Portugal: where poets and place are appreciated

“The river of my village doesn’t make you think about anything.
When you’re at its bank you’re only at its bank.”

“The Tejo has big boats
And there navigates in it still,
For those who see what’s not there in everything,
The memory of fleets.”

Lines from “O Guardador de Rebanhos” by Portuguese writer Fernando Pessoa (written under his pseudonym, Alberto Caeiro)

In November, when I returned from my trip to Portugal, I posted a poem by Portuguese poet and adventurer Luis Camoes who is buried in the Jeronimos Monastery. He is such an important figure to the Portuguese that his birthday is Portugal Day and quotes from his work are commonly and prominently placed on edifices in Portugal.

Learn how and why I was Portugal via  Jo Diaz’s Wine Blog from Enoforum Wines: October 26, 2009 I’m a WINNER! Wine Predator to Attend European Wine Bloggers Conference & Enoforum Oct 30-Nov. 5!.

Traveling in Portugal, exploring the scenic castles, discovering the delicious, flavorful cuisine, tasting the nicely balanced wines,  jotting down as many of those experiences as possible, and posting them as quickly as possible on my blog was awesome and easy. I just didn’t sleep since my days were filled from dawn to well after dark! I kept telling Jo, “we can sleep when we’re dead!” Read about our whirlwind travels here–that’s Jo below at Monsarez.

Writing about how and why Portugal impacted me and changed me is hard. Portugal had a profound impact on me–and that surprised me. There are a number of reasons but one is that I had no idea that the Portuguese had such a reverence for two of the most important aspects of life to me: the land and literature.

I discovered that to write about Portugal is to try to express the importance of taking care of the land, maintaining a connection to the land, and expressing that love of life and land through the written word, through literature. Literature lives in the hearts of the Portuguese people–lit is not just a class they have to get through.

Literature CONNECTS the Portuguese to the land.

Living “green” and practicing sustainability is the way of life in Portugal. A people who have lived and thrived in one place for so many generations has to learn this in order to survive there and not run out of natural resources. According to my host Delfim Costa of Enoforum Wines, unlike other European countries, Portugal’s priority was not colonizing. Instead they established a series of ports so they could keep exploring–and then return home again.

After our adventures in Alentejo, where we stayed in a castle and enjoyed this view of the Roman Aquaduct, and saw how closely people live to the land, and how integrated agriculture is, Delfim drove us to Lisboa. We had a little time on our hands to explore and since our hotel was located on the waterfront near the Aquarium,  that’s where we walked along a broadway that caters to both cyclists and pedestrians.

Another example of the importance of literature to the Portuguese: inside the spacious aquarium, the best one I’ve ever seen or could imagine, instead of only interpretive text, the Portuguese chose to post poetry in English and in Portuguese to articulate the importance of the sea to life.

Outside the Aquarium, we enjoyed walking along by the shore, the site of the 1990 Europian Exposition. Stalls which housed exhibits about various countries now were home to different restaurants featuring ethnic cuisines. The evening weather was mild and we saw plenty of people strolling and riding bicycles–even late at night when we were walking back to our hotel.

Walking along the shores of the Tejo which greets the Atlantic near Lisboa, we saw under construction broad bike and pedestrian paths displacing roadways.  These paths are both for the many tourists who flock this area as well as for the locals. I found this dedication and forward thinking a cause of celebration; motorists of course are frustrated–the traffic there is dense enough already. How else will we transform our cities unless we make it easier and safer to commute by bicycle? Lisbon is following the lead of other European cities and is far ahead of cities in the United States.

As a cyclist, I was thrilled to see that Lisboa was making this move; I also knew that Lisboa recently hosted an Aeolian ride. What better way to know a place than by getting out of a car to walk or cycle?

On my last day in Portugal, the importance to the Portuguese of language, poetry, and staying connected to the land resonated within me. 

Because Enoforum Wines recognizes that a wine is more than the grapes, that it includes the poetry of the people who make the wine and live on the land, at Jeronimos Delfim bought me a copy of the epic poem The Lusiads by Luis Camoes as well as a collection by Fernando Pessoa.

The following words by Pessoa grace the now open pedestrian and bicycle path. Watch a video of Portugal’s Poetic Paths here:

“The river of my village doesn’t make you think about anything.
When you’re at its bank you’re only at its bank.”

“Through the Tejo you go to the World.
Beyond the Tejo is America
And the fortune you encounter there.
Nobody ever thinks about what’s beyond
The river of my village.”

“The Tejo runs down from Spain
And the Tejo goes into the sea in Portugal.
Everybody knows that.
But not many people know the river of my village
And where it comes from
And where it’s going.
And so, because it belongs to less people,
The river of my village is freer and greater.”

“The Tejo has big boats
And there navigates in it still,
For those who see what’s not there in everything,
The memory of fleets.”

“The Tejo is more beautiful than the river that flows through my village,
But the Tejo isn’t more beautiful than the river that flows through my village,
Because the Tejo isn’t the river that flows through my village.”

