Dispatches from Lisbon – Philip Graham Interview

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A big first today for Moving to Portugal – my first interview!

A few weeks back I posted here on the blog about “The Moon, Come to Earth – Dispatches from Lisbon,” a wonderful book from author Philip Graham detailing his adventures when he spent a year living in Lisbon with his family.

Thanks to the wonders of Skype, I was able to catch up with Philip last week and interview him about the book and the time he spent in Portugal. You can tell from his words that his love affair with this wonderful country is far from over!

M2P: What do you miss most about Portugal?

PG: Ah, a tough one. It’s hard to describe . . . there’s an indefinable sense of Portugal-ness that I feel deeply sometimes.  It’s like a feeling, a powerful one. I find myself imaginatively on a street in Lisbon.  I wish I were actually there.  I miss the feel of cobblestones under my feet.

M2P: Is it saudade?!

PG: Well, yes, that.  It deepens with the passing of time.  Also, I feel a real affinity with the Portuguese model of personality, at least as it’s commonly culturally expressed.  Real manners (I love to watch Portuguese politely cringe when loud tourists get on a bus), but real passion, too, and not always suppressed.

The Portuguese care about things I care about–they’re quite serious about literature, love their food and drink, are spiritual and can be crabby.  They are my kind of folks–prideful, but also modest about their pride. Oh, and I miss the music! I love it all, fado and everything else!

Philip wrote an article about Portuguese music a while ago that features videos and mp3s and is available here.

I also miss Portuguese politics.  Which I never, ever really understood, but that’s why I enjoyed it so much–lots of red-faced blather on issues I didn’t know about.  Made it all seem rather funny, in a way.

M2P: What don’t you miss?

PG: The maniacal driving. Sometimes, being a pedestrian in Portugal is a form of playing dodge ball. I also don’t miss struggling with the Portuguese language from day to day! I love the language, truly, but I prefer reading Destak, Diario de Noticias, i, Publico online, to keep up my chops (such as they are), without having to see the fleeting grimace on the face of some Portuguese person trying to be polite while deciphering my accent and grammar.

Lisbon Commuting
Lisbon Commuting

M2P: Are there any aspects of the Portuguese lifestyle and culture which you took back to America with you?

PG: Well, I’m no longer ashamed to relax.  I had worked much, much too hard before our year in Lisbon, and the pace of Portuguese life was the needed tonic.  I’m sure you know something about this too!

The Portuguese, I’ve found, are very attentive to certain aspects of life–the sharing of food, the enjoyment of the arts, the pleasures of nature, and music, and the quiet celebration of this shouldn’t be crimped by too much hurry.

I’ve also become the family cook since we’ve returned home.  Something of the Portuguese seriousness about that pleasure dug in.  I like making daily offerings to my family.

Also, we designed our kitchen Portuguese style.  Azulejos, large Mediterranean floor tiles, the bright colors of white, yellow and blue.  I am a dreamer.

M2P: Do you have any plans to return to Portugal?

PG: Well, my daughter always wants to return, she has a very good friend there.  And Alma and I too have so many friends.  My book has been translated into Portuguese, and will be published in September by Editorial Presença, as “A Lua, Vindo à Terra,” and there has been some talk of my going to Lisbon for the launch.  We’ll see.  If it happens, Hannah won’t let me go alone!

M2P: The book talks a lot about your daughter Hannah and the problems she went through, how is Hannah now? Is she still taking lots of photographs?

PG: She is fine, a healthy, feisty teenager, just turned 16.  She received a Sony digital SLR camera for her birthday, which she is having great fun with.  She’s also a terrific writer, and will be the junior editor of her school’s newspaper next year. This summer she’s going to India.  Seems she has been very impressed by a unit on India in her history class.  So online I found a program that specializes in taking high school students to foreign countries to do service work.  She’ll be in India for three weeks.

M2P: How’s your Portuguese? Are you still studying it?

PG: I still study, still consult my portable Portuguese-English dictionary, which is so disappointed in me. I really can’t speak worth a damn, at least in real time.  But I’m great to respond five minutes after the beat. I also suffer from “brain freeze” in certain situations.  I keep reading Portuguese newspapers online, sussing out new words and constructions.

Lisbon, Portugal
Lisbon, Portugal

M2P: What tips and advice would you give to anyone considering a move to Portugal?

PG: Patience!  As you well know!  I think that the bureaucracy in Portugal didn’t affect us that much, because we were used to much, much worse in Ivory Coast.  I did notice, though, that using the language, being respectful and patient moved things faster for us.  If a clerk or functionary realized I was a lusophile, and I went on a bit about my enthusiasm, then mountains would be moved for me.  The Portuguese are always pleased to find admirers of their culture.

If anyone is moving with children, be very, very, very careful about what school you choose.  We made a terrible mistake with the first Portuguese school Hannah entered, and the experience affected her in serious ways.  The second school was a dream.  But what I’ve come to see is that children at home are tied to us and to the world by so many invisible strings, and we don’t really notice them.  But when first moving abroad, most of a child’s strings are severed, except for those connecting them to their parents.

They have to rebuild those strings in a new and very unfamiliar place, and it is a very delicate time for them, they need all the support and attention that can be mustered.  Portuguese school bureaucracy can be quite stolid, especially when it comes to communicating to a teacher (though we didn’t find this to be the case with Hannah’s second school).

Also, and we didn’t realize this until we were in the country, the Portuguese are the most family oriented of all European countries. Most of the playing with friends is done at school, not after school, not over the weekends–those times are reserved for family.

M2P: Is there anything else you’d like to share with readers of “Moving to Portugal”?

PG: To allow themselves to be persuaded by you and your wife to move to Portugal or at the very least, to visit.  Keep up the good cause!

Philip Graham’s book “The Moon, Come to Earth – Dispatches from Lisbon” is available from Amazon (link below). Philip also has a new book coming out next year, the second volume of memoirs from his family’s time spent living in small villages in Ivory Coast.

Image credits: Pedrosimoes7, szeke

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4 Comments - Write a Comment

  1. Hi and thanks for the interview – good to find out more about the author!
    have just downloaded the book so looking forward to curling up in the sun and devouring it! (only 1 week to go until we leave the UK!)

  2. Hi Aly – Hope you enjoy the book and, far more importantly, good luck with your move!

  3. Always nice to meet up with another lusofile. I’ll keep an eye open for his book.

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