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Thursday, June 2, 2016

A hotdog with a history

Our young Spanish hostess at the cottage where we are staying, Marta, said her reaction was the same as mine when she first tasted Alheira, the Portuguese sausage I didn't know I was waiting for all my life.

Two weeks earlier, tired after walking uphill for six hours, our small group of travelers was thirsty and hungry, too. We stopped in the only open cafe, Pappas Zaide, in the village of Provesende, high in the Douro wine valley. The owner and her helper took one look at us and asked, since it was late in the day and the kitchen was closing, if a few tapas and wine would be alright. We were relieved to not be turned away. In about 20 minutes they set out cold drinks, wines, cold meats, cheeses and bread, olives and a platter of crisp, fried slices of sausage. We consumed the tapas like plague locusts, stopping only long enough to ask them to prepare us two more servings of the sausage, which we all liked but could not remember ever having tasted before.

That's how love is, immediate and bewitching: The cooks among us started deconstructing the internal workings of the sausage as though we had unearthed an ancient timepiece.  "It has pork!" "No, it's got chicken!" "Wait, is this bread?" 

It turns out our family and friends tour of Portugal has been marked by discoveries of fabulously warm people, natural beauty, history, art, fine port, muscatel, red and white wine, music and singing, but the heart loves what it loves. For me, the magic began with the sausage named Alheira.

The restaurant owner at Pappas Zaide, Grazza, patiently explained how she prepares Alheira, starting with cooking poultry, beef and pork together with onion and spices, adding bread to the blended meats, then smoking the sausage for two days. At Pappas Zaide, they fry the sausage and slice it, but in our next encounter with Alheira, we had it sautéed and the meat was chopped more finely. We approved. Our third time to have Alheira was at the outdoor restaurant at the Fado museum in Lisbon's Alfama neighborhood. The casing was removed and the sausage was then deep fried and served as a curled link surrounding a fried egg in a copper bowl straight from the grill. We approved some more.

At each place we had Alheira, the recipe was altered. But it would be days before I learned of Alheira's important origins.

Serving us a plate of Alheira taken from the wood-fired grill just after arriving here at the cottage, David, our host, explained that Alheira was a life-saving invention for Portuguese Jews. During the Spanish Inquisition, many Jews left Spain for Portugal.  Over time, the persecution spread to the cities, so many Jews fled to the countryside. The military would travel into villages to search for Jewish families, which they could identify as suspicious and different from Catholic homes, because there were no hanging sausages in the doorways of Jewish homes. In an effort to fool the military patrols, Jewish cooks created the first porkless sausage, Alheira, containing beef, poultry and bread substituting for pork. They hung links of Alheira outside their doorways, making their homes appear the same as any other. Not every food can claim a creation story of such importance.

Nature talks to us through our senses

The light. On this still day the light is like a canopy of Mother Cabrini church blue. A sparrow flits from the roof to the garden. Planes pass overhead landing and leaving Lisbon making sharp contrails that linger into soft reminders. The ocean is azure blue with flecks of topaz and diamonds.

The audio soundtrack.  I perceive in stereo chittering birds calling to each other from one end of the grove of pines to the other. There's a triller. Now one that whistles. This morning we heard the grouse but could never spy them. The calls are varied. I can patch together a pattern, but it vanishes as soon as it appears. Chittering, trilling and loudest of all, insistent high-pitched scrapings from babies in their nests calling for their lunch.

Aromas. Our host gallops across the yard from the garden with a large red onion and a beet he presents for a future salad. Fresh from the earth's embrace they carry aromas born in the marriage of the garden to the sun and rain.  On our walk we passed the heated pine and inhaled the musky perfume. We retraced our steps to pause under the shade to drink in the perfume again, but it had flown away. Wild Spanish lavender, thyme, honeysuckle, other herbs unknown call out their aromas as we brush past them with our shoes, our socks and pants legs. From the stove herbs mingle with our rotisserie chicken leftovers from lunch to make new aromas predicting soups to come.

Touch. The sharp, impenetrable gorse that clumps like boulders along our path keeps all but the lizards from entering. The rocks are rough, save for the ones we saw far below us,  big as watermelons, tumbling to smoothness in the ocean's tango dance with the shore, flirting in her dress of scalloped hem.  Silty sand along the paths of our walk from our cottage to the cliffs above the ocean, sand that wizards I've never thanked in person not long ago transformed into the face of this device of ones and zeroes with which I write, my finger tip firm as it taps making corrections five times every three words  drunk as I am with pleasure.

Taste. Dark and potent coffee, water, clear and cool, fresh sheep's cheese on village made bread that your teeth have to tug at to convince admittance. 

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

A Tale of Two IPads

At 1:30 in the morning the younger brother makes a phone call to a friend who may know where two American women might be staying in the Alfama neighborhood where his store is located in Lisbon.  He apologizes for waking him and explains he is trying to contact the two American women who stopped by his family's neighborhood store for a carton of milk about ten that night and accidentally left behind an IPad.

By the time we discover the iPad is missing, it's almost nine in the morning and the younger brother is still trying to locate us. Inside the cover of the IPad he as found a handwritten note with a telephone number. He phoned the number in Porto where we stayed earlier in the week at an AirBnb. While I walked the three blocks to see if the IPad was at his store, our host in Porto texted Susie to tell her the IPad had been found. I left my phone behind in the apartment, so I didn't know the IPad was located.

I show him my IPad as I walk in from the narrow, busy street. He smiles and says he has the missing one, but to please wait five minutes for his brother. He says his brother will need to talk with me to be sure the iPad belongs to me. 

A street repairman buys a carton of orange juice and a bottle of wine. Two Spanish tourists need supplies for breakfast. An American doesn't have enough money for both toothpaste and a toothbrush, and the younger brother behind the cash register says "It's OK." The American promises to return. 

