So it was dinner time. That elusive of Portuguese times that starts anywhere from around 11.40am and ends about 3pm. With businesses shutting completely for around two hours in that period and where the workforce go off and eat a full three course meal washed down with copious amounts of red wine, rendering them virtually useless for their afternoon stint back at work.
We trawled up and down the street where the garage was, not really knowing where we were or what was around the corner, trying to find somewhere that looked vaguely hopeful to eat. Helpfully I had forgotten to charge my phone and what little battery was left I wanted to save for emergency calls not internet Tripadvisor searches on where to eat in Slum Town.
We found a packed pizza restaurant but they were queuing out the door so we moved on. We then saw a little bistro type place, not exactly humming but serving a reasonably priced dish of the day so we went in and was bustled to a table immediately by a rather enthusiastic owner.
There were two dishes on offer. Just two. I was praying for chicken. Please let it be chicken. It was squid. Stuffed whole squid, stuffed with what, we weren’t told and the other dish was ‘meat and beans’. Mr M chose the squid, and, as my options were limited I went for the meat dish. It arrived almost straight away. Looking forward to eating out as we do it so rarely these days, I looked with some horror at Mr M’s plate and quickly rearranged the condiments and bottles of water so that I couldn’t see the car crash that was on his plate. I then concentrated on my dish of food. It was beans, sure enough. But meat was an exaggeration of such an extent I wondered if they had somehow given me someone’s sucked clean bones by mistake. Picked up someone’s leftovers instead of a freshly cooked dish. It was literally beans and bones. I picked up a bone and nibbled delicately around it but even with my incisors working overtime I failed to purchase on any meat. I gave up. Put the bone down and tried the beans. They were nice big fat beans in a tomato sauce. I say in a tomato sauce, I mean they were in tomato sauce. Not a tomato sauce. It was tomato sauce. Ketchup. I was attempting to eat beans cooked in a bottle full of Heinz tomato ketchup. It was so teeth furringly sweet my mouth actually refused it entry. My lips slammed shut and refused to budge. Bizarrely it had coriander leaves on top too. Thankfully I nibbled on those for sustenance whilst refusing to watch Mr M devour his alien beings.
Now I am not sure if this is a me thing, an English thing, or maybe just a polite person thing, but I was genuinely quite mortified at not being able to eat my dinner. The owner and cook were so sweet and keen for us to enjoy our meal and kept coming back to ask if it was OK. Where, although Mr M could nod kind of truthfully, I had to pretend my mouth was full and nod violently whilst doing a thumbs up.
It’s like if I ever walk into a shop to have a look, a little shop, may be a craft or clothes shop and I realise immediately it is not to my taste, so instead of just walking out, I then spend way too long pretending to look at the items so as not to offend the shop owner. And being so incredibly bad at pretending I am sure I look like a shop lifter. Eying up random goods, nodding and smiling whilst furtively glancing at the door wondering when I can make a clean get away. Why can’t I just go in, look, think nope, not for me and turn around and walk back out again. The time I waste trying not to offend total strangers whilst all the time making myself cringe is staggering.
So anyway, not wishing to offend the said sweet restaurant owners and whilst Mr M carried on chomping I set to trying to make my dish look as empty as possible. I found by squashing the beans into a kind of mash they not only diminished in size but they rather conveniently absorbed some of the ketchup. It took some doing but eventually I could see the bottom of at least half my dish. I then strategically piled the bones on top of the bean mash and to my pleasant surprise it looked, at a glance anyway, like I had eaten a decent proportion of my meal, when in fact all I had eaten was the coriander garnish.
Satisfied I sat back and waited as Mr Mista finished. Our dishes were whisked away and we were asked if we wanted desert and coffee, poor Mr M went to say yes, but I suddenly realised my charade would be revealed as soon as they went back to the kitchen, so I quickly and abruptly stood up and announced that no, we were late and we had to go now. Leaving a bewildered Mr M still sat in his seat, I had paid and was off out the front door quicker than a rat up a drainpipe.
Muttering not so quietly to myself about my lack of lunch we turned off the main street we had wandered up and down for the nth time and immediately found ourselves in some sort of Asian quarter. Chinese and Indian restaurants a plenty.
I stared longingly at the menus on the windows and stood stock still at the door ways, breathing deeply in the intoxicating aromas of herbs and spices, trying to fill and sooth my grumbling belly.
It was 2.30pm. We still had three hours to kill. Mr M took pity on me after he looked back to see my nose pressed firmly up against the window of a Bangladeshi restaurant and me staring listlessly at the diners inside. Alarmed that I was terrifying the customers he bustled me into a cute little bakery that served the most amazing handmade cakes and biscuits. An hour later and I was stuffed and content with pecan maple slices, two, a lemon pastel de nata and two large milky coffees.
Sat next to me at the bar-like window seats was a downtrodden elderly lady. Sipping on a single small coffee she looked forlornly out of the window. It was a cold day and the wind, in Lisbon can be fierce, she was obviously trying to make the coffee last as long as possible. I looked at her dyed hair, the grey roots coming through but how she had tried to style it smartly, her little red shoes, scuffed and worn down but again, I could imagine they were her best pair. Her fake Louis Crouton bag, which she held protectively on her lap. I am a sentimental fool at the best of times, but the sight of this wee little scrap of a lady, in her Sunday best on a Thursday just trying to stay out of the cold with a single cup of tiny coffee brought tears to my eyes. I was just about to order her a coffee and cake, to make some excuse, that it was for a friend who never came so that her pride wouldn’t be offended, when she suddenly and quite loudly hawked up her guts and spat what could only of been her left lung out onto the floor by our feet and then glared at me with such hatred as I brought my knees up to my face in shock, that I nearly evaporated on the spot.
It was now 3.30pm. And we suddenly realised we had no insurance cover for the soon to be towed cement mixer. Finding a local branch of Fidelidade we entered and waited as all three employees totally ignored us.
“Boa Tarde!” Mr M yelled a little too loudly.
Only one looked up, the rest comatose by their three course dinner and vats of red wine.
“Sim?” She replied curtly.
“Can we sit?” I asked politely.
She shrugged. My blood started to simmer.
Just a note, although I write our conversations in English they are normally always in Portuguese, which is why they are often so short and to the point.
“Yes or no?” I asked through gritted teeth.
“Sim.” She replied.
We sat and spent an enormous amount of brain energy translating our needs from English to Portuguese. That we needed immediate cover for a small trailer for our van. Proud of our efforts we sat back in unison, silently patting each other on the back. She stared at us, she stared at her computer screen, she typed a few things, coughed and said, “No.”
“You are in the wrong office, we are just an office, we do not deal with customers here.”
“Could you of told us that before?”
Mister Mista then blew the biggest raspberry I have ever heard. He just sat there and blew it. At her. For ages.
He then got up, grabbed my arm and dragged me up and out the shop.
Patience wearing thin we began to just prowl the streets back and forth, passing the same shops so many times one owner started to wave and acknowledge us.
At 4.30pm Mr M blew a gasket. He had just slipped over in dog shit and was not a happy bunny.
And so, despite it being an hour early, we trudged off back to the garage in the vague hope that the tow bar was done and dusted.
And here ends Part Three.