For the last few months we’ve woken up to the sound of harvesters felling trees over a large tract of forest above the village. Thousands of eucalypts cut, shredded, piled up and taken away. What’s left behind is a scene of post apocalyptic devastation.
The annual timber season upset me when I first moved here. The crack and crash of huge trees echoing down the valley sounded so final and destructive. I’ve gotten over it now. We are in the heart of timber country and it’s not like eucalypts are native, carefully tended or even very old. The variety grown here, Eucalyptus globulus isn’t particularly well-suited to Portugal (it doesn’t even flower here), is left to grow inefficiently in awkward clumps, not resembling at all the majestic Triassic trees of home. Eucalypts grown anywhere but Australia will strip the soil of water and nutrients at the cost of every native plant around them, eventually causing irreversible erosion. They don’t belong here.
But I don’t begrudge the loggers and land owners from earning their living. Most of my neighbours own slices of the forest and fortunately not all of it is being replaced by the fast growing gum tree which fetches a higher price than pine. Once upon a time the pine tree’s partners in this forest were oak and chestnut – trees which continue to fertilize and enrich the soil and are indigenous to Southern Europe. There are a few varieties of oak which are specifically native to Portugal (including the cork oak, an enduring major commodity) and the Romans probably introduced chestnuts to Portugal, as they did in most places, as a food source. What depresses me is the loss of these great timbers in favour of the spindly, super-combustible paper-making eucalypt. Strange to think there is still such demand for paper, when paper was clearly the loser in the great paper/scissors/data storage contest of the late 20th century.
Just as the last tree fell from the hillside, a hundred tractors descended upon Cu de Judas to collect firewood. Now every village around here has a huge pile of stumps at its gates. The scavengers, us included, came in every evening and all day on Sunday in industrially organised teams – one truck we saw carried 7 men and about 5 tonnes of gnarly stumpage. All and sundry seemed to understand the rules – that it was ok to scavenge (even though the land is privately owned by a guy who lives nearby) and the designated times that scavenging would take place.
I’ve been a bit put off by the huge scar looming above us. So when I went up there at dawn, only a day or two after The One and I became like locals and filled the kangoo with next winter’s wood, the sight of newly planted tree-lings was an inspiring sight. Just a pity they’re not noble, or maple… baobab… a field of sunflowers… lavender?
Just being up at dawn is inspiration enough. Watching how the weather for the day is taking shape. The cool crisp air. The silence. And the wookie possessed with fun and freedom. It’s been too long since I’ve done this.
The day before, I had a long chat with an old friend who said ultimately that she didn’t understand why I had moved to Portugal. Why Portugal? The financial crisis has had me by the throat for so long I have forgotten why. I’ve even been planning to go back to Sydney to work just so I don’t have to watch every bill that comes in. This tedious self absorption with money makes Poor in Portugal no different to Successful in Sydney.
So the clouds dancing around our little village at 7am meant something. And then my 8am superb coffee and sticky, still warm croissant, plus a loaf of bread and an extra croissant for the sleeping husband all for €3… that meant something too. Stopping for a long chin wag with Tia Maria, who’s now a little older and grateful for the help carrying buckets of feed to the ducks and chickens. Waiting to rest with her and admire her healthy, feathered, free range crew all destined for the table. All that meant something too. The time to linger.
I asked Tia Maria what she knew about the current crisis in Portugal. She wasn’t bothered by it because it’s not effecting her (graças a Deus) and she gestured towards her field of cabbage and potatoes. Does she remember at time when things were worse? Her old eyes went glassy as she talked about her post-war childhood, when all they did was work – the olives, the vines, the wood, the fields. All the time working and nothing to eat, just turnips all the time. And no flour for bread – she still hates corn bread. How one time they walked to Entroncamento. She can’t remember how long it took, maybe a month?
What a whinger am I! We eat like kings, the pets are happy, we have no major debts and we sleep in until 10. Why Portugal? Why anywhere else?
This furniture is an inspiration. I spotted it in the Portuguese interior design magazine Attitude, impressively included in an Orgulho/National Pride editorial, a couple of years ago. I kept it in the back of my mind to go and see them whenever I got to the Alentejo.
When I finally made the trip visiting the Agua de Prata workshop it was the highlight of my visit to Evora. Roman era temple? For what we came. Pre-history Cromeleques? Saw them. But Nossa Senhora Da Graça Do Divor… Conquer me!
The studio is situated on an enviably pretty hill, next to a notable church on a gently undulating Alentejan plain, dotted with the ancient water wells that supplied Roman Evora its silver water, agua de prata.
The wool producing town of Arraiolos is about 15kms away, and supplies the artist, João Videira, with the wool with which he reinvents and revives old furniture frames and other objects. There’s a magic fusion that happens between the old framework and the intensely coloured wool that creates an altogether new and beautiful design piece. The warmth of the recollected meets the tactile wool in a way that makes this furniture irresistible; it’s at once modern and antique, designer and personal, precious and cuddly.
And the recycled and recreated philosophy fits perfectly with the concept for my house. By taking what has heritage and soul and stripping back the parts that have deteriorated. Then restructuring and repairing those bones for a modern use, adapting outdated living concepts for today’s needs and integrating modern desires for comfort and pleasure. The result is honestly beautiful, luxurious and unique furniture of character and simplicity.
My favourite things from Agua de Prata are, naturally, the Pedras de Lã, Wool Rocks. At first glance their organic shape made me curious about the support around which the wool is carefully wrapped. Their weight gives nothing away, except that inside they couldn’t be hollow. Nor are the stones hard; they have a sponginess that adds to the organic characteristic of their shape. The answer is, that the Pedras are solid wool, a ball so carefully and tightly bound that it has taken on its own natural form, and like all the Agua de Prata works, is individual and unique.
And if you’re passing the town through at lunchtime, as we were, wondering where all the folk could be, tuck your head into the first café on the left, which will be packed and dishing out delicious local plates with atmosphere and conviviality. Happiness all round.
I’ve been obsessively curious about these small doors in the rock face that seem to be especially common around here. Some are very discreet, and when I once asked a neighbour he teased me by saying “It’s private”. “Secret?” I asked, “Yes, secret things” of course, came the answer.
From someone else I heard that all these little holes in walls were hiding spots for the tungsten that farmers dug from their land during the Second World War, to sell to the Germans. WW2? Now I was fully sucked in.
