The Object of Your Story

                                                                               

Occasionally it’s mentioned in workshops or books on the craft of writing, how effective a physical object can be when subtly weaving it through your story.  Recently I finished reading the book The Velvet Hours by Alyson Richman which uses a large 19th century portrait of a Parisian courtesan as an occasional object from beginning to end. Even without a picture to physically see, the author showed the reader the gilded frame, the woman’s posture, colors, and fabrics.  It easily came to mind whenever the painting was mentioned at various intervals of the story. It was a familiar object.  And, what I loved about this book was how the author wrote it as a fictionalized account of a newspaper article. It was a story of a family learning about their great-great grandmother’s apartment in Paris which was locked up for over 70 years. When the apartment was opened by family heirs in 2011, it was as if time stood still and they walked into 1940s Paris. I remember reading the newspaper article and posting it on Facebook.  I was fascinated by the story and thrilled someone wrote a book about it.

If you decide you want an object for your story, how do you discover what it will be?

As writers, we understand inspiration arises from unexpected places. You may be in a writers’ group when a new story pops into your head and the first draft is soon underway. Perhaps you are sitting at your desk or on a plane thousands of feet in the air when an idea for a new character is born. You can be anywhere.  That’s the beauty of being a writer.

It wasn’t long ago, as I was housecleaning, when an object in my home reminded me of someone I once loved.   I wiped dust off the Asian antique mirror and remembered a time, 43 years ago, when the man I loved looked at his reflection in this mirror, standing in my mother’s home.  I was across the room watching him when his reflection caught mine and we locked eyes. It was a moment which stood still in time for me. He’s been gone many years, but, oddly, his reflection and the memory of our connection remain embedded in  the wavy glass of this mirror.

My thoughts, as I continued dusting, trailed off to another time I could only conjure up in my imagination. It occurred to me my grandfather may have bought this mirror for my grandmother when they were first married in Shanghai in 1929. The mirror, with its new glass, survived WWII hidden in a Shanghai cellar. It was kept with other curios and precious objects out of sight and protected from the Japanese invasion and ensuing confiscations since these objects were in the cellar of a White Russian friend of my grandmother’s. If a Russian (or any nationality) was married to a citizen of an enemy country, they were sent to Japanese internment camps, which was the case of my grandmother and mother who spent 4 years in a camp because of the marriage between my  Russian grandmother and  a British man.

A couple of years after the war, in 1947, the mirror took a journey by ship to the United States and hung on the wall of my grandmother’s San Francisco flat well into the late 70s.  The mirror had additional journeys over the next 37 years when it lived in my mother’s home in Pleasant Hill, CA; Colorado Springs, CO; then to my home in Seattle, and eventually settling in Edmonds 11 years ago. I imagine one of my children and one of my grandchildren will take it from here.

And so it was a day of simple housecleaning which created my story-object. If I choose to do so,  I can carry this mirror through my book for almost 100 years of my family’s history.  I can write a historical fiction showing the reader many of the faces reflected over time, some known and some imagined; we have so much freedom as writers to create whatever we wish!

Stories and ideas pop up for writers from unexpected places and we are delighted when they pop up at all.

Vivian C. Murray

10/16

 

 

 

 

 

The Little Bookshop in Venice

On my first visit to Venice in 2003, I stayed in Cannaregio, one of six historic districts in this City of Canals. Exploring, I found the simple Santa Maria dei Miracoli, known as the ‘marble church’, which sits prettily next to the Campo dei Miracoli (a plaza) but it was closed at that hour.  I had just met my future son-in-law’s parents and learned they married in this church, and Cannaregio is where their children were born and raised.

The next day, I leaned out my hotel window and shot photographs of delivery guys in high galoshes slosh through ‘aqua alta’ (high water) while forcing flatbed carts piled high with UPS and FedEx packages.  Two hours and a couple of espressos later, the water levels finally subsided and I could walk back to see inside the church.

Midway to the altar, I sat immersed in peace, quiet, and streams of dust motes colored by reflections from stained glass. All of a sudden, I was disturbed by loud crinkling noises and talking; it was a gaggle of chattering tourists who walked in wearing black garbage bags over their shoes and tied at their kneecaps.

Outside the 15th century church, two shops flanked one side of the campo (plaza). After peering into the pristine stationery shop window, I headed to the bookshop next door. The tinkle of a bell was triggered as I opened a heavy glass-inset wooden door.  I immediately noted very little semblance of order. It was my dream come true and a librarian’s nightmare. Wooden tables and bookcases held stacks of books ascending several feet while postcard racks with a mixture of cards were pushed up against the little bit of wall space available in the shop.

A weathered, yet dapper-looking, elderly gentleman appeared from the back while chirpily announcing “Buongiorno!”  He wore a business suit, a sweater vest and tie which looked like it was all from a much earlier decade. We hand gestured, due to language barriers, miming my wish to browse and his delight to have a customer. Soon, a children’s book, legal-sized with a water-color cover, caught my eye.  The artwork included Basilica San Marco, Venice’s iconic image.

The title “Ondina e Pesce Gatto” was loosely translated to “Water-Nymph and Catfish from Paris to Venice” by Claude Morhange and Cassandra Wainhouse.   As I picked the book up, the gentleman became animated.  “Molto bene!”  he exclaimed.  Pointing to the English words, he said, “You speak!”  With a twinkle in his eye and a gentle smile, I found him too endearing to refuse.The story was printed in both English and Italian;  I read the English side aloud and ten minutes later while closing the magical book, I noticed a wistful look on the old man’s face as he said, “Grazie mille.” (“Thank you, very much.”)  If I had small children in my family, I would have bought it, but my children were grown and there were no grandchildren.  Back into the chilly November sunshine, postcards in hand, I felt as if I had been in a magical time warp sprinkled with stardust.

Two years later I returned to Venice and ventured back to Campo dei Miracoli.  It was going to be my first grandchild’s baptism and I was searching for the right gift. In a beautiful stationery shop, I purchased a hand-blown glass wax seal with Gabriel’s initials. Going back outside to the sunshine, I strolled over to the bookshop. The elderly man who I met before was not there but I met his son who helped me find “Ondina e Pesce Gatto” on a table outside. I bought it, while I also inquired about his father; he told me ‘papa’ was home that day but was doing well.

Both items I bought were treasures for my six month old grandson whose baptism would be the following day in a villa near Venice. Happily, there was now a small child in my family, even an Italian one, who would someday read “Odina e Pesce Gatto“, perhaps he will be able to read and understand the Italian version, too.Ondina

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shanghai Spirits

Recently I wondered when the first ghost sighting was recorded, so as anyone would do these days, I Googled it.  There was mention of a book, “Ghost Sightings” by Brian Innes, where it is said the oldest written report of a ghost comes from the Bible. Saul goes to a medium (“a woman that hath a familiar spirit”) and asks her to conjure up the deceased Samuel, which she, it says, does by Samuel appearing in the form of “an old man covered with a mantle.”

Whether you believe in the spirit world or not, unexplainable ghostly appearances have been shared for centuries. But we can also sense the ‘spirit of a place’ or the ‘spirit of a person’ if we listen quietly.

While researching information for a book I’m writing about my family, one thing was missing. Reading and watching documentaries from my easy chair was not going to give me the “sense of place” I needed to continue.

With a few small miracles falling into place, I was off to Shanghai and my cousin, John, and his wife flew in from England to join me. Via email, we hired a private Shanghainese guide, recommended by John’s sister who hired the same guide two years prior (my grandfather, Sam Sharrock, was their uncle).

While waiting a day for my cousin, I explored the Bund and Nanjing Road solo while discovering I loved the culture shock of experiencing an Asian country for the first time. So many people wore the ‘good luck color’ of red, it was also crowded, and Chinese vendors would follow trying to lure me into an alley to see their wares. It’s also hard not to mention how a father thought it was ok for his young son to urinate on the sidewalk. This was China.

Little boy peeing

Little boy peeing

Glitz

Glitz

Exploring the fantastic British colonial buildings, I thought of my mother and grandparents visiting embassies, art deco hotels, and even the same department store on Nanjing Road which still operated as the No. 1 Department Store. These buildings were part of their lives during the 1920s-40s, when living there was envied as Shanghai was called the “Paris of the East.” It was a wild ‘free’ port of call with immigrants arriving from all over the war-torn world.

