When, at the beginning of February 2020, Tom and I marked 10 years of Anita’s Feast with what at the time seemed to be a modest celebration—a cheese-and-wine evening–we welcomed just 10 people, and everyone crowded around our dining table. A few days later, we welcomed friends in town on a gastronomic tour of Portugal, and lingered over a meal together. At the weekends, we browsed Porto’s open-air markets under benign February skies, and crowded around upended wine barrels in the Cais Novo tasting room for Simplesmente Vinho’s 2020 edition. Little did we realize how soon such gatherings would no longer be possible, or that we were headed for the first of two pandemic lockdowns.
Pandemic lockdown 1.0
When the organic market near us shut down, we signed up for home delivery of organic produce. We sanitized vegetables and every bottle and can that entered our apartment. I brought Anita’s Feast home, literally, with a deep dive into cooking in our pandemic kitchen. With no yeast in sight, we hopped aboard the sourdough train.
Gradual de-confinement came in May 2020, as the country moved from a “state of emergency” to “a situation of calamity”. We ventured out, masked up and wary. Something like normalcy returned, although Porto’s streets were mostly empty until June, when marchers in at least five Portuguese cities joined ‘Black Lives Matter’ worldwide actions against racism.
More than a thousand people turned out for demonstrations in Porto on 6 June, filling the square at Aliados in peaceful protest. The demonstrations also aimed to remind everyone of the significant role played by vulnerable members of society, in keeping things going through the time of pandemic quarantine. A few months later, in October, a mural would be unveiled at the entrance to Porto’s São João Hospital, one of Portugal’s main centers for Covid-19 treatment. The installation by street artist Vhils honors front-line workers.
Summer and autumn—unnaturally quiet
With summer came travel freedom of a sort. Guardedly optimistic, we began to contemplate future travels farther afield. We discovered new dining venues with outdoor terraces, where, after months of day-in, day-out home cooking, we thrilled to the creativity of people who cook for a living. We made a few excursions out of town, by car and train, and gloried in tastings at Douro wineries where a raft of new safety precautions had been implemented.
In late September, we spent a couple of days In Viana do Castelo, and were giddy to sleep away from home after so many months. We strolled the esplanade along the Lima River at sunset, and were among the very few, very pampered, guests at the Fábrica do Chocolate Hotel.
On a long autumn weekend at a remote Douro wine estate, we were treated to private dining and a terrace with amazing vineyard views. Harvest-time 2020 was not the grape-stomping, convivial mashup of prior years in the Douro Valley, and we could see how difficult the normally busy season was for our hosts. Still, we were happy not to have to compete with giant tour buses on the roads or at tasting venues, and felt doubly blessed to be both healthy and in Portugal. In Belmonte and Monsanto, near the Spanish border, we savored the guilty pleasure of having the countryside almost to ourselves.
As the weather cooled, we ducked indoors again and kept mostly to ourselves, except for occasional meals outside on increasingly chilly restaurant terraces. When we visited museums, we were in fine company—that is, virtually alone—everywhere we went. In December, although we missed holiday gatherings, there was still a certain novelty in Skype and Zoom aperos and we had Netflix, books, and music to keep us entertained.
Tom and I had enjoyed Portugal’s long season of relative freedom, almost six months, in fact. Then came Christmas, an influx of holiday travelers from abroad, and the government’s curious decision to allow the customary family gatherings, even after cancelling most large-crowd Christmas celebrations. We had a lovely, very quiet, Christmas at home, but Portugal’s holiday jollity was short-lived.
Pandemic lockdown 2.0
Two weeks into 2021, we were back in lockdown. Less than a month on, restrictions were expanded and extended, and hospitals overrun. It was a frustratingly predictable outcome. Where there had been something of a sense of adventure the first time around, this one came with pandemic fatigue, and dismay at the turn of events in Europe and especially in Portugal. We just wanted to pull the covers over our heads.
Thanks to the internet, though, we could still keep up with family in the US. We also expanded our Skype and Zoom connections with friends in Switzerland, Germany, Morocco, and India. We kept up a new habit from Lockdown 1.0, as we reached across country borders to share a cup of tea, a glass of wine, or a meal.
One year on
When the pandemic had its own birthday last month, Tom and I realized just how long—and at the same time how short—a year can be. After Easter, came Portugal’s second relaxation of restrictions, and we registered for our Covid-19 vaccination appointments. The roll-out here sputtered at the start, but has gathered steam. We are in the queue for our first jabs, but will breathe easier when we are fully vaccinated at the end of July.
After our second trip through Portugal’s “state of emergency” and the upcoming revival of a “situation of calamity”, we are once again cautiously optimistic. Perhaps those cozy tables and lazy dinners are closer than we think!