Despite Salazar’s Estado Novo having much in common with the 1930′s dictatorships of Italy and Germany, Portugal was bound by a 500 year old alliance with Britain and was somehow able (unified with fascist Spain) to remain neutral. Salazar apparently didn’t like Hitler anyway. This doesn’t mean Portugal missed the war, of course, but instead played a discreet double hand with both sides. During the war, Portugal was a place of intrigue: of espionage, of refuge for the rich and escape for the Jews, and of favours played out to keep both the Axis and the Allies appeased. And Salazar was paid in gold.
Whether or not the large deposits of wolframite ore that Portugal had had anything to do with the negotiations for neutrality can be debated. In any case, the Germans needed to secure a supply of tungsten (which comes from wolframite or scheelite ore) for use in the manufacture of weapons.
Tungsten, today most commonly used in the filament of light bulbs and halogen lighting, was then a vital component to strengthen alloys (metal combinations) and made armaments more heat resistant.
Salazar granted concessions to both the English and the Germans for several mines in the Alentejo, the Beira Alto and around Castelo Branco in the East. Thus began Portugal’s Black Gold rush. High unemployment and a depressed rural economy provoked thousands and thousands of young people, farmers and entrepreneurial types to leave their homes for the mines.
Firstly, the Germans and English provided fairly paid employment for miners, people (normally women) to wash the ore and in the processing factories. They were accommodated and fed. But perhaps more exciting was the widespread illegal mines run by freelance prospectors and by local landowners. The finds by these prospectors were sold to the Germans, or to the English, via intermediaries. There was also a side-industry of forgery.
And fortunes were being made! Even just having a job in the mines, a worker might earn the rough equivalent of €5 a day, and while not extravagant, it did have a lot more buying power in 1942 than it does today. It was highly preferable to the misery of ration tickets, and for some, a weeks’ wages was more money than they had ever seen. The bigger bucks was made by individual prospectors. Stories of men rolling cigarettes with 100$00 notes, using taxis and hired cars, illiterate men sporting parker pens in their breast pockets, of stays in luxury hotels with prostitutes, and fables of villagers trying to buy trains, or even whole railways emerged. The train story still circulates today, apparently much to the embarrassment of the current residents of the village.
In reality, a new sector of country people could afford to educate their children, build houses and see a doctor. The search for tungsten and the promise of riches lifted the spirits and gave hope to the disadvantaged rural communities of 1940′s Portugal.
As the war wore on, the price of tungsten began to drop and by 1944 Salazar had began to tire of German gold and to favour the Allies. The British motive had always been to deprive the Germans of as much tungsten as possible, and now they had began a more precise campaign to disrupt mining. On their side was that the towns had begun to fill with sick men and young widows in black. Frequent accidents and the ubiquitous health problems of the miners tinged the vibrant reputation of the mines. But there had been an environmental impact as well. Rivers full of dead fish and contaminated drinking water directly contributed to the local people’s resentment of the continued German presence. The British capitalised on this by encouraging dissent which even led to minor skirmishes at some mines. With the war turning in favour the Allies, Churchill finally convinced Salazar to kick the Germans out.
So today, all that remains are some strange little villages with ruins of large factories and company housing. In Arouce, one the main centres of tungsten mining, there is an unexpected aura of wealth in the town planning, but we saw no obvious sign of mansions, art deco style theatres or grand hotels. Only the stories live on. But they have nothing to do with the little doors in the walls.
Our mission: to visit as many of the Palácios of Sintra in 24 hours as humanly possible. There was a flight to catch at the end. We were cramming. Naturally there were conditions: I had to keep my sister fed and tea-ed up along the way, and keep her in a good mood.
We were initially thwarted by the rain and a disruption in the space-time continuum that made it take four hours to drive down instead of the usual two. When we finally arrived in Sintra Vila, the President got in our way. I thought it was rather busy, even for a Sunday, and then the Cavaco Silva flags started appearing. Thousands of PSP supporters, aka Tories, Liberals & Republicans had taken all the parking spaces. It was all too stressful. We ordered a pot of tea at the nearest place. His Presidentialness came, saw, did a 20 second soundbite and then it was all clear and a green light for us to launch the mission.
We started, as you do, with our mantra, A Quick Tour is a Good Tour. Fortunately the wind was on our backs; the first Palácio was closing in 45 minutes. Recommended tour time 1.5 hours. Perfect.
#1. Palácio Nacional de Sintra.
Hiding behind its comparatively boring facade are some fabulous azulejos, brilliant ceilings and nice birdy decoration. The kitchen is good too.
The story is that this palace’s foundations date back to the 10th century Moorish occupation. Portugal’s first King, Afonso I, took over the palace in the 12th c. and did some remodelling. In the 12th-13th c. it was remodelled again by King Dom Dinis and then again by João I in the 15th c., whose work is most of what you can see today. João takes credit for our favourite room, with its magpie decorated ceiling. Later in the 15th and into the 16th c. it was renovated again by Manuel I who was loaded with funds from the Age of Discoveries. Fortunately this was a man with money and taste. They even named an architectural style after him.
So far the palace has Gothic, Mudejar (Arabic) and now the curly, feminine and hyper-decorative Manueline architectural style.
During this medieval period the palace was used as a hunting lodge, a summer house and as a haven from the plagues of Lisbon. In 1775 it had to be fully restored after the massive earthquake. Sintra hit another fashionable period in the 19th century and the palace was again more frequented by royalty. After the 1910 fall of the monarchy, it was again redecorated and restored and became a museum and national monument in 1940. It has world heritage listing.
Night was upon us, so after a smashing dinner at the Cantinho do São Pedro, we went to a nameless bar that served beers topped up with brandy and then onto safari-disco-nights club where we drank several margaritas and did the bus-stop with an Argentinian football team. Someone invited us to a party at the Argentine Embassy which had a swing orchestra and champagne served by butlers wearing tangerine-coloured tuxedos. The white truffle and turtle-dove canapés were terrific, but we couldn’t stay long as the sun was rising and we needed a little kip before getting back on the job as soon as the palaces opened.
Day two. The pressure was on. Three more palaces. We donned our gucci sunglasses and headed out into what was to be a truly glamorous day.
