Thursday, May 10, 2007


I've spent the week hanging around the south of Portugal, in a region known as the Algarve. I've been staying in the town of Lagos, in a room in an apartment that I've had to myself, complete with a balcony, for 11 Euros a night, so not too shabby. It's like the height of mid-summer here. It was warm in Paris and Barcelona - in the 20-degree range most days - but here it's been in the high 20's or more, and in mid-day it's scorching. I've been taking in the beach scene, from the shade, sheltering my poor pale skin from the sun in the cloudless sky, and have thus accumulated a lot more freckles (I tan in splotches!).

I travelled to the town of Silves by train one day - it's to the east of Lagos, and was the capital of Portugal in the time of the Moors. Checked out the remenants of the castle there, wandered around town, and saw oranges growing on trees for the first time in my life. Also loads of poppies growing wild. I've been in places where these things grow before, just not at the right time of year I guess.

The Sé (cathedral) in Silves:
I took the bus westward to Sagres another day, and to Capo St. Vincente, the most south-westerly point in Europe as it's touted. Looking at the far-stretching blueness of the ocean, it's hard to believe that anything lies on the other side of it, let alone a whole couple of continents.

I also went to the fort in Sagres, and walking there was a long hot trek in the sun. It didn't make me feel any better that the landscape looked like this, with tough looking plants that I wouldn't want to meet down a dark alley.
Relgion seems to be everywhere in Portugal. There's little religious statues in alcoves in walls in the streets, or pictures hanging up. There is even a major bank called Banco Esprito Sancto (or some spelling to that effect), which if my memory of Latin serves me correct, is the equivalent of Holy Ghost Bank.

I commented on the graffiti in Lisbon - well, there is still graffiti here, even in the small towns. It always puzzles me that graffiti looks the same in every country I have ever been too. Do the graffit people have a conference or something to decide on the international standard? The style of lettering is the same no matter the culture or language. It also puzzles me why graffiti artists, who are generally trying to make some attention-getting statement or demonstrate their turf and toughness, choose to use what I would call "bubble letters", a style that I associate predominantly with 10-year-old girls.

I suppose that I've only seen graffiti in the Roman alphabet - perhaps if I was to see Greek or Cyrillic or Chinese graffiti it would have a different style. Probably it would just be in bubble letters again.

Shopping for food can be an adventure over here, as labels are often in Portuguese only of course, or other languages with which I'm not overly familiar. I'm often taking a guess as to what I'm buying, and if it's labelled in German that's usually my best hope after English and French. I did stumble upon a Lidl store in Lagos, and that's helpful because the food is usually labelled in about 8 languages. For you Canadians, Lidl is a German (I believe) chain of grocery stores that are quite cheap and have an unusual, unpredictable stock. Kind of like a dollar-store of food. The most amusing thing that I saw on my recent trip was weiners (i.e. hot dogs) in some sort of clear fluid in a jar. To my further amusment, the label indicated that these were "American Way" weiners - yes, yes, hot dogs always come in jars in the States.

Lidl also has the unhappiest employees that I have ever encountered. No amount of politeness, no friendly smile can crack their icey exterior and coax out any look other than pure hatred. Maybe it's company policy that they don't smile, kind of like an anti-thesis to company policies of the likes of McDonald's and WalMart.

I do enjoy the language lessons that I get off of my multi-lingual packaging. For example, from the wrapper of my Magnum ice cream bar the other day (I now love the Ecquador dark chocolate one) I learned that in French, vanilla flavoured ice cream is "glace parfum vanille". This was news to my Canadian French, as I've always called ice cream "creme glacee" (forgive the lack of accents), and I never recall seeing the word "parfum" on any food package in Canada. Then I learned that for ice cream to be "coated" in chocolate is "uberzogen" in German, a word that strikes my fancy for some reason.

No comments: