Queria uma chinesa por favor? Almost everyday I find this phrase passing smoothly through my lips, and I can’t seem to stop it. I have very few vices in life; I don’t smoke, rarely drink and for the most part eat pretty healthy. Though I enjoy sweets every now and then, it’s rare to find me drinking pop, eating McDonalds or consuming a chocolate bar. I don’t crave this type of food much, as I’d rather bite into an apple, munch on cereal or drink a cup of tea. I can’t tell you why, but perhaps it has something to do with my active lifestyle.
Over the years my diet has remained the same, until I was introduced to Portuguese coffee. This rich, dark liquid has got a hold on me and the funny thing is, I don’t want to escape it. The smell, the taste – I find myself thirsting for it to touch my tongue, almost always giving in for a daily ‘fix.’
With a mother who gets up early and leaves for work at 6am three times a week, coffee has always been brewing in the Watson household. Every morning I woke up to the aromatic smell and perhaps, became immune to it. I never once felt the need to pour myself a cup and give it a try. Interestingly enough, my first real coffee tasting experience was in Italy. When my basketball team took a foreign tour in 2006, very early mornings were an everyday occurrence. With full days and tons of sights to see, I decided a jolt of caffeine couldn’t hurt. Noticing nifty espresso machines in every hotel room, I decided to use the appliance to my benefit and get a jump-start on each morning. An espresso a day kept me alert and allowed me to enjoy every sight and sound on our trip. Once I returned to North America I didn’t feel the need to continue my espresso routine, nor did I seek a replacement for my lack of caffeine. I moved on.
After growing up surrounded by coffee, experiencing it first hand in Italy and finally attending university in one of the coffee capitals of the world, you’d think I’d be a loyal coffee drinker. Shouldn’t I be like every other Seattleite who consumes local brews from one of the countless coffee shops that line each street? Why haven't I become addicted to the fragrant smell of fresh coffee beans until now? After countless nights spent studying at UVillage Starbuck(s), writing papers at Tully’s on Queen Anne and prepping roommates for tests at Peet’s by Greenlake, how was I not a coffee drinker? And why am I just beginning this relationship with coffee?
During these evening cramming sessions, I was the one my friends made fun of. While they were ordering straight caffeine to keep them lucid, I was ordering designer drinks to try to fit in – latte’s, chai teas or peppermint hot chocolates. Sometimes I’d be super adventurous and get my latte iced. Yes, I was a hardcore coffee drinker. It got worse during the summer months. While training hard to keep my basketball game on par, my friend Lindsey and I would create intense morning workouts. After we had run hills on Queen Anne, sprinted football suicides at local high schools, completed brutal weight circuits or pushed each other during basketball drills in the gym, we’d finish up by going to a nearby coffee shop for breakfast and coffee. Of course Lindsey would actually order a coffee while I’d play it cool and get one of my fancy drinks, eliciting a laugh from her every single time without fail. I just didn’t have it in me to be a coffee drinker.
Now here I am in Portugal enjoying my chinesa (large coffee with milk) while I type. I thought Seattleites were crazy coffee drinkers until I met the Portuguese. These people drink café (coffee) as if the bean is about to be extinct! Breakfast, lunch, dinner – as a snack or nightcap, even right before we step on the court for a game – it doesn’t matter. It’s ever present and everyone does it. Men, women – young and old, it’s part of the culture here. When experiencing new countries I like to try popular dishes, famous activities and the like. So after 2 days on this island I was trying my first bica (small, STRONG, shot like cup of coffee.) I watched my teammates as they poured 2 packs of sugar into their drinks and stirred until the huge amounts of crystals dissolved. Disgusted by the thought of drinking straight sugar added to a dark sludge, I decided to sip it straight up. Wrong decision! The café was so strong and bitter that I almost spit it out. How can these people drink this stuff? Further proof that coffee is not for me. Even after adding sugar to make it a bit easier to consume, I still couldn’t understand what all the fuss was about.
