Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Rockin' Out in Lisbon

Here's another letter from Sean, just so you can know what he's up to and what it's like to be a sailor. Oh, and I'm lazy and can't come up with any interesting stories that have happened in the last few days. Enjoy and happy new year!
We arrived in Lisbon, Portugal yesterday. The last few hours we were underway, a thick fog rose over the water and we could only see about 60 feet in front of the ship. We actually passed under a suspension bridge and did not see it until it was already overhead. Think San Francisco in the morning, and you'll have it about right, just with a smaller bridge.

Once we pulled in and were tied to the pier, we had a brief where the local Navy and government guys came and told us what we needed to know about Lisbon: where's good to go (a place called Las Docas, or "The Docks"), where to stay away from (a place called Buddha, which apparently is a really fun place where all sorts of illicit drugs and prostitutes are sold), and what's fun to do (listening to a form of music called've heard about it on the Travel Channel or Rachel Ray's travel show). I got to meet Mimmo, our husbanding agent, again, along with his youngest son, Alberto. I've already met his other son, Cosimo, and his daughter, Andrea, in Toulon.

After the brief, we had a decent onload of fresh fruits and vegetables, dairy, and eggs. We had a little confusion over whether the rest of our food was going to come, but eventually determined that it isn't coming until Monday, so we packed away our food and let the all-hands working party go.

Mimmo and Alberto offered to take SUPPO, CSO, Airboss, and me out to dinner at 1900, so I really had something to look forward to. I missed going out with Cosimo and Andrea in Toulon, so I wasn't going to miss this. First, though, we had a farewell party for LCDR Pilewski, the old Operations Officer, who is going to work at the Pentagon. His title used to be OPS, but Zak calls him Sloppy OPS, or SLOPS for short, because he used to be a really tubby guy.

Anyway, the farewell party was at one of the Irish bars down at Las Docas, which is a 10-minute walk from the ship, so we walked out there at 1645. We stopped at the ATM, and I tried to withdraw some Euros from my Navy Cash card, but I'd forgotten to transfer any money from the chip portion to the ATM portion of the card, so I was the fool who couldn't get any money. I figured I'd just do what I did in Dakar, and pay my liberty buddies in U.S. dollars if they'd cover me with the Euros they got out.

The farewell party was kind of lame, because it was just a bunch of officers sitting around and drinking...not my kind of thing, but I had to stay there because SUPPO, CSO (Navy Wife), Airboss, and I were going straight to dinner from the party. Eventually, they did the "farewell" part of the party, with some lame-o gift giving and sentimental remarks. I regret now not having gotten to know POPS (I nicknamed him POST-OPS, because the replacement OPS already has the title of OPS...POST-OPS got shortened to POPS), but we never really worked together. He seems like a good guy now...oh, well.

After the farewell party was over, my Department Head libery buddies and I hopped in a cab and drove to the restaurant where we would have dinner. The place was called Casa Da Comida, or "House of Food", and it was in a plain white building with no windows and a very nondescript front. If you didn't know if was there, you'd probably never think there was a restaurant inside, except for a brass plaque with the restaurant name on it beside the front door. It's not a "just walk in" type of restaurant, either. We had to push a buzzer, and then they opened up the opaque door to let us in. Mimmo had already made reservations, thank goodness, because I'm sure we wouldn't have been seated otherwise. After seeing the exterior, the inside of the restaurant was a shock. They had a parlour-type room, with exquisitely carved antique wooden furniture, built-in glass-front display cabinets on the walls, with traditional Portuguese ceramics on the shelves, and very subdued lighting. We sat in the parlour for probably half an hour, while they brought us appetizers in the form of some nickel-sized balls of meat paste in a breaded shell, and some triangular things that were like egg rolls, only tastier. Mimmo and Alberto weren't there yet, so we just looked around at the decoration while SUPPO told us about Portugal. I didn't mention that he speaks Portuguese, at least enough to get around in Portugal.

At last, Mimmo and Alberto showed up and we greeted each other. They're both from Malta, which is an island near Corsica and shares a lot of the same culture as Corsica. Most of my emails to Mimmo are in the form of a, "How are you, hope you're doing well, and give my best to your family," greeting, followed by whatever business I need to conduct with him, and his are the same, so we feel very friendly towards each other. I like doing business with this guy and his family. So, we greeted each other like friends, which was really neat.

