Tuesday, November 16, 2004

We're EX-O-TIC

I'm perplexed.

While looking for a nice site to give you an idea abt Alfama I came across Rogov's Ramblings. And the one thing that accurately describes what I’m still thinking abt it is WTF???

Let me take you on a tour. Shall we? (Editor’s comments in red)

Site’s title: Da Gama's Erection.
[Vasco da Gama was the first to create a passage to India (1498). Why this bloke should obsess abt his penile function is beyond me. May he find whatever it is he’s looking for. Mi kol halev.]

Huddled on a small hill above the river, Alfama houses the poor of the city. [He should have tried harder. Hour poor are housed in many a place in this seriously lovely city of ours.]

As we explored the narrow back streets, we realized that we had discovered what is the twin of every North African casbah from Tangier to Tunis.
[Alright, I've been to Morocco. Again, WTF??? The twin? Get a hold of yourself.]

We made our way past tall tenements, some of them leaning at angles so great that the only thing that kept them from collapsing was the weight of an adjoining building. In a style reminiscent of a Humphrey Bogart movie, prostitutes leaned against streetlamps, twirling their handbags and eyeing every man who passed. And, even at this odd hour, street vendors lined the streets selling everything from hot buttered breads to condoms. [Yes, no one ever accused our hos of not being stylish. Though I can’t say I’ve ever seen one twirling her handbag. Cute verb though. And please put your hands together for the street vendors, they seem to ride the Sexual Education wave. ]

It was neither the prostitutes nor the bread that had brought us here. Very wise With the fall of night, Alfama resounds to the sad, intoxicating strains of fado. The word "fado" means fate [see
here, somewhere] - and these are songs that weep for lost love, flown illusions and death that has come too soon.

In each of the four places we visited that night, the lights would dim and a woman with a black shawl draped over her shoulders would take her place between two guitarists. The guitars strummed an introductory chord, the woman closed her eyes, and her voice rose in haunted tragedy. [Pretty accurate. Sometimes they rise a bit too much.] Many people think that all fadistas wear the black shawl in mourning for Maria Severa. [Famous fado weeper] Actually its because fado was born among the poor widows of Lisbon and, as you've probably noticed, poor widows always wear black shawls. [Some older women do but fado evolved from African slave music]

With so much of this potent wine, all that prevented us from falling into a drunken stupor were the luxuriant platters of food that were brought, practically non-stop, to our table. Crabs au gratin [never saw this], cooked with finely chopped leeks, lots of butter and brandy and browned under a hot grill; fried baby lamb chops with spiced snails [never saw this]; a leek pie surprisingly but marvelously seasoned with cinnamon [never saw this]; spicy fried freshwater crayfish; herbed shrimp croquettes; grilled quail; and even a roast suckling pig found their way from kitchen to stomach. It seemed as if we had entered a world where feasting could go on without end. We were delighted at the fact that no knives and forks were put on the table. To heighten one's sense of sensuality, all here was meant to be eaten with the fingers.
[Ok, although I DO often say we’re fast slipping into Morocco, WE’RE NOT THERE YET! We still use cuttlery. At home we may eat grilled chicken with our hands but no one would dream of disposing of baby lamb chops like this, and in a restaurant at that. It’s just not a cultural habit of ours. And what abt the lamb chops WITH SPICED SNAILS??? Snails are eaten here, yes, but people drink beer with it, I’ve never seen them combined with something else! Drunken stupour does seem to have happened.]

In fado, all loves are doomed, all lovers are cruel, and five hours of fado can plunge anyone into a rapture of gloom. At five in the morning, with this black sorrow still echoing in our ears, Debbie and I parted from Don Emilio and decided to make our way by foot back to our hotel. We were so immersed in our music-inspired depression that we were not certain whether making love or committing suicide would be more appropriate. [Ah well, that’s Fado for you. Who IS this Don Emilio though??? This isn’t Mexico, we’ve NEVER HAD DONs, we did have DOMs but it’s been ages!]

Even though it was Sunday morning, we came across a tiny square where dozens of women with bottles and jugs were crowded around a public well. A lone policemen had the unenviable task of permitting the milling women to advance to the faucets - each in what he judged to be her proper turn. For this he received flashing smiles from those he favored and scathing abuse and threats from those he held back. Debbie asked him why he never smiled. "Smile", he said dryly, "I'm too busy praying for my life."
[This I can well imagine, knives are still used swiftly in Alfama]

Even though the Portuguese revere da Gama's memory, many wonder whether he was a fearless sailor or simply a lucky fool. [I don’t think we spend that much time thinking abt him either way, really. We discovered half the world, owned it for a while, lost it. The end. We’re still a bit in love with the Discoveries but that’s bcs we haven’t been big ever since.]

A stone likeness of the explorer lies prone on top of his tomb and a mischievous monk cannot resist pointing out that the intrepid explorer is portrayed with an out-size erection, "probably because that and not his brain was the most active part of his body". [Oh our monks, horny little buggers; we even have the clay figures that prove it.]

We quickly located the restaurant, here to indulge in the very serious business of dining on shrimp couscous. Philippe, the owner and chef is said to have been born in Brazil, but his is the Portugese couscous par excellence. With several bottles of slightly sparkling, very dry and light Vinho Verde, (the "green wine" that is really white), the couscous went down easily. [There is NO SUCH THING as Portuguese couscous YOU GIT! With or without shrimp, with or without excellence. The wine bit is true. But do go
here to “peruse his favourite Portuguese recipe for shrimp couscous”.]

As an Anthropologist, I found it very amusing. As a Portie, oy. He visited a different city than the one I live in. But he’s a Jew, so it’s ok.

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At 17/11/04 14:28, Blogger Ana said...

Crabs au gratin? fried baby lamb chops with spiced snails? a leek pie seasoned with cinnamon? No knives and forks?
Oh man, I am v confused here. I have lived in this city for all of my 25 years and I have never seen these. I must be missing something.

At 17/11/04 15:28, Blogger The Lioness said...

[The Management appreciates the validation]


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