But the café was not to be deterred. During my walking tours I often stop for a bite to eat. Eventually, I started to notice that there was a second size of coffee (there are 2 sizes/types of café here – bica (small straight shot of coffee) and chinesa (large coffee with the choice to add milk [leite]) so I decided on the latter, since there are no latte’s here! Big mistake. After the first sip I was hooked. If this is to be my one vice, so be it. It’s not like its cutting into my paycheck. At 0.80€ a shot, I think I can endure this small expense. What is also quite interesting is that there is no coffee ‘to go’ here. You drink your café at the table or bar in a glass coffee cup. There are no paper cups or venti size drinks. Size pequeno or grande makes your decision that much easier, while also helping conserve the environment. I’m in love with a chinesa…
Basketball update: last week we traveled to Coimbra to play Olivais. And travel we did. I can never get over how crazy travel schedules are in Europe. It’s insane and most of the time doesn’t make sense. With our game scheduled for 5:30pm on Saturday night, we were up at 5am that very morning to begin our adventure. By 5:45am we had left the gym and were headed to airport for our 6:45am flight to Porto. Arrival time: 8:30am. After collecting our luggage, we drove to a nearby mall and arrived just in time for opening at 9am. Here coach tells us we have 3 hours before we have to meet at noon. Ummm…ok. What are we going to do in a mall for 3 hours on gameday? Since the breakfast on the airplane was nasty, Dani and I decided to enjoy a nutritious McDonalds breakfast (ok, I’m a hypocrite, you caught me eating McDonalds!) With more than 2 hours to kill, we wandered the mall and ended up buying a couple of items neither of us needed. Tired and unsure of how we were going to have the energy to play 40 minutes that night, we spent the better part of an hour sitting in the food court people watching. Finally 12 o’clock rolled around and it was time to depart. Ten minutes later we stopped at a nearby hotel to sit in the lobby for an hour. No, we didn’t have rooms booked at this hotel, but we would be eating our pre-game there at 1pm. A walking zombie, I nodded off in a very uncomfortable chair only to find myself being shaken awake by a teammate who told me it was time to eat and I should wipe the drool from my chin. Nice. Lunch was from the hotel salad bar – where I found nothing of substance to give me energy for the game. Realizing I needed to load up on carbs, I decided to eat bread, and lots of it. I think I actually ate a whole loaf…Once finishing lunch, we again took a seat in the lobby for another hour. OMG! Can we please get a room to lie down in??? Dani and I were giving each other the eye the whole time, knowing exactly what the other was thinking and reminiscing about travel during our college days.
Finally, after drifting in and out of sleep, it was time to jump in the van and head towards Coimbra – an hour and a half drive south. Amazed that I hadn't gotten car sick or whiplash from our assistant coach’s erratic driving (can someone show this guy how to drive a stick please? Or even how to stay in one lane) I actually caught about 30 minutes of sleep. We eventually arrived in Comibra at 3:45pm, where we were subjected to watching the 2nd half of a young boys game before our locker room was cleared. Finally, we were led into it at 4:30pm, an hour before game time. And let me tell you, this was probably the most disgusting locker room I have ever seen in my life. It looked like a gas chamber. The floors were wet, but not from being washed and the bathroom had no door. The walls were a patchwork of paint and the place smelled like mold. Add that to the fact that the floor tiles were white and looked like they hadn’t been washed in months. Oddly enough, the gym floor was really nice and the rims loose, so it wasn’t all bad. With this being a big game – Dani and I pumped each other up with some good tunes and self talk, trying to wake ourselves up from 12 hours of travel.
Olivais is still in EuroCup competition and considered the best team in our league (we are one of the top 3.) They also employ former BYU star and WNBA draft pick Ambrosia Anderson. After a very disappointing performance at Vagos last week, it was time to redeem ourselves. Coach pulled me aside before the game and told me he wanted me to guard Ambrosia. I was up for the challenge, knowing she was left-handed and loved to shoot jumpers – from anywhere. With Dani playing on a bad leg, I knew we needed to get up on them from the tip, and we did just that. Ahead by 10 for most of the first half, they made a run and scored 2 points at the half time buzzer to cut our lead to two. The second half was a back and fourth battle, with Dani hitting everything she touched! She was in the zone, finishing 12-14 from the floor with 26 pts. Their posts couldn’t do anything to stop her. I had a solid game with 12pts and 11rbs, only shooting 7 times – I didn’t need to score. With Dani on fire and our guards shooting well from the outside, I was able to focus on the boards and defending their star. Even though Anderson scored 26pts, she only shot around 20% from the field, hoisting up more than 20 shots in the process. I thought I did a decent job, especially since everything runs through her and I was on her 40 minutes without a sub. Up 2 with 30 seconds left in the game, I hit 2 FTs to increase our lead to 4, stole the ball on ‘D’ and was fouled again. I hit 2 more with 7 seconds left to seal the game. Exciting! I was shocked the ref actually blew his whistle, as I did’t get a call all night under the hoop. As a foreigner on the court I’m used to not getting any sympathy, but when girls are blatantly hammering your forearms on lay-up attempts, you're bound to get a little red under the collar. Five of my 7 shots should have been called as fouls, but what can you do? Since college I’ve learned a lot as a player and am now good at keeping my emotions in check on the court. Refs are just waiting for a foreigner to react so they can light you up. I definitely gave a few death stares, but I feel my composure during the game allowed them to make the right calls at the end. It was a great win – making the long trip home much more enjoyable.
This weekend we have back-to-back games Saturday and Sunday. I fly home Monday for the holidays! Our break is from the Dec. 16th – Jan. 3rd. Though Madeira has the largest fireworks celebration in the world on NYE, it's nice to spend it with the people you care most about. I hope to catch a UW men’s game on the 20th or 23rd and the women’s game on the 30th. This will likely be my last post until the New Year unless something exciting happens that I must report! That being said “Feliz Natal” (Merry Christmas) and “Feliz Ano Novo” (Happy New Year) to you and your families. Enjoy this time together during the holiday season.