Portugal 2003 with Carmen

ETSU Duoro River Uniworld Cruise 2003 — “Life is but a Dream” — Mary Garrett’s reflections

All difficulties aside (but rest assured, I’ll get to those stories later) this was a wonderful trip, with a pampered, close-knit family of travelers, dramatic and colorful surroundings . . . and plenty of port!  We had several tastings, learned that the neutral spirits are added to stop the fermenting, and saw how red-hot metal is used to open really old bottles.  The grapes aren’t irrigated, must depend on the natural water table, and their roots can go 40 meters down, thus also holding those rugged hillsides intact.  Someone mentioned a wonderful movie with that as part of the plot, but I’ve lost the title — any ideas? 

Our ETSU group was 18 willful (Carmen’s special “gifted” students) independent storytellers.  The repeated phrase was “This is like herding cats!”  (Having tried sorting out the cats who live below me, I can attest that it is an apt metaphor).  Carmen Deedy planned lessons for us, copied Spanish folktales for us, and gathered us together in the lounge or sun deck, only to suffer through a million “this reminds me of” stories before the next bridge or dam or wonderful vineyard would pull our attention completely away.  Kodak moment!!  It was great fun!  

We did find ourselves sharing and developing some wonderful family stories, with themes (Barbara’s daughter getting locked in the bathroom, leaving people behind, “I’m going to kill him/her”) repeating themselves in story and in fact.   Carmen’s “Dancing with Hilda” was a wonderful example of family story, illustrating the power of a child’s love and the magic that comes with a determination to live up to that love.  In the swap, I told Sherazade and the fan story I remembered from high school Spanish.  Carmen had asked me to tell her a part of Sherazade earlier in the day and wouldn’t let me stop until I told it all — my favorite story!

The crew of the Duoro Prince was so nice, I wanted to take them all home with me — on the interminable trip home, I wanted Sufia to come along and help me find the beauty and history of my surroundings, Antonio to smile his “Cheshire Cat” smile, Rui to raise one eyebrow and pass a plate of appetizers.   We all chipped in for wedding present for Sufia, who is marrying in October — a wonderful bowl she had admired in the gift shop.  I also finished an apple hat on the trip and when she remarked on it, I presented it to her; usually I’d wait until a child is expected, but since I wouldn’t be there . . .    Her fiancé is a waiter on the ship, so they will stay together as they work — not like the families waiting at the dock for their loved ones to come home for one night between trips.  I don’t remember his name, but he’s the nice one who made a carrot and cabbage (no potatoes) soup especially for me.  Meals, by the way, were good, but food was less a focus than on other cruises — a healthier balance, I think.  When we docked back in Porto, we noticed people waiting on the dock, families waiting for crew members to get off duty and go home for one night — sweet!

On our last night, Carmen posed each lady with her new beautiful lace mantilla and comb — too much fun . . . I can hardly wait for the photos!  It was absolutely precious — How nice!  (inside jokes, ask me privately)    I do think “Snake Woman” may develop into a story I tell at some time — and it would have been interesting to try, with Carmen, the concentrated developing of a story in just a few days.  She says it works!  Usually I live with a story for weeks or months before telling it.  There was also a story about a sprig of rosemary — and plenty of rosemary plants to go with it  (and almonds, oranges, figs, pears, olives, cabbages as well as grapes).

The details of the voyage are a blur of cathedrals and bridges and  dams (one dam thing after another — what did the fish say when he hit something hard – dam.  Those puns, and the “Melting Princess” story, which I no longer remember, brought several threats to throw me into the Duoro, but it didn’t scare me; I teach high school).  Going through the locks was interesting, sometimes a bit daunting, too, as walls enveloped the ship and rooms got dark.  The bridges were beautiful, individual works of art — and the low ones were fun for people on the sun deck — “Lie down in a deck chair, now!!”  The roof on that deck could be lowered to allow for the bridges, a bit like a giant erector set.  Interesting!  We all agreed that we didn’t want the bus driver’s job — very narrow, winding, hilly roads, and people who don’t actually park their cars, just abandon them.  (I think “Driving Portugal” would make a good video game).  It rained the first two days, but Sufia promised to pray “on my knees” for sunshine, and it came!  Actually, the rain kept it cooler for us — Portugal, we were told, has “three months of winter and nine months of hell.”  The scenery was dramatic, mountains, vineyards, tile roofs, old cathedrals — and laundry hanging everywhere (expensive electricity – warm, dry days — why not). 

I may be able to sort the images once I take time to reflect — the church in Salamanca stands out; we revisited it after the initial group tour so Carmen could see it, and she decided that in addition to seeing the old church (scheduled to be demolished when the “new” church was finished in the 16th century but kept as an addition instead), we would climb to the roof of the tower — lots of stairs, amazing view!!!  

The University also was most wonderful —  fourth oldest in Europe!  We were interfering a bit with their orientation meetings for summer session, and it did look like a wonderful place to study.  One detail: when university study was only for the rich nobility (second sons – the first born would inherit the land), students would come with multitudes of servants to see to their needs.  The classrooms weren’t heated, and seating was on the floor — a servant would be sent ahead to warm a spot by sitting there until the student arrived.  Professors also allowed five minutes before class for students to stomp and warm up.  In one classroom we were told of a professor imprisoned by the Inquisition for translating a text into Portuguese (a “common” language).  When he returned after years in prison, he said, “As I was just saying,” and continued his lecture.  Paella in Salamanca was also memorable — and it’s fun to say Salamanca!

