The Local factor

Boqueria

I remember when I first became acutely aware how important loyalty to local business was . I was living in the south of Portugal and as apub landlady my work was highly seasonal. In the summer we were so busy I often sold my dinner because it was faster and easier than to cook for unexpected late customers and babies often got bathed at midnight, the moon shining forgiveness and understanding towards hard working mothers through the bathroom window. As the sun grew shyer and kept less social hours, the Vikings and the Visigoths went home. Lisbon filled up again with the people who had left her to touch the Atlantic sea air, in the month August when the heat was unforgiving and the breeze was on a bender. A soon as the bamboos started to sway I knew that I would be looking at 2 espressos per customer per day , and cards lots of cards, games and tricks to forget the boredom of an isolated winter, these guys found it hard to slow down.

I was on a much stricter budget all winter for there were no guarantees or expectations of how much we were going to make. In order to survive you had to diversify and that could be making 100 pastries a night to sell at a football match to hosting the club’s victory dinners. I was pretty imaginative and managed to stay afloat which brings me to the topic of the local business community. I had that little restaurant/café/pub for 4 years and left a lot of my blood sweat and tears on that floor that I washed twice a day. I had two children in 14 months when I worked there and I often wonder how I survived , in part it was due to the a stable community spirit and generous arrangements . I was lucky that I did not need to resort to credit; however it was very common for farmers and especially fishermen to put a month’s groceries on tab, when I lived there, no one would have had to go hungry or be denied their thirst for a pint, although we only went so far with alcohol.

That credit was always on offer, I would not have had to embarrass myself, and this is not out of a little house in the prairie episode. Once when I said that all I had done that week was pay bills with no money coming in , my greengrocers told me, listen don’t be worrying just pay me when you’re earning more. It was never necessary but it was a huge support knowing it was there.

I was very loyal to my greengrocer who was pricier than the supermarket in the next town, I would not have dreamt of turning my back on her and her generosity. Everyone else behaved the same way, we shopped locally and we kept each other afloat even if it meant not picking up bargains in the next town , it was embedded in their psyche that disunited we would fall. Roofs would go up in a day as a whole community would get together to raise them. You had to feed them well and water them better but they literally raised your roof for you. Currency was also, your own time and skills, they were always ready and they knew no lazy days. I know understand that this was their code of survival and survive they did. I was back there last week and every single shop and café that used to serve me are still there, there have been no casualties. It is true that the place has prospered significantly because of rural tourism, it’s an exquisitely beautiful area that is protected but it’s no longer the best kept secret in southern Portugal.

They all remembered me 26 years after I left, they came out of their houses in droves to check if it was really true that I was in town. They wanted me to eat with them and sleep in their houses and when I reminded them how generous and kind they had been to the hippie girl from Lisbon, they laughed and said they had forgotten.

Janica Ribeiro.