Travelogs & Reflections > Therese's Travelog > Portugal


August 16, 2006


Our last few days have been filled with tearful goodbyes. We just can’t imagine our lives without our Portuguese family but we also know in our hearts that the bonds we have nurtured this summer will endure the time and distance between us and that we will all make the effort to reunite more frequently. After giving the slide show for the last time for the Picado-Fonseca family at the Red House last night, we said our goodbyes since we weren’t sure we would be able to get back to the Costa Nova today. But, the Picado-Vasconcelos family invited us for dinner, and after dropping off my parents at the train station enroute to Amsterdam for their Rhine-Danube river cruise, we made our way on the familiar route over the bridge and back to the Costa Nova, this time for the last time until we return again. We enjoyed one last meal of the piri-piri barbecued chicken of the Costa Nova and were getting ready to pack up and head home to finish our packing when we were surprised by a knock at the door and a lovely procession into the living room where we were standing, astonished and incredibly moved by this show of love. It was the rest of the primos (our cousins) that we had already said goodbye to the night before, coming to give us one last, tender send-off. In they filed bearing gifts, beautiful homemade cards, one a replica of the Red House with its red stripes and characteristic A-frame, and collector’s t-shirts of Ilhavo’s Iliabum basketball league. Apparently, they were just about to pile into cars and caravan over to my parent’s apartment in Ilhavo when they saw our car parked outside the Yellow House. Ironically, on our last day at the Costa Nova, it had started to rain, the first day all summer, and my cousin, Zezinha, said that even the Costa Nova cried for us! How beautiful they were to us in that moment, and all the time we had shared with them welled up in our hearts and we were filled with thanksgiving for this immeasurable gift of family. Muitisimo obrigado pela sua amizade, carinho e amor. Os nossos corações estao cheios de saudades da nossa familia Portuguesa! Beijinhos e abraços, until we meet again.

August 9, 2006

III Annual River Vouga Kayaking Trip

My cousins, Ana and Henrique, invited us to participate in the 3rd annual family kayaking trip down the River Vouga. We put in near an old but elegant Roman bridge near the town of Pessegueiro do Vouga and our family armada of about 20 kayaks, impressive in size but rather motley in technique, paddled downstream through this lush and peaceful riparian corridor, lined with second-growth eucalyptus forest. Peter and Paul opted for their own kayak while Steve and I were back in the kayak saddle together again and reminisced about our maiden voyage in a tandem kayak in southeast Alaska when I was 8 months pregnant with Peter and barely fit in the hull, as well as our more recent kayaking experience with Peter and Paul, also in southeast Alaska a few years ago. This river is quite tame compared to our Willamette and McKenzie rivers of Oregon. The river was so low that we often became beached in the shallow rocks of the rapids and had to get out and pull our kayak through the stretch. But we created our own excitement with various splashing raids on fellow kayaks. I knew we were in trouble when Paul and Steve immediately began brushing up on the splashing technique they learned and apparently still remembered when we last kayaked off the coast of Ketchikan several years ago. (In fact, it was during one of these splashing duels that Steve became so engrossed in a counter-attack against Paul that his glasses ended up flying off the kayak and sinking to the bottom of the ocean!) Peter and Paul were, of course, the first to douse us but I was very pleased when we later snuck up from behind and I got Peter back with a nice scoop of cold river water down the back of his dry t-shirt! There was a lot of shuffling of passengers during the course of the trip and by the end of the journey most kayaks were manned by an entirely different crew! Peter, Paul and cousin Nuno staged a purposeful capsize a little too far from shore and had to be rescued when they couldn’t right their kayak! I had a moment of panic when I didn’t at first see Paul emerge from the wreck. When we stopped for a snack, Paul was one of the first to bound in, delighted to be in fresh water again! He definitely prefers fresh water and he was convinced that this water was far warmer than the Costa Nova and he was probably right. He and Nai, my cousin Jorge’s wife, made me take the plunge and it was indeed refreshing. By the end of the run, I began hearing a few of the younger set complain of weary arms and lazy boat companions (so Peter claimed of Paul, “What are you doing, Paul?” and Joao of Miguel, “Miguel doesn’t do anything!”)! There was a nice place to swim at our destination and we all found happy diversions for an hour or so, wading along the silt bar, plunging through the algae-filled depths, and searching for frogs along the water’s edge. The grumbling of our stomachs (growing Peter’s one of the first) called us to lunch and we caravanned to a local restaurant for barbecued chicken and codfish. Before heading back home, Henrique had one last stop planned at a local waterfall, cascata da Cabreia, near Sever do Vouga (the location of several forest fires that are ravaging the area now). This is a lovely natural area, cool clean water punctuated by old stone water mills. Once again, Paul led the pack, plunging in to the pool at the base of the waterfall. At the top of the trail, I managed to get my last set of dry clothes wet, when I followed the troop of kids through the upper tier of the waterfall in my sarong. Peter, Paul, Joao and Joana summed it up nicely with 4.99999 and 5.0 ratings of the day (on a scale from 0 to 5). We are already feeling saudades (soulful longing) for our family here in Portugal as we anticipate leaving them in only a week.

August 5, 2006

Restored library

Tonight we attended mass at the 17th century chapel that was restored when the new public library of Ilhavo was built. For the entire summer, we have been regulars at Ilhavo’s library, using the free Internet and other services and enjoying the friendly and helpful staff and ambience of this beautifully designed building with cathedral ceilings, glass façade, and bright, open gathering and work spaces. One afternoon as we were headed to the library, we noticed that the door to the chapel was open. Mira, janitorial staff at the complex, was cleaning the chapel and she invited us in and explained the story about the benefactress who built and bequeathed this chapel to the poor inhabitants of this Alqueidao neighborhood of Ilhavo. The private chapel along with the façade of the adjacent noble house was restored, in white stucco walls and natural stone trim around the doors and windows, when the new library was built. The old house now houses the administrative offices of the library.

The mass in the chapel was in honor of Nossa Senhora das Neves (Our Lady of the Snow), the Our Lady that was popular in this neighborhood, in an effort by the municipality to revive what was once an annual festa in Alqueidao. The occasion was marked with a performance by the local choral group, Coro da Casa do Pessoal do Porto de Aveiro, in the lobby of the library. The group performed everything from Bach to Portuguese fados and folkloric songs. The concert ended with a rousing sing-along of an old traditional song that most of the audience seemed to know. As we milled in the lobby after the performance, it was Peter and Paul that attracted the mayor’s entourage, his press secretary approaching them and asking them where they were from. It turned out that she had spent several years in New Bedford, Massachusetts, and really missed it and was delighted to meet us and talk about the United States.  

August 3, 2006

August at the Costa Nova

People from Ilhavo have been retreating to the Costa Nova for summer holidays since my father’s time. I remember him telling me about the fun he had at the Costa Nova as a boy, frolicking at the beach with numerous cousins and friends. I had no idea that this was still a tradition very much alive and well among the people of Ilhavo and in particular my family who still lives here. We didn’t expect to be here during July and August but we are immensely glad we are because the phenomenon of the Costa Nova is like nothing else Steve or I, and certainly Peter and Paul, have ever experienced. Day after day, multitudes of cousins flock to the beach, many of them have beach homes at the Costa Nova, and at any given moment, there are any number of people available to play a game of futebol, volleyball or beach racquetball (or even beach basketball, a concept we find a little incredulous, but there they are, basketball hoops on the sand!), “take” a coffee or ice cream at the little cafes on the beach, go for a swim or stroll along the beach, or any other activity you desire! Peter and Paul never knew they had so many cousins and they are LOVING it and so are we! Today, I played volleyball with my young cousins Bernardo and Catarina and did we have fun playing our own way and getting it over the net any which way. Bernardo developed a very talented and unique serve in which he kicked the ball over his head in a backwards flip and aced me a few times! The kids took on the parents in another game and powerhouse Paul kept up a run so long that his teammates, Peter and Nuno, sat on the sand and watched the antics of Steve, Henrique and I struggling to return his serve! You’ve got to give us this much: we didn’t give up and eventually did successfully return it, catching the lounging Peter and Nuno off guard and finally scoring a point!

After several days of not seeing me in the water, my cousins Zezinha and Anabela insisted I brave the frigid waters of the Atlantic. Man, that icy plunge was a shock to my system. Zezinha kept saying that it was good for the heart but I don’t know about that—I think I nearly suffered a cardiac arrest! Two submersions thankfully seemed to satisfy them because I managed to slip away back to my towel to bask in the warmth of the sun.

Steve and I took a long walk down the long stretch of beach, one way along the water’s edge and on the return trip, through the dunes. The surf had turned ferocious and the waves were pounding the beach, flooding the low lying parts of the beach and catching unsuspecting sunbathers by surprise. This long spit is lined with soft waves of dunes, punctuated with tufts of grass billowing in the ever-constant breeze, a board walk, swept with sand and now very much an integral part of the ecosystem, a little white church at the tip of the Costa Nova, and rows of the typical houses of the Costa Nova, each decorated in stripes of primary colors, green, yellow, red, or blue and white. We refer to the house of my cousins from the Vasconcelos family as the “yellow house” because it is painted in yellow and white. Everything about the Costa Nova radiates a pure child-like joy, charm and playfulness. Peter, who has loved being in Ilhavo, quipped that he is so against Ilhavo now, Costa Nova is the place to be, and, from the moment Peter and Paul wake up, that’s their rallying cry: “When are we going to the Costa Nova??!”

July 25, 2006

Family visitas

While visiting my cousin Nezinha, recuperating from reconstructive surgery at her home in Sao Joao da Madeira, I was finally able to see her father and my uncle, Tio Fernando, for the first time since we arrived in Portugal in late May. Though he has only 25 percent peripheral vision left due to macular degeneration, he leads a very active, content life, making the daily circuit to one of his favorite cafes near his house and visiting with friends of many decades. He even found a journal with extra-large print and can read his daily paper with the aid of special magnifying glasses he’s acquired in his research of his condition. We all shared an afternoon snack and conversation and I showed them photos of our recent excursions in Portugal, especially our encounters with family. Speaking of family, Zezinha and her family had arrived in Costa Nova the day before and Anabela and I were requested back in Costa Nova for dinner that night with them. In the meantime, Peter, Paul and Steve had already hooked up with them and, by the time Anabela and I arrived at my uncle’s house in the Costa Nova where everyone congregates in the summer, were happily enjoying the extravaganza that is Costa Nova in the months of July and August! By the time we adults had wrapped up our conversation about our trip and life over the course of the last two years since we saw them last in San Francisco, it was quite late and we had no idea where the kids were! Joao, Zezinha’s son, led us to the likely locales, and, sure enough, before long we had located them at the house of one of Tiago’s good friends, Diogo. Just a few houses down is my Tio Jorge’s house, where his son, George, and his family are staying during the holidays. I made plans with his wife, Nai, for Peter and Paul to spend the night later in the week. The place was still bustling with activity and no one wanted to go home but it was time. Before long, we were tucked in our beds in Ilhavo, dreaming of another day in the Costa Nova!

July 24, 2006

On the beach with family

We spent the weekend between Costa Nova, the beach resort in the municipality of Ilhavo and home. It was a splendid day at the beach yesterday, and no sooner had we rolled into town and the street where Ana and Henrique live that we saw my cousin, George’s wife, Nai, and her daughter, Rita, in from Coimbra for the weekend. She was bicycling to Ana’s house and then heading to the beach. We found a parking space across the street from Ana’s house and accompanied her and Rita to the beach. She led us to her family’s section of the beach and told us where Anabela and Guilherme hang out. We laid out our towels next to Anabela since we were all going to Barra later in the afternoon to play in a 3 on 3 street basketball tournament at the base of the lighthouse in Barra. Peter and Paul were immediately whisked away by their cousins, Tiago and Bernardo, who as per usual were organizing a game of sand futebol with the rest of the cousins and other interested recruits. The young man Peter and Paul had met last week who had lived in New Jersey was there again, and the motley assembly had quite a spirited match. I could see cyclones of sand periodically erupt as they played contentedly for hours. The match eventually devolved into a game of rugby with an emphasis of prolonged tackles and exaggerated pile-ups, ala American football!  The surf is fierce in Costa Nova. One woman from Spain was hurled to the shore by a wave and had a hard time righting herself—right in front of Anabela just as she was contemplating taking a plunge. She moved further toward the protected harbor of the Barra pier near Guilherme who was diving in and out of the tempestuous waves, undaunted by the crashing surf.

Dual citizenship basketball

Before long it was time to head to Barra for the basketball tournament. We arrived at the time the tournament was supposed to be getting underway but most functions start mais or menos (more or less, and usually more) at the designated time. The Camara Municipal de Ilhavo (City of Ilhavo) was just setting up the basketball hoops in the square right in front of the lighthouse (the oldest lighthouse in Portugal and one of the oldest in Europe) and we watched as they created 6 basketball courts back to back over the course of the next hour and a bus-load of basketball players from northern Spain (Castilla y Leon, near Salamanca) arrived looking quite professional-looking and down-right daunting. Peter. Paul, Tiago and Bernardo signed up as team DX, which according to Tiago who invented the name, didn’t really stand for anything, except some unidentifiable indomitable force, I guess! There were two other teams in their division, one was comprised of friends from the Iliabum youth basketball league. While they sat out the first game, Steve and I went to watch Anabela and her team in the “feminina senior” division. Boy, they didn’t look like seniors to me! Anabela and her teammates, though they were the oldest players out there, were quite a formidable force to contend with. As point guards, Manu, a woman from Angola and mother of 3, and Jo (Joana) pushed the ball into the forwards while short but tough Sophia powered the ball into the hoop and then rocketed passes back out and Anabela flew through the air, deflecting baskets and rebounding, with acrobatic grace! In the meantime, DX scored a pretty decisive victory over their friends from Iliabum with Tiago as high scorer. In the second game, however, Peter, Paul and Bernardo had to step up when Tiago was injured early in the game. It was a tough game but they did just that, playing remarkably seamless basketball, moving the ball fluidly among each other. As the center and tallest player out there, Peter took quite a beating, but they all had to fight to fend off a fairly aggressive, physical team from Gafanha de Nazare, a neighboring town. They stayed tough, however, and went on to win first place in their division. We watched several action-packed final games in the men’s division before the tournament concluded with an awards ceremony. Steve positioned himself in the center of the audience and as the ceremony unfolded became the unofficial official photographer for the Camara Municipal! The teams began posing for him as they turned to the appreciative crowds after receiving their medals and congratulations from the mayor. He plans to provide them with a CD of the photos and approach them about promoting Rota de Luz, the region of Portugal Ilhavo is in. We were especially proud to cheer for our champions, Team DX and Anabela’s team, who went on to win the title for their division as well. What a day for the Picados!

July 20, 2006

Wimbledon of Portugal

We are celebrating Semana Jovem, the week of the young, this week. The city is sponsoring all kinds of activities, and Peter and Paul signed up for the tennis tournament and recruited their cousins, Tiago and Bernardo, for the 3 on 3 street basketball tournament. Peter and Paul walked out on the court cold for their first games this past Monday, having not played tennis for close to a year and a half, and won! Paul had a tough opponent and had to steel himself mentally to come back from a 3-5 deficit, scoring the next 5 games to win the match. Yesterday, Peter and Paul played each other in the next round. Peter won and automatically earned a seat in the championship match, while Paul, with one loss, had to play another game to determine which player would advance to the finals against Peter. Paul played his original opponent, but this time Paul swept his opponent in a 8-1 victory. Today, Peter and Paul faced each other in the championship match. The first few games were very close with wonderful, sustained rallies that captured the attention and the applause of the spectators on the sidelines. The final score was 8-2, Peter, with the Picado-Curtis brothers winning first and second place in their division in the tournament!

They weren’t too pleased with their mother’s performance, however. On the first day of the tennis tournament, the organizer needed more players and Steve and I volunteered to play. I was eliminated in my first night of competition with two losses. I was happy to win at least one game in each match (and I think the referee was secretly rooting for me because when I won my games he quite spiritedly announced “Jogo, Theresa!” or “Game, Theresa!” and when the opponent wasn’t looking, we exchanged a thumbs-up!). But my kids, who are tough competitors, just couldn’t watch the slaughter, and teased me unmercilously about my “checkmark” standing and defaced (!) my certificate (actually, accidentally, while working on a project); I didn’t even receive a place! Well, I had fun and that’s what counts, right?! Steve, however, stayed in the running for 3 matches and it was fun to watch glimpses of the glory of this former tennis player! He at least received a standing, albeit 9th place.

July 19, 2006

14 in Ilhavo

We celebrated Peter’s 14th birthday in the land of my ancestors. After dropping my parents off at the train station in Aveiro, we set off on Peter’s birthday extravaganza. First stop was one of our favorite cafés in the praca Republica (Republic square) in Aveiro where we enjoyed raisin breakfast rolls, juice and galao (a “gallon” of milk and coffee) in the cool of the morning on a table overlooking the square and reflected on our appreciations of Peter. I’m start to become familiar with Aveiro and knew there was a discount store close to the civil government building on one side of the square and we went there to look for shorts and other necessary clothing reinforcements for Steve and Peter. (After one year of travel, our clothing is looking pretty shabby!) On our way to the Forum, the new shopping plaza in Aveiro, we stopped at Digital Aveiro, a free Internet space, and checked email and took care of any urgent business. At the Forum, we lost ourselves in the Sports Zone, a large super sports store. Unfortunately, the official World Cup soccer balls that Peter and Paul have been monitoring since the World Cup ended had not come down in price so we couldn’t buy the ultimate gift for Peter. Instead, we found in the sales racks a couple pairs of shorts that he actually liked (and fit him!) for his tennis match later in the day. (He is outgrowing clothes and shoes by leaps and bounds!) While Paul distracted him in the sports outlet, I scurried down to the bookstore to buy him another book in the new Isabel Allende fantasy series. We had worked up an appetite (and Steve had grown antsy) from all this shopping so we headed to the older part of town to find a restaurant for lunch. Through the small square with the 100-year-old fish market and down a narrow side street and we settled at the Restaurant Rossio for a fantastic lunch of pescada frita and arroz con tomates (battered & fried fish with rice in tomato sauce). Across from the restaurant was the park where we, along with the multitudes of nationalistic fanatics, cheered Portugal to a victory over Mexico in the World Cup. Back on the road, we cruised through the industrial section of Aveiro and right into the Mercedes Benz/Smart Car lot! Ever since we arrived in Europe, Peter has been intrigued with Smart Cars. They are referenced in Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code and we have seen these remarkably small but “smart” (both in terms of style and efficiency) cars everywhere in Europe. Peter did some research on them and found out that they are made by Mercedes Benz and have a Mercedes Benz motor, as well as Mercedes Benz steel frame, get phenomenal gas mileage, and are scheduled to be released in the U.S. this year. And, ever since we discovered that there is a Smart Car showroom in Aveiro, he’s been bugging me to go for a test drive. What better day than his 14th birthday to visit the showroom and go for a spin in a ForFour (for four or actually five people). As we drove around the parking lot, I was very impressed with the super efficiency of this vehicle. It is literally the economical synthesis of the most advanced technologies in automobile engineering. It’s incredibly compact, maximizing the use of space, and yet is amazingly comfortable. We designed our own ForFour Smart Car and priced it out, about $20,000 USD brand new for the top-of-the-line Passion model. We may have to wait a few years to get a used model but this family is definitely sold on Smart Cars! I wish we had had the camera to get a picture of Peter “test driving” the ForTwo in the showroom. He’s so big now, he looked right at home behind the wheel, which was SCARY, but fun too! Because the ForTwo is even smaller than the ForFour, its features are unique to its design, simple but cleverly conceived and crafted. This is the same for the marketing: The Smart Car logo is in a simple, but foundational, courier-type font, really well-done in all respects. This was the highlight of the day so far for Peter but we had to get back because he and Paul had moved on to the next round of competition in the Ilhavo tennis tournament and were playing each other that night! While they got ready for their tennis match, I quickly gathered supplies and placed orders for the festivities for his birthday celebration later that night. No sooner had I arrived back on the home front and it was time to leave for the tennis courts. Peter and Paul played and, though Paul belted some fierce returns, Peter prevailed. With only one loss, Paul had to stay to play another match to determine who would go on to face Peter in the championship. Steve had also advanced to the next level of competition (I was eliminated early in the game yesterday!) and was waiting to face his next competitor. Peter and I in the meantime returned home to get the beverages and other supplies and pick up the pizza and cake and set up at the jardim, the central park in Ilhavo. Within the half hour, Anabela and Tiago and Bernardo had arrived and a little while later, Ana, Rosa and Joana joined us. We’ve had some record blistering hot days here for the past week but this evening the weather began to change and we were wondering if we might get thunder and rain like we did the night before. As we were pondering what to do, Steve and Paul arrived from one end of the jardim and Henrique and Joao from the other and we decided to retreat to Ana and Henrique’s house just in case. Their backyard immediately erupted in a carnival of activity as kids and adults alike (and Stink, Ana’s little hyperactive dog) began playing basketball, futebol, jump rope, etc. What a blast we had with our primos (cousins)! Anabela taught Peter and Paul a jump rope melody in Portuguese, calling the two brothers in and out:

Entra o Pedro

Enter Peter

Entra o Paulo

Enter Paul

Dois rapazinhos a saltar a corda

Two little men jumping rope

Um chama-se Pedro

One is called Peter

Outro Paulo

The other Paul

Sai o Pedro

Out goes Peter

E sai o Paulo

And out goes Paul

Even I went in for a couple of rounds of jump rope, one of my favorite pastimes from the playground in elementary school. One of the most hilarious activities was the limbo. I wish I could have captured Ana’s peals of laughter watching her husband Henrique shimmy under the rope in his own, very unique and inimitable style. I too laughed as Peter with his gangly 14-year-old body managed to just barely make it under the rope. When it was time to bring out the cake, Rosa lit the candles and a little cake-top firecracker and Henrique went upstairs to play “Happy Birthday to you” on the piano. We had not yet heard Henrique play. He is an amazing classical pianist! I don’t think Peter has ever had such a grand chorus of “Happy Birthday to you.” Plus, the Portuguese lyrics to the song are much lovelier:

Parabens a voce

Congratulations to you

Nesta data querida

On this cherished date

Muitas felicidades

Much happiness and joy

Muitos anos de vida

Many years of life

Hoje e dia de festa

Today is a day of celebration

Cantam as nossas almas

We sing from our soul

Para o menino Peter

For the child Peter

Uma salva de palmas

A grand applause

To top off this extravaganza, the kids who were clamoring around Peter began chanting in Portuguese, “Beija o bolo,” or “Kiss the cake!” Puzzled but willing to comply, he bent over to kiss the cake and bang, much to his, Paul’s and our surprise, Tiago and Bernardo plunged his face right into the cake!!! Out he emerged plastered in cake! For a while, this child, who is very sensitive to textures, just stood in a state of shock, not knowing what to do, while we all hooted it up! Finally, someone handed him a napkin to clean himself off and we all began indulging in cake. Charged up by the sugar high, the kids doubled up in a fury of activity, eventually heading to Ana and Henrique’s backyard to play futebol shoot-out and wrestle and body pile-up, especially on the larger specimens of the group, namely Peter and Joao. The older boys were especially hamming it up when they scored. Finally exhausted from their continuous play, Ana dropped us off with all the leftovers and we all collapsed in bed!

