It’s “Carnaval” time in Portugal

A little boy drummer leads his school friends in the carnival parade in Ferreira do Zezere, central Portugal.

It was “Carnaval” time in Portugal last week. Yes, that is how they spell it here in Portugal, where every town and city around the country was celebrating with music, dancing and parades. The carnival tradition supposedly originated hundreds of years ago in Italy. Catholics were not supposed to eat meat during the season of Lent which begins on Ash Wednesday and lasts until Easter Sunday. So, they began the custom of holding a lively costume party festival on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. They called the festival “carne vale” which means “put away the meat.”

Here in Portugal, the tradition goes back to the Middle Ages. The oldest known carnival celebration started in the thirteenth century in the city of Torres Vedras, about 43 kilometers (27 miles) northwest of Lisbon.

Often groups in small villages all around a larger town will get together to create a float or parade group around a theme. Movies, popular bands and local sport clubs are frequent themes. Sometimes the floats have highly political messages, with signs or costumes satirizing current issues or poking fun at well-known government personalities.

Maybe Celtic origins?

The village of Podence in the Tras os Montes region of far northeastern Portugal is known for its unique colorful costumes and the bizarre antics of the revelers, called “Caretos.”

Men from the village and surrounding area are clad in home-made woolen costumes in red, green and yellow. They wear red masks made of wood or leather. They hang metal rattles and bells from their belts and often carry a wooden staff.

These “Caretos” go round the village shaking their rattles and bells at any women they find. Supposedly it’s all about spring, fertilization and new growth after the long winter. The festival in Podence and Macedo de Cavaleiros nearby, has been designated as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO. Some historians believe the festival is linked to ancient Celtic fertility rites.

My village celebrated with a carnival dance “Baile Carnaval” in the local association hall. There was plenty of traditional Portuguese music, which sounds to me a lot like polka tunes or the kind of Mexican “rancheras” I was used to in New Mexico. A lot of local people showed up and danced enthusiastically or joined in the conga line if they couldn’t find a partner.

The nearby town of Ferreira do Zezere held “bed races”, where teams competed in pushing a steel framed bed on wheels up and down the main street. One member perched on the mattress and clung to the headboard for dear life while team mates pushed and hauled the unwieldy bed down the street, trying not to crash into the sidewalk or the onlookers.

Local musicians bring a carnival spirit to the local market in Chãos, central Portugal.

In the US, the carnival tradition is observed in New Orleans as “Mardi Gras” or Fat Tuesday. The days-long festival in Rio de Janeiro is world famous for its samba bands. My nearby town of Tomar also spread the festivities over several days with parades for children and night time concerts in the main square. On Tuesday, the actual carnival day, many businesses observed a holiday as the streets became choked with onlookers watching the parades.

Revelers crowd the streets of Tomar, central Portugal to watch the carnival parade.

Follow my blog to learn more about adventures in daily life in Portugal and check out my novel “The Power of Rain” on Amazon.


Cycling in Portugal is a dream!

Portugal offers miles of rural roads with little traffic and stunning scenery.

Cycling on the Portugal’s rural roads has given me some of the most thrilling rides of my life. The scenery is always changing, the traffic is minimal and the drivers you do encounter are considerate of cyclists. The country offers thousands of miles (kilometers) of wonderful cycling and plenty of weather to enjoy it.

Before I moved to Portugal in 2019, I was an enthusiastic member of a very active cycling club in Albuquerque, New Mexico. We did a lot of rides around the city and ventured out into the high desert countryside as well. There were places where you had to do a lot of climbing, but it was easy to avoid. Not so in central Portugal. There are hills everywhere! But the hills and valleys are verdant green and I’ve been able to ride beside rivers and even the Atlantic Ocean.

Autumn weather not helpful

Portugal has recently emerged from a nearly three-month spell of rain which brought flooding to several cities. At first the rain was welcome. In 2022 we had a very dry spring and very hot summer. Streams, rivers and lakes were drying up everywhere. But after nearly three months of constant rain, and serious flooding in Lisbon and Porto, people were thinking you can have too much of a good thing.

Finally the sun emerged and I was able to join two cycling friends for a long awaited ride this week. We met just outside the city of Coimbra, famous for its historic university. Our leader Graham, took us on a route he had pioneered that followed a road in a valley along the Mondego river. We could look down to the river and up at the many tiny villages that clung to the impossibly steep sides of the valley.