Then the older brother walks up the street carrying apricots and tomatoes to place by the doorway. I had bought a half dozen apricots from him on our way home two nights ago. 

After a few more customers are helped, the brothers turn to me and In their limited English and my equally poor Portuguese we start chatting. I show them my IPad again. The older one says they had tried reaching us. I thank him. I ask if he'll accept some Euros in thanks. He shakes his head and asks,"You have two IPads?"  "We do," I answer. "We were very worried. Thank you for keeping it." 

He hands me the missing IPad and I press the money into his hand and hug his shoulders gently. He smiles briefly and says, "We are Muslim. We are not thieves." 

Friday, May 27, 2016

Lunch of a lifetime

Our Tuk Tuk Fun Tours driver Joaquim, a world traveler, like his Portuguese ancestors, took us to his favorite restaurant Adega das Merces, to eat lunch today after our first day touring the neighborhoods and 2300 years of Lisboa: 

Served family style with ample wines:

Bread with butter and sardine pate and tuna pate

Two mixed salads with marinated onions and grilled peppers

Salad with peppers and onions

Fried, flattened and marinated then breaded sardines
The size of a small saucer

Rice with fish and shrimp, tomato and cilantro

Bacalao cod fritters with green rice with greens in strips and onions

Pork like carnitas in clam broth with Manila clams, topped with crisp French fries

Chicken cooked in its blood, in rice

Fresh cod stew with potatoes

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Minor miracles in Portugal

The climb out of the Portuguese village of Pinhao is steeper and longer than we would have guessed or dreamed of in our wildest fear induced imaginings. We are all over 55 and mostly out of shape and not ready for the continuous climb from the Duoro valley to the next village, which, by my calculations is a climb of some 15 football field lengths vertically from where we are and about 8 miles away. Susie's Fitbit logged 23,000 steps and 156 flights of stairs.

We are game Americans, the six of us, too proud to say this is more than what we can handle. We keep marching up the rocky path, keeping our chins up, if only to scan the path ahead to avoid tripping.  

We have walked for over four hours and inched our way up more than five miles. Now we are tired, hungry and almost out of water. Then comes the first minor, but no less amazing, miracle: a tall, orange tree along the road in the field below us, one of its branches bearing a lone orange fruit stretched just far enough toward the path for me to reach it with my walking stick in order to reach Susie's waiting hands, tag team citrus picker style. We rapidly peel the orange and each of us shares two slices of the sweetness that our bodies yearn for.

 About a mile later is our second miracle: Around a curve on the path we come across an old cherry tree covered in fruit, nearly all of it half ripe, but with plenty of sweet, plump, red cherries ready for our happy fingers to pluck. Over the next four days we'll encounter a hundred other such trees, but none with so much as one near-to-ripe fruit. My chemistry regains its land legs after two or three fistfuls of delicious cherries. 

About a mile later, we stop at a public fountain along a vineyard wall that seems at least a few hundred years old. Here is our third miracle. We drink to our fill, wash our hands and faces and thank the people from centuries ago who built this traveler's oasis and watering station for vineyard laborers even more tired than us. We stand marveling at the free-flowing fountain, feeling our bodies hydrate and our spirits push us forward to follow in their footsteps.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

and now...Run-DMC, Harry Chapin and Sara Mclachlan

I love exploring creativity with students in my Mass Communication classes. 

This semester I offered extra credit to students who had missed out on an assignment. They were asked to read  The Helsinki Bus Station Theory: Finding Your Own Vision in Photography.  They were asked to write an essay about how the ideas presented about being persistent with their creative voice applied to them as content producers in today's information age.

Later in the semester we continued the exploration into creativity. I assigned the four part  Remix series produced by Kirby Ferguson with assistance from Participant Media. 

Our class discussions about copyright and fair use led me to an exploration of these concepts in the remix that is touching as it is beautiful. The rapper, Darryl McDaniels started the ball rolling with a full-on emotional depression from which he climbed out from after years of painful self-discovery. He tells his story in a Moth segment released in 2014.  

The collaboration "remix" 1970's singer-song writer Harry Chapin's Cat's in the Cradle is a powerful example of music doing "what it's supposed to do."

Thursday, March 17, 2016

What you watch is watching you, Emily said.

"What you watch is watching you," Emily said. We are four friends who have driven for days to witness this arrival of sacred water through towering walls of stone, the Rio Grande's passage through Santa Elena Canyon in Big Bend National Park. On one side of the canyon is Mexico, on the other the United States. The sky, the currents, the ravens and the sun at Santa Elena pay no mind to the tempest over border walls.There are two beside each other guarding the river's passage and they were there before nations, conquistadores, first nations peoples or even languages. The politician's debates over immigration seem a million miles away.

Santa Elena Canyon's walls tell a story written by time and nature. Our eyes take in with wonder the signature of the river's steady coursing through silent centuries. We admire the sculptures created by earthquakes, the sharp upheavals from ancient eras. In our mind's eye we imagine the torrents of fiery rivers that flowed along the same canyon arms unfolding now as water, peaceful as a sigh

We humans are recent immigrants to this theater stage. Our journeys end, like everything, is uncertain. I imagine that as we stand on the gravel banks in prayerful awe, these walls of rock and timeless water currents without eyes or expression watch our ant-like antics along its skirt hem. They see us as we skip rocks and test the waters with bare feet or float upon its surface from upstream in canoes to where the river delivers its riders.  

We have traveled far to stand here and stop, like sudden Columbuses, at the ready. We look up and down the canvas, discovering what has always been. All the while, we are observed in the bouncing light by the meeting of rock, sky, and water, as just another deer or dinosaur come to drink that which sustains