Archive for October, 2007

Payback for flashing 12:00

Posted by len on 30th October 2007

Crazy Modern RemoteRemember when you were a kid and the new VCR (or DVD player) arrived at your parents house?
Remember the flashing 12:00 on the built-in timer/clock that your parents could never figure out how to set to the current time but it annoyed and harassed them on a daily basis for being too out of touch with the crazy techno-doo-dads of the day?
Well, not that I ever wished my parents that aggravation but I must admit a bit of “oh those old-timers than can’t grasp modern technology” going on in my mind.
Well, my mother struck back today, as I sit here in Virginia (on a business trip), writing this post, unable to turn on the television (beyond the weak LED glow of the power switch) or listen to some nice satellite music through the tube.
What’s the point of an “ALL ON” button if it doesn’t turn everything on!? The “Help” button does nothing and I can’t even imagine how many more wires I’d need to connect to make the “My DVR” button do something! Just blackness.

My mom’s off walking the dog, and I sit dumbly looking at the pictured remote, just feeling a bit out of touch.

Posted in Musings | 44 Comments »

It’s Cinerama!

Posted by sue on 28th October 2007

We get the Turner Classic Movies channel here. Tonight’s feature is “How the West Was Won,” which looks funny on TV because the Cinerama format it was shot in, back in 1963, divides the picture in 3, with obvious vertical seams. The story is told in broad strokes, rather cliché, but the panoramic shots of the American landscape are lovely.

It inspired me to post some pictures from the beautiful Pineda-Gerês National Park in northern Portugal that we visited a while ago. We did a 12.2 km (7.58 mi) hike, with a steep ascent at the beginning and even steeper descent at the end. And here’s some of what we saw (click to enlarge):
DSCF0962.jpgAs we hiked, we came across a goatherd and his goats on the move, with their bells clanging gently.

Here’s a great view of the reservoir below from a look-out point.

DSCF1007.jpg Finally, the celebratory beer and GPS evidence of how far we hiked. Man, were we wiped out. My knees have just recently gotten back to normal.

I like my job, and I like the school where I work. But, seeing northern Portugal makes me think I should have looked for a job up there rather than here in Lisbon. I think after we’re done here we’re destined for somewhere with wide open spaces, at least for a while.

Posted in Portugal | 32 Comments »


Posted by sue on 27th October 2007

28223.jpgYou know what’s great about Portugal? Vinho Verde (green wine).

Posted in Portugal | 34 Comments »


Posted by sue on 26th October 2007

I’m teaching two TOEFL prep courses this term. The TOEFL is the Test of English as a Foreign Language, a standardized test that many non-native English speakers have to take in order to enroll in universities that use English as their primary language of instruction (which includes many universities around the world, not just ones in English-speaking countries). Even people who want to do MBAs here in Portugal have to take the TOEFL to prove their facility in English.

The upside is that it pays more per hour (20 Euros per class hour, instead of the 15.50 I make per class hour for General English classes), and that the students are pretty serious because this exam is important for their future. The downside is that I have to spend time making piles and piles of photocopies, and I practicallly have to memorize the test-prep book, so it takes lots of time. For my general English classes, prep time is a bit creative, especially when choosing material for private students, or for a small class that has been going for a while and needs a change of pace. But TOEFL is its own little universe of test-taking strategies rather than English teaching per se, and no matter what you do, no one likes such tests.

Added to that, I teach TOEFL on Saturday mornings. Ugh! So tonight I’m trying to review all of tomorrow’s material over a glass or two of Port. My idea of a fun Friday!

Posted in Portugal | 36 Comments »

Waaaahhhh! Where’s my coffee???

Posted by sue on 24th October 2007

Len is currently in Boston on a business trip, abandoning his self-proclaimed Mr. Trophy Mom duties. I’m now left to make my own coffee and breakfast in the morning, and my own dinner at night, and keep our 5 plates, four pans, and 4 sets of silverware clean for the purposes of those meals! Plus working lots and taking Portuguese lessons.

I’m not too proud to admit that I’m a bit a wreck this week, adjusting to Len’s absence.

I know, it sounds whiny. But is it interesting how, when you’re out of the house for long hours, it can leave so much work for your spouse who is home more than you are. Of course I should know, since in the L.A. days, the grocery shopping and food preparation and financial management and laundry (though I stilll do the laundry because I’m picky about how to properly hang up clothes to dry- thanks for the training, Mom!) mostly fell to me when Len was working long Sony hours, but being on the other end is a whole new experience.

