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A SUNDAY PICNIC
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A “FIRST” AMERICAN and “FIRST” GERMAN on PORTUGUES TV
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PRACTISING FOR THE TV SHOW
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OUR VISIT TO LISBON VESPA
Well, around midnight we bid goodbye to
the folks at the The Garden Restaurant, to the Professor and his wife,
to the Nunes’. We jumped on our motor scooters and headed back down
the twisting road into the shimmering nighttime lights of Lisbon. We passed
outdoor cafes bulging with customers, Latin music and exotic aromas wafting
out onto the boulevard.
This was the
life for young people, and we were there to take it in. It’s
funny, how when you’re young like this, you just expect the next
moment, the next hour, the next day is going to be one of excitement.
One new adventure after another. You just expect it. If it doesn’t
happen, well, you didn’t notice it cuz another one just hit you.
Another adventurous thought, or scene, or memory. It’s just too
exciting -- you’re thinking. And you think it will never stop, and
you can’t imagine it stopping because you’ve never known anything
different. You’re young!
for another drink?” Carlos yelled over to me at a stop light.
I looked over my shoulder to Rudi. He said, “Engh, we have to get
this scooter looked over tomorrow. We have to practice our songs for the
I shouted over to Carlos but I was looking at Lavinia, “Thanks.
I wish we could.” And placing my head onto my hands folded in prayer
fashion I said. “We’ve got to get some sleep.”
We did. In the morning,
Lavinia changed the bandage on my hand, “Boy! My hand is is looking
good” I said. It was healing fast.
“You’re a healthy fellow,” Lavinia smiled.
“You’re an expert nurse,” I smiled back.
After breakfast Carlos directed us to the motor scooter agency on his
way to work. “It’s only two blocks to the left,” he
said, pointing to a side street, and then driving off to be at his job
This was the main
headquarters for the Vespa motor scooter in Portugal. “Welcome to
Lisbon!’ the manager of the repair unit of the agency greeted us,
in a Spanish-French combination.
“Saw your article and photo in the papers, boys. You must be having
a fine time!”
“How’s that scooter holding up?” one of his assistants
“Doing a good job,” Rudi answered. “We need a few minor
“Looks like you took a spill from what I see on this one side,”
one of the mechanics that had gathered round remarked.
“We had a little accident in Spain,” I said.
“Is that what happened to your hand?” the manager said, looking
at Lavinia’s bandages”.
“Yes,” I answered. “It was pretty bad at the beginning
of the week, but now it’s getting a lot better.”
“Let’s take your scooter into the shop, and we’ll give
it an inspection!” the manager said.
We wheeled the scooter into the massive repair shop and Rudi helped the
mechanics remove the motor to give it an examination.
When I first met Rudi he knew little about motor scooters
–only bicycles. People around where he lived in Wuesterheide didn’t
have money to buy a motor scooter or a car. As the trip went on, he took
a lot of interest in the scooter until he was doing all of our repairs
himself. He could see I didn’t have any aptitude for motors or any
interest in learning about them expect maybe how to clean a spark plug,
or put air in the tires.
For me, this is a
crazy mind-set to have for someone like me who has set out to see the
world on a motor scooter. I was just lucky to have met Rudi in Rotterdam.
I have often wondered if I hadn’t met him, what would’ve happened?
Probably one of two things. I would’ve given up, taken a trip over
to England and just flown home to the USA from London.
Or, I would’ve found a way to move forward. My
desire to make this world trip was so strong, even if I had to leave the
motor scooter on the side of the road, all broken down from lack of maintenance
and attention to it, and hitch-hiked my way through Africa.
In fact,, I don’t know if I’ve told you, but that’s
how I first got the idea to travel to Africa. Back when I was driving
my Volkswagen around in my CIC job in the army in ‘56, I picked
up a hitch-hiker, a German girl, who told me she and her brother had hitch-hiked
to Africa the summer before. They had actually gotten all the way to Johannesburg.
