Bridget Gleeson writer + illustrator

Someone else’s family tree

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In the past week, I’ve been to Portuguese farmhouses, bohemian apartments in Pamplona, birthday parties in the Algarve and a dinner party in an old Spanish barn. (Oh yeah, I also spent a night at the Holiday Inn in Lisbon. Don’t ask.)

This trip has been a travel writer’s dream. Every step of the way we’ve been hosted and advised and carted around by locals – all relatives of my boyfriend. His father’s family is from Spain, his mother’s family is from Portugal. We made a last-minute decision to fly to Barcelona and go where the wind takes us for ten days.

On the plane over, I sketched out a small family tree in my notebook so I could try to understand who is who. During the trip, through extended conversations and questioning and even a visit to a great-great-aunt at a retirement home in the Portuguese village of Querenca, we were able to flesh out the maternal side. Check this out:

Okay, so it’s not my family. I’m just tagging along on someone else’s journey, but that doesn’t diminish at all from the richness of seeing a foreign culture from the inside.

Our travels were jam-packed with colorful characters and regional cuisine, too many things to talk about here. A few stand-out faces:

Tio Paixao and Maria Jose, the Algarve

Maternal side. They live on a rustic farm with their own pigs and chickens. She is an award-winning cook and served us coq au vin at her kitchen table. He makes his own wine in the farm cellar. (More on the culinary details later.)

Marcelo, Barcelona

Paternal side. Runs two very cool bars in Barceloneta, the old fishermen’s quarter of Barcelona. He’s an anthropologist by trade and has a huge Great Dane named Urco that follows him everywhere.

Antonio Jose and Sao, Santa Barbara de Nexe, Portugal

Maternal side. Both are lawyers; they live in a large house overlooking the sea. Here’s a view from their breakfast table, where I downed about a gallon of fresh-squeezed juice courtesy of their beautiful orange trees.

Alomai, Barcelona by way of Pamplona

Paternal side. Fashion design student. Adorable girl.