Fatima’s Living Room

deb-at-fatimasOver the past few days, I’ve been working on organizing my photos from my trip to Portugal. I’m trying to pare down approximately 300 images to around 75 that I can caption and make into a slide show.

Although I might take pics of statues (lots of men on horses), colorful laundry hanging from second floor balconies along narrow streets (something I don’t see in my neighborhood) and bridges named after political events that only have a local meaning, I choose images that trigger stories. I pick photos that stir memories.

When I observed myself creating my digital scrapbook, I came to a realization.

I travel so that I can feel AT HOME.

I want to feel I can be myself all the time. I want to feel at ease. I want to feel I belong. To me, that’s feeling AT HOME. What could be greater than to feel at home anywhere in the world?

When Nancy and I were in Coimbra, one of the world’s original college towns (boasting a tradition of young troubadours and a 300 year-old library), we ended up spending a few hours in Fatima’s living room.

We were off the Rick Steves’ suggested walking tour, for sure, and yet had not completely gotten into the mindset of letting things flow to us. We were searching for sardines.

We had spent most of the day, walking up and down hills, checking out artifacts at the history-rich university, and buying some souvenirs to take home. Perhaps we weren’t ready for dinner, but, as it was about 5:00, snacks and some wine or beer seemed to be in order.

Although we were told sardines were out of season, we thought fresh grilled sardines had to be part of our eating adventure. (Perhaps we had seen too many posters of happy Portuguese fishermen with their nets full).

We had been pretty successful finding great eateries by simply walking down streets in areas where cafes were abundant and looking at menu boards. But no restaurant seemed to have grilled sardines listed as a dinner special.

We started walking into restaurants that looked nice and asking the hostess if they knew of any place where we could get some sardines. Eventually, someone pointed to a spot down the alley. Not marked by a sign, there were a few men milling about at a doorway, so we were pretty sure something was there.

The hostess said, “I think Fatima opened up a restaurant a few weeks ago. She might have sardines.”

So we walked through the doorway near where we saw the handful of workingmen standing. It seemed to be someone’s living room. There was a couch and some bookshelves. A few tables and chairs were arranged. There was an informal curtain partition between the sitting area and the kitchen.

Apparently Fatima was a young single mother. She was a gregarious sort and decided to open a restaurant from her home, which was only open when she returned from her day job. A good way to make a little extra money.

She had no menus. She just exuded warmth and welcome. She passed out business cards and expressed her wish that we might tell our friends or write something about our visit on Trip Advisor.

She didn’t have sardines, but with the information that we wanted a snack and wanted to unwind from the day, she brought us cold meats and cheeses, cubes of hearty bread, and a couple of local beers. It was perfect.

We noticed her 10-year old daughter hanging out the couch enjoying the parade of regulars spending a few hours before heading to their own homes. A table of men sat nearby us, eating sandwiches, drinking beer, and laughing.

We struck up a conversation with a tall, middle-aged man who sat alone, but like Norm from the Cheers basement bar, he felt he was with family around Fatima and whoever found their way there. He was slowly consuming a carafe of white wine, happy just to hang out.

He spoke English and, upon learning where we were from, volunteered that he liked Obama and was a bit worried about the upcoming election. He told us where he liked to vacation.

We enjoyed Fatima’s good nature and hospitality and left amazed by our experience of connection.

Oddly, this was one of my favorite experiences in the land of explorers.

Spending a few hours, feeling at home, in a stranger’s (new friend’s) living room is no small thing.


  1. Debbie, I wish you many, many more experiences of that *I Am Home* feeling, and the wondrous adventures, near and far, that bring them to you!

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