“Jeeze!” I thought to myself, I could do that if a
girl could do it.”
So I guess my answer would be I would’ve left that ol’ motor
scooter on the side of the road and just bought a knapsack and got on
the road and started hitch-hiking the rest of the way. There was no urgency
for me to get back to Maryland.
I felt O.K traveling like this on the scooter with Rudi. My homesickness,
or loneliness, or whatever you would call it seemed to have gone away.
I was learning that the people I was meeting were friendly enough. I think
I would’ve stuck it out one way or the other.
But as it turns out, as I said, I’m lucky I met Rudi, cuz having
your own wheels on a trip like this can bring ever-so-much more dimension
to a trip like this, as you’ll learn later on when I tell you what
we did over in North Africa where the Algerians were still fighting for
independence and later on down in Africa where Rudi actually used the
motor of the Vespa to power a raft we built on the Niger River in Nigeria.
Well, I digress.
Back we go to the Vespa shop.
As the mechanics worked on the engine, Rudi continually asked questions,
and sometimes much to their dislike. Usually you’re not allowed
to be in the shop whenever someone makes a repair to your car, or truck
or motor scooter. But in Africa there would be no one to help us but ourselves,
and he was determined to learn about the scooter that he could, and hoped
they would consider his curiosity an exception.
In the meantime, I went to the offices of the distributor upstairs in
another part of the building, to speak with the director about our upcoming
I hear you boys are going to be on television Saturday night. We’ll
all be watching!” the director said in English, leaning back in
his swivel chair and filling the large office room with cigar smoke. He
spoke English really well, and I guess you’d have to if you had
a job like his, director of the Lisbon office for the country of Portugal
and head distributor for Vespa to America.
He was a tubby older guy with gray hair around the temples and a swarthy
complexion. He looked more like an Arab than a European. And he probably
had some Moor blood. As you probably know, this part of Spain and Portugal
was occupied by the Moors from over in North Africa back in the 800’s
for several hundred years so there’s a great Arab influence all
over Portugal just like there’s a great Spanish influence from the
Mexicans all over the southwest in the USA.
“Do many people watch that Saturday evening TV
program?” I asked. I already knew the statistics but I wanted him
to actually tell me what we both knew.
“You bet they do! That’s about the best program on TV here
“Well, that’s good to know. It’s quite a compliment
to us that they asked us to appear.”
“What will you do on the program?”
“We’ll mostly sing, I suppose. We have a rehearsal this afternoon,
and we’ll find out the details then.”
“Will you include the Vespa on the show, too?” he
“Well,” and then I looked aimlessly out the window, delaying
my answer. I had to be cagey here. I needed to delay and pause to give
him an opportunity to commit to rewarding us to get his product before
thousands of Lisbon TV viewers.
But he didn’t bite. I could see he had the kind
of ‘street-smarts’ that got him the kind of job he had. He
had a natural talent when it came to discussions like this. This is where
you’re actually negotiating. If you purposely make a pause in your
conversation, the next person that speaks falls behind. You’ve haven’t
really lost, but you’re behind and have to climb back uo.
I’d didn’t want to appear uncooperative, so I had to come
up with a response to make our visit here to Lisbon seem useful to him.
I broke the silence and said, “I think they’re only interested
in having us appear with our guitars and sing some European and songs.
Besides, I think there’s some kind of fire regulations about not
allowing gasoline motor vehicles in the studio.”
He folded his arms and thought for a while. Then he said,
“Well, you can take the gasoline out of the thing, can’t you?”
“I suppose you can,” I said, pondering his question as though
with some doubt. TV was brand new in Portugal and they weren’t sure
what they were doing.
I could see he saw Rudi and I weren’t a couple of guys born yesterday
and that we expected some kind of compensation if we were to go to the
effort of getting the motor scooter on Lisbon TV.
