Sometimes we find home in a place where we don’t even speak the language. Louise Ross talks about discovering Portugal, a gentle country with ocean-gazing people, and recommends places to visit, as well as an attitude to self-reinvention.
Louise Ross is the author of Women Who Walk and The Winding Road to Portugal. She’s an Australian currently living in Portugal where she explores the immigrant and expatriate journey through her writing and her podcast, Women Who Walk.
- The similarities between Australia and Portugal as ‘ocean gazing’ cultures
- Cultural differences between Portugal, Australia, and the US
- Portuguese food and wine as an undiscovered gem
- Historical, cultural, and religious places to visit in Portugal
- Natural sites around Lisbon
- Finding community as an expat
- Making a space away from home feel like home
- Movement and walking as a metaphor for reinvention
- Recommended travel books about or set in Portugal
You can find Louise Ross at LouiseRoss.com
Transcript of the interview
Jo: Louise Ross is the author of Women Who Walk and The Winding Road to Portugal. She’s an Australian currently living in Portugal where she explores the immigrant and expatriate journey through her writing and her podcast, Women Who Walk. Welcome, Louise.
Louise: Thanks, Jo. It’s lovely to be here. A real honor to be on your podcast.
Jo: Thanks for coming on. I’m excited to talk about Portugal. I love Portugal, and obviously, we’re still in the pandemic.
What drew you to Portugal in the first place and why did you decide to stay?
Louise: In 1994, my American ex-husband and I took a three-week road trip through Spain. When we arrived in Tarifa, which is the southernmost point of the Iberian Peninsula facing Morocco, we could see across the Strait of Gibraltar to Africa. And we looked at each other and we said, ‘Let’s go.’
We bought ferry tickets with the intention of spending a few days in Tangier. Now, this was back in the mid-’90s when Australians needed visas to go just about everywhere, which meant when we boarded the ferry, the border police looked at my passport and my single entry visa to Spain and said, ‘Sorry, but you can’t leave Spain unless you’re flying back to the U.S. from Morocco or unless you want to spend several days at the Spanish embassy in Tangier waiting for a re-entry visa to return to Spain.’ So, we drove over to the entry point to cross into Gibraltar instead and the same thing, because of my single entry visa we couldn’t cross that Spanish British border.
For some reason, we decided to drive over to Portugal. Why we thought it would be any different crossing that border, I don’t know. But it was different because there was no border control, and so we cross with ease and we spent five days in the Algarve on the beach. It was such a memorable experience. I remember saying to myself, ‘I’ve got to come back and visit Lisbon sometime.’
Fast forward to 2010 and I’m in a workshop in Mexico in the Spanish colonial city of San Miguel de Allende with about a dozen participants. And one of those people was a woman from Portugal. We became great pals. Over the next couple of years, we visited each other from time to time. I was living in Colorado. When I visited her in Lisbon, her family and extended family were incredibly warm and welcoming. They introduced me to the food, the culture, the language, and the beautiful sights of this gentle country.
On one of those visits, in fact, it was winter in Colorado, it was very mild here in Lisbon, it dawned on me that I could easily live here, I guess, because there was a sense of familiarity since like Australia, the major cities in Portugal are coastal. And so the Portuguese are an ocean-gazing people like the Australians and also with a significant beach culture that involves surfing and swimming and lazing on the beach and enjoying beachside cafes with the tables facing the ocean.
Even while you’re eating and chatting, you’re always gazing out to sea.
And the fact is, I was looking for a way to leave the U.S. because there are aspects of American culture that I just could no longer abide. In 2014 I sold up and moved to an area just outside of Lisbon on the coast. I had in mind that I’d stay for about 10 years. And it’s been seven years now. Periodically I do think what next, but that’s still a few years away.
Jo: That’s really interesting. I like that you call it a gentle country and that you also went there from Spain. And it’s funny, I’ve loved Spain for many years. I almost moved there, except they have this night-eating culture.
Louise: I know.
Jo: I’m a morning person and Spain is not really a morning culture. And it’s funny, I wasn’t prepared to like Portugal as much as I did. People might know where Spain is, but Portugal is on the left-hand side. And people think, ‘Oh, it’s quite similar.’
