Monthly Archives: February 2016

Smoke Gets In Your Eyes: A Sausage Festival In Querenca

Querenca, with a population of less than 800 residents, is not a place that you’d stumble upon – you have to look for it.  Located in the central interior of Portugal’s Algarve region it’s at the end of a steep and winding road that makes you suspect you’re going nowhere but still feel curious to find out where nowhere might be located.  The drive itself is worth a trip to Querenca to see clichéd but oh-so-lush, green pastures with grazing sheep and pink flowering almond trees. One of the high points of our drive to the middle of nowhere was when we came upon a house between a hill and a creek which sat adjacent to the highway.  The home obviously pre-dated the two-lane, macadam roadway and the Portuguese manner of handling this engineering conundrum spoke to their national ethos. Rather than defacing the existing structure in any manner, there was a sign placed by the side of the road indicating that the thoroughfare was one lane for the next 40 meters or so to allow the driver to maneuver around the house.  And then the road reverted to a two-way.  A simple solution that causes no great inconvenience to those who drive along this road less traveled. village plaza

So what were we doing parking our car mid-morning on a dusty square under the watchful eyes of two frowning women who apparently wanted us to move our car a couple of centimeters closer to an invisible line?  We smiled and accommodated their request – everyone was happy.  And then we followed a small group of people up a hill that opened into a large plaza lined with a few restaurants and other businesses and dominated by a beautiful church dating back to the 16th century for …Smoke

The Festa das Chouricas.  From the moment we’d heard about The Festival of Sausages in Querenca we knew this event had our names all over it.  Besides the prospect of stuffing our faces with the local chourica (a smoked sausage made of pork shoulder and spiced with paprika, lots of garlic, black pepper and salt and blessed with an offering of red Portuguese wine) we planned to sample some of the many tasty foods and libations for sale: olives, breads, nuts, various pastries, glittering bottles of liqueurs and wines.A chef

An annual tradition, the festival is held in honor of São Luís, the patron saint who protects the health and welfare of animals. In times past, the families of inland Algarve raised a pig to sustain themselves through the year and asked São Luís to safeguard it.  To thank the Saint, they offered their best homemade sausages and today the festival also raises money for local charities.  The festival draws an estimated crowd of at least a thousand visitors from many places around the region and the fund-raising looks to be a huge success.

Olives and beans

 

Burning stuff

 

the happy bakerWe walked around inhaling the perfume of chicken and sausage dripping fat upon the grill, admiring the local crafts on exhibit, drooling over the pastries and buying almonds and olives and handwoven baskets. The scent of grilled sausage became irresistible. Everywhere smoke hung in the air.  We stood in line and paid 7.50€ for a monster sausage on a crusty (made you feel glad to have your own teeth!) freshly baked roll that fed two.  sausage sandwich

We stood in line to sample the quiche and share a huge piece of sweet fried bread dusted with sugar among us and our friends.  We chatted with other guests and vendors while the wind swirled billowing clouds of aromatic charcoal smoke from the grills around us.  And we people watched: vendors smiling and bargaining with guests, people enjoying the food and sunny afternoon, children laughing, a fashionista in bright red, 4-inch heels teetering carefully on the old cobblestoned walks.  A lazy, golden-haired dog lay on the pathway with eyes closed and tail thumping while the crowd carefully walked around him. We reckoned the smoke infused lungs and clothes were indeed worth it as we both agreed that the Querenca sausage and the local gastronomy were scrumptious.sausages

 

Olives, figs and almonds

 

smiling vendorIn the mid-afternoon people began to cluster in small groups in front of the picturesque church and before long a man carrying a banner emerged followed by the gold crowned statue of São Luís smiling benignly, carried upon a flower bedecked platform by men in short robes.  A small group of the faithful trailed behind the hoisted saint while we visitors clicked cameras and watched as they paraded at a slow, measured pace around the church.  The procession ended up back at the church doorway and then São Luís was tucked inside the church for another year.the procession

 

AndusThe afternoon was fading and even though musical performances, singing and dancing and fireworks were promised we decided not to brave the winding roads after dark and to make our way home.  We left the smoke and the quaint hamlet of Querenca behind.  But, in the back of our minds lingered the thought that Querenca’s Sausage Festival is only the first of many sausage festivals throughout the year in Portugal.  There were more good times and good eating ahead!

Comida

By Richard and Anita

 

 

 

 

Tales From The Alhambra

perfect reflection-The Alhambra

We’d been in Lagos for three months and were itching for a road trip to an epic destination, a way to celebrate receiving our one year Portuguese residency visa.  There was no question about where to go since we’d long dreamed of seeing this UNESCO World Heritage Site, a place of mystery, myths and history.  A look at google maps showed us that the Alhambra, the palace of Sultans and Spanish kings was a mere six-hour drive – no magic carpet required.Sierra Nevada Mountains-The Alhambra

The Moors invaded the Iberian Peninsula in 711 and the first references to a fortress perched high upon the hill, Al Sabika, dates back to 889.  It was all but forgotten until the mid-13th century when the ruins were renovated and rebuilt and the royal residence of the first Sultan of the Nasrid dynasty was established.  Protected by mountains at its back (the Sierra Nevadas) and thick woods surrounding it, the Alhambra was a reflection of the glory days of the house of the Islamic Nasrids, the last of the Muslim Emirates of Granada. There were twenty-two Sultans who resided in the palace city of the “Red Castle” with their wives, harems and courtiers. Of these, twelve were assassinated so, while the life of a Sultan was luxurious, it was not secure. Intrigue and in-fighting between Moorish tribes, royal courts, cities and generals was always present.  And, with the conquest of Granada by the Catholic Monarchs in 1492, the Moors finally retreated.  The flag of Ferdinand and Isabella (yes, that Ferdinand and Isabella!) was raised over the Alhambra on January 2, 1492, and after the Reconquista the near-by town (Granada) quickly encroached upon the palace walls.

