from Sandy Needham

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Ericeira/Lisbon Dispatch

From the Lisbon airport we were whisked away to the charming seaside town of Ericeira by our friends, Pedro, Michelle, and their three-and-a-half-month-old, Adorable Luca. There is a simple little bar, Latas do Mar, perched at a high lookout over the Atlantic, where a sunset glass of wine was accompanied by an outstanding American classic rock playlist. It was several versions of paradise all at once!

Ericeira is Pedro's ancestral town, though he grew up in Lisbon, where his mother and sister live. He and Michelle are refurbishing a house that will be spacious and quite spectacular with its ocean views and painting studio. In the meantime, they have been living in a beautiful apartment up the hill from the town center...formerly Pedro's bachelor pad, ever-so-sensitively converted by Michelle into a colorful and comfortable showcase of exquisite artifacts they picked up around the world.

Michelle gets her daily work-out(s) pushing the baby stroller down and up the hill in order to enjoy the town and the many inhabitants with whom she is already like an old friend. Our casual hotel was conveniently on that path.

As Pedro puts it, "Michelle is a perfect mother!" With only 3-1/2 months' experience, it is amazing to witness her organization, engagement with Luca and uninterrupted engagement with the world. Michelle is a natural 'can-do' person, so the baby fits into whatever is going on because his mother instills such confidence that "everything going on here is life!" Credit is also due to Luca, who was born with traits that are calm and welcoming to strangers. He is a dream.

I love this 'nap shot!'

Our first dinner of, yet again, unimaginably great seafood, was one of several to come in our four-day visit. 

Fresh Portuguese sardines

Ericeira has a bustling nightlife of restaurants and bars. When it was time to tuck Luca in, Pedro took Newton and me to Hemmingway's Bar, where the craze is all manner of gins and tonics from around the world. Each combination is embellished with its signature apple, cherry, etc..

These are all gins
We met for morning coffee at their favorite café, then Pedro took us on a long coastal drive, where September summer hold-outs were still relaxing under beach umbrellas.

Here is a plaque describing the ships that sailed from Ericeira to an Ericeiran colony in Brazil.

This is the marker of the point furthest west of continental Europe:

We visited Lisbon a couple of times. 

We visited the medeival São Jorge Castle, originally a Moorish fortress:

You can see how I missed the target every time in high school!
Knight of São Jorge

Time for a change
When I first visited Portugal in 1977, I was becoming a "Brazil Nut" in New York, what with my weekly Afro-Brazilian dance class with a wild Baiano teacher and live musicians, and the strong penchant among my group of friends for Brazilian jazz clubs. The gorgeous, urbane Brazilian night club, Cachaça, was just down First Avenue from my apartment. I had not yet visited Brazil. My Portuguese friends took me out to hear fado in Lisbon - the traditional music of Portugal. A woman was singing depressing songs in a dark corner with a black shawl over her; I was not impressed. The contrast was just too dramatic, set against this lively force of nature that was the Brazilian culture with which I was falling in love. The experience left an impression of a stodgy old country.

The biggest difference about Portugal now vs. then is in the very air, now crackling with youth and dynamism in such a palpable way. My favorite detail of this phenomenon is the devastatingly beautiful fado Pedro and Michelle took us to hear in the vibrant Cidade Alta neighborhood. In a tiny packed club two young men were playing mandolin-like stringed instruments while a beautiful, sexy young woman sang fado in a spotlight, wrenching the heart with the sheer beauty of her voice and the emotions evoked.

Aparently the financial crisis deserves at least partial credit for this revitalization of Portugal, as the country's low prices brought a surge of tourists and relocations from elsewhere on the continent. This young generation was ready and waiting to start calling the shots...we could witness it all in that fado that blew us away!

Pedro's mother, Jena (Luca's actual Grandmother!), took us to a remarkable Sunday afternoon event in Lisbon. A cultural organization invited chefs from various ethnic restaurants to set up buffet tables in a park. They added a beverage center, tables and chairs for the pre-ticketed attendees, and we ate and ate, from Iran to Africa to India to China to Italy down to the Brazilian dessert of Canjica. It was a fabulous idea and made quite a happy civic gathering.

Another outstanding day was spent in the historic, hilly town of Sintra. It is full of charming shops and beautiful homes.

Notice the Moorish castle atop the hill

My mother was famous for her chicken figurine collection. When in Portugal, I cannot avoid thinking of her with their national symbol everywhere. This shop caught me off-guard and afforded me a true moment of grief. 

The Pena Palace in Sintra is one of the stranger structures I've encountered, although the nineteenth century is famous for bequeathing many hodgepodge style combinations to architecture. Michelle simply described it as 'a Disney Castle.'

The Moorish elements post-date Moorish rule by seven centuries.

I thought the palace kitchen was one of the best I've seen.

Ericeira was ablaze our last night. There was a concert in the plaza, and after all the gin and tonic craze, I managed to tutor a gin martini out of a bartender friend of Pedro's. No olives were available, so I said a bit of lemon peel would do. He made this masterpiece:

Pedro took us to the gigantic department store, Corte Ingles, to shop for wine to carry home. We each selected six bottles, which Pedro - knowing the ropes well - whisked over to the wrapping counter where each bottle was throughly bubble-wrapped and boxed, compliments of the store. Our hosts generously loaned us two extra suitcases, and Pedro handily packed the twelve boxes into them - done!

Thank you, Pedro and Michelle, for being such energetic and thorough guides!

Full disclosure: Luca is six months old at this writing. What a Love:

We flew HOME after three months of European wonders; things were still 'off' in their third-world way, but the natural beauty endured and welcomed us home with a sun-drenched, windy embrace.


1 comment:

  1. Portugal, One place in Europe I very much wanted to visit, but it just never worked out. One of the companies from Belgium that I worked with while at P&G has facilities there where they raised llamas they use in their research. The llamas produce a very unique type of antibody that makes it very useful for a number of different therapies. The llamas only supply a small amount of blood on occasions and munch on grass. I would have loved to sample the port for which Portugal is famous. What an amazing trip you had last summer. It seems you left from the most easterly point in the Americas, toured the European continent and then left from the most westerly point of Europe. Your friendships seem to span the globe.



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