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the mayor of big things: castanheira de pera


Once upon a time in the tiny town of Castanheira de Pera there lived a boy who dreamt of big things. Like many boys he wanted to build, with tools and cranes and trucks. He lived at time of great prosperity and optimism, as since the previous century Castanheira de Pera had grown fat on the profits of linen making, its factories brimming with happy workers and an unrivalled supply and demand.


The Castanheirense were a proud people, and rightfully so. The patriarchal hand of Salazar blessed them and their dues and Castanheira flourished in a devout, obedient and Sporting sort of way. The great gardens blossomed and the people built fine houses to live in. Castanheira’s streets were as grand as any in Lisbon. The Castanheirense felt special, privileged, enough to speak their own language, a cautious melée of Latin and Portuguese called Laínte de Casconha, so that outsiders would not know what they were saying.

It was in this setting that the boy who would be The Mayor of Big Things grew up. His youth was fired with ambition and confidence, but as adulthood beckoned Castanheira’s fortunes started to change. The regime was no longer there to protect them from the outside world where fabrics were made more cheaply with modern machines. Young people had different ideas and brought change and disruption. Families favoured by the old system were now spurned by the new and many fled to safety in Brazil, abandoning their stately homes.


And worst of all of the disgraces, other nearby tiny towns, those lacking any heritage or respectable family names, began to grow, modernise and be recognised.

Meanwhile Castanheira’s elegance began to fade. The people no longer spoke their secret language and the factories fell silent. It enraged Abilio Anibal Aurindo de Silva Fonseca Salazar Alves de Piedade Conceiçao Pena – or Zé, as he was known to his bosoms, to see his town dwindle into insignificance. He resolved to redeem Castanheira’s reputation and fame.


On a platform of development which embraced the modern ideas of tourism, expansion and urbanisation, The Mayor of Big Things came to power in the tiny town. The people were intoxicated by his big ideas and his even bigger personality. Riding the tsunami of a mandate, The Mayor embarked on his first Big Project: a gargantuan swimming pool, the biggest in the entire country, designed in the image of an exotic beach, replete with an island, blue palm trees and best of all, a machine that made waves.

“Build it Big and They Will Come”, the Mayor had said. And the Praia de Rocas was thus. The people came from far and wide to experience the beach of the interior, under the blazing sun of the Portuguese summer. They brought their big eskies, their big floaties and the sensible ones brought their big hats and they took their place in the big long queue that formed every morning at the gates of the megapool.


Fortified by his popularity The Mayor of Big Things carried on his campaign to drag the old dame of Castanheira kicking and screaming into the modern world. Big Art began to appear at every crossroads, every square and to dominate over every pathetic patch by the side of the road. When no more public space was available, the Mayor, in another fantastic moment of enlightenment, invented the roundabout. He set about demonstrating his new creation following the posturing style of the Romans and the Soviets. Enormity ruled. But it wasn’t traffic dispersion that was the driving his concept: The island at the centre of the triple-lane-super-rotundas was opportunity for Really Big Sculptural Statements.

His artistic sensibilities mollified, The Mayor of Big Things turned his attention to business and recreation. He built a Big Business Park called Prazilandia for want of a bigger and better name. And then he built a Big Concert space, where he gave some big speeches. When there was nothing to do he built big signs. Not last and not least (never least), and arguably his greatest legacy, he had erected the Big Fake Grass Rat.


The Mayor was, at last, almost out of big ideas. It was a long career. In his final years, he cleared some massive areas in preparation for the big future ahead. A big supermarket perhaps? A big housing project?

Who knows, because the people never came. The only space in Castanheira de Pera that serves the heaving sweaty masses is the big pool (and occasionally the nearest pastelaria). But otherwise the public squares remain empty, the roundabouts lonely for traffic, the offices vacant, the monuments untouristed. And yet, big cranes still decorate the landscape with their odour of potential, prosperity and big dreams.