July 16, 2006

Under the shade of the cherry tree

We spent the day just south of Porto in Gaia with my cousins Teresinha and Zezinha and their husbands, Nelson and Pedro. We met at Pedro and Zezinha’s house and sought refuge in their backyard, under the umbrella of a lovely, old cherry tree that no longer provides many cherries but does provide cool shelter in the shade of its branches. When my growing teenager became desperate for food, Pedro and Zezinha provided us with a mid morning breakfast spread of bread, cheese, ham, fresh squeezed orange juice, and coffee. Pedro showed us his newest pride and joy, his light-weight bicycle for his annual long distance treks. When the bicycle arrived, he and his cycling friends gathered at a local park to christen the bicycle. Every year, Pedro goes on a several day trek, 80-100 kilometers per day, through the Portuguese countryside. They started a few years ago in the northern part of Portugal, following mountain ranges of the interior of Portugal, and over the course of the next few years, will cover the length of Portugal until they reach the southernmost point in Portugal, the Algarve. Nightly accommodations and food are made by the club, and Zezinha meets him at the end of the line to bring him home. He showed us photos of his recent trek in May, cycling in the Alentejo region, where we were when we visited Evora and Monsaraz, through fields of rolling wheat and villages set in castle walls, including Monsaraz. In fact he is in a picture in the foreground with the castle in the background that was very similar to a picture Steve took of the town in the distance when we were leaving Monsaraz. Zezinha and Pedro’s two sons, Joao and Rui, were home too. I remember playing escondidos (hide-and-seek) with them when they were quite little at my grandparent’s house 20 years ago. Now they are grown men. Joao works for Siemens and just moved from Berlin to Lisbon when the company transferred its operations from Germany to Portugal. Though he’s happy to be closer to family, he really enjoyed his several month stint in Berlin, a very rich cultural metropolis. He showed us his photographs of an annual multi-cultural fair that takes place in April in a particularly diverse neighborhood in Berlin, a melting pot of many different immigrant communities. The photos he took, zooming in on the colorful characters in the parade, really captured the cultural vibrancy and creative artistic expression of this event and the unique atmosphere that is Berlin.

Further up Rua do Monte da Virgem, the road on which Pedro and Zezinha live, is the church of Monte da Virgem (Mountain of the Virgin Mary). A winding road led up the hill to the church and a white statue of the Mother Mary brilliant in the blazing sun, her arms outstretched and embracing the cities of Gaia and Porto spread out in the valley below. On a clear day you can see landmarks to the north such as the sanctuary of Nossa Senhora do Sameiro in Braga. Pedro told us that the silver sacristy in that church was created by his grandfather.  When we returned, Zezinha and Teresinha were busy preparing a feast of traditional Portuguese fare—grilled bacalhau and accessories. Teresinha asked me something about Monte da Virgem. I thought she was asking me what I thought of the view but realized, from her reaction, that I wasn’t getting it and with a few more attempts, I suddenly got it—the joke about the local lover’s lane—that girls go up Monte da Virgem as virgins but return without their virginity!

In mid afternoon we gathered under the shade of the cherry tree to enjoy wholesome Portuguese food. With the main course of cod fish with potatoes, onion and boiled eggs, accompanied by Portuguese olive oil, wine, olives and a salad of the freshest and most flavorful lettuce, tomato, and onion in the world, you can’t help but celebrate the virtues of the Mediterranean diet over and over again. Every time I behold this food, I am filled with appreciation to be here enjoying this cuisine and the company of my cousins who, over the course of my life having lived half way across the world, I simply have not seen enough of! We topped off the rest of the afternoon and early evening listening to a CD of classical melodies by an orchestra in which Joao played the base and Rui was one of the guitarists and seeing many of Zezinha and Pedro’s treasures, including antique furniture, a painting of a monastery by a famous Portuguese abstract painter, a silver coffee pot created by Pedro’s father, an international collection of miniature nick-knacks, and an 100-year-old-plus gramophone. We reluctantly finally said our goodbyes, hoping we would encounter them again over the course of the next month for another reunion of Picados, perhaps in Costa Nova. Teresinha and Nelson insisted that we leave by way of their house for a “short” visit. When we arrived, we were greeted by Teresinha’s pharmacy, “Farmacia Picado” in a spectacular setting overlooking a valley in Gaia. The pharmacy is designed in a semicircle with their house built adjacent to it and down, along the side of the hillside. Teresinha retreated to the kitchen while Nelson conducted the tour of the multi-level house that included a wonderful roost of a study and room with a corner balcony, a lounge with pool table, ping pong, card table, bar and barbecue, wine cellar, and basement storehouse for the pharmacy. By the time we returned, Teresinha had prepared another spread for us and was making calde verde, Portugal’s national soup, and we settled in to enjoy more time with this wonderful family. Their son Nuno emerged from his studies, he is in his first year of studies in a physical therapy program in Porto, and he, Peter and Paul played billiards, foosball and ping pong. Nelson broke out an unlabelled bottle of Port wine which we all savored over toasts to the health of the Picado clan! It wasn’t until 11:30 p.m.-plus that we once again reluctantly left after a day full of the blessings of family and shared life adventures. Overtired, Peter was a motor-mouth on our ride home, cracking us up with the Portuguese he’s acquired from his time with cousins over the course of the last month and a half, his tongue well lubricated by his samplings of Port wine that evening. When my father asked him to “slow down” because he was so loud, he said “Desculpe,” or “Sorry.” When I teased him, he responded, jokingly, “Cala tu boca,” or “Shut up” and “Nao quiero falar contigo,” or “I don’t want to talk to you!” And in response to the cramped conditions in the car and lack of fresh air, he kept sighing, “Paciencia!” or “Patience!” He, along with the rest of us in the back seat except for Paul who was squished to half his size in the middle of me and my mom, finally collapsed in a fit of exhaustion.

July 9, 2006

The older generation

We met Gene and Nancy for breakfast at their hotel and then went to mass at Ilhavo’s igreja matriz, or principal church. Gene reminded Peter and Paul that they represent the 7th generation of my mother’s lineage that has attended this church, built in the late 1700s. Beneath the now remodeled wooden floor lays its original stone floor. Once again, we marked this historic occasion with a series of photos at the altar. This lovely church reminds me of Our Lady of Good Voyage in Gloucester, Massachusetts (the town where my mother was raised and the church where she was married and I was baptized) because, though dedicated to San Salvador (Saint Salvation), the church’s main attraction is the chapel on the right side to O Senor dos Navegantes (Our Lord of the Navigators), featuring a statue of Jesus on the cross at Golgotha and a medallion-like painting of a ship above it, similar to Our Lady of Good Voyage who cradles a ship in her protective embrace in its sister church across the Atlantic. Gloucester, like Ilhavo, was a community of fishermen, in fact many of them were immigrants from Portugal, and their patron saints were dedicated to the protection of these brave, seafaring men. On the first Sunday in September, O Senor dos Navegantes is the reason for Ilhavo’s largest festa of the year. The statue of Jesus on the cross is paraded through the streets in a grand procession and the town celebrates a weekend of lively festivities. My mother remembers participating in the procession of a similar, annual religious celebration for Our Lady of Good Voyage when she was growing up in Gloucester.

Close to the church is Ilhavo’s cemetery, and we paid respects to the earlier generations of both sides of my family. We first visited the gravesite of my maternal grandmother’s family, her parents, Jose da Crua and Rosa de Jesus Lebre, sister and brother-in-law and their children. Also, in the same cemetery block is where my father’s parents and his sister Deolinda are buried. This grave site has a photo of my grandparents, my grandfather in his uniform from WWI (he was very proud to be an Ally) and my grandmother in the typical dress I remember her wearing when I was here as a young child. A special tribute is written for my aunt Deolinda who died at the age of 30 just after the birth of her second child. She had scarlet fever as a child and was left with a weak heart. She was, however, of a strong character and faith, and she did not let her condition hinder her from partaking fully in life. Unfortunately, her heart could not sustain the stress of a second childbirth. Written on her tomb, beside a photo of her, is expressed the sentiments of her parents and husband, testifying that on this earth, she suffered and loved greatly, and now, because of her great love and discipleship, she rests in eternal serenity with God.

Family ties

Later that afternoon, Anabela and Guilherme picked me up and we went to visit my cousin, Nezinha at the hospital. There, we greeted Fernandinha, Isabel and her mother, Dona Maria Augusta. Anabela and I went up to visit with Nezinha. She appeared in very good spirits, having gotten out of bed and taken a walk down the corridor earlier that day. Because of the extensive nature of the reconstructive surgery she had, she must remain in one position, and I guess it really felt good to get up and stretch her legs. We told her of all the outings of the past couple of weeks, and we swapped stories of our memories of my visits to Portugal when we were children. I am so glad we are staying longer here in Portugal and able to spend more time being among my cousins and getting to know them better. I have always felt an affinity to them and as we raise another generation, we all recognize how important it is to foster these family ties. Ana and Joana came over to visit while my father and I were watching the final World Cup match between France and Italy and I walked them home by way of the café where Peter, Paul and Steve were watching the game. We reconvened once again at Ana and Henrique’s house and this time met my cousin George and his family, who live in Coimbra.  More primas (cousins) to appreciate! As Ana said, these Picados keep multiplying! Paul and Peter never knew they had so many cousins!

July 8, 2006

Peter and Paul playing for Portugal

Peter and Paul left with the Iliabum basketball team for their end-of-the-season celebration at Costa Nova in the morning and we joined them in the early afternoon for a picnic with the other families. As we drove into town, we saw the team, in their yellow Iliabum uniforms, playing futebol at the field in the center of town, Peter towering above all the other kids and Paul playing his specialty, right forward. There was a steady, brisk wind coming off the sea and funneling through the gulf and my Dad almost immediately began complaining of the cold. I found him a spot in a restaurant off the main avenue. When I went to check on him a couple of hours later, I found him finishing up his lunch with Gene and Nancy, who had come to join us in Costa Nova but couldn’t find the children. Instead, they ran into my father and kept him company for lunch. It turns out that the restaurant that we both independently gravitated to, Restaurante Don Fernando in a prominent location on the main boulevard in Costa Nova, was the restaurant where my maternal grandparents had held their wedding reception, and Aunt Nancy took a series of photos of us outside this famous landmark. By the time we returned back to the picnic site with water, the group had already left. We jumped into the car to try and find them and sure enough, they had already boarded the moliceiro and were just about to leave the dock when we came running up! We hopped on board just in the nick of time and enjoyed a wonderful cruise along the picturesque coast of the Costa Nova, all the houses in their multi-colored stripes lined up one right next to the other. We were dropped off at an island in the middle of the gulf near the mouth to the sea and waded in the cold water and combed for shells along the perimeter of the small island. Steve found himself a niche, protected from the wind, nestled in a sand bluff and I snuck up on him from behind and ambushed him with small pebbles. Of course, he turned the tables and began pursuing me from the side! In the end, we both surrendered and relaxed together in the dunes and I got cozy and took a snooze, basking in the warm sun!

Portuguese champions of the World Cup

We were back in time to shower and prepare for Portugal’s last game of the World Cup tournament. This game against Germany was to determine 3rd and 4th places. Portugal played well, controlling the ball, but they just couldn’t seem to get solid attempts on goal. For some reason, they didn’t play Figo until the very end of the game and Pauleta’s performance once again fell short of expectations. At half-time, the score was 0-0, but in the second half, the game began to unravel as Germany fired one terrific shot after another on goal, scoring 3 goals in rapid fire succession. In the last several minutes, Figo finally came in to rally his team. He was amazing as per usual, firing several crosses right across the goal. Nuno Gomes, who finally substituted for Pauleta, flew through the air, literally horizontal to the ground, and headed one of those crosses into the goal in what was undoubtedly the most beautiful goal of the game, redeeming the game for all loyal Portuguese fans! Though we were disappointed in the result, everyone here in Portugal is very proud of the Portuguese team. They ranked 4th in the world of futebol, a feat that hasn’t happened since the national team achieved the same ranking in the 1960s. The team returned the next day to Lisbon to supportive and appreciative throngs of people in the street, chanting the familiar refrain, “Obrigado Seleccao” (“Thank you, national team”). In addition to their 4th place, they also were voted the “Most Exciting Team” by fans, a rating we all agreed was very deserved by this team that plays such a creative, passionate and talented team game. They played futebol like they live life in this tiny slice of a country, full of heart and pride of a rich heritage and tradition. Like my father says, “Portugal is a small country with a big soul” and they embodied that in this World Cup. 

July 7, 2006

Portuguese family and food

Instant replay on my mother’s birthday: I made a traditional meal of calde verde (potato puree soup with shredded Portuguese cabbage), bacalhau a gomes de sa (a casserole of layered codfish, potatoes, and onions/garlic/olive oil), fruit salad with Port wine, and molotof, my mother’s favorite meringue dessert. Over this Portuguese soul food, we enjoyed the company of family and honored my mother on her 73rd birthday. Paul offered the after dinner toast of Port wine to my mother: “To all your 73 years, I hope you have enjoyed them!” Peter and Paul presented her with their homemade cards that lovingly captured her idiosyncrasies like only children can. Paul’s card was a comic series, illustrating a trail of crumbs, created by the main crumb perpetrators in the family, Peter and my father, and my mother coming through and cleaning up all traces of evidence. In the card Peter made for her, happy birthday greetings are spelled out in cursive by the trajectory of a fly buzzing through, the bane of my mother’s existence. We all laughed, my mother, the heartiest of all! Aunt Nancy, who earlier had seen and been impressed by Paul’s video coverage of the 500-year anniversary celebration of the Vatican Swiss Guards at Castel Sant’ Angelo and the pope at St. Peter’s square, urged Paul to capture these moments on video and, before long, Peter and Paul had taken their role to another level, acting like full-fledged paparazzi, following my father around with both the still camera and the video and getting some wonderful footage of my father in action!

July 6, 2006

My Uncle Gene and Aunt Nancy arrived on my mother’s birthday. They just spent 10 days in Italy, participating in official proceedings at the Vatican as representatives of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre*. In a 2 ½ hour-service at St. Peter’s basilica, they watched the inauguration of a bishop friend of theirs from Houston into the palium**, the pope’s closest circle of advisors. It was apparently very hot in Rome, with temperatures upwards of 90 degrees Fahrenheit, and they were sweltering in their formal dress attire but it was worth it as Pope Benedict passed right by their aisle, dispensing his blessings amidst a thunderous reception from the congregation in St. Peter’s. They also had the chance to visit the actual grave site of St. Peter which apparently is several meters below the official crypt of St. Peter in a small stone altar on a site that once housed an ancient Greek temple. They also traveled by train south of Salerno and the Amalfi coast to a seaside town, where Gene’s good friend owns a country villa, and spent several days, sailing and exploring this spectacular Mediterranean setting. Their descriptions of this region brought back memories of the Amalfi coast where we spent several days walking the cobblestone walkways and staircases and exploring the mountain villages and ancient churches and villas of this dramatic coastline.

We celebrated my mother’s birthday at Villa Madrid, a restaurant at one end of the jardin (central park of Ilhavo) close to Gene and Nancy’s hotel. We now know the waiter who greeted us and escorted us to our table as we had eaten at this restaurant just this past Sunday on the last day with Steve’s mother and sister and saw this friendly young man, who was born in Venezuela but raised here, again at the library just the other day. He was eager to practice his English and seemed to relish the opportunity to interact with us in English. By the time we had finished our meal, he was very familiar with us, urging Gene on to finish up his platter of bacalhau con natas (creamed codfish casserole) and serving our ice cream sundaes with a grand flourish. Uncle Gene lubricated our spirits well with several bottles of wine and stories of their recent travels. My mother savored the food and the company and before we all knew it, it was midnight and we sped straight away to bed before turning into pumpkins.

*Gene and Nancy belong to the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, one of five papal orders.  Their apostolic mission is to preserve Christianity in the Holy Land of Jerusalem.

**The palium, which directly translated means wool of the lamb, is comprised of select arch bishops. Inauguration into the palium is symbolized by the bestowing of the palium, a woven braid of lamb’s wool that hangs down the back of the neck of the recipient.  

July 3

Adeus, Mom C and Kat

We celebrated Peter’s 14th birthday with Mom C and Kat last night with pizza and cake and found a café in Aveiro the next morning to reflect on our time together this past year before saying goodbye. So many memories—Peter, Paul and G-ma weaving on hand-made looms at Boon’s farm in southern Thailand, snorkeling and hanging out on the rocks at the Perhentian Islands of Malaysia, the streets of Darjeeling, the first sighting of a giraffe and elephant in Samburu National Park, Kenya, and on and on. Our lives have been transformed in immeasurable ways, and we are bonded inextricably in this phenomenal experience. My gut and soul writhed as we said goodbye and parted ways after so many months of being one inseparable family unit in distant lands. I pray that each of us finds innumerable ways to keep this experience—and the closeness it engendered—alive as we transition back to our lives in the United States. The image that embodies the depth of these relational ties and longing is of Peter running beside the train waving to G-ma and Kat for quite a ways as the train sped away from the station.   

July 2:

200 years of porcelain history

This weekend was the festa of Nossa Senhora da Penha de Franca (Our Lady of the Rock of France), the patroness of the Vista Alegre porcelain factory of Ilhavo. Because of the festa, admission to the museum on the campus was free, and we, along with Isabel and her mother, met our dear friend Vitorino there for a visit. The museum tells of the fascinating history of this famous porcelain factory that has created heirlooms and place settings for kings, queens, and heads of state from all over the world, including several kings of Portugal, Princess Grace of Monaco, Queen of England, King of Jordan, and U.S. President Ronald Reagan. One of our favorites was a beautiful vase (with the papal seal embellished with unique matching designs) presented to Pope John Paul II on the occasion of his visit to Portugal and pilgrimage to Fatima in 2002. (This visit was historic for the Portuguese people, and we have seen it documented in Fatima and at the sanctuary of Our Lady of Sameiro in Braga.) Founded in 1824 by a cultured noble, Jose Ferreira Pinto Basto, by decree of Dom Joao VI, Vista Alegre, which literally translated means “Happy View,” laid the foundation for a now nearly 200-year tradition of porcelain manufacturing and art. Established in a region renowned for its glassworks industry, the factory first focused on glass creations. The museum contains a display of very old, primitive-looking glass goblets, vases and other crystal pieces. When a source of rich clay was discovered in the area, the factory turned almost exclusively to porcelain production. Vista Alegre’s early roots in glass production are reflected in the factory’s membership in the Atlantis group, a prestigious international family of crystal manufacturers. Each period reflects the unique artistic styles and influences of the times. During the latter half of the 19th century, the porcelain reflected the Portuguese colonization of far Asia with ornate dragons and distinctly Asian designs. In the first part of the 20th century during the Art Noveau period, the almost Picasso-like porcelain produced reflected the most radical departure from traditional forms. In more recent years, the porcelain has reverted to more traditional styles, for which the Vista Alegre is best known. Even though the factory has been on the forefront of the most modern innovations of porcelain manufacturing over the centuries, it, unlike many of its counterparts in the industry, still maintains a department for hand-made pieces. Many of the pieces on display are chipped, having been salvaged from the storehouses of the factory to document the factory’s illustrious history. Once again, this little village of Ilhavo, where both my parents’ families originate from, makes its mark on the world!

