eastwind memoirs 02 – brawl in a border village bar – PORTUGAL

eastwind memoirs 02
Brawl in a Border Village Bar – PORTUGAL
By Bernie Lopez, eastwindreplyctr@gmail.com
(The Filipino author hitchhiked 25,000 kilo­meters for 18 months, drifting through 18 countries in Europe and North Africa for 3. This is a true story, with the dialogue reconstructed.)
during the death march
in bataan in world war two
the soldiers who survived
were those whose only concern
was to place one foot in front of the other
those who looked up
the endless road ahead died of despair
myopia is sometimes a virtue
foresight a dangerous folly
especially in times of crisis and pain
         At the first Portuguese village at the border of Spain and Portugal, Vila Real de San Anto­nio, I rested outside a bar. It was dusk. The evening was becoming royal blue against a cloudless sky.
         The guitar was heavy. I peeked in. The bar­ten­der beckoned to me. He saw my guitar, my magic wand. I went in. I did not know it was easy to understand Portuguese if you spoke broken Spanish. With a little help from non-verbal communica­tions, I felt at home in Portugal. There was an all-male group, all in different levels of inebriation in this crowded village bar.
         The bartender pointed to my guitar. So I brought it in and took it out of the case. He told me to play a tune. I obliged. The drinkers, mostly middle- and old-aged, gathered around me, staring si­lently, waiting for me to open my mouth and strum the guitar. I did not have stage fright. I felt like singing. There I was sing­ing a Filipino Christmas carol again weeks after Christmas, the same tune I played in Morocco for Vicky and her boy friend, Ang Pasko Ay Sumapit (Christmas is here). I thought the song would impress listeners as really ‘foreign’, really ‘eastern’. In reality, the minor chord progression was very Spanish in origin. It was also for lack of other songs to sing.
         In the middle of the song, a huge mug of cold beer slid down the ramp and screeched to a halt in front of me, frothing with anger. Then a large salami sandwich came next. They knew I was hungry. After the first song, they shouted rowdily. They grabbed the guitar from me and one played and sang a sad Portuguese folk song while I ate raven­ous­ly.
         That night, I had about six mugs of beer, some­thing I had not done for a long time. It was a far cry from the meditative gofio of Lanzarote. I was out of Africa, back in Europe were alcohol was king. After that quiet cave, it was good to mix with the rowdy Portuguese who were more drunk than I was.
         A guy put an arm around my shoulder. We both talked in broken Spanish. “Listen, my young man, where are you sleeping tonight?” he asked.
         I shrugged my shoulder, “I don’t know. Perhaps in the park outside. I saw a nice park outside.”
         His eyes widened in amusement. He laughed aloud until he choked. “You sleep in the park outside? That’s terrible. Nonsense, my young man. You sleep in my house tonight.”
         “You’re sure it’s no trouble?”
         “No trouble at all. It is my privilege to have a Filipino for a guest. We never see Filipinos around here, you know.”
         “Okay, muito obrigato.”, I did not remember if that was Catalan or Portuguese, but he understood and laughed.
         “Fine. I’ll see you later.”
         He left to join others who were singing, or trying to sing. There were no videokes or karaokes then. I joined others who were trying to talk to me. Everyone had to shout to be heard. It was total pandemonium. Another guy called me aside. He almost fell on me.
         “Where are you sleeping tonight, my friend?” he said.
         “Someone offered me to sleep in his house.”
         I pointed to the guy who was by now trying to sing.
         He said, “Sebastian? Nonsense. You’re sleeping in my house tonight.”
         I shrugged my shoulders, “Doesn’t matter. Anywhere is fine.”
         “No, you sleep in my house,” he insisted with finality.
         “Talk to him,” I smiled.
         He marched straight to the other guy. They had an argu­ment. The others were siding with one or the other. The chaos was reaching a climax. Then I knew it would happen. The two had a fist fight. One went down on the floor. The other dove at him and they grappled like children on the floor to the amusement of everyone. Everyone was shouting like they were in an American wrestling match.
         I felt so privileged that in my first Portuguese village, people were fighting over me to sleep in their house. The feeling was nice. But if I did not leave, there would be a dilemma. I quietly took my guitar and was about to leave. The bartender saw me. I hush-hushed him and he understood. Quiet­ly, I left and walked to a nearby park. The pandemonium vanished away slowly. Then there was a deafening silence.
         I slept in the park. There was no rain. I preferred sleep­ing in the open alone rather than feeling rigid as a guest in a house whose host would certainly be over-hospit­able. It was good I left. And it was also good they fought over me. That was something I would never forget ever, my first encounter with the boisterous and lovable Portuguese. The whole night, before sleeping, I was laughing aloud to myself like a lunatic. The Portuguese were very much like Filipinos, I thought, warm, over-hospit­able, easy to befriend, noisy, unassuming, and reckless. Bernie Lopezeastwindreplyctr@gmail.com
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