Canada Slim and the Station Sanctuary

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 19 January 2018

Romance!“, the season tickets mourn,

He never ran to catch his train,

But passed with coach and guard and horn –

And left the local – late again!

Confound romance and all unseen

Romance brought up the nine-fifteen.

Rudyard Kipling, “The King

Kipling in 1895

Above: Rudyard Kipling (1865 – 1936)

 

Paul Theroux, in the first book of his I ever read, The Old Patagonian Express, once wrote that “travel is a vanishing act, a solitary trip down a pinched line of geography, the simplest sort of narrative, an explanation which is its own excuse for the gathering up and the going“.

That Theroux would say these things does not surprise me as it seems from a reading of his works (many of which I have tried to collect) that many, if not all, of his journeys were done alone on his own, without spouse or offspring to distract him from his observations of fellow travellers and the landscape around him.

 

Travelling with your spouse is not the same as travelling by your lonesome, for the necessity to communicate significantly with strangers is drastically diminished as your beloved is beside you.

She won’t casually allow me to vanish into the surroundings nor blend into a crowd anonymously, and simplicity in our narrative is rarely achieved, as marriages, blissful as they might be, are always accompanied with their own complexities of opinions and tangled desires.

To travel with another human being one must learn to negotiate and compromise in your travel decisions.

To suggest a destination one must be prepared to defend that choice of destination.

For example, in Porto during our last summer’s vacation, it was not sufficient to simply suggest walking the Ponte de Dom Luis I without waxing eloquently about the fantastic views yet to be seen over the Rio Douro.

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Speak not of the Porto stock exchange unless you mention the wonderfully ornate palace it once was.

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Don’t suggest the Livraria Lello without mentioning J.K. Rowling’s frequency within it.

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Much like the advice I have given my Cambridge Certificate test-takers in regards to the oral (speaking) component of the examinations….

It is not enough to voice an opinion.

You must give a reason for that opinion.

 

We found ourselves in another far-from-home point on the map, as couples often do, based on the opinions of her friends.

And, as all husbands learn through trial and error, time and experience, if the ideas of your wife are always right then the brainstorm of possibilities suggested by her gaggle of girlfriends that gather around her must certainly be right by sheer weight of numbers.

In this blog I wrote of flying to and arriving in Porto and of our visit to the Sé, the city’s largest cathedral.

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(Please see Canada Slim and the War of the Oranges.)

 

What is important for you to know before you read further is that we arrived at our B & B by taking a taxi from the Airport.

Though this little detail may seem innocuous and innocent at first glance it is vitally important to the tale that follows….

 

Porto, Portugal, 24 July 2018

The signs on the Avenida Dom Afonso Henriques did not speak to me.

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They were of local matters and were written in Portuguese so despite the size of the massive billboards that hugged the incline leading to Sao Bento I found myself inclined to ignore them.

Did I imagine our attending a concert here in two months’ time?

We had a week to spend in Porto and the region so there was no profit in pausing our progress in trying to decipher their messages.

As usual, in my rucksack I lugged a library with me: the Pocket Rough Guide to Porto, The Rough Guide to Portugal, Lonely Planet Portugal, A.H. de Oliveira Marques’ A Very Short History of Portugal, Matthew Hancock’s Xenophobe’s Guide to the Portuguese and Pascal Mercier’s Night Train to Lisbon.

I would later purchase and add to my burden Fernando Pessoa’s Mensagem (Message) and Livro do desassossego por Bernardo Soares (The Book of Disquiet) and Luís de Camoes’ Sonetos Amorosos (Love Sonnets).

 

It is a rare moment that a train station concourse is a tourist attraction in its own right, but the one at Sao Bento is one of the most beautiful in the world.

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But this was not always so.

 

Until the late 19th century there was the convent of the Benedictine nuns of Sao Bento de Ave Maria, built at the beginning of the 16th century, heavily destroyed in a fire in 1783 but fully restored by 1821.

In 1821 this convent was inhabited by 55 nuns, as well as by 105 members of staff (mostly personal maids).

The Catholic Church has long been the world’s largest Christian organization and has been Portugal’s largest religion since the Iberian Peninsula was ruled by the Roman Empire.

In 1834, Joaquim António de Aguiar (1792 – 1884) terminated the state sanction of religious orders and nationalized their lands and possessions.

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Later referred to as Mata-Frades (Killer of Brothers), Aguiar’s government took control of the convents, churches, manor homes and holdings of various institutes that had been sustained by donations of the religious faithful and placed them for sale.

