With winter on its way I needed a waterproof cover for large umbrella on the terrace and went to my local supplier with the measurements to ask if he could make one up. No problem, I was told, it will be ready in a couple of days. After a week I went back to enquire and was told that the woman who was going to make it was unable to do so at the moment as she had to harvest her olives.
I rather liked that, I liked her priorities and it made me realise that since I have been here I’ve changed, I’m more laid back; if the umbrella cover would take a while longer, so what. It was then that I recalled my Damascene moment of years ago, the moment I realised that I wanted very much to live here – away from the big city, the noise and bustle and the must do it/want it/have it now aspect of my then life.
Loule, at that time, was a much smaller town, with just the main roundabout where the four roads met but it was starting to expand and parking was becoming a problem. To address this, the Camera installed parking meters in each of the four main roads and assigned four men as parking attendants – one to each road. The meters were the old original coin in the slot type with the flag that went into the red section when your time had expired and to complement their new shiny meters they also bought a new shiny wheel clamp. Yes that’s right a wheel clamp – just one, well perhaps it was a trial, to see whether they liked it enough and whether we hated it enough but the upshot was if you saw a car clamped you knew you were ok for a while.
So there I was parked in the Avenida going about whatever I was going about that day when I returned and saw the clamp – on my car. With no idea what to do and at that time not speaking the language, I phoned a Portuguese friend who said I should meet her outside the Camera with the parking ticket and every possible legal document relating to both the car and myself.
We met, presented ourselves to the Camera, were duly fined and told that in order for the clamp to be removed I needed to look for the man with the key and that he would be identifiable by his green armband. Off we set, receiving strange looks as we examined all the male arms in the vicinity. It took a while but we eventually found him enjoying a drink in a bar and convinced him to leave and do his job.
Whilst he was unlocking the clamp I glanced at the meter and saw that it had five minutes to run before expiry time. I pointed this out to my friend with the key and asked why he had clamped the car in the first place. He reached into his back pocket, pulled out a well-thumbed notebook, turned a few pages and said.
“Yesterday Senhor, you were parked in my street and yesterday you overran on the meter but yesterday it was not my turn to have the clamp.”