It’s so different from Spain, isn’t it? And the language is really different.
Louise: Oh, yes. In fact, when I first arrived, the language was just so unfamiliar to me. I started to take some classes with a teacher back in Colorado and she was Brazilian. So, even the Brazilian Portuguese is quite different to European Portuguese, but nevertheless, I was becoming a little bit more familiar with the sounds and the words.
On one visit, I got into an elevator with my Portuguese friend and I made some comment and I said something along the line, ‘That’s not what that word sounds like.’ But anyway, we laughed because it seriously just sounds so different from anything that you’re familiar with. And then the Brazilian Portuguese sounds so different from the European Portuguese. And I just got so muddled. At some point, I just blurted out to her, ‘At the end of the day, this just sounds like Russian to me.’
Jo: I know what you mean. It is quite different.
You said that you’re an Australian. You have a familiarity with this kind of coastal life and this ocean-gazing life. What are the differences between Portugal and Australia and also the U.S.? Because I feel like it’s often easier to see cultural differences as an outsider rather than someone who’s native to the country. What are the cultural differences that you see?
Louise: I think the most obvious cultural difference is due to the fact that Portugal is a Southern European Catholic country that’s very family-focused.
Family is everything. Life in Portugal revolves around the family.
I’m single and childfree by choice. So, right there, I’ve always felt a little bit different. But in the U.S., that was never the case because where I lived in Boulder, Colorado, it’s a university town that has a very strong entrepreneurship culture. And the entrepreneurs and the intellectual capital in that community is really impressive. Plus, athletes will come from all over the world to train in Boulder because of the altitude.
My friends and acquaintances were all creatives and entrepreneurs, and that coupled with living at the foot of the Rocky Mountains with skiing, and hiking, and biking, and rock climbing on our doorstep dominated life, or rather, entrepreneurship and physical fitness dominated perhaps in the way that the culture of family dominates life in Portugal.
Whereas in Australia, I think what’s similar to Portuguese culture is this beach surf and sun-worshipping kind of part of our life and lifestyle. One of the things that struck me as unusual, though, is that the Portuguese are very reserved. And this might be as a result of the dictatorship that they lived through. And the family unit is very tight.
So, in that sense, I think that creates a reserve regarding outsiders and reserve compared to their exuberant Spanish neighbors. But they have these great expressions that, to me, are indicative of a wonderful sense of humor. And that also reminds me of Australia because I think both cultures have this sort of ironical, droll take on things.
Jo: You mentioned that exuberance of Spain and, obviously, I feel that Australia and America are very exuberant and outgoing cultures compared to, say, the UK. I feel like British people are generally more reserved and that Portugal is definitely that’s more withdrawn and less pushy. I think we were so surprised by the quality of the food and the wine and we were like, ‘How come this isn’t better known?’ It’s like, oh. People say, ‘Oh, the best food in Europe is in Italy or Spain.’ And we’re like, ‘Yeah. Maybe go to Portugal because I think they just keep it quiet.’
We drank some incredible wine and asked the sommelier whether we could buy some and he said, ‘We don’t export the best wine. We keep that for sort of locally.’
I feel like Portugal and its food and wine are a hidden gem.
Louise: Absolutely. I think that describes it so well. Since I’ve been here, it really is now on the map for travelers because of all the things that we both mentioned and because I think it was probably about maybe six years ago, I remember reading that they had a new travel and tourism minister. Suddenly there are all these wonderful YouTube videos about the glories of Portugal. And they went viral.
Portugal was suddenly on the map. My sister in Australia, at one point, we were talking and she said, ‘Oh, I’ve just read this amazing article in the Sunday Age, the pullout travel section about Portugal. Everyone here suddenly wants to go to Portugal.’ It kind of felt like an overnight sensation; the country was suddenly discovered, which has its pluses and minuses.
Jo: Definitely. I guess if people are going to visit, you mentioned the religious side, although, again, I felt it was a lot less religious than Spain, for example, a lot less bloody. There’ are a lot of bloody religious places and saints and things in Spanish Catholicism.