Although they hoped to place land and goods in the hands of the more disadvantaged, most of the poor did not have the capital to purchase them.

In fact, total sales were ten times less than expected and most holdings were purchased by speculators or existing landowners.

Aguiar’s famous decree of 30 May 1834 ordered the immediate extinction of all male religious orders (and the confiscation of their property), the prohibition of new nuns to profess their vows and the extinction of the convents after the death of the last nun who lived there.

 

Female religious orders struggled a lot during those days, encapsulated in a time that no longer had space for them.

The convent of the Benedictine nuns of Sao Bento de Ave Maria was no exception.

It had to sell most of their precious silver service in the public square to face financial struggles.

The convent slowly fell apart.

The nuns were dying, one by one.

The last nun died in May 1892, more than 58 years after the dissolution decree.

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When the first steam locomotive reached Porto on 7 November 1896, goods still had to be transported by oxcart from the Campanha train station, 4 km away, over the hills to the city centre.

After 15 years of construction, by way of the demolition of the railway tunnel through the eastern hills and an elaborate interior design with 20,000 tiles, the station was finally inaugerated in 1916.

 

Today Sao Bento is the main terminus of Porto’s suburban railway lines and the western terminus for the scenic Douro line between Porto and Pocinho.

The Station also serves the Minho, Braga, Guimaraes, Caíde / Marco de Canaveses and Aveiro lines.

All trains leaving Sao Bento call at Campanha as their next station.

The Station is near the vintage tramline 22 and is connected to Sao Bento Metro Station on Metro line D.

most beautiful train station porto

 

Porto has some of Portugal’s best azulejos – decorative ceramic tiles – and you can see a variety of styles decorating houses, shops, monuments and churches all over the city.

The craft was brought over by the Moors in the 8th century.

Portuguese azulejos developed their own style around the mid-16th century when a new Italian technique enable images to be painted directly onto the clay, thanks to a tin oxide coating which prevented runnage.

Above: Adoration of the Magi, Museum of Azulejos, Lisbon

 

Wealthy Portuguese began to commission large azulejo panels displaying Vasco da Gama’s voyages to the East.

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Above: Vasco da Gama (1460 – 1524)

 

The early 18th century saw highly trained artists producing elaborate multicoloured ceramic mosaics, often with Rococo or Baroque themes as in the interior of the Sé.

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Above: Sé, Porto

 

After the Great Earthquake of 1 November 1755, more prosaic tiled facades, often with neoclassical designs, were considered good insulation devices, as well as protecting buildings from fire and rain.

After the mid-19th century, azulejos were being mass-produced to decorate shops and religious buildings, such as the fantastic interior of the Igreja de Carmo.

Above: Igreja de Carmo, Luanda, Angola

 

By the 1900s Portugal had become the world’s leading producer of azulejos, with Art Deco designs taking hold in the 1920s.

Witness the facade of the Pérola do Bolhao shop.

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Sao Bento station’s entrance hall represents a coming together of all the best the azulejos have to offer.

The Station was decorated by painter Jorge Colaco.

The first tiles were placed on 13 August 1905.

His tiles show various scenes from Portuguese history.

The towering, ornate ceilings, arched windows and impressive clock all give the appearance of a palace ballroom rather than a ticket hall.

The upper parts of the frieze are decorated with polychromatic azulejos depicting a chronology of the forms of transport used by man in Portugal.

The lower and upper frame of the frieze consists of a line of tile in blue, brown and yellow in a stylized geometric pattern.

Under this, on the top of the north wall, is a large composition that covers the entire wall, depicting the Battle of Valdevez (1140), with two groups of antagonists and other knights in the background.

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This monochromatic composition is executed in blue on white tiles, similar to all the other main azulejopaintings“.

Below the battle is another composition that represents the meeting between the Knight Egas Moniz and Alfonso VII of León in Toledo (12th century), offering his life, his wife and his sons during the siege of Guimaraes.

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In the south is a painting of the entrance to Porto of King John I and Philippa of Lancaster, on horseback, to celebrate their wedding (1387).

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Below that is the Conquest of Ceuta (1415) with the principal figure of Infante Dom Henrique who subjugated the Moors.

The wall into the Station is divided into multiple compositions.

To the left, a vision of the procession of Nossa Senhora dos Remédios in Lamego, an exhaustive description and detail showing the multitudes within an urban setting.

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Under this composition are two panels that represent her “promise” on her knees and, the other, her actions at the “miraculous” fountain.

In the same detail is the pilgrimage of Sao Trocato to Guimaraes.

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The lower panels show a picture of a cattle fair and pilgrim camp.

