the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

Spain is Cleaner than Portugal


Sunday began like many Sundays before.  I was over at Sophia’s.   We were sitting on the couch, the Los Angeles Time spread out before us like a buffet of information — fascinating articles on politics, culture, business, and books at at our fingertips.  We were deep in discussion on one of the day’s pressing issues:

Neil:  “So, you’re saying — there were times you were with me  — in bed — where you would choose a bowl of onion soup over an orgasm?”

Sophia:  “It’s really hard to find a good onion soup in Los Angeles…”

Neil:  “I’ve never heard anything so crazy in…”

The conversation was cut short by the phone ringing.  It was my mother calling from Queens, just back from her bus trip through Spain and Portugal!”

Sophia:  (to my mother)  “Hold on, Mom.  Neil’s getting the other line, so we can both talk to you.”

I ran to the kitchen and picked up the other phone.

Neil:  “Mom!  How are you doing?! 

Mom:  Fine.  Fine.  I just walked in.  I’m a little confused about the time.  I had breakfast this morning, then took a plane to Italy, where they served us breakfast.  Then on the plane from Italy to home, they served us breakfast again.  So, I had three breakfasts today!  Isn’t that hilarious?

Neil:  “Yeah, yeah.  So, how was the trip?!   Tell us everything!”

Mom:  “Oh, it was very nice.   The people on the bus were very nice.  We sat next to Joyce and Ed, a couple from Canada.  They were an Arab couple from Toronto, but very nice.  And then, behind them was this family from Mexico.  Very wealthy.  And they knew Spanish, so they were always helping everyone buy postcards and tschotchkes in the souvenir stores.  And then there were these two adorable girls, Jennifer and Tracy, who just graduated from high school and they got the trip as graduation presents. One of them even let me us her music Pod thing!” 

Sophia:  “What about Madrid?  Did you like…”

Mom:  “Hold on…hold on… and then there was Florence and Angela, this mother and daughter from Georgia.  At first, I thought they were sisters because the mother looked so young.   Black woman over fifty always look so young!  And then there was Tony and Hans. a gay couple from California.  They were so funny, always making jokes.  I gave them your phone number because they travel to Los Angeles a lot.   Oh, and then there was Roger and Anne, a very nice couple from London who were on their honeymoon.  It was a second marriage for both of them.  Roger’s first wife died.  It was very sad.  But Anne was their nurse, so it’s funny how life can bring people together.”

Neil:  “Did you go to Toledo?”

Mom:  “Wait…and there was another Jewish woman from Chicago, Shirley, my age, and she was very nice.  She knew a lot about Jewish history in Spain because she used to be a teacher.  And she really hit it off with this Indian man, Raj, who was travelling alone for the first time because his wife died in a car accident a few years ago.  We even think Shirley and Raj became boyfriend-girlfriend a bit during the trip.  You should see how nicely Raj was dressed all the time.  Always in a suit and tie…”

Sophia:  “Mom, OK, OK, we get it.  There were nice people on the bus.”

Neil:  “Yeah.  Tell us about Spain.  Portugal.  What did you see?  What did you like?”

Mom:  “Who remembers?   Every place is jumbled together.  But I did notice that Spain is a lot cleaner than Portugal.”


  1. Fitèna

    lol! I loved it! “Who remembers? Every place is jumbled together!” lol! Your mom is someone I’d love to meet! She’d love me, am a nice person! 🙂

    PS: Now, am first, what do I get!?

  2. rachh

    Your mum sounds like mine, only difference is that mine weaves about 5or6 scenarios into one story. I’ve found that if I wear dark glasses I can have a snooze and she won’t know. Thanks for popping by

  3. V-Grrrl

    Next time put her on a Greyhound that’s LA bound from NY and then you’ll get some great blog-worthy stories.

    BTW, I’m SURE Sophie was going to finish that sentence like this: “It’s really hard to find a good onion soup in Los Angeles…but hey, I can have a good orgasm any time.” Which I’m assuming, ahem, involves you and so, ahem, that’s a good thing, right?

  4. Wendy

    This totally cracks me up! I think your mother and my mother-in-law might be separated at birth! Eerie!

    ps: you can get really good onion soup around here. 🙂

  5. helen

    Your mother is such a sweet lady. She finds the beauty of life easily. lol

    Guess getting onto the bus is already a journey in itself for your mother! lol

  6. LisaBinDaCity

    It sounds like your Mom had her priorities!

