Tuesday, March 25
Ruth at keyboard
Time seems to lose its meaning while on the road. Since each day is so full of new experiences, it feels like a longer period of time. However, don’t take that to mean that time drags and we feel bored, just the opposite. We have been traveling by car since leaving Lisbon which has given us a freedom that we are quite enjoying. Our original plans (or should I say non-plans?) were to travel by public transportation. However the car has given us a freedom to travel to out of the way places, and not so out of the way places, conveniently and, with help of the internet competition, we have been able to rent a car at a reasonable price. At this very moment, Avi is sitting at the next computer, provided for free at the Evora municipal hall, checking out car rentals in Spain
Yes, we are getting spoiled, or at least I am, since Avi does all the driving.
You should see the narrow streets Avi is able to maneuver through, a feat that some of us with limited or no peripheral vision could never aspire to. And it's not just a challenge of narrow streets that Avi has to conquer, but also the habits of Portuguese drivers who drive fast and think nothing of parking their cars in non-authorized spots blocking oncoming traffic. The other day in Nazare Avi had to negotiate his way backwards through a narrow street because after making it through with wheelbarrows on both sides, a cement truck blocked the exit. (Chris, -no Portugal driving for us!!)Nazare, by the way, an old fishing village, is now also a major tourist attraction with a sandy beach, many restaurants and other tourist facilities. However, in spite of becoming a tourist town, the inhabitants still seem to go about their lives in many of the ways that they have for generations. The women are most visible in this town (are the men off fishing or...?) The older women are seen in wide skirts with petticoats underneath, aprons, knee socks and slipper like shoes. There are women selling nuts, dried fruits and lupos (beans that Jo in Montreal told us about), as well as women drying fish in the sun and selling the fish. The fish drying on the racks reminded us of Newfoundland. We did try the fish, a bit salty, but tasty nonetheless.
Other highlights of the trip include:
-This morning we visited the Chapel of Bones, a strange sight. Bones line the walls and it is said to contain over 5000 skulls.
It is said to be the work of some monks who felt that people needed to be reminded of their mortality and that this site would provide a good vehicle to meditate on our own mortality. The bones were exhumed from Evora's churchyard cemeteries.
-several monasteries and cathedrals. We are trying to make sense of the different period: Gothic, baroque, renaissance, manueline
-we continue to look for Judarias. Last night we walked down the Judaria in Evora and discovered an old archway in the Rua da Moedas (where the money lenders lived) and found the tell tale sign of the carved space for the mezuzah.
The weather has been variable. Avi did get a few moments in the sun when we were in Nazare, but it has been cool and rainy some of the time. Avi is wanting his chance, so--I will pass it over to him.
Avi here. You there. And since several of you tell us that this is your vicarious travel, maybe I'll add some info about where you’ve been:
You were very taken by Tomar. Tomar is another one of those towns that achieved importance during the 16th century or so, and is now a mixture of cuteness and modernity. The cuteness is seen in the winding narrow cobblestone streets (which are not so cute as you get a car down them) inside Old City walls, and the modernity in the gas stations and supermarkets that sprawl beyond. Needless to say, you avoided the latter. What makes Tomar such a tourist draw is the Castle and Monastery on the hill.
Now, you’ve been to several castles on the hill by this point, but Tomar knocks you out for the sheer size and solidity of the thing.
No wonder - this was the headquarters of the Knights Templar in Portugal. The Knights were founded to kick the shit out of the Muslims back in Crusades times, and since that war ended they were looking around to do a little shit-kicking contract work wherever they could. The king of Portugal brought them in to help out in the holy war to oust the infidels from Iraq -oops, I mean Portugal- and paid them handsomely with vast tracts of land when the job was done. Tomar, the military/religious HQ, reflects that power. Later kings added monasteries upon monasteries
and all this takes us through the architectural styles of their eras as Ruth has pointed out. A major focus is the "Manueline" style - a richly textured overdone ornamentation of ropes, sea horses and symbols of overseas conquest favoured by then King Manuel.
Manuel also initiated several projects which caught your attention during the past week or so. A fabulously ornate monastery near Lisbon,
another in Batalha, a wonderful pine forest you drove through on Friday (the forest was already there, but Mega-project Manuel undertook a massive planting program) and the ever-popular Expulsion of the Jews. Portugal had already been Catholic for several hundred years, and became a safe haven for Jews fleeing Ferdinand & Isabella in 1494. But Manuel took the throne in 1495 and, after some token protests, finally acceded to the wishes of his influential neighbour and joined the Holy War (which reminds me - has Chretien caved in yet and joined up with Bush?) Anyway, back to Tomar..... So the irony of the place is that in this town owned and run by the military agents of the Holy Mother Church, the community of "hidden Jews" survived for 500 years. You visited the synagogue,
an impressive building in its own right with four fine columns supporting the domed ceiling (representing the Four Matriarchs - which can be deduced from the fact that each column has a differently carved lintel, though the carvings on two of them are the same - the sisters Leah and Rachel)
though the place was for years a prison, a hay storage and other uses. You spent some lovely time talking in English with the self-appointed caretaker of the synagogue/museum whose family "came out" only twenty years ago.
Oops. Ruth is getting cold. It's drafty in here as the computers are next to the Roman excavations. How's that for contrast! I'd better sign off.