He sat back in his office chair, took another puff of his cigar and said,
“Well, look, young man, if you can get that Vespa scooter on the
show with you this Saturday night, I’ll make sure that you’re
well treated the following day!” He leaned forward and looked me
straight in the eye as he flicked a cigar ash into his ashtray. He didn’t
say anymore. He just stared at me.
“I’ll do my best, sir,” I said, knowing only too well
we would stop at nothing to get the scooter on the show.
“And don’t worry about the cost of the repair of the scooter
downstairs,” he said winking at me. I’ll take care of that
I saluted him and returned to Rudi in the repair shop. Our scooter was
all in working order by lunchtime. And at four o’clock we went to
the television studio for rehearsal.
At the studio, Señor Vargas was a thin and excitable middle-aged
man with a tall face. He had studied television directing in the United
States for a year, and then returned to Lisbon to take the job of Operations
Manager at Portugal’s first television station.
“Now we want you boys to sit on this sofa, and Señor Balboa,
our MC, will be sitting over here.” And he pointed to an overstuffed
couch. “This segment will be mostly songs. Since neither of you
speak Portuguese, we’re going to do whatever questions and answers
there will be in French and some English. Here’s a copy of the script.
Make sure your answers are short and to the point, because Señor
Balboa will be translating into Portuguese when you finish each part.”Have
you ever been on TV before?” he asked suddenly.
I answered right back, remembering my five-second appearance once while
at my art school when a local Baltimore TV station interviewed a bunch
of us students. And then I continued as if referring to our TV experiences,
“Senor Vargas,” and I paused for a second, “Don’t
you think it might be more effective if we weren’t sitting in this
large sofa? It doesn’t seem to go with the way we’re traveling
“That’s right,” he mused, “We’ve got to
have a more rustic background than those plush chairs.”
“How about if we sit on the scooter as if we had just arrived at
“Say that’s an idea!” Senor Vargas said
and he got excited as though he had thought of the idea himself, “The
viewers would probably want to see what your traveling scooter looks like
anyways, the way you’re got it loaded down, guitars and all. It
certainly is an oddity.”
“That’s a good idea Señor Vargas,” Rudi added.
Senor Vargas was staring at the floor. “But there will be one problem,”
he paused for a while and then mumbled, “But I think we can get
a fire permit before tomorrow evening.”
“What would be the problem?” I asked.
“Well, because of the fire hazard. Gasoline, you know, -- all that.”
“How ‘bout if we drain the gasoline out of it before we bring
it on stage?” I asked.
“That’s it! We don’t have to worry
about any regulations about inflammable liquids. We’ll do it!”
And so it was decided that the scooter should appear on the program. When
it came time for us to rehearse our songs, Rudi and I were so happy about
his decision that we sang unusually well, which pleased him. At the end
of the rehearsal, we returned home to one of Lavinia’s delicious
“Only a few more days and I won’t be able to cook for my garotos,”
she said as she served us local pasta with one of her exotic sauces. “You
boys don’t have to leave this Sunday. You can stay another day,
can’t you? It’ll be Sunday. Let’s all go sight-seeing
in the country.”
“Wonderful idea!” Carlos said. “O.K. with you guys?”
Lavinia got excited. “I’ll pack a big picnic lunch.”
Rudi was getting itchy to leave and get to Africa but he gave in, “We
can see the Vespa people on Monday morning and then leave.”
“Africa!” Lavinia gasped. “Rohn and
Rudi are leaving and they’re going to Africa. Doesn’t that
make you sad, Carlos?” she sighed and she placed her hand on his
as she wiped her eye with a corner of the tablecloth. I reached over and
grabbed my guitar and strummed a few bars of “Annaliese.”
Rudi joined in with his harmonica. She looked up with tearful eyes to
thank us, “Rohn! You’re playing the guitar again! Your hand
is well again?”
“Well enough to play the guitar!” I smiled, thanking her.
Rudi had to get a new spare tire for the Vespa. “I’ll show
you where to get it on my way to work,” Carlos said and they both
disappeared into the Friday morning Lisbon traffic as Lavinia and I watched
from the apartment window above.
