Portuguese Pronunciation, Porches Pottery and a Bit of the Past

One of the first things we learned upon our arrival in Portugal was that “picking up” the language was going to be difficult (especially since we have about ten words between us now) and pronouncing the words may indeed be our downfall.  So when we talked to a local friend about our visit to Porches – we said it American style, POR chez – her response was a puzzled look.  Only when we pointed to its location on a map did understanding dawn.  “Ah” she nodded and then said very slowly something that sounded like the car Porche with the r smothered somehow and the ending s a mere suggestion.

Looks like we’ll be pointing for a while …

We’d first heard of Porches, population a smidge over 2,000, when we went to a monthly market in an even smaller village earlier this summer and saw some examples of the pottery for which the town is known.  Nowadays, it’s a place easily passed by unless you’re looking for it, settled among hills with cliffs overlooking the Atlantic. Gallery - capela de Nossa Senhora da Rocha - 16th Century

However, it’s easy to see why it was an important vantage point in the ancient times of the Romans and Moors and a significant medieval town in the 13th Century with only the ruins of a long-ago castle remaining.  In the Middle Ages a string of forts stretched along the coast to defend Portugal and one of these, the Nossa Senhora da Rocha Fort still exists. Within the walls is located the 16th Century Nossa Senhora da Rocha Chapel, simple in its whitewashed exterior, a small building perched on a cliff overlooking the ocean.  Here, according to local lore, it’s said that an apparition of the Virgin Mary once appeared to local children. The site sees many visitors, both the devout as well as those of us who appreciate the melding of a beautiful, awe-inspiring setting and a site of cultural significance.Gallery - the capela da Nossa Senhora da Roch

Many of the streets of Porches are cobbled, wide enough for one-way traffic only, winding up and down the hills.  Most of the homes are whitewashed and the contrast of the bright colors of bougainvillea climbing along walls against the blue sky is dazzling.  We wended our way through the small “downtown” area looking for a place to eat but found the handful of cafes closed, maybe because most of the tourists were gone or maybe for the simple reason that it was Tuesday.  A woman at a local bakery stepped outside and, with a friendly smile, pointed the way to a cafe she thought might be open.

Daily meal - Restaurante Mar a VistaThe unassuming exterior of the Restaurante Mar a Vista led to a covered porch and a chalked sandwich board with the daily menu.  We seated ourselves inside at a wooden table, enjoyed a hearty welcome by the waiter and ordered the €8 lunch special of three courses with an appetizer of olives and our favorite Portuguese bread, spinach soup, the fish of the day, dorado, presented alongside a plate of salad and an included beverage. The conventional wisdom is, “If you want to know where the best and cheapest places to eat are, look for the locals.”  And, as we slowly enjoyed our lunch, the tables around us began to fill.  By the time we’d finished, almost all of the tables were occupied with people partaking of their noon meal.  There was the pleasant buzz of conversation in the background and we left feeling like we’d received much more than our money’s worth.Porches Pottery

storks and nestsSidetracked by the visit to the Nossa Senhora da Rocha Fort and lunch, we hadn’t quite forgotten the original reason for our visit, the pottery. We got diverted for a bit by a display of outdoor art including a real-size, huge, metal sculpture of a traditional Algarve chimney complete with a stork’s nest, some whimsical, smooching hippos, also life-sized, and a fire-engine red Rubenesque lovely, larger than life, dancing in the midst. Gallery - Dance for the sheer joy of dancing!

Next door was the Olaria Pequena Artesanata (the Little Pottery) shop with some distinctive, creative pottery, dishes and tiles as well as some gorgeous ceramic wall pieces that we admired greatly but were well out of our modest price range.Olaria Pequena studio

Traditionally, Porches was renowned for the pottery produced in its vicinity and it was located handily near some clay pits.  But, by the mid-twentieth century the ancient art of pottery making in Portugal was dying out because styles and tastes had changed and there was cheaper, imported pottery and china available.  The older artisans were retiring or passing on and there were few apprentices working at their sides, learning the skills as well as the art.  In the sixties, however, an Irish ex-patriot, artist Patrick Swift and his Portuguese counterpart, Lima de Freitas, worked to reverse the demise of the industry and set about reviving this centuries-old craft.

Porches Pottery 1968

Quite by chance we stopped by Porches Pottery, founded in 1968 by Swift, which is located in a typical old farmhouse and produces beautiful, functional tableware and tiles.  The distinctive pottery is hand-painted and decorated with Moorish designs as well as illustrated with local themes such as fish and olives.

artesans painting the pottery

Today it is managed by Patrick Swift’s two daughters, one of whom we met, and currently employs ten Portuguese artisans as well as the next generation of the family, an Irish nephew.  We bought a butter dish to start our collection of tableware with plans to return in the future for a full set of dishes.Porches Pottery - butter dish for our Christmas gift

There are several other pottery shops dotted about Porches and along the two-laned highway leading into the town including some with replicas of the large, traditional outdoor terracotta pots that were used to store olive oil and wine and some with garden statuary. Despite its diminutive size, Porches appears to be thriving and the once dying pottery industry revived and producing traditional as well as new contemporary ceramic designs.  And, lucky for us, since it’s right down the road from Lagos, we’ll have opportunities to visit it again.  We’re not holding our breath but maybe by then we won’t be stumbling over how to pronounce its name!dog on the roof

 

By Richard and Anita

 

44 comments

  • Porches looks like a quaint place to visit. The pottery is absolutely stunning, what beautiful table settings you will have once you outfit your kitchen with those great dishes.