A bishop makes amends

Next to the museum is the chapel that predates the factory. Built in the late 1600s, it is now listed as a Portuguese National heritage site. Its walls are covered in blue and white tiles, depicting epic scenes of the history of the region. The bishop who founded the chapel is buried here. In the ornate stone sculpture of him, he is sitting up, seemingly dispensing blessing on his people and looking up toward Nossa Senhora. This bishop was a leading clergy in the Inquisitions in Portugal and was responsible for the deaths of many innocent people. He was poisoned by the family of one of his victims and was very close to death. In exchange for his restored health, he made a promise to Nossa Senhora da Penha de Franca to repent and make amends for the atrocities he was responsible for by building a church in this community where he recuperated from his near-fatal poisoning. At the base of his tomb were depictions of the nobility that he had aligned himself with during the Inquisition and his upward looking pose signified his rejection of these worldly influences and setting his sights instead on Mary and Jesus. According to local legend, it was discovered after he died that the tomb, created in his likeness before he died, was too small. The bishop had to be crunched into his tomb from the side wall! We wondered if that was why he seemed to be slightly tilted from a resting position. Poor guy, for all of eternity he cannot fully recline—or maybe that was the people’s last revenge?!

A cultured community

The chapel was in the center of the village of Vista Alegre. Because the factory was built some distance from neighboring villages, workers lived on the campus, which included a theatre, barber shop, infirmary, and even a nursery. On our way into the campus after parking, we walked through the little streets of the old village. Workers at the Vista Alegre enjoyed a very high quality of life, receiving an education in the craft and artistry of porcelain making on the job and attending theatrical, musical and other cultural performances at the theatre during their free time on the weekends. The rich cultural environment that was created in this Vista Alegre community was purposeful, cultivating the cultural sensibilities of all those associated with this enterprise of manufacturing and designing what was to become one of the finest porcelain in the world. Wandering through the quaint streets, lined with majestic trees, this refined aura still seems to permeate the atmosphere in this village dedicated to fine artistry. Vista Alegre’s commitment to fostering artistic excellence in porcelain painting through its school was instrumental in establishing porcelain—and ceramic painting—as an important art form in the region and there is evidence of this flourishing handicraft in souvenir shops and painting studios and galleries throughout Aveiro. You can see delicately painted scenes of the area on the wooden barrels that hold the famed ovos moles, a sweet egg dessert commonly created in molds of sea shells.

The heist of the Our Lady

While waiting for the procession to start, Peter devoured his cotton candy with savage zeal. A friend from the Iliabum basketball league, Antonio, greeted him. He was accompanying his grandfather in the procession as a herald for the statue of Nossa Senhora do Franca. A band announced the beginning of the procession, and a friend of one of the participants came running from behind my parents and hailed a friend with a hearty, “O Joao, boa viagem!” With all these auspicious signs, we were anticipating a grand parade and were surprised when the band commenced again, Antonio and his father and a group of male elders advanced, followed by the statue of Nossa Senhora do Franca, a small flock of miniature saints, and then that was it! All the spectators, including us, folded into the procession walking behind the humble entourage, through the gates of the factory into the factory complex. At one point, I lost track of the beautiful Nossa Senhora do Franca, dressed in a rich, golden gown, and began inventing the name and plot of a mystery associated with this shocking disappearance, “The Heist of the Nossa Senhora do Franca in the Festa of Vista Alegre.” As we rounded the corner, we spotted her, elegantly bobbing along well ahead of the throngs following after her. We traveled all the way back to the chapel, Nossa Senhora was safely returned to her crib, and the crowds disbursed to the various shopping outlets, the boutique shop, the factory store and the temporary booths set up for the festa. Peter found the bargain basement—everything in the store was 50 Euro cents—he bought a Euro Cup 2004 mug and his very own shot glass made of Vista Alegre crystal! (Euro Cup 2004 was held in Portugal and not surprisingly, Vista Alegre created the promotional porcelain for the event, including an exclusive line of old-fashioned futebol players and casual mugs, plates, and cereal bowls.)

July 1: Portugal vs. England and Brazil vs. France

The day finally arrived for the showdown between Portugal and England. I was a nervous wreck. We arrived at Vitorino’s house, bedecked in our Portugal regalia. Even my father appeared at Vitorino’s door with his head wrapped in a Portugal scarf. I don’t remember what happened early into the game but I got so mad or excited or both that, in one outburst, I crushed Paul’s foot with the heel of my foot. Recognizing that I was dangerous, I removed myself from the crowded living room and stood behind the couch with Vitorino. It was a very fierce game. England never let up, even after Rooney was kicked out of the game and they were playing with one less player. Portugal controlled the ball but with John Terry and the rest of England’s defensive line-up, the Portuguese players had to work very hard to maintain that control. By the time they had played the additional half-hour of overtime, they looked utterly fatigued. Now, came the shoot out. I was feeling very uneasy because Vitorino’s daughter, Isabel Cristina, told us that Ricardo, Portugal’s goalie, generally didn’t perform well in shoot-outs. Well, he proved her dead wrong this time. What an amazing show. He blocked three of the five goals, a nearly impossible feat, and Portugal went on to win the game in this shoot-out spectacular! Unbelievable! We all danced with joy. My stomach was so tied in knots I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to eat the lovely spread of barbecued chicken, sandwiches, fried potatoes, bread, fruit salad, and meringue pudding Maria Angelina had prepared for us but managed never-the-less. Vitorino’s son, Luis Miguel, and his wife, Filomena, also came over and we eventually ended up at their apartment to watch the Brazil vs. France game. We were all rooting for Brazil but unfortunately France unbelievably prevailed. The impact of this disappointing result was softened for me by the fascinating conversation with Filomena and her daughter about living in Africa. Several generations of Filomena’s family were raised in the Portuguese colonies in Africa, including Filomena who lived much of her early years in Mozambique and experienced the turbulent transition to independence in the 1970s. She and Luis Miguel met in South Africa, married and lived and worked there for several years. She had many stories to relay about the particularly virulent brand of racism of the Afrikaners of South Africa, and I was very interested to hear her take on the very distinct differences between the various European colonizers. Though they loved South Africa, they made the difficult decision to return to Portugal to raise their young son and daughter because of their concerns about the destabilization and resulting violence associated with the dismantling of Apartheid.

June 29, 2006: Fatima, Tomar

Feast Day of Sts. Peter and Paul in Fatima

Isabel and her mother picked us up early for our pilgrimage to Fatima. We parked along side the site and immediately confronted major construction as a new, modern-looking cathedral is being built on the other side of the main basilica. A new exhibit containing a piece of the Berlin Wall marks the fall of communism, one of the petitions of Our Lady in all her apparitions. We visited Fatima on the feast day of saints Peter and Paul and celebrated mass at noon at the chapel near the site where Our Lady actually appeared. I really enjoyed all the references to Peter and Paul as these names—and their characteristic attributes—were divinely inspired. In my meditations when I was pregnant with them, I was called to give them these names and so bequeath upon them a noble legacy as the founders of our Christian faith. True to their names, Peter and Paul have both exhibited the traits of the apostles Peter and Paul—inquisitive, probing, impetuous Peter and ardent, poetic and conciliatory Paul—their strengths as well as their liabilities! The priest who preached talked about Jesus’ major concern as he prepared to leave the disciples: Who would continue His work, what would undoubtedly be a difficult, problematic and dangerous mission? Who could guide the church—after Jesus’ death, a fractured, frightened, and morally shattered group? Who could lead, coordinate, teach, motivate, and love the flock? And, Jesus chose Peter, with all his doubts, questions, and imperfections, and Paul, who at the time was one of the fiercest persecutors of the early Christians, to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ! In one reading, Jesus asks the disciples, “Who do people say I am?” They responded, “the prophet Elijah, etc.” But, when Jesus asked the disciples, “And who do you say I am?” it was Peter who responded with clarity and conviction: “You are the messiah, the son of the living God!” And, in front of all the other apostles, Jesus consecrated Peter as the “rock” of the church. He also needed someone who was compelling, charismatic and tireless to bring the love of Christ to all people so he struck Paul down from his horse on the road of Damascus and thus consecrated him as the first missionary. It was amazing to be here in Fatima on this feast day to celebrate the practical, heroic and abiding spirits of Peter and Paul, my boys’ namesakes, and to re-confirm our faith that we are all brothers and sisters in Christ and our mission, as one family, to love one another as He loved us. After the mass, I sat with my boys and explained to them what had been taught during the mass and how they, like Peter and Paul, have been consecrated by God to bring the good news to everyone they meet. It was an emotional moment for me, as I told them about how I was led to name them Peter and Paul and how I have prayed over them since, for God to refine their gifts and guide their footsteps and for His angels to watch over them always.

The tombs of the shepherds

In the basilica, a stone statue of Jacinta, its simplicity radiating the innocence and untarnished faith of this shepherd child, marks the tombs of both Jacinta and Lucia in the chapel to the left of the main altar. Jacinta and her brother, Francisco, died just years after the apparitions in the early 1900s. Lucia, their cousin, was a cloistered nun and died just a few years ago. On her tomb is noted her audiences with Pope John Paul II. In the chapel on the other side of the altar are Francisco’s tomb and a bronze statue dedicated to this humble little boy who walked with a crutch. All three have since been consecrated saints. I was really struck with the paintings that decorate the basilica. Obviously by the same artist, they are all painted in natural colors of indigo blue and aquamarine and create an aura of simple beauty in this sacred place of worship. Peter, Paul and I offered up special invocations for Jesus’ help in walking in the way of peace, love and justice. We also lit candles in the outdoor altar near the chapel and tree that signifies the place where Our Lady appeared to the shepherd children.

The bells of Fatima

As we entered the little town that has grown up around Fatima, the first restaurant we spotted was Restaurant Isabel. I was sure we were meant to eat there. We visited the restaurant and found a beautiful tile painting at the entrance of Queen/Saint Isabel, the queen who was known for her magnanimous heart for the poor. It was the will of the group to eat elsewhere and my mother and Paul discovered the best pizza yet in Portugal. As we left Fatima, the bells of the cathedral played the song of Fatima, a song that I remember and that Peter and Paul loved when they were here 10 years ago (They had a little statue of Our Lady of Fatima that played this song and they pressed it over and over again to hear the simple tune.):

En trece de Maio (On the 13th of May)

Na Cova de Iria (in the cove of Iria)

Aparceu briliante a virgem Maria (brilliantly appeared, the Virgin Mary)

Ave, ave, ave Maria

Ave, ave, ave Maria.

Lost in the world of the Knights Templar

Our next stop was the UNESCO world heritage site of Convento de Cristo in Tomar, the home of the Knights Templar in Portugal. We only had a little over an hour to explore this massive complex but even so, it was enough time for several of our party to get lost. As the site was preparing to close, Isabel and I were frantically trying to round up the last stragglers, both of our mothers and Steve. As I emerged from the vacuous refectory with its long marble tables and impressive ceiling of successive stone arches, where we had seen them last, I caught a glimpse of my mother and Isabel’s mother walking through a deserted corridor of an adjacent cloister in the opposite direction from the exit and hurried to hail them down. I turned them around, heading them in the right direction toward Isabel stationed at the exit. With these two lost sheep rounded up, I had to go in again to find Steve. I found him taking pictures from the dormitories on the second floor of another quiet cloister. On the way, I encountered a mother and daughter looking for their husband/father. Even the way to the exit was not clear and more importantly, the WC! I spent most of the hour looking for a restroom and only found relief at the very end of our explorations in what I think was the only public WC in these massive premises!

Secret passageways

Just trying to round everyone up to enter the premises was a feat, as we entered the gate to the compound and followed the castle walls to the front entrance of the castle folded into an interior passageway, across a large jardim (garden), up a flight of stairs and concealed by a series of protective walls. One by one, our party entered the ornate portal, carved in elaborate designs and religious figures, Our Lady, holding the infant Jesus, as the main sentry. On the top of the spires arising from the castle towers and along the edge of the rooftop, like lace-work, were the characteristic Latin crosses of the Knights Templar. Through a cloister (beautifully arrayed with blue and white tiles along the bottom of the wall) in one wing of the complex that was dedicated to washing the clothes of the monks of the convent, down a flight of stairs, through another cloister (the cemetery cloister, also lined with blue and white tiles, as well as planter boxes with old, bonsai-looking trees in the same design) and a series of corridors lined with private chapels of various kings, other royalty and benefactors of the Order of Christ, and we finally came to the church in the round. This was the secret meeting place of the Knights Templar when it was headquartered at the castle in Tomar from about 1160 to 1312, when the order of the Knights Templar was abolished by Pope Clemente V. You could imagine the knights rounding the corner on their horses into the secret chambers of the “church” and, never dismounting their horses, strategizing their military defense of Christendom from the infiltration of the Muslims into Europe from North Africa over the Iberian Peninsula. The way this church was built it was well fortified by successive layers of outer and interior castle walls, providing the Knights with a prime location for the nerve center of their operations. It was only in 1420 when Prince Henry the Navigator was named the founder and chief administrator of the Order of Christ, the Knights Templar’s successor, that the church and surrounding grounds actually became a religious site, a monastery, and the compound was augmented with a series of additional cloisters. At the rear of the church on the second level was the choral chapel, austerely furnished with two rows of high-backed wooden chairs on the walls on either side. From here we entered the first cloister of the far wing of the monastery. At all four corners of the courtyard were towers with spiral staircases that led to the interior ramparts of the castle. From this plateau was a view of the surrounding countryside to the rear of the monastery, the lush deciduous forest of the Seven Hills National Forest, full of foliage of gradients of green, and the 17th century aqueduct that supplied the castle, and a maze of cloisters, as well as a birds-eye view of the upper echelons of the front portal we had entered and the bell towers that crown the church. Looking down on the courtyard of the cloister of Dom (King) Joao III, we were able to see that the base of the stone fountain in the center was in the shape of the cross of the Knights Templar. From this perch, we could also see the famous window on the outside of the choral chapel. This window is lauded as one of the finest examples of Manueline architecture, a style named after Portugal’s king during the golden age of discoveries, King Manuel, and characterized by the themes of the sea and navigational exploration. At its base is the head of Vasco da Gama, holding upon his shoulders the roots of an old tree that bifurcates into a florid display of nautical ropes, sea shells and conches, plants of the sea, and other symbols of Portugal’s seafaring expeditions of the 1400-1500s. At the top of the window on a pedestal arising from Portugal’s coat of arms is a giant Knights Templar cross, symbolically presiding over this architectural testament of Portugal’s navigational supremacy during this period of history. On either side, like the torches of knowledge, are the Portuguese circular globes that denote Portugal’s cutting-edge geographical navigational acumen.

Seeking hospitality in the Convent of Christ

Steve and I penetrated deeper into the far wing of the monastery by entering a small door into a dormitory room, another long hallway, another dormitory room and finally a very quiet cloister, what I think was the hospitality cloister, where visitors to the convent were housed. Steve and I stayed long enough to feel the peaceful stillness of this sequestered cloister and even checked out the accommodations. Surprisingly, each room was not a standard box issue, what you might expect in a convent, but rather many were of different geometrical shapes and some rooms were communal parlors and kitchens. Making our way back, we walked down the exceptionally long corridor we had passed when we first entered. Eerily illuminated by the diffused afternoon light, the entirely abandoned passageway seemed to echo the secrets of centuries past. Lulled into a kind of trance, we were startled by a particularly life-like statue of Christ on the cross in a glass case at one juncture in this ancient hall. We knew we were overtime already and not wanting to get locked in, we made our way back to the exit.

June 27, 2006: The maritime museum of Ilhavo

In search of codfish

My father’s dear friend, Vitorino, a retired captain of a fishing schooner, met us at Ilhavo’s maritime museum, which was established in 1937 and now resides in a modern, award-winning building inaugurated in 2001, and accompanied us on a personalized tour of this commemoration of Ilhavo’s proud tradition of codfishing in the frigid seas of the Northwest Atlantic since the 16th century. In the first hall is a model of an actual cod fishing schooner and associated exhibits of the equipment used and the typical quarters and type of work performed on the ship. Vitorino brought the displays alive with his mesmerizing commentary. After gathering for a blessing at the Mosteiro dos Jeronimos in Lisbon, the crews headed to their boats in the Rio Tejo to depart to great fanfare from the Torre de Belem (just as their ancestors, Portugal’s explorers across the globe, had done earlier) and make the 12-15-day trans Atlantic trek to the treacherous seas of Newfoundland and Greenland. Each boat was equipped with one dory for each fisherman. In the late 1800s/early 1900s, there were 15 fishermen per vessel. By the mid 1900s, when Vitorino first started fishing, the boats were larger, accommodating upwards of 50 fishermen. When the Portuguese first arrived in Newfoundland in the beginning of the 16th century, they used caravels, the same vessels the Portuguese had used for their expeditions across the globe, fishing directly off the mother ship. Later in the 1800s, they adopted the techniques of the Canadian fishermen of the area, fishing with individual dories, and eventually modified these and invented many of their own techniques. Off into the frigid seas these lone fishermen went in their dories, and, although the conditions were at best harsh, there in the open sea, they were the captains of their own boats, lowering up to 20 lines at a time, as deep as 150 fathoms (but generally between 20 and 50). With one hook at every fathom, these fishermen could haul in a heck of a lot of fish for one dory! Every 10 days, the fish would be tallied; at the end of the trip, the fishermen would receive compensation commensurate with their catch. The fishermen experimented with the best bait. Squid, mackerel, clams and even sea birds (shot with a gun) were used but, according to Vitorino, mackerel was the king of baits because of the codfish’s keen sense of smell. There was no rest for the weary upon their return to the mother ship. Now it was time to clean, process and preserve the fish. First, the throat of the fish was slit, the belly cut and cleaned, and the fish beheaded (by the “head-breaker”). The “splitter” then opened and flattened the fish from the head to the tail, removing the main spine, and the fish was washed in a basin and salted. In addition, cod liver oil was harvested. Peter and Paul demonstrated the salting of large fillet of cod with a large dowel of coarse salt. On display was the bladder of the codfish, which works like a submarine, allowing the codfish to regulate its depth in the water. Another display was of a typical chart room which Vitorino told us doubled as a dining table for the officers. There wasn’t much time to sleep, maybe between 12 midnight and 4 a.m. in the morning, but the sleeping quarters were well-designed, maximizing limited space, and of course the officer’s quarters were commensurate to the office, quite comfortable and handsomely furnished!