The central panels of the wall represent four work scenes: the vineyards, the harvest, the wine shipment down the Rio Douro and work in the watermill.

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On the pilasters separating the vains with access to the street, below the polychromatic frieze, is a series of smaller compositions.

Above these are medallions depicting romantic scenes and, below, allegories associated with the railway referencing time and signalling, in an expression of Art Deco.

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As the wife and I take photograph after photograph after photograph of the Station, I find myself thinking many things.

 

Legend says that, in a stubborn but serene way, the ghost of the last nun of the former convent still walks the corridors of Sao Bento, and in the silence in the time between midnight and daybreak, one can hear her prayers.

But only the attuned and the attentive can hear the nun, just as only in the space between spaces, the silence between breaths, the magic of moments does Porto reveal herself to those who truly seek her.

 

I find myself feeling contradictory.

I do not believe in ghosts yet I believe in the spirit of a place.

I may not believe in God and yet I can sense when a place is sacred.

The Station is no longer a consecrated convent and yet it has never lost its divine power to move strangers within these walls.

 

I recall reading what Paul Theroux once said about a nation’s railways.

Years before, I had noticed how trains accurately represented the culture of a country:

The seedy distressed country has seedy distressed railway trains.

The proud efficient nation is similarly reflected in its rolling stock, as Japan is.

There is hope in India because the trains are considered vastly more important then the wagons some Indians drive.

Dining cars, I found, told the whole story (and if there were no dining cars the country was beneath consideration).

The noodle stall in the Malaysian Train, the borscht and bad manners in the Trans-Siberian, the kippers and fried bread on the Flying Scotsman.”

 

The Comboios de Portugal (CP)(Portuguese National Railways) operates all Portuguese trains, yet despite this journey being our third time in this country, I have no memory of taking a train when we visited the Algarve on our first adventure or when we remained in Lisbon on our second.

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For the most part the CP is an efficient network with modern rolling stock, but, as is often the case in Europe, rural train stations can sometimes be a long way away from the town or village they serve.

 

A casual Google search suggests that the Bard of Train Travel, Paul Theroux once stood in Sao Bento Station as we did.

But whether he took the famous Linha do Douro I do not know, but if his travel accounts are anything to go by Theroux would have been more interested in taking train journeys that crossed national borders and spanned continents rather than taking a Portuguese train of which most are designated Regionals (R) or Interregionals (I).

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In its heyday the Linha crossed the border to Spain bound for Salamanca and Madrid and sprouted some stunning valley branch lines but this is no longer so.

 

(The determined train traveller can cross into Spain via Valenca do Minho to the north, Vilar Formoso, Marvao-Beira or Caia to the east, or Vila Real de Santo António to the south.

Theroux’s travelogue The Pillars of Hercules, which is an account of his travels around the Mediterranean from Gibraltar to Morocco travelling clockwise along the coasts, may have been prefaced by his travelling by train along the Portuguese coast through Porto and Lisbon, Tunes and Vila Real de Santo António to Seville then Ronda and Algeciras, then by bus to La Línea de la Concepción followed by a five-minute walk to the border of the British colony.

But this is simply conjecture on my part.)

 

Trains depart daily from Sao Bento along the Linha do Douro, reputed to be one of the most beautiful rail routes in Europe as it follows the course of the Rio Douro into the heart of the port wine-growing estates.

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(We would that week take the train and ride the rails of the Linha do Douro to Pocinho and return by boat back to Porto, but that is a tale best told at another time.)

 

But what Sao Bento represents is what impressed me most.

A centuries-old convent transformed into an azulejo-covered train station.

The mystery of faith transformed into the mystique of travel.

 

sao bento train station porto

Locals were astonishingly easy to distinguish from tourists, for the local does not look at the azulejos with any admiration for they are as much a part of Porto as a red fire hydrant is a normal fixture of a Manhattan street.

Almost invisible, inconsequential, something to be walked past as one shakes one’s head at the weird ones so fascinated by the mere commonplace.

For them Sao Bento is simply a station, a pit stop, a necessary go-through or starting point.

 

But to me, surrounded by tiled masterpieces of living history, Sao Bento is forbidden seduction.

You desire her but she is untouchable.

You want to linger but you know you cannot.

 

Beyond the doors the traffic never-ceasing reminds you of life beyond these walls.

From these platforms an escape from one’s cloistered existence beckons.

 

Photographs never capture the essence of a place just as words never fully describe the magic of women.

 

We cannot stay, for there is much yet to be seen, much life left to be lived.

