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
before I launched into my voyage from the Cape, I wanted
to pay homages to an old friend.
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.
Statue of Dom Afonso Henrique à Lagos.
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.
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
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.
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.
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!
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
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.
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.
Praia de Dona Ana.
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.
clinging to my legs, handbag filled with sand, I sheepishly
walk back up the stairs to the terrace, a wet cat.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
Looking out from Cabo Espíchel towards the New Continent.