Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Evora, Portugal

May 28, Day 10

Evora officially has three attractions—the remaining columns of a Roman Temple of Diana, a church where Vasco de Gama came to have his flag blessed before he planted it in India, and, it is the world center for cork production. If you have ever opened a bottle of wine, likely you have touched these bits of tree bark from Evora. I think I heard Liz say Evora produces 70% of the world’s cork. Not sure about that.

But Evora loves cork! In our walk down the hill from the Temple, cork products are the main features. Fred bought a cork hat, which looked and felt like tan leather. There were cork purses, wallets, bracelets, postcards, shot glasses (2 of which I need to be shipping to friends in Norway), key chains (a cork rooster for Michael Polley, who collects key chains—I’d suggest the whole world start shipping him quirky key chains...he may someday retire and open a key chain museum), cork umbrellas, bookmarks...

Halfway down the hill, I had lunch with Fred and Dawn at an outdoor cafe, with a surly waiter who didn’t seem happy about this sudden rush of Americans. He dropped a few plates of the Portuguese equivalent of tapas on the table, grunted, “you pay for what you eat,” and disappeared for quite a while. There were little meat pastries, fried something meaty, a plate of “salad” relish, sweet coarse bread. Eventually, we got a bottle of white wine (Fred’s table, after all), and a large tureen of gaspacho—cold tangy soup, with tomatoes, cucumbers, bread chunks, and ice cubes. Great stuff.

Never got the olives I ordered with lunch, but an odd thing—our surly waiter brought out this list he asked us to sign. Triple columns, numbered lines, now on the back, with a list of names. But not just an “I was here list.” It was a list of Bills. Billy Carter, Bill Me Later, Buffalo Bills. I have no idea what this was about—bill fetish? pun-challenge? the only way our surly waiter had to engage his customers?—but he smiled when he retrieved his list, and we did tip him.

After lunch, we had a bit of free time to wander around. it’s a small place. I was about to be bored, but then I decided to take a little more responsibility in my experience. I sat on some marble steps at the edge of the town square, there at the bottom of the hill, and started taking notes.

I was in the Pracade Giraldo, the plaza at the center of the town. In front of me is a marble fountain, the gargoyles mid-level trickling water from their mouths, a woman in a blue maintenance uniform cleaning. A local man came by and scattered bread crumbs for the pigeons. A couple strolled by, each one leashed to a very self-satisfied pug. A sleek black dog ran across the plaza, daring his human to whistle him back. The street and plaza itself are paved with regular 4-inch square stones, set at a diamond angle; the sidewalks set with irregular stones, which are delightful to look at, less so to walk on. Cars race along the narrow one-way streets. Local folks are unconcerned with the lethal possibilities of every blind corner.

At a downhill street, before the plaza, I had been fast-walking, unimpressed, when a sweets shop caught my eye. I went in, stood at the counter (usually the cheaper option), had a stainless steel cup of rice pudding thick-topped with cinnamon and a cafe (expresso)—for 1.80 euro. A sign on the wall, in Portuguese, French and English, said, not No Smoking, but No Smokers. The locals were polite, and didn’t quite stare at me. Walking uphill to the plaza, a trough with three of the same gargoyles tricking water—for hands? for the thirsty? And 4 stone basins with indifferent pink geraniums.

The plaza itself is enclosed—businesses on the ground level, apartments in the 2 or 3 stories above. Most have balconies, a few instead have ornate windows. On the building behind me—a church?—there is a weather vane with a rooster, as Pat pointed out. Later, we’ll find there is quite a story with these roosters in Portugal. But that’s later. In the center, there are tables with umbrellas, outdoor spots to several cafes.

But in front of me, in front of the fountain, there is the slightly greater than human size torso of a marble statue. The arms, legs and head are missing, and it lies on the ground, pink marble matching the fountain. I would guess it part of a statue of Diana, but there is no sign, and it is part of some story you can’t know without a human storyteller. So, Evora.

One must make a decision to see.

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