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A Celebration of Irish Literature & Sights in honor of St. Patrick’s Day

Happy Saint Patrick’s Day! This guest post comes to you from John McNally pictured here with his wife, Sally and their daughter on Summer Solstice 2008. They visit Ireland often; in this photo they’re touching the Lia Fáil or Stone of Destiny on the Hill of Tara at which the High Kings were crowned.

A few years ago, Sally and John McNally gave a presentation about Ireland and its culture to my college composition and literature students that included a Reader’s Theater performance of John Millington Synge’s classic Irish tragedy, Riders to the Sea. Read the play Riders to the Sea; this study guide will help you see Synge’s brilliance and this post will tell you something about the traditional language.

To celebrate Saint Patrick’s Day, and to help people appreciate the Irish people and culture, John put together a selection of Irish websites along with a brief narrative for anyone with an interest in Ireland or who may be planning a trip there. “These are my favorite places and activities,” writes John, “carefully selected and happily experienced as a result of a dozen visits to the Old Sod over the last three decades.”

John McNally’s Top 20 Places to Go in Ireland
or at least visit on the web!

Around Dublin

1) The National Museum of Archeology on Kildare Street, Dublin.   It’s free, located in central Dublin, and has artifacts from throughout Irelands history from stone age gold jewelry and mummified Bog People to the uniforms and weapons of the Irish Rebel leaders.  http://www.museum.ie/en/exhibition/irelands-gold-introduction.aspx

2) The National Library: Next door, it has with a superb exhibit on poet W. B. Yeats:  http://www.nli.ie/yeats/

3) Kilmainham Goal Tour is unsurpassed in telling the story of Ireland.  This former prison is preserved as a museum and is filled with history.  It has also been the site of several recent films. http://www.bing.com/reference/semhtml/Kilmainham_Gaol?fwd=1&src=abop&qpvt=kilmainham+gaol&q=kilmainham+gaol

4) Walking tour: the Dublin Literary Pub Crawl.  http://www.dublinpubcrawl.com/

5) Dublin Writers Museum offers an excellent one hour presentation. http://www.writersmuseum.com/

6) 1916 Rebellion Tour Another lively and informative walking tour http://1916rising.com/

7) Sinn Fein Bookshop: If you have further interest in Republican (Rebel) Ireland then visit the Sinn Fein Bookshop:   http://www.sinnfeinbookshop.com/catalog/index.php

8) Tourist Center on Suffolk Street. You may have noticed my personal interests lean towards history and literature so naturally my selections favor these enduring sites.  For a wider variety of activities visit the Tourist Center on Suffolk Street where you can find information on events, shows, and tours of all types.  http://www.visitdublin.com/seeanddo/TouristOffices/Detail.aspx?id=256&mid=2090

9) Grafton Street is a favorite with street entertainers and should not be missed.

10) Temple Bar is Dublin’s Cultural Quarter where you can find modern and traditional Irish music and art.  It’s also a handy place to stay because it’s in the center of the city so you can walk to nearly all other venues.   http://www.tascq.ie/

11) Hop-On Hop-Off Busses The best way to see central Dublin in a day or two and not worry about getting lost or paying for parking are the Hop-On Hop-Off Busses which stop at all the major attractions and are a tour in themselves.   http://www.dublinpass.ie/dublinpass/transport/default.asp?refID=

Outside of Dublin

12) The most significant attraction is Newgrange. These ancient Temples predate Egypt’s Pyramids and England’s Stonehenge.  http://newgrange.com/ Tours take small groups inside the Passage Tombs from this well run center: http://www.knowth.com/bru-na-boinne.htm

13) Brigit’s Garden is just the thing if you are a lover of Celtic Heritage and Mythology like ourselves.  http://www.galwaygarden.com/

14) Bunratty Castle and Folk Park is a living museum of rural Irish life.  http://www.group-trotter.net/ireland/places/bunratty/bunratty.html

15) Craggaunowen Nearby is my favorite pre-history site, Craggaunowen. http://www.craggaunowen.org/

16) Cliffs of Moher A virtual tour of the Cliffs of Moher shows you why you’d want to visit: http://www.cliffsofmoher.ie/TakeTheTour.aspx

17) Blarney Castle in Cork can be overcrowded with tourists but if you go anyway be sure to visit the Druid area in the nearby forest. http://www.blarneycastle.ie/

Northern Ireland

18) Black Taxi Tours are a good way to see Belfast. http://belfastcitytours.com/gallery.html

19) West Belfast is the Irish-Catholic side of the city and they offer their own tours: http://www.visitwestbelfast.com/tours.php

20) Dunluce Castle If you get up to the Antrim Coast, Dunluce Castle is unsurpassed with its rugged beauty.  http://www.travelsinireland.com/castle/dunluce.htm

Sin-e’   (That’s it)                                                                                        John McNally    March 2010