A last lingering look in the dim hope of branding these images into one’s memory.

We know that we ourselves will leave no trace that we were here, for we are mere members of a multitude passing through.

For some reason Leonard Cohen croons his “Sisters of Mercy” song from the jukebox of my mind.

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Somehow this feels appropriate.

Oh, the sisters of mercy, they are not departed or gone.
They were waiting for me when I thought that I just can’t go on.
And they brought me their comfort and later they brought me this song.
Oh, I hope you run into them, you who’ve been travelling so long.

Yes, you who must leave everything that you cannot control.
It begins with your family, but soon it comes around to your soul.
Well, I’ve been where you’re hanging. I think I can see how you’re pinned.
When you’re not feeling holy, your loneliness says that you’ve sinned.

Well, they lay down beside me, I made my confession to them
They touched both my eyes and I touched the dew on their hem.
If your life is a leaf that the seasons tear off and condemn,
They will bind you with love that is graceful and green as a stem.

When I left they were sleeping, I hope you run into them soon.
Don’t turn on the lights. You can read their address by the moon.
And you won’t make me jealous if I hear that they sweetened your night.
We weren’t lovers like that and besides, it would still be all right.
We weren’t lovers like that and besides, it would still be all right.”

Sources: Wikipedia / Google / Facebook / Pocket Rough Guide to Porto / Rough Guide Portugal / Lonely Planet Portugal / Paul Theroux, The Old Patagonian Express / http://portoalities.com / http://www.visitportoandnorth.travel.com

 

 

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Canada Slim and the War of the Oranges

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 6 August 2018

Back a few days ago from my third trip to Portugal, my first to Porto and the north of the country.

The most western nation of continental Europe, Portugal shares the Iberian Peninsula with Spain, but this land of foggy fishing villages and tiny hamlets set deep in cork forests has a quarter of Spain’s population, is less than a fifth of Spain’s geographical size and in Portugal they don’t speak Spanish, they speak Portuguese.

Flag of Portugal

Above: Flag of Portugal

 

Loud, exuberent Spain is paella and bullfights.

Reserved Portugal is the mournful wailing of fado and legendary sightings of the Virgin Mary.

The Spanish are fiercely proud of their past accomplishments.

The Portuguese are quietly proud of their future potential.

Disregard the critics who will gleefully tell you that Portugal is the graveyard of ambition, a kingdom of mediocrity where the national hobby is complaining and the ambitious leave.

Instead….

Picture Portugal as a land of resilience.

An earthquake may have cost them an empire, but Portugal still stands.

Dictators may have halted their progress for decades, but Portugal still stands.

Imagine a land that was economically isolated and politically smothered now striving to overcome an international reputation that suggests that the Portuguese are unproductive, unfit, unhealthy and unattractive.

Spend time with them and realize that though there are some that fit these negative descriptions, the vast majority of the people are simply and quietly going about their business.

They don’t lack self-esteem.

They simply haven’t practiced self-marketing as successfully as their European counterparts, for why tout your superiority when you know who you are and what you can do?

 

To be fair, judging Portugal by one’s impressions of Porto is a lot like judging America from only a visit to Chicago or England from time spent exclusively in Birmingham.

Just as New York and London overshadow hard-working Chicago and Birmingham so does Lisboa (Lisbon) dominate people’s minds over Porto.

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Above: Images of Porto

 

Traditionally Portugal’s wine distribution centre, the scenic city of Porto – Portugal’s second biggest city – straddles the Douro River and is a lively transport hub, in part due to its famous export, port.

If the adage “Lisbon plays, Porto pays, Coimbra prays” can be believed, then Porto is the hardest working place in Portugal.

Historically (and practically) Porto puts the Portu in Portugal as the name dates from Roman times, when Lusitanian settlements straddled both sides of the Rio Douro.

The area was briefly in the hands of Moors but was reconquered by the year 1000 and reorganized as the County of Portucale with Porto as its capital.

Henri of Burgundy was granted the land in 1095 and it was from here that Henri’s son and Portuguese hero Afonso Henriques launched the Reconquista (Christian reconquest), ultimately winning Portugal the status of an independent kingdom….part of the Iberian Peninsula, but not part of Spain.

Above: King Afonso I Henriques of Portugal (1106 – 1185)

 

The Portuguese are akin to Canadians, Swiss and New Zealanders in that they do not care to be mistaken for being a countryman of their more powerful and prominent neighbour.

When addressed in Spanish by a foreigner, a Portuguese would rather answer in English or French.

Spain is the loud neighbour with the big house and the trees that block out the light.

