Aljezur sketch meeting part #1

church, Aljezur, Algarve, Urban Sketchers Portugal, Portugal

In the northwest corner of Algarve, stands a small castle upon a steep hill. This castle, hailing from the Islamic era of the Iberian Peninsula, was used as a common granary for the town of Aljezur – or in its Arabic form, Al-Jazeera, the peninsula – a reference to the place’s medieval geography. According to the archaeologist Rui Parreira, this region was home to a Muslim warlord – ibn Qasi – who dreamed of his own kingdom. So he built a Ribat (fortified monastery) near the coast in Arrifana, made pacts with the first Christian ruler of the Kingdom of Portugal and established a foothold in the region of Aljezur, taking advantage of the fishing and agricultural activity. For that, he was shunned by his religious counterparts and, eventually, assassinated by them.

castle, Aljezur, old town, Algarve, Portugal, Urban Sketchers Portugal

No canto noroeste do Algarve, há um pequeno castelo de tons férreos, sobre uma colina inclinada. Este castelo, da era Islâmica da Península Ibérica era usado como celeiro colectivo da vila de Aljezur – ou, na sua forma árabe, Al-Jazeera, a península – uma referência à topografia medieval do local. De acordo com o arqueólogo Rui Parreira, esta região foi o lar de um chefe muçulmano – ibn Qasi – que sonhava em ter o seu próprio reino. Construiu um Ribat (um mosteiro fortificado) perto da costa, na Arrifana, fez tratados com o primeiro líder cristão do Reino de Portugal e estabeleceu uma base de operações na região de Aljezur, tirando partido da actividade piscatória e agrícola. Por isso, foi proscrito pelos seus correlegionários religiosos e, eventualmente, por eles assassinado.

Vicente, Ketta, Matias, Aljezur, Algarve Portugal,  Urban Sketchers Portugal

A hefty group of twenty to thirty people gathered in the region to get to know, with their pens, pencils and watercolors, the local richness and diversity. Although the geography of Aljezur has changed much since the Islamic era – fishing lost importance due to a receding waterline – it’s still an important agricultural center, with a variety of fertile valleys and grey shale cliffs, and sweet potato being the most well-known crop.

sardines,  Urban Sketchers Portugal, Aljezur, Algarve, Portugal

Um generoso grupo de vinte a trinta pessoas juntaram-se na região para conhecer, com as suas canetas, lápis e aguarelas, a riqueza e diversidade local. Apesar de a geografia de Aljezur estar substancialmente diferente desde a era Islâmica – a pesca perdeu importância devido ao recuo dos braços de água – ainda é um centro agrícola importante, com uma variedade de vales férteis e falésias de xisto, sendo a batata-doce uma colheita bem conhecida.

Sun and beer

The afternoons in Lisboa are lazy when there’s sun and beer and good friends are around. Lourenço came to visit Lisboa. I had not met him since he was in Sweden. And now, we could meet under the sun of our native country. He brought his entourage, which made the day more special. We were supposed to go visit Sebastião Salgado’s exhibition – Génesis – but it was too crowded, so we took a detour to the Clube Náutico de Belém.

Clube Náutico de Belém, beer, tremoço, Lisbon Psych Fest, Lisboa

While I had spent the morning learning about the rule of thirds in Nelson’s workshop, the afternoon was all about getting to know some fine people and learning, for instance, about psicofarmacologização (yeah!), Lisbon Psych Fest (unfortunately over by now, but be on the lookout for the next year’s edition), the escalavardo, a mongoose-like beast that sucks the blood out of the chickens in the heights of Monchique, and how to properly pour green sparkly wine – do it from a height, to take some of the rougher gas away.

escalavardo, Benfica, Lisboa

Welcome back any time Lourenço!

Sketch meeting in Silves

Silves, Urban Sketchers Portugal, sketch meeting, city wall, town gate, taipa, red sandstone, Algarve, Portugal

The 18th of April was the International Day for Monuments and Sites. Several groups of Urban Sketchers Portugal met that day in cities with historical interest to celebrate the date. As I was going south for work, it was a perfect opportunity to get to know Silves from a different perspective – that of a sketcher.

