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Articles Tagged ‘Portugal’

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Lisboa: Last day, summing up

Friday, August 11th, 2006

OK, this is it. I spent four hours this morning riding trams, taking in the life, the azulejos (tiles), the monuments, the apartments with and without metal shades on the outsides, the flowers, the safety–have I talked about this before? I have never felt so safe. There just doesn´t seem to be any crime. That´s puzzling, considering that there is so much financial need. But everywhere I go, I see people leaving their backpacks, their digital cameras, even their laptop computers, lying around: on picnic tables, in the hostels, in city parks. And nobody bothers them. Last night I had a dinner of clams cooked in garlic and coriander, which I shared with a German woman married to a French man. I had seen them at the monastery earlier in the day, and we recognized each other when I entered the restaurant, and they insisted I come sit with them. We gabbled in several languages, laughing and comparing notes on Portugal, politics, and the difficulty, for them, of negotiating their lives between France and Germany. We didn´t finish dinner till after 11 p.m., and then I had a long walk home, alone, as they were staying in the opposite direction. I felt absolutely fine. The streets were full of people hanging out, listening to the music that filtered through windows, drinking at sidewalk bars and cafés. At one point I approached a group of young men with beers in their hands on an otherwise deserted street. If I´d been in the USA, I´d have crossed to the other side of the street. I felt that impulse. But just to see what it would feel like, I kept walking. They stepped aside on the sidewalk but otherwise completely ignored me. It was wonderful. [read on]

Bela Lisboa!

Thursday, August 10th, 2006

I LOVE THIS COUNTRY! Portugal is everything anybody ever wanted a country to be except, of course, a place where the average person can “make ends meet,” according to Leo, the castle guard in Leiria. That is an important exception, but the LIFE here vibrates with beauty, vitality, and gentle awareness. I left Sintra this morning with no regrets, felt I had been as charitable toward it as possible, and maybe more than it deserved. As I got off the subway, I saw a wall of posters with G.W. Bush´s face on them and the word TERRORIST at the top, and (in Portuguese) WANTED at the bottom. OK, you two Bush-lovers out there, I´m just reporting what I saw, OK. But it made me laugh, and I took a picture. Lisbon moves in a dancing motion. [read on]

Another View of Sintra

Wednesday, August 9th, 2006

I just spent a couple of hours sitting on the miradouro at the bottom of the mountain, and I realized what a sour old putz I have been about this city. From the miradouro, all I could see was the beauty, and the whole spectacle was laid out for my eyes, from the many-colored houses at the bottom of the hill, to the Pena Palace with its smudged chimney cones, to the tiled and glistening turrets, towers, and trim, and on up the hill to the very top, where the crenellated granite towers of the Castelo do Mouros tops it all. This city has been a playground for architects since the early kings and queens of Portugal started building palaces in this crystalline air. In and around all these visual marvels are the trees: thousands of trees, first the trees that were on the mountain before the royals and the millionaires came, and then trees from every corner of the world, imported from the colonies and planted here, where they have taken root and grown for several hundred years: evergreens from Newfoundland next to magnolias from Brazil, every kind of poplar and cedar and juniper, Indian trees, Asian trees, African trees, all thanks to those who brought them to their gardens in Sintra. If I look with the eyes of a child, what I see is fairy-tale stuff. And it´s NOT a theme park. It´s a living city, older than any theme park and full of history. From the miradouro, I could not see a single person–just the trees and the rooftops, the towers and the colors of the mansions, the palaces, and the Quintas that glint between the trees. [read on]

Portugal Restored

Wednesday, August 9th, 2006

I feel like I´m back in Portugal. Of course I haven´t left yet, but for a couple of days I felt I had landed in a slightly run-down theme park with no particular language or culture. This morning the smoke had cleared away, the day was gorgeous, hot, and clear, and I boarded the first bus for Cabo da Roca, the geographically western-most point in Europe, and therefore in some sense the real European End of the World. The bus headed down the hill to a little community of apartment blocks and picked up a number of women who must have been the maids to people living between Sintra and Cascais. Surrounded by these women, chatting laughing and nibbling bread and sweetcakes on their way to work, I knew I was in Portugal again. They got off the bus in ones and twos before the bus reached Cabo da Roca, and there was nobody left on the bus but me and a few hardy early-morning tourists. Cabo da Roca is NOTHING like Finisterre. [read on]


Tuesday, August 8th, 2006

Sintra does not feel like Portugal. For one thing, it´s overrun with tourists, many of whom have brought their cars. There is gridlock so bad that the mounted police can´t even get their horses between the cars to direct traffic. The tourists are bad-tempered. Maybe it´s the heat. Maybe it´s the crowding. But I´ve seen people hit their kids, drivers shout at each other and curse and make ugly hand-signals, and lovers yell at each other and walk off in different directions. The gardens at the Regaleira Palace are magnificent, just as the websites I studied before I left showed them to be. My cold is going away, thanks to some magical potion I got at the Farmacia called Cêgripe. I´m back to being myself and full of good cheer and wonder, but the press of people around me is not a happy press. [read on]