River beaches

We rode as far as the small town of Penacova which perches on the steep hillside above the river. Not wanting to tackle the 20 percent grade to climb to the higher part of town, we chose a cafe closer to the river to enjoy a coffee and a wonderful chorizo roll. After out coffee stop we crossed a bridge and rode along the famous N2 road on the other side of the river. The N2 is a national road that traverses the entire length of Portugal from the Spanish border to Faro in the southern province of the Algarve. It is popular with touring cyclists.

At several points along the return journey we took a detour down to one of the “river beaches”. Portugal makes good use of its rivers using the wide sandy areas as inland beaches. They are hugely popular in the summer months. I’m looking forward to a lot more riding and maybe even some kayaking on the Mondego!

Follow my blog to experience what everyday life in Portugal is like!

A new book adventure in Portugal

Writing a book feels like a huge undertaking. Getting a book published is another huge hurdle. Marketing a book is like climbing Everest.

On Sunday, I will be holding a book reading/signing event at the Crespaço Gallery, Rua Major Afonso Pala 7, in Setubal, south of Lisbon as part of a LGBTQ event that will include open mic entertainment. I’m rehearsing my reading skills and making sure I have a good pen and a few copies of my novel, “The Power of Rain.”

What’s it about, you ask? Here is the shortest pitch I have developed. “Passions clash in Las Vistas, a Southwest desert town where money buys power and corrupt politicians turn a blind eye. Digger Doyle, is the tough young lesbian reporter who investigates political intrigue and finds love at the risk of her career.”

I finished my first draft of my novel in mid-2019. I spent another few months getting friends to read it and give me feedback. I spent another few months doing revisions. Then I started sending out query letters to try to get an agent. I did loads of online seminars and other research on the best way to find the right agent, how to write an irresistible query letter and submitting them. I wrote dozens of them. Each one had different requirements. Some wanted you to send the first ten pages, some the first three chapters, often in different formats. It was a time-consuming and anxiety-producing time.

I had a few false hopes raised, but nothing concrete. Several friends recommended I go the self-publishing route. I gave myself until the beginning of 2022 to decide. Finally, in March this year I decided to go for it. I contacted Sara DeHaan the book designer who had been recommended to me. She outlined a process by which she could connect me with IngramSpark, a company that works with self publishing authors and does print-on-demand and distribution to Amazon and other online book sources and book stores.

I also worked with Sarah Jane Herbener an editor who was recommended to me by a contact with whom I worked through Portugal Living, the online lifestyle magazine I freelance for. She went through the manuscript, made some valuable suggestions and ensured that it conformed to the right style.

So, big excitement, after a bunch of money, my book, “The Power of Rain” a mystery with political elements and an LGBTQ romance, became available in paperback and Kindle format in June. The hardest work then began. Learning how to navigate the multitude of ways you can try to make your book stand out from the tens of thousands of others that are published every day. It’s something that consumes a lot of my time, that is time that I would prefer spending writing the sequel, which is called “Sunshine Dreams.”

So, follow my blog, my Tweets and my Facebook posts to learn more about the characters, in my novel. And of course, life in Portugal.

Cover of my novel “the Power of Rain”

Playing tourist in Porto, a must in Portugal

One of the traditional “rabelo” boats used for transporting port wine on the Douro river in the foreground, with the Dom Luis bridge in the background.

Porto is Portugal’s second largest city and a very popular place for tourists. I went there last week for the first time since shortly after moving to Portugal in 2019. Even in November, the city is thronged with visitors from all over Europe and the United States.

But the amount of tourists doesn’t detract from the city’s charm. It is built on the hillside above the Douro river. On the opposite side of the river is the city of Vila Nova de Gaia. Exploring the Porto side inevitably involves lots descents along narrow winding streets to the riverside, and then climbing stairs or narrow streets back up to the main part of the city. But that is all part of the charm.

Along the riverside on the Porto side, you will find many restaurants and bars, all of them catering to tourists with tourist-type prices. There are also many stands offering river tours. I did one in 2018 when I first visited the city and I can highly recommend it as a way to see the city by river and learn a little about the port wine trade.

On the south side of the river are the famous port houses; like Calem, Sandeman, Taylor, Kopke, Grahams etc. If you take one of the open-topped bus tours available in Porto, you can see the huge warehouses used for storing the famous port wines. Port wine as the fortified wine that we now know has a long history. Part of it is about the name of the city, which is often called “Oporto” which really means “the port” in Portuguese. The city is on the mouth of the Douro river, downstream from the numerous vineyards which produce the wines.

