About fourteen years ago, a group of women from the rural North Carolina town where we lived began taking overseas excursions with our children. Most of the ladies had only one child. Because I have four, a different kid accompanied me each year. Some years I didn’t go. Three of these ladies continued the tradition annually except the summer following the September 11 attacks. Our kids grew up. The group changed as some dropped out, and others joined. Then, for several years, I declined going while I took care of my elderly dad; he passed in the fall of 2012. The summer of 2013 the core group was headed to Portugal. Because I’d’ never been there, I said, “Why not?” So, along with seven other ladies I descended on Portugal.
The port wineries of the Douro region are amazing to see and sample; so are the gargantuan waves and bouillabaisse seafood of Algarve, and the architecture of Lisbon is stunning, but you know what I remember most? I remember laughing. I recall the antics of my female friends— all who are approaching the age when one gets senior discounts without showing id. Youth think they have a monopoly on silliness, carefree partying, and experiencing unexplored places and ideas, but they’re wrong!
After the train ride from Douro to Lisbon, we arrived at our hotel on the main drag, a not-to-be-named place for obvious reasons as you read on. Hearing that the Jeronimos Monastery, built in 1459, is the most splendid piece of Late Gothic Manueline architecture in Portugal, we took a taxi to Belem. Like the US, the drivers in Lisbon are foreign. This one was French. I practiced that language I had dutifully studied decades ago and felt a rush that I could still communicate. After the driver warned us about pickpockets in the park near the Tagus River and instructed us on how to reach the site by taking a pedestrian bridge over the busy highway, we set off.
The monastery is not- to- be missed. Its cloisters are a marvel; yet, you know what I recollect? I remember heehawing at my Southern friend mispronouncing Dumas and calling him “Dumb Ass” as she read the signage on the massive timeline they displayed in the museum section. And amusingly she continued to read aloud very loudly the cards about “Dumb Ass the Elder” and “Dumb Ass the Junior.”
When we returned to our not-to-be named hotel, we eight sipped white sangria during happy hour in the courtyard. That same Southern pal had trouble working her remote TV device earlier in the day and took it with her to ask the clerk at the counter how to operate it, but we all became engrossed in conversation and then later engrossed in deciphering our bill, which had charges for the drinks of young gals at a nearby table added to it. After clarifying the amount owed, we traipsed off to a restaurant up the hill where I had salty codfish and potatoes again. This is a national specialty but after having consumed it a few times, I find that its salient feature is that it causes a mighty thirst for Superbock draft. The restaurant owner brought out prosciutto, rolls and olives, which were not requested— but were billed for.
After supper, we trekked back to the hotel. In the lobby, there were several TVs blazing on different channels. The marble foyer resounded with boisterous chatter and echoing noise. Donna asked the clerk at the reception desk if she could have a replacement for her remote control as she couldn’t find it.
He drew up in stature and condescendingly peered down at my perky, blonde, blue- eyed friend. “Madam,” he declared with a sneer, “In the twenty years, I’ve been working here, I’ve never had a guest lose a remote. You will be charged for it.”
Donna blinked twice, pivoted, and went searching. Finally, she located it in a cushion on the al fresco patio where we had imbibed sangria hours before. She scurried back to the lobby, and while we watched, including hordes of others, she yelled, “Here it is!” to the hotel clerk who wouldn’t deign to acknowledge her. So, to get his attention, she extended her arm up, like in a salute to him, and pushed a button. Then another. Next, she twirled around and mashed more buttons. Yoga instructor that she is, she bent over in a down dog position and zapped buttons while holding the control between her legs! While she glared at the supercilious receptionist, she pressed down hard and long on the black rectangle as if she were tazing him. Suddenly, every screen of the bank of TV’s in the lobby blinked off and on and on and off. A dozen TVs. A mish mash of images and sounds. Hilarious! The stony, humorless clerk, the object of her shtick, finally acknowledged her and even cracked a wee bit of a smile at her Lucille Ball -like, All American, Funny Girl antics.
So, what do I recall about my journey with the Golden Girls to Portugal? I reminisce about the fun of Donna’s pranks, the laughs over lost- in- translation mishaps, and the comfortable camaraderie with women one has known a long, long time. Plants require good soil, water and sunshine to thrive, but for women to thrive—especially when not in their comfort zone— they need companionship, adventure, and belly laughs.
My pal’s “insightful” words as the trip grew to a close are engraved in my memory. As she reflected on our Lisbon respite and her remote-control bugaboo, she declared with the utmost candor: “Those Portuguese sure did serve good sangria, I’ll give ’em that— even if it was a snooty, lying, cheating hotel!”