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Last Modified: November 24, 2023
Feature Image for October 2023 Sunday Short: Sunday Shorts is written in white text on a green background. To the left of the text is the book cover for “How to Clean a Fish” by Esmeralda Cabral.
Sunday Shorts: How to Clean a Fish

This month’s Sunday Short is excerpted and adapted with permission from How to Clean a Fish and Other Adventures in Portugal by Esmeralda Cabral. Published by University of Alberta Press, How to Clean a Fish describes an extended family stay in Portugal, full of food, adventure, and the search for home. Offered the opportunity to live in Costa da Caparica for an extended period, Esmeralda Cabral jumped at the chance to return to the country of her birth. Together with her Canadian-born husband, children, and Portuguese Water Dog, Maggie, Cabral makes new and nostalgic discoveries.

“How Did We Get Here?”

Our months-long stay in Costa da Caparica was a dream come true for me. I have often imagined myself living in a beach house, writing with the sound of the ocean in the background, taking breaks to walk in the sand, perhaps going for a swim, and returning home to a scrumptious meal of fresh fish. Costa seemed the perfect place to live out my fantasy.

The sunny dreams probably have to do with the fact that I live in Vancouver, on the west coast of Canada, where it rains for much of the winter. Rain, showers, drizzle, mist—we have numerous words for moisture that falls from the sky depending on its intensity and duration.


Vintage photo of family making snow angels in their front yard.
Snow Angels In Edmonton

I grew up in Edmonton, Alberta, where the prairie meets the boreal forest and the skies are wide and blue in both summer and winter. The snowy winters can be bitter and cold, but the sun shines often, or at least that’s my recollection, and you can always put on a coat and hat and mitts and go outside. And sunglasses. You need sunglasses with all that sun and snow. No one in my family had ever seen snow until we immigrated to Canada and arrived in Edmonton on an overcast fall day in late September. My uncle picked us up at the airport and drove us to his house in the north end of the city. Large, wet flakes of snow swirled in the air as we drove on wide, empty streets. I was entranced. It was as if the snowflakes were twirling and floating all around our car. My uncle had sponsored us to come to Canada and was intent on giving us the bright side of immigrating during the long drive to his home. “The snow won’t last,” he said. “It’s not really winter yet.”


I was born in Portugal, or more specifically, on São Miguel, the largest island of the Azores. This archipelago is made up of nine islands that stretch out over six hundred kilometres in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean between Lisbon and New York City. Coming to Canada was my parents’ choice, but the reality of a new house, new country, and new language was harsh for all of us. I remember it as a difficult time, even though I was young and adaptable. I was happy when real winter finally started, about a month after we arrived, and the snow accumulated on the ground. I liked the snow. I would shovel it, roll in it, play in it, even eat it. I especially liked the big mounds that formed on either side of the sidewalks after people shovelled. To me, they looked like mountains of icing sugar.

“It’s like you were born at the North Pole,” my mother would sometimes say to me. “How can you like this snow and cold?”


Photo of ship off the shore of Vancouver during a storm.
Rainy Vancouver, photo by Matt Hall

After an especially long spell of rainy weather in Vancouver, I will sit at my computer and look up flights and the associated costs to go back to “my” island or to Portugal’s sunny south coast. I have bookmarked the weather forecast sites for Lisbon, Ponta Delgada, and Faro, in the Algarve (Portugal’s southern province), and I check them often to see what the weather is like in the various regions of my other country.

I clearly remember the day when I was doing just that, checking the weather and flight options to Lisbon, when Eric walked in, totally drenched because he’d ridden his bike home from work, and suggested a temporary move to Portugal.

“You’ll never guess what,” he said as he took off his rain gear, just inside my office door.

“Okay,” I said. “What?” I didn’t even move my eyes from the screen.

“One of my grad students cited a paper today on computer simulation of wastewater treatment, exactly what I want to work on some more. And guess what? The paper was written by a group from guess where?”

Chile?” I looked at Eric, then down at the floor where the water draining from his gear had formed a small pool.

“No, guess again.”

“Um, Switzerland?”

“Nope. Again.”

“Scandinavia? I give up.”

“Lisbon. Well, actually, a place called Costa da Caparica, near Lisbon. We’ve been there before, haven’t we? Isn’t it that beach town we really liked?”

“Really?” I squealed. “Yes, yes, it is! Wait a minute. Why is there a university in a beach town? That’s almost too good to be true.”

“It’s a campus of NO VA University Lisbon. What would you think about spending a few months there?”

I said “let’s go” before I thought much about it. I was jumping up and down with excitement.


Headshot of Esmeralda CabralEsmeralda Cabral is a creative nonfiction writer. She was born in the Azores (Portugal), grew up in Alberta, and now lives in Vancouver.

How to Clean a Fish: And Other Adventures in Portugal

Esmeralda Cabral (CA)

Published: May 10, 2023 by University of Alberta Press
ISBN: 9781772126556

Accessible icon: a stick person inside a circle. Available as an accessible eBook