On summer Sundays and paper suits

It’s a summer Sunday in Porto. A logical move – going for a stroll along the oceanfront. Living in a city by the sea, one can hardly think of nicer way to spend a sunny weekend morning! So, here I am in the neighbourhood of Foz, where the river meets the ocean, and which, within the city, has a distinct cultural identity. Foz is among the most desirable locations to live in Porto, and those of us whose residences are elsewhere love coming here over and over again, for strolls, festivals, gastronomy or nightlife.

This Sunday, it seems all the city strollers decided to unite: the streets of Foz are turning into rivers of people! And it seems the strollers have taken over the roadway, too, as cars cannot pass.

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Hmmm, what might this be all about?

People line up in the shade along the sidewalk, and the music starts. I approach, too, with my camera ready to register this curious event I stumbled upon. And here they come: dozens of ladies and gentlemen, bishops and kings, children, maids, fishermen and their wives, in a parade that revives local traditions, ways of life, monuments, and reminds of prominent people that marked the history of Foz.

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As if we have gone back in time: they are all dressed in beautiful, elaborate, colourful, sometimes even theatrical clothes from the epochs long gone.

The parade doesn’t seem to be very disciplined: here and there, participants step out to wish a good day to a friend or to take a photo or two for their family albums. Quite a few approach to greet an elderly lady who has chosen a nice, shady spot right next to me. Being the participants just steps away, I realize: those wonderful dresses and suits, all the equipment and details, even their shoes, are all made of paper!

I find out that I am in the middle of the celebrations of St. Bartholomew, traditional of Foz, and that the paper suit parade happens to be their highlight. Some claim the tradition is over a 150 years old, others say that it goes just 50 years back, and that it became constant from the early 1990s. I won’t be investigating much into the dispute: maybe it is for the best not letting the truth get in the way of a very nice story!

The parade ends in the sea, but not all the participants dare to have a swim. Despite it is late summer, the ocean is unpleasantly chilly. The bravest ones dip in the ocean in their paper suits until they fall apart.

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This summer day in Porto remains so unique and memorable: the parade theme and the paper suits will be reinvented over and over in the years to come, yet in my mind there is nothing ephemeral about this Sunday.

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Singeverga

Autumn weekends in Portugal can be unstable in terms of weather: this one was just like that, with wonderful, sunny Saturday and grey, rainy Sunday. Saturday just called for being outdoors all day: the plan was visiting seemingly ordinary places near Porto where tourists and foreigners don’t usually head – peeking into the “real Portugal”, Portugal beyond the two principal cities and the coast. The itinerary included: passing through Roriz (the one near Santo Tirso), where a very important romanesque church of St. Piter is situated, seeing the Singeverga Benedictine monastery nearby,  stopping at São Mamede de Negrelos, popping to Pombeiro de Ribavizela to visit its monastery church dedicated to St. Mary of Pombeiro, passing through the tiny Vizela and Tagilde, ending at the mount and sanctuary of St. Quiteria overlooking Felgueiras, before the well-deserved dinner.

These places are unfamiliar to a majority of Portuguese, not to mention foreigners, however, the strangest one, Singeverga, might ring the bell for many. Not because its monastery has a huge butterfly collection or the painting attributed to Tintoretto in its posession. It is rather beacuse Singeverga is where the famous Portuguese liquor of the same name is produced. Of course, nobody but a few monks know exactly how it is made.

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One would think the tradition goes centuries back – in reality, it is thanks to a friend of monastery, who happened also to be a chemical engineer, that the production was made possible – back in 1945. The 6000 yearly bottles, manually filled, are one of the main sources of income for the monastery, lead by the Benedictine principle of ora et labora.

I had an opportunity to taste some beautiful, warm caramel coloured Singeverga: very sweet and flavorful, containing, besides alcohol, a range of spices, caramel, black tea, and probably some secret ingredients. But don’t be tricked with the sweetness – it is also very, very strong!

Photo: http://www.garrafeiraspedro.pt

My European Heritage Days in Portugal

One might think it’s a recent fashion, but European Heritage Days actually celebrate the whole 30 years this September!

The initiative dates back to 1985, when Council of Europe started it with the aim of raising awareness of European cultural diversity. Then, in 1999, it turned into a joint initiative of CoE and EU and nowadays it attracts the whole twenty million people across fifty countries. The idea is to make cultural monuments more open and accessible to anyone interested, thus the European Heritage Days are also known as Heritage Open Days. And yes, this also means free entrance to the museums and free visits to monuments in entire Portugal on September 27h!

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A vast array of events linked to heritage and museums have one common thread – they share the annual theme. In 2015, the European Heritage Days are about industrial heritage.

As I was working in a heritage protection institute for a decade, until the beginning of 2014, our Septembers were very much dedicated to Heritage Open Days events. I remember some enjoyable but quite long days and working weekends on the organization side, adding my little contribution to making heritage more visible and more present in our citizens’ everyday. And I am happy that tradition continues in a different way, in another cultural context.

An external view to a country’s heritage and cultural identity functions somewhat as a mirror: one is curious to know how others see them. And that was, I believe, the reason for me to be invited to ISLA (Instituto Politécnico de Gestão e Tecnologia) in Vila Nova de Gaia, to participate in their event commemorating the European Heritage Days 2015.

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I told a story about the discoveries of a cultural tourist – that was just me disguised as one, of course – related to Porto’s industrial heritage, its past and present contexts and its possible future. I have learnt immensely from those discoveries! Switching between the two countries and the status of more-than-a-visitor in Portugal enabled me a detached view on the well-known problems of industrial (and all other) heritage back in the homeland, informed by the discoveries on how others do, and how they face their challenges. Not being without its problems, the industrial heritage experience from Portugal still offers many inspiring initiatives and good examples to learn from.

