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Poetry Lines Bicycle & Pedestrian Paths in Portugal; Lisboa Loves Literature!

March 15, 2010

“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) Image by Gwendolyn Alley of the Tejo and Lisboa Aquarium.

In October 2009, I wrote a 200 word essay and won a trip on Jo Diaz’s Wine Blog from Enoforum Wines to accompany Jo to Portugal to taste wine in the Alentejo Region in November and to write about it. Pictured at lunch in the Monsarez Castle are Jo Diaz, Delfim Costa and Enoforum Winemaker Joao.  I was also able to attend the European Wine Bloggers Conference. Read more about the contest and my entry: October 26, 2009 I’m a WINNER! Wine Predator to Attend European Wine Bloggers Conference & Enoforum Oct 30-Nov. 5!.

Even jet-lagged, live blogging the European Wine Bloggers Conference was easy (see my posts from the EWBC09.) In fact, I love live blogging, the challenge, the energy, the thrill of a quick post–and the daylong trip to the cork forest.

Traveling in Portugal–exploring the scenic castles, discovering the delicious, flavorful cuisine, tasting the nicely balanced wines–was easy too. Jotting down as many of those experiences as possible and posting them as quickly as possible on my blog was also 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.

I thought it would be easy to write about Portugal when I came home. I had lots of ideas for blog posts. But writing more deeply about Portugal and my experiences there proved problematic.

Writing about Portugal, quickly and somewhat superficially, was easy. Writing about how and why Portugal impacted me and changed me is hard.

Finding time to write and reflect is a factor. When I returned, I had to finish out teaching the semester’s classes, then the holidays, then on February 5, a traumatic accident in my family absorbed my attention and energy. But really, it’s that my brief time in

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.

To write about Portugal is to try to express the importance of taking care of the land and expressing a love of life 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. Likewise, literature is revered in Portugal. Yes, revered. Poets, playwrights, writers of all stripes are respected in a way I had never seen before

Likewise, 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.

Writing about Portugal in a way that honors it and really shows people why it is special is more difficult than I thought.

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, 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, so that’s where we walked.

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.

Our last very full day in Portugal was spent in Lisboa and the Palace at Sintra; our last dinner was in a restaurant featuring fado singers and incredible food. I would have enjoyed several days in each and I lapped up every moment: we even convinced the guard at Sintra to let us in after closing. I would have raced up the stone steps to the top if I wasn’t so concerned that Delfim and Jo would be worried.

We walked along the shores of the Tejo which greets the Atlantic near Lisboa and we saw under construction broad bike and pedestrian paths displaying roadways. As a cyclist, I was thrilled to see that Lisboa was making this move; I also knew that Lisboa recently hosted an Aeolian Ride (more Lisbon Aeolian ride photos here by Jessica Findley; I also plan to do a post about the Aeolian Ride there and in Santa Barbara in October). What better way to know a place than by getting out of a car to walk or cycle?

All day the importance of language, poetry, and staying connected to the land to the Portuguese resonated within me. In the morning, we went  to the Jeronimos Monastery and saw the tomb of the famed Portuguese poet Luis de Camoes (1525-1580) who led quite an adventurous life, traveled to India and China by ship, and more which enriches his epic poem The Lusiads about Vasco de Gama on the voyage which ultimately connected Europe to India. 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 decorate edifices in Portugal. Read a poem by Luis Camoes and see images here.

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, Delfim bought me a copy of the epic poem The Lusiads 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.”

Here’s more about Portugal’s poetry lined paths

For more poetry, catch a ride on the Monday Poetry Train. Or check out some of my pages with links to over 100 of my poems that are here on this site.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. March 16, 2010 6:26 am

    I’ve always wanted to visit (tried and failed) but I think you’ve just sold Portugal to me :)

    Nice post!

  2. March 16, 2010 3:34 pm

    Yeah, cool post and video! Portugal’s a beautiful place!!

  3. March 17, 2010 1:04 am

    Gwendolyn, What a beautiful post about Portugal.

    I certainly know what you mean regarding writing about it’s impact being hard to explain… Not so easy, as it’s very deep.

    Our images of being there bring back quick snapshot memories, but getting to a gut level takes a lot of time and reflection.

    Knowing that this one was inside of you and waiting for it to manifest has been very worth it. It demonstrates how deeply you really got to the bottom of what you experienced, and how it’s impacted your soulfulness.

    In all of my writings about Portugal so far about our trip, I’ve yet to hit on its literature.

    My next posting – for this Friday – is called, “Lisboa ~ I Was Visiting a Monastery and a Play Broke Out.” You can relate to this one… and yet, it’s about the play, and not about the depth of the script’s meanings…

    You’ve brought a really interesting dynamic to the forefront, and it makes sense that an English professor would be the one with the expertise. I just love this story, Gwendolyn, and thank you for writing it… bringing me/us to your center/core.

    It’s a doorway that finally found an entrance… Like a couple of women we both know who had the same thing happen to them… A wall that seemed like a door, but needed going around it to find the actual gateway… Oh, yeah…

  4. March 17, 2010 1:55 am

    Romance in a simple life. Thank you for sharing this.

  5. Bryan Borland permalink
    March 17, 2010 2:24 pm

    I’m so happy that you got to go on what can only be described as a once-in-a-lifetime journey. The photos and your accompanying words are wonderful. I feel as though I was able to share a small sip with you!

  6. March 17, 2010 5:57 pm

    Fabulous post, Gwen. I, too, loved Portugal and hope to return and explore it some more. There is a pride, a soulfulness, you can hear it in the poetry and the wonderful Fado music. Everyone was so warm and welcoming there. And they do enjoy their wine… and the port!

    Regarding literature, I think there are many places in the world where literature is revered and artists and writers are respected. Just, sadly, not in North America. At least not in a profound, non-commercial sense.

    I remember some electricians who were working on our flat when I was living in Prague. When they found out I had gone to Naropa, they started talking about Ginsberg to me! And then they went on and on quoting Bukowski (their favourite author). My friends said, “Only in Prague.”

  7. October 31, 2010 10:22 am

    with the help of your poem we can know the river of your village

  8. October 31, 2010 3:41 pm

    Thank you, Raqim! It’s not my poem, of course, in that I didn’t write it, so I I take you to mean my sharing of this poem.

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