This post is almost entirely fictional. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is coincidental. Quite good cake can be found at the Esplanada and Antigone, but the coffee at Esplanada is better, and wookies can run around on the grass, but watch out for the moles.


  1. Lourdes May 23, 2011 8:21 am Reply

    Emma I had to read these 3 times… couldn’ t quite take it in.. you are not really saying how everything was rosy under Salazar are you? who was building the big houses? who run to Brasil? who was looked after in Salazar time?…. please do not disappoint me…

    [Reply to comment]

    Emma   Reply: May 30th, 2011 at 4:04 am

    Indeed things were rosy for some folk during Salazar’s years… those who were connected, worked hard for the regime, sucked up to the old man… or those who were illiterate and wouldn’t know the difference. This district is still one of the most conservative in all of Portugal… it’s a CDS-PP stronghold…

    [Reply to comment]

    Lourdes   Reply: May 30th, 2011 at 7:08 am

    @Emma, Thanks for your answer. yes the north is very conservative, it always has been. why do you think that is? Is it because most people own their bit of land?
    By the way… I do aggree with the waste of money. What really gets me going is the roads…more than anything else..

    [Reply to comment]

  2. Vern May 23, 2011 1:16 pm Reply

    A lovely tale written in such a luxurious style of prose, my open wide eyes gobbled up every word and my mind longed to visit this fairytale land.

    Incidentally, in 1949 I visited a real swimming pool with artificial waves created by machines. This was in Bern, Switzerland.

    As a matter of interest have you tasted Portuguese sardines ? I consider these the best in the world and always purchase them at my super market here in Oz. Always waiting for the next shipment, rather than buy any others.

    [Reply to comment]

    Raul Jacinto   Reply: June 25th, 2011 at 4:00 am

    @Vern, Were in Oz and are they fresh or preserved? Like the tin on the right.

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  3. Penfold May 23, 2011 8:04 pm Reply

    I nurture great admiration for that gargantuan astroturf representation of ‘ratticus viridis’.
    It has a resplendent majesty that belies its humble origins…

    [Reply to comment]

    Emma   Reply: May 30th, 2011 at 3:57 am

    The local street dogs feel the same.

    [Reply to comment]


  4. Pete May 24, 2011 10:07 pm Reply

    I’m thinking of building a blog called ‘Roundabout Art of Portugal’. It appears that the main reason for the country’s recent bailout is the expenditure of small town mayors on bizarre, outsized sculpture for roundabouts.

    I notice that cutting roundabout art is not included in the troika’s austerity plan for Portugal. Someone should tell the IMF.

    The Postmodern Moose of Chelas (Lisbon)

    The Twirling Deely-Bopper Worms of Albufeira

    The Bleeding Granite Heart in Portalegre’s Business Park

    The Mattocking Blobman of Arruda dos Vinhos

    The Gigantic Shrimpnet of Matosinhos

    The Zombie Cobbler of Almodovar

    The Giant Horse of Alter

    The Ovaloid Balancers of Loule

    The Ginormous Cogs of Loule

    The Lost Swatches of Albufeira

    The Bronze Swineherd of Arronches

    [Reply to comment]

    Emma   Reply: May 30th, 2011 at 3:56 am

    Pete, this is more than a blog. I´m seeing a thirteen part television documentary series narrated by prince philip. Your work is an inspiration. Would you know the names for these ones in the appropriately named Chestnut Tree of the Pear?

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  5. catherine May 25, 2011 7:12 am Reply

    Hi Emma,

    Your article made a very interesting read! We have visited Castanheira de Pera a couple of times now, the kids have enjoyed the waves, we have enjoyed walking around the town and I must admit I have found myself pondering “how the **** did this place get to be like this”! You have answered my question, thankyou:)

    [Reply to comment]

  6. Eliane July 5, 2011 6:21 pm Reply

    fictional???? sounds like a (some) place(s) here in ireland…. great narration anyway! i found lovely “irish linnen” made in portugal a few days ago. yes, here once was a great place of the linnen and lace industry.

    [Reply to comment]


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