Raul FreitasPortugal

Just Between You and Me

 

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None of us can really claim that any one culture possesses unique qualities, unless they’ve spent time among every culture on the planet. I’m pretty sure that there aren’t many that can stake that claim. What we can suggest, is that among the cultures we may know well, there are certain places and people that seem to have one-of-a-kind qualities and characteristics. To me, Portugal and the Portuguese fall into that slot.

Founded in 1139, we are among the oldest nations on Earth. That, coupled with our “unique” geographic placement, has allow us “Lusitanians” to evolve in a manner that, if not unique, is, at the very least, uncommon. Geographically, Portugal is a country that a traveler would never “come across” or “pass through”. Being on the edge of Europe, kissing the Atlantic, it has always been a place you travel “to”. Pre CR7 and social media, most people probably had no clue where Portugal was. About 15 years ago, while at a BBQ in Toronto, a young woman asked me where I was from and after telling her I lived in Portugal, she proceeded to ask me if ‘that was in South America’. Anyway, I digress, point is although we haven’t exactly gone completely unnoticed over the centuries and at one time, the heroes and leaders of the seas, we have had, I think, less external influences than most other European countries, allowing us to grow our own “style”.

I’ve never come across a tourist that didn’t have the highest accolades for the people, the food, the sites and the weather. Yeah, this weather. Despite theimpact of global warming, Portugal’s weather is about as flawless as nature could possibly contrive. It’s not too cold in the Winter and not too hot in the Summer. Spring and Fall are usually that perfect blend. In Ontario, I felt like we were always trying to duck from the weather almost all year round. That killer summer humidity can sometimes be uncomfortable in the Algarve, closer to the ocean, but shift East into Spain and nighttime temperatures in the high 30’s are a common occurrence. A couple of days ago it was 37 degrees and the humidity was at 23%. I don’t profess to say that one doesn’t feel cold or hot here, but it sure does seem to be a lot easier to tolerate. I live in the interior and this week has been quite hot, but my friends in Nazaré are enjoying highs of 23, with full sun and that’s only a couple of hours away, in case we want a quick escape. For a country that is roughly 200km wide and about 800 long, the topographic diversity is certainly uncommon. How many places can you think of where, on a day trip, you can experience beaches, mountains, big cities and even rolling flatland? Of course, I don’t recommend anyone rush through this countries’ natural treasures, but it is possible. It’s all here. And if you can’t find where you’re going, just ask anyone. Make sure you’re not in a great hurry when you do though, because that person will not only be glad to help, but they’ll give you the directions several different times, to make sure you understood. They’ll even tell which direction NOT to take, for good measure. As a people, you won’t find greater. Loving, helpful, generous, kind and with a great sense of humour. We do enjoy laughing at ourselves, sometimes, to a fault. We can be a bit cynical, critical of our own, but courageous and understanding. A population of nine million with a high percentage of intellectuals, inventors, great artists, incredible athletes. The downside is that, as a Portuguese, in order to be recognized in your field, you have to leave the country. I’ve never come across another culture that seems to ignore its citizens that stand out in a crowd. The recently deceased artist Paula Rego had to go to England to become a world-renown painter, Nobel Laureate Jorge Saramago ended his days in Spain, to name but a few.
The food. If you do nothing else when you visit here, the food will more than make up for that. It may be unique at least in its variety, if not also the flavours. You can have the same type of dish throughout the country with differences among all of them, not to mention the scores of dishes unique to the territory you happen to be in. Eat. Eat and enjoy, because there’s nothing you won’t like, even if you’re convinced you don’t. Sometimes the hottest topic at the lunch table is what we’re going to whip up for dinner! Awesome.

I know that I may be biased, but over the years we’ve hosted many a new-comer and the reactions have always been surprising, in the most positive way. We are sometimes shocked by how much people appreciate our culture.

To those who somehow find the patience to read the words I write, I ask that you try and keep this to yourselves, because, like I said, the reason we’re so special is because we haven’t yet been ravaged by decades of visitors, like many other wonderful places. Try and keep it between us, though we always welcome everyone with open arms.
Fiquem bem.

Raul Freitas/MS

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