Posted in General, Portugal | 23 Comments »

One Year pEur-Africa party

Posted by sue on 21st October 2007

It was one year ago today that we arrived in Fez, Morocco, to kick off the crazy overseas adventure that has brought us to Morocco, Spain, Egypt, Greece, Turkey, France and Portugal.

We are now Masters of the Mediterranean(TM)! We’re adventurous enough to want to live in different places, but, evidently we still insist on good, California-like weather!

We sort of doubt any of you exist, but if you do happen to be one of those who has been following our story from the beginning, take a look back to the very first post from Morocco: Morocco First Post.

When we left, we decided that we would live overseas for at least one year, no matter what happened. (Of course, we HOPED we’d find some place that we’d fall in love with and want to stay forever.) But now, we have permission from our one-year-ago selves to fly back to the U.S. tomorrow. As it happens, Len is flying back to the U.S. tomorrow, back to his childhood home state of Massachusetts (for 10 days, on business), and I’m staying here, with a full teaching schedule through the middle of December.

The state of things so far? Good, though I confess we haven’t found that place that begs us to stay forever. We’ll be in Lisbon till June ’08 because I’ve promised to teach at my school till then, but after that, who knows? We’re taking offers.

Thanks to our long-time, steady readers. And the occasional ones too. We thank you for your eyeballs and your comments (from which we can infer the number of eyeballs). Comment more!

Posted in General, Musings | 34 Comments »

Our First Football* Game

Posted by sue on 17th October 2007

On a recent trip to northern Portugal, we had just arrived in the city of Braga and were looking for a place to stay, when we came across a central square with several large cafes that have tables and chairs spilling out into the plaza. The outside tables of one of the cafes had been taken over by a bunch of very white guys wearing bright green and white, drinking beer and chanting things we didn’t understand. At first we thought they might be Irish, but quickly determined that they were in fact Swedish fans of a Stockholm football team called Hammarby, and that they had made the trip to Portugal to root on their team that very night as they played Braga.

DSCF0853.jpgWe heard that Braga had very nice, new football stadium and were generally looking for fun, so we decided to go the game and see what all the fuss was about. Here’s our first glimpse of the stadium after buying our tickets (15 Euros apiece).

DSCF0862.jpgWe sat in the “visitor” section with the Swedes (we figure we blended in with them better than with the hometown crowd), which was just one section of seats in the corner of the stadium, separated from the Braga fans by a roped-off, empty section of seats presided over by a security guard. This was our view of the field at one exciting moment.

I guess there have been too many moments in the past of European football games resulting in fights and near-riots (or even actual riots), because security at this game was weirdly tight. Maybe these Hammarby guys have a particular reputation for brawling, but it seems more likely this is just normal procedure these days. First, there was the rigid fan segregation I mentioned before. Second, there was NO BEER served in the stadium! They did have non-alcoholic beer for sale, but only as a reminder that there was no real beer to be had.

DSCF0864.jpg This, however, was the strangest part of the security protocols- at the end of the game, they kept us visitors all roped into our little section (surrounded by security guards) until every single hometown Braga fan left the stadium. A cooling-off period after the game, I guess? Or a running start for the home team fans?

DSCF0869.jpgThe game was scoreless until the second half, when Braga jumped to life and ended up winning 4-0. I guess Hammarby was the underdog by a large margin, and they were only there because of a lucky victory over Braga in Stockholm the previous week. Still, there was a melancholy to the walk back to the center of town after the game. Here’s a look back on the empty stadium.

*”Soccer” seems like such a silly term compared to a) what EVERYONE else in the world calls the sport and b) the most appropriate name for a sport involving a ball that is played mostly with one’s feet.

Posted in Portugal | 31 Comments »

Capoeira in Portugal

Posted by len on 15th October 2007

Tonight I finally got some real exercise, besides the countless hills walks you’re forced to do in this city, and went to my first-ever session of the Brazilian martial art/dancathon/game thingie called Capoeira. My legs ache.

If you’ve never heard of Capoeira, take a look at this:
Capoeira: It’s fun

For those that are curious how it strikes someone like me, or a complete newbie, or a computer nerd (take your pick) read on.

Here’s my shockingly brief (but honest) summary:
First you start with cartwheels.
Then you switch it up for the middle section and move on to cartwheels.
Finally you start using a new set of muscles and finish it off with some cart wheels.

Get the picture?

