Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Happy Canada Day, from Paris

We arrived in Paris Tuesday afternoon after a pleasant train trip from Portugal on the Sud Express and then the TGV up from Hendaye. Dining and sleeping on the train, beautiful countryside flashing past -- as that Quantas koala used to say: The only way to fly! (I know, some latitude here, please).

It's v. hot here -- 30 degrees and above in a city is too hot, really -- and our hotel is not air-conditioned, but we have a fan and with the windows of our charming room wide open at night, we're managing to sleep well, which makes all the difference.
And sunshine means this kind of street scene at which, really, how can one fail to smile? Yes, there are too many crowds right now -- we usually come to Paris in May or early June -- but we had a lovely chat with two well-travelled young American students at the next table and their excitement about the city is contagious, so we remind ourselves not to resent having "our" city overrun now that school's out.

When it's too hot for our usual walking, we're heading inside for the art and the climatisation. Global warming, energy efficiency, all that aside, I must admit I appreciate the air conditioning when and where it happens. And it was happening yesterday at the fabulous Beaubourg -- I know many hate this building, but I'm not one of them.

We were there to see a powerful exhibit of Lucian Freud's work -- accompanied by some illuminating photographs of his atelier, taken by David Dawson. We picked up a copy of the catalogue -- I'm not sure precisely what I think of Freud's stuff, but I'm arrested, compelled by it -- I find much of it on that border between the beautiful and the grotesque, and many of his nudes disturb me with their odd angles, obviously strained torsion, the so-many planes of the human body. His palette is so powerful yet restrained. Anyway, I'm glad to have the catalogue to mull over later, but being able to stand in front of the big canvasses is part of what makes these trips so worthwhile. Between yesterday's visit and one of our walks in the Beiras, Pater says, we've more than got value out of our plane ticket.Outside, the Beauborg was festooned with these -- what shall we call them? sculpture? habitats? structures? -- by Tadashi Kawamata,
who facilitates collaborative workshops to improvise and build these structures on site. Intriguing. A gorgeous meal last night at a restaurant I'm not identifying for the moment, as I think about the experience -- every bit of the meal was gorgeous, beginning with the complimentary champignon mousse. But l'addition arrived before we were even offered coffee, an obvious boot out the door to make room for the second seating. Pater is unlikely to be persuaded to give them another chance. Too bad.

But that's Paris, I'd say, the good alongside the bad, the beautiful and the grotesque, the delightful and the disturbing.
For example, the contrast between the graffiti pictured at the top of this post (snapped somewhere near the Beaubourg) and the photo below, taken just off the Rue Mouffetard.

So we're here and we're loving it -- heat and all! Especially since we keep checking the temperatures at home and they seem not to have moved above 21 degrees since we left. Today's Canada Day and I hope most of my compatriots are enjoying some warmth and sunshine -- Happy Canada Day to you!
Now I'm off to check out a stunning photographic exhibition mounted on the grillwork surrounding the Luxembourg Gardens -- nomads of the world represented in lush, huge images with brilliant colours, seductive landscapes, challenging truths which we will then ponder on a shaded bench while doing some people-watching. There's a Paul Klee exhibit nearby we may check out, and then we're meeting a blogger you all know and love -- stay tuned!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

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A Portuguese Village Bar

The last section of our drive back from Guarda the other day was along a fairly small road through the mountains (around 1500 M), the twists and turns along the precipitous edge of the slopes requiring some very alert driving, as well as some heavy praying over the alertness of the oncoming drivers.

Twisting into a small village (the mountains are dotted with them, clusters of 2-300 houses, a church, a bar sometimes, a restaurant rarely), we slowed down to admire a flock of goats belling their noisy way through what seemed like a v. large vacant lot or a v. small field right in the middle of a residential block. Anticipating my request, Pater pulled over to park, and encouraged me to get a picture, so I headed over with my camera, past the old goats of the human variety that were sitting on a wall nearby -- these latter old goats (and their younger counterparts occasionally) are a feature of every village as well, especially from noon onwards when they seem permanently fixed to their seats, keeping watch on everything that passes.

As I set the camera to video mode and panned the field of goats, Pater caught up to me and called out something which I answered. Nearby, a solitary smoker's ears perked up and he engaged us both, speaking in English. Even more surprising for these parts, he continued to chat in v. decent English and then expressed "what a pleasure it is for me to speak English." repeating "It gives me great pleasure." Obviously, we were happy enough to indulge him in this and chatted for a few minutes about this and that, weather and geography and goat-wise. Just as we were getting ready to head back to the car, though, he asked us if we would drink a beer with him, his treat. I'm not sure which surprised me more, his request or Pater's barely-hesitating acceptance, as Pater, though friendly enough, is often assessed as reserved, and he's never been the guy to go for beers after work. But he sensed an opportunity here, to get to peek inside local life, and he also sensed a need, a loneliness of language in someone whose English (one of many non-native languages held by a man whose world travelling was always driven by stresses of economy and politics rather than desires and whims) revealed aspects of personality generally tucked away from his Portuguese neighbours.

So we went with Edouard around the corner to this tiny, smoky bar -- just a large room with tables, a pleasant young woman serving drinks, bicas (coffee), bottled rather than draft beer, simple snacks, and a variety of patrons behaving, as E. pointed out, as if they were in their own homes. Two old fellows played dominoes at the window table as they apparently do each day from 3 p.m. on(that's the domino table, E. pointed out, the one we sat at because it was the only other spot that would host 3, was the "cards table".
We got our Sagres (that and Bock are the beers to order in Portugal) and chatted with E. about the village's size and qualities (perhaps 500 pop., most worked nearby, main industry textile-related historically and even now), his own history (he was fairly evasive but was born to Mozambiquan parents, learned his English in Johannesburg, had worked in shipping many places, and was hoping to put together some possibility for retirement within the next few years).

But his pleasure in speaking English was soon under threat -- along came a good friend of his, described by him as a v. good man with a good heart, the richest man around these parts . . . And this man had lived in France for many years, working there as so many Portuguese did during economic struggles in Portugal, and was pleased to speak French with Pater, delighting in some variety, I suspect, to the regularity of village bar life. E. was equally comfortable in French, so the next beer (our treat by now, although that took some arm-wrestling) was enjoyed in that language while curious villagers drinking around us tried to figure out who we might be and what we were all talking about.

One of them would not be deterred by his lack of English or French, but shuffled over to join us, enthusiastically telling us something important in a Portuguese I couldn't have understood even if it had been enunciated through more teeth than this old fellow possessed. His charm was still in full force, though, and E. introduced him as "the oldest man in these parts, 91", which clearly delighted him even if he couldn't follow us. Despite my repeating "No fallo Portuguese" he continued to rattle off something which had the other men laughing and trying to shush him. Apparently, dementia was part of the picture and he was telling us how happy he was to see Pater, given that he'd worked with his father for many years, long ago. Pater just played along and hugged the old fellow back.

Then stood for a photo with him, for which the old guy took off his hat. Both he and Pater, you might be surprised to learn, are standing for this photo -- Pater is just six feet; Mr. Oldest Man might be 4'10" . . . What a life he's probably lived . .

By now, of course, everyone is best friends at our table. Still, we were surprised to receive a very generous, emotional, sincere invitation from a somewhat drunk "richest man" (who, I suspect would have been embarrassed and self-deprecating at this description by his admiring, English-speaking friend). Apparently, he had a beautiful big house, gardens, and piscine (swimming pool) and if we had our maillot de bain and our caleçon, we were welcome to come home with him where we could visit more, swim, and eat the meal he would prepare for us, staying there overnight before continuing our journey -- he had lost his wife seven months earlier and found the large space sad and empty without company. A moving appeal, for sure, and Pater told me later that perhaps under different circumstances he might even have accepted. As it was, we had another 90 minutes driving ahead of us before getting back to our maillot, etc., never mind the bed we'd paid to sleep in, and, after all, we're not in the habit of going home with complete strangers. Still, we regret just slightly the missed opportunity but drove away v. content with the momentary connection we'd made, the marvels of travel and language and friendship.
This post is scheduled for publication early Tuesday morning. Today, Monday, we're headed to Paris by train, our Portugal sojourn over for this year. Now to hit the road . . .

Saturday, June 26, 2010

History and Humour

Many who visit Guarda, a city close to the Portuguese-Spanish border, will come away impressed by its history as one of many cities and small towns in the Altas Beiras which harboured Jewish communities for centuries and also, sadly, persecuted them when the Spanish Inquisition eventually crossed the border.

They might also be impressed by its Gothic, Manueline, and Renaissance architecture, elements of which can all be found

in the cathedral
which hulks above the

old city's warren of narrow streets

Or perhaps they would be drawn to the ruins which signal the city's economic history of the 20th century

or find themselves entranced by small wonders such as this phoenix-like lantern-holder

or impressed by the thickness of its historic walls, curious about the labour that erected them.