What are some of the historical religious or cultural places that you would recommend visiting?
Louise: Listeners might be aware that back in 1755, there was this massive earthquake and the city of Lisbon was destroyed first by fire and then a tsunami. But still standing today is the Carmo Convent in the center of Lisbon.
The ruins of this convent are an eerie reminder of the destruction of that earthquake. But it’s strangely glorious standing in the middle of the ruins and looking up at the sky since there’s no roof, only stone walls, and the arches. You can hear the 21st-century neighborhood bustling around.
There’s an outfit that puts together these amazing outdoor public light shows. They often do this in the ruins of the convent. Once again, you stand inside and the light shows, projected onto the walls and the convent matches with the night sky completely visible above. They’re really spectacular shows. Generally, the focus is an important historical Portuguese story projected images with accompanying sounds. So, it’s right in the center of Lisbon. A fabulous place to visit.
The Jerónimos Monastery is a former monastery of the Order of St. Jerome in Bahrain, just outside Lisbon. And to me, it’s an extraordinary piece of Gothic architecture that stretches long and thin, and dominates the flatland abutting the Tagus River. I think it’s spectacular because it did survive the 1755 earthquake and tsunami.
That alone makes it remarkable to me because whether you’re a religious person or not, you can help pondering if there was some sort of divine intervention that saved it from destruction. Sunday church services are held there. So, it’s still a place of worship.
Again, back right in the center of the city is São Jorge Castle, which is also in ruins and which was built on the highest point in Lisbon. It’s a really impressive historical site. They’ve dated human habitation on this hilltop site to the eighth century BC. The views across the city are absolutely spectacular from the castle. And there’s a museum of sorts that has been built into the ruins that contains fragments of artifacts collected from the site.
Many listeners are probably aware of Sintra Mountain. It’s an amazing spot that’s like a scene out of a fairy tale. It’s a mountain village dotted with colorful castles and magical gardens and forests. And there’s quite a mystical feeling on the mountain, which is enhanced by the fact that it has its own microclimate that causes a heavy fog to suddenly rolling and completely envelop the mountain.
One moment you’re gazing out over the Atlantic, admiring the view, and the next it’s as though the heavens have gently tossed this soft dead veil over everything. It’s just the most bizarre natural phenomenon and truly quite spooky.
Often overlooked when people visit Sintra is the Capuchos monastery which dates back to the 14th century. It was home to a group of Franciscan monks who must have absolutely frozen in the winter because it’s basically a series of small stone rooms lined with cork, built into boulders on the west side of Sintra Mountain. The monks’ cells are tiny and damp. And their life would have been incredibly austere and yet the setting is absolutely stunning. The surrounding forests and the view down to the coastline is awesome.
So, they’re probably just my top picks for travelers that can be easily accessible from the city.
Jo: Now, it’s funny you mentioned cork there because, again, if people look at what things you buy in Portugal and everyone always mentions the cork. Personally, I think the cork does well in a bottle of wine. I’ve obviously got what I like. But it’s funny you also mentioned the convent. I actually put that convent in my thriller Tree of Life.
Louise: Oh, did you?
Jo: Yeah, which also features Belém and the explorer monument. I love that convent. They’ve actually got these ancient Peruvian mummies inside there. If you find some ancient mummies in a ruined convent, they have to go in a book.
Louise: It’s a bit odd, Jo, isn’t it? Because the museum inside is wonderful, but I did wonder why the ancient Peruvian mummies in this museum about this convent. I don’t get it, but never mind.
Jo: It is still really cool. I definitely recommend that as well. And then, obviously, you mentioned Sintra with the view out to the ocean.
In terms of anything else around the natural world, you don’t go for a swim in Lisbon city even though it’s on the river, right? It’s sort of a big industrial port.
Where are good places to go in terms of the more natural side of the country?
Louise: Close to Lisbon is Costa de Caparica where the beaches stretch for miles and gorgeous coastline. Also relatively close to Lisbon is the peninsula of Troyer. Again, gorgeous white sandy beaches that stretch around the peninsula. And out where I live along the coastline toward Cascais, they’re a little kind of cove beaches.
