memoirs, art and fragments by Thomas Milner

Archive for the ‘Portugal’ Category

Smuggling book out of the Papal States

One of my favourite forebears is my great-great-great-uncle William Milner who died tragically young in 1813 of tuberculosis.
He, like both his elder brothers, was educated at the Hipperholme School, (a famous contemporary was Lawrence Sterne, author of that literary anomaly Tristram Shandy)  near Bradford and took up an interest in modern languages – German and Italian.

In his youth he travelled extensively on the Continent and spent some time in Germany where, according to his cousin Thomas Asline Ward, he lived upwards of a year in Brunswick where he entered into all the gaieties of that dissipated place, and visited at the court of the Duke.

SMALL, FAT OLD BOOK

SMALL, FAT OLD BOOK

I have a small, fat, old, calfskin-bound, 17th century Italian book of his –IL Correiro Svaligliato, publicato da Ginifaccio Spironcini. MDCXLIV (1644), obviously acquired on the same occasion, because he first signed his name (in German script), then read it and was either rather scandalized by the its contents or more likely perhaps worried that he would be detained at the frontier of one the Papal States with the book in his possession.
Be that as it may, he carefully scraped away his surname from the title page, though it can still be made out (just) two centuries later.


What was it all about? My father describes the book thus:
It is indeed a curiosity – a collection of squibs or pasquinades violently attacking the Barberini pope Urban VIII, his rapacious family and the corruptions of the papal court. They are associated with the name of Ferrante Pallavicino and one (section) vividly records his betrayal by an agent provocateur, his trial and execution by the papal forces. After three and a half centuries the binding is sound and good – a tribute to the magnificent material.

17th century calf-skin

17th CENTURY CALFSKIN-BINDING

In my mind’s eye I can see the young man, bent over the page, gently scraping away with a razor, his face absorbed in the candle-light.

In 1811 he was diagnosed with the disease that was to kill him and transferred to the Isle of Wight for a cure. We have a letter from there to his father:
… he then hoped he was recovering and he would be soon back in Town. He thinks he has benefitted from the use of a kind of tobacco, Strabonum Herb Tobacco, which he smokes in a pipe. It has done (him) more good (sic) than fresh air or any other medicine.

(Over two centuries, does one detect the whiff of cannabis?

Staying in his boarding house is a Mrs. Campbell, widow of General Campbell who died lately in Portugal in consequence of his too great fatigue and exertions in disciplining the Portuguese Levies.
William died two years after the date of this letter and was buried at Attercliffe in Yorkshire.

Fruta da Epoca

CHERRIES

CHERRIES

Sweet Cherry.

Vigorous tree with strong apical control with an erect-pyramidal canopy shape, capable of reaching 50 ft. In cultivation, sweet cherries are maintained 12-15 ft in height. Leaves are relatively large (largest of cultivated Prunus), elliptic with mildly serrated margins, acute tips, petioled, and strongly veined.

I love cherries – I reckon they are just about my favourite fruit, except possibly the-perfect-peach (do I dare to eat a peach?)

Consider the cherries which are harvested in due season from the orchards of the Douro valley – red, plump, succulent, delicious.

I doubt that these will end up on the shelves of Sainsburys or Safeways like the strawberries of the Algarve that are whisked away by the waiting refrigerated trucks, throbbing in the misty dawn and driven along the hot dusty motorways of Spain and France and through the Chanel Tunnel to the London vegetable warehouses at dusk.

No, these cherries will flood the fruit markets of Penafiel and Bom Successo and each kitchen-table in the region will have a laughing overflowing abundance and children shall dangle them from their ears and youths and maidens shall dance joyously in the church-squares of the golden valley.

GIRLS DANCING ON BEACH – PAINTING BY THOMAS MILNER

In the Home the appearance of cherries will be greeted by the incurious and unexpressed satisfaction of the continuance of the seasons – of course, cherries, what else? The old people will think.

Because we are not anywhere near this season, the presence of a bowl of shiny dark cherries in front of one of the old dears (brought that afternoon by a visiting daughter) drew tacit attention from some of us.

It was supper-time and the rest of us had boring old stewed apple; but not this old dear who set about her bowl of cherries with a will, spitting out stones while the cup of her curved fingers fed another one into her chewing mouth. From time to time she would lift her crouching face from the plate and glance around with a look that said: eat your hearts out, suckers and if anyone thinks that they’re going to get a bite of my cherries, well they’ve got another think coming …

Blessed are the Ungiven for they shall inherit … for they shall inherit what? … I know, for they shall inherit all the cherries!

Eye-catching Headline

I must say one sees some rather odd headlines in our newspaper:

MUSEU DE ETNOLOGIA DO PORTO VAI SER EXTINCTO

(ETHNOLOGY MUSEUM OF PORTO IS GOING TO BECOME EXTINCT)

Due to lack of funding, one assumes.