#2. Palácio do Monserrate
This former private home was built in 1858 by an Englishman with tonnes of dough and no shortage of imagination and style. The architectural style is Mughal (best known example of Murgwaline architecture is none other than the Taj Mahal). It’s surprising how at home it looks in Portugal, what with its similarity to Moorish design and Portugal’s connection to India. On the other hand, it is a house like no other I’ve ever seen. It is utterly extraordinary.
Sir Francis Cook (at the time the third richest man in Britain) was a art collector and a keen gardener and his house is surrounded by a magnificent, exotic, 30 hectare garden. This park contains plants from all over the world, including Australia, which surely must have been added later than the original plantings before Cook bought the place.
Monserrate Palace is undergoing restoration. It was privately owned by the family of Cook until the 20th c. when it was bought by a developer who intended to split up the land and sell it piecemeal. In a momentary flash of enlightenment the government of Mr António Salazar decided it would be worth saving it as state property, and then promptly forgot about it for forty years. I believe the entire house could be visited by appointment before these restorations began (probably to help fund what must be a gazillion euro project), but only the ground floor was available for us. I can’t wait to see the whole thing finished, it will be phenomenal.
Mid morning now, time for tea. There is an excellent tea room in the gardens, with real tea and scrumptious little cakey business on the side. We needed it.
#3. Palácio Nacional da Pena
Disney meets the royal family. This palace is so much fun that I nearly always take visitors here. I love it. The royals, Ferdinand and Maria helped design it and they must have had a sense of humour. As modern as Monserrate, this summer palace was built c1850. Apparently they employed an amateur architect from Germany, and certainly it has the whimsy of the fairytale castles of Bavaria.
The style is called Romanticism which is really just a bit of this and that from everything gone before. It’s eclectic. It’s high camp.
The strange thing about Pena is the interior. Ornate as it is, with neo-baroque painted marble pillars, manueline stonework, trompe l’oeils and prettiness galore, there is barely enough room to swing a cat. You’d think it was built for hobbits. Low ceilings, corridors that have no where to go but to pass through bedrooms and servant’s quarters, offices no bigger than broom cupboards. It’s a royal doll’s house.
Pena is built very high in the hills of Sintra. Indeed on our visit it was in the clouds. With rain. No we didn’t see the gardens. Yes we took the stupid little trolley car. The fog was a photographic handicap, so I’ve included pics from a sunnier trip.
It was time for tea again. I recall that the cafe at Pena was forgettable. Que pena!
#4. Palácio de Queluz
Yes, we’re on the home straight now. We are storming through these palaces like Arnie through the jungle.
Queluz is not in Sintra, actually, it’s about halfway to Lisbon. Described as the Versailles of Portugal I expected a likeness similar to the way Aveiro is to Venice. For those who haven’t been to Venice, that is. Not simliar.
Obviously large from the outside and suitably pink, my jaded third-palace-of-the-day eyes, began to sparkle with curiosity. On entering the first room, I had to eat my words.
Of course it’s no where near the size of Versailles but the palace of Queluz is gorgeous. French rococco indeed. Mainly built in the 1750′s by Prince Dom Pedro and niece/wife/Queen Maria I who was Portugal’s first Queen, inheriting the monarchy from her father King José I. The project had been started by King João V, Dom Pedro’s father, so it basically belonged to Pedro although it was also in part inheritated by João’s successor José. Queluz continued its construction during his reign, but after the Lisbon earthquake José suffered from claustrophobia and moved the royal family to live in tents in Ajuda. He gave the palace to Maria, already married to her uncle 23 years her senior. The marriage was a famously happy one and they had 6 children.
After the death of her husband Maria started to go mad, here in this very palace. Retrospective diagnosis would have her suffering from Porphyria, the same as England’s George III. But in those days she was just plain mad. It would be understandable if she was living at Mafra, built by her grandfather João V, with its Vatican-like vast proportions (impossible to heat) and its vulgar ostentation. But this, Queluz, is delightful. It’s impossible to imagine anyone’s harrowing screams here. The design is so musical that we had to resist the urge to skip and dance through the rooms.
We skipped into the gardens instead and admired their loveliness, especially the Bernini inspired fountain. Every corner of the exterior from the gardens is photographic. But then it started to rain and we found that we were lost. The signs to the exit were both few and obscure. We ran around the gardens screaming and going hither and thither, getting wetter and now needing a little ladies room. After three and a half hours we were finally saved when my sister saw an open door, amongst so many doors, back into the palace.
We were very much in need of a cup of tea then. Unlike Mafra, the rest of Queluz town is rather unfortunate. It’s ugly, and we couldn’t find a half decent cafe. It wasn’t right to end the day like this after such a successful mission. Especially as I’d unwittingly left the best palace ’til last.
Four palaces in 24 hours was enough. I wouldn’t recommend more, even if you have no interest in tea or photography. It just shouldn’t be attempted. You’d get palaced-out. There are more palaces in Sintra to see, however. Next time I’m going to Quinta da Regaleira, and outside Sintra there are even more Royal Palaces. When will it end?
Right out in the middle of nowhere there is this Great Grand Hotel, newly restored to its former 1920′s glory. By great, I mean huge, and middle of nowhere – there’s not a beach or a mountain or a swinging casino nearby, only a few other medium sized hotels, less glamourous, but intriguing nonetheless. There’s a train station, hardly used, for they are no houses around.
Build it Big And They Will Come, the architects must have thought. Or else, the Termas da Curia were pulling healthy enough and wealthy enough crowds to warrant such an extravagant hotel as this. Welcome to Curia, the almost forgotton spa-resort town near Mealhada in Central Portugal.
Spas and hot springs have been used since prehistoric times for treatment of ailments via mineral-infused spring waters. The curative properties of natural waters were believed in by the ancient Greeks and Romans and baths continued to be used throughout the middle ages. Only notable is the time (in the western world) when bathing was thought to be unhealthy, for periods during the more religious middle ages and briefly in the mid 19th century. Otherwise we’ve liked a good hot bath, a massage, a steam, a scrub and good clean drink since time immemorial. It’s a global phenomenon too – from the Onsen in Japan to the great baths of Bucharest and the Hammams from Turkey to Morocco.
The modern spa epoch came in the 18th and 19th centuries, when spas were built across Europe in the classical style, following the Roman design. By the 20th century the spa had been thoroughly adopted by the leisurely wealthy and resort style spas included charming recreational sidelines to their quasi-medical regimes. Tennis, fine wines and caviar came alongside some liver cleansing or treating your rheumatism.