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Astor House Hotel – side wing

Lao Feng Xiang Jewellers Store (with handsome Caucasian man in front)

Lao Feng Xiang Jewellers Store

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Peace Hotel atrium

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Astor House Hotel

Our guide, Henry, picked us up in a large van. Since my grandfather was a British police officer, we began the tour at Jinxing police station in an old Shanghainese neighborhood. It was fortuitous to find a couple of men chatting in front of the station. I photographed the exterior and the people in the neighborhood while listening to Henry speak in rapid fire Cantonese to the men. I’m not sure if there was a bribe involved, but 15 minutes later a key appeared and we were allowed through the iron gate into the compound.

Kashing Road

Jiaxing Road Police Station, 290 Harbin Road, built 1907, known for having arrested Chen Duxiu, one of Chinese Communist Party founders

Jiaxing Road Police Station, 290 Harbin Road, built 1907, known for having arrested Chen Duxiu, one of Chinese Communist Party founders

Taking in the scene, I noted sagging roof lines, rain gutters hanging by a sliver of bracket, and rusted iron bars on the ground floor windows.

In the back of the compound I found a collection of clean, brightly flowered enamel chamber pots next to a door which led me to think someone must be living in this squalor.

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Laundry and boy with balloon in doorway with old woman looking out window above - we are a curious lot
Laundry and boy with balloon in doorway with old woman looking out window above – we are a curious lot

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I could almost see spectral wafting figures of prisoners being held here before transferring to the goliath Ward Prison nearby. I only knew of Sam from stories shared by my grandmother and mother, the black and white photographs, as well as letters he wrote to them. I envisioned him in his crisp high collared black police uniform patrolling these same grounds. I was fascinated by what secrets this building held; was this where the bomb went off in his office?

Climbing back into the van, we were pensive while chatting about Sam and his tragic end. The driver took us a short distance to the apartment building where the family lived and after exploring the honeycomb of entrances, we found the red door of F01, our family’s apartment. Unfortunately we were not able to see inside as the tenant was in a rest home, of which the guard informed Henry. This building had a historical plaque and was in good condition, so it was unlikely it would be torn down anytime soon.

The Family Apartment's Front Door

Sharrock’s front door on Weihai Road

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Partial exterior shot of apartment building on Weihai Road

While taking photos of the rosebush in the central garden of the gated complex, I wondered if these roses served as inspiration for my mom’s love of roses. I remembered memories she shared with me with one scene in this  driveway. Young military men picked Nona up for dates in their American issued jeeps and she told me how nervous she felt. I have a photo of one of those times and now I could actually touch the brick on this side of the building.

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Inside the apartment courtyard

Another time of reminiscing, a  fond memory my mother shared was of hopping her bike and riding out the gate full steam ahead. The rickshaw drivers shouted obscenities in Chinese admonishing her for going too fast as she weaved around them. My mother said she loved the ‘freedom of flying’ with the wind blowing her hair back off her face while she pedaled in pubescent madness. This was a happy time shortly before she would spend 4 years in a POW camp.

Now, seventy five years later, I jay-walked the busy lanes in front of the imposing brick building and imagined the spirit of a young girl flying down Weihai Road on her bicycle; in my mind’s eye I could see her disappearing in the distance.

My six senses were brought alive by traveling to the city of my mother’s birth while giving me the “sense of place” I needed to write their story.

Nona and a friend with jeep of a GI (who is probably taking the photo)

My mother (on the right) and a friend with jeep of a GI (who is probably taking the photo) next to her apartment building.

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Standing in the portal leading to the family apartment door

A Bumpy Landing in Shanghai

With any journey, we have to expect the unexpected. Something will always happen, we just don’t know what it will be until it’s over and done with.

The 12 hr flight to Shanghai from San Francisco went relatively smoothly. I managed to sleep a little but really do wish I was wealthy enough to fly more comfortably. My 65 year old body rebels rather vehemently to being so cramped.  The seats are so close together and the flights are always packed. The young woman next to me in her middle seat, slept with her head on the tray in front of her and her ponytail kept slithering over onto my tray making it hard to get my water bottle without pulling hair out of her scalp (Which I ended up doing once and waking her up. Oops.)