The Duoro  Prince was so small that all the passengers began to feel like family.  Brian, everyone’s friend, became unofficial ship’s photographer, putting a slide show of photos on his computer and promising a CD of all his shots.  His daughter Brittany (who was already out of the U.S. on June 21) borrowed Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix from Carmen’s Lauren, and we three had a book discussion on the last day.   Brian curtailed musician Cheryl’s early-morning harmonica serenades with the request . . . “not until I’ve had my third cup of coffee.”  Two English ladies and a Scottish couple (Robbie & ?) were utterly charming (and I regret my terrible name dyslexia).  Of course, our storytelling group had special moments, working on stories together, and appreciating the wonderful creaking door in the ladies’ room at the monastery where we had dinner.  (That meal included chestnuts — the one food on my allergy list that I thought wouldn’t come up at meal times).    We took a peek (and photos) inside a couple of guest rooms — very posh indeed!  . . and those Ming vases, very tempting!

Leonard and Jenny (? I think) both were sick for part of the cruise — so they should get a do-over . . . .

Travel Difficulties — or “It Still Beats Sorting Socks”

(Why Mary needs a travel partner/keeper) —  See Mary arriving at the airport three hours early, feeling smug and virtuous when check-in and security went so fast, buying a newspaper, a new tote bag (on sale) for the newspaper, and Starbucks coffee to enjoy the wait, near Gate 15 to keep an eye on things.  Finishing the newspaper, checking the boarding pass just for something to do, and realizing —  THE FLIGHT WAS RE-SCHEDULED!!  BOARDING BEGAN TEN MINUTES AGO.  Throwing away the rest of the coffee, I rushed toward the correct gate 19, hearing my name over the paging system, and arriving just in time, rather embarrassed and apologetic but being reassured, “It’s fine, you’re here.”  Rule:  always double-check flight times!!!

(Some people will do anything for attention).  The flight from Chicago to Frankfort was rather pleasant, chatting with a young Air Force guy, Eric Love, going to Germany for airport training and one of his colleagues, a young woman with a plan to write travel books.  Dinner was pretty good, I had a little wine, and a little Bailey’s Irish Cream, and settled in for a little sleep.  Waking up a couple of hours later, feeling a little warm, I thought a trip to the restroom was in order, but while waiting for a vacancy, I felt dizzy.  Then I felt the floor on the back of my head — a near-by passenger came over, called the stewardess, she called for oxygen and “any medical personnel on board.”   Checked out by a paramedic and a doctor (both rather cute), I still don’t know exactly why (stress from condo problems before the flight, reduced circulation from sitting, standing with knees locked, drinking?), but I do know that the care and concern were real — Eric was berating himself for leaving a buddy alone to get in trouble.  Rule: listen to the body and sit down when dizzy (and less Baileys??)  P.S.  The Frankfort Airport is huge!! —  workers ride bicycles from place to place within the building!  It’s also confusing, with shops hiding the signs that point the way to gates.  Thank goodness people don’t mind pointing the way!

The return flight — very little sleep because dock-side partying in Porto goes on all night, and we had to leave for early flights at 5:30 a.m.  It was sad saying good-bye, but I looked forward to home.  Smooth flying, transfers, customs (well, I did join the elite group who have had scissors confiscated — so nice to know that I can’t run amok with those half-inch fold-up blades — also, my bags were opened by someone along the way — they had little plastic closers on the zippers and a tiny little note inside from National Security).  

In Chicago, I managed to keep a large group of Korean businessmen from getting off the tram at the wrong terminal (a real achievement for perennially lost me, and should be good for some Karma).  Then storms hit Chicago, and I spent five hours at O’Hare (hoping my seat-mate from Frankfort, a young mother heading home to her three-year-old, had gotten out before the storm).  We had kidded about our “refugee look” on the last day of the cruise, but this was real — a tired and cranky group milling from gate to gate, with rumors being passed around.  I wanted to throttle the mother of four squealing young boys (my sympathy ran out as I remembered my mother’s ability to silence us with a look), then I found a quieter gate and napped a bit.  Finally our pilot, calling himself  Captain Pinnochio, admitted that the plane we saw approaching wasn’t our plane, it was a plane that had been on the runway for five hours and was coming back to refuel.  Wow!  That put things in perspective!  We had room to walk, real restrooms, Starbucks!  He promised to get us home, and he did, piloting well through stormy skies — I thanked him for the flying and for his humor.  (I had, however, thought of staying in Chicago, since I had to return on Wednesday anyway, but three nights in my own bed won out).  It was so good to get back!

Carmen and Marsh, I believe I have found something that even beats sorting socks — knitting socks!!  No really, the knitting shop owner talked about it when I went to buy the right size needle for the little hats (about time for that one . . .).  The only latex-free socks I could find were thinlittle Buster Brown socks — if I can manage this pattern, I could actually have warm socks by winter.  (Of course, I could just winter someplace warm instead — want to come?)

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