Touring port houses

One of the most touted tourist activities in Porto is to do a tour of the Port houses on the Gaia side of the river. This time I did a tour of the Ramos Pinto port house. It is one of the smaller houses, but the tour is fascinating. The company was founded in 1880 by Adriano Ramos Pinto ( who was initially a trader. He eventually got into his own port wine business and developed the first links with shipping port to Brazil.

Barrels of port wine in the cellars at the Ramos Pinto port house in Vila Nova de Gaia.

The tour includes a visit of the old company office which is full of the old advertising posters, Adriano was quite a character and the artwork features a lot of naked nymphs with tantalizing glasses of port.

A 3,000-liter vat of port aging. Some of the vats hold up to 15,000 liters.

The tour costs 15 euros and at the end visitors can taste three ports; a white, a ruby and a tawny port. Our guide told us that the white ports go darker with age while the red ports become lighter. Some of the vintage ports, which must receive that name through a special process, can be aged for decades. Once opened a bottle of decades old port must be consumed quickly. Less special type of ports can be opened and kept with a specific type of cork top.

White, ruby and tawny port wines at a tasting after the tour of the Ramos Pinto port house in Vila Nova de Gaia, Portugal.

Follow my blog to learn about daily life in Portugal. And look for my novel, “The Power of Rain” a mystery set in New Mexico, available in Kindle and paperback on Amazon

Pamplona pulsing with pilgrims on the Camino

I arrived in the city of Pamplona, Spain, last night and am amazed at the numbers of Camino pilgrims. It seems like there are many more than when I walked the Camino in 2015.

I’m hanging out and exploring the city today while I wait to meet up with Andrea, an acquaintance from the experience seven years ago. I recognize many of the narrow streets from before and even found my way to the cathedral of Santa Maria. I couldn’t go inside but ran into an Irish woman sitting on a bench in the sun outside. We started talking and it turned out she is from County Leitrim, the home of my mother’s parents. You can’t be lonely on this Camino.

City Hall in Pamplona.

I had heard that September is one of the busiest months on the Camino, but I still got a shock when I arrived at the Albergue Jesus y Maria just after it opened at noon and found a huge long line of pilgrims waiting to check in. I waited almost an hour to be assigned a bunk. I may have to make reservations going forward. We never had to do that before, until the last 100 kilometers.

Ancient fortifications outside Pamplona. In some places they look more than 100 feet high.

I will be posting every day during my walk. Follow my blog to experience the journey.

Oh for just a drop of rain, please!

The curled leaves of this orange tree show the effects of prolonged drought in Portugal.

The weather app on my mobile phone is telling me that there is a chance of rain this coming week. I’m looking forward to hearing the sound of it hitting my roof, maybe even using the windscreen wipers on my car – if I remember how to turn them on.

It’s been about two months since we’ve had any rain here in central Portugal. All around me there are signs that nature is suffering as a result. Leaves on the many fruit trees are parched and drooping. The apples, pears and persimmons, normally so abundant at this time of year, are scarce and tiny. Vineyards which have been irrigated sport clusters of grapes that are already dark and ripe; weeks earlier than normal. On the vines that haven’t been watered the grapes are just wizened raisins.

This is my fourth summer in Portugal. Up to now, the summers haven’t been as hot as those I was used to in Albuquerque. All that changed this year. July was the hottest summer on record, with the temperature hitting an all-time-high of 47 Celsius (116.6 F) in Pinhão, northern Portugal on July 14. We endured many days of 38 C-plus, (triple-digit temperatures in Fahrenheit.) I don’t have air-conditioning but I was thankful for my stone house and the ceiling fans I had installed.

The blistering heat followed on an abnormally dry winter. By early July, 45 percent of the Portuguese mainland was in extreme draught. Then came the fires!

Smoke billows above the horizon just a few kilometers from my village, signaling yet another wildfire.

Every few days for about three weeks I would look out and see huge plumes of smoke billowing nearby. Thankfully the Portuguese firefighters, Bombeiros, respond rapidly and sound of helicopters or fixed-wing aircraft bringing water to douse the flames was almost a daily occurrence.

So now it is September and the prospect of rain is tantalizingly real. It can’t come soon enough for many people. A friend of mine who lives in the Alentejo region, south of Lisbon, depends on wells which are almost dry. She’s been forced to ration her showers to once a week and is contemplating having to buy bottled water for her horses!

My novel getting great reviews

The cover of my newly published novel “The Power of Rain”

It has been brutally hot in Portugal in the last month and the weather reminds me of New Mexico. That’s where my newly published novel, “The Power of Rain” is set. Like New Mexico, it has been very dry here in Portugal and a little rain would be more than welcome. Especially as we have had many wildfires burning uncomfortably close to where I live.

