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Archive for July, 2006

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Why Portugal is Burning, Batalha, and a Proposition

Tuesday, July 18th, 2006

“Portugal is on fire because of people who speak English,” according to my new Spanish friend, Alicia. “English is the language of greed. All the young Spanish, they don´t want to learn Portuguese. There is no money in learning Portuguese. They want to learn English.” There are large forest fires north of where I am now, and in the direction I´m headed tomorrow. Alicia, who is going home today because of the heat, attributes the fires and the heat to global warming. Pollution. Greed on the parts of the wealthiest and most voracious countries. It is a sign of her trust that she was willing to say this, in our parting conversation, to a born English-speaker. She knew I would not disagree, would not defend. It also helps me to understand why she doesn´t speak a word of English. It´s a moral thing with her, although she didn´t say as much. It goes without saying that she doesn´t blame all English speakers. It´s pointless to say that greed occurs everywhere. The point is that the wealthiest countries are doing, and have done, the most damage. The heat, the forest fires, acid rain, the destruction of the ozone: greed. And speaking of acid rain, I made it to Batalha yesterday. [read on]

Travel tips, well-tended spaces, objects ejected by animals

Monday, July 17th, 2006

After a glorious, gorgeous, sweet, fresh morning, it´s too hot for the beach. There are warnings to tourists that the ultra-violet rays are severe. Global warming. The German women who arrived yesterday and who teach sports and went jogging in the evening after rowing in the mid-day and are the color of old leather are going anyway; they don´t care about a few more ultra-violet rays. The Canadian actresses are headed south for more heat, as are the two Dutch guys in their thirties. Bring it on, they say. They are storing the heat away for their winters. The Polish couple who were at the Cathedral yesterday confirmed that it was an ordination, not a funeral, but they are going home to Poland and cancelling the rest of their vacation because of the heat. Ditto the Spanish woman. She says (we speak a mixture of Spanish, French, and Portuguese together, and when we become animated I don´t even know which language is coming out of my mouth; the only problem is that the occasional Sesotho word slips out and puzzles her), she says if she wanted to sit around and suffer, she might as well stay home. She has asthma and is fifty-five, her feet are swollen, she can´t breathe, and she can´t cope with the heat. I´m sorry to see her go, because she´s the only lone woman traveler I´ve met. We´ve been watching the news together in the evenings and mourning the violence in Lebanon and Israel. I almost wish I didn´t know it was happening, but then again, I do want to know. I grieve with both sides and rage at the Bush-Blair horse and pony show of Blame the Others. When will they ever learn that violence begets violence? But I am heading north on Wednesday, and I´m having a splendid time despite the heat and the terrible world news. [read on]

Forty-four Priests and a Bishop

Sunday, July 16th, 2006

Last night I noticed I was shaking, and I´ve had migraines so far every day I´ve been here, so I decided to take today to rest, hang around Leiria, re-hydrate, and be still. Every hour I go douse my head under cold running water, to keep the heat down, but it´s a blast furnace here. No way I could have walked the Caminho in this heat. I lay in bed, drifting, daydreaming, thinking about yesterday all morning. I looked forward to blogging. Traveling alone is not the least bit lonely with this to do. I feel I get to bring a whole crowd with me, and say, “Look at this!” but I don´t have to worry about anybody but me. This is just exactly right. For me. So around lunch time I went out to find a bowl of soup. I get free breakfast, and I eat from the grocery store (goat cheese, salad, fruit and bread) for dinner, but it´s nice to get some soup for lunch. After lunch I decided to go to the Leiria Cathedral, knowing it would be cooler there than anywhere else, and, as Manko says, Omigod! I stumbled across another fantastic event. I still don´t know what it was. For the first hour and a half I thought it was the funeral of some very important person, but then the bishop (more about him in a moment) put his hands on the head of a young man in white, then hugged him, and the whole church exploded in applause. So maybe it was an ordination. I thought I saw a casket at the front, but maybe it was just a huge spray of flowers. Could it have been a funeral AND an ordination? Whatever it was, Portuguese Roman Catholics DO CHURCH WELL. I was spellbound. [read on]