WINTER TREES – PAINTING – BY THOMAS MILNER

Saramago & Censorship

CHARLES DARWIN

CHARLES DARWIN

I read somewhere that during the time of Portuguese dictator, Antonio Salazar, The Origin of the Species by Charles Darwin was banned.

BANNED BOOKS

BANNED BOOKS

Several Portuguese intellectuals have showed how the various forms of censorship have hindered the cultural development of Portugal with the cultural elite becoming something of an aristocracy, disconnected from the rest of the population.

This is evident by the prevalence of a gap between popular culture and high culture, with the arraiais (popular gathering with light music and ball dancing), pimba music (based on double-entendre or straightforward sexual slang) and racho folclórico (folk and ethnological dancing and music groups) on one side, and literature, drama and classical music on the other.

I stepped from one side of the divide to the other.

Portugal has become one of the countries in Europe with the lowest attendances of theatre and the lowest rates of book-reading.

So during my years here, in this place,

Physically I have taken one step forward

Spiritually I have taken one step sideways

But culturally I have I have taken one step backward

Of course, philosophically, none of this should matter

But it matters to me

It matters to me

JOSÉ SARAMAGO

JOSÉ SARAMAGO

In 1992 the Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Souza Lara, who had final say on applications from Portugal, prevented José Saramago’s The Gospel According to Jesus Christ from participating in the European Literary Award, positing that the work, rather than being representative of Portugal, was divisive for the Portuguese people.

As a result and in protest against what he saw as an act of censorship by the Portuguese government, Saramago moved to Spain, taking permanent residency in Lanzarote in the Canary Islands.

ISLANDS OF LANZAROTE

ISLANDS OF LANZAROTE

In 1996 José Saramago won the most prestigious award in the world for a writer – the Nobel Prize for Literature.

OOPS!

The reaction of the Portuguese government was muted and ambivalent. On the one hand the (very natural) desire to vaunt the achievement of a Portuguese citizen was offset by the writer’s evident hostility to the culture of his native shores to the extent of becoming a permanent resident of a Spanish island.

Death on the roads

mortality_Portugal

The statistics of deaths caused by road accidents in Portugal are heart-wrenchingly high.

A bad year will have about 2000 people losing their lives (needlessly) on the roads of this country.

(That’s more than the combined NATO forces’ annual mortality rate in Afghanistan).

Time to get real

While the agents of these accidents are largely men

The victims are mixed,

Women, old people and children.

So if you are planning to drive this Xmas please

SLOW DOWN

to avoid occasions like this:

FUNERAL

FUNERAL

12. 12. 12.

Today, coinciding with the unusual and lucky configuration of numbers in the date, has been our annual Xmas «feast»

I’ve lived in Portugal for about a generation but I still can’t completely get my head around the (almost Pavlovian) excitement surrounding the prospect of the traditional fare of boiled cod, boiled potatoes and boiled cabbage.

Albeit somewhat alleviated with either onion-sauce or, for the purists, olive oil, this dish doesn’t do anything particularly for me (apart the excellent nourishment it provides of course).

Part of life’s rich tapestry

And above all, kindly meant

It takes all sorts to make a world, doesn’t it?

Or, as the French put it more succinctly

Chacun son goût

CHACUN SON GOÛT

CHACUN SON GOÛT

The Home where I live

The Home where I live is situated in the north of Portugal in a village called Maceda

that thread of good luck which has run unobtrusively through my life, I have found myself in one of the most reputable Old People’s Homes in the district. Modern, spacious, clean and fairly well designed, it’s a large building salubriously situated on a hill overlooking the sea.

The sea-view makes all the difference to me – satisfying my sense of aesthetics and soothing my troubled psyche.

The Home was the brain-child of the parish priest Sr. Padre Florentino Sousa and all honour to him for that.

Padre Florentino is the President of the Centro Social Paroquial S. Pedro de Maceda, (facebook ref. CSPSPMaceda) which includes a pre-primary school, a day-care centre and a meals-on-wheels service as well as the Old People’s Home, which was formally opened in 2003 by the then Bishop of Porto, D. Armindo Lopes Coelho. (There is a polished brass plaque attesting to this in the entrance hall). The funding for the project came from local worthies, one of whom donated the building land. The project is certified and supervised by the Social Security in Aveiro.

If the Padre is the President, then the driving force (the beating heart) of the Home is the Technical Director, Dra. Marta Reis.

This wholly admirable young woman has worked tirelessly to improve the level of care and professionalism of the whole team of care-workers. When I first arrived here not long after the place had been opened and before Marta & Co. came on the scene, some of the care-workers didn’t care and some of the cooks couldn’t cook and I was in too dark a mental place to be a position to assert myself.

Now, about eight years later, conditions have greatly improved, both with me and with the Home, thanks in no small measure to the efforts of Marta and her team and I would like en passant to express my gratitude for being so well and kindly cared for.

Here is a rather inadequate sketch I recently made  of the Home from the garden.

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