My novel became available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle format in early June and I am thrilled each time I see a review appear on Amazon or Goodreads. These days authors have to do almost all of their own marketing, so I am hoping to get more reviews (hint, hint) so all the more people will get to enjoy the book.

Here is what some of the readers have said so far:

Page Turner

The Power of Rain is the first of what is hoped will be a series of Digger Doyle mysteries. Set in a city in the New Mexico desert, this novel has all the characteristics of a page-turner –romance, underhanded or bewildered City officials, journalists at work to shine light on bureaucratic dealings, nefarious developers and the power of local people who keep showing up and speaking the truth. Digger Doyle is a journalist who, true to her name, digs in and doesn’t give up. I hope the author is working on the sequel – so many mysteries that need sunshine, and stories that need telling.

 Beautiful cultural insight

This novel brings alive culture and life in New Mexico and puts forth connections between politics, ethics and love. Recommended!

 This is such a fun read!

It’s a treat to follow the beautifully drawn character, Digger Doyle, in her investigations. Wonderful to see New Mexico, with it’s unique culture and magical landscape, shining so brightly. Can’t wait for the next one. And by the way, this would make the first of a perfect Amazon Original series. Just sayin’.

This Goodreads review from a Dutch reader living in Portugal

As a resident in a region in Portugal that is upset by developers that had support of a mayor that didn´t factor in drinking water (of which there is an enourmous shortage), not to mention the damage to nature, this story resonated with me. 
The main characters are likable and developed, the story is multi layered, the pace is fast and as a reader you go through all kinds of emotions. I especially appreciated the wittiness. I laughed out loud several times when the author described people.
Can´t wait for the next book in these series!

Famous Portuguese book store

A couple of days ago I learned that the historic and very famous Portuguese bookstore Livraria Bertrand, is now selling the book in English. Livraria Bertrand was founded in Lisbon in 1732. The original store in the Chiado district of Lisbon has been declared by the Guinness Book of Records as the oldest operating bookstore in the world. Livraria Bertrand also has branches in Coimbra and Leiria.

The entrance of the original Livraria Bertrand bookstore in the Chiado area of Lisbon. The store has a wide selection of books in English as well as Portuguese, French and other languages.

The novel was inspired by a lot of the weird and wonderful experiences I observed as a reporter in New Mexico. Now I am retired in Portugal, I am working on another Digger Doyle mystery. Follow my blog to learn more!

Portugal burns as temps soar

Half-burned oak trees are all that remain on a scorched hillside in central Portugal.

Portugal, like much of Europe, has been sweltering under a prolonged heatwave for most of the past two weeks. Temperatures remained over 38c (100F) for days and soared in some parts of the country as high as 47C or 116F. With the hot temperatures came the wildfires.

Fires are common in Portugal each summer but they popped up with a vengeance in July this year. Each time I spot a plume of smoke billowing in the distance I worry. During two decades living in New Mexico I saw the smoke from several deadly fires that consumed tens of thousands of acres and took weeks to extinguish. And this spring there was the Hermits Peak and Calf Canyon which become the biggest fires in the state’s history.

But the Portuguese seem to have learned a valuable lesson from a disastrous fire in 2017, which claimed dozens of lives near the central town of Pedrógão Grande. The Portuguese firefighters, Bombeiros, spring into action almost as soon as the smoke appears. Usually all signs of the blaze are gone within a few hours.

This year has been a test

Between July 5 and July 11, multiple fires broke out within 5 km to 15 km of where I live near the towns of Ferreira do Zezere and Tomar, in central Portugal. Bombeiros units from all over the country rushed to the scene, officers from the Guarda Nacional Republicans (GNR) controlled roads near the area. They even closed some major highways temporarily.

Thanks to the swift response, most of the smoke would be gone by the next morning. But as the temperature rose again and the afternoon winds kicked in, the ominous clouds of grey, brown and dirty yellow smoke would reappear. News reports attributed the new blazes to wind-blown embers which ignited tinder dry vegetation in the surrounding areas. At one point, I drove toward a nearby village and saw a line of cars stopped by the roadside. The occupants were standing watching the flames burn a hillside about 2 km, roughly 1.5 miles away.

During the evening, friends and neighbors sent messages back and forth checking on each other. Two of my friends had to evacuate for a couple of nights because the flames came within a half mile or so of their homes. I kept a suitcase packed with vital papers and other important items by my door in case I too had to leave. Luckily it didn’t happen.