It was this area, actually, that I fell in love with because it reminded me a little bit of the cove beaches around Sydney with lots of cafes right on the beach. This is the culture of cafes that was so familiar to me. The beaches are small along the linear between Lisbon and Cascais because they are small coves. But I’m a dreadful wimp and I find the water just way too cold.
However, and probably many listeners have had many breaks down in the Algarve and the water is a little warmer down there. South of Lisbon on The Ellen Taizhou coastline there are a lot of wonderful beaches in that area as well. And most of these beaches, Alentejo coastline, Costa de Caparica, and Toria, they’re not over-developed. They’re still pretty wild and unattached.
There are cafes on the beach or little restaurants on the beach, but it’s not overly developed. So, it’s not like you have big high-rise apartment blocks behind or off the beach. I think that that’s rather delightful that so many of these spots are still undeveloped.
And then inland, I love the Alentejo countryside. It’s just simply sublime. In spring, the landscape is blooming with wildflowers and it’s deliciously green and livestock. I don’t think I’ve seen such happy cows except maybe in Switzerland. But here they’re not standing at the precarious angle on the side of a mountain. They’re sitting under the shade of olive trees looking very happy and content. So, I love the Alentejo for the feeling of it being just rather idyllic.
Jo: Yes. And for people, again, who might not have the geography in their heads. Portugal is on the Atlantic coast. So, you look out to sea and you’re looking across a really big ocean to basically what? Latin America or North America opposite.
Louise: North America.
Jo: Whereas Spain, you can drive to Spain quite easily. But on the other side of Spain, obviously, is the Mediterranean, so it’s more sheltered. And so that’s why they’re quite different. As you say, I probably wouldn’t want to be swimming there on the Atlantic coast there. It would be quite chilly. But yeah, amazing, amazing views. I know people will be interested in those places.
I did want to ask you about some of the challenges of being an expat, because sometimes it can be really hard to be somewhere new; different language and all of that.
How did you find a community and work through those challenges?
Louise: In a country like Portugal where a Portuguese family unit is somewhat closed to outsiders, one finds friendship and community with other internationals. And for some reason, there’s an amazingly rich and diverse community of internationals here.
Within a few weeks of arriving back in 2014, I became a member of International Women in Portugal, which is a social organization of women from all over the world. Very quickly, I was on their board. And getting involved in that way opened doors for me. Those connections have really been a lifeline.
One of the more recent challenges is that during a pandemic, I haven’t been able to house sit for a friend in London, which I have been doing two to three times a year since 2015. That made me aware that those trips to London are also a bit of a lifeline because I’d step into a culture that was so easy for me. I could just let down for however many days I was there. People understood me, I understood them. I could wander into a little hardware store and buy bits and bobs.
But here in my local neighborhood hardware store, it’s an undertaking of mammoth proportions that requires patience, perseverance, and advanced version of Google Translate. So, I’ve missed those trips. And nevertheless, I think, as I have just said, it’s been a real lifeline to be part of an international community because within that community, we share ways to navigate some of the challenges of living in Portugal. And they remain.
Jo: As there are anywhere where you don’t speak the language. Obviously, a lot of people do speak some English, enough English to get by with tourists, but that’s not the same as the level of English to really build a relationship or presumably your level of Portuguese to kind of get deeper into a conversation.
Louise: That’s right. I’m pretty happy with what I call my cafe Portuguese. So long as you can communicate about what you want to eat and drink, you can do fairly well.
And then over the years, I’ve really been able to hear the language. I’m a pretty good mimicker, I think. I can mimic the way that the Portuguese speak, but then that gets you in trouble because once you start to have many conversations, I think people assume that I know more because I sound like I speak the language and then off they go and then I have to say, ‘Well, I only speak a little bit of Portuguese. Can we speak in English?’ which is a real cop-out because if I dedicated myself, I think I could really advance, but I find too many other things to do, Jo.
Jo: English people, British people are terrible generally with languages and I always feel very guilty. But just thinking about all, like you said, the challenges of the country, but, obviously, you’re Australian, you lived in America, and now you’re there in Portugal. So, what is home to you? It’s something I talk about a lot on this show and trying to figure out for many of us.