Hence, this rather classy megalith of a hotel next to the Termas da Curia. It has its own pool, gorgeous french gardens and plenty of grounds for say a spot of coits after you’ve had your sinuses drained. Smashing.
Today Portuguese people are still sent by their family doctor to the springs to receive treatment. Every spa has a specific remedy and the Termas da Curia’s waters are good for gallstones, so I’m reliably informed by the staff. There were people there young and old, who were on a 7 day course of water massage. What do I have to do to get gallstones, I’d like to know.
I love the Termas’ menu of treatments. Scottish bath, Vichy, Leque, Bertholet; I had to ask what each of them were in detail so I might avoid a colonic irrigation by mistake. Plus I was sending my sister in for a number 8 and had to check for her as well. She was up for a Vichy shower, a massage with water jets. I assured her that given how prudish and traditional the Portuguese are (say, compared to the Swedes) she would most likely have a female masseuse. We had planned to go nude – not in bikinis as in the brochure. Just to prove how much I know, she got a hairy giant of a man, about 50 kilos overweight who grunted as he worked on her shoulders and wore only a tiny modesty towel. It was I who was massaged by the comely nursey professional. Ah.. another adventure in Portugal she won’t forget. My younger-sister credibility goes down the drain again.
I always thought Citânia de Briteiros was an early middle ages Celtic settlement but it is nothing of the kind. Part of what makes it interesting is that archaeologists, past and present, don’t really agree on who the people living there were. Plus, despite being studied for more than a century there is still a large amount of mystery and much yet to be discovered.
As many archaeological sites are, Briteiros is beautiful. It helped that we were there in the late afternoon when the soft light and long shadows added to the quietly abandoned atmosphere. For me, what else makes it beautiful is the masonry work on some of the houses; semi square stones of similar size are set on the diagonal in a circular beehive-like way. I’ve never seen that style before. Perhaps it is engineeringly obsolete, but the light granite diamonds look rather pretty.
The story is this. From 1874 Francisco Martins Sarmento began excavating the site every year which led him to buying the land and discovering most of what is now above ground today. He restored some of the walls and recreated two of the round houses (but apparently he wasn’t happy with the results). Francisco was a pioneer of scientific photography in Portugal, so there exists a set of pre-20th century photos. Very cool. As well he left us a topographical study done in 1892, and tonnes of notes and a book, so there’s a good record of what was initially discovered. The site was named a national monument in 1910 – so therefore Francisco’s find was recognised as genuine and historically important.
circular remains of houses in a family compound
During the 1930′s to the 60′s more of the site was excavated and a lot was restored; I’m really dubious about restoring archaeological sites, even if it’s just putting back what was found originally. There are some horrible restorations to ancient ruins in the world. They don’t look right. Like what’s that thing at the base of Conimbriga meant to be? Was it a forum which now looks more like a basketball court? On the other hand there’s Abu Simbel in Egypt, saved from the dammed waters of the Nile in the 60′s and astonishingly reassembled 65 metres uphill, surely as great a feat as building the colossal thing in the first place.
But I digress. More excavations were made at Citânia de Briteiros in the 1970′s and then more detailed studies were done during 2002-2006. The issue now is how to apply Francisco’s findings with what has since been learnt and with current scientific approaches.
Francisco, for example, was adamant that the Castro Culture, whose persons built and occupied Briteiros, was not of Celtic origin, but current theorists disagree. They believe that this extended tribe were possibly from the first wave of Celtic expansion in Europe around 800 BC and by settling in Portugal became more isolated from other Celts thus forming their own distinctive culture and traditions. It is thought that were about 100 oppida (hill forts) built in Northern Portugal and about 50 have been discovered.
holes for inserting vertical struts?
Each community was completely self-sufficient, not only in terms of food supply but of manufacturing as well. Each of the family compounds at Briteiros included a work shed or shop which might be a iron age forge, or a timber mill, a pottery, or a place where grains from wheat and rye crops were processed into flours. However there is also evidence of trading from as far away as Carthage on the African Mediterranean coast.
broken quern stones for milling cereals
What makes Briteiros distinctive from other hill forts is its size. The population is imagined to be somewhere between 600 and 1500, comprising of 150 families. Archaeological evidence such as jewellery and grooming products suggest there was a wealthy ruling elite. Remarkable too is the presence of a public space where a council may have met. It’s thought that Citânia de Briteiros was one of the longest living hill forts of the Castro Culture. Most oppida of the Castro Culture are thought to have been abandoned by 2nd century AD, when had been occupied by the Romans and in the end used mostly for religious purposes. Briteiros, however, was possibly populated up to the 5th Century, well after the Romans have gone and up to the arrival of German barbarians, who came without a war, a rape or a pillage and set us all an example by learning the local language. Despite not apparently being quite as bad as the Romans it looks like everyone ran away and Briteiros was abandoned.
(I have to note, under the subject What Did The Romans Ever Do For Us, that Briteiros has rather notable plumbing. While not every house had a water supply, there was certainly ample public water and exceptionally lovely drainage of the streets. And what about the two bathhouses? Steam rooms fired by underground furnaces, with cold water baths. Sounds pretty Roman to me.)
the large town hall in centre bg, with built in benches for the councillors to sit on
It can’t have been in bad condition when 500 or so years later it was populated again by a middle-aged crew. This bunch added a church and started burials – the Castros had been cremation-oriented and they kept the ashes under the family compound’s walls, or in urns in the front yard.
house with a front courtyard
That’s sort of the end of the Briteiros story. Now for question time. While on our tour, my fellow archaeologist/geologists and I (The One, Tiny Art Director) disagreed on several aspects on the site. How high were the walls originally? – Francisco has the reconstructed walls at about two metres high, and that seems wrong. There are Celtic dwellings with little 1 metre high walls (and less) and many round houses (a worldwide phenomenon from Mongolia to Central Africa, Australia & Scotland) have foot-high walls in stone with the upper part in clay or wattle & daub.
Why are most of the wall heights level? If the walls were two metres high then surely the existing wall heights would vary, now that they are less than a metre. I put forward that ruined sites are a excellent source of stone for builder hunter-gatherers or thieves as they are known today. Perhaps they were tidy, responsible thieves who took a course from each of the walls, leaving the next course completely intact and even. But then again this site was excavated, so therefore much of the walls must have been underground… maybe the site (underground) was levelled to the tops of most of the walls and any stones poking above-ground were rolled downhill/ pinched / offloaded off-site by the medieval JCB. Also, these houses are really tiny, barely enough room for two beds, really, these people could have done with some interior design help. I’m guessing proto-historic cooking took up heaps of space so was one shed of the family compound devoted to cooking and not to the grandparents or the horses?
