Thursday, April 19, 2007

Sad but true

The medical system in Portugal is getting to my nerves. The first contact with it was when I was happily enjoying an Indian teahouse and my neighbor called to tell me she was feeling very bad and that the doctor from school told her to go to some clinic she couldn't even find on the map. So we were looking for the clinic for about two hours and when we get there it was terrifying. First of all it was full and although you had to take a number, nobody respected the order (quite strange, since Portuguese stay in line for almost everything). The floors were dirty and the smell of medicine and disinfectant was overwhelming. It's true I was very hungry too and maybe that's why I felt so sick, lucky that while waiting I went to have diner (my first francesinha... mmm). Not that the waiting was not also long... and then the doctor said she has to go to another clinic because he doesn't have any equipment to make a proper consultation. The next days she was walking from one clinic to another, one evening she spent around six hours in the hospital's emergency room. And all for a stupid easy to treat infection.
But now it's my turn. Around the 20th of March I went to the emergency room of a hospital with severe abdominal pain. I had to wait to get registered (slow process... especially since my Portuguese is not perfect at all), then to speak to a nurse, then to the doctor, then to make some test, then to make an ultrasound, then again to speak to the doctor, then to wait for the exams of the test, then speak to the doctor again (who invited me to lunch the next day, thing that was more than shocking and offensive, but this is another story). The only thing they could say is that I should go to the clinic nearby my residence to speak to a doctor for further analysis. So I went to the clinic, they said I need an insurance number, because I have the right to free medical assistance and it's not worth to pay and use later my other insurance policy. So they called to another clinic. And I went to this other clinic to be told that I have to contact the medical insurance organism in my country to ask for my social security number. Luckily, my mother gave a chocolate to the right secretary and I got my number. And then I went back to the second clinic to get a consultation. It's not as easy as it seems. I waited one hour to get registered. Then I spoke to the nurse, the nurse spoke to the doctor to approve a consultation, then I got a number, then I saw the doctor, then she told me... guess what? That I have to go to a private clinic for more tests. So I went downstairs to speak to a secretary to get the address of a such clinic and I went that day to make an appointment... the closest they could get me in was 3rd of May. Well, I didn't give up. Today I found another clinic and made an appointment for tomorrow. Not that I don't still have pain almost every night. After that I will go back to the clinic and go through the whole two-hours registration and consultation dance. But hey, when I started to make my papers for Erasmus, I got trained for this... I'm going from one office to another since October. So long live bureaucracy! I don't have to fight the system. I've already adapted to it.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

So give me novocaine

Today I woke up with a lot of energy and a surprising will to write my paper for the semiotics and literature course. So I was writing about Barthes in a paper where he was not actually supposed to be mentioned. But the books I've read since I came to Porto have made me a rich girl. Of course, they have been long debated, but I guess that's just a recognition of their value.

One of them is The Crash of Civilizations of Samuel Huntington. Most of my teachers don't even want me to mention the book, they consider it farfetched and not too objective. But switching the view from a traditionally realist perspective in international relations to one that puts in the core of external affairs cultural identity is quite accurate in my view. Take for example Turkey and the European Union. They have been struggling for a long time to be accepted as members and they hardly made it close to the candidate countries' list. The pretext the EU always puts on the first page is that they didn't do much work to solve the problem of minorities, basically refering to the kurds. But ask any turk, they know the real reason: it's hard to think of a Muslim country in a Christian union.

Another is Gabriel García Márquez's Living to Tell the Tale. A story of the becoming of a writer who was strong enough to leave law school to have time to write. And this is just a rough and stupid summary. Márquez in a Columbia struggling to get over its dead, in a big amazing family and with a crazy passion for reading made me feel sorry I stopped writing. In Majestic cafe I had my first great idea for a short story and I really hope it will come to life before I leave here as a tribute to the woman who taught me about luxury cats. More than the story and more than my pain (my fingers were almost bleeding while I was turning the pages thinking about my own frenzy to write), nobody can deny the great storyteller Márquez is... how he constructs his paragraphs and the way he makes mundane events magical.

Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason by Michel Foucault was hard to digest but amazingly graceful. I have always been interested in the subject, and deconstructing reason itself was a titanic work I still can explain with some difficulty. Then the references to Bosch and Goya, two of my favourites, has taught me more than being in a museum, putting in context the actual emergence of the notion of insanity. The book, as most reviews admit, is nevertheless opaque and complex... a sociology of madness that has to be read several times to be understood at least at half its value.

One I'm reading now is The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis, by the Portuguese contemporary Nobel Prize winner Jose Saramago. I don't know much about it, but the preface speaks of a book created on the idea of labyrinth (from Borges on) and Ricardo Reis is one of the pseudonyms of Fernando Pessoa, the greatest modern Portuguese poet. The story is that Fernando Pessoa died and Ricardo Reis came back to Lisbon after 16 years in Brazil. Pessoa comes back from death and has long converstions with Ricardo Reis, who is also a poet (the is the author of the Odes). What is wonderful is that Portuguese speak of the three pseudonyms of Pessoa (for whom he created personal stories) as if they were real poets and different persons from their creator.

Monday, April 2, 2007

Arca d'Agua

The beautiful park "muito perto" from my university is called Arca d'Agua. The little pond is a home for some duck families and the trees for rare birds. Next to the pond, there is a little cafe where senior citizens meet to play chess and sometimes at evenings to dance. On the street corners, you can find other two places to spend your time. One of them is the Cafeteria Arca d'Agua, redecorated, but following the traditional line, with its large windows where tasty cakes invite the pedestrians in. The coffee is ok, and everything is quite cheap. It's the only place where I found eclaire with chocolate so far, but the croissants and the other cakes worth your attention too. As most of the places in Porto, they also serve lunch. It's a must for a good business here, since between 12-13 and 14-15 all the city is taking a break and some live too far to go home for lunch. Not that they don't spend all day in cafeterias. It's not too hard to learn the menu... Bica is a simple coffee, galão is large coffee with milk, while pingo is normal coffee with a touch of milk. Coffee brands are all over the city, fighting for exclusivity in most places, with a lot of advertising items like the coffee cups, the sugar and napkins and so on. My favourite so far is Delta Cafes, the brand they also sell at the school cafeteria. Their coffee has a rich taste and good morning smell. In Norteshopping Delta Cafes has a little coffee shop where a pingo in about 50 cents and they serve it with a piece of black chocolate and a cinnamon stick to stir your sugar. My second favourite brand is Segafredo, which I think is a little stronger and more suited for a coffee on the esplanadas next to the beach. Talking about the beach, since I live in Foz, most of the places where you can have a coffee or more are within a five minutes of walk range and Praia dos Ingleseses is one of the very comfortable ones. Not to mention the pub Bonaparte, where you will never ever get bored... but about this, some other time.


For the more pretentious and romantic, on Rua Santa Catarina you can find Cafe Majestic. It catches your eye while walking on the street and it's not a place to read in silence, but to take a handful of friends to spend the time talking about all that matters on Earth or above. Almost always full, it brings you back to the 20s-30s, in a Europe where politics has descended not on the streets, but in the cafes. Artists, politicians and profanes (J.K. Rowling wrote some of a Harry Potter book here, and Jacques Chirac also stopped by), all crowded in a magnificent decor, with wide mirrors and rich theatre-like walls. Marble tables, baroque chairs, winter garden, piano concerts and an exhibition room - all shaped to make my little heart amaze. The waiters are fast, polite, but it pays - a glass of Super Bock (great Portuguese beer) is 2,5 euros. For a short virtual tour, check out, a website that stands up to the standards of the cafe itself. I personally went there with a friend, in a lazy moment when we had a lot of things to solve, but just wanted a break from all the noise outside. Surprisingly, it was more noisy inside, but a comforting noise. In the end we didn't talk about anything sacred, as the place encouraged us to, but just gossiped for about one hour, too preoccupied to stare at the walls and glance at the other visitors. For a cafes passionate like me, its a place to return to... of course, in the beginning of the month, when the scolarship money are not yet running low. But if you ever get to Porto... this place is a must see.