What is home? And have you found it in Portugal?
Louise: There’s an organization that I belong to called Families in Global Transition. And this is an ongoing discussion. Of course, most of it is online these days. It’s especially a discussion in the community of TCKs or Third Culture Kids. And it’s a question with no definitive answer or rather, I think that there are answers, but they are unique to each individual living outside of their current country of origin.
Personally, over the years, I’ve simply come to terms with the choice that I’ve made to live outside my country of origin. Frankly, no particular place feels like home to me, but oddly, I’m a homebody, which is to say, wherever I am, I love to create a beautiful home where I feel safe and comfortable and where I love to open my door to friends and entertain. In that regard, I attempt to create home wherever I am.
Jo: What do you do to make that? I’m not a very homebody. As in, I have my own standing in a house I own, but I am terrible at making a place feel like home. I’m maybe the opposite. I feel I can be at home in many places, but I wouldn’t know how to make a physical space feel like home. Do you know what I mean? What do you do to make that space feel like home?
Louise: Oh, that’s an interesting question. When I arrived here, all my personal possessions were stored. But in fact, I own my own apartment in Colorado, but I’d sold up so much of what I owned that what I kept in storage were just a few things. It wasn’t till I got my residency, and that was probably two years after I was living here. I lived in a partially furnished…or I still live in the same apartment, but the apartment was partially furnished. And the landlady did a really good job of just keeping it as a blank canvas, so everything was beige.
I had a number of events here for IWP. We’d have maybe a guest speaker or something and I’d open up the apartment and people would come and we’d listen to our guest speaker in my living room. It made the participants at those events incredibly uncomfortable to see this somewhat empty beige apartment with no books on the bookshelf, etc. A number of women said, ‘You know what? I could lend you things.’
This is really fascinating to me that people were so uncomfortable with the space and the blank canvas. And yet, I wanted to keep it blank for a period of time until I figured out what kind of life or how I was going to create a life for myself here. Once I did get my residency, I could ship my personal possessions over from the U.S. And then I placed those things around the apartment.
Then, of course, I was lacking color. Color is really important to me. So, over a period of time I began to piece together, I suppose, decor that really reflected who I am and what makes me feel joyous in my own home. In the meantime, of course, I was traveling.
My sister spends a lot of time in Turkey. I went there. We went shopping. I bought some beautiful carpets, some bits, and bobs there. I went to Morocco. I bought some fabulous carpets there.
I started to collect a few things. I didn’t want to over-collect because I didn’t want to suddenly fill another apartment with things that I might not want to carry forward into the next phase of my life. But it has something to do with creating a home for me. It has something to do with making it a reflection of something of yourself.
Now, that said, Jo, I saw some wonderful promotional photos that were taken of you. I think you posted them on Facebook. And I thought, ‘Oh, look at her beautiful home. She’s got this gorgeous, elegant white bookshelf in the background that’s filled with books.’ So, I’m surprised that you said that because if that’s your home, it looks like a wonderful reflection of who I imagined you to be, which is this study or this living room filled with books and a beautiful environment.
Jo: To be honest, I did put those on this week. And I do have a lot of books. I have thousands of books. But I’ve had thousands of books in every place and they’re all different. What I do every couple of weeks is I take another couple of bags out to fill the space with more books. So, it’s almost like my attachment is to books, plural, not to specific books.
And those lovely bookcases, they’re just from IKEA. So, it’s funny, isn’t it? I’m fascinated by this because it should be obvious. But I had never thought of home as actually being the physical space. To me, it’s a much bigger concept. So, it’s really interesting to hear you say that.
Let’s talk about one of your books, the book, Women Who Walk. Now, I am fascinated by this. I am a woman who walks and I’ve had quite a few women walking on the show and men. But your book is not about walking specifically, which I found really interesting.
What do you mean by walk in this context? And how can we use it to find strength in these weird times?
Louise: Right. Well, I do love the title. Actually, now a deceased friend of mine came up with that. Someone I really respect. And we were both members of a Friday hiking group that met and still meet and has met for 20 years to hike the trails around Sintra. There’s a lot of just gorgeous natural environments around Sintra Mountain.