If you know the answers
or have a Briteiros anecdote,
or can correct me on something
or have questions of your own
go ahead and put it in the comments.
I’d be much obliged.
Our questions may have been answered if we hadn’t stupidly forgotten to go to the Francisco Martins Sarmento Museum, where all the little trinkets, iron spear heads and engraved stone pieces are kept. And it probably would have saved me months of research afterwards. Oh well, sometimes the call of cake is just too strong, or maybe there were other pressing matters on our itinerary. Like Guimarães, for instance. Like the Pousada-Mosteiro de Santa Marinha da Costa and the Monte de Penha of Guimarães too. You’ll have to read the next posts for explanation of these glories.
Portugal is so full of lovely things to discover. It’s hard, but someone‘s got to do it.
On my return journey from Figueira da Foz on the N111 a while back I caught a fleeting glimpse of the words Doces Conventuais which made me hit the brakes and for the Wookie to bash his head on the dashboard. Where I’m from, Doces Conventuais means Emergency Stop.
One might be forgiven for mistaking the cafés on the roadside of the N111 at Tentúgal for ordinary truckie stops. There are about 5 or 6 altogether on a strip of about 500m. A few are plain ordinary looking cafés and the others have slightly fancier facades. All sell the famous Pastéis de Tentúgal but there are two that offer rather more than just that.
For a start, the first one, A Pousadinha, has 5 different flavours of empada. Wha? An empada is a little pie, and we of Australian-Kiwi-English ancestry love pies. Normally empadas come in chicken flavour only, so to find a variety is really something in itself. None of the flavours is beef, or beef and kidney, or beef and onion, or beef onion bacon and cheese, but let’s not quibble. Let’s be happy there are duck pies, and piglet pies, and seafood pies. Tentúgal discovery number one.
A bit further up the road towards Coimbra there’s a fancier sign with a large parking area for O Afonso, and this place is a revelation. Are we in Greenwich Village? Covent Garden? Double Bay? There is gourmet stuff everywhere: teas, cheeses, local wines, sweet exotica in nice bags with gold labels. The displays, photographic wallpaper and furniture are like, groovy and expensive. Lo and behold, interior design, right here, in the middle of nowhere.
And then, OMG look what’s on offer to eat. I myself am obliged to a Pastel de Tentúgal, but The One has to pace up and down the counter several times umming and ahhing as everything here seems new and original and extraordinarily delicious. Our yummies are served with a proper tea pot and a gorgeous coffee cup and saucer á la Caldas da Rainha.
And THEN the empresaria, Dona Margarida, invites me back-stage, to the kitchen. Ya. For the uninitiated, doces conventuais are pastries invented and created by nuns (and brothers) in convents (or monastries), often centuries-old recipes (the Tentúgals come originally from a closed Carmelite convent of the 16th Century). Frequently these recipes are kept secret (in this case because the convent is not open to outsiders, the nuns speak with no one) and they were given as welcoming gifts in honour of visiting bishopry or benefactors, as well as being stashed in the secret cavity of the nun’s bibles for midnight snackage.
The Tentúgals came to prominence in the 19th century, as the convent was running out of money they sold their goodies at the convent gates. They became popular with students at nearby Coimbra university, and I suppose, as the convent closed, the sweets then became commercialised. Pastéis de Tentúgal can be found around the country at the more serious fabrico proprio pastelarias, but for the real experience you have to come here.
The village of Tentúgal is a turn off the N111, and what a little treasure it is. It’s so cute that it made The One angry. “I want to live here” he said, tearfully. It’s the way little villages should be. What makes it so is that it’s really old, first referred to in print in 980 but then taken under the wing and developed in the 11th century by a dude named Dom Sesnando. A lot of old buildings have stayed. This Sesnando Davides, by the way, built castles at Coimbra, Lousã, Montemor-o-Velho, Penacova and Penela. He’s a guy that got things happening.
I was trying to find the 16th century Carmelite convent – which is tucked away in a little square and distinguishable by a checked hat on its roof. (If you do want to see inside the convent, hot tip, the Dona of Casa Armenio is good to call upon, or else start with Margarida at O Afonso, or even there’s an office opposite the Igreja Misericórdia. Actually it’s hard to find someone who will not want to oblige in Tentúgal). But en route to the convent there are a few very impressive little churches worth looking in at. The first is the Igreja da Misericórdia, built in 1583. The Casa da Misericórdia in Tentúgal, I was told by the local historian, was the second to be established after Lisbon. The Casa is one of the longest running charitable institutions in the world, establish by Queen Leonor in 1498 who recognised the need for someone to look after Lisbon’s orphans, widows, druggies and useless. And they also run Portugal’s national lottery and have a special place in our hearts for the hope they give to all of us.
The church is very simple and the reredos is carved from wood – the figures are quite unsophisticated but still hold some colour: each scene depicts a story from the bible for the illiterate masses.
Similarly simple and decorated in wood is the Capela Nossa Senhora dos Olivais. It is very cute indeed with naïve and humble statuary.
Now it’s time for dinner. Casa Armenio has something of a reputation for its roast duck and I’m not sure that anyone orders anything else when they come here. The One, who is something of a connoisseur of rissóis de leitão (piglet rissoles, mate) was almost in tears again because Casa Armenio’s are that good. This is a damn fine restaurant. It has atmosphere and conviviality, it’s not pretentious but it feels a bit special, the food is excellent and we had to have three desserts. I’m tempted to say it’s my second favourite restaurant in Portugal (for the first favourite, see Braga). Tentúgal discovery number five.
leite creme at casa armenio
But where’s the gorgeous guesthouse? Anyone?
with thanks to emma and loz for making it all possible
I’d resigned myself to my solteirona1 status long ago. And I was comfortable with my ambiguity, my cats and my dressing gown. I would sail this ship alone, feeling already whole, not ever having known loneliness, for the world is a constant box of surprises, and adventure is always ready for those who know where to look.
I have loved, after all, and I have been loved. But we are creatures of habit, and I confess I am a Bolter2. I do have a heart, but it is a refugee from frontline action.