  

                                           Flying into Shanghai 

By the time the plane landed (And I am very thankful it did land after hearing the recent horrific news of the plane from Spain to Germany being purposely flown into the Swiss Alps obliterating everyone on board.) and I got through customs uneventfully, 2 hours had passed. The Shanghai  airport is new, large, and well signed. I used the ATM for some yuan and bought the ticket for the Maglev high speed train. 

   

 

   

 

The train went as high as 300 kilometers per hour (186 mph) making the 40 mile trip take only 8 minutes. As instructed by guidebook  sources, I departed the train at Longhu ? station and started seeking the taxi stand. There were’t signs so it wasn’t  an obvious situation, and I was tired. Coming down an escalator I spotted young men giving out flyers which most people brushed off. A man came up to me and asked, “You want taxi?” Boy, did I ever!

I had read about scammers so I was cautiously optimistic about getting a cheap ride to my hotel. He was taking me along the back corridors as we exited the station so I stopped and asked what was up and where were we going. Was this a real taxi? “Yes, yes! ‘Normal’ taxi!! Normal taxi!! ” he exclaimed. Damn, damn, I was being scammed. But there was no turning back at that point I had to ride it though, so to speak.

I saw he was talking on the phone which escalated my thinking about being “shanghaied” in Shanghai. The irony, right?

A regular looking taxi pulled up and they load my case and carryon into the trunk and I ease into the back seat. The “taxi pimp” is talking rapid fire to the old man driver and then he turns to me and says ¥280 to my hotel. I knew that was too high. Still lower than a shuttle,  but too high for a taxi. I started bartering and he actually held up his opened wallet to show me it was empty so I was supposed to fill it up for him, apparently. Um, no. I went to get out of the car and told him to open the trunk, so then he came down to ¥250, ¥230, and with one foot almost out of the door we agreed to ¥200, and by that point I figured $35 to the hotel was just going to have to be my final price. I was too exhausted by the 18 hr travel day to haggle any further. It was after 7:00 p.m.

The taxi-pimp took my money, gave some to the driver, and jumped out of the car. That was the last I saw of him. It was a quiet, and longer than I anticipated, drive into the city of Shanghai. The meter wasn’t running. The lights of the high rises were filtered by a light fog. The familiar “Pearl Building” stood out in colorful splendor.

We pull up to a flurry of activity in front of the Astor House. People are clamoring to use my taxi. The driver looked at me to get out and I pointed to the trunk where my possessions lay abandoned, and he gives a look as if to say, “Oh yeah, I forgot about that.” Criminey.

   

 

I whipped around to the trunk, grabbed my things out, and felt a bit irritated with myself for falling for a scam as I  tried squeezing between the people who want my taxi so I can check into the hotel. A porter grabs my bag and carries it to the front desk. I worry about not having any more ¥ (yuan) to tip him. He doesn’t seem to notice, or care.

As I am checking in at the desk, it appears my bank card won’t work after the young woman runs it through several times. We tried another. Doesn’t work. Plus, they are charging me more than what the Booking.com contract quoted me. Luckily I had that printout available showing the young clerk who is a bit timid and is getting flustered. I feel bad for her that she has to encounter me. I am rarely rude or abrasive, but I was tired, thirsty, and needed to go to sleep.  The funds were there, just not accessible for some reason.

Finally a manager gets involved who suggests I pay in cash for one night in order to give me time to contact my bank. With the 16 hr time difference, they weren’t opened yet, but he would give me until 2pm the next day to work it all out. Gee, thanks…then what? 

The bell hop, a young Chinese man who was very sweet, took my luggage up to my 4th floor room leading the way. He also didn’t seem phased that I had no tip.

I finally had a bed, bottled water (I was very dehydrated), peace and quiet. But first, I took a marvelously cleansing-the travel-off-me-shower, and then emailed my bank to be sure they had my vacation notification on file to get this situation worked out.Finally I was in the notoriously hard Chinese bed and falling , hard, into a long sleep. At  6 a.m. I awoke to a new day in China.