The group that gets together each Friday is a group of international women. They’re generally members of the organization I mentioned, International Women in Portugal. And they’ve lived all around the world, moving country to country. It was their stories that inspired me to write Women Who Walk.
I thought that the title was very clever because it captures all the relevant images such as the most literal, which is women walking or women moving forward with direction, empowered women, women of strength, and so on. And these are traits that the women in the book embody.
Now, how we can find strength in these difficult times to move? Well, I think one way to find inner strength is by turning to our imagination. The power of our imagination is a wonderful tool as is our capacity as humans to be creative. For instance, your podcast, Jo, Books and Travel, you started it because you couldn’t travel due to the pandemic. I remember hearing that in one of your episodes.
How clever and creative is that? You inspired me. I downloaded your book Audio for Authors. And during the winter lockdown here in Portugal, I said about creating a podcast version of my book, Women Who Walk which I’ve just launched.
In my interviews with intrepid women who’ve made multiple international moves for work and adventure and live and for freedom. Just as your ‘Books and Travel’ podcast has taken me on fascinating journeys around the world, I hope that ‘Women Who Walk’ will fire up the imaginations of the women who hopefully will tune in and listen.
Imagination is a wonderful thing. I sometimes think of Nelson Mandela and his cell for 27 years and wonder if his strength and resolve surviving such an injustice. I like to think that he had a powerful imagination and a profound sense of faith in something greater than the mundane that helped his spirit and intellect saw beyond the confines of his imprisonment.
Jo: It’s interesting this idea of moving forward. I like that metaphor with the walking, like you say, it’s about moving forward and changing. And you starting your podcast is a reinvention of sorts because I know how much work it takes to do a podcast and to learn some technical skills and to learn interview skills and to do all these different things in order to move forward with what you want to create.
We’re still not traveling during this time. And I feel the same way. It’s like, ‘Well, how do I move myself forward in my life when I am still constrained in a physical context?‘ But as you say, you can potentially do it in your imagination maybe through writing or creating or doing whatever you feel that you want to do.
Moving forward can be recreating yourself rather than moving countries again.
Louise: Absolutely. I think that one of the things that I’ve realized during this time is that I also have the capacity for enormous focus. When your life is restrained, yes, you can rail against it and you can get frustrated. But there’s another way to channel that energy, which is to just really focus and do something that helps you release that energy.
For creatives, I think that your natural inclination is to create, to produce. It’s just a matter of finding what that is so that you can spend your energy in a productive and perhaps wise way. Yes, because there really is no point fighting against something such as a pandemic because we simply can’t. We just need to be patient. It will resolve at some point in some way. And in the meantime, yes, fire up your imagination and get creative.
Jo: Indeed. So, of course, this is the ‘Books and Travel’ show.
Apart from your own books, can you recommend a few books about Portugal or travel books that you love?
Louise: Yes. I have a bookshelf of fiction and nonfiction titles about Portugal. When I arrived, I found it enormously helpful to read nonfiction titles, in particular, and helped me understand the country and the history and the origins of the culture. So, my nonfiction favourites are the following.
The first is The Portuguese by Barry Hatton, an Englishman. I think there’s a new edition with a subtitle, ‘A Modern History.’ But my copy was published back in 2011 and it doesn’t have a subtitle. But on the back cover, Hatton says that his purpose in writing the book, and this is why I bought it, is to describe the idiosyncrasies that make this lovely and sometimes exasperating country unique and to search for explanations, surveying the historical past that drove the Portuguese to where they now stand. He succeeds beautifully in his endeavor. It’s a great read and truly enlightening.
The next is The First Global Village: How Portugal Changed the World by another Englishman, Martin Page. Apparently, there are a number of historical errors in this book, but nevertheless, I learned some rather interesting little foodie-type tidbits in this book.
I’ll mention that the origin of afternoon tea, which I thought was British, in fact, was introduced to the British by the Portuguese who probably learned of it from the Chinese. And we all acquired tempura with Japan, and yet the Portuguese who were the first Westerners to enter Japan introduced the poor quarter, that’s quarter, or garden fishers, which is green beans fried in a large batter. The Portuguese introduced that to Japan and which ultimately became tempura.
