans blah blah blah” response.
We had all the time in the world. No place to go. We sat there nursing
the glass of water the waiter had brought us. I go out a piece of scrap
paper from my saddlebag and started scribbling. Rudi sat back and watched
the passing Portuguese women.
The biggest mistake we made was not to give ourselves a big build-up
when we visited Senor Vargas at the television station. He probably gets
tons of accomplished musicians and singers auditioning for his shows.
If he thought we were in demand, he would’ve canceled one their
numbers and suggested us.
“I think I got it!” I said to Rudi and explained
we could get on TV if we worked it right.
“But how can we give ourselves a big build-up? You can’t just
go in there and tell a bunch of lies. They won’t stand for anything
“We won’t build ourselves up, we’ll let someone else
do it - - someone more influential around here than us - - all the newspapers
“All the newspapers? Now how are you going to do that?” Rudi
“Every big city we’ve been in has a bunch of newspapers. Not
just one. We’ve always just gone to one. The newspaper was always
interested in taking our picture and writing a story about us, right?”
“Well, we’ll hit all the newspapers in town, even the small
ones, blitzkrieg! All in one day. We’ll tell them how we’re
expecting to sing on a program here in Lisbon when we arrived to show
the Portuguese people the songs we have learned in our travels! But we
have to say it the right way. We can’t look like a couple of slick
minstrels who are experienced and polished performers. We have to come
in to the newspaper office with hat in hand, thankful that we got to be
interviewed. Since we are unique, a German and American traveling together
to see the world, we’ve got a good story for them and a right to
be in their press room.
“We’ll tell them what great singers we are, even sing a couple
of numbers for the newspaper staff, and tell them all the places we’ve
sung in Germany, Belgium, Holland, France, Spain, and the United States
“Wait a minute, we haven’t done any singing
in the United States,” Rudi interrupted.
“I did some singing when I was away at school. You sang in Germany,
right? That’s good enough, isn’t it?” I said.
“Well, I guess so.”
“Whattayathink?” I asked.
“Yeah, but if one newspaper hears we’ve been to their competitors,
won’t they kick us out?”
“No. It doesn’t work that way. First of all, newspapers are
so single-minded, they believe they’re God’s gift to the world.
I know that from experience. You could go to a dozen newspapers and maybe
only one would ask, “Have you been elsewhere with this story?”
And besides if we say, “Yes, we have.” They’ll only
want to do a better job than the other newspaper if they think our story
is good. They’ll take two pictures instead of just one. Or write
a longer story about us. It works for us, not against us. They’ll
want to get a “scoop”.
“It’s when you come out first with a story. It’s a badge
of pride in the newspaper world to come out with a scoop.”
“But what if it’s a morning newspaper, or it’s an evening
newspaper?” Won’t one come out before the other?
“You’re right. We have to do some research
and get the timing right. Let’s go someplace, like a library, where
we can ask some questions. Then we’ll get a map and visit these
newspapers all at the right timing. Are you with me?”
“As you say, Herr Engh. But how about the television station? They
already said they didn’t have time for us.”
“That’s just it. After the newspapers come out with our story,
we’ll get Carlos and Lavinia and all our friends down at the Vespa
Club to call and ask which night we’re going to appear on TV. Maybe
even some other people we don’t know will call, too! The television
people will just have to put us on their program!”
“Well, it sounds good, but one problem. How about your hand? You
can’t even move your fingers, let alone play a guitar!”
“The program isn’t ‘til Saturday night; I’m sure
I’ll be able to play by then. I’ll practice a little each
“O.k. Mr. Engh, I’m with you; just show me what to do next.”
“First, we go to the library and get the information we need. Not
just the street address but we might need the phone number and also the
address of the chief editor or two in case a receptionist tries to halt
us from entering the editorial office. We could tell her we have an appointment
with so and so.
We hopped on our scooter, dressed in our usual travel mode, guitars and
all, and found a library, the “Biblioteca Museu de Cienca."
I think it means Science Museum. We were just looking for a list of newspapers
in Lisbon. They should have that.
"You go in. I'll wait for you here," Rudi said.
I realized Rudi had never been in a library before. He would feel like
a fish out of water. But that's why he was on this trip. To learn things
like what's a library look like inside.
"C'mon," I said. "There just might be some nice-lookin'
women in here."
There was. A very neat-looking assistant at the main desk greeted us but
she struggled trying to speak English or French. The way we were dressed
caused a stir and people in the reading room started mumbling and looking
The chief librarian came out of her office. The floor creaked as she came
over to us, sort of ‘hipping’ the assistant out of the way.
“Yes?” She lowered the rim of her glasses. She spoke perfect
English. "You're American aren't you?"
She looked like Miss Holland, my ancient Latin teacher back at Buckingham
High School in Maryland. She motioned to the assistant to hand us a Lisbon
business catalog that listed all the newspapers in the Lisbon area. I
copied them into my sketchpad. I had to squint to see the details. It
was so dark in that place and it smelled musty.
I noticed the assistant was looking at the bullfighter sketch on the opposite
page of my sketchbook.
The chief librarian was tapping her foot watching me jot down the details.
He had placed all ten of her fingers straight up on the counter and watched
as I wrote. Some of the people in the reading room were whispering to
each other. We probably looked like vagrants. Some might have thought
we were going to rob the place. Rudi was looking around, and as usual,
to see if he could see any pretty girls.
The chief librarian leaned over to her assistant and whispered. They both
“What? What? I said.