   

 

Genetic Connections or Just Another Pretty ‘Face’

My mother and grandmother arrived in San Francisco via ship from Shanghai in 1947. Almost 70 years later, I sat in San Francisco International Airport waiting for my flight to Shanghai for my very first visit to my mother’s birthplace. What had once been a figment of my imagination when seeing family photos and hearing stories, was soon becoming a reality. Since I was born in San Francisco in 1949, it seemed only fitting to change planes there after my Seattle flight. I purposely chose SF over LA for this familiararity.

The noise in the SF airport was deafening. The international wing of the concourse had mainly  Asian flights arriving and departing and I had a feeling I was experiencing only a small fraction of the chaos, noise, and flurry of activity which will soon overload my senses for the next ten days. Along with primarily Asian families,  there are a few very elderly people who are perhaps finally returning home to China after fleeing so long ago. (My imagination is working overtime again.) And, to make it all a bit more crazy, there was a very large contingent of children on the flight, too. They were elementary students visiting their sister-school in Shanghai, as I find out later. 

So many unknowns are before me; this trip feels very different from other journeys I have taken.  I am glad there is the security knowing I have a hotel room, and am meeting my cousin and cousin-in-law the day after I arrive. Additionally, we have also arranged a guide to show us many of our family landmarks; Mr. Wong showed another cousin the same itinerary 2 years ago. (My grandfather was the uncle of my cousins.) 

Another known fact will be seeing the iconic Shanghai skyline, the church where my grandparents were married, which is the same one where my mother was baptized. The apartment house where they lived is still standing, too. I am not clear if any of the old British and Japanese police stations where my grandfather worked as a policeman, an inspector, and then acting superintendent-in-charge still stand, but that will become clear very soon.

Will I feel a genetic connection or will Shanghai just be another pretty city? I have a very long 12 hour flight ahead of me before I find out. 

View of Leaving the San Francisco, California Coastline Flying to Shanghai (probably over Pacifica in this photo, which is a little south of the City)

 

The Teeny-Tiny Fern

The Story of a Teeny-Tiny Fern

By Vivian C. Murray

When I moved to Seattle as an empty nester 20 years ago, the first place I lived was a below-ground-floor apartment. It had a teeny-tiny courtyard shaded by a Japanese maple with a bit of dirt on an elevation by the stairs where I planted flowers.

One day I noticed a teeny-tiny fern which had popped up under the slat of the old fencing bordering my teeny-tiny courtyard. (I eventually painted those slats bright blue.)

Since it was unheard of to find little ferns growing in dry Colorado, where I had lived the previous 13 years, I nurtured the fern as I embarked on a new life in the Pacific Northwest. The teeny-tiny fern grew. I potted it when I moved and took it with me to the next 2 houses and one condo over the following 12 years. The pots grew larger with the fern.

Finally, last year, I somewhat reluctantly planted the fern in my growing flower garden where I have lived for almost 8 years (same number of years as my grandson’s life). I knew this is where the now, very large fern, would live out the rest of its days.

The fern has flourished in the soil surrounded by all the flowers which have been planted into what was once a plot of empty, tree-root-bound and rocky soil. Flowers I have purchased, a climbing clematis with iron trellis which had been a gift from my daughter, perennials a friend gifted me from her own garden last year, flowers from my neighbor, and even a blueberry bush my late mom sent to me as a housewarming gift when I first moved in. Another neighbor, who has his own landscaping company, told me blueberry bushes need mating bushes to bloom.  I now have two blueberry bushes which produce berries for the wildlife which wander by (squirrels, possums, raccoons). 

 A garden is never just a garden, they have stories, too.

If you want to read an amazing garden story, read about how the Findhorn founders planted their garden on barren soil near Aberdeen, Scotland.  (Read about it especially if if you want to believe in fairies…)

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Ah, Fado, I love you…how can I leave now that we’ve just met?

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After Jordan’s and my own less than graceful exit from the cable car (see previous post “Mists of Sintra”), we found the flea market on the backside of a very large church. In hindsight, I was pretty burnt out on churches by the time we reached Lisbon, so I ignored the open doors of this cathedral (it was the “National Pantheon” no less). Nor did I visit the cathedral just down the road from our apartment.

The Lisbon cathedral survived the Great Earthquake of Lisbon in 1755 which was a massive earthquake and tsunami destroying most of Lisbon and leaving 30,000-40,000 dead. Seismologists of today estimate the earthquake was probably an 8.5-9.0 magnitude. Even thousands of people across the sea in Morocco died. (It was this same quake and tsunami which killed the children memorialized in the Chapel of Bones photo, I took in Faro, in a previous posting.)

