Monday, February 23, 2009

Southern Portugal By Chain Gang

My parents have decided to take a guided tour of Southern Portugal.

All winter, they’ve been talking about going somewhere for a short trip—someplace warm—and they found a guided tour that appealed to them, and they booked the trip.

They will leave in late March and return shortly before Easter.

The guided tour they selected is a little unusual—it spends four days and four nights in Estoril, three days and three nights in The Algarve, and one day and one night in Lisbon—but it appealed to them for several reasons.

First, they wanted a short trip, and the length of the guided tour—eight days and eight nights—was exactly what they wanted, although they will spend one extra day and one extra night in Lisbon at the conclusion of the guided tour.

Second, they wanted to take a trip that required no planning and no preparation, and a guided tour relieved them of any planning-and-preparation requirements.

Third, they wanted to go somewhere sunny and warm, and Southern Portugal should be sunny and warm in late March and early April.

Fourth, they wanted a slow-paced vacation, without a lot of moving around, and the guided tour of Southern Portugal is built around two different resort towns, both of great natural beauty and both offering a wide variety of daytime excursions to nearby places of interest.

Fifth, they wanted to go somewhere completely new to them, and Portugal will be uncharted territory for them.

Sixth, since no one could accompany them, they did not want to take a trip that would appeal to anybody else in the family, and I can safely say that the particular guided tour they booked has absolutely no appeal to any of us. My brothers and I are teasing my parents mercilessly about the trip—it is filled with cooking classes, Portuguese language lessons, visits to wineries, a marzipan demonstration, a Portuguese tile demonstration, a fishnet mending demonstration, a visit to a cork factory, an evening of Fado music and such, with everything proceeding precisely according to the tour operator’s daily schedule—and we have taken to calling it “Southern Portugal By Chain Gang”.

To be truthful, I think my parents will have a marvelous time. From Estoril, they will have a chance to explore some of Portugal’s most important sites. The Algarve is supposed to be an area of the most extravagant beauty. They will spend one day in Lisbon being escorted around to all the highlights, and a second day in Lisbon on their own visiting a museum or two. It should be a wonderful trip for them.

There are no nonstop flights between Minneapolis and Lisbon, but my parents will have only one stop on each leg of their journey. Outbound, my parents will fly Continental all the way, Minneapolis to Newark, and Newark to Lisbon. Returning, my parents will fly the Portuguese national carrier from Lisbon to Paris, and Northwest from Paris to Minneapolis. The outbound journey will take eleven hours and fifty-five minutes, but the return journey will take fourteen hours and fifteen minutes. The difference is all in the headwinds, because layover time is exactly the same in both directions: two hours and fifteen minutes.

I suspect they’ll have a most enjoyable visit to Portugal.


  1. Greetings, Andrew!

    I lived in Europe for seventeen years and never once set foot on Portuguese ground, not even during a flight layover. Parker and I have been traveling, too, but not to Estoril, unfortunately. So, I hope you can excuse me on this occasion for not providing a first comment more germane to the topic at hand. Goodness, Andrew, I feel like a boorish tour crasher!

    We arrived home Wednesday afternoon. Thank God. This morning I’m still groggy. Fortunately I have the rest of the week off, and both Parker and I need it. It was almost all work and no play for me. (Parker kept discreetly busy the whole time translating into English the long-hand Russian script contained within five familiar looking, Top Flight composition books bearing my name on numbered covers.) My friend Yuri Derums and I went to the Bolshoi Theater last Thursday to see “Onegin”. Parker hates opera and didn’t come (he usually doesn’t). Though influenced somewhat after reading your post regarding Onegin’s power to sway the staunchest anti-opera music lover, my Honey ultimately was not persuaded, despite my pleading, to attend. I missed him terribly that evening. Apart from one jazzy outing to a large club on Sunday that has become as traditional as going to the Bolshoi, I was just too stressed out at the end of each thirteen-hour work day, including Saturday, to get out much. I did no shopping at all on this trip. We just stayed in our little hotel room most nights.

    Parker brought along with him a DVD of D.A. Pennebaker’s famous 1970 documentary on the recording of the original Broadway cast album of Stephen Sondheim’s “Company”, which we watched, spellbound, a couple of times in our room. Most captivating was the chronicle of a frighteningly vital Elaine Stritch struggling with all her might to get her eleven-o’clock number, “The Ladies who Lunch” in the “can”. To witness her successive takes go from bad to worse, culminating in demoralizing defeat, was revelatory. Parker and I both couldn’t help but see the Broadway star’s suffering seachange into something “Stritch and strange” in Company as a simile for what we perceived as a subtle shift in attitude, in only eight months, among the company of Russians surrounding us. Even the Potemkin façade of the international Borodino Hotel was unable to hide from view the frightening signs of a reinvigorated and metastasizing national disease, which appears to be slowly transforming what I can best describe as complacent alacrity into wholesale, shrugging ineptitude. We could see these signs in the incompetent, crabby servers in the Kutuzov Restaurant; we could read them in Russian newspaper stories, at once boring and fishy; and we could hear them in the deadly intonation of the pop-eyed “good news” anchor on Russian TV. “You know, we SHOULD have gotten out more this time,” remarked my salty companion, master of the double – heck, TRIPLE – entendre, “I was beginning to feel like I was a patient interred in the “body of a crayfish”.