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  • As we discussed elsewhere, European Portuguese sounds like Russian unlike Brazilian Portuguese. I wonder if you would find it easier to learn in Brazil. The pottery you found is lovely and would be nice for accent pieces (like a butter dish) even if you decide not to go for a full set. I think my new full set of anything days are over. My father was a potter and a wanderluster, so he would sniff out potters wherever we were in the world. I’m enjoying learning more about Portugal from your posts.

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    • So glad you’re enjoying our posts, Suzanne. And we have to agree that our days of a full set could be over too or at least drastically changed. We’re kind of thinking mix ‘n match so we can enjoy all the patterns and our idea of a set will probably be pieces that we can enjoy daily – no more dishes set aside for “special” occasions! As for learning Portuguese – we’ll have to check with acquaintances who speak the Brazilian version to see how the pronunciation differs or if it’s easier to learn (and remember!) the pronunciation rules. Fortunately for us, Portuguese is a Romance language and we can figure out the written language many times since we’ve learned quite a bit of Spanish during our travels. And, if all else fails, we’re in the Algarve where we can always find someone who speaks English!

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  • Another great post from Portugal…Tom and I know other parts of the country somewhat, but have spent just a couple of days in the Algarve. We will be following your time there, to learn more, before we head back for a closer look!

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    • Thanks, Anita. Portugal is such an amazing country for its size with so much history, culture, and varying landscapes across its regions and we’re looking forward to spending the next few years exploring some of the parts that you’ve been lucky enough to visit already. One thing though, we know that wherever we go we’re sure to be wowed by the fabulous food and flavors!

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  • It took me several years before I could successfully carry out a conversation in Dutch beyond basic greetings, and several more before I started calling myself ‘near-fluent.’ I still make gender and word order mistakes and mangle the pronunciation of certain combinations. I’d advise just focusing on speaking and listening for now: enough to order at the market, etc.

    But anyway, Porches–however you pronounce it– sounds like a great place for a monthly visit to try out each café or go back to your favorite, and pick up a new piece of pottery! Enjoy!

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    • You’re right about focusing on the basics as well a learning the words we need for daily living. And grammar is way down on our list of priorities. 🙂 The Dutch language also seems very difficult and, even being totally immersed in the language I can appreciate how much time it would take to become fluent. We were totally at a loss when we landed in Curacao last January and discovered that Dutch is widely spoken on the island. Unlike the US however, many countries make sure their students are bilingual and I’m always amazed at how widely spoken English is. Unfortunately, that means we can skate by without trying to learn the language which has always seemed rather rude to us, especially when we’re enjoying a country’s welcome.

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  • When we were in Portugal, the language positively baffled me. Almost as tough as Catalan. But as long as you can point, what’s the difference:-) The blue and white colors of Porches are beautiful!

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    • We totally get why Portuguese baffled you and suspect that we’re in for a long battle with the language. Fortunately, we’ve had a lot of practice over the years pointing and have been known to mime and even do charades when the occasion call for it! And there are definitely a lot of reasons to practice and persevere.

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  • I enjoy reading your posts about Portugal. Looks like I MIGHT be travelling there in March. So great you were able to visit Porches Pottery…lovely items!

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  • I’ve come to the conclusion that l will never speak Spanish properly, certainly not in Andalusia. They drop so many letters and the first person l met in Malta, l thought he had a speech defect (lisp), but it’s the way they speak :-). Good luck with the Portugese lessons, we’ll wait till you’re fluent..then we will count on you..hahhah!!!! The pottery is beautiful. Have you been to where they have the best towels yet? I understand people often travel from Spain to go shop there, but can’t remember what it’s called.

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    • Don’t wait! 🙂 Although we’ll be trying to learn some of the language we have few illusions that we’ll ever become fluent. First we’ll have to battle the pronunciation, then the tenses and of course our own natural inclination for procrastination. And if you find out where the “best towels” are before we do, let us know. A little luxury is always appreciated.

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  • A few everyday dishes with such awesome designs would brighten up your days and keep that butter dish company! Slow immersion travel like you are doing is so value-laden, besides being fun: one word at a time, one pottery at a time.

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  • I remember that Portuguese pottery – in the smaller towns and villages we visited a lot of houses had pottery plaques and mosaics on the outside walls. In one place we even saw a tiny church whose inner walls were covered with pottery from top to bottom.

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  • I could very easily get carried away buying the Porches Pottery…it’s rather beautiful but I must admit that after living out of a suitcase for 2 years we too have learnt that less is more!

