A rewarding chance encounter

This item appears on page 51 of the September 2010 issue.
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The man stood by the doorway of his house, a large working windmill whose arms rotated sluggishly in the light breeze. A gnome of a man, he waved, beckoning to us as we drove past on a quiet back road near Peniche, Portugal, located on the coast not far from Lisbon.

Manuel in front of his house near Peniche, Portugal, in 2004.

“He’s waving to us, Charlie,” I said to my husband. “Back up. Let’s see what he wants.”

The man hopped and skipped as we approached, much like a wiggling dog that welcomes you home after a too-long absence. Clearly, he was pleased we had stopped.

Manuel was his name, he said, as he ushered us into the ground floor of his three-decker windmill, the lowest level cluttered with dusty bags of grain and flour.

He pointed to an overhead chute and with his hands imitated the whoosh of the ground material that would descend from the grindstone on the upper floor. It was then that we realized we had a language problem. Manuel spoke only Portuguese and we knew not a word.

Undeterred, our host was determined to show us around. A narrow stairway wound around the interior wall, taking us to the works of the mill on the second floor, where the huge millstone took up most of the space. But it was not operating at the time because, as Manuel demonstrated, the mill’s arms were not turning fast enough. He pantomimed this by raising his arms and moving them in a slow, circular fashion.

On the top level, his living quarters, he dropped onto his bed, feigning sleep, but immediately cocked his head in a listening mode.

Musica,” he explained, jumping up and pointing outside to the mill’s arms, spinning his own in a fast-gyrating circle. The wind had come up. “Whirrrrr.” Time to grind the grain.

He gestured to us to follow him down the tortuous stairway to the outside, where he adjusted the clay pot at the end of each wooden arm to better contain the wind and propel the blades.

Clear as a bell, no translation given or needed!

When we left, Manuel was happy to receive a small compensation for his tour, and he demonstrated it by planting an appreciative kiss on each of my cheeks.

On all of our trips abroad, in just this way, we have accidentally come upon local people who have enriched our travel experiences. We’ve found that if you’re curious and observant, if you show a genuine interest in what people are doing, if you don’t intrude but stand back a bit until recognized, a smile is often returned with an invitation… and you can go on from there.

ARLINE WILLS

Lynnfield, MA

Please login or subscribe to ITN to read the entire post.

The man stood by the doorway of his house, a large working windmill whose arms rotated sluggishly in the light breeze. A gnome of a man, he waved, beckoning to us as we drove past on a quiet back road near Peniche, Portugal, located on the coast not far from Lisbon.

Manuel in front of his house near Peniche, Portugal, in 2004.

“He’s waving to us, Charlie,” I said to my husband. “Back up. Let’s see what he wants.”

The man hopped and skipped as we approached, much like a wiggling dog that welcomes you home after a too-long absence. Clearly, he was pleased we had stopped.

Manuel was his name, he said, as he ushered us into the ground floor of his three-decker windmill, the lowest level cluttered with dusty bags of grain and flour.

He pointed to an overhead chute and with his hands imitated the whoosh of the ground material that would descend from the grindstone on the upper floor. It was then that we realized we had a language problem. Manuel spoke only Portuguese and we knew not a word.

Undeterred, our host was determined to show us around. A narrow stairway wound around the interior wall, taking us to the works of the mill on the second floor, where the huge millstone took up most of the space. But it was not operating at the time because, as Manuel demonstrated, the mill’s arms were not turning fast enough. He pantomimed this by raising his arms and moving them in a slow, circular fashion.

On the top level, his living quarters, he dropped onto his bed, feigning sleep, but immediately cocked his head in a listening mode.

Musica,” he explained, jumping up and pointing outside to the mill’s arms, spinning his own in a fast-gyrating circle. The wind had come up. “Whirrrrr.” Time to grind the grain.

He gestured to us to follow him down the tortuous stairway to the outside, where he adjusted the clay pot at the end of each wooden arm to better contain the wind and propel the blades.

Clear as a bell, no translation given or needed!

When we left, Manuel was happy to receive a small compensation for his tour, and he demonstrated it by planting an appreciative kiss on each of my cheeks.

On all of our trips abroad, in just this way, we have accidentally come upon local people who have enriched our travel experiences. We’ve found that if you’re curious and observant, if you show a genuine interest in what people are doing, if you don’t intrude but stand back a bit until recognized, a smile is often returned with an invitation… and you can go on from there.

ARLINE WILLS

Lynnfield, MA