Adventures at sea

Vitorino’s first voyage to Newfoundland was in 1951 as third mate to his father Joao Ramalheira, who was the captain of Gil Eannes, a hospital/supply (fuel, water, and food) ship. He describes this experience with great emotion: “It was an honor to travel with my father. Everybody said he was a gentlemen and a good man.” In 1960, he took his first voyage as captain on the Aviz. In the film that was being shown in the exhibit hall, there was Vitorino in a moving photo montage of Ilhavo fishermen over the last century and a half. In an upstairs hall in the museum was a model of the Aviz. Standing beside his first ship, Vitorino told us the tragic ending of this cherished vessel. In the early evening, a fire broke out in the engine room, probably from a short circuit. When the engineer opened the door, toxic black smoke came spiraling out. Unfortunately, in those days, ships were not equipped with masks and other fire hazard gear. It was simply unsafe to venture below to extinguish the source of the fire. There was nothing that could be done. The crew was alerted that there was a fire on board, and by 9 p.m., Captain Vitorino had radioed another captain for help and the entire crew was evacuated. The captain that came to the Aviz’s rescue happened to be his brother-in-law, captain of the “Sotto Mayor.” At 2 a.m., there were explosions and the masts collapsed. On September 21, 1965, his wife Maria Angelina’s birthday, Vitorino watched his ship sink from the deck of the Sotto Mayor. It was a profoundly sad moment for this proud and cultured man. He and the crew were flown home to Lisbon via Canadian Airways. The heartwarming side plot to this ill-fated story was about his good and loyal dog, a cocker spaniel named “Faisca,” which coincidentally means “spark.” When the ship went down, Faisca was rescued with the rest of the crew. Vitorino had handed the dog to a member of his crew as he boarded a dory to sail to the Sotto Mayor with the express instructions to take good care of him until he arrived at the ship. A few minutes later, however, Vitorino heard the strange sound of clawing on the side of the boat; it was Faisca. This loyal, little dog had jumped overboard from the dory enroute to the Sotto Mayor and swum back to the sinking ship to stand by her master during his time of need! When the ship dipped down in the rolling sea, Vitorino was able to grab the dog by the fur and retrieve him safely. The dog then remained by his side until he too disembarked the boat for the last time and boarded the Sotto Mayor. Since he had no way to transport him home by plane, the dog remained with his brother-in-law on the Sotto Mayor for the journey back to Portugal. When the ship arrived in Aveiro a few weeks later, Vitorino went with his family to greet his brother-in-law and his crew. When Faisca saw Vitorino, he flew from the ship to the pier even before the ship had fully docked. The dog remained with Vitorino and his family in Ilhavo. He had an almost supernatural connection with his kind master. He seemed to sense when Vitorino was in the vicinity because even before his car had reached the driveway, Faisca was already at the gate, joyously barking his greetings. Tragically, Faisca was hit by a car when Vitorino was out at sea. We had left the museum and were heading to a café for an afternoon coffee when Vitorino finished telling us this story. Quietly, he said, “We are coming close to the place were Faisca died.” Just across the street, very close to the maritime museum is the house where Vitorino and his family lived before they moved to their house in Vagos, where they live now. Faisca died just inside the gates of this house and we paid our last respects to this faithful and brave little dog.

Though Vitorino never thought he would fish again after the devastating experience of losing a boat, he was a highly respected captain and was asked to be the captain of the Santa Maria Manuela and once again sailed across the Atlantic to fish for the coveted codfish of the far northern realms of Newfoundland. In fact, this boat and Vitorino and his crew are featured in a couple of documentaries about the Portuguese codfishermen of Newfoundland. The Santa Maria Manuela now sits in Gafanha, near Ilhavo, and a foundation has been established to raise the money to restore this grand vessel.

At sea at home

In the rear of the museum is a simulation of the now nearly extinct industry of the Ria de Aveiro, Aveiro lagoon. Nine typical boats of the region are displayed, including the colorful moliceiros with their high prowesses. These boats were used in the harvesting and transporting of the salt and seaweed of the lagoon. Also hard work, the sea hay was cut and used as bedding for cattle and, more importantly, as a rich fertilizer. Over the decades, this work literally changed the character of the soil of the region from a barren sand-based soil to a rich and fertile soil that to this day produces incredibly flavorful vegetables.

June 26, 2006: Dad’s birthday

For my father’s 78th birthday, we invited his oldest and dearest friends, the Ramalheiro brothers, Vitorino and Eduardo, and their lovely spouses, Maria Angelina and Madalena. I prepared a feast of lasagna, salad with the delicious lettuce, tomatoes and cucumber of the region, fruit salad and my father’s favorite dessert, lemon meringue pie. My father positioned Vitorino and Eduardo on either side of him, and we all delighted in his child-like delight of being surrounded by these two dear friends and his family. The “boys” regaled us with stories of their early years, growing up in Ilhavo. We also enjoyed Eduardo’s enthusiastic dissertation about the making of Port wine in the Douro valley, a follow-up to our recent visit to the Rio Douro, and Vitorino’s stirring accounts of his first impressions of the United States, especially his visit to Philadelphia. It was in Philadelphia that his mother, who died when he was quite young, lived when she met his father. He said his hairs stood on end as he walked the streets that his mother had walked years before. In the presentation of the gifts, my father read out loud the cards he received to all assembled. Peter had drawn him a scene of a train at platform “78” and attached his favorite expression, “The train is leaving the station!” Paul’s card wished “Big V” a happy birthday in a rainbow of colors. (My father has always appreciated Paul’s use of color.) Finally, we draped a Portuguese scarf around his neck. He was very, very pleased with this and all the sentiments expressed, and he, Vitorino, Eduardo, Madalena and Maria Angelina all sang the Portuguese national anthem, printed on the scarf, together with great pride! The lemon meringue pie was runny but the company more than made up for it!  

June 24, 2006: Braga

Good Jesus on the hill

Braga is known as the most devout community in Portugal, with more churches/square foot in all of Portugal. In the foothills of Braga, we arrived the easy way, by car, at another pilgrimage site, the cathedral of Bom Jesus do Monte (Good Jesus of the Mountain), where Fernandinha’s parents visited after their marriage. Built in the early 1800s, this church, like Nossa Senhora da Remedios in Lamego, is at the top of a grand series of steps, carved out of the steep hillside. The stairway that leads to the church and is even longer than the one that leads to Nossa Senhora da Remedios is painted in white, brilliantly illuminating this arduous pilgrimage route. Peter and Paul falsely marked a victorious ascent by playing futebol at the square outside the church. In this land where futebol is sacred, no one seemed to consider this activity sacrilegious! We left Steve to make the pilgrimage up and down in search of stunning photographs of this setting, an apt expression of his devotion, while we went to visit the inside of the church. The altar at this cathedral reminded me of an altar we saw at a church just outside of San Marcos square in Venice. It also depicts a scene, a large-scale diorama made out of stone sculptures. This one is of Jesus dying on the cross, Mary, John and Mary Magdalene at his feet. The two criminals who were crucified at the same time as Jesus were interestingly also included in the scene. One faces him with an expression of penitential sorrow, the other turns away from him, his expression hard, unflinching. On the outskirts of the scene, difficult to see behind a column, are the Roman centurions that were ordered to guard Jesus and verify his death. I find it interesting that the bones of a Roman soldier, St. Clemente, dating back to the 3rd century, are buried in a humble altar in this church, along with the relics of many saints of ordinary acclaim.

Mary on the hill

Climbing further up the hill is the Santuario do Nossa Senhora do Sameiro (late 1800s and early 1900s), an enormous sanctuary and square dedicated to our Lady of Sameiro, which denotes a place in this region. Fernandinha said that many children in this area are named Sameiro, reflecting this devotion to the Mother Mary. In Portugal, there are hundreds of “Our Ladies,” everything from Our Lady of Milk, Memory and other ordinary things to more serious conditions, such as Our Lady of Pain and Agony.  In this elegant cathedral of marble are several lovely statues of Our Lady. Pope John Paul II visited this sanctuary in 2002 when he visited Portugal. As with other sites on his itinerary a large pavilion was built on the premises so that he could proclaim mass for the throngs that congregated for the occasion. I can imagine the hundreds of thousands that must have filled the stairway, the square and the hillside trails that lead to this mountain-top sanctuary to see this beloved pope. In an unkempt garden on the periphery of the square, Steve noticed an old stone statue of Jesus kneeling and praying as in the Garden of Gethsemane on the night before he died. The garden contained scattered olive trees, creating an effect that might resemble the Garden of Gethsemane in Jerusalem. In the lower level of the cathedral is another large and more modern sanctuary. It is filled with gigantic tile mosaics depicting Jesus’ death and resurrection on one side and Mary’s annunciation to assumption on the other, as well as the peoples of other lands, such as Africa, to whom the faith was carried. The figures in these portrayals are built like the Russian peasants of the Russian artist Malevich, of olive, weather-worn complexion and with sturdy limbs and physique.

Also at this sanctuary was an old restaurant noted for its exceptional traditional fare. True to its reputation, we had some of the finest sopa de legumes (vegetable soup) and bacalhau con natas (creamed cod fish) of the trip.

The religious capital of Portugal

Now in the center of the city of Braga, Portugal’s religious capital, we stopped to “take a coffee” at a café in the city’s most beautiful square. Directly in front of us was a large fountain that cycled through a series of water displays, finally erupting into several geysers that bathed us in a refreshing light mist of spray. Through this mirage, we admired the surrounding ecclesiastical architecture, characterized by grand windows and doors, adorned with simple flourishes.

Little saints, angels, & priests

Meandering through the pedestrian streets of Braga, we were attracted to a drum corps performing along one side street. According to the program for the Festa of Sao Joao in Braga, this was the stage for a continuous run of drum corps and we watched half of one performance and the beginning of another. They do not move, as with other marching bands, and their rhythms seem to follow a similar course, a steady beat that rises to a crescendo at the end of the number, but they always attract a mass of spectators. It seems that Portuguese people appreciate rhythm! In the entry courtyard of a monastery in the heart of town are stacked helter skelter ancient ruins; it looks like this site used to be a Roman temple. There, tucked in one corner was a folklore group practicing for the procession. Dressed in the typical attire of the region, they were singing popular songs of fe (faith) and alegria (joy) in daily living. Those with numerous gold chains and earrings and attire of rich golds and blacks and embroidered along the borders represented the wealthier sector of the local society, while those dressed in simple black skirts and white blouses were the peasants. In a chapel off the central cloister, we encountered Our Lady of Memory, where we paused to say a special prayer for my father, and Our Lady of Agony, standing over Jesus’ dead body. Off these altars were various crypts, sacristies and chambers, but unfortunately we didn’t have time to explore the grounds further because we caught a glimpse of the mobile altar to St. John the Baptist, the star of the festa, preparing to make its grand entry. It was almost time for the procession to start, and we hurried outside to find a place to sit along the street. Braga’s Festa of Sao Joao is more traditional than Porto’s, reflecting its deep religiosity. A brass band, playing a solemn marching tune, signaled the beginning of the procession. People representing all the classes of traditional, medieval society followed, nobles, musicians, and workers. I think most of Braga’s many churches were represented in the procession because there was a steady flow of saints for close to an hour! A group of parishioners carried the statue of the saint from their church in a beautifully adorned mobile altar, kind of like the mobile altars that carried the sacred icon of Jesus’ crucifixion through the streets of Naxos, Greece on Good Friday during the Greek Orthodox celebration of Holy Week. In between this steady flow of saints were the best part of the procession—flocks of children portraying various saints and religious figures. In case you weren’t sure who they were, you could always look at the tags pinned to their backs; it seemed that the entire communion of saints was represented in this procession! They were absolutely adorable. There were little angels in flowing chiffon dresses, their halos askew, and miniature priests and monks in traditional garb of black robes with white collars and brown robes with leather sandals and belts made of twine. There were several St. Peters, one carried the keys, another was accompanied by other of the apostles, towing fishing nets. When St. Geraldo passed, Fernandinha pointed him out and told me that our avozinha (grandmother) was particularly fond of St. Geraldo, and, as a child, Fernandinha had accompanied her to a church near Ilhavo to pray to him. Our Lady of Fatima had her own entry, an older girl, surrounded by three children playing the three shepherd children, as did the local Our Lady, Our Lady of Sameiro at the top of the hill outside of Braga. This was followed by a whole troupe of Our Ladies! One of our favorites was the heralds of the St. John the Baptist statue, two little boys in sheep’s wool and sandals, with staff in hand and carrying a stuffed sheep. There was a pause in the flow of the procession and  they stopped very near us. It was near the end of the procession and you could tell that these little St. John the Baptists were getting tired; they probably could have used a locust and honey break! When the procession resumed, the statue of St. John the Baptist, carried by students, dressed as soldiers, assuming the most dignified and disciplined demeanor, marched by us. Behind them was the folk group that we had seen practicing in the monastery, singing a capella, their voices blending in clear, angelic harmony. I wish I could have had the opportunity to hear them in concert. They were wonderful.

At home with the Energizer Bunny

Nezinha was waiting for us to eat dinner with her in Sao Joao da Madeira. Fernandinha had prepared her own chicken stew recipe in advance and Nezinha prepared soup, rice and salad to accompany the main course. What a wonderful meal we shared. Fernandinha and Peter kept us all laughing with their repertoire of jibes, Fernandinha teasing Peter about the cute girls he kept picking out to bop last night at the festa in Porto and Peter giving her grief about her distractibility. Nezinha showed me a collection of photos that my father had sent that her family had kept and treasured—pictures of me as a baby, toddler and receiving my first communion. She also told me that she always loved it when Tio Amadeu and Tia Lena, her godparents, visited because they always brought her a special gift and one that was very unique because it was from the United States. One of her favorite gifts was a doll with beautiful blonde hair. Apparently, Zezinha and Fernandinha were obsessed with washing her hair and she eventually went bald! Our night ended on a hysterical note when Paul saw a Duracell commercial on TV, featuring a pink Energizer-like bunny, and said, “Look, its Fernandinha!” Not only is she off the Richter scale in terms of energy levels, she also loves the color pink and wore a pink jacket during our travels of the past couple of days. Kat called her “Pinkie,” as she followed that pink jacket everywhere during the festa of Sao Joao do Porto! 

June 23, 2006: Festa of Sao Joao do Porto

Isabel picked us up in the early afternoon and we drove to Sao Joao da Madeira to pick up Fernandinha. She was tired after a particularly challenging week but, once on the road, she had a chance to catch her breath and revive herself, and, by the time we arrived in Porto, she was back in vivacious form and ready to take on the Festa of Sao Joao do Porto (the feast day of St. John the Baptist of Porto), a citywide celebration that she, Isabel and Valter attend every year. It is Porto’s largest party: There are several bands in neighborhoods in and around the river, the streets are all dressed up with colorful streamers and banners, street vendors prepare barbecued sardines and other typical food, and hundreds of thousands of people of all ages turn up to walk the streets and “bless” passersby by bopping them on the head with either a plastic mallet or the flowered head of a long garlic stalk! We parked close to one of the bridges out of the city so that we could make a quick exit after the festivities of the evening.

The city by the river

Our walking tour began at the Jardim do Palacio de Cristal, the crystal palace complex that now houses a museum, library and exposition hall. The University of Porto, where Fernandinha studied, is spread out over the city. The physics department is now housed in a new, modern building but Fernandinha prefers the older building, and we took a picture of her at the statue of the lion of knowledge in front of the building she attended now several decades ago. At the nucleus of the university is Café D’ouro (café of Gold), better known as Café Piolho (café bedbug) by the students who frequent this popular café! Fernandinha couldn’t resist stopping for a coffee, for old time’s sake, and we sat at a table in the square, watching a whole new generation of students mill in this center of university life. Across the street was the church of St. Carmen, its outer façade covered in intricate carvings of saints. One side was covered in a magnificent blue and white tile mosaic, I think depicting a scene in the life of St. Carmen. A few jogs in the route and we were on the road of the famous Torre dos Clerigos (Tower of Clerics), a monolith of intricate designs, designed by the famous Italian architect Nicola Nasoni and rising 225 steps above the city. A bookstore called “Lello” distracted us from this architectural marvel. Beautifully renovated, it was robed in deep burgundy and gold trim and its centerpiece was a regal staircase that bifurcates and winds around to a mezzanine lounge. Valter miraculously (aah, the marvels of cell phone communication) appeared as we were leaving the bookstore, walking toward us with the Torre dos Clerigos as his backdrop, a dramatic entry for a gallant fellow!

A city of granite

The Rua dos Clerigos deposited us directly into the Praca da Liberdade, what several family members have said looks very much like the central square of Prague in the Czech Republic, with its similarly dark, heavy, granite buildings. (In fact the majority of Porto is comprised of granite, enduring centuries of exposure and yet nearly constantly covered in a film of pollutants from this urban environment.) At the Sao Bento train station, amidst the constant comings and goings of people in transit, we admired the fantastic blue and white tile mosaics on the three main walls of the station, depicting epic scenes such as the marriage of King Joao I and Queen Filipa de Lencastre (of England) in Porto, the genesis of the political alliance between Portugal and England and the ushering in of a new age in Portuguese history.

Cathedral overlooking the Douro

Just up the hill from the train station is the old cathedral of Porto (from the 12th century), surrounded by the old bishops’ residence. Built in the 12th century by Nicola Nasoni, the same architect who built the Torre dos Clerigos, the interior of this church is illuminated by the same light-colored stone as the monuments of Alcobaca and Batalha and the Acropolis of Athens, calcium carbonate, limestone or karst, beautiful but terribly delicate, susceptible to the corrosive influences of the sulfuric acid of the elements. (The fact that all of these monuments are undergoing nearly constant renovation is a testament to this vulnerability.) Inside the church, Valter explained to us the difference between fresco and simply painting on rock. A fresco is created by applying cement to create a smooth surface and painting before the cement is completely dry so that the paint permeates the wall. It is a very difficult technique because you only have once chance to get it right and you have a tight window in which to finish the painting. Oftentimes the painting is first created in another medium before the fresco is created. The principal nave is the oldest segment of this church. It is illuminated by a beautiful stained glass window in the shape of a flower blooming in spring, a glorious symbol of the divine feminine in this ancient church. To the left of the main altar is a famous silver sacristy currently under restoration. Fernandinha (and later my aunt and uncle from Houston) both talked of its splendor. When it is at its best, the altar literally gleams with the light reflected from its ornately carved, polished silver. This altar was once saved from ransacking French soldiers when locals covered it in plaster and carefully painted it, making it appear as though it was made of wood. My favorite feature of this church, however, was the 14th century statue of Nossa Senhora da Vandoma, Our Lady of liberty, freedom. Painted in earth tones of blue and red, this lovely Mary, standing erect and holding the baby Jesus, exudes youthfulness and strength, a shining beacon of liberty and freedom. From the praca (square) outside the church we overlooked the Ribeira, the oldest district of Porto, the Douro River and the Port wine houses of Gaia across the river. In the center of the praca is the stark, wrought iron gallows where justice was publicly dispensed, the convicted hung for their crimes. We also saw evidence of the power struggle between the church and the nobility in the sequence in which the surrounding buildings were constructed. The church and bishops’ residence was built in front of an old noble’s estate and later in retaliation, the nobles built a tower that obscured the church’s bell tower.

Enroute to the river, we walked through the oldest neighborhoods in Porto. The dwellings at the waterfront have been restored but in the heart of this neighborhood many of the buildings are in disrepair. Still, the steep, narrow and winding streets, now dressed for the festivities of the festa of Sao Joao, rocking with traditional music and emanating the aroma of barbecued sardines, lure you in with their charm.

Let the wild rumpus begin

After a picnic back at the car, we were ready for the party to begin. Making our way back to the river’s edge, the bopping began! It was like in the children’s book, when the errant child, Max, ventures in his imagination to an island populated by monsters and signals the party to begin with the proclamation, “And, let the wild rumpus begin!” Suddenly, it was a bop or be bopped world, and we were bopping old and young alike. Peter, whose favorite activity in the world is bopping people, was having a hey day, bopping every head he could find! Sanctioned bopping! What a bonanza! I committed a cardinal sin in bopping, however, by bopping the head of just one guy in a group of three because Peter had already bopped the other two. Apparently, this was a slight to the other two guys and one of them came after me, trying to pinch my butt in retaliation. I had no idea what was going on but by the time I had figured out I had committed an insult and dodged the resulting assault, it was too late to remedy my inadvertent snub. In the meantime, Peter was bopping everyone in sight (Steve had dubbed him an “equal opportunity bopper”) and Fernandinha added this twist in an effort to refine his bopping style: Apparently, between boys and girls, you bop those you find particularly attractive. Peter considered this input but soon reverted back to his equal opportunity approach, finding this a heck of a lot more fun and challenging—his goal was to achieve the citywide record for heads bopped! Unfortunately, our martelos did not come equipped with an official counter, but I must say, unofficially of course, that he had to be at least in the contention as he never tired of bopping! Back at the riverfront, we hung out at one of the official stages and waved as the TV cameras scanned the crowds. Closer to the hour, we merged in the masses of people traversing the Ponte Dom Luis (King Luis Bridge), designed by the architect Eiffel, who of course built the Eiffel Tower in Paris, as well as the bridge at Viana do Castelo. Constructed of beautifully crafted black iron, it and its counterpart, the Queen Mary Bridge for trains only, actually resemble the Eiffel Tower. We landed a table at the Sandman Port wine cellars and settled in for the night’s festivities. Peter periodically left us to bop the steady stream of people walking along the riverfront path. Close to midnight, spotlights of changing colors illuminated the bridge and the fireworks began. I have to say it was one of the best fireworks displays I have ever seen. Set to music, the fireworks exploded in a magical synchrony of sound, light and color. So many fireworks were detonated that the paper and ashes began to rain down upon us. I helped Paul collect a memento for his scrap book. On our way back over the bridge, we all simultaneously became aware that the bridge was swaying. However, before this realization, each of us had our unique, unvoiced suspicions: Steve thought he had one too many beers, Kat thought she was having a diabetic spell and I began thinking of the time that I was on the Golden Gate Bridge in wall-to-wall people for a citywide festival and the span began to flatten. Then, like now, I could imagine the potential carnage and all I wanted to do was get my family off that bridge. A woman had already collapsed and there were people helping her. It was hard to stay together so I grabbed Paul and we wove in and out of the crowds and off the bridge in record time, found a high perch and waited for the others to get off. Once we spotted them it was difficult, with all the people and commotion, to get their attention so we had to set our sights on them, hope they didn’t move, and wade through the sea of people to them. Once reunited, we retraced our steps, as in rewind, back through the main square, the café d’ouro, the crystal palace and back to the car, exhausted but high from a night of unlimited bopping!