King Joseph-of-Sintra-fame was in power at the time and unfortunately had quite a catastrophe to manage as he was constructing his castle. However, he was an efficient manager as the City was able to clean up and start rebuilding within a year. (Having grown up in San Francisco and privy to many a quake, earthquakes scare the bejeezus out of me.) The Lisbon earthquake, tsunami, and ultimately horrendous fire, left a most tragic mark on Portugal’s history.

The Feira da Ladra “The Thieve’s Market” (named after a woman (who liked to shop?)) has been dutifully held twice a week since the 12th century. These time-honored events in Europe are remarkable for their stamina as generations carry on the traditions while still respecting their architecture and historical values. This is so unlike the build-them-up-and-tear-them-down-only-to-rebuild-them-up tradition in the United States.

Soon after entering the maze of the market, I bought a necklace chain to hold the little medallions I’ve collected on my travels since I broke the one I had in Granada. The chain was for a significantly lower price than what the merchant in Tangier was trying to sell me a few days prior. Here I paid €2 instead of €60 although I’m sure it’s not sterling. I bought it from an old Portuguese couple who did not speak English and who appeared sadly resigned selling their belongings in the market.

As Jordan and I wandered around looking at mostly local and non-commercial personal items of Lisbon’s residents, I thought how my experience would have been totally different if I lived here. Then I could have just bought and taken that awesome mirror I saw home.

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Eventually Jordan uttered those dreaded and all too familiar words, “I’m hungry” as we just so happened to round a corner leading us right up to the door of a small cafe. We went inside to order juice, a cappuccino, and luscious custard tarts. We managed to get a couple of barstools at a counter when I noticed the lovely handmade chocolates in the glass case nearby.

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After the cafe cleared out I started speaking with the woman behind the counter, who was the owner. She spoke great English and told me she made the chocolates and had graduated from a culinary school. From what I saw, her cafe was in a great location and a success. Most Importantly, she loved what she did.

Jordan and I went back outside where I stopped at a table to ask a colorful hippie chick if she knew where I could hear some fado. She was very helpful writing down (in my mol-skin booklet) the names and locations of both a restaurant she loved for their octopus, and a local bar with great fado if I came later in the evening. It would have been fun to sit with her and ask what it was like being a hippie in Lisbon and then I could tell her about my experience as a flower child in the 60’s living in San Francisco.

Jordan and I continued on to look for a gift to bring home for Gabriel, my 6 year old grandson. It was then that Jordan noticed a woman, about the time I did, who really made her nervous. It was odd for her to act fearful. But in this case, she hid behind me whenever the woman would move, and she wasn’t even that close by. Maybe it was the woman’s shock of fire-red hair and her height which scared my sweet 3 1/2 year old who was peeking out behind my legs.

We gravitated toward a large tent with beautiful colorful fabrics. There Jordan relaxed and helped me pick out a sari, which the Eastern Indian women said was an unusual print, particularly for a sari. Another of my weaknesses: fabric.

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I bought the sari, for their asking price. Once again I felt the sellers were not trying to gouge me, they were just people who could appreciate the money (and the women were very sweet with Jordan even giving her an “I Love Portugal” decal). We walked a little further and found a cork box (most of the cork in the world comes from the cork trees in Portugal) with hand painted dancing children on the top. This was a perfect gift for Gabriel. Then we found a couple of trinkets for Jordan, too. Bag in hand, she and I headed out of this wonderful market hopping right on a cable car as if it had been waiting for us.

Before leaving the United States, I told a friend that two goals of mine on this adventure was to see flamenco in Spain and hear Fado music in Portugal. Seeing flamenco happened in Sevilla but hearing fado hadn’t, and now only one night was left in Portugal since we were flying back home the next day. I was talking myself into just letting the wish go by the wayside and just be thankful for all the other amazing experiences during this 3 week journey.

Back to the apartment, Jordan and I crawled into my bed with my iPad to read her a story while she quickly fell into a deep sleep. I dozed a bit, then caught up with the international news online, and updated friends and family via email.

