Friday, July 29, 2016
For most of my life I have had the tendency to see things in a rather black and white sort of way; if I believe something is 'wrong', I stand against it. My mother calls it stubbornness (I think of it as being idealistic), and I can hear her "go with the flow" clearly in my ear right now, as though she were right next to me. Over the years, I have grown to understand that the world exists in a value scale of seemingly infinite shades of grey. I know there is a time to bend with the flow. I know there are times when I am indeed being to rigid, or that my expectations of a person or circumstance were too high.
In light of recent news and events, I want to say something. I expect more from an elected government that calls itself a democracy, than the jailing of journalists and the continued violations of human rights. I am angry, I am sad, and I am frustrated. Simply put, this is wrong. There is nothing grey about it.
Yes, I ate a Barrosã steak— rather, I devoured it. It was the juiciest steak I can remember ever having, and I appreciated each savoury bite. This was not without some guilt, having deeply admired the beauty of the cows earlier, but truthfully I wanted to taste what was so special about it.
It was incredible.
One wouldn't expect that this quiet little town is big on festivals, the two most famous being for smoked meats and the occult. Lovely Montalegre is the proud host of the annual Feira do Fumeiro, a carnivore's dream— a celebration of all sorts of smokey delights from chouriço and salpicão, to the presunto of the beautiful Barrosã cow. For the past several years, the people of Montalegre have made a tradition of producing hilarious TV spots for their Feira, with some parodying songs like Gangnam Style and Bailando. The popularity of these videos have ignited a rather comedic competition with the town of Vinhais, which created this sausagey version of Miley Cyrus' Wrecking Ball for their own meaty festival.
In contrast to the Feira do Fumeiro, every Friday the 13th since 2002, Montalegre (the self-proclaimed Capitol of Mysticism) turns into one big street party with witches, wizards, demons, and elves running rampant— it's kind of like Halloween. The celebrations were the brainchild of local priest with a sense of humour, Antonio Fontes. Apparently he has a hand in creating a powerful aguardente out of fruit and herbs that's meant to drive evil away— all this was explained with great enthusiasm by a guide in the town's museum, which I thoroughly enjoyed visiting.
There was one small detail I noticed in one of the museum's display cases on the region's traditional costume— chancas. Chancas are handmade leather boots or clogs typically worn by men in rural areas, with soles made of ash wood. Were they still made, I wondered? After asking around, we ended up at a tiny cobbler shop, where a man cheerfully presented me with his smallest sized boots. It was love at first sight, and though they were a bit big, I convinced myself that with a thick insole and wooly socks, I could wear them well.
These are my beautiful souvenirs from Northern Portugal, which I plan on taking out this autumn. My only fear is that the uneven and seasonally mucky streets of Rabat might damage them— though they were made for rough and tough men working the fields. Aren't they lovely?
Thursday, July 28, 2016
One of the world's most beautiful breeds of bovine roams freely between the borders of Northern Portugal and Galicia. The Barrosã with its distinctive lyre-shaped horns, has a Denominação de Origem Controlada status, or Protected Designation of Origin, under the European Commission. Much like the names of Gorgonzola, Champagne, and Armagnac, this breed can only be called Barrosã if it is born and raised in this particular part of Portugal. Its meat is highly regarded, and a source of regional pride.
Until the second half of the 20th Century, Barrosã bulls were communal; each village owning one, which was cared for collectively. Festivals were held to bring the bulls of each village together, which would lock horns in a fight to determine the strongest male, who would win the right to breed with the cows. These festivals, known as Chega de Bois, still take place in Northern Portugal, though these days the bulls are seldom collectively owned.
Their golden coats and twisted horns reminded me of Ancient Egyptian idols— Hathor incarnate, reclining in the grass. Beautiful beasts, unimpressed by the little human in the green kerchief who desperately wanted to pet or draw them.
Last photo taken by Inês P. and Mia G.
Friday, July 22, 2016
We first discovered the Palace Hotel Monte Real and their lovely thermal spa after receiving a night and spa treatment package as a wedding gift from friends. It was a dream— a picture-perfect hotel with fluffy beds, delicious dinner and breakfast, and the spa— oh, the spa! There's a steam room and sauna, swimming pool and jacuzzi, and a menu of massages and scrubs to choose from. We enjoyed the experience at Monte Real so much that we've been treating ourselves to a night/spa package once a year ever since.
The exterior of the hotel is one of the things I like most about our visits— the symmetry, the pink, the grey cobbles— you can't smell it, but there's a hint of eucalyptus in the air...
Thursday, July 21, 2016
I do not have a sweet tooth. While I do occasionally enjoy a dessert or some very dark chocolate, I much prefer salty things— give me a pickled herring over a slice of cake any day! Portugal has incredible sweets that usually involve dozens of egg yolks and loads of sugar. While in Aveiro, Pedro suggested that I try the local Ovos Moles, a traditional sweet originally concocted by nuns in the 19th century. Apparently the nuns ran laundries, and used egg whites to stiffen the collars of priests— this led to an abundance of yolks. Rather than waste these yolks, the resourceful nuns began to whip up belly-widening confections, many of which are still enjoyed today and have become a staple of Portuguese cuisine. Ovos Moles, are essentially crispy communion wafer crusts formed into the shapes of shells or barrels, and filled with a yolk and sugar paste.
Eager to try something new, I took a bite.
When it comes to food, there's very little that I don't like— I've enjoyed offal in Turkey, water rats in Vietnam... Unfortunately Ovos Moles has made my 'No Thank You' list, right next to lamprey and melon. They're so pretty and I wanted to like them, but my goodness the sugar made my head spin— I'm not kidding. We tried to walk it off, but I had to sit on a park bench for a little while lest they made a reappearance.
Later around lunch time, I figured the best way to rid myself of this unpleasantness was to counter the sweetness with some salt. And beer.
Dinner needed lemon and garlic— lots of garlic.
Friday, July 15, 2016
I've noticed that the Portuguese seem to take great pleasure in innuendo and puns— it's in their music (most notably in Pimba music), and in Aveiro, this naughtiness is painted on boats in the brightest of colours. The distinctive moliceiro with its dramatically curled bow and stern, was crafted in such a way as to facilitate the gathering of seaweed for fertilizer. Now, the beautiful moliceiros mostly offer tours up and down the Ria de Aveiro.
I'll leave it up to you and Google Translate if you are curious— the general themes of the scenes are sexual— clams and codfish are mentioned quite a bit.
Despite their smuttiness, they're quite lovely aren't they?
Wednesday, July 13, 2016
Monday, July 11, 2016
Sunday, July 10, 2016
From the Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga:
Nuno Gonçalves. Panels of St. Vincent. c. 1470. Oil and tempera on oak panels.
Unknown Master. Female Portrait. c. 1620–40. Oil on canvas.
Jacob Adriansz Backer. Courtesan. c. 1640. Oil on canvas.
Francisco Vieira, o Portuense. The Lamentation. 1800. Oil on canvas.
Unknown Flemish Master. Female Portrait. 1569. Oil on canvas.
In a world where people are intent on using their hands to destroy and to hurt, I am grateful for the beauty that hands can create.
Calçada by Alexandre Farto, a.k.a. "Vhils". Cobblestone tribute to Fado singer Amália Rodrigues.