PoWI Archives - Ferreira - A Trinidadiana in Portugal

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  by Jo-Anne S. Ferreira

Newsday, and also Sunday Guardian (25th Anniversary European Union supplement), June 21, 2001

During my two visits to Portugal, as a researcher in 1996, and as a conference participant in 2001, I felt very welcome - not because English is so widely spoken, but because of the friendliness and patience of the Portuguese. Speaking Portuguese certainly helps, and the Portuguese are usually delighted when an English-speaking foreigner (especially one with a Portuguese surname) makes an effort to learn and speak Portuguese!

As a Trinbagonian of Portuguese descent on my paternal side, it was especially interesting to see familiar family names everywhere (although, of course, the Trinidadian pronunciation of Portuguese names makes it difficult to recognise the same names when pronounced the right way, the Portuguese way!). Many a Portuguese face also recalled many a Luso-Trinidadian face, so in a way, Portugal did not seem foreign.

My visits to Madeira were especially meaningful. Going to Madeira the first time was like seeing an old black-and-white photo transformed into living and vibrant colour. The Madeira I imagined was the Madeira of my paternal ancestors, not twentieth and twenty-first century modern Madeira. Everything I’d heard of, in terms of the famous blue and white embroidery, wickerwork, Madeira wines, folklore costumes, the flowers, and of course, the carne vinha d’alhos (the ‘garlic pork’ so well known to the Trinidadian Christmas palate), all came to life. It was also very interesting to see the mix of the tropical and the temperate - bananas and grapes grow side by side everywhere.

Portuguese cuisine, especially the many, varied bacalhau and fish dishes, was unforgettable. My cookbooks can only help me to remember the many I tried, and to experiment with the scores more I didn’t have time to experience!

On the whole, Portugal struck me as a marvellous combination and contrast of the ancient and the new. The traditional, mournful fado, filled with longing and saudade, is tucked away in taverns, while English pop music is blared in public squares. A Portuguesa, the Portuguese national anthem, which I had heard a few times in Trinidad from elderly patriotic Portuguese, recalls the glories of the old Portuguese empire, while modern Portugal fights to gain recognition as a truly ‘first world’ country.

For me, the Portuguese azulejos, or decorative tiles, evoke the best of Portugal and are truly representative of the creativity of the Portuguese spirit and the history of the Portuguese people. These mostly blue and white tiles often tell a story and are the most visible and ubiquitous Portuguese art form, adorning churches, roadways, other public places, and homes and doorways. The beautiful windows and doorways of houses in the quaint towns of Ericeira and Cacela Velha in the Algarve and elsewhere caught my attention as did the exquisite porcelain plates in Sintra and elsewhere.

Of great interest was the architecture - castles, churches, family homes, and monuments - not to mention the many cobbled streets. I was also fascinated by the number and variety of cultural museums - azulejos, folklore costumes, cars and so much more. I also enjoyed the book stores, libraries, and the philatelic bureaux, and the shopping is wonderful! It was very easy to get about Lisbon, and the tourist transportation options in and around Lisbon, and within Portugal itself, are accessible and reasonable.

I missed out on northern Portugal, and also the Azores (which I visited when I was 3 years old!), and hope to see these parts of the country on my next visit, for return to Portugal, I shall, se Deus quiser!


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