Portugal


Les Robinson reports on his month-long visit to Portugal: We had a great tour of  Portugal, though I'm getting too old to find my way in a rented car around big old cities where the lanes are narrow and where winding, one-way streets lead you astray. It took me about two hours to find the house in Coimbra where we were to stay and another two hours to find our hotel in Oporto and about the same time to find the secondary highway to Monsanto after we left the freeway--the only roads on which I felt comfortable driving.  We stayed in a few government inns, the pousadas, which were always easy to find as plenty of street signs pointed the way to them.  It is perilous for an old man like me to navigate on Portuguese roads and streets populated by drivers who speed along as though there is no tomorrow.  There are "suggested" speed limits in Portugal, but very few people seem to pay attention to them.  I understood that tickets are only given to those who tailgate on the highway.  You never know, as you round a bend in the road, whether you're going to meet up with a car in your lane, coming your way, trying to pass a slowpoke in the other lane.  Withal, I had no accidents, though our car was dented once while parked at the Evora pousada.  No note of acknowledgment was left, of course.

Notwithstanding this negative note about driving in Portugal, I have to say that we had a grand time.  I don't think I've ever seen so many castles and beautiful churches.  Churches and other public buildings are profusely decorated with colorful blue tiles that tell a story--they also appear inside and outside many private homes--and with gold brought from Brazil during the colonial period.   For me, the tiles and painted pottery were the main attraction throughout the coumtry, along with the friendly Portuguese people.  The abundant castles are certainly a monument to the wars to eject the Muslims in earlier centuries and, later, to fight off the Castilians.  I inquired about Portuguese attitudes toward the Spaniards and was told that they like and get along fine with their neighbors, "but they ARE arrogant!"  One person told me this observation applied specifically to those from Castile.  Galicians, for example, "are one of us, for they resent the  Castilians and they speak a dialect similar to Portuguese.  One reason cited for calling the Spaniards "arrogant" was their "refusal" to learn Portuguese when they visit.  I suppose they must find Americans arrogant too for there may be few who know and try to speak their language.

In a Colmbra bookstore I asked for a history book used as a text in secondary  schools.  I don't have the impression that the book he sold me is such a text:  História Concisa de Portugal, by José Hermano Saraiva, but I will check it out, along with another book, A Guerra da Restauracão 1641-1668, by Fernando Dores Costa.  It didn't occur to me to ask about attitudes toward Blacks until I saw some graffiti on a wall in Lisbon that said, "Somos Portugal, não Pretugal"--an obvious pun on the Portuguese word for black.  My questions met with the denial that there were any racial problems in the country, and I generally got the sense that there is indeed no real problem with the assimilation of Blacks.  Of  course, one can always find someone anywhere with racial prejudices.  Many Blacks migrated to Portugal after the country's African colonies became independent and their economies deteriorated to the point that it was hard to find jobs there.

You asked about the effects of the World Expo and the European soccer games on Lisbon and the south.  I found no one who shared the pessimism that these had a negative effect on the country. Of course, my inquiries did not represent a scientific poll since I talked to relatively few people.  Most attributed Portugal's inflation to the conversion of the escudo to the euro and to the subsequent huge influx of foreign capital--especially to Lisbon and the Algarve coast, where a very long line of apartment buildings and hotels were built to cater to tourists.

You asked also about attitudes regarding the possibility or desirability of a restoration of the monarchy in Portugal.  I talked to a gentleman in Oporto who claimed to know Dom Duarte, pretender to the throne.  He denied that there was any influential support for the pretender, a "nice guy" but "light-weight"--certainly no Juan Carlos.  It took a Franco, of course, to install Juan Carlos, who then won the affection of Spaniards with his decisive defense  of democracy.  The gentleman insisted that though Dom Duarte has some scattered support in the north, it is insignificant.   The north does indeed seem more conservative than the south, with northerners bragging that the north is more progressive than the south.  Sounds like Spain!

RH:I am glad that Les called attention to the beauty and charm of Portugal.  His account reminds me of my first visit there in 1934, when I cycled all over the country. My difficulty then was that I could not sleep because wherever I stayed, the town was celebrating a local saint with a night of fireworks.  When I got to Oporto I decided to look for a quiet place in the suburb on the south bank of the Douro. A monumental bridge crosses the river. Speaking Spanish, I asked a cop there if he could recommend a quiet hotel.  He said in Portuguese "I do not speak Spanish".  I could not find a hotel, so I went back to the bridge.  The cop was still there.  He took pity on me and gave me information in excellent Spanish. I went to a "quiet" hotel, but I could not sleep because all night long there was bang! bang!, bang!  I looked out of the window, and saw in the adjacent post office an employee enthusiastically cancelling stamps. Even a philatelist like Fred Hansson would have been sorely tried.

Your comments are invited. Read the home page of the World Association of International Studies (WAIS) by simply double-clicking on:   http://wais.stanford.edu. Mail to Ronald Hilton, Hoover Institution, Stanford, CA 94305-6010. Please inform us of any change of e-mail address.

Ronald Hilton 2004

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last updated: November 20, 2004