Saturday, 17 October 2020

Staying at Cascais: a week by the sea and hiking in the woods of Sintra

It only takes 3 1/2 hours to reach the Portuguese coast at Cascais, Lucy and I hit the road, an easy drive to visit my sister, a long awaited re-union of sisters, aunts, cousins, mothers and daughters, remembering our mothers and grandmothers, all the family but especially the girls! ..... a familia!

The weather was really beautiful for fab walks with Vicky, Kate and Lucy along the cliffs and beaches further north of Cascais, Guincho, Adraga, Magoito and Azenhas de Mar.

A little stroll through Cascais


A day out in the fabled woods of Sintra. Highlight was a steep climb up to the Moorish castle ruins which dominate the skyline above the town with fabulous views of the Atlantic coast and to Palacio de Pena on another crag. Great views of the Royal Palacio and many eccentric 19th century houses.

Sintra was the inspiration for part of Byron's ‘Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage’, about a young nobleman on the Grand Tour of Europe, in the poem it is spelled "Cintra" an antiquated spelling.

He was staying at Lawrence’s Inn, a popular hotel still open to guests today. At that time it was frequented by British visitors, many of them like Byron on a Grand Tour of Europe. It was run by Mrs Dyson who was pleased to settle her titled guest into his first-floor bedroom. Declaring his immediate admiration of the sweeping views across the hilltops and the valleys, Byron declared:

Oh Christ! It is a goodly sight to see.
What heaven hath done for this delicious land!

Captivated by an idealized natural world that could only be appreciated by men of sensibility, Childe Harold is a true romantic, awe-struck to find he has unlocked “Elysium’s gates”.

The Moorish castle had fallen into total ruin over the centuries until King Consort Ferdinand II restored the extensive outer walls and towers to serve as a romantic view from his amazing building project, Palacio de Pena started in 1838.  Originally the site of the palacio was a humble chapel where King Manuel I was said to have seen the fleet of Vasco de Gama returning  from the historical voyage of 1499 discovering the sea route to India, the spice route, thus making Portugal a rich and powerful country in the 16th century, to commemorate the event he built a monastery on the crag which fell into ruin until Ferdinand II chose the magical site for his new palacio and extensive exotic gardens. It is said that King Ludwig II of Bavaria based his castle Neuschwanstein on Pena copying the bizarre melange of styles, it is quite possible as the Ludwig and Ferdinand were related through the Saxe-Coberg and Gotha dynasty. 
Moorish, Gothic, Manueline, Renaissance and Baroque but also many alchemistic symbols as Ferdinand was a grand master of the Rosicrucian order.
Ferdinand and his second wife, a Swiss opera singer, welcomed many artists to their unusual home, among them composer Richard Strauss, who called it “the castle of the Holy Grail.”

Down in the charming town of Sintra the Royal Palace dominates the town, a delight to see it without too many tourists. 

The palace was shaped and influenced by the different artistic trends prevailing in each period from the 11th century under Moorish rule until the last Royal family of Portugal at the beginning of the 20th century. Gothic and Manueline architecture are particularly evident, also a very heavy emphasis on the Mudejar style – a symbiosis between Christian and Muslim art, all creating a magical atmosphere. 

I love the hidden corners in the gardens and patios; an old washing tank with relieves of a black servant scrubbing the laundry and another servant chatting, a fantastic lion sculpture above a pool and yet another pool at the café.

Finally the difficult decision of ordering coffee and which cakes at a wonderful pasteleria.

See this link for detailed history of the Moorish castle, Palacio de Pena and many other fabulous sites in Sintra and nearby

Altogether a super break, total contrast to our tranquil life at the finca. 

Saturday, 26 September 2020

Knock, knock....who's there?

 Good morning! Closer and closer, soon we will be sharing breakfast with them

Friday, 25 September 2020

An evening visit from a white wanderer

We have opened the gate from the horse pasture so the  horses and donkey can wander freely on the finca, they are taking full advantage, munching on all the summer dried hay. Lovely to see them close to the cortijo, they come to say hello in the evening and maybe get an extra treat of dried figs or old bread.

Saturday, 12 September 2020

Day out to Villa de Arco and Coria with optional trip to Alcántara

This is a rather long trip for one day but can be split into two separate trips as there is a lot  to see.

