Tuesday, April 26, 2005

It's Jewish Karaoke

Last night Beth and I went to Johnny's synogouge for Seder. I've always been fascinated by different religions and thought that this would be a great experience and was correct in that assumption.

Beth and I have been laughing over the fact that when people in Portugal see me, they immediately start talking to me in Portuguese but when they see Beth, right away they know that she is not a native. For example, standing in line at the oceanario (oceanarium) two days ago, a guard started talking to me and I had no clue what she was saying. She then said "You can use the elevator. Take it to the 2nd floor." Which was her tactful way of saying "We don't want to be held responsible when you have a heart attack, walking up 2 flights of stairs. Please take the elevator so you don't die." Bless her. Because those stairs were steep and I probably would have collapsed.

When Beth got up to the counter, the woman took one look at her and said "English?"

After leaving the oceanarium, we went to Pizza Hut (yes, laugh, but we were starving and didn't have Johnny as an interpreter) and decided to sit in the restaurant. Thank God for non-verbal communication, we were able to tell the non-English speaking host exactly what we wanted by making gestures and nodding rapidly when we recognized a word. Our waitress spoke English and she was wonderful. When we were trying to figure out what a certain dessert was and she couldn't tell us, she found someone who was able to explain that it was 4 cream puffs covered in hot chocolate sauce and served with ice cream.

Apparently tipping is not common in Portugal. Johnny had explained this to us but it really hit home when the waitress came back to collect our Euros and we told her the change was for her. Our bill came to about 32 Euros and we gave her 35. Our tip was just a little over 15%, not a big deal for us, especially when you figure we will usually give Bobby a $20 for a $3.50 bill. She got the biggest smile on her face when she asked "For me?" and we said sim.

Yesterday we were off to take the Elevador de Gloria funicular, a tram or trolley. We stopped at a store selling post cards where I spent 22.50 on post cards. Crazy, right? But they will be wonderful for scrapbooking. We then decided to go to the Hard Rock cafe and figured someone there would be able to direct us to the funicular. Our waiter was very nice and started speaking in Portuguese to me but quickly switched to English. There was a waitress who amused us by walking by our table and singing along to the videos playing on the monitor next to us. We have some great pictures of her posing with us.

I told the waiter that the food was muito bem (very good) and he complimented me on my Portuguese and asked me how I had learned it. I explained that it was American TV with subtitles. Thank God for CSI: I know a lot of the words but have no clue how to pronouce them, a fact that has moved Johnny to laughter. She has tried to correct my accent but there is no way I can say things the way she does in Portuguese.

At the Seder, Johnny translated what the Rabbi was saying. The service was a combination of Hebrew and Portuguese, both beautiful languages. The story of the Jews leaving Egypt was told. There was a lot of singing in Hebrew and of course Beth and I have no clue how to read Hebrew. We were able to translate a lot of the Portuguese so we got the gist of what we were singing.

At one point, Johnny grabbed a napkin and wrote down the words that we were singing. As she handed them to us, she said "It's Jewish karaoke." We had a great laugh over that.

We ate lettuce dipped in salty water to remember the sacrifices that the Jews made and matzah (unleavened bread). The matzah was quite tasty (if you like cardboard) and then there was the realization that it was matzah from either a year or two years ago. Fresh matzah was brought out. It still tasted like cardboard. But it was fresh cardboard.

We then put lettuce between two matzah pieces. Beth said "It's a sandwich." Johnny told us that the Jews created sandwiches. Beth whispered to me later that the sandwich needed bacon. I was worried that someone would hear us but then Johnny later told us that the guys sitting next to her were making Pork jokes. If only we knew Portuguese! That would have been fun to hear.

All in all, it was a great experience. I really enjoyed the singing, it was wonderful sitting in the room and feeling the presence of God. Some might think that, as a Christian, it would be sacriligious for me to participate in this ceremony but I feel that God was glad I was able to witness this. After all, these are the teachings that Jesus learned as well.

I noticed a few people giving us odd looks during the singing and when I remarked on it later, Johnny said that the Porties are worried about how they sound and won't sing loudly and so it would have been interesting for them to witness two Americans singing out strong. But hey, karaoke is karaoke is karaoke. On new song Sundays, usually we've only heard the tune once or twice before and we'll get up on stage and sing. What's the difference between that and singing in a language I've never heard before in a country I'd never been to before? Not much.

Again, at the Seder, I had a few people start talking to me in Portuguese. Everyone addressed Beth in English. It's kind of funny.

Oh, I had another bathroom adventure. I used the WC (short for Water Closet) and could not get the toilet to flush. The synogouge is in an old building and the toilet tank is high up on the wall so I couldn't figure out what the problem was. Beth tried to help me and we ended up waving Johnny over. She couldn't get it to work and she had to get what I would consider an assistant pastor over to help us. I don't know if he has an official title but he was sitting by the Rabbi the entire evening. It turns out the toilet tank has to have a faucet turned on to get it to fill up. It was quite the experience.

Another thing that we thought was funny was seeing a No Smoking sign in the room where the service took place. I pointed it out to Beth and said "Não Fumar" (which actually translates to no Smokers, not no smoking). Later on, after the service, we saw the Rabbi smoking. Guess it doesn't apply to him!

The Rabbi was very nice and even stood up for me a little when Johnny was trying to get me to say "não" correctly. He told me, in his thick accent, "I have been here for one year and they don't make me try to say it correctly."

Tomorrow we're off to take a train trip to Evora. It'll be a two hour trip one way but we'll get to see the Chapel of Bone and the Temple of Diana. Way cool!