Shabby background

October 27, 2010


I felt like there should be a soundtrack.

It was the kind of experience that makes you question if you are just a world away, or if you are in a foreign film.  The sun hung perfectly in the sky, warming the morning and providing ideal conditions for this traditional "ceremony" of sorts, the annual vindima.  Everyone wore a hat and their finest clothes that they didn't mind getting dirty, a metal cutter in one of two gloved hands, the other tangled within the twisted vines that crawled along each aisle of the vineyard.  The young and middle aged chatted about family and rural life, while the more elderly among us could be heard muttering about how no one sings anymore.

You see, this used to be a place of singing.

The vines and the grapes would reverberate with the joyous sounds of cheerful workers contributing to a yearly harvest, the traditional songs and chants uniting both new-comer and veteran alike.  Now, though the songs have long since come and gone with the years, the spirit to join the community in the age-old tradition still continues.  This is the story of the vindima.

Dating back to more than a century ago, the vindima - then called Festa das Vindimas (Vines Festival) - was an honored tradition, characteristics of which are still embodied today.  The vineyard's owner invites his family and friends to come join him cutting grapes from the vine, sorting them by color, then loading them up to be sold to the local wine producer in town.

My first question was "So what do they get?", followed by, "Why do they all come?"

My very understanding husband replied, through a slight smirk, "Because it's what you do. It's tradition."

"But it's work", I replied... to which he reminded me, "Yes, but they love it".

And this, I can honestly say, is true.

To me, the tradition of the vindima is a very genuine reflection of Portuguese culture, especially that of the older generation:  You give because you love to, not because it's a requirement, expecting little in return.  Your family is the bread of your life, and your friendship with them is a treasure. Lunch - grilled fresh on the fire in front of you - is a really good incentive for one day's work.

And though the songs have quieted, the spirit still remains.  These photos* don't do justice to the entire experience, but hopefully they will give you a peek into the most genuinely cultural experience I have had in Portugal thus far!

*Note: for those that may be curious or constructively critical:  I did not forget my SLR camera. I chose not to bring it because of the extremely rural setting and the constant stickyness of my hands.  I did, however, forget to charge the battery on my point-and-shoot, so most photos came from Luis's mom's camera.  And no, I will never leave my SLR at home again.

This is the vineyard belonging to Luis's godparents

We love grapes!
The path that we walked as we cut...
Just imagine them singing... :)
From the vine... the small buckets... the big buckets... the truck...
and smushed to make them fit!
It would not be right for me to document the traditional, almost ceremonial customs of this event and not share with you the completley cultural aspects of the day as well.

After the grapes were picked and the hands were washed, everyone gathered for lunch.  To imagine this, think of the classic "outdoor dining area with a long table, under a canopy of leafy greenery and with picturesque landscapes in the background".  Now imagine it a little less glamorous, and this is what you get!

A typical lunch at these types of events is feijoada, similar to a rice-filled minestrone soup...
...and sardines.  Now, when I mention sardines, this is not your usual miniature fellows found in a tin can, nor the kind you may feed to your cat.  These are genuine Portuguese sardines, and there is only one way 
to serve them.... WHOLE.

You think I'm joking, but I'm not.  You gently scrape the skin off with the side of your fork, then grab the head with one hand, the tail with the other, and bite straight into that guy's back.  Another method is to use your fingers to take chunks of the fish apart, then slap it on a piece of bread for a traditional sardine sandwich.

Yes, I ate it... for the second time. (The first was my initial dinner with Luis's parents, which gently shocked me into the family...)  No, I didn't appreciate it as much as the Portuguese do, but I ate it, in the shade of the canopy of leafy greenery with picturesque landscapes in the background.  And I loved it.  Not necessarily because of its effect on my taste buds, but more for its effect on my soul.  Though this batch of grapes was probably no different than those in years past, somehow I felt like I had contributed to a little part of history.

Oh, and the grapes and homemade pastries easily made up for the sardines. :)

October 4, 2010


Among the many questions I have been asked upon our arrival to Portugal (asked by both Americans and Portuguese alike), two have been most prevalent: (1) The obvious: Do you speak Portuguese?? (2) The personal: TEN bags?!?! You REALLY brought TEN bags with you? What did you bring in TEN bags??

One may think that she would get asked, "Do you miss America?" or "How is marriage treating you?" or "Do you like the food?", and yes, I have gotten those questions. Many people, though, are curious and raise their eyebrows at our my choice to bring so many bags.  I have adopted the ability to take their surprise and open stares in stride, secretly believing that they too woruld bring just as many, given the opportunity. 

I am sorry to say that the photographer in me neglected to shoot a photo of one of the mst noteworth items on our tirp:  Luis and I trying to manage 4 suitcases, 2 roller carry-on bags, and two shoulder bags from the airport, into a taxi, into the station, on to a train, off of a train, into the station, into a car, and up 3 flights of stairs!  We were quite the sight!  Thankfully, Luis's parents and groomsmen each took one of our suitcases them post-wedding (first bag is free internationally!), otherwise we would have double our load and our cost!

