Roasted Chestnuts in Portugal

Lisbon chestnut vendor It was November of 1999 and we were in Portugal to celebrate Luisa's 30th birthday. Turning 30 seemed to mark adulthood though, by that time, we had already been together six years and had bought our house.

This was our second trip to Portugal. The first had been in the summer of 1997 so this time felt different because it was colder and the nights came faster.

We spent time in Lisbon before going up north to visit Luisa's father and strolled around Belém which is one of my favorite areas. I had never been there in the evening before and there was something more peaceful about our walk. Maybe it felt that way because it was not the season for tourists but, in my memory, it felt quiet like a secret - something just for us.

Across from the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos and Pastéis de Belém, there is a park filled with fountains and gardens and walking paths. Luisa and I walked along a path and passed a chestnut vendor, an older man dressed in drab grays and browns standing at a cart. Luisa explained that the Portuguese celebrate São Martinho by tasting the wine from the previous year and eating roasted chestnuts.

She asked me if I liked chestnuts and I had to admit that I had never had one. I had grown up singing about chestnuts roasting on an open fire but had never seen or tasted one.

She bought some from the vendor and I watched as he rolled a sheet of newspaper into a cone, folded the bottom over and filled it with warm chestnuts. The steam from the chestnuts, the evening sky, my girlfriend so close I could feel her warmth - it was a cinematic moment and I was the playing the role of the young woman from Kansas in love and so far from home.

We sat on a park bench and Luisa peeled a chestnut and handed it to me. It tasted warm and sweet and buttery. It was beyond what I could have imagined when I sang those Christmas carols years before.

It's been 14 years since that night but every time I peel chestnuts for stuffing or sing about them roasting on an open fire, I remember that cool November night in Belém and the feel of newspaper in my hand and Luisa's shoulder against mine.

This post was written for Just Write. Check out Heather’s post and all the posts of all who joined in this week.