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Cultural musings

Portugal

sunny 23 °C

There are a disturbing number of beggars, people sleeping in the street plus the weaving mutterers. No hawkers, few buskers. I have just seen my first nun, dressed in the old style, in the cavernous bus station. Unemployment here is running around 15 percent, and there are constant comments about funding cut backs. Trains which were running to smaller locations have been closed. This is a country with a history of political activism and commentary. We have experienced one train strike,but it was on a day of public holiday, so the impact was moderate. However, we were told that the holiday would no longer be held after this by agreement with government and church, due to The Crisis. 13 000 tenured teachers without an appointment at the start of the new year, due to drop in birthdate and subsequent school closures.

Respect for the past is evident in way locations are invariably named after people or significant events and dates. There are innumerable pracas de Liberade, or 5th October,an important revolution date. Most ordinary streets are people or indicators of historical function: iron workers, commerce, English traders or the local church parish. Everywhere there are statues or plaques celebrating- wait for it! - not sports figures but poets, writers, artists, intellectual leaders or fighters for freedom. Houses claim the honor of being the birthplace of a national cultural icon. Mind you, soccer is obviously also a supremely important cultural event so there will be a Rua Ronaldho one day.

So many Portugese colonies were in Africa, and of course Portugese-speaking Brazil is the powerhouse of South America. After the colonies were given their independence following the Carnation Revolution, and the ousting of the fascist dictatorship of Salazar, numbers settled in Portugal. The consequence is a racially very mixed population, at least in cities. We have heard complaints about Romanians and Bulgarians as unwelcome and antisocial,but also that they're willing to work at menial tasks young Portugese are no longer willing to take on.

" The infant mortality rate in 1974 stood at 37.9%. Today it is 2.5%. This indicator is, perhaps, the most relevant of all to show how far Portugal has come since then." some eye popping stats from a local blogger. Personally, I find this statistic more meaningful than say economic data. Is this poor community health background the reason we have seen so many blind or lame?

Men hawk and spit on the street. But they also greet other men with a prolonged ritual of shoulder and arm clasps, pats and repeated semi hugs. Rather endearing. Women also lean close to talk, walk holding hands with teenagers and older family members. Older men seem to have plenty of time for park sitting with mates.

Tentaclos E2.50 and they are big!

Wine in mini marts. Beer in cafes. Tiny shops which sell mixed hardware, anything you could imagine wanting. Streets which specialize in florists, shoe repair, electrical appliances, carpentry....
Also hypermarts, even "jumbo hypermarts!" we were too scared to go there!

On doors, puxe and empurre. And no, puxe means pull. I am finally getting it right.

Nothing gets started til 9 or 10 am. Cafes close around 5 and restaurants only really get started after 7.30. Lunch finishes by 2. Museums close til usually 2 or 3 after lunch. You need to adjust your day to suit.

"Chinese" shops abound, filling our 2dollar shop gap.

People in service positions are usually helpful but only if you ask. Often nothing extra is volunteered. Like the tourismo in a town offering no information past the immediate locality, even about commonly recognized local attractions. Not an entrepreneurial society.

The only info about a street will be its name, if you are lucky, on a corner building. No businesses label themselves with an address. It is unusual for little places to have a village or town name plate. Hey! If you live there, you know anyway. This can be a bit stressful as the bus wends its way around some scenic loop, and you have no idea where you are!

Posted by woylie 13:40 Archived in Portugal

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