She answered right back. “It’s so curious. You’re left-handed.
We don’t see that much in Portugal. In school we’re taught
to be right-handed.”
Her nose went up in the air as though she had just made a clever chess
move on me.
Then she turned abruptly and walked back to her office. The creaking floor
sounds followed her into her office. Then she turned and poked her face
out of her door again, stopped, and turned back and sat down in her office.
“What was that?” Rudi said.
“I think she was going to ask me for my library card," I said.
But she wanted to usher us out of there as quick as possible. We were
causing a stir. That’s a universal no-no in libraries everywhere.
We waved goodbye to her assistant and the people who were looking up at
us as we passed through the reading room to the exit. We got all that
we needed, except the phone number of that nice assistant gal.
That night and the next morning, five major newspapers
in Lisbon came out with a picture of Rudi and me, the guitars and the
Vespa and a long story about our travels through Europe, describing how
we had made a big hit not only at universities and Vespa clubs, but also
on the farms with the rural people.
Carlos and Lavinia and our friends at the Vespa club liked the idea. Carlos
assigned each person that was good at talking on the telephone to phone
the Lisbon TV station at a certain time of day and call requesting to
know when the two boys who were touring the world by motor scooter were
going to appear on TV.
It was a success! Carlos said that the television station people said
they had a flood of calls not just from his Vespa club members but also
from all over the Lisbon area. He said the TV station was preparing to
have the boys on their Saturday evening interview show.
That evening during dinner, they called. I heard a voice in Spanish.
“Mr. Engh, this is Senor Vargas at Lisbon TV; we’ve had so
many people call and request that they hear your songs, that we have canceled
one of the numbers and inserted you two gentlemen. The program will be
this Saturday evening at 8:30 is that acceptable to you?”
“Yes, sir! That’ll be fine with us!” I said.
“Good, then, we’ll expect you and Rudi on Friday afternoon
at 4pm for a rehearsal. And by the way, please ask Senor DaSilva and his
wife to be your special guests Saturday night.”
“Thanks. Thanks very much,” and I hung up.
“They want you to be our special guests!” I said, turning
to Carlos and Lavinia, happy that we could include them in our plans.
“Wonderful! Wonderful!” Lavinia’s happy face lit up.
“It makes us glad that you’ve been successful with your hopes,”
“Let’s make a toast!” Lavinia held up her wine glass,
and we toasted our success with the TV studio.
The next two days we spent in running errands about
Lisbon. Since we would be in Lisbon for the next few days we decided to
apply for a visa for the United States for Rudi.
We found the U.S. consulate in the downtown section, and applied at the
reception desk for information. One of the American consul assistants
came out from his office to speak to us. I guess the U.S. consulate was
used to American ‘beatniks’ coming into their office, looking
for free money to get back to the USA. We had seen a few in Paris, Madrid
and now in Lisbon.
Well, I guess this Consulate guy was thinking we were a couple of beatniks.
He leaned against the long counter of the Consulate reception room and
said in a slow, casual, lengthy Alabama drawl, “What’s your
Rudi was never able to get over that. It was his first introduction to
American bureaucracy, and being used to the austerity of German offices,
he wasn’t too sure if the man was serious or if he even worked in
“I’d like to apply for a visa to the United States,”
“Wait over there, he pointed to a row of chairs where a half dozen
people were sitting. They looked like they were tourists.
Finally when our turn came, we spoke to the Vice-Consul, Miss Simpson.
She was pert and snappy. Real business-like. She quickly changed Rudi’s
ideas about the Lisbon Consulate. She leafed through her regulations on
visas for Germans and in a matter of a few words with her superior in
the next room and instructions to her secretary, we were finished with
the bureaucratic stuff.
“How long do you plan on being on this jaunt?” she was curious.
“Might last three or four years. It’s almost becoming an occupation
for us,” I smiled.
“How do you like this country of Portugal?” she asked.
“A pleasant place to live,” I answered. “The people
have been very friendly to us here.”
“Except the police have odd rules around here,” Rudi interrupted.
“How’s that?” she said.
“Whenever we park or scooter any place, a lot of people usually
gather around. They want to talk with us, to know where we’re going,
or where’ve we come from, or just to stare. But here in Portugal,
the police won’t allow it.”
“Yes,” I joined in. “Whenever there seems to be a gathering
of more than two or three people, a policeman steps in and asks the people
to leave. If they’re not quick about leaving, like this morning,
he makes them pay a fine.”
“What happened this morning?” she asked curiously.
“We were talking to some young students, and a crowd gathered around
to watch." I said. “But a policeman interrupted, and most of
them left. One of the young guys standing around was taking snapshots
of us and he was a little slow to leave and the policeman fined him with
three escudos right there on the street. We’ve never seen anything
like that before.”
She smiled, “Different country, different customs. That’s
Salazar’s Right of Assembly law. Anymore than three persons congregated
together - - they must have permission.”
“What?” I asked. “Who’s Salazar?”.
“He’s the premier of the government; has been ever since the
early thirties.” She handed us a couple of brochures about Portugal,
ushering us out of the office like a doctor who gives you a prescription.
We left the Consulate and went outside to find someone had tied a flower
to the front of our scooter and a note in German: “We saw your picture
in the paper yesterday and would like to invite you and your hosts to
our restaurant for supper any evening you wish.” It was signed,
Bartolomeu Nuñes, The Garden Restaurant.
NEXT: We appear on Lisbon TV. The first American and
the first German!