With dusk creeping a little nearer every day and August coming to an end, we gave a last dinner party before closing up the house and heading back to Madrid. We invited six friends, who met each other for the first time.
Sofia and Duarte, architects in Maputo, on holiday around Europe.
Jeanne, a “musicienne” from Paris, here on holiday.
Patricia, an Argentine yoga and meditation teacher recently moved to Portugal.
Nuno, a land owner in the Alentejo, and an inveterate bachelor.
Miguel, a Portuguese journalist just back from the US who came without his wife.
Us, Celeste and Bob.
With this highly diverse group, the conversation was eclectic:
M- America is seething with change. It’s the only place I have seen where people walk around with assault rifles outside a war zone. The gun situation is a cancer in America’s society. But it is a country with guts. The deep national debate over health care is amazing, both for the health care mess and for the determination to make it work better.
B- It is an exciting time in America. I think Obama will get health care reform, but the vested interests are strong and they are making it as costly as possible for him.
S- And with Fox News and other radical Republicans constantly breathing down Obama’s neck, criticizing, spinning, doing everything to make Obama have a political failure, it takes real steel to prevail.
D- But Obama is doing so much right. Africa is waking up to America again. My God! Bush was so incompetent. It is so important to the rest of the world to have a good American President. His color matters for some things, but when it comes to his intellect he is universal.
J- You are so turned to America and I am so involved with Portugal! Today I visited the Palácio da Fronteira. Il est d’une telle beauté, so beautiful. I was completely taken by its fabulous collection of azulejos.
C- There’ s a book in French, “La Frontière”, with the story of “le bestière”, those bizarre animals from the XVIII century painted on the azulejos.
P- I heard Maria João Pires play Beethoven’s Fourth Piano concert there. I remember being completely taken by the atmosphere in the palace, and this fragile woman at the piano, entranced and precise.
J- I played Schumann’s Piano Quintet with Maria João, inoubliable!, an unforgettable experience for me.
D- That’s what we miss most living in Mozambique, the culture, museums, concerts. For instance, to see Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” in a scenario like the Regaleira Palace, in Sintra. It worked so well in the garden at night, the island was real amidst the thick foliage.
C- Prospero doing his magic in the mysterious garden, Miranda appearing on the tower, I can’t think of a better background for that play.
D- Living in Maputo is beautiful, but it doesn’t have the intellectual depth of Europe. Will we ever get there?
C- Don’t knock Lourenço Marques. I am who I am today thanks to growing up there. Granted, I am not the same person I was then, even though I thought then was forever.
J- This is a muqueca de camarão we are eating, isn’t it? I remember having it in Salvador de Bahia.
P- Right now I am in Brazilian heaven. Who was the cook?
C- I did it. Is it too spicy?
B- Actually Celeste climbed the tree for the coconut, cracked it open, drank the water, then straddled the coconut stool and rhythmically shredded the flesh. So sexy.
C- I wish I did….
N- (Whispering) Tell me about Jeanne, she is so interesting, is she married?
C- (Whispering) She was married, but going on tournees all the time took its toll, and they separated. I don’t know if she has anyone now. Why don’t you ask her?
J- Dites nous Nuno, tell us what it’s like living in the Alentejo.
N- Mainly, I breed Lusitanian horses, which are bought by Arabs from the Gulf. But my current passion is restoring a fifth century convent I bought with the economic crisis, and I am opening a school for poor, rural children. The school will teach music appreciation, as well as literature, science, mathematics and languages. It would be wonderful if you could do a concert for the kids while you are here.
S- It does help to have the means to do all one wants. It is a different story when you are limited economically like us.
P- That’s not true. Look, I am 54 and own nothing. I left an easy, familiar life in Argentina and I am starting again in another country. I emigrated only with my expertise -- yoga and meditation classes for executives. It helps increase productivity and alertness. I am signing a contract with the telephone company in September to limber up the suits.