To get to Portugal the rest of Europe passes through Spain, leaving tourist revenues and business investment on Spanish shores.

The Spanish are not the neighbours from Hell, but they are neighbours the Portuguese resent.

Neither good winds nor good marriages come from Spain.” goes the well-known Portuguese saying.

Over 400 years ago Spain relinquished occupation of Portugal, but distrust runs deep after a bloody history of wars and border skirmishes.

Even now, many Portuguese claim the town of Olivenca in Spanish Extremadura as their own invoking a treaty of 1815 which Spain continues to conveniently forget.

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Portugal’s economy hangs on the coat tails of Spain much as Canada’s economy is dependent on American trade and Switzerland’s upon trade with Germany.

We all look with alarm when German companies take over slices of Switzerland’s economy or Americans financially invade Canada or the Spanish seize Portuguese banks or real estate.

Yet for the Swiss to go to Germany or Canadians to go to America or  Portuguese to go to Spain is a certain sign that you’ve entered the Big Time.

Big time.  I’m on my way. I’m making it….big time.” (Peter Gabriel)

Many of Portugal’s top footballers leap at the chance to play for Real Madrid, much like Canadian hockey players jump for joy when recruited by American teams.

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Above: Real Madrid Football Club logo

 

(The world is strange.

How are hockey teams in two nations considered part of one National Hockey League?

Why is the finale in North American baseball called the World Series when only (with rare exception, Canada’s Toronto Blue Jays) American teams compete?

I am so confused.)

 

Nobel Prize winning author José Saramago (The History of the Siege of Lisbon / Blindness) left Portugal to live in Spanish Tenerife, much like Wayne Gretzky and Jim Carrey left Canada to live in LA.

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Above: José Saramago (1922 – 2010)

 

Like the British and Canadians are cynical about Americans, like Austrians and Swiss are cynical about Germans, the Portuguese too are cynical about the Spanish.

And like Anglos with America and Swiss with Germany, the Portuguese secretly hanker to be like the Spanish.

The first day of my third Portuguese adventure was a reminder of this problematic relationship with Spain.

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Above: The Iberian Peninsula

 

Porto, Portugal, 24 July 2018

I have nothing against the Spanish.

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Above: Flag of Spain

I enjoyed my two previous visits to Spain’s San Sebastian (let’s leave questions of Basque independence aside at this time) and Barcelona (ditto for Catalona).

I am emotionally unaffected by the planning that resulted in flying two Spanish airlines (Iberia and Vueling) from Zürich to Porto and return.

The flights booked through the Internet, which might not have been the least expensive method, was at least the most efficient way to go.

 

(Most Internet travel agencies work by connecting a website to a computerized reservation service (CRS) that in turn is linked to the airlines.

Because the airlines and the CRSs only list official, published fares in their databases, most Internet travel agencies only sell tickets at published fares and have no discounts.

Most international air ticket prices are not shown in any CRS, are not available directly from the airline, and are not available from any Internet site that depends on airlines and/or CRSs as a source of fares.)

 

Still I may not have had a choice as TAP, Portugal’s national airline, flies only to the western Swiss city of Genève rather than that most convenient airport of Zürich in eastern Switzerland.

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So, can Spanish airlines be blamed too harshly for taking up the Portuguese slack?

Iberia flight 1077, Zürich (ZUR) to Porto (POR) with a stopover in Madrid (MAD), is aboard an Airbus A319 plane named the Ciudad de Baiez.

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Intercom announcements and seat pocket literature are in English and Spanish.

Unlike Swiss teacher Raimund Gregorius of Pascal Mercier’s Night Train to Lisbon, (begun to be read during this flight) there were no chance encounters with mysterious suicidal Portuguese bridge jumpers or tomes of philosophical enigmatic aristocrats found in dusty corners of antiquarian bookshops to inspire this trip to Portugal.

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A vacation was needed and Porto had not yet been explored.

I did not impulsively leave Switzerland as Gregorius left his job.

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There was a plan, organization, flight and hotel reservations.

Like Gregorius, I would have preferred to travel to Portugal slower than flying, but like most tourists I am limited by constraints of time, money and responsibility.

The Ronda, Iberia’s seat pocket magazine, distracts me from the haunted journey of Gregorius.

I read about the Bloop Festival of Ibiza, Brunch in the Park in Barcelona, and recommended explorations of Japan with their 40 sumo wrestling training gyms, 3,000 public thermal baths and 21 UNESCO World Heritage sites.