We continued to sit in the parlour while we (they) were served wine in these hugely long-stemmed wine glasses. More conversation, etc., and then we were finally moved to our table.

As with most high-class fine dining restaurants, the service was outstanding and the food took forever to arrive. We started off with toast points and butter, and I was totally sucked in by the fool's gold of the toast points. I ate a lot of them. Then, they brought out some various crackers and a couple types of cheese, one of which like a thick pudding and made me think of what you described as "Stinky Tofu Alley" - this stuff smelled like gym socks and offended my sense. I had several crackers with that cheese on it--it was tasty! The food was pretty pricey, so I only ordered an entrée...big mistake on my part, and I'll let you know why later.

After the cheese and crackers, the starters arrived and I began to regret not having gotten any. CSO got what the French call "escargots" (I don't know what the Portuguese call it), SUPPO got some raw oysters, and Airboss got some giganto-prawns. These prawns were seriously about 6-7 inches long. Fortunately, CSO was in a sharing mood and offered me a snail, which was as tasty as I remembered, all garlicky and snaily. Unfortunately, SUPPO offered me a raw oyster, and it was as slimy and yucky as I thought it would be. I didn't realize I needed to pour out whatever seawater was in the shell, so I got a bit of that along with the oyster meat when I slurped it down. Burrrrrrp!

(Keep in mind that the wine was flowing like red, rotten-fruity water this entire time...)

Our entrées finally arrived, and they were outstanding. I got a beef tournedo in brandy sauce, and it was served rare-to-medium-rare. It was literally soft enough to cut with my fork...think 5th Street Steakhouse in Chico, and the steak I got there. I wanted to savor it, so I took about 45 minutes just eating my steak.

Mimmo wasn't drinking much, and Alberto had stopped drinking, but SUPPO, CSO, and Airboss were like some kind of Department-Head-wine-sucking vacuum. We were at the restaurant for about four hours, and I think they had about five bottles finished off by the time we were ready to leave. Here's why I was a fool for not eating whatever I wanted: Mimmo paid for the entire meal, wine and all, so I could have had the snails or prawns or whatever...dang! Mimmo graciously called us a cab, and Mimmo/Alberto and we parted ways. I thought we were headed back to the ship, because it was already 2300, but these party animals wanted to keep exploring (read: barhopping).

The cab dropped us off a couple miles from the ship, not quite sure where, and we started walking. I basically played babysitter for three department heads for another couple hours. We stopped at a little café and they ordered four coffees, which in Europe means a tiny little cup that holds about an ounce of very strong coffee. I told them that I didn't want any, but they were so sloshed that they insisted that I have some. I took mine and just put it out of sight, confident that they were also so sloshed that they wouldn't notice my ninja-like maneuver. We walked out of the café a couple minutes later and they were none the wiser.

Next, we saw this little hole-in-the-ground bar, and they decided to stop for some more drinks. We went in and sat down, and once again they bought a drink for me. They toasted to something or other, and I wasn't going for it, so they clinked their glasses against mine, which was still on the table. Another toast, and they did the same thing, and then they finally divvied up my wine amongst themselves. Another round of port wine, and they were even more drunk, and it was around this time that one of them went behind the bar to get some napkins, upsetting the bartender. She basically said, "Here's the line you can't cross (gesturing with her hand)...if you need napkins, go to the other end of the bar."

Babysitter Sean told them that it was time to go, because we were upsetting the bartender (and they would probably do even more to upset her if we stayed). We got out of there and took a taxi back to Las Docas, where they convinced themselves that they needed another beer or three, so we went to one of the bars on the Docas. It was the Irish pub where SLOPS's farewell party had been. We went in, and there was the most awesome band there, playing everything from classic rock to oldies, to newer songs. There wasn't much of a dance floor, but CHENG and SUPPO were grooving right by the band, while I just kind of stood and watched in awe of how good this guitarist was. Afterwards I told him how much I appreciated his playing, and how cool he was. I'm some sort of guitar geek, apparently, the cool equivalent to a band geek.

We stayed at this bar until about 0130 and then headed back to the ship, where I promptly fell into bed and slept until Duty Section turnover at 0630.

He's having a great time out there. I'm very envious of his seeing the world and having fun adventures. I guess I had my turn and now my adventures will be potty training and Cub Scouts.

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