Alcobaça: Tombs, a Wedding, and One Amazing Woman

Sunday, July 16th, 2006

Yesterday I went to Alcobaça, Portugal´s largest church, built over a long period of years starting in 1178. It´s the home of the famous tombs of Don Pedro and Ines de Castro, whose romance has been the subject of many plays, including one written by Catharine Trotter, which was in my first anthology and which had its first modern production at Smith when Karena Rahall, Angelique von Halle, and a powerful group of young women decided to do a revival. I wish I had their email addresses. They would love to know I have come here at last. In the Trotter version, written in 1695, Ines was in love with Costanza, and Pedro was in love with Ines, but Pedro´s father was outraged by the trio and had Ines murdered. The production was so successful that the actors were asked to perform it at the WOW Cafe in NYC. In the Portuguese version that meets the tourist´s eye here, Don Pedro was in love with Ines but was forced to marry Costanza; Pedro´s father, fearing Ines´s influence, had Ines murdered. Then, continuing the Portuguese version, when Pedro´s father died, Pedro personally tore the hearts out of two of her murderers, had her body disinterred and crowned, and then made all the people at court kiss her mostly-decomposed hand. Then he had two astonishing tombs made, one for her and one for himself, and decreed that the tombs face each other across the nave of the Cathedral. They are still there. Whichever version of the story you prefer, the tombs are incredible: intricately carved, Gothic in their elaboration and lines, with carved angels holding the bodies of each of the two, she with a little Italian Greyhound at her feet, and he with a mastiff at his. (I didn´t know the bit about the dogs till I saw the tombs myself.) But here´s the wild part: yesterday there was a wedding taking place smack in the center of the main aisle, between the two tombs. And that´s not all. [read on]

Lisbon, Leiria, God, and a Shower Knob

Friday, July 14th, 2006

I´m here. Yesterday was jet lag, heat, and Lisbon. I was disoriented, but I took refuge at the end of the day in a sweet little attic room with a bath, where I lay in a tub of cool water for about an hour, pouring water over my head. It took half an hour to bring down the temperature of my hair. Sign on the back of the door: “All values left in the room, are the entire responsability of the costumer.” Wonderful. A Portuguese person could look at the sign on the back of the door in any American hotel and wait a long time to get a message in Portuguese. I brought the Texas heat with me. It was 41C (around 104 F) today as I was stumbling around a castle in the blazing sun here in Leiria (pronounced lay-REE-uh). The pilgrimage actually began at five minutes after 1 p.m. when I staggered into the Cathedral to get out of the sun. It was cool, and the light was muted. I sat down in a pew, noted there were only two other people in the whole place, both women, praying. I took a couple of deep breaths and suddenly a great wave of sound, followed by more and more, filled the vast darkness. It must have been the organist´s practice time. The echoes bounced off the stone walls and resonated in my veins. I have never heard such pure waves of sound. I could feel the sound as if it were water, washing through my bones. The pilgrimage had begun. [read on]

Nomads, misfits, travelers

Thursday, July 6th, 2006

Five days before I leave for Portugal, I reflect on the nomadic life, its treasures and its costs. Travel shapes us. Travel gives us the opportunity to reinvent ourselves. It also makes us outcasts, exiles, misfits, wanderers and nomads, the family of Cain. In the Judaic creation myth, Cain was cursed to be a vagabond because he killed his brother. Cain traveled from Eden to the land of Nod, married a Nod-woman, and begat tent-dwellers, musicians, and artificers. Where did the people of Nod come from? I feel my ancestral relation to Cain and the Nod-people, and I know in my blood the hunger Cain had to belong, but the people of Nod never did belong, even to themselves. They were outsiders. My tribe. [read on]