I read of Barcelona and the Lavender Road of Provence, of the paradise that is Patagonia and the temptations of Tenerife, of summer flights to Croatia and of “somewhere in La Mancha, in a place whose name I do not care to remember“.

I am flying to Portugal, but there is no whisper about the place aboard the flight.

The gluten-free muffins, the Linda limonada, the MIOS patatas are all Spanish.

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Above: Aeroporto Porto

After touchdown at Porto Airport, taxi into town and check-in at the Casa de Cativo in the Batalha district of central Porto, we find ourselves drawn to explore.

My eyes are immediately drawn to the Sé – Porto’s Cathedral.

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This Roman Catholic Cathedral is one of the most relevant and oldest monuments of the city.

Located in the heart of the historical centre the Sé rises from the landscape as an eye-catching icon atop a rocky outcrop a couple of hundred metres from Sao Bento Station and commands a fine view over the rooftops of Porto.

In front of the Cathedral, a lone sentinel on horseback, Vimara Peres (d. 873), the first King of the County of Portugal, stands watch over the city in stone silence.

The Sé is flanked by two square towers that stretch like arms reaching for Heaven.

Each tower is supported by two buttresses and crowned with a cupola.

On the North Tower (the one with the bell) look for the worn bas-relief depicting a 14th century ship – a coca – a reminder of the earliest days of Portugal’s maritime epic when sailors inched tentatively down the west Saharan coastline in fear of monsters.

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The facade lacks decoration and yet is not lacking in beauty.

The Baroque porch and the delicate Romanesque rose window under the crenellated arch lend the Sé the impression of a fort, a sort of setting suited for the commencement of some holy quest or mighty crusade.

Inside, the blend of Baroque, original Romanesque and Gothic architecture – a kind of structural bouillabaisse – is a strange marriage of prevading gloom.

But maybe gloom – an uneasy spectre of death – was what was sought after when the Sé was being designed.

Around 1333 the Gothic funerary chapel of Joao Gordo was added – his tomb decorated with his recumbent figure and reliefs of the Apostles – the Beatles of the New Testament in regards to their creativity.

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Gordo was a Knight Hospitalier who worked for King Dinis I (1261 – 1325).

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Above: Flag of the Knights Hospitaller

(The Order of Knights of the Hospital of Saint John of Jerusalem, also known as the Order of Saint John, Order of Hospitallers, Knights Hospitaller, Knights Hospitalier or Hospitallers, was a medieval Catholic military order, headquartered in the Kingdom of Jerusalem, on the island of Rhodes, in Malta and St Petersburg.)

(King Dinis I, also called the Farmer King and the Poet King, was King of Portugal (1279 – 1325) for over 46 years and is remembered by the Portuguese as a major contributor to the formation of a sense of national identity and an awareness of Portugal as a nation-state.

He worked to organize his country’s economy and gave an impetus to Portuguese agriculture.

He ordered the planting of a large pine forest (that still exists today) near Leiria to prevent soil degradation that threatened the region and as a source of raw materials for the construction of the royal ships.

Above: Leiria Castle

Dinis was known for his poetry, which constitutes a major contribution to the development of Portuguese as a literary language.)

(More on Dinis in a future post….)

 

In 1387, the Cathedral was embellished to celebrate the wedding of Portuguese King Jaoa I with the English Princess Philippa of Lancaster (reinforcing the Anglo-Portuguese Alliance).

Above: Wedding of Portuguese King Joao I and English Princess Philippa of Lancaster, Porto Cathedral, 11 February 1387

It was this matrimonial bond of man and wife, this Alliance of Portugal and England within this Sé that would witness within those same walls that which was a celebration of the newly-wed would become a commiseration of the bloody dead.

 

On 29 January 1801, an ultimatum from Spain and France forces Portugal to decide between France and Britain, even as its government has tried to negotiate favorable relations with the two powers rather than abrogate the Treaty of Windsor (1386).

The French sent a five-point statement to Lisbon demanding that Portugal:

  • Abandon its traditional alliance with Great Britain and close its ports to British shipping;
  • Open its ports to French and Spanish shipping;
  • Surrender one or more of its provinces, equal to one fourth part of her total area, as a guarantee for the recovery of Trinidad, Port Mahon (Menorca) and Malta;
  • Pay a war indemnity to France and Spain;
  • Review border limits with Spain.

If Portugal failed to accomplish the five conditions of this ultimatum, it would be invaded by Spain, supported by 15,000 French soldiers.

The British could not promise any effective relief, even as Prince Joao VI appealed to Hookham Frere, who arrived in November 1800.

