On April 25th 1974, a military coup ended the rule of the “Estada Nova,” the Portuguese dictatorship that had lasted for the better part of 50 years. The revolution was remarkable in that there were very few casualties. Four people were killed by the security police. The soldiers who led the revolt were embraced by the people who rushed out to join them in the streets and placed flowers in their rifles giving us “The Carnation Revolution.” And on April 25th of this year I watched the anniversary celebrations in the middle of Lisbon.
Supporters of the ousted regime—and there are a few, including our local butcher who was but a child when the revolution happened—probably took grim solace in that, as we stood listening to aging idealists making speeches and singing songs of celebration, the skies were grey and foreboding and soon let loose their rains.
Those who came to celebrate the past and the future were uncertain. Austerity bites deep here and the Portuguese that I have come to know are much more invested in politics than most. Salazar, the dictator, is still a divisive figure here but pales when compared to “The Troika,” – the European Central Bank (ECB), the European Commission (EC), and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Still, if we are in dark times, let us remember that it is always darkest before the dawn.
Despite my optimism, I left as the rain grew heavier and spent the evening reading about the first kings of Portugal—an interesting bunch of characters that I will return to in a later post.
Toward the very edge of the world
Despite their tendency towards lugubriousness, I am finding the Portuguese to be a warm friendly people. Friends that I only knew through social media, Vanda & Miguel and their delightful son, Afonso, took us on a wonderful tour of the Sintra area where the nobility liked to spend their summers since Moorish times—and probably before.
It’s the type of place that appeals to the senses, warm and fertile, and the gentle rains and mists would make any Celt feel at home. It is not unlike the west coast of Ireland only with fewer seasons per day.
The hillsides are dotted with spectacular mansions that date back centuries, growing more spectacular as they rise up the sides of the mountain to where an old castle dominates.
Beyond that, we also visited Cabo da Roca which is the most westerly point on the European mainland. The 16th-century Portuguese poet Luís de Camões described Cabo da Roca as “Onde a terra se acaba e o mar começa” –“where the land ends and the sea begins.”
But it was the next stop on our tour that really piqued my interest. Miguel, who holds degrees in Biology, brought us into the primeval forest. Spared the last ice age, it contains trees that are different to the senses. It is hard to describe except that you know that you are somewhere new yet very, very familiar.
Among the trees are rock formations that seem surreal. Great big blobs of things, stacked precariously on top of each other and somehow refusing to roll off down into the sea. They were probably left there by glaciers but it doesn’t take a lot of fancy to imagine giants might have had a hand in it. Really. Some, in particular, seemed very inviting to the old Celt that lurks inside of me—not to mention the recluse.
Coming around the corner of a busy downtown street, I stood bemused as a long line of people queued to step into a hole in the ground. Really! Traffic was blocked but no one seemed to mind, passing it off with a shrug.
Like most things that happen here, there was a very simple explanation but rather than tell you, I will invite suggestions. The first correct suggestion (email to email@example.com with “hole in the street” as the subject matter) will win a signed copy of one of my titles.