    Well, at least Parker was able to finish Charlotte Chandler’s new biography on Mae West.

    I was disappointed not to find a March issue of TAW in the mailbox when we got in. I hoped on the plane that there WOULD be, so that I could transcribe an article for you and Josh as a “homecoming present”. (I assume the FBI has failed you, Andrew.) Instead, waiting for me was a hilariously nasty e-mail from an old friend of mine in New York with whom I had had my first real relationship – at age forty, if you can believe it. “C” has a trenchant intellect matched only by his plebian ego. He was a Classics professor at Buffalo in those days; now he’s tenured at a prestigious institution on the west coast, the name of which I withhold here in order to protect the guilty. “C” and I continued to correspond after I left California for Texas. It was I who drew his attention to your blog last year, Andrew, and he – apparently – has kept up with it, though I don’t believe he ever posted a comment. If he did, chances are you deleted it before I saw it. Why would you have? You’ll see.

    The ostensible bone of “C”’s contention was my choice of the form of the word “anulus” in the phrase “lapsus anulus”, which I wrote in my last blog comment before leaving for Moscow. He waylaid me with his customary thoughtfulness and elegance for not writing the “grammatically correct”, “lapsus anuli”, and lectured me like a school master on the rules of grammar, swinging in his protracted rant between the borderline surreal – “Stray within your own field!” – and the parsably profane – “If you engineered [bi-syllabic, partially onomatopoeic present participle] circuitry like you engineered Latin prose, the whole [multisyllabic, “miso-maternally” compounded, partially onomatopoeic present participle] world would blow [monosyllabic onomatopoeic emphatic infix trailing untraceably superfluous definite article] up”. His real, underlying irritation, we suspect, was his belief that I used him as a model for the character “Georg Groeg” in my last TAW transcription – but, goodness, gracious, how could this be? All I did was copy what I saw, right?

    Ah, yes, “the inanity of extolled virtue,” as Joyce penned. “I’ll drink to THAT!”

    After reading such fatuously flirtatious “faex” as that, Parker and I were practically on the floor giggling unstoppably (it was welcome, trust me). God bless AMERICA!

    I have pasted below a copy of the response I sent to “C” last night, Andrew. In spite of the fatigue, I enjoyed myself immensely while composing it. (Even before breakfast this morning I’m still dabbing a gentleman’s postprandial lips.) Since there is no TAW at present, I thought the reply would amuse you instead. In order to ensure optimum entertainment value, however, you might as well know that “C” has been nearly insanely jealous of Parker since we met in 2000. You also need to know that the reason I broke up with “C” in 1993 was because I discovered he was “bi”. That was an intolerable situation for me. Why “C” has persisted in corresponding with me over the past nine years, trying (according to Parker) to “woo me back” is just beyond me – especially since he now has an equally pompous and foul-mouthed academician sharing his satin sheets. Isn’t there a reasonable pool of consenting adults rustling the bushes on those misty hills of Berkeley *?

    The phenomenon of “C” is the main reason I have always heeded my companion’s advice not to publish my e-mail address in any blog comment, Andrew, a safe practice that has come with the expected drawbacks. I would go mad if Andrew Patner or “The Queen” ever e-mailed me.

    Anyway, here’s the reply, with minimal, bracketed, alterations (and do pardon my “non-italics”):

    Dr. C[laudius Graves]:

    Farrago fatigas! [“thuffering thuckatash!”] I’m no scholar, sir, but I do hope that I am a gentleman. Yes, sir, “anulus” is declined like “digitus” – second declension rules – in CLASSICAL literature. Anyone can refer to his well-thumbed, high school paperback Latin dictionary and discover this fact in just thirty seconds. But that little book was more useful to ME for reading Horace, Vergil, and Ovid, not (necessarily) for reading fifth-century literature.

    It is certainly possible that I am wrong, sir; but it seemed to me that in the usage of the POPULAR vernacular of the 400’s, “anno Domini”, this particular word drifted almost mythically, like an amphisbaena (or the wonts of your “membrum virilis” [never mind]), between second declension and fourth declension, in the similarly irregular way that “domus” was styled in classical times. When “anulus” meant “finger RING” the rendering “lapsus anuli” would have been perfectly in order; and so Pliny would surely have smiled approvingly, though perhaps with a slight tilt of the head in the absence of a context. But it seemed that when “ring FINGER” was in the mind of a poet, “anulus” was declined like “manus” [“hand”], according to fourth declension rules. From what classical, literary womb, pray tell, did the French “annulaire” and the Italian “anulare” spring forth? Are not both these words translated “ring FINGER,” not “finger RING”? Surely you agree, sir, that the Italian word for “head,” “la testa,” did not derive from Pliny’s tilted “caput” but rather from “testum” (“jug”), a popular SLANG term commonly uttered by any university student of the fifth century who ever made mention of his professor’s cranium, be it a prognathous one or not.