  7. Jenni

    Who needs a country brimming with history and culture when you have a bus full of interesting people?

  8. Megan

    That’s classic.

  9. Margaret

    I’ve heard that Spain is, in fact, cleaner than Portugal.

  10. Roberta

    “So, you’re saying — there were times you were with me — in bed — where you would choose a bowl of onion soup over an orgasm?”
    I think I’m stuck on the location.
    I think that sitting here, on my couch, if I were offered a great orgasm or a great bowl of onion soup; I mean, the soup is an easier transition. I’m not saying it’s a no-brainer PRO soup, I’m just saying it would depend.
    But in bed? With you? Or, someone else I’m all naked with? The orgasm would appear to be the appropriate offer, and the very one I should jump on. No, if if I want soup I need to relocate.

  11. Pearl

    I’m liking your mom more and more, Neil. Guess the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
    Did you tell your mom you have a fan in Toronto–maybe she wants to take a bus trip here. We’ll look out for her!

  12. Blonde Vigilante

    Human connections are always stronger than ones with inanimate objects, although my car would probably disagree.

  13. Tatyana

    Spain is cleaner than Portugal? is Queens cleaner than Brooklyn?
    I’d say it depends. I’ve seen housewives washing sidewalk in front of their houses with soap and brushes (not brooms) in Porto.
    And the restrooms on the railroad station in Lisbon were sparkling clean: they were paid-for restrooms (to enter you had to pay .50euro)
    Did she ever got out of the bus?

  14. pam

    Sometimes, when you want a really good onion soup, you have to make it yourself.

  15. amanda

    haha! go Raj!

  16. ms. sizzle

    three breakfasts in one day is my kind of day!

    this is a great post. 🙂

  17. Rebecca

    So you will tell us if Tony and Hans call, right?

  18. Non-Highlighted Heather

    I love this:

    They were an Arab couple from Toronto, but very nice.

    What is it about mothers (yours and mine, at least) where a sentence involving racial assignation must also include a but? Too funny.

    And I’m so excited that I finally know how to spell tschotchkes. I love that word and it sounds much more sophisticated than “that crap on my mantle.”

  19. chantel

    I think its a big difference between our parent’s generation and ours. Our parents went somewhere and found new friends on vacations. We go to get away from all our friends.

  20. maribeth

    That’s awesome.

    My grandma’s journal from a trip to Japan was filled with details about the airplane food, the hotel rooms and the people on the tour bus. She did teach me how to hold my chopsticks, but to my knowledge never ate Japanese food again.

  21. Dagny

    Too cute and funny.

  22. AWE

    Were you talking to my mom or yours?

  23. Neil

    And who’s to say that this type of trip isn’t as good as waiting for hours in lines at museums and old churches?

  24. Karla

    That sounds exactly like what my mom would have said if she had gone on that trip. I think all women eventually turn into that woman. One day Sophia will be having conversations exactly like that with you. Or she’ll be writing them to you in letters mailed to your prison cell; either way.

  25. jackt

    Must be nice to be so extroverted and want to connect more with people than with places and things! If only I could find a friend other than my computer…

  26. Heather B.

    Having visited all of the aforementioned places, I must agree with your mother. Spain is way cleaner, but Portugal is significantly cheaper and better bars/clubs.

  27. Sandra

    Totally love it. Reminds me of a conversation I had with the girlfriend of a friend of mine. He’d taken her on vacation to Greece and I was asking her about the trip. Lots of random babble and then, “basically, what I’d say about Greece is that it’s dusty”. Hmm.

  28. Neil

    Heather — My mother did mention that Portugal had the best pastries. I always thought it would be someplace like France, Italy, or Austria. But, apparently Portugal is a pastry-lover’s dream.

  29. Danny

    Neil, your mother is priceless! My favorite line is also about the Arab couple from Toronto. I hope we can meet the Kramer matriarch next time she’s in town.

    By the way, I couldn’t agree more with Sophia–anyone can have an orgasm but it’s a near impossible feat to find a perfect onion soup in L.A. I’ve tried recently at Vert (Hollywood & Highland), Morel’s (the Grove), and Monsieur Marcel’s (Farmer’s Market) and they’re okay but don’t come close to Parisian bistro standards. (There’s usually something amiss with the crouton or melted cheese.) Of course now I’ll never be able to think about onion soup without thinking of orgasms but…is there really a difference?