Aircraft bring water to extinguish the fires

The drama in my area of central Portugal lasted for about four days. During that time planes and helicopters rumbled overhead all day long, carrying precious water from a nearby reservoir to douse the flames. I say precious, because Portugal is in a drought situation. Everywhere the lakes, rivers and reservoirs are seriously depleted.

Thankfully, the fires have now calmed down. A friend of mine who lives near a forest that has been mostly obliterated was deeply grateful to the Bombeiros when they told her that her home was safe. The Portuguese regard their firefighters, most of whom are volunteers, as heroes. I wrote about them in a recent article in Portugal Living, the online lifestyle magazine I’ve been freelancing for.

A burned hillside near the villages of Travessa and Quebrado do Cima, in central Portugal.

Life in Portugal: where push means pull and a dog is a cow

A sign outside a house in my village in central Portugal warns people to beware of the dog. Cão, pronounced ”cow” means dog in Portuguese.

I have been living in Portugal for almost three years now and I still hesitate when I come to an entrance door and see the sign ”puxe”. You see, the letter ”X” in Portuguese is pronounced ”sh”, so if you say the word ”puxe” it sounds like ”push”, but really it means pull!

The Portuguese word for push is ”Empurre”. To the native English speaker, this is so visually confusing. So I stand at the door and think ”push or pull?”

One of the other words that just seems weird is the word for dog; ”cão”. It is pronounced “cow”, or more correctly, pinch the top of your nose as you say cow and you will get the proper nasal sound that is used when you see the letter combination ”ão” in a Portuguese word.

Portuguese is full of nasal sounds. Bread is ”pão” which sounds like pow, again, holding your nose. Hand is ”mão”, pronounced mow, to rhyme with a nasal sounding “wow”.

You get the idea.

I’m fortunate to be one of those people that loves words. Learning languages is kind of a hobby with me. Some people like knitting or quilting or cooking. I like learning how to communicate with people in the countries I visit or have the good fortune to live in.

In my experience, the English speakers who come to live in Portugal tend not to become very proficient in Portuguese. Probably because many Portuguese are only too willing to speak English. Often when they say they only speak a little, you find they can quickly wax eloquent on all kinds of subjects. The Portuguese are good at explaining things in great detail.

English speakers often say that people who speak a different language talk so fast. We forget just how fast we normally speak. Try watching an evening news broadcast on your local TV station. We also forget how many variations of English there are. Think about the differences between “British” English and ”American” English, and then break those huge generalizations into the innumerable local accents in the UK and the US. Add in Canada, Australia and New Zealand–remember listening to Jacinda Ardern– and you’ve got a vast range of linguistic variations.

I went to University in Dublin, Ireland, and a lot of my friends were from Belfast. I can’t even begin to try to give a phonetic rendering of how people from Northern Ireland say ”cow”! Watch ”Derry Girls”.

The Ascensor da Glora in Lisbon. Emblematic of a scene in the Portuguese capital city.

My novel hits Amazon! Woohoo!

Cover of my newly published novel The Power of Rain.
“The Power of Rain” is a political mystery set in New Mexico

It’s been a long journey with a lot of ups and downs, but seeing my novel finally up on the Amazon website is a thrill! It’s a mystery set in the fictitious city of Las Vistas, New Mexico where hotshot reporter Elizabeth “Digger” Doyle has a nose for exposing intrigue at City Hall — And there’s plenty of that in a city where politicians are cosy with developers whose projects damage the environment.

I’d like to thank all the friends who helped encourage me to keep writing, and those who read the manuscript and gave me invaluable feedback. All those comments helped me keep working to come up with better ideas and to polish the writing.

A bit about the author

I’ve wanted to write ever since I can remember. When I was a little girl I used to tell my brother stories as we walked the few blocks to elementary school in El Cajon, Calif. I had freelance articles published when I was a student at Trinity College Dublin. I got my first real job as a journalist when I lived in Norway, writing and editing for the English language newspaper The Saga Weekly. Later, when I had children, one of my favorite things was to make up stories for them at bedtime. They always preferred my made up stories to books.

I was fortunate enough to land a job as a staff writer with the Albuquerque Journal, New Mexico’s largest daily. During the 18 years I worked there I wrote thousands of stories covering an array of business, political, environmental, police and feature topics. Some of the shenanigans I observed provided the initial inspiration for this novel.

It is now available in paperback and kindle format from Amazon. If you live in Portugal you can get it through I hope you will enjoy it!

And you can find out more on my Amazon author page.