Summer Postcard: Jesus Under The Umbrellas

AGIT ÁGUEDA, Portugal—There are 58 and counting pictures of Jesus in my Avõ’s (grandmother’s) house. Headshots, sculptures, statues, playing cards, paintings of The Last Supper, rosaries, magnets—there’s even a clock with him crucified, arms bending to tell time. He is everywhere, literally.

This comes as little surprise. In a country as religious as Portugal, Jesus sits down at the dinner table along with a bottle of Porto wine, chouriҫo, and pão y queijo, frequenting the conversation as much as your neighbor’s cousin’s daughter’s boyfriend, who is of course your fifth cousin twice removed.

Given that my Avõ’s house was already dressed to the nines with religious artifacts, I shouldn’t have been surprised that, when out touring a nearby city, I would be confronted with another encounter of the religious kind.

The city presented itself at first as a reprieve from this old-style life, feigning no attachment to anything Christ-like. Águeda was all bright lights and rainbow umbrellas, American music blasting out of the town speakers and tourists with cameras the size of the Aҫores dragging down their necks. Nothing of the art-clad walls and green carpets screamed old-timey Portugal. There weren’t orange-tiled roofs, a half-bathtub guarding a statue of Saint Fatima, or even a church for miles. Natives and tourists alike were free to ingratiate themselves into this cutesy, little town, leaving cultural norms hung to dry as the guarda-chuvas (umbrellas) occluded any opportunity for them to invade this haven. Or so I thought.

As I was admiring the street and lifting one of the smaller Azorean islands to capture the scene, two older women motioned me over to a bench and grabbed me by the wrist. In any other country, alarms would be sounding off in your head at this moment. Strangers are calling you over and touching you? There must be something wrong. Nevertheless, I didn’t react. The phrase “personal boundaries” doesn’t translate into Portuguese. The closest equivalents are “Para quê?” (For what?) and “Deixa Lá” (Let it go).

Their intentions, however, were harmless—their actions unaware of the cultural boundaries leapt and hurdled. They recognized me as a foreigner, and simply wanted to chat regarding Portuguese culture—which of course consisted of religion. I was immediately quizzed on my ability to recite the prayers into my youth: Pai Nosso (Our Father) and Ave Maria (Hail Mary). Once they deemed my knowledge acceptable, they let go of my hand and showered me with praise.

I smiled, thanked them, and looked away for a second to find a familiar face, but when I turned my attention back to them, they were no longer there. The bench was now empty, allowing for a clear view from the painted wooden slabs to the store behind it—which, unsurprisingly, had a headshot of Jesus in the top corner of its window front.

Jessenia Class ’20 is a Crimson editorial editor in Quincy House.

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