From the Globe and Mail, Saturday, August 16 2008

By Deborah Nobes

The milk arrives in a coffee cup and saucer, frothy at the top, with a pink packet of sugar on the side.

Lucy, who is four, ordered the milk herself from the waiter in this small seafood restaurant in southern Portugal.

Her personal appeal for milk, ‘COLD milk, please,’ to a non-English speaking waiter is the act of a child desperate for a taste of home.  And then it comes.  Just like the last time she asked for it. Lukewarm milk product poured from a box at two euros a shot ($3.20 CND), delivered by wait staff unfamiliar with the North American custom of drinking fresh, ice-cold milk by the glass. 

Lucy on the beach at Sagres

Lucy on the beach at Sagres.

‘It smells funny,’ Lucy says. ‘I don’t want it.”

And then,  “How many more sleeps until we can go home?’

It’s one of those moments that make me wonder just what I was thinking. 
Lucy, her father and I are three days into a family journey through the western Algarve. 
Two airplanes, a bus and a taxi have brought us to Alvor, a fishing village-turned tourist magnet where every evening, the main drag fills with smoke from fresh sardines and tiger shrimp sizzling on open-air grills.

This is our second European trip with Lu, and just like last year’s holiday in Greece, she is already pining for her pre-school friends, grandparents and toys.

In my hubris, I believed Lucy would benefit from a vacation immersed in another language and culture. That seeing how people live away from the relative affluence of our home in Fredericton broaden her viewpoint and help her understand that not every kid in the world owns a Disney Princess backpack, even if every girl in her class does.

When we decided to raise Lucy in New Brunswick, we knew we’d have to at least try to show her the rest of the world. She was born in the southern Chinese province of Jiangxi, and despite the provincial government’s best attempts to attract immigrants to our lovely and lush corner of Canada, Lucy still looks different from the kids on our street and most of the kids in her school.

We hope her travel experiences will protect her like a shield, so when some kid on the playground says ‘you are brown,’ in a way that makes her feel like the only brown person in the history of the earth, she can say ‘so what? Lots of people are brown.’

We wanted to soak up Portugese sun, sangria and as much food as possible during our trip to the Algarve. We read about wine, language and history and talked to Portugese friends about what to expect.  Somehow, in all our research, we missed the obvious.

In the Algarve tourist zone, most of the people we saw were British. They spoke English to everyone and wanted to watch football on big-screen television sets during dinners out.

On walks to town from our rented beachside condo, we merged with a constant crowd of sunburned Brits.  Expensively dressed, English-speaking families pushed strollers filled with pink, chubby-cheeked children. They stayed in what seem like endless compounds of identical pink stone condo complexes, many of them gated and patrolled by private guards with large dogs.

The local economy caters to this crowd, advertising ‘Sunday roast with all the trimmings’ and ‘Football every night with all-English commentary.’

We soldiered on, strapping Lucy into a booster seat  and driving west, determined to locate an un-colonized corner of the Algarve.

Finally, we discovered Sagres, a cliff-side town that hangs off the very tip of Europe about 35 kilometres southwest of Lagos.

Sagres is well out of the tourist zone. There are no condo developments, and visitors are mostly surfers who stop briefly to fuel up with beer and board wax before hitting the big wave beaches of west coast.  It was just our speed.

We stumbled onto a brilliant and mostly empty beach, where we played under the sun on golden sand sheltered by soaring cliffs that stretched toward an electric blue sky.

We ate an early supper at a tiny diner called Estrela Do Mar, dining on fried pork with a fried egg on top and a big jug of Vinho Branco, while the proprietress simultaneously prepared for the coming rush and settled a dispute over a ball between her small son and another kid on the street.

We kept going back to Sagres and that beach. We packed our cooler with beer and wine, bread, cheese, meat and juicy strawberries –morangos – we bought from a vendor at the local market – the Mercado municipale. We gave up on milk and started buying yogurt drinks, which Lucy loved and nobody minded us bringing into restaurants.

On our last day in Portugal, we got up early, packed a lunch and drove straight to our beach.  Half a dozen men had spent the morning surfcasting and drinking beer, and were keen to show off their catch in their coolers.

One of the fishermen looked at Lucy with a huge grin, pointed at her and shouted to his friend across the beach.

The friend, a large, deeply tanned man in his late 50s wearing cut-off sleeves and a greying ponytail, walked over, set down his fishing gear and pulled a cellphone off his hip. He flipped through his pictures then handed the phone to me. It was a photo of little Chinese girl, sitting on a merry-go-round.

He pointed at Lucy and then at the picture and nodded fiercely when I said ‘your granddaughter?’ With a broad smile he held up two fingers and said “Dois.” Two years old. I pointed to Lucy, who stopped drawing pictures in the sand to look up at this big man who couldn’t stop grinning at her, and held up four fingers.  ‘Quatro,’ he said, nodding again.

We stared at each other for a few minutes, marveling at this connection, on this beach at the edge of the world. We had so much to say to one another but not enough words in common. He then slung his fishing gear over his shoulder, waved goodbye and walked back up to his car.

Lucy turned back to her drawings and we sat down in the sand, looking out at the golden cliffs and blue water, feeling amazed and grateful to old Prince Henry for guiding us to this place and to our own age of discovery.

 

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debnobes

  • throwing my grammaaa a party today cant wait to dee the surprisment in her little face :) it makes me excitied evertime i see shes 99 now 5 years ago
  • genuine people dont come around often.If you find somebody real,enough to stay true,keep them close. 5 years ago

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