• Joia

Today's rhaps is on ... Presbyterian Lesbians


Detail from Elena Gancheva's "Tram in Alfama - Lisbon"

I was first introduced to lesbians in the summer of 1969, at the Presbyterian Seminary in Carcavelos, Portugal. That was also the summer I smoked my first cigarette and drank my first glass of wine, both up on the diving board overlooking the pool at the São Pedro de Moel hotel owned by friends of my parents. My Leiria friends and I would climb up the ladder to the tall platform in the sun, the perfect hideaway for our devious teenage pursuits. The Beatle's White Album was on frequently that summer, piped through the hotel's loudspeaker system—Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da blaring out past the patio pool to the beach and sea beyond. The single "Get Back" was on a lot, too. Jojo was a man who thought he was a woman—oops—who thought he was a loner...well, no matter the lyrics, both fit me fine. Still do.


In Carcavelos, the seven students from the University of Minnesota's summer SPAN program had the rooms on the second and third floors of the old Seminário, along with my parents and younger brother, while I was up in an attic room on one side of the building. I'd sit in the dormer window in the evenings playing my violin. Though my Minneapolis Symphony teacher wanted me to work on the Bach A minor and Mozart's 3rd in G major, I'd soon get bored and turn to Lalo’s torrid and passionate Symphonie Espagnole. For years I carried around the dog-eared sheet music of my mother's Wheaton College violin teacher, the gypsy concerto thrilling me with its fantastic slides up and down the G-string and flying cascades up to teeniest harmonics near the very top of the violin bridge.


During the day I’d follow the rotary intersections down to the praia and walk through the hot sand to climb on the craggy rocks, where the blue of Lisbon's Rio Tejo started to merge with the deeper cold of the Atlantic Ocean.


In the evenings and at nights, I'd hear the commotion in the room directly below me, the sighs and grunts and moans of an affection truly novel to me.


Little by little I figured it out. The preacher’s daughter would stop by late, after dinner, and invariably appear for breakfast the next morning. The housekeeper kept busy throughout the day and I never actually saw them together, but I learned the housekeeper's room was definitely the one in question.


Once I asked my mother about the arrangement, but was quickly silenced.

So, what else do I remember about that summer?


Well, how the sweet red jam tasted on our tea-bread every afternoon, how I wrung out my beach towel so hard one day I put my entire fist through the rose-beige pedestal sink, how this guy grabbed me once on the beach rocks and kissed me, after which I ran all the way home...where home was, that summer, in an alcove above two lesbians, improperly enjoying themselves in the hidden shadows of each long day.


27 October 2021







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