So, these are just a couple of tiny little examples of the cross-cultural pollination that resulted when the Portuguese set sail on their discoveries. The book digs way deeper than this, but I just love those little anecdotes. It reaches back to when Portugal was Rome on the Atlantic, which I love that term too. And it comes full circle to the present with the Carnation Revolution. So, it’s a great wandering yarn and exploration of the hitch history of this country.
And now the next is Lisbon: War in the Shadows of the City of Light, 1939-1945 by Neill Lochery. Yet another Englishman. This one is my favorite, probably because my father was a veteran of the Second World War. And so I grew up with a lot of stories and books about the war.
This particular book for me was fascinating because I wasn’t familiar with the fact that Portugal did not enter the war. And under the Salazar dictatorship, Portugal remained neutral. But once you read this, you were like, ‘Neutral?’ It was sort of neutral because what we learn is that Salazar was very cunning, playing both sides, the Brits and the Germans, ultimately selling off Portugal’s tungsten which is a metal used to produce armor-piercing projectiles, which apparently melted the British tanks.
It was sold off to the Germans for gold that the Nazis looted. And all that gold, hidden away somewhere in Portugal helped the country emerge after the war economically in tact. It’s a riveting read and it has the quality of, say, a film noir-like the movie ‘Casablanca.’ So, I highly recommend that one.
Now, in terms of historical fiction, I have to mention a previous guest of yours and someone I really admire, and that’s Richard Zimler, an American writer living in Porto in the north of Portugal. His historical novel, The Last Kabbalist of Lisbon is a beauty.
I love it for its historically accurate story about a period of Portuguese history that many Portuguese don’t even know about, which is the massacre of thousands of Jews in 1506, which I think heralded the Portuguese Inquisition. But you and Richard talked quite eloquently about that in your conversation.
Jo: Thank you. I’m glad you mentioned Richard.
Louise: That was great. He’s an incredible speaker. So, I won’t say more about that book.
The last one for something delightful and charming, Estoril, a war novel by a Serbian-Portuguese writer Dejan Tiago-Stanković. This is a little gem. It’s sort of passed by novel part historical fiction and it tells the tale of a young Jewish boy who has been deposited by his parents at a luxurious hotel in Estoril for safekeeping during World War Two.
The hotel is probably modeled after the Palazzo Hotel in Estoril which is still in operation. And during the war, it was home to exiled European nobles and royalty, British and German spies. And he also weaves in real historical personalities. So, we meet the Polish pianist, Jan Paderewski, Ian Fleming, the British spy novelist and creator of James Bond.
The original novel was set in the Estoril Casino which is next to the hotel Palazzo. A French writer and flyer and intransigent dissent and the ex-king of Romania, Carol II, and his mistress, Elena Lupescu, the woman he renounced his crown for in order that they could be together. And we’re privy to the goings-on at the hotel via the lives of this cast of characters in a way that’s reminiscent of that very quirky movie, ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel.’ So, they are my top picks.
Jo: That’s fantastic. I read that Hatton, the one you talked about first. Brilliant.
Where can people find you and your books and your podcast online?
Louise: Well, they can find my books on my website, louiseross.com. They can also access my podcast Women Who Walk there. But they could also very easily find it on their favorite podcast provider. So, that’s, again, ‘Women Who Walk’ and my name is Louise Ross.
Jo: Brilliant. Thanks so much for your time, Louise. That was great.
Louise: Thank you so much, Jo. It’s been a real pleasure and, again, such an honor to be on your podcast.
More interviews, articles and books about Portugal
- Traveling Through The Eyes of Faith. Portugal with Richard Zimler
- A Weekend in Lisbon: The Age of Exploration, Pastel de Nata and Ginginja
- If you enjoy thrillers, check out Tree of Life, an ARKANE thriller. When a fragment of an ancient manuscript is stolen from a Jewish library in Amsterdam, ARKANE agents Morgan Sierra and Jake Timber discover a conspiracy that stretches back to the days of the Portuguese Empire and a hidden Order of monks who have protected The Garden of Eden for generations.