In Viana: The Texture of Exile, the Practice of Hanging Out

Wednesday, August 2nd, 2006

I have acquired the coolest flip-flops in the universe (Brazilian Havaianas; even movie stars wear them, and I got them on sale for 11.90 Euros), a tan, and a little less of myself (the result, I suppose, of all this walking). When I catch my reflection in shop windows, I don´t recognize that woman. Could she be French? No. But Belgian, possibly, or German. The longer I stay here, the less often people recognize me as American on sight. Getting rid of the Beppis was a good move. I have also been turning over in my mind a braid of four conversations on the subject of exile. I have been observing and even practicing the Portuguese art of hanging out. I am so happy, the radiance has completely reordered my aura, I´m sure. I will have to ask Lola, who sees auras, when I get back to Texas. But about exile, wanderlust, and degrees of separation…. [read on]

Viana do Castelo, Life on a Ship, National Geographic View

Tuesday, August 1st, 2006

Viana do Castelo was established as a Roman outpost called Diana, at the place where the River Lima meets the Atlantic. It is an elegant, feminine city, rather like New Orleans was before the floods: shops selling tourist crap, glorious old buildings with wrought iron balconies, the river, flowers, churches, and (what New Orleans never had) a bustle of development. Old warehouses are being rebuilt into lofty condos, the statue of “Viana” herself is hidden behind construction cranes, businessmen somewhat less spiffy than those in Porto walk with a spring in their steps. They are swimming in technological transfer, here. A beggar near the train station was mewling his poor-me melody when suddenly an unmistakable ring came from his pocket. He interrupted his cry, pulled out his flip-phone, and in a completely different voice, cheery and upbeat, “Hola!” I´m going to blog a bit more about this city, but I´ve had my epiphany for the moment, and apart from the conversation with the taxi driver who brought me down the hill from St. Luzia, I´ve had no intense encounters, so if you´re having a busy day, you can stop here and check back in another day, perchance for more depth. I´m staying in a hostel on a ship docked on the Lima, and so far the highlight for me was the Atlantic beach at sunset yesterday. [read on]

Melgaço and the Deep Stillness of Meeting My Self on the Way

Monday, July 31st, 2006

I was the only person on the bus when I arrived in Melgaço near 9 p.m. on Friday, and I needed a taxi to take me to the hostel, which is not actually in Melgaço but is about two miles away, in a pine-woods area of the mountains designed for sports, with two enormous football stadia, a swimming pool, a four-star hotel, walking trails, and the offices of Melgaço Radical, an organization that runs white-water rafting trips. There were no football games scheduled, so I was almost the only person in the hostel. On Saturday some families appeared in three and four generations, but no single (nor even coupled) travelers. The only bus for Viana do Castelo, where I am now and about which I will talk in another post, did not leave till 7 p.m. Sunday night. So I had a weekend of astonishing quiet and the first boredom I have experienced since my year and a half of being bedridden as a child. I was forced to confront what I have avoided, even in lengthy meditation retreats: the bare and embarrassing truth of who I have created as my self, the humiliating truth of my habit of discontent, and the possibility of letting it all go. It was an experience more uncomfortable than bed-bugs and more startling than any adventure I have had yet. [read on]

São Gualter and Other Surprises

Friday, July 28th, 2006

The lights in Guimarães are not ALWAYS lit. This happens to be the biggest celebration in the town in 100 years. The patron saint of the town is St. Gualter (St. Walter in his English manifestation), and on the first weekend in August since 1906, there has been a big celebration, homecoming, festival, hoopla. That´s why I had to leave: every room in the town is booked for the weekend. That´s why the streets are full of lights and people. The brochure for the event (available only in Portuguese) quotes Jose Saramago as follows, “a memória que temos e a responsabilidade que assumimos porque sem memória não existimos e sem responsabilidade não mereciamos existir.” I love his dry sense of humor. This morning as I left Guimarães, the streets were not sleepy, as usual. They were packed with people shopping, hauling great plastic bags of things up hill and down hill, buying flowers and foods and gifts for relatives arriving from out of town. There was a feeling of intense excitement. There will be food and music and dancing in every square of the town tonight. I´d love to be there, but it can´t be, so I´m on my way to Melgaço, which apparently is the one place in Portugal nobody else wants to be this weekend. [read on]

Guimarães at Night, Apologies

Thursday, July 27th, 2006

Guimarães at night is unbelievable: the city THROBS with energy, life, and light. There are flashing, twinkling, twirling LIGHTS all over the main streets. I got several pictures. It´s like a huge fair, only it´s every night. It´s ten American cities at Christmas. Where do they get the electricity to run all these lights? I don´t know, but it is joy, and it belongs to everyone. Families are out with their dogs, their kids, and their grannies, walking, talking, playing, competing at chess or card games in the park with many onlookers. The college students are dancing to their own beats, or rubbing against each other, or arguing and drinking many beers. There is such life here. I´ve never seen anything like it. There is even a “Museum of the Night,” but I was too tired to check it out. So this is just a quick blog, the morning after, to add that, and also to add a couple of qualifications and apologies for my offenses. [read on]