They might drive away regretting the limited luggage space that prevented them from carrying home such pretties as these soaps daintily packaged and artfully displayed in a window (Miss Cavendish, I know, I know, how could I? . . . I admit I'm re-thinking my whole carry-on approach, strictly on the basis of these lovelies)
But very few will be so puerile as to leave this honourable old city laughing their, let's be polite and say heads off at this menu (where we in fact enjoyed a very filling and tasty lunch) whose English translation was represented as follows

Do look closely at the second item from the bottom of the non-fish meats, above. I compared it to the French translation to realize that the pointed element in question is not, thank goodness, what had us in convulsions, but rather was an attempt to signal a brochette. So no matter how often you may have thought a certain prick in your circle deserved to be laid on the coals, that doesn't really happen here. But the anxieties surrounding certain body parts certainly sharpens the effect of the humour here, and my man can still summon tears today if I remind him what was on the ementa at Guarda.
Now tell me, did this live up to its billing as funniest mis-translation ever? Or can you top me? And by the way, this might be a good time to mention that I do read and appreciate all of your comments as they're forwarded to my e-mail. I'm trying to limit internet time here in deference to what's materially present, rather than virtually, so I'm not always answering comments as I usually do. But I'm v. pleased to see them -- thank you!

Friday, June 25, 2010

More Portugal Walking

We don't just sit around on terraces and eat while we're here, I'll have you know. Some mornings we get ourselves operative before the sun gets too hot, and we do some exploring. There's a plethora of walking choices here along pathways forged by goats and villagers and forestry trucks over the centuries (okay, decades for the latter), and Josephine has a wealth of information and maps. We fill some water bottles, tuck a topographic map in the pocket and head out. So far, we've generally just chosen the routes that can be completed in about 90 minutes (one has to get back in time for the swimming, napping, and eating, of course!).

I'm not sure if you can tell the incline in the photo above, but we quite quickly achieved this view of the village we'd just left and thereafter it was view, view, view, all the way.
Much of the hillsides is covered with pine, so the path is littered with these gorgeous pinecones.
I thought these guys were pretty gorgeous as well, although I was a bit nervous about their canine guardian, a pretty noisy guy, until Pater pointed out that he was chained. Oh, well then, that's okay. . .

More view! Poor Pater, he's learned to be v. patient with my camera . . .

We're both always stopping to admire the drystone retaining walls and to try to imagine over how many years, decades, centuries, they were built. And each terrace they create, no matter how narrow, gets planted, generally with grapes, but also with olive trees or apple, apricot sometimes, and then with annual vegetable crops as well.

It's also fun to be rewarded for sharp eyes by spotting a stone house tucked back in the woods -- I wish all residences could fit their landscapes so aptly.

Gradually, the route circles back to the far end of the village we set out from, and we wander through its streets, calling out Bom dia to the residents who obviously wonder why the goofy tourists are wasting their holiday time walking in the hot sun.

So we'll humour them and head back for a swim, some lunch, perhaps a nap . . .

Next up, a post about our trip to Guarda with a photo of the funniest mis-translation sign you have ever seen. I think I can guarantee that claim, based on Pater's tears (of laughter, yes). You'll see . . .

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Terrace Delights (and a Recipe for you!)

The driveway/parking lot of Quinta da Geia where we had a delightful lunch on the terrace a few days ago -- and will return for one more meal before we leave on Sunday.

Orange seems to be a theme here -- a colour I seldom wear but couldn't resist in this gauzy long dress. I match my food -- isn't that always a goal! ;-)

The hotel Dalmatian, too regal to attend to the calls of several guests who tried to entice him to visit their tables -- he finally stretched out for a nap in the gorgeous sunshine.

See what I mean about orange? And there were oranges on trees, which I failed to snap, sadly.

I'm so glad I packed this dress (you might remember I hesitated over giving it space in that crowded carry-on) -- Pater has captured, accidentally, the way it moves pleasingly with the summer breezes.

A simple recipe I'm going to copy when we're home although the ingredients will be a bit more costly far from their home. We often do a plate of proscuitto and melon or figs for a starter, but I love this variation -- the cantelope half, hollowed out and filled with a very generous amount of port!


As was the view from our table . . .
Pater looks very happy, no?

And he's just come out to tell me that the cafe au lait and toast ís ready -- we eat it at the table out by the pool. Tough times . . .