Inside the monumental monastery in Alcobaça rest the sarcophagi of Pedro and Inês, the protagonists of a tragic medieval love story – with a Game of Thrones level of gore and treachery!
Pedro, the Crown Prince of Portugal in the 14th century was soon to be married to Constança of Castille. When they first met, Pedro caught a glimpse of one of Constança’s maids: Inês de Castro, a Galician noblewoman with ties to the Castillan court, and soon after, they fell in love for each other.
Pedro was committed to his marriage with Constança of which he had three children. However, Pedro’s and Inês’ love for each other never waned and they kept meeting in secret. Rumors about the affair spread throughout the court and, after Constança died giving birth, the outraged king Afonso exiled Inês – already mother of four of Pedro’s children – to a convent in Coimbra. Pedro was not allowed in, but kept roaming around the walls of the convent, smuggling in love letters.
Seeing the futility of keeping the lovers separated, and fearful of bastard claims to the throne, the king ordered three noblemen to assassinate Inês by decapitating her. An enraged and vengeful Pedro spent years hunting his lover’s assassins down, finally capturing two of them. He executed them in a public display, ripping their hearts out from their bodies.
Legend has it that after being crowned king, Pedro exhumed the corpse of Inês, claiming to have married her in life and forcing the whole court to acknowledge his queen and kiss her hand.
They now rest together in stone for eternity, in the halls of the church of the monastery of Alcobaça.
It’s a pretty impressive tale of love, hate and betrayal! Impressive as well is the monumental tiled chimney of the kitchen of the monastery! A sight to be seen and an architectural work of art.
In 2012, Desenho Cru was created as a one-night monthly gathering of artists and performers, in the unusual stage of a gay bar in the heart of Lisboa. It was actually named after the bar. The drill is simple: the performers perform, and the artists sketch them. Creative spirits in both sides of the (imaginary) fence are free to deliver their own art in whatever form they feel is best.
Now, the Desenho Cru sessions are held in a small studio in Martim Moniz, another heart of Lisboa – the multi-hearted city. I attended my first Desenho cru in the beginning of february, weeks after coming back to Lisboa. It’s a fantastic group experience, where concentration levels are high, but everything feels somewhat different from a regular sketch meeting.
The intimacy of the moment is enhanced firstly by the narrowness of the space, where fifteen to twenty people elbowed each other for some arm movement space. If more were to come, they would have to sit on the floor.
Secondly by the unusual nature of the performances – and those are entirely dependent on the performers themselves – it’s an artistic lottery. You get what they bring for you. First-time performer Veronique, tense at first, on account of the thirty-something eyeballs on her, finally let herself and some garments go, and played around with postures and the mirror she had leaned up against the wall. I’d say she managed quite well.
The andalucian José Gomez brought his guitar and some electronic equipment that, for some reason, started to fail him right in the middle of his act. The gadget recorded a sample that he would play, and then it would playback on a loop, while he added some more samples to the texture of the song. A one man band, fretted unfortunately by faulty equipment.
Taking advantage of this very intimate hours of these youngsters feels very weird at first – like an invasion of a private moment and space. But soon after the concentration levels are high, everyone just minds their own business and focus on what they love best – the students, the sketchers, the dance teacher, even the pianist who’s setting the tune for the whole act.
It’s an extraordinary weekly opportunity for sketchers to grasp the shape and movement of bodies in their finest moment. Although it is very challenging at first, the exercise pays off in the end. It’s also an excellent visual memory stimulant, to save in the mind’s eye a single pose, or a single movement in the myriad of elegant steps and twirls these students undertake for the three hours of the duration of the class.
Elvas, the archetypal Portuguese border town, was the stage of an Urban Sketchers Portugal meeting in the spring of 2013. Soon after, it became a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Although, a very important city and military outpost in days long gone, and despite the recent UNESCO status attribution, Elvas is still subject to the desertification process that haunts the country’s inland regions. As such, lots of stores are closed, abandoned, covered up in newspaper, waiting for better times.
AIAR is a regional Association that confronts these challenges head-on, using the rich local culture and capitalizing on the UNESCO status. They had a simple but effective and innovative idea: to use the hundreds of sketches produced by the dozens of sketchers in those busy days of the meeting, to decorate the streets of Elvas, using the windows of the closed down shops as frames. The widened sketches now give a purpose to the deserted façades, and convey a sense of hope in that the less sketches there are on the streets, the more lively commerce will be.
I didn’t attend the meeting in 2013, but I had the opportunity to contribute to the street exhibition with a sketch made this summer. Christmas in Elvas became a little sketchier thanks to AIAR.
In Portugal, the winter has been mild. Sunny afternoons with a touch of chill in the evening. It’s a food-galore period! Lunches and dinners go on for hours, and there are very short periods in-between them. Different parts of the family meet up and go about in a very organic schedule, everything flows in a chaotic order, as in the traffic of an Indian road junction.
The gastronomical selection is ample, but follows a strict years-old rehearsed order. Dinner on the 24th is boiled cod-fish (bacalhau cozido) sided with potatoes, green cabbage, eggs and chickpeas, and lots of olive oil. Lunch on the 25th is farrapo velho (old rags), a recycling of the previous night’s recipe, shredded down to a rugged-looking mixture of whites, greens and pastel yellows – add olive oil for bright colours. In the evening comes the roasted turkey with potatoes and chestnuts, swimming in – you guessed it – olive oil.
This year, we had a bonus meal on the 23rd – a delicious roasted duck with rice in a country house on a top of a hill in the great Algarvian outback (insert banjo riff).
Desserts are also a highlight of the season. Bolo-rei, fritos, aletria, mexidos, queijo da serra, the regional D. Rodrigos and doces finos algarvios. But the star product is the Rabanadas – bread slices wrapped in egg, sugar and cinnamon. I used to eat tens of these in my childhood! Nowadays I can only manage one or two, tops. Still, it’s my favourite feature of these evenings. Here’s a proper recipe from a foodie friend of mine.
The most awesome thing about christmas this year was the newest addition to the family: a one-month old dachshund, sister of the four year old one, who goes by the name of Viviane, although I was rooting for another name.