I can’t ever remember my own mother doing that cuz we had five brothers and sisters in our family and my mother, we called her “Muzzie”, never had time for any of that kind of stuff, not even if we fell down and scraped a knee, but I must’ve seen that tenderness kind of thing in a movie or in real life like seeing a mother in a park somewhere in Germany or France or New York City. It’s a scene some great artist ought to paint; I mean a painting that endures, like the Mona Lisa that needs no explanation. It’s just there and you get it.
Oh well, we had excitement
going through the apartment this day. We were anticipating going
to dinner tonight at a fancy restaurant. All four of us at the invitation
of Bartholomew Nuñes, the guy and his wife that stuck the flower
on our Vespa, and left a little note in German that all four of us were
invited to go to his Garden Restaurant up on the hill overlooking the
Lisbon harbor. Carlos said he had heard of the restaurant but they had
never been there. Too costly.
And it brought back memories of the excitement to me of back home when I was 8 years old and my friends and me would ride our bikes to the week-long carnival that arrived at the edge of town every summer the second week in August and all the gaudy night lights of the circus were beckoning you to come join the excitement that the little carnival can give you.
We parked our scooters and
walked up a series of stairs to reach the front. The Garden Restaurant
was perched higher than other buildings on the side of the hill so it
must have been a private mansion back in the old days. It had a balustrade
all along the front, some umbrellas for outside dining, and waiters moving
We sat down at a wide round
table that gave a nice view of the harbor. Another couple was already
seated there, and he turned out to be an instructor at one of the local
schools, the Deutsche Schule Lissabon
Who was the Professor?
What was he doing here? I was expecting to have dinner with Carlos and
Lavinia to get to know them better.
And besides, I hate it when someone invites you to dinner, and then sure enough, they have another couple sittin’ there to join in. They always say, “And we thought you would also enjoy meeting so-and-so. It always turns out to be like a proving ground or something where you’re expected to listen to these other people and how accomplished they are and all that. And all this when you actually wanted to meet and get to know the original people who invited you.
Oh, well, as it turns out,
the “Professor” monopolized the time at the table with his
scintillating elucidations about Portugal. As it turns out, it was pretty
interesting and no one wanted to interrupt him and change the subject.
Here was someone else we could blame all this slavery deal on. Back in Maryland where I grew up on the Eastern Shore, at the beach in Ocean City, at age 13, in the 40’s, I worked during my summer vacations from school at the Shoreham Hotel on the boardwalk. They had a couple of Blacks (we used to call them niggers) that worked in the kitchen with me. I was a dishwasher. They weren’t allowed to touch the dishes. They just did the sweeping and mopping and trashcans. They had their own drinking fountain and toilet. That’s the way that it was.
Later on when I was 14, I got the same job again. Just to give you an idea of how the townspeople there in Ocean City treated them, if the Blacks wanted to go swimming in the ocean out front, they had to walk all the way up to the end of the boardwalk at 20th street where the sand dunes started. They weren’t allowed to go swimming out front on the public beach with all the whites. And it’s ironical too, isn’t it? Sometimes the whites looked like Blacks out there with their beautiful suntans. Us guys used to joke with some of the girls lying on the beach, “If you get too brown, you’re going to have to do your swimming up at 17th Street!”
The Black workers at the hotel were local. I mean they lived in shanties maybe five, ten miles away. They had a little ramshackle grammar school locally. If they wanted to go to high school, they had to travel thirty miles to Snow Hill where they had the only Black high school in the county. I don’t know how they got there, probably by bus. I never paid attention.
I didn’t want to tell the Professor, or Carlos and Lavinia or the Nunes’ all this because in Europe they have a different attitude toward Blacks. Not like in Maryland, at least , not like on the Eastern Shore of Maryland where if you went to the movies, the Blacks had to sit in the back or up in the balcony if they had one, or on a bus, in the back, and even at church, like the Catholic church that we went to, it was the only one in our county, there was a couple of Black families and they had to sit in the back of the church. And in the summer time, if we got an ice cream cone over at Purdue’s Pharmacy, a Black child, if it wanted an ice cream cone, it had to wait until the line was finished and there were no more white kids around, then Mr. Purdue would serve the Black child an ice cream cone. It was just the custom. I don’t know where it came from, but we were brought up that way. No one ever explained it and I never even thought about it much, until I got to Europe and in the army when they were just starting to integrate the army so that Blacks could come up in the ranks just like the white guys. In fact my section officer was a Black guy, a Captain, and when I told folks back home in my letters, I had a Black guy for a boss, they thought I was making a joke. That’s how embedded it was with our neighbors on the Eastern Shore.
I was thinking about all this as Senor Berneque was explaining the history of the slave trade in Lisbon.
Rudi was proud to add to the
conversation, “We Germans had no slave trade. We…”
“But you and Rohn don’t need to feel guilty about your countries both dealing in slaves. It’s abolished just about everywhere. However, slavery is still practiced in Africa, especially by the Arabs in the Sahara so if you two will be traveling there, you’ll witness it. Just be careful they don’t capture you and get a good price for you both.”
Lavinia turned to the Professor
and then turned her eyes to me, “Could we talked about something
else,?” She said in Portuguese to the Professor.
Like in Spain, music plays
an important part in the life of the Portuguese people. What stuck with
me most about the Portuguese music was “the fado”.
Its sadness spills over to
anyone trying to explain what the fado is. You kinda write about it with
a lump in your throat. It reminds me how easily we can let our emotions
drip with thoughts of sorrow and despair. And you know what else it reminds
me of? The hillbilly songs of country singers, and the sad, sad, British
folk songs and of course, “the Blues.” I’m sure as we
travel on, we’ll hear different forms of the fado. The melodies
will be different but the words will be the same. It seems to me a lot
of valuable time here on earth is given up to this kind of indulgence
in self-pity and thumb sucking.
At the table, we broke up into
separate conversations. Across the table, Lavinia was quiet. She was stuck
sitting next to Mrs. Berneque, the whole time. I got in a couple of glances
over at Lavinia in that soft candle light and as it got darker in the
evening, I caught her smiling, looking at me. She was wearing a light-colored
silky top and slacks. Her blouse dropped down in a V from her soft shoulders
to reveal a healthy bust when she would lean to accept another glass of
port wine from Senor Nunez. When she danced with Carlos, she had an Iberian
rhythm in Brazilian style that descended down across her spine and tight
fitting hips. I love to watch girls who dance well!
I finally figured out later what was happening to me. I was starting to realize that Rudi and I would soon be saying goodbye to European women, and that the women of both Moslem North Africa and deeper into Black Africa would not be available for friendship or intimate companionship.
I was to learn more about this when we got to the next continent.
TV EXPERIENCE IN LISBON