From the finca we went straight to Caceres and then on to the turn off at Cañaveral, then into the sierra to reach the quaint hamlet of Villa de Arco with its perfect white washed church, mountain spring water running in the steets and an aire of being untouched for centuries. We left early, straight on to the autovia to Caceres and then continued to the exit for CAÑAVERAL 


The best way to approach is by walking from the turn off camino on the right just before the village, very charming entrance straight into the heart of the village. 

Here is an earlier post with a lot more photos, especially of the church and views. 

On to Coria but two stops on the way which are both well worth the time.

1. Palancar at  Pedroso de Acim is a tiny monastery where San Pedro de Alcantara stayed,  it is a turn off the  road to left once on road to Coria.

Detailed information here

2. The pottery in Torrejoncillo, Tinajas de Moreno, they make the huge wine alibaba pots and clay bread ovens as well as small ceramic items and tiles

Coria a very under estimated historical town on the Alagón river, a strategic point founded by the Romans in the first century with large stretches of Roman walls still existing, further embellished by suceeding cultures, Visigoths, Moors and re-conquista Christians.The whole of the old town is very atmospheric within the ancient walls with 4 original entrance gates. It is now famous for the  running of the bulls during the feast of San Juan in June, bulls are well represented  everywhere.The 16th century cathedral has just been renovated and has an interesting museum. Good places to eat and drink with a restaurant and bar terraça at the archbishop's palace overlooking the river.

Here is an early post about Coria which also includes a side trip to the wonderful Trevejo castle.

At this point one can return to Caceres and Finca al-manzil or continue to Alcántara with its eponymous Roman bridge, named by the Moors al-Qanṭarah (القنطرة) meaning "the bridge".  A really interesting town also famous for being the birth place of San Pedro de Alcántara  in 1499.

Main sights

Alcántara Bridge, of six symmetrical arches, 194 m long and 71 m high, built in honour of Trajan in 103-106. An inscription gives the name of the architect of the viaduct, C. Iulius Lacer.

Convent of San Benito de Alcántara (16th century)

Church of Holy Mother of Almocobar (13th century)

Remains of the Moorish walls, modified and restored in the Middle Ages

Convent of St. Francis (15th-17th centuries)

Convent of the Nuns of Los Remedios, of which only the Baroque Chapel remains

Here are more places to visit from Alcántara 

Route Map of this trip

Friday, 17 July 2020

Every picture tells a story .....Brava!! The photography of Cristina Garcia Rodero

The astounding work of Cristina Garcia Rodero. At the age of 23 in 1972, Garcia Rodero started a project that she hoped would capture the essence of the myriad Spanish traditions, religious practices and rites that were already fading away. What started as a five-year project ended up lasting 15 years and came to be the book España Oculta (Hidden Spain) published in 1989. At 39 years old, Garcia Rodero had managed to compile a kind of anthropological encyclopedia of her country.
 I can see Diane Arbus as a strong influence, in fact I think she out -Arbuses Arbus.

Strangely I see Goya very strongly, the same eye for the grotesque and pictorial satire especially against the church. This is one of the black paintings depicting the romero of San Isidro, you can see faces like this in the photographs taken in 1970s Spain.

Friday, 10 July 2020

Las Hurdes- A remote corner of Extremadura with a terrible history

Just to say don't let this put you off, we have travelled all around Las Hurdes, the scenery is amazing and knowing its history gives the experience and extra depth.

