In cities in the Algarve, the lovely region in Portugal, there is a lot of building and modernising. Somehow they manage to keep the old structure alive. So you can find on almost every street corner a little cafe or a pastelaria. The cafe is specialised in beer and will sell snacks, cakes and such asides. The pastelaria is about the opposite, most of the times will have an excellent choice in cakes and pasties, but also sells beer and wine.
Often the people serving in places like these are elderly people. It makes you wonder if they don’t have an old age pension in Portugal. But this might be, of course, because the old people like to keep an active role in society.
So it was no surprise that the nearest cafe to our hotel was being managed by a very old man. He looked like he could have been the grandfather of Saddam Hussein and he must have been in his seventies. His cafe is one of the smallest I have ever seen. He had placed his spirits on shelves all around. Because of his coffee machine there was no room for that any more. Outside, on the pavement, he had placed three tables of which the colours had long disappeared. There must have been some commercial pictures of a beer brand on them. Three tables and six chairs had been squeezed inside. On one you could sometimes see his wife, doing embroidery or peeling the potatoes for their dinner.
Once my wife and I were sitting inside. Even in Portugal the weather can be disappointing. I had to visit the toilet, he shuffled after me and put the lights on for me. The light switches were well hidden behind a rack of packets of crisps. So he knew he had to assist me with the light. I had to withhold my belly to be able to squeeze in and out of the remarkable clean little room.
When I was seated again an even older man came in. He must have been in his eighties but he obviously still had enough energy to wander through the neighbourhood. We had seen him before. He bought a package of cigarettes and asked for a lighter. The barkeeper took a lighter from a rack behind him that was placed on a refrigerator and put it on the bar. The bill was made up and after having paid the old man left.
Within five minutes he was back. He placed the lighter on the bar and must have complained about it. The old barkeeper growled something and replaced it by another. The old man mumbled something and fumbled with the thing. It seemed that he couldn’t turn the little wheel on top to get it to light. The barkeeper took it out of his hands and showed him that it worked properly. But the old man kept shaking his head. The barkeeper had to sigh.
He reached to the back of the refrigerator and his hand reappeared with another rack of lighters. He took one off and handed it over to the old man. Maybe this was one of the right brand, because the old man nodded and walked out of the bar. There was no word about extra paying, but I could see that the price of the one he accepted was twenty cents more expensive than the one he had bought before.
The old barkeeper was shaking his head when he put everything back on its original place. Outside the sun had reappeared. =============================================================================