Ah fuck it, I think. I don’t get it anyway. I don’t get them – these Portuguese people.
We are sitting in a Spanish restaurant, as close to Portugal as you could get here, and it’s all mussels and duck’s legs and mushroom croquettes. Spanish wine, too. Lots of it, and I’m getting tipsy from the glass or the question that this young man is asking me. Young man: ungroomed sort of Italian. Not a flattering description, but I like him. I just don’t get his question.
‘Can I buy graffiti in a frame around here?’
‘Graffiti in a frame’.
‘Say that again’, I ask.
He repeats that, and I just keep drinking from my glass. Cartuxa, they say, is the best Portuguese wine.
But I like him, I do. I like all of them. They have the lightness in their eyes that is both freewheeling and a little wistful. Depressed Spaniards they are not. The young man is in the process of losing his playful identity to gruesome destiny. It’s a family business, and he is bound to be the manager one day. He has a pipe fitting trinket hanging from his rucksack, for Christ’s sake. The lady is his mother. She doesn’t talk much and she isn’t doing any business herself (she owns the company, so she doesn’t have to), but she might buy a painting of a local artist. A hobby. A habit. And the top guy, of course, who is having an octopus with mashed potatoes. He looks like a giant turtle who is friendly but can also bite. I hope it does not come to that.
We are so far away. In fact, it’s intriguing just how far away we are. The lunch table is only a metaphor. Any subject we touch, from graffiti to health care to literature, we are never too close. I like that. Might be the thing I like so much about them.
And then, of course, there is football. Football fans everywhere, one likes Sporting FC and the other supports Benfica FC. Who do I support? Not Porto FC by any chance? No. I shake my head. I don’t support anyone because (and I’m quite serious here) football destroys the soul.
I don’t say that to them, though, and instead we talk politics.
‘No’, I say. ‘I hate the son of a bitch’.
‘What about yours?’ I ask tentatively.
‘We don’t like him either’.
Ah. At least on this we agree.
By this time, the ice-cream is gone and the lunch is almost over.