REDONDO, Portugal -- The Alentejans are sometimes the subject of
jokes by other Portuguese because of their -- shall we say, casual
-- ways, a hotel manager here for the Convento de Sao Paulo
The lackadaisical attitudes might be attributed to the heat, he
said, because moving fast would mean accelerating temperatures in
what is the hottest region of Portugal.
I do not wish to reenforce ethnic stereotypes in this article: I
found the Alentejans to be reserved but respectful, helpful and
However, there were a few cultural clashes, which probably say
more about me as an American than about the Alentejans.
Although Convento de Sao Paulo, in the heart of the Alentejo,
stands out as one of the most beautiful hotels I have ever visited,
my exchange with one or two of the employees approached a level of
absurdity appropriate to a "Saturday Night Live" skit.
Driving into central Redondo about 45 minutes from the hotel, I
was late and realized that I would not make it to the convent until
The only person I could reach at the tiny property was the
porter, who informed me that dinner was served no later than 10:30
Considered one of the best places to dine in the Alentejo, the
convent restaurant Hermite also is the only restaurant within an
hour of its location.
In other words, it was either eat there or starve.
I called back and asked to speak to the night manager, who
promised that Hermite would serve me when I arrived, which he hoped
would be by 10:30 p.m.
I drove as if I was the last member of a royal family leaving a
Communist country and arrived covered in soil, a result of climbing
for hours in the desert earlier in the day.
The aforementioned porter appeared and, although there were
almost no other cars in the convent lot, requested that I get in
and out of the car no less than three times so that I could park it
in a "straight" manner that he deemed correct.
Hungry and exhausted, I gave up and said that if he didn't like
the way it was parked, he could do it himself.
He did, but it took much more time than anticipated because the
car was an automatic, a rarity in Portugal and a new experience for
When he was finally satisfied with the vehicle's position, he
ushered me into the hotel. I asked him in a plaintive voice if I
could have 10 minutes to change out of my dirty garments and
"No time. Go eat now," he instructed.
I should note here that the restaurant's Alentejan food and
service were fantastic.