Crossing Las Hurdes today is like  any other corner of Extremadura, Castilla or Aragón: paved roads for its residents, the “jurdanos” and tourists, new towns, raised behind the ruinous “black architecture” of slate slabs, healthy people with thriving agriculture.
No one wants to remember or to be reminded of a past marked by all kinds of stigmas, real or imaginary: starvation, illiteracy, savagery, poverty, malaria, tuberculosis, alcoholism, hysteria, incest, polygamy, sodomy, typhus, ringworm, smallpox, trachoma, syphilis, goitre and cretinism.
Las Hurdes was a notorious place, becoming mythical with stories about  its inhabitants; deformed bodies like monsters with large heads and bowed legs caused by rickets, edema and osteoarthritis, a closed in-bred population hidden away in the ill-fated valleys behind the mountains. 
Chroniclers and travellers have perpetuated the horrors that they observed over the last 200 years: P. Nieremberg, Fray Tomás González, Benito Jerónimo Feijoo, George Borrow, Ramón Gómez de la Serna, Miguel de Unamuno, Maurice Legendre, Gregorio Marañón, J. Goyanes, José Mª Gabriel y Galán, Luis Buñuel, Antonio Ferres, Armando López Salinas and, more recently, Luis Carandell, Víctor Chamorro and Maurizio Catani.
In the mid-19th century, the biblical propagandist George Borrow heard of “a small nation or tribe of unknown people who spoke an unknown language, who lived there since the creation of the world, without crossing with other creatures and without knowing that there were other beings besides themselves ”(The Bible in Spain, 1842).
The Jurdanos were thought to be a singular race descended, according to legends, from the ancient Roman garrisons, scarecrows who walked naked or in rags, hiding in the thickets of the Batuecas. Word spread that they were political or religious refugees, such as the Moors expelled from Castilla and Andalusia or Jews escaping from the inquisition. For Gregorio Marañón, the doctor who accompanied the investigation of 1922, these people were “Spanish like the others, of the same race, with the same customs, the same religion and the same language; but more hungry than those of the poorest Castilian villages, almost entirely sick, an immense,mountainous retreat inhabited by people who seemed to have escaped from a hospital”Today Rodríguez Ibarra, president of the Junta de Extremadura, declared with rage: “There are still many visitors who come to Las Hurdes with a 'safarian' spirit, a video camera at the ready to capture the images that Buñuel had immortalized years ago, impossible to reproduce today”  Some environmentalists and archaeologists express their displeasure at the‘ intolerable ’advance of progress. People no longer have goitre; the roads that access Las Hurdes are nine meters wide; running water reaches all the houses; the towns have electric light.

 Two Iconic films made about Las Hurdes in the 20th century. 

The first is a record of the visit made by Alfonso XIII in 1922 accompanied by doctors and clergy. The images could be of medieval peasants living in extreme poverty and destitution. The statistics are awesome, thousands of people dying of starvation and disease, 15 children in every 100 born as what they describe as "cretinos" cruelly afflicted by congenital extreme mental and physical disorders. Goitre was extremely common due to iodine deficiency.

The second film is Tierra sin pan , Land without bread, a documentary made by Buñuel in 1933. Obviously not much has changed since the royal visit of 1922.  It is haunting work with its strange images of goats crashing down a ravine and a donkey being covered in honey by fallen hives and stung to death by thousands of bees, the corpse of a baby being transported over rough terrain and a river to bury it in the nearest graveyard;mentally afflicted boys leering into the camera as they jabber unintelligibly; a seemingly old woman with a goitre, breast feeding a baby, in fact the woman is only in her 30s ; frightening and disturbing images from the master of surrealism.
But look more carefully, Tierra sin pan is a film which breaks down the distinction between fiction and documentary. Many commentators have said that the voice-over narration and the particular subjects Buñuel chose to depict simply parody the documentary genre. However, at this point in the history of cinema the documentary mode was in its infancy. Robert Flaherty’s Nanook of the North: a story of life and love in the arctic (1922) was probably the most well-known film from this genre and there weren’t many others out there. The documentary as a genre didn’t have a fixed set of syntactic conventions that would have been available for film makers like Buñuel and his contemporaries to take as raw material for a parody. Like the grandmaster of contemporary cinema, Abbas Kiarostami, Buñuel does not believe in any fixed boundary between fiction and non-fiction film making.

However, one argument that Buñuel was parodying the documentary mode is the droll and sardonic voice-over juxtaposed with the terrible images on the screen. Actually the original film was completely silent. Bunuel provided the narration live during screenings. Abel Jacquin was hired to read the French voice-over in 1935 which was cut into the film along with sections of Johannes Brahms’ Symphony No. 4.

The voice-over is detached and uninterested, casually remarking on disease and death but it is not a mere parody, Buñuel subverts the documentary, it becomes a propaganda film. Several sequences in the film were staged for effect, the falling goat and the bee stung donkey. Bunuel anticipated many future experiments with the documentary mode that wouldn’t come for another thirty years in the history of cinema, he transgressed the fiction/documentary boundary to indite both the Catholic church and the Spanish for allowing a place like Las Hurdes to exist, a real hell on earth.

This film was banned upon it’s release. Buñuel would go on to produce films for the Spanish Republics film industry: Don Quintin el Amargo, La Hija de Juan Simon, Quien Me Quieri A Mi? and Centinela Alerta. In 1937 he produced a Civil War documentary called Madrid 1936 (or Espana Leal en Armas) but he did not consider these as part of his artistic ouvre.

You may also wish to see this, it's an animated film of the making of Tierra sin pan
And finally, a little video about Las Hurdes today


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