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Above: Joao VI “the Clement” (1767 – 1826)

In February, the terms were delivered to the Prince-Regent.

Although he sent a negotiator to Madrid, war was declared.

At the time, Portugal had a poorly trained army, with less than 8,000 cavalry and 46,000 infantry troops.

Its military commander, João Carlos de Bragança e Ligne (2nd Duke of Lafões), had barely raised 2,000 horse and 16,000 troops and was compelled to contract the services of a Prussian colonel, Count Karl Alexander von der Goltz, to assume command as field marshal.

The Spanish Prime Minister and Commander-in-Chief, Manuel de Godoy, had some 30,000 troops at his disposal, while the French troops under General Charles Leclerc (Napoleon’s brother-in-law) arrived in Spain too late to assist Godoy, as it was a short military campaign.

On May 20, Godoy finally entered Portugal.

This incursion was a precursor of the Peninsular War that would engulf the Iberian Peninsula.

The Spanish army quickly penetrated the Alentejo region in southern Portugal and occupied Olivença, Juromenha, Arronches, Portalegre, Castelo de Vide, Barbacena and Ouguela without resistance.

Campo Maior resisted for 18 days before falling to the Spanish army, but Elvas successfully resisted a siege by the invaders.

An episode which occurred during the siege of Elvas accounts for the name, “War of the Oranges“:

Godoy, celebrating his first experience of generalship, plucked two oranges from a tree and immediately sent them to Queen Maria Luisa of Spain, mother of Carlota Joaquina and supposedly his lover, with the message:

I lack everything, but with nothing I will go to Lisbon.

Manuel de Godoy

The conflict ended quickly when the defeated and demoralized Portuguese were forced to negotiate and accept the stipulations of the Treaty of Badajoz, signed on 6 June 1801.

As part of the peace settlement, Portugal recovered all of the strongholds previously conquered by the Spanish, with the exception of Olivença and other territories on the eastern margin of the Guadiana and a prohibition of contraband was enforced near the border between the two countries.

The treaty was ratified by the Prince-Regent on 14 June, while the King of Spain promulgated the treaty on 21 June.

A special convention (the Treaty of Madrid) on 29 September 1801 made additions to that of Badajoz whereby Portugal was forced to pay France an indemnity of 20 million francs.

This treaty was initially rejected by Napoleon, who wanted the partition of Portugal, but he accepted once he concluded a peace with Great Britain at Amiens.

Portrait of Napoleon in his forties, in high-ranking white and dark blue military dress uniform. In the original image He stands amid rich 18th-century furniture laden with papers, and gazes at the viewer. His hair is Brutus style, cropped close but with a short fringe in front, and his right hand is tucked in his waistcoat.

Above: Napoléon (1769 – 1821)

 

Portugal divides itself into 18 districts.

Porto is the capital city of the Porto District, which is itself divided into 18 municipalities.

Of these municipalities the close-by city of Amarante lies to the northeast of Porto.

 

During this War of the Oranges (20 May – 9 June 1801) while a battle raged in Amarante, a group of Spanish soldiers briefly took control of the Porto Cathedral before being overcome by the locals of the town.

A marble plaque hangs behind the altar in memory of those who lost their lives regaining control of the chapel.

The plaque has a magnetic backing that was chosen to order to remind those travelling near the Cathedral to orient themselves in the direction their compasses have been altered towards.

Image result for porto cathedral interior

I can´t help but wonder what Hollywood would have done with a story like this:

Soldiers seize a church.

Locals battle to regain it.

But details are hard to come by here in distant Landschlacht and there is a tragic lack of ability in my reading Portuguese.

But I can imagine it.

 

Sunday 31 May 1801, Porto, Portugal

It was the perfect opportunity.

A full moon week meant the soldiers could ride in the Saturday night moonlight and lie in wait inside the Cathedral until the faithful showed up the following morning.

The Cathedral would have gold and the parishioners – faithful tithe-givers to the last – would have money.

The soldiers simply sought profits but they would be ignored if the parishioners didn’t believe that the soldiers would slay them if they did not obey.

The locals outside the church would be half-mad with grief and worry and would do anything to ensure the safety of their loved ones within.

The Bishop would be outraged at the sacreligious nature and audacity of the soldiers’ act.

 

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 6 August 2018

At this point of planning the plot of this historical drama I would require the aforementioned details that language and long distance deny me.

Was blood shed?

By whom upon whom?

History records the soldiers were unsuccessful, but what was their fate?

Who were these people: the Bishop, the faithful, the townsfolk, the soldiers?

Do I actually need historical facts and actual accuracy to tell their story?