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    • We’ve come to value minimalism after our full-time travels and are working hard to avoid the accumulating that occurs with setting up our own place again. Now that we’re no longer living out of suitcases it’s a struggle to balance need versus want but we’re trying. And we notice that we enjoy each acquisition just a little bit more!

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  • Love the pottery! The designs and colorations remind me, strangely, of some I’ve seen in coastal Maine. It sure is fun to explore and lay a bit of claim to a new place, isn’t it? What a fun day!

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    • The Algarve is starting to feel more familiar as the weeks pass and we have to agree that it’s fun to explore new places and claim our own memories. So far, unlike so many cities in the US that are becoming more homogeneous , each little town and village seems to have something that sets it apart which makes our wandering about a lot of fun.

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  • Porches looks delightful. I love the whitewashed buildings and the blue and yellow pottery. I laughed when I read your struggle with the pronunciation. We had that happen when we supposedly spoke the language. We were talking with friends in England a few years about what we thought were two different towns only to learn 2 days later we were both talking about Beaulieu. Our Canadian pronouncement was something like “bel-loo”. Their pronunciation was closer to “bew-lee”.

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  • Oh Portuguese and the strangled ‘r’. Good luck on learning the language. The pottery and tiles are amazingly intricate masterpieces. You are going to have so much fun buying dishes. I wouldn’t know how to decide. We found a 14 day repositioning cruise from Colon, Panama to Lisbon, Portugal for $150. We wanted to book it so bad, but the timing isn’t right for us. Darn. Did you meet Amy and Darrell in Granada? I see they are coming to Portugal this year. I hope they have plans to visit you.

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    • I think we’re going to have an invasion of American expats from Granada, Nicaragua – maybe enough to start our own group here in Portugal. We’ve already written back and forth with Darrell and Amy and received confirmation from another couple (Eden and Denny) that they’ll be taking a repositioning cruise from Panama to Lisbon in May – maybe even the same one you’d looked at. Another friend, Linda, a talented artist who lived in the same building we did during our time in Granada will be here for a couple of months this spring. And we’re still waiting for word from one other couple … Maybe we could call our group “American Expats from Granada, Nicaragua in Portugal!” 🙂

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  • Thanks for another interesting story from Portugal. Always impressed with your research as well which brings them to life. Have fun with your Portuguese lessons.

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  • Thanks for another wonderful trip through your journey.

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  • What a fun afternoon. Mispronouncing the Portuguese words is part of the experience, right?

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    • Our visit to Porches was one of those “perfect days” we pictured when we moved here – the opportunity to visit a little out-of-the-way place and spend the day exploring. And mispronouncing the language is a big part of the experience of living in Portugal. It gives us plenty to laugh about as well as many ways to learn and improve!

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  • Looks like you have found a little “gem” of a place to eat in Porches, the pottery is also very pretty and very interesting history behind it. I am glad that the Swift family are keeping old traditions alive and now you have your first piece of Portuguese pottery and I do think a complete set will be a must😀

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    • We love finding restaurants that serve traditional Portuguese food and then feeling like we got a great value too. It will be fun to go back to Porches Pottery and acquire a few dishes for everyday use. We’re kind of thinking that we’ll have to mix and match the various patterns as it will be so difficult to choose which we like best!

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  • It’s so fun ‘traveling’ with you. Your descriptive words ‘smidge’ & ‘diminutive’ are so fun! Wishing you a Healthy and Happy 2016. Mariah & By

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    • Thanks for traveling along with us and we wish you a happy 2016 as you prepare to become expats in Panama. We are finding out just how much we LOVE the English language 😉 and can certainly empathize with those who immigrate to an English speaking country like the US and struggle with our language. We definitely have to schedule some Portuguese lessons for the new year!

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  • We are having the same language learnings in Greece. A place we’d been referring to as La CONE ia is actually Laconia; finally one down and 10 billion words to go. Seriously, I love the pottery and may have to make a trip to Portugal to get some. Greece is not known for that attractive blue, white, lemons/blue white stuff and instead has brown ceramics sometimes with a few black olives painted on it. I do want those ceramic pieces you’ve shown us! Happy New Year, Kronia Polli! (I think)

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  • Great post. The pottery looks beautiful. Don’t go accumulating a bunch of “stuff” now!!!! A butter dish is quite enough. Happy New Year to you both.
    Suzi

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    • HaHa Suzi – Your advice is well heeded! It’s so fun to have a base again for a few treasures like our slippers and a butter dish but we know how easy it is to accumulate. One thing we learned about living out of suitcases for so long is how much we value what we have, You don’t need much to feel wealthy!

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  • I made life long friends in Portugal when life took me there at the very young age of 22. Yes they are super friendly and amiable!

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    • We love meeting new people and, as you say, the people that we’ve met in Portugal are very friendlly. We’re constantly amazed at how easy it is to strike up conversations with people sitting next to us in restaurants or with a local shopkeeper. It’s so great to feel welcome as well as get some helpful advice!

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