After a long time, I knew that the only way love could try to take me in was if it clubbed me over the back of the head and dragged me off unconscious into the cave. Love Chooses You, I often claimed. Like Malkovich’s excuse from Dangerous Liaisons “It’s beyond my control”. That’s the only love I’d settle for. Unquestionable. Definite. Certain.
If one was ever looking for husband, I could tell you how not to go about it. When I first arrived in Cú de Judas my mother asked wistfully “Is there anyone nice3?”. “Mother”, I replied, “I did not find anyone nice in a dynamic city of three-and-a-half million, or another cosmopolitan city of four-and-a-half million, so the chance of me finding anyone nice in a backward village of 20 is unlikely.”
And-But, if I ever had a list of qualities most desirable in a husband, “Surprise” would surely come before #2, A Sense of Humour, #3. Intelligence and #4. Beauty. And there it is.
We met only a year ago, and I was first struck by his number four. He was with someone. Next lunch I was with someone, but the third lunch “to talk shop” he made a reservation. As a woman of the world I knew that this was a sign. Straight from Emma’s How to Flirt Basics4 I can also tell you that the ordering of anything with breasts5 in the dessert-title is a signal that you or your dining partner have other things on their mind.
Then suddenly we were engaged. We don’t know quite how this happened, but it was not on the agenda on the first date: How to make Piri-Piri was. Somewhere between dinner at his place and Great Whites Under 3 Euros it was All Decided and rings were on fingers. Of course, no one knew what to say. There had been no warning, no back story, no relationship, nothing really to explain it.
So I didn’t tell anyone for a while, except my Sister-in-Law who rather fortuitously came for a luxy weekend in Lisbon. Thus, a fab wedding dress was bought, from the only possible place, A Outra Face Da Lua. Vintage heaven. Thanks to them, their enthusiasm and their creative chutzpah, that I turned out like an angel. Can’t remember the shop assistant’s name who picked out the frocks, but he was a winner. Thanks.
Luxy Sister-in-Law put me onto the earrings. She has a nose for antique french jewellery and that night her blackberry brought me my chandelier fantasy. Unique, collectable, 1960′s pure glamour gluttony. Really expensive, naturally, so now they are going on ebay because we need firewood. But thank you Helena, Harlequin Market, Paddington, Sydney, for this wonderfully delicious decadence.
Well now the story turns a tad dull because the paperwork part of getting married is absurdly bureaucratic and somewhat unromantic. Dunno ’bout you folks but waiting in line at Registos for six hours does not make me smile. Cast aside one’s ideal Beach Wedding, Castle Wedding, City Wedding: my advice to young noivos6 would be just to find a cooperative and courteous Registo who understands the difference between Love and War. Seriously, I’d begun to think I’d mixed up the words for gun license and marriage licence. Or maybe arms trafficker. The paperwork went on and on, not at all unlike getting my visa: Bureaucrat Modus Operandus Page One: Stop the customer getting what they want. Never mind that the customer is a taxpaying Portuguese resident and therefore pays your wages, dumbass. Never mind this operation-marriage-invasion is costing the customer a small fortune which goes slap into the Portuguese economy direct from their mothers’ foreign bank account. And certainly never mind knowing the law, regulations or procedure – just make it up as you go along. Every Registo had its own special set of requirements, including the procurement of stamps from departments overseas who could not, did not, provide them. Over their dead body were we getting married. We went through five conselhos’ Registos but I single out Porto for being the worst. Rude beyond rude. Easily gets the prize for rudest Portuguese I have ever met. City of Porto, you lost our business. You suck.
Almost defeated and being threatened with Gretna Green by The One and His People, we re-visited the Registo of Lousã, where they employ human beings. Fernanda, god bless her, was excited for us. One small tweak to the paperwork (and even an apology from the Aussie embassy for a typo: an apology from a government employee? I nearly cried. God bless you too, Cristina) and we had Salazar’s approval. Oh the joy. We were free to be together. To be Us, We. Each One, of Two7. Wedded and Bedded.
By convenience, or just more serendipity, Lousã has an adorable palace hotel which I have a soft spot for. We coordinated dates between the Conservadora and The Mélia. Wedding, Honeymoon, credit card, tick tick tick.
All I had left to panic about was that summer had turned into winter and my dress had been bought in July. So I dragged my flu-ridden self to Coimbra for a last minute thermal underwear mall attack, where Etam sorted me out with a sexy kit. Not recommended for Antarctic explorers, perhaps, but undergarmets nonetheless.
It’s all been a learning curve obviously, but did you know that a bride is required to submit to a hairdo rehearsal? This I never knew, and will never know. I went instead to a proper hairdresser who knew when the 1960s was, and she made me look like a glamourpuss in half an hour. Ana, Cabeleireiro Hair Studio, thank you, gorgeous work.
Now all I have to thank is two extraordinarily talented people, Tango, AtomicdogmA.com and Penfold, papersurfer.com who came to document the event, to give us some proof that we weren’t making the whole thing up. Are the pictures brilliant or what?
I’ve never wanted to get married. I have always disliked weddings. And I’m not sure I have believed in love for a long time. I certainly do not subscribe to the notion that “there is someone for everyone”. I absolutely refute that being a part of a couple is an ultimate goal of life.
But I believe that being happy is the meaning of life. And to love and be loved is our greatest, noblest ability. And now I also believe in chance, perhaps in fate and I believe that if this amazing stroke of luck can happen to me, it can happen to anyone.
Thank you, meu querido marido.
1 old maid
2 Love in a Cold Climate
3 Potential suitor for settling down with
4 The book that comes after “My Life as a Peasant” and also after “Mary and Fred’s Guide to Cat Massage” but before “Great Toilets of the World”.
Mushrooms. The steak of the vegetable kingdom. Versatile, tasty, healthy and lots of varieties. Except in the supermarket boondocks of Central Portugal where exotic means Swiss Brown or Oyster at extortion prices.
In Australia we are spoiled with a plethora of fresh Asian mushrooms like Shitake, Enokitake, Straw and Black from China and very weird wobbly moist seaweed like fungi from Japan. For the wild forager there are Field and Pine, and Australian Morels, but alas, the god and goddess of mushrooms the Porcini and the Chantarelle are exclusive to Europe. These we can only get them dried or wraaapped in plaaastic.