The Alhambra

We began our private tour at the upper-most portion of the palace grounds at the northern end of the complex, the only section that was built outside the protection of the massive walls. The Generalife was the daytime residence and formal gardens of the royal family and it was here that the massive scale of the Alhambra became truly obvious. From this height the individual buildings, actually palaces in their own right, spread below on the lower hillocks.

The Alhambra

 

IMG_1179 (800x600)

It was a cold, January day and the numbers of tourists were nowhere close to the 8,000 maximum allowed per day during the high season.  The snows on the upper slopes of the Sierra Nevada mountains to the east, were muted against the leaden sky but when the sun emerged later in the day the contrast of white versus the blue sky was dazzling. The day of our tour only a fraction of the flowers were in bloom but the towering cypress that lined the walk and the precisely trimmed hedges in geometric patterns alongside the curves of orange and pomegranate trees were beauty enough for us.  It was easy to imagine the drone of bees amongst the profusion of flowers with butterflies flitting about seeking nectar as well as the lilting tremolos of birds that would be ushered in with the advent of spring. Yet, with the return of spring’s warmth would come the hordes of tourists.The Alhambra

Leaving the leafy greenery of the Generalife we headed south towards the protected city of the Alhambra. Just outside the walls were a number of businesses jammed into miniscule homes. Entering Lugna Taracea, a shop run by the Lugna family in the same location for over 150 years we stopped to watch skilled craftsman assemble traditional mosaics: patterns intricately inlaid with bone, silver, copper and a variety of woods. The Lugnas specialize in lacquered furniture and household amenities such as trays, boxes and tables, all beautiful, high quality pieces including a pretty, folding cribbage board that we bought for ourselves to replace the two we’d given to our son when we started our nomadic journeys.

making mosaics-The Alhambra

Once back inside the walls we wandered past bubbling fountains and reflecting pools, arched doorways, stone columns, tiled mosaic walls and carved ceilings of wood in detailed and complex patterns.

ceramic tile mosaic

ceramic tile mosaic

ceiling of inlayed woods

ceiling design of inlaid woods

tiled floor

tiled floors

Tortuously carved stucco adorned spaces not covered by tile, marble or wood in stylized motifs and twisting Arabic words extolled the greatness and glory of Allah.  Much of the stucco has faded to a creamy color although traces of color can be seen here and there.  It’s almost impossible to imagine the true assault upon the senses that the original painted stucco would have triggered.

The Alhambra

 

plaster carving-The Alhambra

Taking up the story once again of the conquering Catholic Monarchs, Ferdinand and Isabella in 1492, we were shown the throne room where Columbus pleaded for funds to find a shorter passage to the Orient.  Our guide also pointed out where the initials of Ferdinand and Isabella (spelled Ysabella) were carved in stucco among the motifs and Arabic words along with the crown of the reigning monarchs.

Ferdinand & Ysabla -The Alhambra

The conquerors continued their redecorating by filling in some of the stucco carving with whitewash and both Charles V (1500 – 1558) and Philip V (1683 – 1746) destroyed portions of the original complex in order to erect their own palaces. (In fact, by the end of our fascinating tour, we were actively cursing the barbarous Spanish for their sacrilege and intolerance. The destruction of such beauty was, to our modern and secular minds, unconscionable.)

the Spanish Crown-The Alhambra

The game of empire building, which ran rampant throughout Europe at this time, continued when France, under the Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, invaded the Iberian Peninsula and in 1812 overran the southernmost part of Spain, including the Alhambra and Granada. Decamping the Alhambra a few months later, the French, under the command of Napoleon’s brother Joseph, an inefficient and apparently venial and vindictive King of Spain, ordered sappers to mine the Alhambra. An observant and brave Spanish citizen reached the fuses and removed them from the explosives, interrupting the chain of detonations that had been intended to level these magnificent structures. As a result, only a minimum of damage on the periphery was visited upon the Alhambra.The Alhambra

The mighty Alhambra fell on hard times, forgotten and neglected.  Squatters set up house.  In 1828, after visiting Madrid and writing a tract on his travels and observations, the American author Washington Irving journeyed to Granada where he encountered the Alhambra.  After taking up residence as a kind of “literary squatter” he was inspired by his experience to write “Tales of the Alhambra” which was published in 1832. It reintroduced the Alhambra to the West and the renewed interest assisted in the preservation on the Palace.  Spain recognized the Alhambra as a national artistic monument and initiated several decrees beginning in 1870 with the goal of preserving the complex.

The Alhambra
stained glass ceiling - possibly 14th or 15th century-The Alhambra

Nothing we had read, none of the photographs we had viewed, none of the conversations with those who had previously been there, could have prepared us for what we encountered at the Alhambra.  The immensity of the Alhambra cannot be fully appreciated until you are there. The staggering redundancy of beauty, opulence and craftsmanship simply overwhelms the senses.  Poets centuries ago called the Alhambra a “Paradise on earth” and we wholeheartedly agree.  And after visiting this UNESCO World Heritage Site we suspect that the spirit of Allah still resides among the beauty that was designed to glorify him.

Allah - Arabic translation

Allah – Arabic translation

By Richard and Anita