Posted in Portugal | 28 Comments »

Brazil and Portugal

Posted by len on 12th October 2007

Brazil and Portugal have an interesting relationship. You can find Brazilian music everywhere in Portugal and caipirinhas are very common as well (Brazilian rum drink like Mohitos). Even one of our few friends here is Brazilian.
But what do the two peoples think of each other?
Well, to answer that, I got my Brazilian friend to teach me two jokes. One about Brazilians and the other about Portuguese:

A Portuguese Man, a Brazilian, and Two Horses

Once upon a time a Portuguese man bought two horses and asked his friend, a Brazilian, how he could make sure to tell them apart.
The Brazilian suggested: “Why don’t you cut off an ear of one and then you’ll know.”
The Portuguese man thought the idea was genius so he did so.
But then, that night, the Brazilian secretly cut off an ear of the other horse too.
The next day the Portuguese man was stumped: “Oh no! I can’t tell them apart!”
“Why don’t you cut off the other ear?”
“Okay!” said the Portuguese man. So he cut off the other ear of one horse. But that night the Brazilian cut off the other horse’s ear as well.
The next morning the Portuguese man couldn’t tell them apart and was distraught.
“Well, why don’t you cut off one leg of each?”
“Great idea!” thought the Portuguese man. So he cut off one horse’s leg. But that night the Brazilian cut off the other horse’s leg.
The next morning the Portuguese man was, again, flumoxed: “I still can’t tell them apart!”
“Cut off another leg.” suggested the Brazilian.
And so it went for the next few days and nights until all that was left was the body and head of each horse.
The Portuguese man was defeated: “Oh no! There’s nothing left! How will I ever tell them apart now?!”
The Brazilian man responded: “Well, one is black and the other is white.”

On An Airplane

An Italian, A German, A Portuguese, and a Brazilian are on a plane together.
The plane is serving food.
The German gets a big sausage and takes a bite.
He looks disappointed and says “Hrumph! We have plenty of sausage in Germany!”
He opens a nearby hatch and, woosh!, throws the sausage out of the plane.
Next the Italian tries his food. He has a huge pizza and takes a bite.
“Hrumph! We have plenty of pizza in Italy!”
He opens the hatch and, woosh!, throws the pizza out of the plane.
Next the Brazilian takes a bite of his picanha, a prime cut of steak.
“Hrumph! We have plenty of picanha in Brazil!”
He too opens the hatch and, woosh!, throws the picanha out.
Finally, the Portuguese’s turn.
He opens the hatch and, woosh!, throws the Brazilian out of the plane.
“Hrumph! We have plenty of those in Portugal!”

Posted in Portugal | 24 Comments »

Mr. Trophy Mom

Posted by len on 4th October 2007

For those that knew me in one of my past lives you may be surprised to learn I am now a Mr. Mom (minus the kids). I work from home, prepare most the meals, and, yes, look up recipes on the internet without my wife prodding me. What has happened?

Well I live in Lisbon, Portugal, and my wife works as an English teacher a few metro stops from our apartment. So after a quick coffee (made in a stovetop espresso machine, 1850’s technology) and some cereal or an egg with our dwindling supply of JD’s hot sauce on it, I’m alone at home. Two ratty windows overlooking the simultaneously beautiful and run-down city-scape of the southeast corner of Lisbon provide most of the light in our reasonably spacious 3 bedroom apartment.

Each day I try to make headway on a number of projects, the two most significant of which are a cartoon television series that I’m trying to launch (for American audiences, though I’ll take Portuguese if that’s what I get) and a paid project working for the U.S. Navy on water simulation graphics (sometimes they’re almost indistiguishable. No just kidding). This ‘freelancer’ lifestyle is a major change for me. I’m used to a 9 to 8 job, with supervisors and meetings and the like. I’ve come to think of it as a ‘semi-retired’ lifestyle since the number of hours of continuous work I seem to be able to coax out of my body without supervision is far short of a 9 to 8 work day.

One of the sort of sad things I’ve discovered about working in a foreign country is how little the fact that you’re in a foreign country matters most of the time. If my nose is buried in my computer for hours a day I could just as well be in a closet as in Portugal (or Morocco, or Cairo). Though there are those little moments where my mind simply demands that I take a walk and get out of the apartment. Then I see in the distance a castle on a hill surrounded by a swath of green and the telltale red-clay rooftops of Portuguese houses. If I feel the urge to really procrastinate I’ll sit in a local cafe in the afternoon and listen to the mostly-gibberish that Portuguese still sounds like to me. Just a day ago, a block from my house, I stopped for a quick “cafe pingado” (espresso with a small shot of milk) and two old Portuguese men were standing at the cafe counter (which is typical in Portugal), being served white wine from an unlabeled bottle hidden under the counter, chatting with the owner, also a withered Portuguese man.

Posted in Portugal | 33 Comments »