By Emily Costa
My husband tells me this:
He’s seven, in Portugal for the summer, watching a strung-up pig bleed out. He’d seen the pig alive earlier that day. He’d seen his avô Alberto with a shotgun. They collect the blood in a pan, mix it with garlic, boil it into soup.
Later, in one room, Alberto and my father-in-law Julio laugh, hunched over blood soup with hunks of bread. In another, my husband and his little brother eat cut-up hot dogs as his mom, heiress to a high-end furniture factory, watches them.
Jesse tells me this because I ask if he’s seen a pig bleed out before.
Because Anthony Bourdain is in Porto, and they’re about to show a pig slaughter on TV and he tells me he’s not fucking looking.
I do look, because I think Julio is also watching the bleed-out on TV. I think he would.
Jesse calls me his dad’s lackey, his Smithers, a suck-up. But really I’m not that, it’s just that we both grew up poor. He was eating blood soup, and I was eating Shake & Bake or Burger King or SpaghettiOs.
But they are watching at their house, Julio and Cristina, and we are watching at ours because Anthony Bourdain in Porto on CNN is like a mini version of the Euro 2016 victory. It’s as if Portugal has finally made it. And not just Portugal, but Porto. Not Lisbon. This is hometown stuff. This is important. For fifteen years, I have heard versions of: I hate the Spanish. And: Italians get everything. I have heard: nobody respects us. I have heard: where’s our parade?
Tom Hanks is Portuguese, you know.
We discovered half the world.
But now, Bourdain is getting catcalled, getting screamed at by vulgar old ladies peddling cod. This is better than a parade.
The guys at the Brazilian car shop call Julio “Tony.” He is too kind to correct them. They speak Portuguese to each other even though every Portuguese person I know insists Brazilian Portuguese isn’t real Portuguese.
The Brazilian car shop is a few miles from Sagres, the bar Julio lived above when he came to Connecticut with Cristina for good in the ‘80s. Before that, he and his family had gone back and forth between Portugal and Connecticut for years. Alberto was a barber. One time they sent Julio back to Portugal alone and he lived in a house with no electricity and did bad kid stuff and his cousin almost burned down a stretch of woods. Somewhere along the way, his brother died. Then Julio came back to the US when he was married. And then they had two sons. And then I married one of the sons. Now I live up the street from the bar.
When I am eight months pregnant, Julio cooks me a thick calf’s liver with some onions. I am Rosemary Woodhouse. I slurp it down, the wine almost cooked out of it but not quite. Jesse gags and microwaves a pastelão. He tells us we are gross.
When the baby is a few months old, Cristina watches him while Julio, Jesse, and I go to the São Paio festival at the club down the street. We try hard to get enguias, the eel they sell at the club’s bar, but it’s sold out. Instead, we come home with dobrada –tripe stew with beans, pork knuckle, pig’s ear. Cristina makes a face. We drink cold Super Bock and Julio tells us a story about Alberto eating chicken feet.
A few weeks before Anthony Bourdain dies, we sit at our table eating a tray of carne de porco à Alentejana they order from Sagres. They complain about it not being all that great. I think it’s good, but I don’t know any better. My son gums the butt of a roll as we plan a trip to bring the baby to Portugal, before everyone old there dies. It’s just the two of them who’ve stayed in the US, the two of them and the boys. Everyone else is back home, or already dead.
Julio asks me what I want to eat when we go.
I’ve never been. All this time, and I’ve never been.
I think of Bourdain, of the Porto episode we watched with rapt attention a few years before this. I think of how he zeroes in on the untranslatable suadade, a longing, a joyful sadness.
I want what I can’t get here, I say.
Emily Costa teaches freshmen at Southern Connecticut State University, where she received her MFA in 2013. Her writing can be found in McSweeney's Internet Tendency, Fiddleblack, and Noctua Review.