J- How about your family in Argentina?
P- The glue that holds a marriage together, sometimes it’s messy and embarrassing, so I cut entirely with the past. I guess you could put my inner age at 18!
C- Here’s to second chances!
S- To leave one’s country with only a dream, and begin again elsewhere at 54, yes, very daring.
M- We all know that success, power, fame, and especially happiness come with expiration dates.
B- Not necessarily. You have to know when to stop and, like Patricia, re-invent yourself.
D- As they say, think globally, live globally.
C- Patricia, why Portugal, why did you leave Argentina to come here?
P- It is an easy country to settle in, and things are going well for me. I may not be here forever. Let’s see what the future holds.
D- I cannot conceive of living outside Maputo, with all its problems, it is the place that makes the most sense for me.
S- Me too.
C- Bob and I like to move and start again. It is a challenge to learn a different language, make a new home, make new friends, plunge deep into a new culture. It keeps us on our toes. We both have portable professions. As long as I have my easel and books and the dog is happy, that’s where home is.
J- Paris is where I always return to, my center of gravity. But I travel constantly for concerts. Ideally I spend half the year in Paris and half on the road.
M- My wife would love to leave Portugal and go live elsewhere, but my work is here with the paper, I have the job I always wanted. I suppose I could take a year off to write. But not yet, maybe in some years.
N- I am perfectly happy in the Alentejo, I am one of those people who don’t travel well. I am like a tree, my roots go deep. When I am in another country I miss my house and my horses, the special smell of the air in the fields, Guida’s delicious cooking. I only travel for music, Prague’s musical festival, operas at La Scala, for me music is the main reason to travel.
P- When are you having a show, Celeste?
C- I am starting a new art project when I return to Madrid. I will be totally involved with it, won’t have much time for blogging or anything else.
B- She has been blogging all summer.
J- C’ est vraie? But you must give me the link.
N- When do you leave for Spain? Would you like to spend the weekend at my place in northern Alentejo? I think you will enjoy the horses, do you like horseback riding?
B- The weekend would be great, on our way back to Madrid.
M- Perfect, I will count on you for lunch on Saturday. It is near Avis, about an hour and a half from here, I’ll email the map with directions.
B- I’ve always wanted to explore that area more.
C- We have our dog with us, is he also invited?
N- Of course. Jeanne would you like to come with Bob and Celeste? It will be another Portuguese experience for you. And of course Patricia, Miguel, Sofia, Duarte, you are also invited.
S- We leave tomorrow for France, but we would love to come another time we are in Portugal. I am crazy about horses too.
P- I am giving a yoga retreat this weekend, too bad.
M- My wife arrives Saturday, maybe another time?
N- Jeanne? I hope you can come.
J- Avec plaisir, but I don’t ride horses.
N- Madame, I will take you in a calèche to see my vineyards. Would you like that?
J- Bien sur!
P- Celeste, tell us about this art project, please.
C- It is too soon to speak about it. I will tell you more when it is underway.
M- Do give me the recipe for the muqueca, I want to cook it for my wife, she loves everything spicy and exotic.
C- I will post it on the blog.
Muqueca de Camarão (for 8 people)
3 tablespoons Dendê oil (red palm oil, a staple in Brazilian cuisine)
2 medium onions, finely chopped
3 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 ½ cups coconut milk (bottled or canned)
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
3 large tomatoes peeled seeded and chopped
Salt and fresh red cayenne pepper
2 lbs of peeled shrimp
Bunch of coriander, chopped
Heat the dendê oil, and softly cook the onion and garlic until translucid. Add the salt, lime juice, tomatoes and cayenne. When barely cooked, add the coconut milk. Simmer. After the sauce thickens, add the shrimp for about 3 minutes. Switch off. Let it sit for a while, or better still, cook the muqueca the day before. Then, just before serving, heat it up and add a good amount of chopped coriander. Serve with Basmati rice.