Take the movie Braveheart about the Scottish hero William Wallace.

Braveheart imp.jpg

Many liberties were taken and the plot is filled with historical inaccuracies but is it a damn good movie?

Absolutely.

 

I am reminded again of Portuguese author José Saramago – a writer damnably difficult to read for his deliberate determination not to use punctuation or paragraphs but a fine storyteller nonetheless.

In his The History of the Siege of Lisbon, Saramago asks:

What happens when the facts of history are replaced by the mysteries of love?

“When Raimundo Silva, a lowly proofreader for a Lisbon publishing house, inserts a negative into a sentence of a historical text, he alters the whole course of the 1147 Siege of Lisbon.

Fearing censure he is met instead with admiration:  Dr. Maria Sara, his voluptuous new editor, encourages him to pen his own alternative history.

As his retelling draws on all his imaginative powers, Silva finds – to his nervous delight – that if the facts of the past can be rewritten as a romance then so can the details of his own dusty bachelor present.”

Saramago suggests so many scenarios one could use and have been used by other authors in the past:

What if you had the power to change the past? (time travel)(Time Cop)

What if you had the power to enter the world of literature? (fantasy)(Inkheart)

What if you deliberately altered the record of the past to better reflect and justify the present? (George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four)

 

Telling the tale of the taking of Porto Cathedral also carries with it some responsibility.

I don’t wish to glorify the Portuguese, for their history is not a bloodless nor innocent one in regards to their colonialism or dark dictatorship days.

I don’t wish to increase the innate antagonism between the Portuguese and the Spanish, for, in my humble opinion, writing should seek to unite humanity rather than divide it, even if history is truly horrific.

 

Still I smell a story just begging to be written, replete with drama and suspense – a kind of Die Hard meets Braveheart scenario, maybe mixed with a dash of Timeline and Timecop.

 

Maybe this is all just idle musings, for my mind is much like the late comedian Robin Williams’ observations of former US President George W. Bush’s span of attention:

“My fellow Americans….

Oh! Look at the baby!

Squirrel!”

Above: Robin Williams (1951 – 2014)

 

What I am left with when I consider the taking of Porto Cathedral is not so much that an extraordinarily beautiful house of worship was seized or a symbol of a religious affliation defiled.

Rather I find it interesting that the very church where the English-Portuguese Alliance came into being would become a battlefield in maintaining that alliance.

The whole story has the feel of witnessing a bully at a wedding seize one of the guests and threaten to kill him if the couple continues on with the nuptial ceremony.

Couples may not always co-exist harmoniously but nothing unites a couple more than someone else trying to separate them.

Though Portugal may have lost the War of the Oranges, Portugal’s defiance of bullying Spain ensured Britain’s assistance a few years later and strengthened Portuguese resolve to maintain their own alliances on their own terms.

I don’t see prevailing gloom within the Sé of Porto but rather my mind escapes up from the shadows and into the cloisters of magnificent azulejos and ascends the grand staircase to the dazzling chapterhouse with its sweeping views from the windows.

It is all a matter of perspective.

The Spanish seized a Cathedral and lost it.

The French and the Spanish defeated Portugal and later were defeated by the very alliance they tried to destroy.

Red may have spilled from soldier wounds and the faithful injured, but red is also half the colour of the Portuguese flag: combative, hot, virile.

A singing, ardent, joyful colour ever reminding of victory despite the high cost.

I don’t hear the lamentations of the frightened nor the murmuring of prayers and exhortations to God, but rather the fever and fervour of the resilient and determined.

As the words ring out strong and clear the Portuguese national anthem proudly proclaims:

“Unfurl the unconquerable flag in the bright light of your sky!

Cry out all Europe and the whole world that Portugal has not perished.

Your happy land is kissed by the ocean that murmurs with love.

And your conquering arm has given new worlds to the world!”

Two centuries, four months and a matter of weeks later, America would on 11 September 2001, suffer an attack far more devastating and tragic than the now-and-long forgotten taking of Porto Cathedral, but nothing strengthens a nation more than adversity or unites it into determined defiance against those who would seek to diminish it.

Like the United States, no one bothers or bullies Portugal any more.

Of the trials and tribulations Portugal, like the United States, has endured, much has been created by itself and resolved by itself.

To be blunt, the Sé, this Cathedral of Porto, to this world weary traveller is quite forgettable.

What Porto Cathedral represents, isn’t.

Image result for porto cathedral

Sources: Wikipedia / Google / The Rough Guide to Portugal / Porto and Northern Portugal: Journeys and Stories