  30. Therese

    I’m glad to see she’s got her priorities in order. Breakfast, gossip, cleanliness then… oh, there’s no room for anything else.


  31. anne arkham

    Hey, as long as she’s happy . . .

  32. Karl

    Yeah, I’m with others here, Neil. I think my mother is your mother’s long lost twin. She says stuff like that all the time. And she’ll go on and on and on with her stories and never get to a POINT. ha.

  33. Neil

    Karl — With my mother, I’m afraid the story is the point.

  34. plain jane

    I love what she says about the family from Mexico, “And they knew Spanish…”, imagine that!

  35. Hope

    I read all the comments thinking, “MY mother is NOTHING like that!” Then I was reminded of the episode this weekend where I tried to introduce her to sushi. I agree with Karla that every woman becomes that woman. Oh Lord.

  36. madeleine

    Your mum sounds like a dream. I have to sit through 3 hours of ‘holiday home movie’ every time my ma takes a break.
    In reference to Sophia’s choice of either onion soup or some Neil-lovin’, had she been on a diet recently? Starvation does make you crazy, right? Only explanation.

  37. Stefanie

    Wait a minute. Who is this Sophia? I’ve heard of Sandy but never Sophia. I’m getting so confused.

  38. Serena

    Ha! I felt like I just got a preview of the next amazing race.

  39. Paris Parfait

    What a character your mom is! And such energy – nobody could make this stuff up. Brilliant! You two must be related (in the sense of paying attention to details).

  40. Tanisha

    That’s hilarious. Most of us remember the people we meet on trips and not necessarily the sites… Go mom

  41. kimananda

    Well, it sounds like your Mom has the differences between Spain and Portugal pretty spot-on. Though Spain isn’t that clean either, from what I’ve seen.

  42. laurie

    Hey your mom could be Southern!

    All good crackers talk this way, even the genteel ones LOL. Well, except for that “tschotchkes” thing. That sounds suspiciously New Yawker. But any story told by a good Southerner involves who was there, who they are related to/married to, where they are from, which reminds you of this other person you know who is from that very same place! Plus what ya’ll ate, which reminds you of this one dish made by so-and-so, and of course… you have to mention what you wore.

  43. Neil

    Laurie — Southerners are totally into tschotchkes. They just call it bric-a-brac.

  44. Dustin

    I’m with Rebecca. You gotta tell us if Tony and Hand call. Hell, lie to us and say they did and include lots of funny inuendo, we won’t know.

  45. Leah

    Oh my lord, I think you’re channeling my mother. (And I also realize that I’m not the only person to have said this in your comments. Although mind you, that I didn’t go through and read them all. It’s tiresome to read all 44 comments. I mean, I only have so much time Neil. You’re just too popular. 44 comments?! I think it’s highly unfair that you keep all these comments to yourself. You should spread the wealth. Either that or be forced to accept higher taxation.)

    Ahhh…Spain. Portugal. I loved Spain myself. Never been to the other place though. I hear they make great ceramics there though.

  46. femme_despoir

    i think yo mamma and my mamma should go on a trip together. they’d make quite a pair travelling the world.

  47. better safe than sorry

    lol, just wait until she shows you her pics!!!
    my mother travels and then brings back all these pics of her and her gf’s, at dinner, by the hotel pool, none of the actual tourist attractions she visited.

  48. ACG

    mmmmmm… french onion soup.
    that would be a toss up.
    it’s been awhile since i had either.

  49. Tanya

    Good lord, what is my mom doing calling you?

  50. Vegas

    I have been in both countries.. and honestly i think Portugal is far better than Spain.
    Algarve (south coast of portugal)the place where i was, is wonderful, a dream place to visit! Compared to spain, portuguese ppl are warmer and food is just a gift from heaven.

  51. CuteDutch

    well, i never was in Spain but one of my best holidays was in Portugal in Albufeira. Great weather, beaches, ppl, food and spectacular and warm nights.. i will never forget!

  52. Glice

    Well, you’re mother must be confused because I was heading to Lisbon, from Madrid, and we got to stop by in Spain, Extremadura, to eat a quick snack.
    We couldn’t just because it was really disgusting, the ground wasn’t cleaned and the food wasn’t in conditions.
    So we entered the car and then stopped by in Portugal. And, guess what?, We had a nice lunch! Even in anhighway restaurant we could eat well! Portugal is far better that Spain, in my point of view.

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