Getting back into the whirly gig
For most of the last four years I spent my days in one chair or another, writing Life & Times, the story of one man and the abutting parts of the world that tormented and shaped him, deformities and all. It spans almost 60 years and required a lot of remembering and looking back at the way things were, and as old memories came back and mingled with my disconsolation with the present, and my distrust of the future, I needed to shut myself off. I had to carry the entire story around inside of me and shun all outside distractions and interruptions.
Moving to Lisbon was the reward, a necessity and a formal farewell to a great many things that had been churning around inside of me for years. Here I would get out more, get some sun, meet new people, and see new things. I knew it would be a transition as I had grown very used to my solitude shared mostly with imaginary characters. I knew it would be busy and, at times, hectic, but what I hadn’t considered was that it could be far more absurd than any fiction I might cobble together.
Back into the beast’s lair
Before books are released into the wild, publishers send copies to be distributed to friends & lovers, reviewers and other shady people an author might owe gambling debts, etc. It is a simple enough practice. The books are declared to have no value – fitting, eh? And they get delivered without too much fuss and bother.
Not here, though. It began with a very formal letter from the post office which I replied to in my best Googled Portuguese to the effect that I was not intending to resell the books and avoid paying tax on my lucre.
Perhaps Google wasn’t the best go-between because they sent me a template to declare what I had already declared. Fair enough, says I to the dog, and re-Googled.
It still wasn’t enough and after a few weeks, there was nothing for it but to make my way over to the alfandega. Now it wasn’t quite Gates of Mordor stuff but it wasn’t the most pleasant part of Lisbon.
Anyway, I took my number and waited to see the person who could verify that I had legitimate business with them and was sent back to take a number for the person who could actually deal with my problem.
While I waited, a young girl walked in with a flower in her hand and asked almost everyone there for a glass of water to put her flower in. Finally someone looked after her but I wasn’t so lucky. The woman behind the counter could not help me and could not explain what the problem was.
There was nothing for it but to resort to English and she agreed to send for the man who spoke English—only he was having coffee and I had to wait for a while.
When he did emerge, he was polite, dignified, and helpful. The declared dollar value on my box of books was, he was sad to inform me, “impossible in Portugal.”
Fair enough, says I and we both scratched out heads, eyed each other like we were playing poker, and eventually came up with a value that was possible. 150 Euros seemed fair—after all it is literary fiction and here in Portugal that still has some value. They still respect writers here and have ruas and largos named after poets and the like.
The value of literary fiction
150 Euros, says I to myself, I’m going to get dinged for tax here.
Portugal, like a few other countries has been singled out to pay the penalty of the recklessness of International banking and all their Credit Default nonsense that broke the way money works.
Fair enough, says I to the man who spoke English and he wished me a good morning and assured me that, now that the form had an acceptable value written on it, his colleague would now be able to look after me.
Except she was busy arguing with a couple who were trying to smuggle something past customs so I waited. And I waited. And while I waited some more, the young girl with the flower stepped in front of me, held up a ticket, bowed and smiled. Being well-breed, myself, I took the ticket and bowed back.
The little girl seemed content with her efforts and began to drink from the glass with the flower.
In time, the lady behind the counter was able to look at my form—with the true value of literary fiction in the appropriate box—and stamp the damn thing. She then explained that I should take the now acceptable form to another wicket.
I looked up at the screen that informs which ticket is next and I looked down at the ticket the little girl had given me. I was next and with little more ado, I got my box of books, didn’t have to pay tax, and was on my way.