Last month, the Pianist and I went to Portugal. Her job was to give a recital at the American Ambassador’s residence. My job was to keep track of our passports.
We arrived on a Monday and left on Friday, but thanks to a local guide we crammed a lot of sightseeing into our short stay. After lunch on Thursday, the Pianist went off to prepare for the recital, and I decided to wander around on my own. I left our B & B, walked up the hill and down the other side, where I found myself in front of the Basilica Estrela. I took a look inside and then decided to return to Camões Square, where we had been the day before.
I hopped in a cab and told the driver where I was going. The driver nodded and asked me if I liked Edvard Grieg, the Norwegian composer. I said I thought I did, and he pointed to the car’s CD player and informed me that we were listening to Grieg’s Piano Concerto. I knew right away that this wasn’t your usual cab driver, and I told him my wife was giving a piano recital that evening.
The music changed, and the driver said, “That’s Massenet. Do you like him?” I told him the name sounded familiar, but he didn’t seem convinced.
As we neared the Houses of Parliament, the driver pointed to his left and told me that António Salazar, the dictator of Portugal for over thirty years, had lived there. I asked what he thought of Salazar, and he said, “The same as I think about Hitler and Mussolini.”
As we approached the square, he asked if I knew who Camões was. Thanks to the guide from the day before, I knew the answer. “A poet,” I said.
The driver nodded. “I always ask that question, and you’re only the second or third American who has known.” Fortunately, he didn’t ask me whether I liked Camões’s poetry or in what century he lived.
That evening I told the Pianist about my music-loving driver and that I wished she had been with me. “Grieg only wrote one piano concerto,” she informed me. “It’s in A minor.”
Friday morning I made sure the passports were where I had left them, we packed up, and the lady at the B & B called a taxi to take us to the airport. “I gave them your name,” she said.
We walked outside, and a cab pulled up right away. The driver loaded our bags, we got into the car, and just then another cab came along going the other way. The driver motioned to our driver, they rolled down their windows, and the second driver said, “Mr. Steinfield?”
We were in the wrong cab.
So, we removed our luggage and told the first driver, who wasn’t happy about this lost fare, that we were sorry. We managed to hold up several cars while we put our luggage and ourselves into the right cab.
I told the driver where we were going. He looked in his rear view mirror and asked, “How was the concert?” It took me a minute to realize that, it was my music-loving driver from the day before. I introduced him to the Pianist.
She told him she had heard about his love of music. For the next half hour they talked about classical music, while I listened to replays of Grieg and Massenet.
As we passed where Salazar had lived, I interrupted and mentioned what he had said the day before about Hitler and Mussolini. He then added Francisco Franco’s name to the list, thereby converting the trio of dictators into a quartet.