Join Date: Oct 2003
Thanked 0 Times in 0 Posts
Oi Amigos! This one from Portugal, a bit long, perhaps you'll take it as an apperitive. "Que desfrutem..." In Portuguese, 'desfrutar,' to undo a fruit and savour it piece by piece... In Spanish, 'desgustar,' a gastronomical term to taste with intent and knowledge. In other words, enjoy!
Sitting at the Port of Belem, Lisboa, Portugal, a beautiful breeze fills my nostrils with seasalt air. Life is re-awakened through all of my senses, it sparkles through the light reflection in the back of my eyes, fills my mouth with a gusto for the previously resilient fishing livelihood that existed here, and absorbs through my 'pele' (skin). The Monument of Discoveries stands tall on my left, and the Tower of Belem to my right, from which the discoverer Vasco da Gama first set sail to India in 1497. With the majestic Cathedral of Belem as a backdrop, I tread softly upon the cobblestone mosaic of Portugal's historical empire world map.
An older, local senhor, wearing a traditional cardigan and vest, which look as though they have protected his frail body for all of his adult life such that they have not only become identifiably his, but his own flesh, fishes off the dock. Silently, we connect by mutual solitude... I ask him what can be fished in these parts. With a pleasantly surprised countenance he resounds the name of the Portuguese catch, and follows with five simples words: "E so para passar tempo" (It's only to pass time)... His local accent and voice, tempered by a self-restraint and humility of 'less is more' that only comes with age, with living, is captivatingly charming.
In my humble opinion, Portuguese is one of the most beautiful languages in the world. Each word has an entire world in itself. For instance, the term 'creatividade' (creativity) contains so many sub-contexts: to create, activity, life (vida)... 'Coracao' (heart) actually means 'to cure.' This too can be achieved in other languages; however, it is the innate cultural distinction and melodic vibrations of this language that makes the Portuguese play of words (for those who delight in this, that is) so 'gostoso' (delicious would be the closest translation), the latter being another example of their conspicuous experience of life in language. The natural sensuality of the Portuguese language is not only expressed, but felt through one's body, diaphram, vocal cords, tongue, lips, breath... In this journey, the term 'passar' seems to be the thematic thread. 'Passar,' to pass, but even more so, to let, to let be, 'to be...' it is so identifiably Portuguese...
We sit side by side over the dock, generations and worlds apart, but united by a common nostalgia of an old Portugal, letting in life... The dock is empty and the stalls are closed in the non-peak season. The air is crispier and the silence is louder than ever, except for the infrequent footsteps and conversations of a few passerbys. The sun is lower and shrouded in clouds in these cooler days, as we continue to bathe in the moment... Occasionally, the old man walks back and forth between nursing his fishing rod over the dock and playing with his tackle paraphenalia at our sitting post. I occasionally walk back and forth between throughts of life, travel and friends, and playing with the images of my travels in my head.
Eventually, I must go e 'passar ao meu caminho' (continue on my path), we greet each other with our eyes, as he follows me with his. I know only as far as my next stop, the "Pastelaria Antiga do Belem" (Belem's antique pastry shop), a Lisboa institution, to delight in a freshly baked and warm 'pastel,' a traditional local specialty of sinfully light custard cupped in layers of flaky pastry, small enough to perfectly complement a Portuguese 'cafezinho' (coffee), a requisite practice in these parts, for of course, it would otherwise be too early to accompany it with a diminutive glass of aged Porto and gastronomically soar...
I take the 'comboia' (electric car) back to 'Centro' (center city). Lisboa can be a dichotomy to the novice traveller to Portugal, that is. She does not dress with her finest gown and bat her eyelashes to captivate you with her flirtations. She does not call upon her maid servants to polish up the marble staircase and bronze handrails leading up to her private chambers in preparation for her suitors. To the contrary, you will find her appearance quite matter-of-fact, as if caught in flagrant, while she emerges with hands covered in fresh aromatic earth from her gardens. She greets her suitors with an air of indifference at first. She does not try to anchor them at every step and turn with incessant souvenir offers and tourist posts. In fact, many of her antique architectural structures are decaying and the stone facade show the vestiges of time. Yet, despite of the street dirt and graffiti, her history-making days of splendor shine through as a dignifying contrast to the unexpectedly developed scale of her commercial life.
In some ways, Lisboa stands unmoved amidst the frills and fuss of any apparently overbearing aspect of European glamour. She is not jaded by her suitors' insatiable demands, which can make their infatuation even greater. With a relaxed poise of self-knowledge that solely comes from one who has experienced the 'valley of life and death,' she breaks away from her customary governing activities to kindly walk her suitors through her 'jardims' (gardens) and showcase the treasured collection of antique 'azulejos' (from the arabic word 'azuleikah' referring to a uniquely dazzling shade of blue). The Portuguese have pioneered this fine art of terracota ceramic 'azulejos' and the perhaps less popular; however, even more impressive, street cobblestone mosaics. The aged streets are inlaid with them forever inscribing Portugal's impressive feats of history. These could be overseen by the distracted eye; however, her rhythmic pace gently draws one's eyes to such significant details without the necessity of extending her fine hands in order to direct their attention.