June 21, 2006

Lisbon, after hours

After an overnight delay, Kat has arrived. We picked her up at the train station in Aveiro, encircling her with our greetings of love, all eager to hear of her travails of the past 24 hours! It all began in Evansville when her flight to Detroit was delayed by several hours, ultimately causing her to miss her connection from Amsterdam to Lisbon. Meanwhile, we were prepared to pick her up in Aveiro at about 6 p.m. the night before but were alerted by her friend, Kim, and by Kat herself by email that she was going to be late, late, late. We quickly referred to our Lonely Planet, found a hostel in Lisbon near the train station and made a reservation for her. Unfortunately, we were unable to communicate with her until she called us when she arrived at 11:30 p.m. in Lisbon, 9 hours after she was scheduled to arrive! The taxi driver was apparently not familiar with the specific address and dropped her off in the middle of the night at an archway in one of the oldest parts of town that led to a dark, deserted street and motioned for her to walk in that general direction. Not knowing the city or the language, it was a harrowing experience trying to find her way to the hotel. At one point, she heard what she thought was a drunk singing and very cautiously peered around the corner before entering the intersection. It turned out that the soulful strains were coming from a café, where a musician was singing the fado, the traditional Portuguese ballad that tells tragic tales, full of pathos. She hopped from café to café and finally found the rather unseemly street entrance to her hotel. Fortunately, as soon as she entered the second floor where the hostel was located, it was lovely, thanks be to God! The next morning she caught the train to Aveiro with this ordeal almost entirely behind her. Unfortunately, her luggage had not made it to Lisbon and was supposed to be delivered by train in the next day or so.

Futebol in the park

Our friend, Isabel, had met us at the train station to accompany us on an outing in Aveiro. We found a restaurant off one of the main squares and Kat had her first Portuguese meal of fried, fresh Atlantic fish, batatas fritas (fried potatoes), and sopa de legumes (vegetable soup). By the time we finished our leisurely lunch, it was time to head to the park along the canal to see the Portugal vs. Mexico World Cup game. We were all alarmed when Deco, Ronaldo and Pauleta were not in the starting line-up but, for the most part, they handily scored a victory of 2-1. We later figured out that they were probably resting these players because the result of this match was not critical—they were automatically advancing to the next level of competition. The game began with a bang; Maniche scored 6 minutes into it with a powerful shot to the corner of the goal. The crowd at the park erupted in pandemonium with people cheering loudly, waving their scarves and flags and greeting each other with embraces and kisses on each cheek! Mexico did have several nerve-wracking attempts on goal and the result would have been a tie had they made a one-on-one penalty shot in the goal box, but they didn’t and the final score was 2-1, PORTUGAAAAL!

During half time, we showed Kat around that part of the town, the narrow, winding cobblestone streets lined with houses bedecked in colorful tiles, the 100-year-old fish market occupying one side of an old square, the church of St. John the Evangelist, and the entrance of one canal from the ria, the gulf of Aveiro, marked by a modern but cool new bridge with sweeping black girders, resembling large swells of a tempestuous sea. Following the canal back to the park, we walked by the moliceiros, the traditional, colorful boats of this region with their distinctive bows and rudders, painted with a variety of the favorite subjects of the Portuguese of this area—scenes of typical life (the sea, catching and selling fish, and harvesting salt), voluptuous mermaids or favorite futebol players!

After the game, Peter, Paul and Steve played a pick-up game of futebol with a group of other boys of Peter and Paul’s ages, with the Americanos of 3 taking on the Portuguese gang of 5! Peter and Paul had a fine showing, I think outshining their Portuguese counterparts with the moves they have been perfecting since we arrived in Portugal.

Kat, Carrol and my mother had left us at the park to return home at least an hour earlier with Isabel but when we arrived, they had just arrived a few minutes earlier. Apparently, Isabel had inadvertently parked in front of a garage and her car had been towed and they had been on a wild adventure, including a trip to the police station to retrieve the car and pay the associated, very steep fines. It reminded me of the far too many times this catastrophe had befallen me when I lived in San Francisco, where parking is also a nightmare!

June 18, 2006

Salvation in the hills of Sao Joao de Pesqueira

Outside Helena Teresa's back door was a trail sign to San Salvador do Mundo, Saint Salvation of the World! Several of us, including my father, set off to take the relatively short hike (2.7 km according to the sign post) to this set of chapels on the top of a hill in a distant valley. Shortly into the hike, we came upon a very muddy segment of trail. My father very successfully scaled a wall while we cheered him on. He seemed spry and game for adventure. After one long incline, however, he was ready for all downhill trail! While we stopped to let him recover, Paul, G-ma and Steve went on. When we resumed the hike, we could no longer find them, so we continued on what we thought was the correct trail. As we rounded one curve in the trail after another and the cluster of churches did not appear, we all began to wonder where the heck we were. My father's only aim was to get to the main road. Valter and I were trying to discern the right trail to San Salvador, and Fernandinha was mostly preoccupied with where the heck Paul, Carrol and Steve were! We finally came to a farm in the middle of the trail. Two large dogs began barking as we approached. My father and I walked through the valley of darkness first, followed by Peter, and then Valter accompanying the petrified Fernandinha who breathed through the ordeal. The one at-large dog turned out to be friendly, and just as we were about to continue walking on the other side of the property, I heard a truck approach. The truck stopped at the farm and out came the owner, a long-time resident of Sao Joao de Pesqueira. He owned the vineyard on the hill but he was also the commander of the volunteer firefighters of Sao Joao de Pesqueira, experienced in search and rescue missions, and we apparently needed rescuing. We were way off course and he offered to drive us to San Salvador do Mundo as soon as he finished a couple of chores. My curious father, though, immediately approached him and engaged him in conversation. The next thing you know, he was offering us a sample of his Port Wine! The rest of the party politely declined, but, when I expressed interest, he insisted that we try his latest vintage. Even Peter partook in the tasting party! Our host downed a cup himself for good health and we were soon rumbling down the road in his truck to our destination. Still quite a distance down the winding road, we encountered Steve, Paul and Carrol stranded on the roadside. Boy, were they happy to see us! We were all delivered intact to the base of the hill of San Salvador do Mundo, thanked our savior profusely and began the trek up the hill to see the chapels, each containing a scene related to Jesus' passion that could be viewed through a small wooden door. The first scene portrayed Jesus standing in the background praying in the Garden of Gethsemane while Peter, James (Tiago) and John fell asleep. As we trudged up the hill, we reflected on the scriptural moral of that scene, "the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak!" The next chapel showed Judas betraying Jesus with a kiss as he handed him over to the Roman soldiers. Further up the hill, another chapel showed Pontius Pilate interrogating Jesus during Jesus' trial. In the next chapel up the hill, Jesus is carrying the cross, while Veronica stands by his side lending her moral support. One of the last chapels, at the top of the small mountain, holds a beautiful but graphic statue of Jesus on the cross and leaves us to contemplate the mysteries of Jesus' death and resurrection from the precipice of the hill overlooking the magnificent panorama of the Douro River and its fertile valleys.

Healing pilgrimage

We all survived the tortuous descent to the foothills of the mountains. We parted with Nezinha, Helena Teresa, Ismael and Paula and continued with Fernandinha's itinerary. Our next stop in the town of Lamego required another ascent, this time up a series of stairs up the side of a mountain to the grand cathedral of Nossa Senhora dos Remedios (Our Lady of Remedies or, as Valter quipped, otherwise known as Our Lady of the Pharmacy!). In our mini-pilgrimage, we surmounted 10 or so plateaus, passing fountains, altars of blue and white tiles decorating the stone walls with various religious depictions, and a grotto nestled in the side of the mountain, all designed to enhance the path of the pilgrim. In the cathedral at the top of the mountain, we kneeled to pray for all those who need physical and spiritual healing. The church was bathed in a pacific aura from the relief in blue and white on the ceiling and walls.

Alien angels

It was twilight when we arrived at the little village of Ucanha where Dr. Jose Leite de Vasconcelos, a famous scientist who had Fernandinha's paternal family name, lived. A plaque was erected on a town wall in his honor, and Fernandinha wanted us to see it. The little village was strikingly beautiful and we walked first to the bridge that crosses a small river. On one side there was a pool where the women come to wash their clothes. In the green rushes on the other side was a man fishing. The idyllic portrait painted a scene straight from the book and movie, "A River Runs Through it." A kind neighbor rang the bell to the old church to alert the caretaker to come. She did indeed arrive and was very glad to let us in to see the church. As we suspected, she was home with her family when she heard the alarm, any time a bell is rung outside the hour. Still, she was very gracious and eager to tell us about the history of the church. There was a lovely pieta in stone that was part of the original church, dating back to the 1100s. The other features were added over the centuries, a collection of paintings on the ceiling, an ornate gold altar. Peter, Paul and I all remarked however that the various sculptures of angels throughout the altar were very strange. All of them seemed to be of an alien species with flat and accentuated foreheads. Strange conception by the artist!

June 17, 2006

Prehistoric art

We enjoyed a leisurely morning, everyone eventually gathering around the breakfast table and swapping stories, my father, mother and I telling tales of Kwajalein, which always provides plenty of exotic material. At noon, we loaded up the three vehicles and headed to the Coa River to an archeological park, also a UNESCO World Heritage site, where Nezinha had made a reservation for us to see prehistoric hieroglyphics. This park, classified as a national monument in 1997 and declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1998, contains rock art, dating back to the Upper Paleolithic period, approximately 30,000 years ago, making it one of the most important rock art sites in the world. The visitor information center we visited is located in a small mountain village that produces almonds. Many of the houses were paired with almond orchards, brimming with fuzzy immature almonds. Along the main street were bins of almonds of different varieties and when we were walking through the town, an older woman of the village offered us a handful of almonds with the instruction to crack them by hitting them with a blunt object, probably one of the strong rocks that ancient man used in this area to create the drawings that we were about to see.

With Castelo Melhor, literally translated as "the better castle," as a backdrop, we boarded a jeep and traveled with a park guide through the sweeping valleys and mountain ridges of the Coa River. This landscape is dotted with alternating ashen green olive trees and kelly green almond trees. Many stretches look like a connect-the-dots game with the only lines being those created by the terrace walls. One particularly expansive vineyard interrupts this otherwise strikingly uniform landscape. The almond trees are unique to this particular valley of the Douro and thrive because of its own unique climatic conditions, which because of its location are hotter than other regions in the Douro. Within 15 minutes, we arrived at Penascosa site, one of the largest rock art sites in the valley, located near the banks of the Coa River. Deboarding the jeep, we began following the guide along a trail toward several large boulders. As we approached the first panel, the smooth rock face, I saw nothing until I was directly upon it and the guide began interpreting the designs, various animals, such as horses, goats, deer, and aurochs, a type of ancient domestic cow. Once we became practiced in identifying the characteristic designs, we began to be able to deduce what we were seeing—a male goat, an almost life-size wild horse, salmon, perfectly proportioned goat, pregnant goat, and one very large male goat with visibly engorged testicles that I called “male, with a capital ‘M!’” Peter asked an interesting question: How do we know that these drawings are significant, instead of just the doodlings of early man? The guide confirmed that we can only speculate as to the origins and purpose of the art but in reconstructing the life of early man through paleontological study, we can make educated guesses. Perhaps they used these precise drawings to improve their hunting accuracy, identifying the exact location of the animal's heart, or to document wildlife. Or, it may have been a way to record history or simply artistic expression or a combination of any or all. Based on the depiction of the auroch, we tried to find the modern counterpart that most closely resembles it and came up with the gaur from Malaysia. There were species of large deer that reminded us of the barasingha deer of Kanha National Park, India, and the eland of Kenya, the largest antelope. Our guide also showed us how to identify the techniques used for the engravings, fine line incision, pecking, abrasion, and scraping. Movement was conveyed by creating successive images, kind of like an animated cartoon. A horse nodding his head is portrayed by depicting the head in three different positions. Or a horse moving across the plain is portrayed through several horses overlapping. The moving water of the river was also depicted on one panel with swirling etchings. It was fascinating to interpret this ancient art and imagine early man, living, hunting and fraternizing among these hills!

Futebol fanaticism

On our way back to the visitor center, we were all riveted to the radio, announcing the Portugal vs. Iran World Cup futebol game, and when we arrived, we immediately began looking for a cafe to watch the game. At half-time the score remained 0-0, even though the Portuguese team had controlled the ball for most of the game. Finally, into the second half, Deco scored a fantastic goal, a powerful shot to the corner of the goal from the outer goal box.  The Iranians were playing a very physical game and fouling pretty liberally, eliciting fierce reactions from these fans in the cafe, but their fouls began to catch up with them. Cristiano Ronaldo was the next to score on a one-on-one penalty kick, which caused quite an uproar in the cafe. Many Portuguese are critical of Cristiano because he's still young and has the reputation of being a hotshot and they are very loyal to their older players, who have consistently proven their worth, such as Figo. When Cristiano scored, I dispensed formal forgiveness, blessing him in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit! In the last seconds of the game, Cristiano Ronaldo almost scored again on a fantastic cross, by Pauleta, but unfortunately, he was called off-sides and the goal didn't count, making the final score 2-0, PORTUGAAAAAAL!!!!!!

Our Lady of Snow White

That evening we attended mass at the chapel of Santa Maria in my favorite town square. The priest rattled through a full rosary at break-neck speed and then immediately segued into mass. Unlike the rosary, however, he expounded at length upon the scripture. I tried to keep up, translating for Peter, but it became a very problematical task. After I conveyed what I believed to be the gist of his message, I gave up and gave in to humorous musings. My mother is constantly referring to Fernandinha with her fair skin and ebony black hair as "Snow White," and I couldn't help but think that the statue of the Mother Mary in this church with her black hair and white skin looked just like Snow White and I dubbed the church "Nossa Senhora of Snow White," "Our Lady of Snow White!" I was also having a hard containing my giggles whenever the priest broke out in song. His voice cracked more than the parched earth of the desert and I wondered why he proclaimed his lyrics so boldly! No, he didn't refrain from bursting into song at any opportunity and so we were continually wincing at his discordant strains!

The gang was waiting for us when we returned and we immediately dove into a multi-course feast of soup, barbecued chicken, fried potatoes, salad, fruit, and ice cream. I tried to monitor the amount of food I consumed to avoid a repeat of the night before, when I gorged myself! We topped off the evening with a slide show of the trip and everyone dispersed to bed.

June 16, 2006

Falling in love with old Portugal

We’re off on another excursion with Fernandinha, this time to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Rio Douro, Portugal’s famous wine growing region. Enroute to the Rio Douro, we passed through Amarante, a beautiful village in the mountains along a tributary of the Douro. Escorted by a local woman with her young daughter to the town’s main church, we were introduced to this lovely mountain hamlet. As we ambled through the streets of town, she pointed out the oldest padaria in town and the most popular sweet shop, as well as the typical architecture of the homes of the region, this fine sample painted mauve with decorative wrought iron balconies, decorated with window flower pots brimming with violets, multi-paned windows outlined in handsome dark wood, and a grand old door to match. She also told us about the sink holes and whirlpools in this unsuspecting river that flows through the town, now heavy with silt from the recent heavy rains that deluged this area and severely damaged this year’s grapes. We are familiar with the dangers of the river as the Willamette and McKenzie rivers also claim the lives of several people each year. As we strolled through the streets, pointing out the enchanting sights, vistas of the river, tile depictions of typical scenes of this area, and cobblestone streets lined with old fashioned lamp posts, my father made the casual remark to Peter and Paul that he had lived here as a young boy. At first I thought his memory was seriously failing but then, all of a sudden, I realized what he was doing and alerted the kids. When I was a little girl and we were visiting or learning about a new and enchanting place, he would always say that he had lived there as a young boy. Always having been quite gullible, I was at first indignant that I hadn’t known this important detail in my father’s life (I had thought he had lived in Ilhavo all of his life!) but alternately filled with wonder and amazement, wanting to know more, and having hooked me, my father would supply me with fanciful tales of his exploits! So, I told Peter and Paul to play along and they were soon chuckling about his fictional accounts. Our gracious guide left us off at the church of St. Goncalo of Amarante. According to popular legend, this fun-loving saint helped petitioners find girlfriends or boyfriends, as well as cures for sexual maladies! According to legend, you were to activate the graces of this saint by cinching his belt! Inside the old church, my father surprisingly pointed to a saint on the upper tier of the small chapel at the back of the church and asked me if I knew who he was. I guessed St. Anthony and he said, “Right,” quite emphatically and all-knowingly. I asked him how he knew so much about this saint and he said, matter-of-factly, “Well, before I was agnostic, I was a believer!” (St. Anthony, who was from Portugal and is the patron saint of Lisbon, was also eminently popular because he was the patron saint of long-term relationships, helping the faithful find mates. Each year on his feast day, the church used to fund marriages and wedding nights in a nice hotel for poor couples.) Once in the church, my mother said, “Look, there must be a wake going on,” before we realized that it was the tomb of St. Goncalo! The special catacomb where his tomb is located was attracting quite a bit of traffic because the town was preparing for his feast day. Most people were filing through in a solemn procession but, when we gathered around the tomb, my father exclaimed rather loudly, “Who the hell is this?” We quickly informed him that it was St. Goncalo and he then gave him a quick look-over, and remarked, “Look what they did to his face,” until he realized that the darker shadow on his chin and jaw was a beard! We couldn’t help but giggle at his steady stream of comments and really stifled open guffaws when he made the final pronouncement that he felt really sorry for this poor guy because not only did he die, but all that remained of his mortal presence was this very unflattering rendering. The altar was emblazoned in ornate gold foil patterns and we went from this florid Gothic display to the austere courtyard of the cloistered monks. There, on the other side of the church wall, were the bare wooden seats where the monks sat to hear confessions from the townspeople who entered the confessional stall from inside the church. Emerging back on the praca from the monastery, we stopped for coffee and Peter and Paul found another game related to the World Cup on the sugar packets, sponsored by Sical, a Portuguese coffee company. (Now, they’re collecting magnets of the Portuguese players from Galp gas and playing pieces from McDonald’s, hoping to win a mini World Cup ball and maybe a trip to Brazil, to extend our trip!!) The other excitement was my father who caused a stir by using the ladies’ restroom by accident. Peter and Paul, returning from using the men’s bathroom, informed us that they thought Vovo had gone into the ladies’ room. When my mother-in-law went to use the restroom, sure enough, out he emerged from the ladies’ room!

When paying for the coffees, my father became aware of the load of coins he had in his pocket. I don't think he has totally acclimated to Euros yet and tends to pay only with bills. The problem is that there are some pretty substantail Euro coins, 1 Euro is worth about $1.30 and 2 Euro, approximately$2.50! With two boys always flanking his sides, he announced the institution of the "Daily Draw" with Vovo in which Peter and Paul step up to receive whatever coin he happens to fish out of his pocket. They of course loved this game and each was quite excited to receive one of the better coins, a 1 Euro!

Just on the other side of the praca or square outside the church, we crossed the rock bridge over the River Tamega, merging onto yet another quaint street with brightly painted facades and again trimmed with decorate wrought iron balconies and flower boxes, overflowing with colorful annuals. At the entrance to a large villa, now a hotel, painted in gold, was a fountain. Its water was springing from a gnome-like figure with cowboy boots, hat and attire, urinating! I couldn’t help but provide a human counterpart to this funny little figure, peeing into the water feature! So I don’t have matching anatomy, nothing a little imagination can’t supply!

