memoirs, art and fragments by Thomas Milner

Posts tagged ‘Portugal’

Death on the roads

mortality_Portugal

The statistics of deaths caused by road accidents in Portugal are heart-wrenchingly high.

A bad year will have about 2000 people losing their lives (needlessly) on the roads of this country.

(That’s more than the combined NATO forces’ annual mortality rate in Afghanistan).

Time to get real

While the agents of these accidents are largely men

The victims are mixed,

Women, old people and children.

So if you are planning to drive this Xmas please

SLOW DOWN

to avoid occasions like this:

FUNERAL

FUNERAL

The Home where I live

The Home where I live is situated in the north of Portugal in a village called Maceda

that thread of good luck which has run unobtrusively through my life, I have found myself in one of the most reputable Old People’s Homes in the district. Modern, spacious, clean and fairly well designed, it’s a large building salubriously situated on a hill overlooking the sea.

The sea-view makes all the difference to me – satisfying my sense of aesthetics and soothing my troubled psyche.

The Home was the brain-child of the parish priest Sr. Padre Florentino Sousa and all honour to him for that.

Padre Florentino is the President of the Centro Social Paroquial S. Pedro de Maceda, (facebook ref. CSPSPMaceda) which includes a pre-primary school, a day-care centre and a meals-on-wheels service as well as the Old People’s Home, which was formally opened in 2003 by the then Bishop of Porto, D. Armindo Lopes Coelho. (There is a polished brass plaque attesting to this in the entrance hall). The funding for the project came from local worthies, one of whom donated the building land. The project is certified and supervised by the Social Security in Aveiro.

If the Padre is the President, then the driving force (the beating heart) of the Home is the Technical Director, Dra. Marta Reis.

This wholly admirable young woman has worked tirelessly to improve the level of care and professionalism of the whole team of care-workers. When I first arrived here not long after the place had been opened and before Marta & Co. came on the scene, some of the care-workers didn’t care and some of the cooks couldn’t cook and I was in too dark a mental place to be a position to assert myself.

Now, about eight years later, conditions have greatly improved, both with me and with the Home, thanks in no small measure to the efforts of Marta and her team and I would like en passant to express my gratitude for being so well and kindly cared for.

Here is a rather inadequate sketch I recently made  of the Home from the garden.

Letter from Portugal

Picture the scene: it’s the 5th October 2012, a public holiday to commemorate Portugal’s metamorphosis from a tired old Kingdom into a brave new Republic in 1911.

It’s a sunny day and the populace is gathered in front of the balcony on which the President, Sr. Anibal Cavaco Silva plus entourage is waiting for the raising of the proud standard of the Republic – The Portuguese Flag.

Slowly it rises but hang on a minute, something’s wrong! The flag is upside down, the wrong way up or reversed!

Oops! What a blunder! What a gaffe! (Someone’s going to lose their job tomorrow).

The symbolism of this little incident was not lost on anyone. The reversed flag is (literally) emblematic of the Portugal’s reversed fortunes which are mired in financial, political and social crisis.

But still, hey, things are not all black are they?

For the National Assembly felt prosperous enough to be able to vote for five new top-of-the-range Audi cars for the ruling party’s ministers.

Crisis, what crisis?

The Domino Effect

 

Back in 2010, the euro-zone members and the International Monetary Fund agreed to a 100 billion euro bailout package to help Greece.  In return for this, the Greek government planned tax increases and deep cuts in pensions and public service pay.  It is reported that Greece has not implemented the planned changes. Therefore, the need for obligatory terms is under greater demand.

Because of the falling euro and as a result of the financial crisis the other weak members of the euro-zone were faced with the inability to repay their debts.  In November of 2010, the EU and IMF agreed to an 85 billion euro bailout package to the Republic of Ireland, followed by a May 2011 bailout of 78 billion to Portugal.  In July of 2011, a second bailout package of 109 billion euros was agreed to for Greece.

Due to increased fear that any of these countries could default on their public debts, Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece and Spain were been given the unfortunate acronym of PIIGS.

Oh crumbs

Oh crickey

Oh cripes

That crisis!

June is the cruellest month

Sardine city

The night of S. João in Porto – sardine city

In the old days when we used to sally forth and mingle with the throng in the narrow old streets of the Ribeira region of the city. Le tous Porto was abroad that night. Bank directors and their families rubbed shoulders with the denizens of the quarter down at Fontainhas and the fragrant stench of grilling sardines pervaded the whole city.