One needs only walk a kilometer or two from the old city alongside the end of the day bumper to bumper rush hour traffic to emerge into the broad "Praca do Rossio" (great plaza, a nexus for several main avenues culminating into a social and commercial gathering point and exploding into a statuesque fountain) to be suspended in momentary awe of a sheer white veil crowning the entire 'praca' at sunset... Instantly, one is brought home by a sweet smell of charcoal-roasted chesnuts from stalls at various corners of the 'praca,' giving continuous rise to the smoke that weaves itself into the sheer mantle over the 'praca.' I ask for a sizzling bunch of roasted chesnuts in a rolled telephone directory paper cone, and the aged attender pours a handful of extra chesnuts for me with a knowingly warm smile. The Portuguese are still amused by her suitors' ways and inquisitiveness; most are polite and attentive in their manner of service and help.
They are giving a multi-dimensional presentation of Lisboa's history at the "Castelo Dom Joao " (main castle). There is a certain unspoken posture taken towards their own history, which years of dedication towards the path of self-knowledge could not accomplish, that is, what can fundamentally be witnessed as Portugal's historical consciousness. Like her French and British counterparts, the Great Queen accepts her imperialist conquests as a developmental part of her nation's history. However, there is a subtle remorse for the knowledge of a past that cannot be undone, the brutality of colonialism. She mentions her greatest conquest, Brasil, with care and respect - the mental line between 'them' and 'I' is no longer so concrete - like a mother who has adopted a son against his will, learned to love him dearly, yet let him go.
I come down the winding cobblestone steps off of the 'castelo' exit, pleasantly lured by the melody of a familiar Brazilian folk song and distinctive guitar playing by two young Brazilian ex-patriates. I share in their 'saudades' (longing) of Brasil... I stand there for a while, atunning my inner vibrations to their notes, as a small crowd forms around us. I decide to leave them my two freshly juicy and plump persimmons rather than coins as to connect with the two performers at a most basic level. One of the players pauses to gently pound his chest twice in a sign of gratitude from the heart as I set one foot forward...
Outside the fair lady's borders, in the south and east of Faro in Tavira, I find myself walking along the outskirts of the old city in search of the 'praia' (beach, but further, to layout, extend, to have pleasure...), and befriend two Mozambique ex-patriates who kindly offer to show me around Tavira. Of course, I will miss my 3:15 bus back to Faro, but who is sticking to a plan? We drive in a 4X4 through rugged and narrow dirt roads dividing pools of 'salinas' (salt ponds). These have so fittingly become part of the livelihood and 'paisagem' (association of country, that is, earth, with panorama and view, forming a visual footage of nature...) that they have become indistinguishable from the sea just a kilometer or so beyond them. Therein, in the beach, are 'Hemingway'isc' lone-standing paddle and motor boats, calmly resting upon fluerescent shades of light green waters. One would not have known that this was not a hand brushed painting, lest the wind had not gently stroked the waters and moved the 'barcos' (boats) inch by inch. We let the air brush against our faces as it helps us feel the warmth of our own breathing, as we drive still through even narrower roads lined with almond, fig and orange trees, as well as, imported pine and bamboo trees, further away from the touristic points. I happily exhaust trying to explain what I meant by remarking that these roads are romantic, when they say, in Brazilian terms, 'yes! it is gostoso!' =)
As my Mozambique friends and I reminesce about growing up in Africa and South America, respectively, I am humbled to learn about a small, but entirely distinct Portuguese sub-population, of which I was previously unaware, the post-colonial African ex-patriate diaspora. In Portugal, the 1.5 and 2nd generation African-Portuguese diaspora are proud of their heritage, but still deal with the lingering effects of re-patriation, socio-economic and political displacement, and identity. My new friends and I toast over a delightful show and gulp of the native Mozambique dialect! Over cups of 'cafezinho' at first and refreshing beer in the late afternoon, we share stories interlaced with humor, as we longingly fix our gaze onto the striking southern panorama. Perhaps, our famous 19th Century French and Spanish painters' representation of Venus' beauty and power, not only visually but also through music on canvas, is universal. The music of our laughter fills the air as we contemplate the architectural schizophrenia of historical churches housed under the roof of conquested moorish temples standing over ancient roman ruins! If the Portuguese can happily live and worship in such historical land mines, then I shall never have have to experience inner conflict! ;-)
It is morning and I am chit-chatting with a cheery and poised native Algarve (region in southern Portugal) lady travelling by my side in the bus en route to Sevilla, Espana. She has the day off, for it is December 1, a Portuguese national holiday. I chuckle inside at the irony of her weekend rendevouz in Sevilla in a day when her entire country is remembering and celebrating the day they chased the Spanish away. We cross the border to Huertas, and her words are still resounding in my ears, "Eu gosto the passear." Of course she likes to 'passear,' to sightsee, and to pass, to let, to let be, to be...