Since my father couldn’t wait for our next destination for lunch and we were all enamored with Amarante any way, we decided to lunch here at a picnic site along the river. For the return trip back to the car to retrieve all the makings for our picnic, we wound up the path through the castle wall that enclosed one side of the church square, past the old bell tower, library and an old neighborhood dressed again in vivid colors. Through a narrow passage way and back on the main street, it ended up to be a decent shortcut back to the car. What a lovely feast we had by the river in Amarante. Fernandinha had prepared fried turkey breasts (panados) and we made delicious sandwiches with the fresh rolls she brought, along with the trimmings of hard boiled eggs from Tio Fernando’s chickens, croissants and marmalade, fruit and the typical desserts of the this region, foguetes (almond paste rockets), asas de anjos (angel wing cookies filled with a mixture of sweetened egg yolk) and another egg yolk delicacy. Portuguese love egg desserts. A couple of comic mishaps interrupted our otherwise peaceful reverie: The first was when Carrol’s water bottle fell over and we only became aware of the flash flood when my father jumped up, his rear end already wet in a very conspicuous region! The other was Peter slyly firing acorns at Fernandinha and my mother and watching their reactions as they plopped on their heads or somewhere else on their torsos. Our picnic site was across from one of the main entrances to the town because across the street was a beautiful garden display in the shape and colors of the town’s coat of arms. We saluted the town and headed to the hills of the Douro.

Douro daydreams

Stopping at Mesao Frio, a small village in the mountains, to get some fresh air after traversing the very winding road, Paul and Peter were playing futebol in the town square and Paul fell and skinned his knee. We had to perform some quick first aid before heading out of town but everyone supplied their remedy and Paul was in good shape in no time. We arrived at the Pousada Solar da Rede, a large mansion on the top of the hill overlooking the Douro that has been converted to a grand hotel, just as the heavens broke out in a massive deluge! During a slight reprieve, I went out to join Steve at the corner of the garden to enjoy the fantastic view. Sheltered by a large tree, we stayed until the rain became more persistent and then ran back to the lobby of the hotel. Upstairs was a ballroom and other seating parlours, decorated with tiles depicting scenes from the life in this region in the mid 1800s. Peter and Paul played a game of billiards in one of these grand old parlours!

Back on the road, we found out for the first time that the British custom of afternoon tea came from a clever Portuguese princess who married English nobility and moved to England. When Portugal, the first country to find a maritime route to India, began trading with India, they "discovered" the health benefits of drinking tea, instead of coffee. Very conscientious about public health-related matters, the princess launched a campaign to encourage English people, common and otherwise, to drink tea. The habit caught on enforce and England went on to create tea plantations in its colonies across the globe, among which were Darjeeling in India, Mount Kenya region, and Cameron Highlands in Malaysia, all locations we have seen on this trip.

Port wine cellars

In Peso da Regua, we visited the train station where there was an old steam engine and car, restored to its original polished wood splendor, and eventually walked along the train tracks to Castelinho, a Port wine cellar up the hill on the other side of the tracks. We toured the cool wine cellars, and, since some tawny Ports can take 7 to 8, 20, 30 and even 40 years to ferment, we looked for caskets from our assorted years of birth. 1961, the year I was born, was apparently a good year. While sipping our samples of tawny and white Ports, we watched a movie about this Rota do Vinho do Porto, this land of Port wine.  It was in the early 1700s by the English that this region was first cultivated for the grapes that produce the velvety Port wine. Now, the Douro consists of 250,000 rolling acres of vineyard. Arranged in an elaborate pattern of terraces, supported by a vast network of stone walls, it resembles a giant staircase crawling across the vast mountains and valleys. Hot in the summer and cool in the winter, the climate of this region is perfect for producing rich, flavorful grapes, and a variety of the finest Port wines in the world, from white to ruby red. Producing Port wine has over the centuries become a fine art and science. The Port Wine Institute in Porto performs quality control for all exported Port wine. I was ready to sign up for a summer job as a taster until I discovered that these highly credentialed professionals, now receiving a degree in this area of specialty, unfortunately spit out their samples after the extensive taste test! Another area of specialty associated with Port wine production is barrel making; only a master can make a barrel fit for the precious liquids of Port wine. There is even a brotherhood among the makers of Port wine; only those who have achieved notoriety in the field are indoctrinated into this prestigious association. Every year for the past 250 years, this brotherhood holds a colorful regatta, parading around in their black and burgundy ensemble, capes and regal hats and espousing the virtues of Port wine!

In the heart of the Douro

In our last leg of the journey, we discovered that Helena Teresa, her boyfriend, Ismael, Paula, and Nezinha were only a few cars behind us. As we climbed into the surrounding mountains of the deep Douro, we stopped at a viewpoint to exchange greetings and admire the vista. How good it was to see my cousin Nezinha and her Helena Teresa. We had met Helena Teresa 13 years ago in San Diego when she and Nezinha visited my parents. She still remembered the camping trip we took with Steve’s father to the desert to see Haley’s comet. Steve’s father is very knowledgeable about astronomy and we all had a delightful night in the desert star gazing. Now, here we were over a decade later admiring a different landscape, a stunning panorama of mountainsides covered in a green, plush carpet of grape vines outlined in ancient rock terraces for as far as the eye can see. We followed Helena Teresa to her family’s house in Sao Joao de Pesqueira, an old stone house that is at least 100 years old. Her maternal grandmother who lived until 98 years of age was born here, and her parents lived next door to each other when they were growing up. Now, the family lives in Sao Joao de Madeira but retreat here for holidays and weekends. The lower half of the house is pale yellow, its upper floor is covered in scalloped slate pieces, typical of this region. We walked in through the back gate, through the small garden overlooking the fields and up the old stone stairs to the back door. In the kitchen were large crates of two varieties of cherries, yellow and a yellow/pink blend. I had never seen yellow cherries before. Over the course of the weekend we indulged in these delicious delicacies of both colors. Though not the original floor, the floors throughout the house are bare wooden planks, leading to cozy rooms, full of antique furniture and trinkets. What a lovely family heirloom this house is. My parents nestled into a small room downstairs, and Steve, G-ma, Peter, Paul, and I took the “suite” upstairs with the balcony overlooking the fields, a relatively new addition to the house. While Helena Teresa and assistants began preparing our evening meal, Fernandinha and Nezinha accompanied us on a walk. The town praca or square is one of the most beautiful squares I have ever seen. Walking down the street, lined with houses of muted yellow and pink to the center of town, we rounded the corner and there was this very intimate and unusual gathering place, the shape of a slightly skewed diamond. A stone promenade of elegant Baroque arches led to the lovely chapel of Santa Maria. On the upper section of the church were two tile scenes in blue and white, one depicting Jesus talking to the Samaritan woman at the well and the other, depicting Jesus healing a sick man. In a small stone nave at the top of the church was a stone sculpture of Mary.  Its façade was created by simple but flowing lines and as I perused the surrounding buildings, I found myself gazing upon this little chapel with a big aura again and again, admiring its simple grace. Across from the chapel was a museum about the Douro, a two-story, yellow building, its windows trimmed in black. On the far corner of the square was a small café.

Portuguese food for the soul

That evening we had a wonderful meal of bacalhau cozido (boiled cod) with potatoes and green beans and doused in rich Portuguese olive oil. I stuffed myself with several helpings and when Helena Teresa’s special desserts came out, chocolate mousse and yogurt cake, I simply could eat no more (although I did sample the mouse before the last of it was consumed later in the evening). At the end of the meal, out came the Port wine and my father led us all in a toast to Helena Teresa, our host in this lovely place, and this was followed up with a series of other toasts, saluting each other’s health and well-being. Well lubricated with the Port wine, my father began singing songs in Portuguese, and when Nezinha, Fernandinha and the others joined in, he led them to the song’s rousing climax, waving his arms in triumphant orchestration! When the raucous and the stories finally subsided, we took an evening walk. Out the front door, the street was illuminated by the old wrought iron street lamps and we walked to a café in town, open until all hours. Several of the group “took a decaffeinated coffee” while I drank a chamomile tea to aid in digestion. I couldn’t believe it when I looked at my watch and discovered that we were all hanging out at this café at 11:30 p.m. at night! Still, we took the scenic route back to the house, stopping to admire the municipal buildings, once the home of a wealthy family, Nezinha pointing out the elegant stone-carved coat of arms above the door and embellishments around the windows and frame of the façade. Back at home, we all quietly dispersed to the four-corners of the house weary but content from the day’s travels. 

June 11, 2006

Mass in the park

On Sundays, museums are free in Aveiro until mid afternoon so we arrived at 10 a.m. to attend mass at the cathedral and then visit the Museum of Aveiro across the street. When we arrived at the church, we were told that a special all-parish mass would be held a little later in the park this Sunday so we joined the congregation for mass under a beautiful old tree in the park down the main boulevard. Tables had been set up under the arbor at the park and after mass, we joined other parishioners for a sardine barbecue, complete with potatoes, soup, salad, bread, and even little bottles of wine!

Sister of king chooses the vow of poverty

Back at the museum, we entered the former Convent of Jesus, the convent that Santa Joana, the sister of the King Joao II, joined in 1472 against his wishes. At the entrance to the church is the tomb of Santa Joana, a beautiful work of art of marble inlay, commissioned by King Dom Pedro II in the 1700s. Angels appear to be placing the royal crest and crown on the top of the tomb, and at the base of the tomb is a carving of the legendary bird, the phoenix, representing the resurrection. I found the small church, clad in lavishly baroque décor, claustrophobic, the use of gold excessive, distracting. Everything was adorned in gold. Even the old organ, dating from 1739, was also painted in gold foil. The nuns attended services in the upper and lower choirs, separated from other parishioners by bars across the faces of these choirs. The high choir, also very closed and dark, offered a welcomed break, however, from the overwhelmingly gold decoration of the church. The theme of this choir’s décor is wood, its sides are lined with grand, built-in wooden seats from the 17th century. In the center is a small but lovely wooden figure of the crucified Christ, one of the oldest relics of this convent from the 15th century. Off the cloister are more ascetic parlors, the simple, flowing lines of its arches and colonnade, built in the Coimbran renaissance style of the 16th century, helped create an atmosphere designed for the quiet contemplation and industry of its inhabitants. The long, rectangular refectory is lovely with its wood paneled ceiling, blue and white tiled walls, marble tables, and large windows, also designed in simple arches. There are also several chapels dedicated to various saints, as well as a room that contains the very old tombs of Joao de Albuquerque and his wife, Dona Helena Pereira, also dating back to the 15th century. On the upper floor is the Embroidery Room, which contains paintings depicting the life of Santa Joana, including her brother, the king’s visit to the convent, his last ditch effort to appeal to her to return to her life as a noble, and her entering the convent, taking her final vows, contentment in her simple existence at the convent, and finally her death surrounded by her fellow sisters. Her reliquary contains her prayer book and other personal belongings. Across from the monastery and cathedral is a captivating and truly lovely bronze statue of Princesa/Santa Joana. Every time we pass this statue, it takes my breath away, perhaps because of the inherent dynamism of the nearly constant wind that comes off the gulf from the sea and washes over her, her long, flowing hair and cloak, and the abstract nature of the sculpture. As the patron saint of Aveiro, she stands in a spacious, prominent location at the head of a long promenade in the middle of a large boulevard, overlooking the city, her face to the exhilarating sea breezes.

June 10, 2006: Coimbra

Portugal of the little ones

Fernandinha and Valter picked us up and we were off to what was one of my favorite destinations as a child, Portugal dos Pequeninos, a veritable historical playground filled with remarkably authentic, child-size replicas of many of Portugal’s major monuments as well as typical homes from the different regions of Portugal. I told Peter and Paul that, when I was a little girl, I loved scampering in and out of these little buildings, exploring the miniature stairways, passageways and rooms and posing from the second-floor balconies. I fell in love with one little house and insisted on taking it home with me and cried as my parents wrenched me away from this enchanting land. Peter and Paul may have been a little old for this attraction but I wanted them to see it for old time’s sake! Petite Paul was still able to very easily negotiate the miniaturized features, Peter had to watch his head and the rest of us adults enjoyed the overview of Portugal’s history provided by these interactive, ingenious and utterly charming play features and even got down and dirty and wedged our way into a few of the tiny houses. In fact, we learned about Queen Isabel, the beloved benefactor of the poor, for the first time when we all squeezed into a little church, amidst a group of houses. The church contained a lovely tile painting of Queen Isabel. As the story goes, her husband, Dom Pedro, did not approve of her philanthropic activities, distributing food to the poor, and forbade her to continue. One time as she was going out with a cloak full of bread to give to the poor, he confronted her. She very innocently denied his accusations, and, when she revealed the contents of her cloak, the bread had turned to roses! As a result of this purported miracle, she is often referred to as St. Isabel, though she is not an official, Vatican-confirmed saint. We also took a photo of the group on the famous steps of the University of Coimbra as we would be visiting the actual site later today in our travels through Coimbra. The first exhibits were life-size houses from the countries that Portugal colonized—Angola and Mozambique in Africa, Brazil, India, Timor, and Macaque. Inside each house, the typical art and other artifacts were displayed, and we recognized the beautiful wood handiwork that we had seen in East Africa. Near the entrance across nearly the entire width of the park was a massive map of the world outlined with Portugal’s expeditions across the globe. In the land of little houses was a small ria (gulf) of Aveiro, the lighthouse at Barra, and a typical tiled house, as well as houses from the Alentejo region that we visited with Fernandinha earlier in the month.

Paying our respects to Portugal’s first king

When we entered the Igreja de Santa Cruz in Coimbra, I immediately traveled down the center aisle to visit and pay respects to Portugal’s first king, Dom Afonso Henrique, who is buried at the front altar. His tomb bears his likeness in eternal repose, and even this stone rendering conveys the grandeur and nobility of his presence. A man of immense intelligence, he established Portugal’s course in the 1100s toward its fulfillment in Portugal’s Golden Age of Discoveries in the 1400-1500s. In the center of the altar is a statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, a spirit that also pervades the history of Portugal through the centuries. On either side of the altar are two chapels, one dedicated to Nossa Senhora das Doures, Our Lady of Pain, a disturbing rendering that features Our Lady pierced by multiple swords, and the other a statue of Mary, clasping her hands in quiet contemplation. She is Our Lady of some characteristic but I’m not sure which, but I found her demeanor more soothing than Our Lady of Pain. The characteristic blue and white tiles of Portugal brighten the walls of this church otherwise constructed of natural stone.

Back to medieval times

We decided to take the scenic route to the University of Coimbra, on foot and up the winding, cobblestone streets. As we approached the principal cathedral of Coimbra, we began encountering more and more people dressed in medieval attire. The city was celebrating a medieval festival this weekend and when we arrived at the cathedral, there were various food booths, peasants on donkeys, and various medieval bretheren milling in the streets, street vendors, performers, nobles in pompous attire and peasants in. The aroma of barbecued linguica (Portuguese sausage) wafted by and caught my culinary fancy. I also sampled the cinnamon rolls rolling in honey and the plump loaves of Portuguese sweetbread. As we were waiting for the linguica, a troupadore heralded the arrival of the king. Accompanied by an entourage, he descended upon our neck of the woods, made some official proclamation and an area was cleared for the afternoon entertainments, street sword fighting. Several contenders fought for the title but a rogue competitor, accused of petty crimes, won the popular sentiment. He however was eliminated by a pompous, high level official of the king’s court. When the sword fighting match was over, a dance troupe came out to perform traditional medieval dances. One of the young women approached Fernandinha. She was one of her students in Santa Maria de Feira where Fernandinha teaches.

Old university

After a coffee, we ventured still further up the hill to Velha Alta, the hill on which the University of Coimbra is located. The University of Coimbra is in fact one of the oldest universities in Europe, second only to the University of Bologna in Italy. Established in 1290 by papal decree, it originally offered courses in canon law, law, medicine, and arts. As it diverged from the Church as an autonomous institution of higher learning, starting in the 1860s to the beginning of the Republic in 1910, a movement led by famous Portuguese literary figures such as Eca de Queiros, the university began to assume its modern role in society as a hub for independent, critical thought and expression. The student union was founded during this period in 1887, and, over the course of the decades, student organizing for social change increasingly played a pivotal role in the social, political, scientific, and cultural critique of the society, culminating in the overthrow of Portugal’s dictatorial regime under Salazar in the 1970s. This, the oldest university in Portugal, spawned universities in Porto, Aveiro, Braga, Evora,

We entered the university’s main square, one of the highest points in Coimbra, through the impressive Iron Gate, so called because its gates and panels are made of iron and it replaced the old medieval gate of the palace around 1633. What is impressive about this portal is the design of the façade. Inside pairs of tall Corinthian columns are statues of kings Dinis and Joao III, both instrumental in establishing and developing the university. Also on a pedestal towering above the entire façade is a statue that symbolizes wisdom, the emblem of the university. Overlooking the square or more accurately quadrangle is the most recognized building of the university, what used to be a palace in the 16th century. The Via Latina describes the elegant colonnade along the terrace and the grand staircase that divides into two segments at the secondary level and its imposing façade. Fernandinha pointed out the two feminine figures, representing justice and fortitude, on the base of the interior pediment, framed by the middle of three tall arches. Above the three arches is a triangular pediment that bears the Portuguese coat of arms. The lower and upper balconies are lined in decorative iron railings. The sum effect is really quite lovely and we posed on the steps as we had in the miniature version of this architectural marvel at the Portugal dos Pequenos park. The bell tower to the left of the main University building with its solid, balanced Baroque lines has been a symbol of the University as well as the city of Coimbra, its bells regulating the life of students and townspeople alike over the centuries.

Also to the left of the main building are St. Michael’s chapel and the famous King John Library. The chapel is radiant, its rich red, green and gold accents of the painted ceiling, tiled walls, and the giant Baroque organ built in 1733, all celestially illuminated by the natural light from the window to the outside courtyard. We only caught a quick glimpse of the library when the doors opened to admit visitors with tickets. Its shelves and archways are splendidly decorated with exotic wood richly lacquered in green, red and gold.

The girls, Fernandinha, my mother, mother in law and me, waited outside the iron gate for the boys, Valter, Steve, Peter and Paul, to fetch the two cars. We enjoyed the quiet of dusk falling in this hallowed place of learning and edification and talked of our enterprises in these arenas.

On our way out of town, we stopped at the Quinta das Lagrimas, the garden of tears, where Ines de Castro pined for her lover, Dom Pedro. Only scattered ruins of the once glorious palace remain but the spring still produces water, a testament to the eternal font of love.  Before heading home, we took a short detour through Luso and the Palacio of Buçaco, built in the 19th century by the Italian architect Manini and now a historic state inn. We had been here with the boys 10 years ago and Paul and I searched for the place where we had taken a picture of Peter and Paul in a regal arched window. The hotel staff let us meander through the lobby and of course we had to push our boundaries and wander off down a couple of private corridors. We were eventually politely ushered out. Valter was in ecstacies admiring the beautifully remodeled old cars in the parking lot, while the rest of us were seduced by the romantic scenes depicted in style in blue and white tiles, one famous scene depicts an explorer, returning from a successful voyage, being seduced by a beautiful muse on the mythical island of love that Camoes describes in his epic poem. Our last stop of the evening was Cruz Alta, just as the sun was setting. We have a cherished photo of Peter 10 years ago at this spot. He is standing by the cross with his belly bulging out of his shirt that is too small for him! Peter wouldn’t comply with a reenactment of that pose but we captured a radiant group photo instead.

June 8, 2006

My father’s alma mater

Today, we met our friend Isabel for a paseo (outing) in Aveiro, the Venice of Portugal. We parked near a shoe store and waited while my mother, the self-professed Imelda Marcos of Portugal, purchased three pairs of shoes. An hour or so later, we began our tour of the city, past the main cathedral, monastery and lovely, flowing, bronze statue of Princesa/Santa Joana, meandering through the ambling streets to the praca where my father’s liceu, or high school, is located. The façade is the same as it was 70-odd years ago when my father commuted by bicycle from Ilhavo to attend this school. We walked through the large front door and, despite the young people, looking and behaving like young people the world over, entered a zone of nostalgia for my father. He wandered around reminiscing about his glory days in these halls. On one wall on the first floor are photos of the school from around my father’s time, further provoking memories of the past. On a list of all the principals of the school, my father recognized one name as a former professor who was principal twice. As we walked up the stairs to the second floor, my mother recalled his stories about the boys loitering at the base of the stairs waiting for the few girls that attended the school to walk up the flight so that they could peer up their skirts! I think the only reason why this behavior hasn’t persisted over the decades is that most girls nowadays wear pants! Word spread quickly that an alumni was on the premises and my father was greeted by a teacher in the library, a beautiful room covered in wall-to-wall bookshelves of a dark, rich wood. According to my father, this room looked and smelled the same with the conspicuous exception of the wrought iron gates that now enclose the bookshelves and provide another layer of security for the collection. We were escorted through the school, whose basic lay-out and construction remain the same. The main difference is that many of the classrooms are now equipped with modern technology. We visited one classroom off the main foyer where the multi-media equipment provided a stark contrast with the old, wooden walls and desks and the lack of central air conditioning—it was very stuffy and I wondered how the students, who were in the middle of end-of-the-year exams, were staying alert! The geography classroom, lined with its old scrolls of maps, was perhaps the most unchanged. We were ultimately escorted to the administrative offices where my father was officially welcomed by the principal of the school and given a collection of mementos, a porcelain plate, card and stamp featuring a collage of images of the history of the school. My father had wandered off while I was thanking one of the administrative officers for his kindness. When I turned around, I found him sitting in one of the old wooden desks in the foyer, absorbed in his own ruminations. Steve began snapping photos of him and then me, my mother and the boys with him. I could feel the depth of my father’s pathos and found myself choked with emotion and pride as the significance of this place swept over us.