Look at the European Heritage Days website for a very nice interactive map of EHD 2015 events across Europe.

Saturdays at six

A common idea unites cultural Saturdays here in Porto: interesting artifacts as starting points of most diverse talks and presentations around the city, throughout the year. Yes, “Um objeto e seus discursos” (“An artifact and its discourses”) continues in 2015!

005Many Saturday afternoons across the city, all the way to December, are already on my wishlist thanks to Objeto, a cultural initiative organized by Porto City Hall, touching themes of history, art and contemporary society. I will be visiting new places, mostly unavailable for general public, or revisiting the ones I know, to meet people and learn new things. So far, I have walked though the monastery of Santa Clara and seen remains of the city walls, and learned about “New Portuguese letters” and the censorship they were subject to in early 1970s.

The mondrianesque design of the little brochure reflects the simplicity of the idea, and, at the same time, vastness of possibilities to interpret and reinterpret one same object from diverse perspectives and in different epochs.

003Looking forward to seeing the Afonso Henriques’ sword, entering the House of Prelada and its labyrinths, seeing the Aliados avenue from the City Hall balcony, learning about the meaning of the traditions related to the St. John’s day, seeing Rosa Mota in person in her pavilion, revisiting the VIP hall of Casa da Música.

And all this for free……..or almost so!

Besides being in Portuguese only (not a problem for me any more, though!), my single remark is regarding the quite chaotic organization of practicalities: this lead to finding out there will be a sequel of the 2014 Objeto very, very late, as well as impossibility to buy all tickets at once, or at least at a central place, for example.

http://www.umobjetoeseusdiscursos.com/

O Porto é. Oporto is.

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“O Porto é. Oporto is.” is a beautiful and ever growing collection of poetic visual moments from the city of Porto, created by a photographer named Conceição Ferreira. She shares everyday life flashes from her city, mostly organized through thematic collages – sets of nine images.

The motifs are something we all pass by, but only some stop to enjoy and register. There are hundreds of collages on her blog and the Facebook page. There, an impressive list of awards that Conceição Ferreira won can be found, too.

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I find this collection magical and diverse, just like this city itself is!

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Photo credits and more info: http://cldesignarquitectura.blogspot.pt/

Ramirez

I recently discovered that I now live not far from the oldest still operating fish can factory in the world – “Ramirez”. The company was established in 1853 and the factory has been working in Matosinhos since 1923. Unlike dozens of similar factories in Matosinhos itself and along the Portuguese Atlantic coast that have been closed and abandoned, “Ramirez” is still working successfully. Living industrial heritage, I dare say!

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They owe their vitality to the quality of products, of course, but also to the ever-present improvements and innovation. Many of us probably remember those tin openers and all the trouble that occurred when it was necessary to reach a canned ingredient for a dinner. I was sometimes giving up the initial meal plans because those tiny things got lost among the kitchen stuff or it was simply too difficult to deal with thick metal tins. It was exactly “Ramirez” that first introduced the new, easy-opening system for their cans, the one we take for granted today. According to the data published in their virtual museum, the year was 1970. It took some further years for the invention to be adopted and spread around the world.

They have a virtual museum at their website: http://www.ramirez.pt. This is also where the photo is from.

The Portuguese Life

What to bring home as a remembrance of a trip to Portugal? When it comes to souvenirs, a proper cultural tourist would, of course, aim at finding items of genuine Portuguese origin, typical and informative of local tradition and cultural identity. But where to look?

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In the heart of Porto, there is a very, very special shop, or more than that: A Vida Portuguesa (“The Portuguese Life”). Thanks to the effort of Catarina Portas (1969), a journalist and entrepreneur from Lisbon, A Vida Portuguesa offers to the public a carefully selected collection of objects of importance for understanding Portuguese spirit, thus playing, in a certain way, a role of a museum beyond museum walls. It is interesting to mention that Catarina Portas is a daughter of a well-known architect Nuno Portas (1934), who has had a significant role in promotion of Portuguese architecture abroad. A Vida Portuguesa even has a manifesto – their main goal is to “reveal the soul of the country”, based on enabling future for old Portuguese products. The first shop was opened in 2007 in Lisbon, and the one in Porto is of more recent date.

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A great thing that they do in A Vida Portuguesa is establishing partnerships with a number of factories from all around the country, to revive ancient and beloved brands that were once part of local everyday. Many of them come from Porto and its vicinity, ranging from the finest soaps produced by “Ach Brito”, hygiene and cleaning products by “Couto” or pencils by “Viarco”, to a vast array of local foods and wines.

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Not only is the collection found in this distinctive souvenir shop informative for tourists who wish to learn about the past and the contemporary Portugal  – it is also valuable for the Portuguese themselves, to refresh memories of “the good old times” or to return, at least for a moment, to beautiful, carefree worlds of their childhoods. An untranslatable term saudade immediately comes to mind as one of the well-known keywords to understanding this country: a nostalgic feeling of longing and endearing remembrance of something or someone being missed (may it be a person, object, experience or epoch), that might never come back.

Some might suspect this initiative is just a consequence of the global trend – idealization of the past and its values in the turbulent and globalizing epoch of ours. A market niche that has emerged inspired a commercial response in form of “selling nostalgia”. However, my impression is that past and nostalgia are still truly embedded in everyday life of the Portuguese. And that can be felt strongly throughout Porto. Not only the immense number of antiquity shops, velharias (vintage item shops) or alfarrabistas (antiquarian bookshops), but also all the many lively shop windows, nameplates and interiors of cafés that didn’t change a bit over past decades, convince me I am right.

The Portuguese Life Manifesto and the photos come from: www.avidaportuguesa.com