June, not April, is the cruellest month for us sardines. Our dad Sid is the union rep. for the shoal and makes a public address:

Brothers and sisters, fellow fish, as you all know June is here again which means Red Alert for us in-shore shoals off the Portuguese coast. You all may remember the success of our Save Our Babies campaign, with Brussels changing the EU regulations regarding net-size. Unfortunately the Portuguese fishermen continue to use the (illegal) tight nets and I’ve just been informed by a reliable source that this year they are deploying a new weapon – depth-charges, which is in direct contravention of The Atlantis Convention. (Let me just remind you of the details of this deadly weapon: a 4 Kg. bomb is detonated at a depth of 9 meters; within a radius of up to 20 meters all piscine life is obliterated, from 20 to 50 meters we suffer severe internal injuries and are thus uneatable, but from 50 meters outwards we are disoriented and swim towards the surface and become prey to the enemies’ nets; so none of us is safe. Remember our motto: stick together for shark attack but spread out for human attack – they can’t catch us all.

This is probably my last speech to you as I’m joining the suicide-shoal to lure the fishing fleets away from the main body. May Neptune guide you safely through the waters.

 (Our dad joined the tens of thousands of his fellow fish to be caught, grilled on a charcoal fire then balanced onto a nice slice of seeded rye bread.

Yes June is not a particularly easy month for us sardines).

Please allow me to introduce myself

Please allow me to introduce myself, I’m a man of wealth and taste … thus the opening words of a famous song from my youth – Sympathy for the Devil by the Rolling Stones.

Not particularly wealthy and of uncertain taste, I am an Englishman in late middle-age who, over the last eight years, has endured three brain operations to remove benign but aggressive brain tumours. For reasons, which will in time become clear, I have somehow managed to end up in an Old People’s Home in the north of Portugal overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.

I didn’t survive unscathed however; after the second procedure (six years ago) I was left with what the surgeons rather euphemistically described as a slight deficit in my right side.

I couldn’t even sign my own name! Part of my rehabilitation therapy was to draw and paint for about an hour each day.

I also had lapses of memory and after a long while in a very dark place I pulled myself together – It’s sauve qui peut in this place (pardon my French), I thought – and began to tap out with one finger my memories in order to fix them in my mind.

So here, in this slightly strange and surreal place, I produced and (self)published my book THE WAITING ROOM.

What therapy! What catharsis! I can’t recommend it enough for fellow victims – your memories will lead you into rich meadows in which you may graze at will …

COURAGE

(Pardon my French)

S.JORGE - PAINTING by THOMAS MILNER

No Country for Old People

With more than 1,000,000 old people, Portugal has one of the largest (proportionate) ageing populations on an ageing continent.

I live with about 35 of them.

THE OLD PEOPLE'S HOME

There is a tradition in most of Asia of reverence of and respect for the old. Here in the West however, owing the urbanization of society, the disintegration of the extended family-unit and the frenetic nature of people’s life-styles, we stick our old people into Care-Homes where they are sometimes neglected and disrespected.

I am not in such a Home, but even so dining downstairs can be a depressing experience indeed – the atmosphere muted, senescent and crepuscular. The three carers, who are nearing the end of their working day, are impatient to get home and who can blame them.

After the meal, which is rushed through at record-breaking speed, the walking wounded stagger off to their rooms while the wheel-chair brigade are briskly lined in the hall up in front of the elevator; one or two of them are dribbling slightly from the corners of their mouths.

They are patient, silent and exhausted.

Painting entitled 'flight attendant' by Thomas Milner

Painting - Flight Attendant - by Thomas Milner

And what am I (also a wheel-chair job) doing? I have stayed at my table near the double doors of the dining-room and am writing this.

There’s quite a crowd of them, by now, waiting for the 8.00 take-off; the queue is tailing back into the dining room, the last two old dears are sitting here beside my table; they are both wearing black; one of them is telling off the beads of her rosary and the other pulls a tired smile at me. I smile back. The others are all in serried ranks now, as though on a tired and murky Gatwick evening, waiting waiting waiting.

Oh, ye daughters of Jerusalem, cry out, cry out!

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