Mushroom #1: a mystery
The chance that there might be a secret cache of Chantarelles hiding here in the forest gets me out of bed on a cold and wet morning. Our story begins with a walking of the wookie and the discovery of 16 different-looking mushrooms in the space of an hour. Then I sent the pics to Rick at Permanent Portuculture who, while insisting he is no expert, does have the guts to eat what he picks himself.
Mushroom #8: also a mystery
A couple of people die in Portugal every year from eating wild mushrooms. Mostly it’s the fault of the Amanita Phalloides, with the I-told-you-so common name of The Death Cap. Another Amanita, Virosa, also not-kiddingly known as the Destroying Angel usually knocks off a few more souls in the world each year. Fascinatingly, one of the poisons carried by the Amanita interrupts the production of DNA, so organs which constantly reproduce cells (like the liver and kidneys) are fatally affected. Most poisonings occur where foraging is most popular, der, like in North America and Europe, but heaven help you if you eat the wrong thing in a third world country where dialysis and liver transplants may not be at your immediate disposal. One story of a whole family in Nepal being poisoned, then misdiagnosed and not appropriately treated, died from blood loss, which poured out of every orifice. Apologies to those eating breakfast.
So, be warned. This is not an authoritative guide to surviving mushrooms. You life is in your hands.
young Fly Agaric
Here we have a nice example of the Fly Agaric (amanita mascara), a poisonous and hallucinogenic fungus. The Lapps of Lapland have a wealth of folklore surrounding the Fly Agaric, including drinking the urine of the reindeer who feed on the mushroom, which apparently is a safer way to achieve the desired effect. Apologies again to those eating breakfast.
It would help anyone trying to identify mushrooms to get as many references as they can, as appearances vary from photo to photo, and a single mushroom can vary greatly according what stage of development it’s at. Check out Baby Fly above and Mother Fly below. And check out any of the google pictures links – wildly different examples. Don’t trust any of them.
Older Fly Agaric
“Mushrooms and other fungi of Great Britain & Europe”, by Roger Phillips is pretty much the bible of the mushroom faithful. The novice forager should learn to recognize the few that are worth eating, the few that are deadly, and the more common ones that will make you sick.
Mushroom #5 : The Parasol
Here we have the Parasol (Lepotia procera) edibility excellent, late summer and autumn. Not frost hardy. Habitat: open woodland and pasture. Like most mushrooms you can’t put it in the freezer because of its high water content, but you could try drying it.
There are about 14 000 kinds of mushrooms and fruiting fungi, but there are only a very few anyone bothers to eat. It’s because very few are tasty. Here is a brief list of the shrooms worth eating (according to Phillips)
Field mushroom – (Agaricus campestris)
Cep – (or porcini, penny bun) – (Boletus edulis)
Chanterelle – (Cantharellus cibarius)
Shaggy ink cap – (Coprius comatus)
Horn of plenty (or trumpet of death, black chanterelle, black trumpet) – (Craterellus cornucopioides)
Hedgehog fungus – (Hydnum repandum)
Chicken of the woods – (Laetiporus sulphureus)
Giant puffball – (Langermannia gigantea)
Parasol mushroom – (Lepiota procera)
Shaggy parasol – (Lepiota rhacodes)
Field blewit – (Lepista saeva)
Wood blewit – (Lepista nuda)
Wood Blewits, picked by Rick
Fairy ring champignon (or scotch bonnet) – (Marasmius oreades)
Morel – (Morchella esculenta)
Oyster mushroom – (Pleurotus ostreatus)
Cauliflower fungus – (Sparassis crispa)
St. George’s mushroom – (Tricholoma flavovirens)
Truffle – (Tuber aestivum)
That’s not even 20, and the deadly poisonous ones don’t even number 10.
Mushroom #6 : Panther Cap
Rick reckons this is probably a Panther Cap (Amanita pantherina) super poisonous. Steer clear of it, and really don’t lick, pinch or even kiss accidentally. This guy could be so bitchin’ that he could transfer toxins through your skin and set you puking, or worse.
Mushroom #7: The Crumpet
This is in the world of could be this or that, but it is not a crumpet. Rick’s money would probably be on Peppery Bolete (boletus piperatus) which is edible, pops up in late summer and autumn. Found in various locations, particularly birch scrub, mixed pine and birch on sandy soil.
On the other hand, it could be Red Cracked Boletus, which is common, found in mixed broadleaf woodland in autumn, and edible.
OR it might even be Boletus pruinatus, which are rare.
Mushrooms are the fruiting bodies of an underground thingy called a mycelium, a felt like mat that spreads in an evasive extra-terrestrial kind of way, like a thing from another planet, very 1950′s sci-fi. Mushrooms are groovy, see. There are many that look the same, or nearly identical, and accordingly some are named “false” whatsists or “deceiving” doodad.
Mushroom #9: Log Dudes
Rick thinks these could be either of two things, both tend to grow in the same vicinity. He would say these are Sulphur Tufts (Hypholoma fasciculare) very common, habitat in big clusters on stumps of trees. Not edible.
Or possibly, they are Honey Fungus, (Armillaria mellea), very edible when cooked. Similarly found in abundance, often nearby Sulphur Tufts. A problem if you have it on your trees as it attacks its host, with no known cure. Good job you can eat it.
Mushroom #10: The Poo
Common Earth-Ball (Scleroderma citrinum) late summer to winter, common, hence the name. Not edible. Found on heaths, mossy and peaty ground, mixed woodland, and especially on sandy soil. When you stamp on one near the end of its life it explodes a black cloud of spores. Dramatic, but mean.
The Poo again, this time looking more like The Potato
Rick says he’s not entirely sure about mushroom 11. Looks again like Sulphur Tufts, but also looks a bit like Galerina mutabilis, which are edible and good apparently, they grow in the same conditions in a similar way, abundantly, and almost as common as sulphur tufts, which are not edible, very common and are all year round.
Mushroom #15: Proper Forest Fungi
A Polypore (Coriolus versicolor). Very common, grows on deciduous trees all year round. Not edible, but used as an Asian herbal remedy to treat cancer.
Mushroom #16: The Tiger
Probably a Lepiota, a parasol of some kind. in its early stage, not easy to fully identify, could be a Lepiota rhacodes, or Lepiota hystrix. but it could also be something else known as The Prince, (Agaricus augustus) which is good to eat, habitat in both deciduous and coniferous woodland, late summer to autumn. and often quite large.
