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© Felixia
Vue vers le nord à partir du Cabo de São Vicente.



du Québec, juillet 2004

Voir cette page en français


It was Day 2. I was spending it getting familiar with a strange country. I planned on driving out to the tip of the Continent, to look out at the ocean where seamen had set off many hundred years ago, not knowing if the world was flat or round. From Cabo de São Vicente, looking off into the horizon, it's difficult to know for certain.

But, before I launched into my voyage from the Cape, I wanted to pay homages to an old friend.

All my life, I have been plagued by severe absentmindedness. And so, I lose everything. At an early age, I decided that an ally was necessary. St. Anthony, the retrieval specialist, was an evident choice. Thus, in my life, I've lost much, but then again, I've found much. While researching for my trip, I had discovered that the good Saint is not Italian, as could be assumed by the suffixe "of Padua", but rather, that he was born in Portugal, in Lisbon. In fact, he is so Portuguese, that he is Portugal's patron saint. I also discovered that the Igreja de Santo António, in Lagos, is a national monument.

© Felixia
Statue of Dom Afonso Henrique à Lagos.

I arrived in Lagos late in the morning, parked the car next to the largo where a statue of Dom Afonso Henrique (Henry the Navigator) sits, surrounded by mosaic waves, greeting visitors (many, from the New World). As you walk, if you look down and take in the motif, mind computing that it represents waves, you might start listing, imperceptibly. The sensation is not altogether unpleasant, like walking in the surf. Behind Prince Henry, a church, but this is not St. Anthony's church. To reach it, you must go deeper into the town, not very far, walking the narrow cobbled streets lined by all kinds of shops and restaurants. I turn a bend, and there it is.

For those who love Architecture, Portugal is fascinating. Its architecture ranges from menhirs emerging from the deep recesses of humanity, to Roman temples still intact and surrounded by a particular brand of flamboyant Gothic architecture, all ornate symbolism etched into the stone, then on to Baroque constructions, and so on. Everything is juxtaposed, very often harmoniously, cemented together by a Moorish tessitura of azulejos and forms.

Igreja de Santo António

A friend tells me that, over the past 25 years or so, great efforts have been made into conservation, and that the fruits of these efforts are more and more apparent. And to me this is fine, for Portugal should be made into a país museu (as many parts of it already have). And I am certain that Portuguese ingenuity will find a way to assimilate the advantages of life in the years 2000 into their landscape - geographical, cultural and historical - without forsaking their (and our) heritage. A fine and difficult mandate for those who had the vision, the ingenuity and the courage to go forth and discover so much of the New World.


I enter into the church itself, after having followed a maze of rooms, a museum bearing testimony to the passage of time on the Algarve Coast and on its inhabitants. Groups of schoolchildren everywhere, a school outing and guided tours. I abstract my attention from the crowd and concentrate on the architecture.

Mirth bubbles up inside me. There are angels everywhere! Thousands of them - ceiling, walls, columns, are all covered with Heavenly Hosts. A riot of angels! Never have I seen so many of them in one place!

The next discovery is the talha dorada (gilded ornamentation) like sunlight shining in the church's twilight. All around, there are fine paintings representing all manners of miracles by St. Anthony. It would seem that his specialty is not limited to the Lost and Found Department. Then, I discover the azulejos, perfect Harmony in blue and white, and the azulejarias, Poetry in tiles.

Igreja de Santo António

After having basked in the blue, the white, the gold, and having chosen an angel to travel Portugal with me, I leave the church, with a strong inkling that Portugal must surely be visited with all the respect you would bring to visiting a church or a museum.

I continue on to Praia da Dona Ana and stop at a small terraced restaurant: tables arranged under umbrellas next to stone stairs leading down to a sandy cove below. To the right and to the left, enormous pink-hued rock formations floating on a turquoise sea. It's a lovely place. Before settling down to lunch, I walk down the steps to the small beach, just to get a feel of the water washing over my feet. To me, this is a ritual whenever I am at the ocean's edge. It's a bit windy, but the sea is calm enough. Huge grey clouds are rolling in from Africa, there will be some rain.

© Felixia
Praia de Dona Ana.

Standing there, feet in the ocean, toes sinking blissfully into the sand, I take in a deep breath of salty sea air. Content, I let the water swirl gently around my ankles when, out of nowhere, a few feet from my feet, a huge swell materializes. It bears down on me, drenching me up to my waist.

Clothes clinging to my legs, handbag filled with sand, I sheepishly walk back up the stairs to the terrace, a wet cat.

I was trapped. I had ordered lunch before going down to the beach and it was waiting for me. The wind had started to blow and drops of rain were falling. À la guerre comme à la guerre, I was already soaked so I stood ground, eating my food in the rain on the terrace, while pondering on the experience, looking at the waves on the beach below.

Close observation led me to conclude that the ocean in Portugal (or is it the angel?) has a nasty trait of character, an off-beat and wicked sense of humour, playing tricks on unwary tourists. I made a mental note to beware of the ocean in Portugal.

Sesimbra, view from the castle

A year passes by and I come back to Portugal to haunt its shores yet again. This time, I am in Sesimbra, South of Lisbon. My hotel is just across the street from the beach. Ocean softly calling, I walk across the street and onto the white sand. In the water, straight ahead and close by, a large rock, perfect for sitting on quietly, while letting waves wash gently around you.

It might be April in Portugal, but April in Portugal is like June in Québec, so I am prepared, swimsuit under my clothes. I leave them, along with my cell phone, on the beach, well away from the water's edge, and wade out, knee-high, to the rock. Perched on its top, feet just reaching into the water, I soon relax while keeping a wary eye out for rogue waves. In less than five minutes, I get washed off violently from the rock, to be tumbled pêle-mêle into the surf with great fracas. I finally regain some measure of control, crawl out of the ocean with great difficulty, totally soaked (and mortified), and walk up to my clothes, which have not been spared.

I will conclude by saying this: Under no circumstance should you trust the ocean in Portugal. It is all apparent calm and gentle swells and, when you believe it's lies, it catches you unaware.

I will add just another bit of advice: Do not try to claim wide-eyed innocence while attempting to exchange a cell phone, unless you've thoroughly emptied it of sand beforehand.

© Felixia
Looking out from Cabo Espíchel towards the New Continent.

Another page from Felixia : Flowers

Page ©, 6 août 2004.
Texte, traduction et photos © Felixia.
Matière fournie par les Lecteurs : lire les conditions d'utilisation du site.

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