We often celebrate rulers and conquerers, but a country without artists is just a mount of dust. Artists are the tellers of tales, the architects of meaning. During the 20th century, Portugal was recreated by the writing of Fernando Pessoa and reshaped by the painting of José de Almada Negreiros. They left us a country with a richer identity and a deeper imagination.
The paintings in the photo bring together these two great Portuguese artists. The first painting (on the left) was commissioned in 1954 by the owner of a restaurant where Orpheus, a modernist group that included Almada and Pessoa, used to gather. The second painting (on the right), commissioned by the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum in 1964, is a mirror image of the original.
Pessoa visited Almada’s first exhibition and declared that the painter was not a genius. Out of respect, Almada did not paint Pessoa while the poet was alive. Because the exuberant portrait that the painter carried in his mind and later transferred to canvas shows that Almada was a genius.
If you’re in Lisbon, do not miss the exhibition of the works of Almada Negreiros on display at the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum until June 7, 2017.
A simple arch at the entrance of Morgado Lusitano, a horse stud farm near Lisbon, divides the ordinary from the extraordinary. Crossing the arch is entering a world where Lusitano horses are treated like the offspring of Pegasus. These beautiful animals exude joy as they trot with elegance and vigor in a field that overlooks the marshes of the Tagus river.
The estate attracts horseback riders from all over the world. They stay in traditional country houses, enjoy their meals in the manor house, and ride twice a day under the tutelage of a group of top instructors.
Just before lunch, we met several riders who were drinking an aperitif in the library. They were all fans of Lusitanos, the Portuguese horse breed known for its intelligence and docile temperament. And they were eager to talk about their experiences at Morgado: the beauty of the farm, the quality of the food and wine and, most of all, the amazing horses and superb instruction.
“Three days here feel like a long vacation,” said one of the guests smiling, “I forget everything except the desire to ride in harmony with my horse. I go back recharged and renewed.”
The 18th century estate is run by Alexandre d’Orey, the heir of an aristocratic family. He takes great pride in his ability to match each rider with the perfect horse. “What is your teaching method?” we asked. “We teach riders how to communicate with the horse using hand and leg gestures with sensitivity and skill. After they master the basics, we instill in our riders the confidence they need to be relaxed on top of the horse. Confidence is crucial because riding is like praying, you have to believe to make it work.”
Click here for the Morgado Lusitano website.
Billy Collins, a former U.S. poet laureate, has a new book called The Rain in Portugal. He says that the title is an admission of his difficulties in constructing rhymes.
The rhyming possibilities of “Portugal” are much more limited than those of “Spain.” Yet, Collins finds a way capture the poetry of life in Portugal. Here’s an excerpt of the poem that contains the title of the book.
“[…] instead of recalling today where it pours mostly in Spain I’m going to picture the rain in Portugal.
How it falls on the hillside vineyards, on the surface of the deep harbors where fishing boats are swaying.
And in the narrow alleys of the cities where three boys in t-shirts are kicking a soccer ball in the rain ignoring the window cries of their mothers.”
The most revered noble in the kingdom of Algarve does not own land or royal charters. Dom Rodrigo is a dessert that has been produced since the 18th century. It looks like a gift, wrapped in colored foil and tied with a ribbon.
Alchemists all over the world tried to turn lead into gold. In Algarve, cooks tried to turn eggs, sugar, cinnamon and almonds into joy. And they succeeded!
We had lunch at the São Lourenço do Barrocal restaurant in a beautiful room overlooking the fields. The house wines, produced on the property by Susana Esteban, a Spanish enologist who fell in love with Portugal, are interesting and full of character.
The food is simple but delicious. We tried the grilled beef with “migas” and the wild boar. The desserts are delightful: traditional “gadanhas,” lemon and olive oil pudding, and a cake made with nuts and honey.
The highlight of the meal was the marinated partridge. The texture was perfect and each bite had layers of tangy vinegar and wholesome olive oil.
We were reminded of Saint Teresa of Ávila who once accepted an invitation to eat partridges. When people expressed surprise that a nun known for her poverty vows agreed to a luxurious meal, Teresa explained that “santidad es santidad mas perdices son perdices,” meaning sainthood is great but so are partridges.
The partridges at São Lourenço do Barrocal are prepared according to a recipe written by the great-grand mother of the owner of the estate, José António Uva. The recipe is on display in the dining room, next to a precious 1875 bottle of fortified wine from Reguengos de Monsaraz. It is a privilege to share this treasured recipe from the heart of Alentejo with you, dear reader:
Cut the partridge in pieces and cook it in strong white wine vinegar, olive oil, a small amount of water, and plenty of onion slices (use more olive oil than water). Season with whole black peppercorns, cloves and bay leafs. When the partridge is cooked, remove it from the pot and place it in a deep dish. Reduce the sauce left in the pot, strain it and pour it over the partridge.
Click here for the web site of São Lourenço do Barrocal.
We hope the gods of the sea will forgive us, but São Lourenço do Barrocal made us forget the ocean and its waves. We were dazzled by the exuberant fields covered with white daffodils, surrounded by the simple elegance of the old farm buildings.
São Lourenço has been in the family of its current owner, José António Uva, since the 19th century. It once employed 50 families who lived and worked on the farm. The estate was occupied in 1975, the year in which José António was born, as part of the wave of expropriations that followed the 1974 revolution. After the property was returned to the Uva family in 1984, the abandoned fields were replanted and the farm was brought back to life. But the buildings that once served as cellars and accommodation for the workers remained in ruins.
After studying in Paris and working in London, José António returned to Alentejo. While thinking about his future, he rebuilt a small house for his own use and a water tank that served as a swimming pool. He decided to devote four years to turning the estate into a hotel. Instead, the project took 14 years. Eight of these years were spent working with Eduardo Souto de Moura, the Pritzker laureate architect who oversaw the reconstruction project. Instead of using the property as a canvas to design new buildings, Souto de Moura followed a humble approach: he preserved and highlighted the beauty of the vernacular buildings that were there.
The interiors were decorated by José António’s wife, Ana Anahory. She used a wide range of artifacts, from antique agricultural implements to the heads of animals once hunted on the property. Her exuberance contrasts with the restraint of Souto Moura’s style. But, somehow, this creative tension works, making the space interesting and alive.
There are great hiking trails on the property with beautiful views of Reguengos de Monsaraz and the surrounding country side. One of the highlights is a menhir that is 7,000 years old.
It is heartwarming to see the natural beauty of a place where humans lived in the distant past so well preserved for the future.
Click here for the web site of São Lourenço do Barrocal.
In Roman times, wine making was a simple affair. The grapes were crushed and stored in large clay amphoras where the fermentation occurred naturally. The skins, seeds, and stems were stirred. Then, the pomace fell to the bottom of the amphora, acting as a filter so that the wine, extracted through a spigot, ran clear.
Wine makers in Alentejo are using old amphoras, too large to be made in modern ovens, to revive these ancient ways of making wine.
We’ve been looking forward to trying these wines. After our recent visit to Esporão, we finally got our chance—we brought home a bottle of their amphora-made Moreto wine.
Drinking it was a grand occasion. After all, this was the kind of wine with which Caesar celebrated the conquest of Gaul, the wines with which Mark Anthony wooed Cleopatra. We closed our eyes and sipped the precious liquid. It tasted pure and clean. Suddenly, the Romans adage ‘in vino veritas,’ in wine truth, had a new meaning.