EU melting pot

Outside the school was a beautiful praca lined with lilac trees heavy with flowers. Isabel pointed out the free Internet space, a project of the European Union called “Digital Portugal,” a European-wide initiative to bolster the technological capacity of less developed members of the union. On the other side of the canal, we walked through the old part of town. In the praca which houses the old fish market, we met a young Brazilian woman who had recently immigrated to Aveiro to help her aunt run the café in this square, and we learned that many Brazilians, as well as Angolans, have emigrated to Portugal in search of better opportunities. Portugal is a logical EU choice, since both of these countries speak Portuguese. Steve and I recognized sights from when we were in this area on an outing just the two of us 10 years ago. Most of the streets in this area are very narrow, paved in cobblestone and lined with homes with decorative scalloped rooftops and large wooden doors and windows and covered in tiles of a multitude of colorful designs. It is so distinctive that even Steve and I with our failing middle-aged memories were able to recall specific street corners. We found the restaurant that Fernandinha had recommended but it was closed so we went to another restaurant that Isabel had been to before. It was right on the canal and we were able to look out the window and see boats sailing by and the blue and white tile altars on the houses on the other side of the canal. Paul took several photos of this picturesque setting.

Canal crossings

Back on the streets, we made our way to the ria, or gulf of Aveiro, crossing a new bridge with sweeping flowing lines, reminiscent of the deep troughs of the swells of the open sea, and walking along the esplanade that borders the waterfront. Since it was currently under construction, we crossed an old bridge back over to the other side of the street lined with old homes, grandly decorated in the typical accoutrements, colorful tiles, prominent rooftops and stately doors and windows.

Boats of the gulf

The guys were curious about the large inflatable Carlsbad beer bottle and screen at the park near the canal. At the tourist office, we found out that all Portugal’s World Cup games will be aired on these screens in the park. Parked along the canal are the traditional fishing boats of this area, brightly painted moliceiros, with their slender bows that reminded us of smaller versions of the long-tailed fishing boats of Thailand. On the bows and sterns were paintings of various scenes, all reflecting the unique character of the owner. Some depicted typical scenes of the area, the salt fields, fishermen at sea and hauling in their nets and women selling the fish at market or through the streets from a basket on their heads. Others portrayed fishermen distracted by any number of seductive beauties, voluptuous mermaids of the sea or sunbathers on the beach. The last boat featured a scene with the Portuguese futebol player, Nuno Gomes, #21, who plays on the Portuguese professional football team, Benfica, based in Lisbon.

Things to remember

Near the main roundabout near the park is the bakery that sells the best ovos moles (sweet egg paste) in the area (according to Aunt Nancy, a tip passed on by my maternal grandmother), a delicacy packed in wooden barrels decorated in scenes of the region. Also in the vicinity is the shoe store where my grandmother bought her shoes for her wedding!

“Taking a coffee” with friends

It was time for an afternoon coffee so we meandered over to the new mall in town, a lovely atrium for strolling, protected from the sea breezes but brightly lit by its curved glass roof. Peter and Paul discovered that McDonalds was sponsoring a World Cup game and they began collecting playing pieces, stalking people who had purchased McDonalds food in search of abandoned playing pieces! This mission kept them preoccupied for a good hour while we lounged in the atmosphere, marred only by the incongruous golden arches of McDonalds and all that this and other pervasive multi-nationals stand for! I posed my standard question to Isabel: How would you rate your quality of life? And she responded that she believes that Portuguese don’t have much money and their economy is poor as compared to other EU countries but they know how to live. They take the time to enjoy the simple pleasures of the company of friends and family daily and find free or almost-free diversions, “taking” an afternoon coffee or a leisurely stroll, partaking in a good meal, or going to the beach, On our way back to the car we passed yet another free activity—In Aveiro and other progressive cities in the EU are depots that check out free bicycles, helmets and locks for the day. You just leave your identification card and off you go. Since Aveiro is a relatively small university town, many students use this service. Many times they might get distracted and fail to return the bicycle by closing time but its usually always returned and there are very few abuses of this program. We were very impressed and told the attendants that you wouldn’t find anything near as progressive as this in the United States. They invited us to return and sample the program and we promised we would.

June 4, 2006: Lisboa

Mass in Mosteiro dos Jeronimos

We lingered with Dona Eduarda over breakfast as long as we could and then bid her a fond farewell. Fortuitously, we arrived at the side door to the Mosteiro dos Jeronimos just 10 minutes before the high noon Sunday mass was to begin and the usher let us in. There, in the grandest monument in Lisbon, built in honor of Our Lady when Vasco da Gama returned from his successful voyage to India, we celebrated one of the most inspirational Christian feast days, Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit, in the form of tongues of fire, descended on the apostles and they began proclaiming the good news in different languages. Ironically, the gospel was read in Portuguese and Spanish in behalf of a group of visitors from Spain, and a special choir performed for the mass, their strains echoing from the rafters of this magnificent monument, bedecked in lavish Manueline carvings and stunning blue and white tiles in the typical designs of this golden Renaissance in Portugal. Sitting among its columns, it was as if we were shaded by a forest of giant palm trees, its branches unfolding with majestic grace (The interior of Gaudi’s La Sagrada Familia of the late 19th century and early 20th century is reminiscent of this natural design.), while the long windows created luminous shafts of light, as if this manmade construction was a limestone cave, its stalacticytes eerily illuminated by a natural fissure. After mass, we greeted the priest and peered into the sacristry of the monastery, rich in artistry. It walls are lined in fine woodwork in the narrow drawers that hold the sacred vestments, altar linens and adornments, and above this cabinetry are paintings that date back to the 15th century.

Buried here in Mosteiro dos Jeronimos are two of Portugal’s most cherished heroes, the explorer Vasco da Gama (1468-1524) and poet Luis Vaz de Camoes (1524-1580). A life-like rendering of each lies on top of their tombs, revealing the grandeur of their personas. In the sculpture of Camoes, considered the voice of the collective Portuguese soul, one of his eyes is covered by a patch because he lost it in some romantic episode of love and betrayal, I think. Someone had left a rose on his tomb. This long-dead giant of a man can still stir hearts. His romantic prose rings with saudade, the emotional current that pulses through the blood of all Portuguese even now:

Amor e fogo que arde sem se ver;

Love is a fire that burns but cannot be seen;

E ferida que doi e nao se sente;

It is a wound that hurts but cannot be felt.

E um contentamento descontente

It’s a restless contentment

E dor que desatina sem doer;

It is a pain that comes suddenly without pain.

Valter told us that Camoes traveled with several of the Portuguese explorers during Portugal’s golden age of discoveries, drawing on the inspiration of these experiences to write Os Lusiadas, his epic poem dedicated to this illustrious period of Portuguese history. In fact, King Manuel himself sent him on one journey when he became aware of Camoes’ daliance with his sister in a ploy to break up this illicit relationship because, although Camoes frequently fraternized with members of the court, he was not of noble blood and therefore not free to court nobility. I can just imagine the pleas of Camoes, this great and passionate lover, for, in matters of love, the heart transcends all boundaries imposed by man.

Outside the main cathedral is the national archeological museum, housed in Mosteiro dos Jeronimos. An exhibit, called The Religions of Lusitania, was running and admission was free until mid afternoon. This was an astounding collection of religious artifacts from ancient civilizations, Greek, Egyptian, and Roman. Still, hundreds, even thousands, of years later, is the human soul unchanging in the expression of its yearning for God?

Giants of the age of discoveries

Overlooking the river is The Monument to the Discoveries (Monumento dos Descobrimentos). Completed in 1940, it is fashioned in the shape of a gigantic bow of a ship. At its helm is Prince Henry the Navigator, son of Queen Filipa de Lencastre and King Joao I and founder of the great school of navigation in Sagres. Considered the brainchild of Portugal’s golden age of discoveries, Prince Henry is looking out to sea, holding a ship. Behind him on either side of the grand bow and mast are many of Portugal’s explorers, scientists and benefactors of the expeditions, including Vasco da Gama, Bartolomeu Dias (rounded the Cape of Good Hope), Cabral (reached Brazil), Pedro Nunes (mathematician), Camoes and the only woman, Prince Henry’s mother, Queen Filipa de Lencastre. Entranced in admiration of this monument, we lost Paul. After launching frantic expeditions of our own, we found him watching some local fishermen fish in the shadows of this giant monument.

While eating lunch in the new cultural center across from Mosteiro dos Jeronimos, a commotion broke out between a disgruntled tourist and the management of the café. We think he wanted to use the restroom but it was for patrons only and he was ushered out, screaming all kinds of colorful obscenities.  The café was a hang-out for university students. There were many klatches of students with their books open and intent in discussion, though it appeared, by their relaxed and jovial demeanor, as though the nature of their discourse was more social than academic!

A castle at the mouth of the river

Our last stop in this Belem quarter of Lisbon was its namesake, the Torre de Belem. Since I was little, this has been one of my favorite castles, perhaps made more enchanting for a child because it is so small and more easily “conquered.” The Torre de Belem is the castle from which the king and queen and their royal consort, amidst great fanfare, bid the explorers farewell and safe journey on their expeditions to faraway destinations. Constructed in the 1500s, it is a mixture of styles, and, though its interior is plain, even austere, its intricate exterior is emblematic of the style of the period and the reign, King Manueline. Arising from the water, it looks like the wedding cake of a mermaid, decorated in exquisite lace-like borders. Now in an effort to preserve its base, the side closest to the shore has been filled in. Still, it is a romantic setting and we entered across its grand drawbridge and arched portal. In its courtyard at its base, we peered down into its eerie dungeon. I remember being curious about this in the past: Just who did they throw into this dungeon? Some louse who symbolically spent the duration of the explorer’s expedition wailing and nashing his teeth in a water-logged cell? Leaving those dark thoughts behind, we found the tiny, spiral stairwell that leads to the upper rungs of the castle. At each deck, we exited the stairwell and found a look-out to wave to Steve stationed on one side of the castle to take progressive photos of us surmounting the Torre de Belem. At the top are turrets on all four corners of the castle, and from there we could envision the royalty dispensing their blessing on the vessels, valiantly bedecked in the full regalia of hundreds of sails unfurled, departing for foreign lands and making their grand exit from Lisbon’s harbor at the mouth of the Rio Tejo into the great, unknown seas of the Atlantic Ocean. Peter, Paul and I checked out the view from each of these towers, orienting ourselves to all four corners of the world, setting our sights on Lisbon’s own Jesus with outstretched arms (ala Rio de Janeiro) to the east, the distinctive Castelo de Sao Jorge to the north, the mouth of the river to the west, and Lisbon’s own Golden Gate Bridge heading south. On our way back down, we stopped at all the floors to find the torrent I remembered when I was here as a child. It was reached through a tiny, circuitous passageway that mushroomed out into a “secret” look-out and I wanted my boys to sit with me in “my window.” From one torret if you strained your head out of one of its windows, you could see the carving of the head of a rhinoceros. Another pair of tourists was looking for the same obscure carving and we pointed it out to them.

Pastries, flattened

Unbeknownst to us, Fernandinha and Isabel made one last stop at a bakery in Belem to get pasteis de nata (custard tarts), reputed to be the best in the country and we then set-off in search of the route to the Castelo de Sao Jorge in the oldest part of Lisbon. Steve, Isabel, Paul and I started out in the lead, Isabel directing us along the river, past Praca do Comercio (Commercial square), one of Lisbon’s grandest squares overlooking the Rio Tejo, eventually turning left in what we thought was the direction towards the castle. After our failed attempt to “scale” the steep approach to the castle, Valter, with his loyal navigator, Fernandinha, took over as the lead car. However, they too got lost, and, on our second pass by Rossio square and the unmistakable statue of Dom Pedro IV, all of sudden all hell broke loose in the back seat of the car in front of us. Fernandinha was extremely excited, jumping and leaping about in her seat and gesticulating wildly to Peter, her companion in the back seat, who had also jumped to the edge of his seat and was looking back furtively. We had no idea what was going on but we knew something was up and it appeared to us as though Peter was somehow responsible for the calamity! When we stopped to ask directions to the castle, however, we found out that apparently she and Peter had sat on the box with the pasteis de nata! On this last attempt, we finally made it to the entrance to the castle in the Alfama district of the city, parked and settled at Largo das Portas do Sol (place of the doors of the sun) to enjoy our flattened but none-the-less delicious pasteis de nata, sprinkled with cinnamon, and the vista of the city hugging the hillside and sprawling out to meet the river below.

Old world Lisbon

As we meandered through the old cobblestone streets of Alfama, it was as if we walked back in time. In the streets, a woman in traditional black skirt, slippers and blouse, leaned out her kitchen door to talk to a neighbor, similarly clad, an older man wearing a tweed cap rode by on his bicycle, and an empty glass milk jug rested on the stoop awaiting a refill the next working day. The neighborhood was already dressed in colorful garlands and paper globes in anticipation of the celebration of the festa of Saint Anthony, Lisbon’s patron saint, next weekend, and the smell of barbecued sardines already filled the air.

Castle on the hill

On the highest hill of Lisbon proudly stands St. George Castle, Built by the Moors in the 10-11th centuries, the castle was conquered by Dom Afonso Henriques, the first king of Portugal, in 1147, and from this time until the early 16th century when the first earthquake devastated the city in 1531, the castle flourished as the center of Portuguese society. Walking into the entrance courtyard (praca de armas) and along the castle ramparts, we looked out over the city with its landscape of red-tiled roofs, interspersed with modern skyscrapers. Easily visible was a boulevard lined with buildings in the same architectural style; this was one of the first roads built by Marques de Pombal after the earthquake of 1755 virtually destroyed the city. The noble Pombal is credited with orchestrating the rebuilding of the city and the country as it struggled to recover not only from the earthquake but economic ruin from centuries of over-extending itself through the financing of epic voyages and cosmopolitan living. Peter and Paul staked out the unattended horduerves table outside the castle restaurant, hoping to scavenge some elegant food but quickly ducked into the entrance to the castelejo, the oldest part of the castle, when the waiters started monitoring them with suspicion. Past the female statue of liberty and we joined them, first climbing Court Tower and then making our way around the perimeter of the castle, in and out of 11 towers and numerous gates. Every once in awhile, Steve and I would catch a glimpse of Peter, Paul, G-ma, Valter, and Fernandinha skirting the castle walls too, intersecting with Valter and Fernandinha at Cistern Tower, the pinnacle that overlooks the ancient cistern in the castle grounds below. At the entrance, Paul began chasing a couple of peacocks, coaxing them to unfold their brilliant plumage but they were uncooperative and eventually flitted over the castle wall and into the surrounding neighborhood.

Flat on the auto estrada

We reluctantly left the castle and Lisbon behind, stopping for comida rapida (fast food) at a mall across from the stadiums of Benfica and Sporting on the outskirts of Lisbon. When we arrived at the food court in the mall, however, most of us and many other Portuguese bypassed the standard multinational options of KFC and McDonald’s and waited in the rather long line at the soup shop and our sojourn for “fast food” turned out to be not-so-fast after all, proving that some global concepts (thankfully) just don’t translate in this country! About an hour and a half into our trip home, we sprouted a flat tire on the Auto Estrada, and auto mechanic Steve removed the damaged tire and put on the spare in record time, motivated by the super-fast traffic barreling down the highway right next to his head! Valter, who works for a bus company, assessed the condition of the spare tire and deemed it safe for travel at reduced speeds and we made it home that night well into the wee hours of the morning.

June 3, 2006: Evora and Monsaraz

On the farm

We awoke to a lovely morning on the farm with Dona Eduarda. By daylight, the beauty of the surrounding countryside—rolling hills blanketed in orchards, vineyards, and farmlands—was revealed. Dona Eduarda had prepared a lovely breakfast spread for us, including a wonderful homemade marmalade made from tomatoes. The oranges were delicious, as well as another mysterious fruit. After going round and around trying to describe and translate it, she took us out to the orchard to show us the tree that produces the fruit but we never figured out exactly what it was. She was also eager to show, especially Peter and Paul, the nest that held recently born baby birds. Paul instantly became their protectorate and checked the nest every morning we were there to be sure no predators had gotten the defenseless little inhabitants. Resisting the urge to spend the day on the farm, we got on the road to begin day 2 of Fernandinha’s itinerary. Destination: the Alentejo region of central Portugal.

An ancient walled community

Traveling east through a terrain of built as well as raw beauty, we stopped in one of the typical stone villages of the region and now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the walled, medieval town of Evora. Parking outside the town wall, we walked into the village through one of the large doors, or portas, built into the wall. In this village of a circular design, all roads lead to the Praca de Giraldo at the core. Through the centuries, this is where the town’s inhabitants have congregated for the most important religious and secular events, and this tradition is very much alive and well. While we were there, there was a book fair going on, along with a number of associated literary and cultural activities. The square is bordered by the gothic Estaus Palace, built by King Duarte, and St. Anton’s Church, and bejeweled with the Henriquina fountain, all from the 16th century.

Romans in Portugal

From this central praca, we meandered through the narrow cobblestone streets to Templo do Diana, one of the many Roman ruins throughout Portugal. The unique aspect of this temple, from the 2nd to 3rd centuries AD, is its Corinthian columns. Though several of its columns have crumbled and fallen, it is still elegant with its remaining, graceful Corinthian columns on three sides.  From the praca near the temple, we looked out over the town of Evora. Deep in the heart of Portugal, it is a mosaic of red-tiled roofs in the foreground, surrounded by farmland, cultivated in tidy rows, for as far as the eye can see. We stopped to sample the chicken pies that are traditional fare for the region and to interpret the modern art in this praca surrounded by Roman and Gothic antiquity. One piece was titled, "lua," which means "moon." The celestial significance of this sculpture, however, was lost on Steve, as he thought it was a fava bean! Inspired by this verdant setting, we all waxed poetic as we ascribed deep philosophical meaning to a ying-yang-like fountain-sculpture at the center of the precipice of the praca: Yes, it represents the feminine and the male emerging from the waters of the womb and fertilizing the earth! 

A blessing for Vasco da Gama

While we were visiting Evora's principal cathedral, an example of Roman-Gothic transitional architecture from the late 15th century, a group of women were dressing the altar with white roses and red carnation-like flowers in preparation for the celebration of Pentecost, the red representing the fire of the Holy Spirit against the white backdrop of the innocence of Christ, the Lamb of God. With these striking floral arrangements, regal rose and black marble inlay reminiscent of the Taj Mahal, and three majestic naves, it was easy to imagine Vasco da Gama and his fleet processing in to receive a blessing before embarking on his famous voyage around the Cape of Good Hope to India, the land of silk and spices. The center aisle was marked by very large columns of an old Romanesque style, much larger in diameter, thicker, and bulkier than the graceful columns of Alcobaca. Half way down the aisle was an altar to Our Lady of "O," which Fernandinha explained to me through a spherical pantomime over her belly, means the pregnant Virgin Mary.

University architecture

At Evora’s university, founded in 1559 by Cardinal Infante D. Henrique, we got to see some of the very old classrooms because the very accommodating guard gave us a pass to use the restroom down one hall and into another. While admiring the Renaissance cloister, clothed in the blue and white tiles so typical of Portugal, we stumbled upon the Sala dos Actos, or the official meeting room, where architectural models and reports were on display, unattended. Curious, we decided to check them out. We were really impressed with a restoration proposal for an old house (c. 16th century) outside Braga (to create an inn and family house) and left a note beside the project, praising the work, briefly describing our family and our trip, and encouraging the students to contact us through our website. We await a response!

A chapel of bones

On our way out of town, we stopped at St. Francis Church to visit the chapel of bones. Built between 1480 and 1510, the chapel, constructed from human bones and skulls, was only recently unearthed in 1958 during a restoration campaign. I can only imagine the impact of this specter on the restoration workers in the field: Is this another killing fields? No, it’s a chapel made of bones! How very, very strange! According to the brochure and map from the tourist office in Evora, the chapel is “intimately linked to the great events of the Portuguese overseas expansion.” I wonder how intimate! Might parishioners from St. Francis Church, quite likely people associated with Portugal’s golden age of discoveries, have donated their bones??! Even the paintings in the chapel, created by the royal painters Francisco Henriques, Jorge Afonso and Garcia Fernandes, are framed in bones! And, they are still actively recruiting new bones: Over the threshold to the church is the cheerful admonition that the chapel awaits the bones of all its visitors! In addition, two skeletons hang from one of the corners of the church. According to legend, the skeletons are of a father and son. The father beat the son and as punishment, the father must now attend to the boy throughout eternity. They hang as a gruesome reminder to lead an upright life.