Silves, Urban Sketchers Portugal, sketch meeting, Algarve, Portugal, photographer, dancer, dance

I got there early in the afternoon, but the sketching had been going on since the morning, mostly around the bridge over the Arade and the southern slope of the historical burg, between the river and the castle. A couple of dancers and a photographer chimed in to the town gate square for a photography session with the wall and the urban features as background.

Silves, Urban Sketchers Portugal, sketch meeting, city wall, town gate, taipa, red sandstone, Algarve, Portugal, wiring, puxada, Algarve, Portugal

The most visible feature of the monuments and fortifications of the town is the red sandstone of which it’s made. The stones in the ramparts cover up a core of taipa, rammed earth concrete, which makes the walls of Silves a case study in rammed earth endurance. It is left to interpretation whether the walls were historically painted or left bare, but the chromatic contrast between the red sandstone and the whitewashed houses really builds up the atmosphere of Silves.

Silves, Urban Sketchers Portugal, sketch meeting, city wall, town gate, taipa, red sandstone, Algarve, Portugal

The town has its own Archaeological Museum featuring exhibits from the paleolithic, all the way through the Roman occupation and the Islamic Iberia and up to the Christian Reconquista, culminating in a few pieces of 16th and 17th century ceramic. By then the town had lost its main role as the center of Algarve, in part due to the diminishing of the river stream and also because the Reconquista was over, so the town became less strategic over time.

Archaeological Museum of Silves, Silves, Urban Sketchers Portugal, sketch meeting, column elements, Vicente Sardinha, José Barreiros, Algarve, Portugal

No sketch meeting is complete with a joyful dinner and a couple of pleasant conversations. I was thrilled to meet so many new faces and to be reunited to a few old faces.

Archaeological Museum of Silves, Silves, Urban Sketchers Portugal, sketch meeting, Algarve, Portugal

We spent the rest of the evening in the Archaeological Museum, watching a few presentations from experienced sketchers, their journeys and their stories.

Silves, Urban Sketchers Portugal, sketch meeting, conference, Pedro Cabral, João Pinto, Rita Caré, Vicente Sardinha, José Barreiros, Algarve, Portugal

Distilling for the soul

dorna, Monchique, Alferce, medronho, firewater, barrels, tradition

In the south of Portugal, high up in Monchique, the rooftop of Algarve, the accent tends to steal a few letters from each word. Destila, the process of distilling, becomes Estila. And in Monchique especially, the estila has to do with a particular kind of fruit – the medronho – which turns it into a mildly sweet and fruity firewater (aguardente) named after the very own fruit.

A small band of regional Urban Sketchers put together a series of sketch meetings in a couple of distilleries, deep in the woods of the Monchique mountain range. The first distillery, and by far, the most interesting one, has had the same process for ages, the traditional way!

medronho, Monchique, distillery, tradition, copper, alembic, firewater

The fruit ferments in gigantic barrels called dornas for a few months. Then, the resulting paste (massa) is transferred with a large copper ladle (cácero) to a round copper vessel (barriga) which is attached to a copper alembic. The whole device is inserted into a masonry furnace, heated by firewood. As the distilling process begins inside the copper alembic, the precious transparent fluid pours down a pipe that goes through a massive ceramic tank, filled with running fresh water, to cool it down. It might have been more efficient to have a spiral tube going down a narrower tank, but as the distillers explained, the spiral tube would create more challenges to the cleaning process. More cons than pros. Scratch that!

What comes out of the other end is a deliciously fruity smooth rich-bodied transparent medronho that wraps up the meals of most homes in Algarve. It’s also a deceivingly treacherous liquid, as it is so smooth and tasty, you don’t realize you’re having an alcoholic beverage until it’s too late!

chouriço, recipe, sausage, chorizo, tradition

The distilling of one batch can take up to four hours, so the crew finds ways to entertain themselves throughout the day. This particular fella shared his own technique of properly roasting a chouriço: wrap it up nice and tight in brown paper; put it on the ground and cover it with ash; cover the ash with glowing embers. Wait until you feel it right; take out, unwrap, slice in medallions, serve with traditional Monchique sliced bread; wash down with medronho. You’ll be happy for the remainder of the day, no matter what.

lunch, sketchers, Urban Sketchers, Monchique, Alferce