I silently wished my hand hadn’t improved so quickly. Lavinia was
such a good nurse. It meant that when she prepared my bandage she would
have me come to the kitchen table to work on my hand. This would be the
last day that she would. I sat down next to her. She held my arm in her
lap and wrapped the bandage several times. As she began to attach the
adhesive tape on the final turn of the bandage, her auburn hair touched
my cheek and it tickled. I loved her being that close to me but I hate
“Hold still!” she said as I tried to avoid
the tickle. She put the final adhesive tape on the bandage. “Does
that hurt?” She asked, looking close into my eyes. I felt like kissing
her. We were so close. I think she would’ve loved that. I sensed
it. I turned away, and just as quick, turned back. When I turned back,
my nose brushed hers as I did and my lips landed directly on her mouth.
She drew back. But then she leaned forward, smiled, and kissed me on my
She rose from the chair quickly without saying anything. “I’ve
got work to do,” she said, and started washing the breakfast dishes.
I went over and sat back on the couch with a magazine. A knock on the
door broke the spell. A close girlfriend from the Vespa Club wanted to
get final details on when Rudi and I would be on TV the next night.
The next day was Saturday,
and finally, the day of our appearance on Lisbon television. The first
ever. Rudi and I spent most of the day practicing our songs.
Senor Vargas had said our regular traveling clothes were too grubby-looking
to appear on television and requested we wore something more “formal.”
I couldn’t convince him we would look more natural wearing our regular
clothes. Lavinia had washed and dried them for us and they looked pretty
“This is television,!” Senor Vargas insisted. “People
expect the best!” So, in the early evening we dressed in some borrowed
clothes from a couple of the Vespa club members.
“You look like a real world traveler,” Carlos said as he brushed
off the shoulders of Rudi’s coat that he had borrowed.
“And you too, Rohn,” Lavinia said as she straightened my ascot.
We arrived an hour early. “There you are!”
Senor Vargas greeted us with a backstage whisper like they do at a sound
studio. He had gotten the fire permit and had removed one of the doors
on the ground floor studio to be able to move our scooter onto the stage.
The director gave Carlos and Lavinia a seat behind the spotlights and
near one of the three cameras. We were one of five acts. The studio had
about fifty seats in it. Rudi peeked through the curtain and said they
were nearly all full.
“Looks like we’ve attracted a big audience
for this one,” Senor Balboa said. We had let the Vespa clubs from
the surrounding communities know about the Saturday night show.
Lights, action, and the little red light in the studio came on!
opened, we started with a song as we stood next to the scooter.
Senor Balboa began with “—and I am proud to say the young
man on my left, Rohn Engh is North American, and on my right, Rudi Thurau,
a German. ‘Til now, we have never had either country represented
on Portuguese TV. Tonight, our young guests are going to tell
us how music brought the two of them together.”
With the aid of a large wall map they had prepared for us, Rudi and I
went about explaining our itinerary so far, and filling in with songs
from each country we had visited. In fifteen minutes our segment of the
program was over and the applause began. When the prolonged applause trickled
down, Lavinia was still clapping. When it all ended, and the curtains
closed, the commercial came on in another studio section and all was quiet.
Carlos and Lavinia came up to congratulate us. It was like New Year’s
Eve, kissing and hugging. And like on New Year’s Eve you sometimes
get the chance to kiss someone and hold them a little longer than expected.
“You were wonderful, my boys!” and Lavinia gave us each a
kiss. Rudi and I congratulated each other, “That was good, Engh,”
and he patted me on the shoulder. Señor Vargas interrupted us to
thank us for the program, and handed us an envelope. Inside was
check for 3,000 escudos, (about one hundred dollars) which caused
some wide grins from Rudi and me. Another segment of the show was starting.