The Adult Kids came home an hour or so later. Jordan woke and we exchanged interesting stories from our day and all went to the downstairs restaurant (owned by our Lisbon landlords) to dinner. I decided to put some effort into dressing up just in case I decided to try getting over to a fado bar. A nice scarf and jewelry can do wonders when traveling when you need to dress up one of the 2 sets of clothes you have been wearing day-in-and-day-out. Dinner was ok, but not outstanding, but Jordan behaved well (unlike the night before), so the nap did wonders. She took photos with my camera to amuse herself, and so so did I.

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After dinner I bid my adieu and went up the street to a restaurant I noticed a few doors up. They had turned me away a couple of nights ago when I asked if I could listen to fado there. He had politely told me only if I ordered dinner. This time, I was dressed better, and I politely asked the server standing in the doorway if I could buy a drink and listen to the fado singer. Again, he very professionally told me I could only come in if I ordered dinner. So, I sweetly said, “What time can I come back to buy a glass of wine and just listen to fado?” I was firm but friendly. He gave me a funny little look, raised a finger, and said, “One moment please.” Two moments later he returned and bowed to me saying, “Please, this way.”

I entered the candlelit and crystal chandaliered dining room noticing the white tablecloths and only one couple sitting at a table in front of the windows. There was a small stage with a mic but no one was there. I asked the maitre ‘d where I should sit and again he bowed saying, “Anywhere you wish, madam.” I felt like I had walked into a dream. There was a table under a mirror on the far wall in direct view of the minuscule stage. My table was perfectly set as if I was going to order an entrée, and bread was put before me as my server told me I didn’t have to eat (many restaurants in Europe charge for items such as bread). I proceeded to order wine and settled in for what turned into an hour and a half of fado songs sung by a very soulful man strumming his guitar.

Another man, with a yellow scarf wrapped several times around his neck, and extraordinarily long shoes where toes couldn’t possibly fit, sat at a table in the front silently, and alone, for the entire time I was there. His table was elegantly set with a bowl of white sand holding 3 long white tapered candles in contrast to mine, which held only one. I knew he had to be the owner (and he was) since the wait staff were very gratuitous while deferring to him at every turn.

My server/maitre ‘d came over to me to chat during one brief intermission. I learned that the couple at the other table, around my age or a little younger, are in the midst of a journey bicycling from Holland. And they weren’t done yet. They were drinking and having a great time, with the guy being handed the fado singer’s guitar at one point so he could play some dramatic chords.

There was another older man in the shadows whom I hadn’t noticed before, who ended up being persuaded to sing a mournful fado tune quite beautifully. I was told he lived in the neighborhood and was known as the local fado singer. My buddy, the server, asked me questions about myself and thought it was hysterically funny that I came all the way from America to go to the Feria da Ladra where his father used to take him as a kid. The fact that I did something as normal as the locals seemed to please him.

Eventually I was the only customer left, other than the neighborhood fado singer and the owner. The scheduled performer sang in my direction quite a lot, but I was the only female in the place, so that was pretty much a given. He sang beautifully and the only time I understood any lyrics at all, was when he sang “Bridge Over Troubled Water” in his soulful melodic tones. People have said that fado is the Portuguese version of the blues. Frankly, I enjoy the blues much more, but that could have a lot to do with the language barrier. My server buddy told me the Portuguese language is very easy for artists to translate to poetry and musical lyrics, hence, Fado. It was very soothing music, for sure.

The night was waning and so was my 22 day sojourn in Spain, Gibraltar, Morocco, and Portugal. I stood up to leave and the fado singer pointedly thanked me. I replied with a thank-you in Portuguese, “Obrigada!” and they all clapped. I wafted out of the restaurant in some dreamlike state of mind while the owner thanked me, the well tipped server thanked me, and I thanking the shy old fado singer who was at the table closest to the door in the shadows. I was also given a business card by the owner with his email address and promised to send him photos of the evening. The Portuguese name of the restaurant meant “Seduction.” I think the owner is a gypsy. He had that mysterious mystical energy about him.

Floating outside into the street, I was at our apartment door within moments, and easily walked up the 5 flights of stairs still hearing the sweet soul of Portugal’s music in my mind. This was the perfect way to close a chapter on this amazing journey.

Obrigada…

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