The world’s finest cork

As we traveled in the central Alentejo region of Portugal, we passed kilometer after kilometer of cork trees. I knew that Portugal exported cork but what I didn’t know is that Portugal is the #1 exporter of cork for the world’s finest wines. Isabel explained to us that the cork trees are a very hearty tree and easy to maintain, making cork, as agricultural ventures go, a relatively simple cash crop to harvest. The trees are stripped of their outer bark every seven years and with minimal maintenance regenerate themselves. The raw cork is transported to Porto where the corks are manufactured for Port wine and exported to other wine-producing markets across the world. 

A fairy-tale village on the eastern frontier

On the eastern most frontier of the Alentejo very near the border of Spain is Monsaraz, a tiny village surrounded by a castle wall on the top of a hill, like Evora but much smaller and more remote. It arises out of nowhere, in the middle of an otherwise unchanging scrubland for miles around, as if straight out of a fairy tale. We parked outside its gates and walked through the one and only entrance to this enchanting, little village, built amidst grand castle walls. As we crossed the threshold, a large archway topped with a look-out tower, it was as if we were walking into a time warp back to medieval times.  The tiny cobblestone streets that wound through the town were lined with little houses, all painted in white, their windows dressed with white curtains, delicately embroidered in a lace-like border, a textile handicraft typical of the region. Ambling off on a tiny side path and we found the entrance to a cistern, still dripping with water but unused and closed off to human trespass. Through the center of the village and just a few strides beyond and we had reached the castle at the far end of the village. From the ramparts is a beautiful view of the eastern frontier, an expanse of golden scrubland made more beautiful by the sparkling blue lake that was formed when the dam was recently created. According to Fernandinha and Pedro, husband of my cousin Zezinha who actually biked through this town a couple of years ago before the dam was built as part of his annual treks down the eastern corridor of Portugal, the change in the landscape is quite dramatic. Where there was once only a dry, desert-like terrain, strewn with rocks and brush, emerges a shimmering blue lake, enhanced by the mirage of the distant horizon. Pedro actually showed us photos of his trip that show the vista without a lake! In the center of the castle is an arena where the knights gathered and shows of valor were performed. Peter, Paul and I ended our visit with an exhibition of our valiance in the central arena, donning the armor of the knights and displaying our bravery and prowess in sword fighting! Actually, the very heavy sword sagged in my double-handed grip and I barely made it through the photo session! Plus, we really weren’t supposed to be wearing the equipment and were reprimanded by one party of visitors. We quickly dismantled our gear, before they informed us to the authorities.

Outside Monsaraz we stopped at a restaurant, recommended by a teaching colleague of Fernandinha from the Alentejo, and had a veritable feast of delicacies of the region. While Fernandinha devoured her “orelheiras” (pig ears in oregano and garlic—my cousin says that this cartlidge contains healthy properties.) and polvo com molho verde (octopus with a sauce of parsley, onion and olive oil) appetizers with gusto, we waited for the main course, a lovely bacalhau asado no forno (codfish baked with tomatoes, onions, and peppers) and carapaus fritas (small fried fish) with arroz com tomatoes (rice with tomatoes, oregano, and parsley), and cabrito asado (roasted lamb with spiced marinade), all washed down by the velvety table wine of the Alentejo.

June 2, 2006

Travels with Fernandinha, Valter and Isabel

Even before we arrived in Portugal, my cousin, Fernandinha, always raring to go, began designing several itineraries for us to see Portugal. Our adventures began this weekend and have continued every week since. Her good friends, Valter and Isabel Pinho, brother and sister, who Fernandinha has trained as excellent tour guides (!), have accompanied us on most of these excursions, wonderfully supplementing Fernandinha’s lively and informative commentary. As our many adventures have unfolded, they have fast become cherished companions and friends, and we are hoping that we can return a fraction of their hospitality, care and friendship by hosting them in the United States sometime soon!

Nazare, Alcobaca and Obidos

Saved by Our Lady

It’s been a long time since I visited Nazare, the dazzlingly beautiful fishing village nestled at the base of a dramatic cliff and now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We first stopped at the sitio de Nazare, the look-out from which Prince Fuas Rupinho, while hunting, nearly plummeted to his death in 1180 AD. He was chasing a deer and the upcoming cliff was shrouded in fog. When the deer fell off the cliff, he cried out to Our Lady and an invisible hand stopped his horse from careening over the edge.  When I last visited Nazare, I remember coming upon this cliff all of a sudden just as Prince Fuas Rupinho did several centuries earlier. Now the cliff site is delineated by a protective wall and there are signs alerting visitors of the dangerous ledge. However, it is interesting that the look-out was paved in a very slippery rock. So, although you won’t fall off the cliff unless you purposely jump, you could very easily slip backwards on the pavement and crack your head open, as I almost did! Marking the spot where the prince was saved is still the humble chapel that the prince built two years after his fateful encounter.

Our Lady in hiding

In the square of the look-out are women street vendors, dressed in the traditional attire of Nazare (multiple slips or skirts, one for each season her husband is gone at sea) and selling snacks, various nuts, peanuts, almonds and chestnuts, and tremoços (lupin beans). Ten years ago, you could still find ordinary women wearing this garb; now it only exists as a tourist gimmick. At the convent of Nossa Senhora da Nazare, also located in the look-out’s square, we, along with a steady stream of other visitors, filed through to the back of the church, its walls filled with blue and white tiles depicting various religious scenes and events, and up onto the altar, where we had the opportunity to see the small but powerful amulet of Nossa Senhora from Spain. Now enshrined in a gold receptacle, this small stone statue was hidden for 400 years until the monks who had traveled from Spain in 714 to establish their order finally began building their monastery in 1178 at the end of a period of religious persecution. Incorporated into the church are gargoyles and other remnants of past religious traditions that predate Christianity. Down at the sweeping expanse of beach of Nazare proper, we ate a picnic lunch, courtesy of Fernandinha, of plain and ham croissants, boiled eggs from Tio Fernando’s chickens, and fruit.

Fateful lovers of Alcobaca

Upon entering the Cistercian abbey of Santa Maria de Alcobaca, founded by the first king of Portugal in 1153 and named a UNESCO World Heritage site 832 years later, you are, despite its enormity, drawn in by its grace and majesty. Built out of calcium carbonate, this light-colored stone reflects light, creating a soft aura. Bathed in an ethereal light, a wonderfully graceful succession of arches that reach to the heavens compel you to meander down the central nave of the main cathedral to the front altar to visit the tombs of the fateful lovers Dona Ines de Castro and Dom Pedro. It’s a story that I still remember vividly from childhood. King Pedro and Ines de Castro were desperately in love. From the onset, it was a love that was destined for tragedy: King Pedro was already married, his wife the queen, and Ines was of the Spanish royalty and a member of the queen’s entourage. Afraid that Dom Pedro might consummate this love affair and make Portugal vulnerable to Spain again, other ruling nobles, including Dom Pedro’s father, decided to take matters into their own hands. It is believed that Dom Pedro’s father either ordered the murder of Ines or at the very least was aware that it was going to happen. Ines was betrayed and murdered by other members of the ruling class. Heartsick, Dom Pedro tracked down her murderers and killed them, gouging out their hearts to represent their heartless act. When his wife, the queen, died, he had Ines exhumed and coronated posthumously, insisting that all his subjects kiss her decomposed hand. On his tomb are depicted scenes from the revenge he exacted. The tombs are aligned on either side of the altar, feet to feet. This orientation was by Dom Pedro’s design such that upon their resurrection, they would immediately encounter each other. At the base of Ines’ tomb, forever bearing the burden of her death are her murderers, bearing their actual visage but with the body of an animal.

Drawn to the cloistered life

Now, entering the convent, the lightness of this majestic structure invites you into an intimate communion with the lives and history contained with these walls, stories of love, spiritual conversion, and political power struggles between the church and the ruling parties over the centuries. In the quiet cloisters, enveloped in the graceful fold of archway upon archway and overlooking the gardens and fountains of the courtyard, we, like the monks of centuries old, found ourselves falling into the rhythm and pace of the cloistered life, ambling along the corridors, contemplating matters of the spirit. In one of the parlors in the Cloister of King Dinis or the Cloister of Silence, the chapter house, we gathered to hear contra tenor opera singer, Luis Pecar, sing the music of the time of Dona Ines de Castro. Surrounded by statues of the bishops of this early Cistercian order, I closed my eyes as his glorious strains reverberated the walls of this ancient dwelling and sent us back to another time.

In the meantime, Peter and Paul, aided and abetted by Valter and inspired by their recent reading of Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code, were busy playing Jr. symboligists, uncovering ancient symbols etched in the walls, like the hexagonal star formed by two interwoven triangles, which denotes the Star of David. They also became engrossed with trying to capture a pigeon in an unusual perch on film, oblivious to the lovely architecture of the gazebo in which it was flitting! 

Barbecued cow

Deeper into the heart of the monastery, we discovered the kitchen, one of Fernandinha’s favorite rooms as a child. The river was routed through the kitchen and the monks could fish for their fresh fish right from the kitchen and Fernandinha modeled a monk leaning against the wall of the cistern fishing with his fishing pole. The other feature that was very intriguing to Fernandinha as a child was the giant barbecue spit. Here, a whole cow was cooked on a rotisserie, inspiring my tongue twister rhyme, “vaca na brasa en Alcobaca,” which means “cow on the barbecue in Alcobaca!”

Monks at large

Outside the refectory complex is the lavatorium where the monks washed themselves before partaking in meals. They washed in style in this lovely hexagonal wash basin, delicately carved on each face, its water streaming from a prominent fountain in its center.  On either side of the kitchen was the monk’s hall and refectory, both gathering spaces for the many industrious monks that inhabited this grand complex. Along the perimeter of the refectory are graceful columns, forming the buttresses for matching suspended arches, coming to a delicate point in mid air. We traveled up the stairs that originate in the refectory to the dormitories above and reenacted one of the many forms of fine and studied craft performed by the monks, the binding of books, at the desks specially designed for this work. Out the windows from this second story deck is a view of the even more secluded cloister, the library cloister that wraps around a lovely garden.

By the 16th century, the monks dedicated themselves to the art of pottery, producing notable sculptural work in stone, wood, and polychromatic clay. The statues of the kings of Portugal in the Royal Hall at the entrance and exit from the cloisters were created by the monks.

A village in a castle

Obidos is a village amidst a castle. We entered through the main entrance to the town, Porta da Vila, a grand archway built in approximately 1380 out of the castle wall. The oratory of Our Lady of Piety is housed in this impressive entrance, its altar created from the characteristic blue and white azulejos (tiles) of Portugal. As we walked through the cobblestone entrance into the village, it was if we were entering a medieval realm, Our Lady of Piety presiding over the centuries of diverse religious traditions of multiple occupations—Moorish, Roman, and finally Christian—this village has hosted.  As we traveled along the cobblestone streets along Rua Direita, the main road in the village, we were enamored by the quaintness of this village nestled in the walls of the castle. The narrow streets twist and turn and give way to stairs as you get closer to the castle walls high above the settlement. All the streets are decorated with planter boxes filled with brilliant foliage, magenta, lilac, red, peach, cream, and pink flowers bursting from the exterior walls and lining the street, patios and window sills of the sweet abodes of this village. I picked one particularly lovely peach flower of a species I had never seen before for my hair, but with my buzz-cut, it was difficult to keep rooted in my hair. I wanted to press it but by the end of the day, it was pretty much mutilated. We found the narrow passageway that appears on many promotional materials, and Steve snapped his shot, hoping for a contract with Portugal tourism in the future! We also dodged into a wine store to sample the ginginha liquor, a local product. In the town center is Obidos’ mother church, The Church of Santa Maria. First constructed in the 12th century, the church contains the chapel of St. Catherine, decorated with several paintings of St. Catherine by Sister Josefa di Obidos, an 18th century nun who was also recognized as an artist of some repute. Each painting contains a particularly brilliant element: In one, the pure white of the dove of the Holy Spirit is descending upon St. Catherine. In another, a beautiful garland of magenta flowers is being placed upon her head.

From the village rooftops

Near one of the portals to the castle wall was the church of St. James, built in 1186 on the site of a primitive mosque. From the plaza at the gate we could see the village laid out before us, a collage of little white houses with red-tiled roofs, punctuated by church steeples and bell towers of stone. Most of the houses are of a rectangular or square design with an interior courtyard and front patio bedecked in bougainvillea. Many of the roofs have lost their original terra cotta color but not their charm; now, they appear to have an antique finish, further blending into the centuries of history these village walls contain. Paul commented that one courtyard, blanketed in a soft mantle of green lawn, was the perfect “backyard” because it provided a built-in futebol field of artificial turf quality! A few houses added variety to the landscape, hexagonal and pentagonal in shape. These and the decorative pagoda-like curves and flourishes of many rooftops were distinctly Asian in style, revealing the influence of Asian cultures in Portuguese architecture.

Scaling the castle walls

Through another gate and we had penetrated the castle, now a hotel, Portugal’s first historic state inn or pousada, the castle was not only a mighty military stronghold but a royal palace for some of Portugal’s earliest ruling dynasties. Built to endure the centuries, this fortress of the early 1200s is still grand, presiding over the ordinary comings and goings of the sleepy village at its feet. We surmounted its walls and surveyed the view from one of its corner towers of the pastoral countryside beyond the castle walls and then began scaling the rugged pathway along the wall that continues intact around the entire circumference of the village. On one side is the secure castle wall but there is no girder on the other side and I was feeling a bit insecure with that vacuous drop-off, in some cases quite high. Peter had to coach me through one segment. Having conquered this section of the castle enclosure without succumbing to vertigo and jumping, I decided not to press my luck and let Peter, Paul and Steve continue on the high road while I took the path on solid ground that travels on the outside of the castle walls around the village. As I scrambled along this path, passing only one lone runner, I could see them entering one of the most prominent towers near the entrance of the village. My quiet route had been groomed as a municipal park—flowers, plants, benches, and even an exercise course overlooked the vista of farmland. I saw citrus orchards, cabbage, and wheat growing below and was curious about a very unusual looking plant that I was never able to identify. Maybe it’s the mysterious ginga fruit, from which the region’s ginga liquor is made. I made it to the memorial cross, built in the 15th century to celebrate King Afonso Henrique’s victory over the Moors, and the castle tower that I had seen Steve, Peter and Paul enter earlier but could not get in from the outside and had to take the long way around through the village cemetery, by St. John the Baptist Church, founded by Queen Isabel in 1309, and on a pathway above the main town gate, where I saw Isabel, Fernandinha and Valter waiting for us to reconvene. I waved to them and beckoned them to join me to see the view from the tower. Fernandinha reluctantly scaled a segment of wall with me until we saw Peter, Paul and Steve return from their successful circumnavigation of the wall and gathered the troops to leave!

Outside of Santerem is Azambuja, the small village where Guida, a friend of Fernandinha, lives on the family farm. She has kindly offered her home to us for the next two nights. We rolled in at close to 10 p.m. and Guida and her mother, Dona Eduarda, enthusiastically welcomed us, preparing a spread of tea, fresh fruit from their orchard, and home-made pound cake. Despite the hour, we relished their lovely company and refreshments and reluctantly parted to retire to bed. Guida surrendered her house to us for the weekend while she remained in her mother’s house, just through the garden gate.

June 1, 2006:

Semi finales: Ukraine vs. Serbia-Montenegro

We were stopped again at the gate because Steve’s camera was too big. I exited the gates to wait for him to return from stowing the camera at the car. When he came back, I inadvertently filed in with him, which happened to be the men’s line. I was directed to the other side but couldn’t make it into the steady stream descending onto the stadium. I finally asked a male security guard to help me cut in. He flagged one of the female security guards to check me out with the perfunctory remark, “I’m sure she’s clean!” Once in our seats, the ushers gave us two t-shirts for Peter and Paul, a promotion for the game. Though I noticed that several adults also had shirts, I never figured out how to procure one for myself. The atmosphere in the semi-finales tonight was more emotionally charged than the last game, with a boisterous Ukrainian contingent decorated in blue and yellow, occupying a large swath of seats in all four quadrants of the stadium and systematically instigating the crowd with various chants and cheering tactics! Once again we were amused—and distracted—by the fans. The contingent to our right spent considerable energy trying to instigate the wave, rather than following the game. The main chant was “U-KRA-AYN-YA!” and we joined the enthusiastic chorus. When Steve announced near the end of the game that he had finally figured out that they were saying, “Ukrainia,” Peter, Paul and I stared at him in disbelief and asked him what he thought was being said the entire game. Apparently, he thought the crowds were saying, “PONTE DE LIMA,” Bridge of Lima, a town in northern Portugal! Neither of the teams was particularly impressive but the stadium was packed and the atmosphere was fun. We did begin tracking one Serbian player because Steve noticed that he almost always headed the ball. He was right: on the rare occasions that this player actually used his feet, his passes were not as accurate! It was a real peculiarity. The score at the end of regulation time was 0-0. Another 15 minutes of playing time was added to the clock and still no goals. They reversed goals and played another 15 minutes without a goal being scored. It was time for a shoot out, 5 kicks on goal. I think it came down to the last kick. For some reason the Serbian play who seemed to prefer his head was in the line-up for the shoot out! Not surprisingly, I presume because he couldn’t use his head, he missed and Ukraine won the game! Because we waited to the bitter end to leave, we got caught in a log-jam and were routed in the wrong direction out of the stadium. Our detour wound us through industrial Aveiro in a long snake of traffic. Eventually we found a spur in the road and made our way back to the stadium to retrace our steps. Unfortunately, we took the wrong entrance to the freeway and had to travel to the next exit and turn around again. Finally, we were headed in the right direction and past the stadium for the third time that evening! It was after midnight when we finally rolled back home!

May 28, 2006

Under 21 futebol: Italy vs. Netherlands

Peter and Paul went to the Costa Nova, Ilhavo’s beach town, for the day with Ana, Joao and Joana. When they returned, Steve noticed in a flier that the Under 21 European cup was being held in Portugal and that there was a game that night at the stadium in Aveiro. My father helped me call the office and get the scoop on the game. There were tickets available and they were relatively cheap. We couldn’t convince my father to accompany us so we ventured off by ourselves. We made our way there, stopping only a couple of times to get directions. It was very exciting to be attending our first professional futebol game in Portugal as a family and for Peter and Paul their first professional futebol game, period (not counting college soccer back home). Like at professional sporting events back home, the security was tight, and Paul was not allowed to bring his videocamera in. He and Steve had to drop it off at the administrative offices at the stadium. Peter and I waited while the crowds ushered in the teams for the beginning of the game. By the time we found our seats, the game had begun. The stadium is a medley of seats and towers of bright primary colors, creating a festive atmosphere for the sporting events held here. Distracted by the hoots, hollers and antics of the crowd, we wrested our attention to the field and by the latter half of the first period, were tracking the game more intently. Both teams played well—and we felt an affinity for both teams having just visited Italy—but in the end, The Netherlands prevailed. (And as a post-script, The Netherlands went on to win the Under 21 UEFA European Cup!)  

May 27, 2006

Home sweet home

We have arrived in Portugal at last. Our bus dropped us off in a town near Aveiro I had never heard of before, Albegaria, at about 4 o’clock in the afternoon. I called my mother and reported that we had arrived. She was eager to come and get us but my father was—surprise, surprise—at lunch and she was awaiting his return and my cousin Ana’s call. I called an hour later and all the plans had been made to come and get us. Within a half hour, the entourage arrived, my mother, father, Ana and her brother Ze, who I had never met before. What a joyous reunion! We clamored into their cars and were soon speeding along the auto Estrada enroute to Ilhavo. We passed Aveiro’s stadium, a colorful complex designed by the same architect who created a similarly creative stadium for the Portuguese professional team, Sporting, in Lisbon (my Tio George’s team). Within 15 minutes, we had arrived at my parents’ apartment in Ilhavo. We had never seen this apartment because the last time we were in Portugal 10 years ago, they were living in an apartment at Praia de Vagueira on the beach. It’s in a pretty new apartment building very near the center of town and we settled in, happy to finally have arrived at a home base after 11 months of being on the road! It wasn’t long though before we were walking to Ana’s house to meet the young primas (cousins), Ana’s son and daughter, Joao and Joana. They immediately began “speaking” the universal language of futebol and basketball in the backyard while Ana left us looking at family photographs while she went to get some food for tonight’s dinner. The rest of the family joined us and we all enjoyed the Portuguese cuisine and even more, the company of this gracious family. Ana, Joao and Joana accompanied us home by foot to show us the route between their house and ours (which in subsequent weeks has become well trodden) while my mom and mother-in-law drove home.