Now, if you’re looking for something definitely edible, here’s a pic of Boletus edulus, (cep, penny bun, porcini). The three on the right are edulus, one on the left is Gyroporus castaneus, Chestnut Bolete, superb. Found by Rick last winter (around Serra do Açor). But what about my favourite, the Chantarelle? Last time I was in Sweden, where my friend Catarina is an enthusiastic forager, I saw Chantarelles in a supermarket with “origin: Portugal” marked on them! So where are they hiding?
And if you are wondering where all the other numbers went, well they were either older or younger varieties of ones we’d already named, or they were boring and I left them out, or we didn’t know what they were. They were not Chantarelles, that’s for sure.
Guy Fawkes Night is celebrated on November 5th and commemorates the day Guy Fawkes and his co-conspirators were busted for trying to blow up the British parliament and kill King James 1 in 1605. It’s otherwise known as Bonfire Night, traditionally accompanied by a large hot pile of burning stuff, fireworks and spiced warm red wine. Quirkily, the celebration these days is almost commemorating Guy Fawkes the man, and what a damn fine chap he was. At the time he was noted as a fun guy to be around, and now in today’s reading of him, as someone with the balls to blow up the government, not an uncommon desire amongst any populace from any time to time.
His mission was a religious one, that of radical Catholic conquering moderate Protestant, which all things being equal, should actually be offensive to us these days, just as we might be offended by jihadists putting the boot in to anyone thinking differently. I was even a little shocked to hear that burning effigies of the Pope is part of the tradition, and while I don’t believe in mickey mouse, I can understand a whole lotta people getting their knickers in a knot over that.
So Guido Fawkes is like the patron saint of anarchy, or at least of critics and lefties. In more recent years burning effigies of Margaret Thatcher and George W has become the the trend (and I wonder if any Tony Blairs got done on the weekend). As an Australian I can understand this: our heroes are anti authoritarian. Never mind that James I appears to me to be a pretty moderate sort of bloke, the cheeky little political stirrer that Guy Fawkes represents is the hero of November 5.
the "mask" of guy fawkes, symbolises anonymous anti-authoritarian protest
Come November 11 in Portugal, Saint Martin gets a look in, and it would not be considered unusual to invite your friends around, light a big bonfire, roast some chestnuts and warm yourself with this year’s wine to celebrate. Martin of Tours (b.316) had somewhat of a grand career, being one of the most famous early Christians. He apparently became a Christian at age 10, when it had only just been recognised as a legal religion but was far from being a popular one.
Martin’s story starts with a “all round good bloke” type tale of him ripping his cloak in two and sharing it with a beggar. That night he dreamt of Christ wearing the cloak, and thus Martin’s vocation was confirmed. During the middle ages, the cloak itself became a big-time holy relic, which means it must have spent a really long time in the back of Martin’s cupboard before anyone remembered it was there. Like, a couple hundred years at the very least.
A number of small events seemed to lead up to his fame. He went conscientious objector at 18, moved to Tours in France where he made radical Christian friends, then became a hermit in Italy, did a bit of evangelical preaching and then became bishop of Tours. According to Wiki he “made an impression” not only with his nice personality but by smashing up old temples and other nice old pagan bits which today would have fetched a high price at Sotheby’s.
But Martin was really one for the quiet life and set up a nice cave-dwelling monastic order which became remarkably popular. The followers of this puritanical sect did nothing at all, had nothing at all and wore rough clothes. Other than that, Martin was recorded as unsuccessfully intervening on the part of other Christian sects against the Romans. It’s hard to tell just how well known the guy was during his lifetime, but he did have a personal biographer, so that puts him in league with say, Archbishop Rowan Williams and Victoria Beckham.
Not unlike photo editing software altering a picture the way we prefer it to be, history gave St Martin a little more saturation, a little softening around the edges. He was taken on by French royalty as a mascot, made patron saint of France, soldiers and horses (do cats have a patron saint?), and his cult grew so that they had to build him a new shrine because he received so many visitors. St Martin’s shrine is a stopping point for pilgrims walking on their way from Santiago de Compostela to Rome. Probably without St Martin, Tours would not see so many tours. Boom boom.
Multiple miracles were attributed to St Martin, as devotedly told by his contemporary biographer Sulpicius Severus. Just the usual stuff, raising people from the dead, curing the paralyzed and casting out devils. Once he avoided being killed by a falling tree, another time he seemed to possess some extraordinary fire-fighting skills. Nothing too overwhelming.
What’s really missing from St Martin’s story is a gruesome and untimely martyrdom. Maybe that’s the real miracle, that as an early Christian pot stirrer he avoided being strung up, bled or otherwise subjected to cruel and unusual punishment. Apparently instead he lived to the age of 81, which in the 4th century has got be quite remarkable, or complete bullshit.
Not so Guy Fawkes. First he was tortured, until he confessed and gave up his mates. For treason in the 17th Century, the in-vogue punishment was to be hung, drawn and quartered, which I’m afraid means exactly that: hung until you were not quite dead, then have your nuts chopped off and your guts cut out, then beheaded and cut into four bits. But our hero Guy managed rather cunningly to jump off the gallows and break his neck before the savagery could begin.
So there we are; these are the stories behind our motives to get together with friends around a roaring fire with a glass in hand. Two men with intentions of changing the world, but is that enough? I’d hate to think that in 500 years they’ll be a Feast of Arnold Schwarzenegger.
I wouldn’t be a true Australian if I didn’t mention here that November 11 was also the day the Queen’s representative in Australia, the Governor-General sacked the Australian Prime Minister Gough Whitlam in 1975. Whitlam had been elected in 1972, following 23 years of conservative government, after proposing what’s remembered as the most “definitive statement of policies ever proposed at an election”. The first three years of his term witnessed profound change, reform, and controversy as he led Australia into a more forward looking, creative, humanitarian era. His policies included significant health care reform, the end of conscription and the implementation of free legal aid. Leading up to his dismissal as prime minister, the senate (with a majority of conservative coalition members opposed to his policies) blocked bills of supply to the government and produced a stalemate. This ended when for the first and only time in Australia’s history the Prime Minister was dismissed by the Monarch’s representative (a position appointed by the Prime Minister himself). It provoked immediate and widespread protests in the streets and is still considered the most controversial constitutional event in Australia’s history. Gough Whitlam continues to contribute to and comment upon the political landscape today. He is 94.