    In the light of such perspicaciousness, accurate or faulty, wouldn’t you at least agree, sir, that “lapsus anulus” is more artful and less pedantic than the clinically classical – not to mention clumsy – “lapsus digiti anularis”?

    As you know, C[laudius], fifth-century Latin literature has fascinated me for some 35 years now. It is the pliancy of this language to the “weildiness” of colloquial speech that attracts me; and for this same reason I am fascinated with KOINE Greek and (now that I think of it) even to the modern prose style of Alexander Solzhenitsyn. Meanwhile, snooty professors of CLASSICAL Greek have consistently looked down their purist noses at colloquial KOINE, precursor to Modern, literary Greek, as being somehow “degenerate”, while self-obsessed, liberal hacks like Russian novelist Vladimir Voinovich have trashed this Nobel laureate – always one well-attuned to the mind’s “ear” – on the flimsiest basis that his grammar was “bad”.

    If memory serves, may I suggest that you refer to Sidonius Apollinaris’
    collection, “Panegyries”, and note please the grammatical way in which he refers, in Carmen 2, to Emperor Anthemius’ signet ring finger. (Tell me, please, if THAT’S a typo.)

    Until a seasoned etymologist of LATE Latin proves me to be mistaken, the form stands as is.

    As long as I’m digging [G]raves of academe in the “pumpkinificating” spirit of Seneca, I might just as well flesh-out the joke in my reference to Parker’s virtuosic keyboard dexterity. In 2004 my partner and I each donned the traditional gold Russian wedding band on the right hand in a private commitment ceremony among close friends at the renovated “Tri Obesany” in Moscow (where the same group rendezvoused just three days ago). In so doing Parker and I bumped our respective, bulky college rings – his: Yale; mine: MIT – to the left hand, a displacement which has since proven deliciously gratifying to both of us: As you know, sir, the Latin word “anulus” is the diminutive of a certain, not-so-ancient, four-letter, second declension noun meaning, “(large) finger ring”, which the modest Romans employed euphemistically in allusion to an uncouthly mentionable, anatomic orifice. I think you can fully appreciate, sir, why any vulgar evocation derived from the frequent near sighting of our class rings, – both traditional, ever-present reminders of certain nakedly, indefatigably stiff-necked American college professors – tactually configured to the LEFT, “manus-nitor-manu ”, would be, for the two of us at LEAST, doubly delightsome.

    “Verba volant, scripta manet”

    Okay, everybody together, now: a one and a two and a . . .

    “The ones who follow the RULES, and meet themselves AT the schools, too busy to KNOW that THEY’RE FOOLS: Aren’t they a GEM! (TAW. TAW TAW TAW. TAW-TAW) . . . I’ll drink to THEM! (TAW. TAW TAW TAW. TAW-TAW) Let’s ALL drink to them.”
    --Stephen Sondheim

    Parker and I are making use of our long weekend by heading out to the Gulf for some R&R.

    We’re leaving soon.

    I plan to drop a Russian ruble into the water for good luck. I will then hope the coin lies, full fathom five, unchangeably, frighteningly still . . .

    . . . at least until June . . . .



  2. I’m pleased you returned safely from Russia.

    I’ve never been to Russia, and I’m told it’s very difficult for visitors who do not speak Russian to get around. As a result, I believe most non-Russian speakers who visit Russia as tourists take guided tours.

    The Visa fee for Americans is $200.00, right? The thought of paying the Russian government $200.00 would, in itself, keep me away, I believe.

    Did you enjoy “Eugene Onegin”? Where does The Bolshoi Opera perform while its theater is undergoing renovation? Was the production you attended the same production that, when new, Galina Vishnevskaya so publicly attacked?

    It’s too bad you had no time for shopping, because you might have been able to add to your collection of Nicholas Maw scores!

    Not a classics scholar, I fear most of your classics jokes went over my head!

    Enjoy your trip to the Gulf Coast!

  3. Andrew,

    All performances at the Bolshoi take place these days in "Novaya Stsena" ("New Stage"), part of the whole Theatre Complex. The main building is supposed to open in the fall, but I'm doubtful. The Onegin on the 19th was superb, as far as I could tell. I was so anxious without Parker (and worn-out, to boot), however, that I wasn't able to devote my fullest attention.

    Yes, the visa is expensive, but I don't have to worry about that. I don't think I even know of a store anymore where I could by a Maw score even if I wanted one. Many music stores I know are either empty of inventory or closed up.

    Sorry, gotta go.