We packed our scooter, put some gas in it and headed back home with Carlos
It was Sunday when I woke up to the sound of church bells, and pigeons
on the ledge outside the apartment window, and music on the radio. I squinted
when I turned toward the direction of the window to see it would be a
beautiful Sunday day. Lavinia was preparing a picnic lunch, Carlos was
mapping out our drive up into the mountains to the north, and Rudi was
writing a letter home when I finally arose and shuffled into the dining
“All ready, Rohn?” Carlos asked, looking
up from his map.
“All ready,” I said, wiping the last bit of sleep from my
“How does your hand feel this morning?” Lavinia asked as she
had asked every morning.
“Feels better each day,” I answered as usual. “I stretched
my fingers to show her all my finger bones were in working order.
“Let me change the bandage before we head for the country,”
and she got out the roll of gauze, and tape.
I didn’t like to bring attention to my hand. I guess it’s
a natural tendency for males. We don’t like to let the world know
we are vulnerable. If you are vulnerable, you get dismissed and sent to
the back. I didn’t want that.
But I did want Lavinia’s attention so I always let her do whatever
she wanted to do with my hand. But for Senor Vargas at the TV place, I
don’t think he even knew the condition of my hand. He never commented
My hand improved steadily
each day. It had finally formed a scab, and gradually the pain was disappearing.
Lavinia applied a new dressing, and in an hour’s time our two scooters
were out of the city limits, into the country and taking in that spicy
fragrance of Portugal. We began winding up the steep road to the north
and following the road signs to Sintra.
Carlos and Lavinia had picked out a beautiful part of Portugal to have
a picnic. We passed castles of former kings, and ancient Moorish fortresses,
and plush-looking hotels and thick pine forests as we climbed higher in
the mountain. We drove about ten miles from Lisbon. We saw other people
setting up their Sunday picnic area in the woods so we found a place for
ourselves on the pine needle floor. Carlos put down a Moroccan blanket.
“That was a beautiful ride up here,” I said to Carlos.
We could hear the sounds of a guitar off in the distance –probably
from another picnicker. Rudi got out his harmonic and played some tunes
while Lavinia began preparing the lunch from her basket. And guess what,
just like back home on a picnic, we had hot dogs!
Well, they weren’t just like American hot dogs. It was something
called lingüiça sausage and we ate them in a crusty bun that
she served with a sauce she called molho da mostarda and tasted just like
mustard. I saw her grinding it up the night before and wrote down the
recipe in my travel diary.
It was a treat for Rudi because the meat tasted just like bratwurst.
Carlos brought along a jug of port wine, the dry version that tastes a
lot like the rose wine from California.
After lunch we rested on the pine needles looking up through the tall
trees while Rudi entertained us with his harmonica again and I made some
sketches of our picnic spot.
A summer day in Portugal!
A now-and-then cool breeze came through from the ocean to the west. We
had a blue sky with no clouds. In the late afternoon the sunlight slipped
through the dense pine trees in a steep angle to land on the forest floor.
Birds woke from their midday nap and beckoned us to take a lazy walk through
one of the long paths.
Carlos and Lavinia, holding hands, walked up ahead, I stopped occasionally
to compare some of the foliage and plants to the ones we had growing back
in Maryland; Rudi would stop and rest now and then. We could hear his
harmonica off in the quiet forest. When he stopped playing, the tall pine
trees would pick up the whistle of the soft breeze as it passed through
the branches overhead.
This was the kind of day you hoped would go on for a few more extra hours.
You wanted to remember it as ammo for those days that were sure to come,
to bolster you when things didn’t go your way. You wanted to remember
it for the friendship we had found in Carlos and Lavinia, and to have
hope there were more friends to be made as we headed on to North Africa.
Back at the picnic spot we gathered the empty wine jug and packed our
scooters for the evening ride back down the mountain to home. Exhausted
and exhilarated we stumbled up the apartment stairs to a restful night
and good dreams. The next day, we would leave Lisbon.
A FAREWALL TO LISBON