Being the bargainer that I am, of course I thought it would be better to bring suitcases (paying only $200 total for 450 lbs of clothing, shoes, etc) filled with my belongings rather than purchase an entirely new wardrobe of clothing, shoes, jackets and coats over here!  With that being said, I'm sure most of you are wondering what I couldn't possibly live without. (Don't lie to me... of course you were wondering!)  The contents of the suitcases were as follows (and slightly categorized/abbreviated for brevity):

  • Clothing: shirts, sweaters, jackets, pants, skirts, dresses, etc.
  • Jewelry: self-explanatory. I'm female and most of it is pretty special!
  • Shoes: self-explanatory. Being the exact same height as my husband without shoes, I find myself wearing more flats these days.  Shoes are slightly expensive, and who knows what I would fit into over here?
  • Books:  A small selection of my ever-growing library... mostly books I believe I could use to teach/lead at work or in a potential ministry, others that are my favorites, and a small amount of Portuguese curriculum to study.
  • Stationery:  Did anyone think I could live in Europe without it???
  • Personals: Facewash, makeup, sunscreen, etc that I didn't want to waste time and money sampling over here.
  • DVDs: Rentals could get expensive with no Red Boxes in Portugal!
  • Electronics: You may be surprised at how many electronics you own, even if you would never call yourself a "techie" person: Laptop, hard drive, iPod, iPod speaker/alarm clock, point and shoot camera, DSLR camera, rechargeable battery station, cell phone, and all chargers associated with said devices.
  • Shoulder bags and clutch purses:  I like them big and with two sections. Who knows what I would find over here?
  • Christmas decor:  The lack of Christmas decor here is embarrassing according to my insanely festive American standards.
  • Crosses:  I'm determined to hang at least some of this small collection of crosses I have in every house that I live in!
Now, your next question may be, "Do you regret bringing so much stuff?". Of course I regret it a little... mostly just the clothes.  Now that I'm here, I just want to buy European clothing!  I also wish I would have known how expensive cosmetics are over here... then I would have brought an entire bag of them!  All in all, though, I donated a lot, threw away a LOT, and feel good about the choices I made.

Since the days leading up to the big move were a bit chaotic, it felt good to finally be on a plane!

As the plane landed in Lisboa, Portugal, we were welcomed with sunny skies, low humidity, and friendly faces!

We slept for almost the entirety of the overnight flight (rare for both of us!), most likely as a result of our exhaustion from the wedding planning, quick "mini-moon" travels, and all that went into moving one girl [with a lot of stuff] across an ocean!  (Not to mention the fabulous ticket agent in Atlanta -- the same who had helped us the weekend before with Luis's parents -- who scored us two seats TOGETHER on a full flight where we were separated! The Lord is in the details, friends.) We also were surprised with mini bottles of champage, a gift from a British flight attendant... who may or may not have noticed me admiring how my ring sparkled in the sun as we waited to board our second flight. 

It was so enjoyable to travel together when we had spent so many trans-Atlantic flights sitting next to strangers!  

It wouldn't be appropriate to continue without thanking those who exercised extreme patience in this whole process!  To my roommate, Margaret, thousands of thanks would not be enough for your help before/during/after the wedding and move. We would never had been able to do it without your help!  You sacrified a lot of time and dealt with a lot to make sure we were happy... and we appreciate that more than you know! To the bridesmaids and friends who tended to my endless amounts of creative requests and slightly obsessive perfectionism, we are grateful.  For the groomsmen who traveled across an ocean and sacrified finances, time with families, and a week of summer holiday, we are thankful.  For the parents & family who also gave time, hands-on effort, and a lot of sweat in the Atlanta heat, we give thanks.  To the Midwesterners that got on planes and traveled just to share in our most special of days, we thank you as well, and are so very glad that you came!  For the former colleagues of mine who contributed to our gift of these infamous suitcases... we couldn't have done it without you!  And for the friends who used their talents to be certain we had music and photos and video and who made sure that the decor would meet the Salewski standard, we stand up and applaud you.  Your gifts to us will forever be remembered!  And for all those we may not have mentioned specifically or by name, we appreciate your willingness to give!

As we settle in, I will do my best to keep you all updated on all the "pages from Portugal" that we are beginning to write... Many new stories await!

PS:  There is now online curriculum available via Skype: Methods to Efficient Packing, taught by Luis Miguel Coelho Santos Almeida.  Now accepting applications for the fall term.  Reserve your spot now!  [Seriously, he packed every single bag himself to the exact weight restrictions, or something 0.002 under.  AND everything I gave him to pack arrived unharmed.  Insert applause here].