9th July 2015
I am a peacock plucker . . . . .
And a peacock plucker’s son . . . or was that a pheasant plucker hmmm?
Anyway, having settled into our comfortable accommodation conveniently situated in the heart of this olde walled city, we ranged out to fortify ourselves with some strong flavoured char grilled local meat dishes and generous amounts of excellent local wine. Soon after, well-fortified and wandering loose-footed, we found ourselves at dusk in the university grounds – quite open but, interestingly, infested by peacocks. They were calling to each other with their pleading, plaintive-yet-haunting (Portuguese?) cry of Eeeeoooowwwaaah. We were drawn, seductively, by these calls and encountered them in the most strange of places as they sought each others presence – no doubt to carry out ritual mating (well, they’re certainly prolific breeders – the buggers were everywhere). Young chicks were being fussed over by the hens while the cocks sauntered and strutted their colourful stuff, and when we climbed the crumbling steps of one of the rickety old stone watchtowers (carefully avoiding some of their eggs) there they were again, Eeeeoooowwwaaah-ing to each other in the dusk. The olde city park, and even the surrounding buildings, is alive with these free-ranging creatures and you can spot them up high on ledges as well as in the bushes.
And there were more boids! In the late evening (about 10pm) shortly before the sun finally sets the sky becomes alive with birds – predominantly swifts/swallows – and small bats feeding on-the-wing. I should note, too, that local musical performances or events here start no earlier than 10pm – and this is during the week! They really do ‘dance to a different tune’ here around the Mediterranean.
Walk on this in your high heels will you!
All the roads within this olde walled city are laid from old basalt and marble chips. They are the roughest ancient roads we have encountered, but they would be incredibly durable. They are a challenge for us walkers, but fortunately, in this city we do not have to watch out for dog shit – which is a relief. For some reason pet dogs are not so prevalent here: but we nevertheless have to place our feet carefully.
The cuisine, not to mention the wine of The Alentejo, has been outstanding and we have indulged ourselves with some excellent dining experiences and snacks.
Upon crossing into Portugal in the bus from Spain we found ourselves riding through a bleached landscape with greatly reduced agriculture. Quarries began to dominate the landscape. They were cutting and raising massive blocks of cream, pink, grey, black and streaked marble. In other areas the blocks were being cut into fine slabs to clad walls, or to be used as flooring or stairs. The small and glaringly bright village of San Bento de Mato appeared to be constructed entirely from marble and the surrounding countryside was dotted with mountains of huge marble chunks. Considered scraps of lesser value, these piles of imperfect pieces just await buyers, as even the smallest pieces will eventually be utilised to pave roads, footpaths and praças (plazas).
Impressive, intricately carved marble in a delicious variety of assorted colours adorns all the churches throughout this region and, typical throughout Portugal, they pave the praças and footpaths with small contrasting black and white marble cubes laid in decoratively-distinct patterns as illustrated above.
The (ongoing) Crisis
A local, young and fluent-English-speaking instrument shop owner explained that the European Economic Community, upon bailing out Portugal’s big Banks and financial institutions imposed several restrictions, one of which was for it to stop producing certain crops and another, to severely reduce its fishing fleet and catch. Effectively, the country was paid not to produce – which saved the big banks but did nothing to help the unemployment problem (look out, Greece). According to our informants, backed up by our observations, their economy is getting worse every day, though the current, seasonal, tourist influx will keep some afloat for a while yet.
Alentejo is an Arabic word describing the area south of the ‘Ribera Tejo’ (the Tagus River), which ends at Lisbon. This southern region and neighbouring southern Spain was conquered and occupied by the Muslims for some 9oo years, following on from its Roman occupation, which followed on from the . . . Heeesus kristo, what a history this land has.
Evora and Elvas are in the centre of the Alentejo region of Portugal and bake in sunshine nine tenths of the year, and as we head westward to Faro the flat land featuring large crops of pine trees (for pine nuts), sunflowers, cork oaks, corn and wheat gradually gives way to more mountainous coastal area of The Algarve region. And so the comfortable bus delivers us into old Faro, package holiday centre for all the northern Europeans . . . sigh . . . but it is seductive with its bountiful eateries, extensive wetlands and nearby beaches under clear blue sky. We should’a given it longer.
The Abandoned Convent in Evora
Being curious (and not a bit frustrated at having been refused entry to a monumentally huge, marble-fronted Carthusian monastery on the outskirts) we skirted a small and old church-type place looking for an entry and found one that led to its garden at the back. Meandering around its paths shaded by grape vines and orange trees, we were approached by a woman who told us we shouldn’t be there. We persisted, claiming we would love to see into the buildings and she called over her male associate – another gardener/caretaker – and he relented, kindly offering to show us around. He unlocked a door and led us at first into a charming cloister replete with shady trees. It was like a magic garden. The small cloister’s surrounding building had the classic, Arabic-inspired two levels creating this cool and tranquil sanctuary. The place was, in fact, an old (now disused) convent. Then he showed us the interior, up and down, through its many little rooms: kitchen, dining room , chapel, refectory and church – all neglected but with all its original materials in place – even big marble slabs with fitted, rusting rings to lift them, under which were buried the bones of the convent’s brethren. Let the photos speak!
Ye olde beneath-the-floor bones
And a few more pics of Evora
The Church of Ossos (bones)