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.

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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

Galo Louco, Part 3: Platu (getting to know Portuguese designers)

“Platu” is not merely a beautiful object: it is directly linked to interpretation of the Mediterranean nutrition pattern, and thus to promotion of the intangible culture of the country. So, let’s tell the story!

Thanks to a recent transnational initiative, Portugal has just got its second inscription into the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity: in 2013, the Mediterranean diet was added, based on the joint proposal, also including Cyprus, Croatia, Spain, Greece, Morroco, Italy. In the inscription document, the Mediterranean diet was defined as a “set of skills, knowledge, rituals, symbols and traditions concerning crops, harvesting, fishing, animal husbandry, conservation, processing, cooking, and particularly the sharing and consumption of food”. Every country that submitted and application has designated a representative municipality that best reflects contemporary presence of the Mediterranean nutrition tradition. For Portugal, the city of Tavira in Algarve has been selected (note to self: got to go there!)

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“Platu” (2008, with recent update), a work of the Portuguese designer Miguel Pinto Félix, is dedicated to one of the pillars of the Mediterranean diet – the olive oil. It is the plate meant for the refined experience of olive oil tasting. The form resembles an olive tree and bears to mind fluidity of the oil. It is “an olive tree designed for olive oil”, explains the designer. This example shows how much vitality contemporary design can gain through connections to tradition and local inheritance.

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Galo Louco, Part 2: The Whistler (getting to know Portuguese designers)

Being interested in the issues of cultural identity, art&design and sustainability in Portugal, I have learned a lot recently, thanks to the research initiated at “Galo Louco”.

The Portuguese are probably well acquainted with these designers’ work, but for me they are wonderful new discoveries!

Every morning I have my cereals from the well thought-out and cleverly designed part of “The Whistler” collection, conceived by Raquel Castro. I chose it for its aesthetic qualities, not knowing anything about the background. But I researched a bit and here is the story behind it:

As we know, Portugal is the world’s major producer of cork, an environmentally friendly, reusable and recyclable material. This country produces about 50% of total world amount. An innovative practice of recycling cork has also been developed in Portugal. In 2008, the “Green cork” project was initiated, with the idea to recycle and reuse cork stoppers. The project started as a partnership between Corticeira Amorim and Quercus, the main Portuguese environmental association, and then spread to Spain, France, Italy and UK in Europe, as well as to USA, Canada, South Africa and Australia.

The applications of cork seem to be endless: besides the use in architecture and building, clothing and footwear can be made of cork, as well as furniture and decoration. It is also used in the areas of health and beauty products, pollution control and even energy production. The possibilities for its new applications have been constantly discovered, too.

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An outstanding, creative example I found in “Galo Louco” is the “Alma Gémea” (“Soulmate”) line of products that combines cork and ceramics – a result of cooperation between the most prominent cork and ceramics producers of the country. One of the collections within the line is named “The Whistler”, as an hommage to the biggest cork oak tree in the world, located in the region of Alentejo. The designer was also inspired by the traditional pottery of Alentejo. The cork part of the product was made of recycled cork stoppers. In this example, the sustainability issues and cultural identity considerations were brought together and interpreted in a creative process.

The Whistler tree is 230 years old, it is harvested every 9 years (next time in 2018), and the last harvest was enough for about 100 000 cork stoppers! Here’s the amazing tree:

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Galo Louco, part 1

Every little step related to sustainability and green living counts, and a contribution can be made even during the journeys. One aspect of being a responsible traveler is choosing sustainable souvenirs. One of the great places  to get a sustainable souvenir in Porto is certainly the “Galo Louco”.

“Galo Louco” is a family-owned souvenir shop in the downtown Porto, with a refined choice of authentic Portuguese memorabilia and gourmet products. Even though the main idea of the range of products offered is to be of local origin and aesthetically pleasing, they are also implicitly based on the principles of sustainability.

The shop concept is based upon the ideas of uniqueness and authenticity. Being situated in the downtown Porto, the principle of uniqueness was essential to ensure competitiveness of the shop among many other souvenir shops in the vicinity. The owners also insist on the authenticity of the products – artifacts typical and informative of Portuguese tradition and cultural identity. All the products are thus of Portuguese origin, coming from the various regions of the country. Some of them are mass-produced, others are unique items, hand-made by craftsmen or designed and produced by local designers. Many items come from Porto and its vicinity.

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The owners have established cooperation and support to a number of local and regional artists, designers and craftsmen. One aspect of their collaboration is developing new artifacts based on the owners’ ideas.

The owners have already done the statistical analysis of the customer structure for the past three years, showing that only about 65% of the customers were foreigners, while the remaining 35% were Portuguese. Many locals consider “Galo Louco” not just as a souvenir shop (with the main target group being, of course, tourists), but also as their favourite gift shop.

Most of the items are of small dimensions and affordable.

I discovered the “Galo Louco” shop  by serendipity during previous (tourist) visits  to Porto. Mrs. Carmen, the owner, has kindly answered me a number of questions I had on the history of the place, its concept and the items they have, and thus provided me material for the little project I am developing with a colleague, who is also a foreigner in Porto.

So, the shop was established as a family-run business about 3 years ago, after Mrs. Carmen had to quit her job as a civil engineer. It currently employs two people. A curiosity: the name (that means “crazy rooster”) is a result of a mishearing – originally, the name “Galo Lȗso” (the Lusitanian rooster) was chosen.

How can souvenirs, the artifacts purchased and taken home by travelers for a remembrance of the journey experience, be assessed in terms of sustainability? This is a topic to be developed over the next posts!

Just a hint: I bought a sustainable souvenir there myself, a piece from the Raquel Castro’s collection “Alma Gemea” (“Soulmate”), composed of a ceramic+cork dish, of beautiful shape and pastel colour. And it was not just any cork, it comes from the recycled bottle corks!

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The CAMOC conference in Gothenburg, Sweden

CAMOC (the ICOM’s Committee for the Museums of Cities) is organizing their annual conference in Gothenburg, Sweden. The conference is taking place between August 6th and 8th, 2014. The theme is INDUSTRIAL HERITAGE, SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT, AND THE CITY MUSEUM.

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I am planning to research the industrial heritage of Porto, primarily in the areas of fish and wine production, and the ways this heritage is presented to visitors or tourists in the Porto of today. I will analyze the souvenirs and the vast gastronomical offer of this city linked to this heritage.

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Abstract deadline: March 1st, 2014

Link to the conference info: http://network.icom.museum/camoc/conferences/goteborg-2014/