The easy part is over: we have tickets and hotel bookings for Portugal. The next step is harder: getting to know the little bit about a new country which makes your stay more interesting. There are many different directions to explore.
The sounds of a country are often hard to anticipate. I’d heard very little Portuguese a week ago, it has more or less disappeared from Goa. A few words: velha and novo, saudade and igreja are all that remain. Now, listening to Fado on youtube, my exposure to the language has exploded. Just shows how little I started with. The written language is a different ball game. If you have bluffed your way through a couple of Romance languages, then surely you can navigate written Portuguese.
The Family and I sat down and researched writers. Fernando Pessoa and Jose Saramago are names we already know and have some familiarity with. Brief searches quickly threw up many more names. But surprisingly, it was difficult to find books in English translation. On second thoughts, if translations had been available then we would have known more authors. I guess this is a part of what one of the articles calls "cultural marginalization".
Films? During the years when I was immersed in world cinema, Portugal had just emerged from the worst period of its recent history. Its cinema was not available in India. This lack of familiarity meant that Portugal was overlooked in most video libraries in the decade after that. If Portugal had a consulate in Mumbai perhaps one would have been more exposed to its culture. But the Portuguese consulate is in Goa, and it hosts no events in my city. So my exploration of Portuguese cinema has to start from zero. Given the number of major awards Portuguese film makers are winning today, this is bound to be a pleasure.
Maybe I have some familiarity, at second-hand, with the food of Portugal. Goa has sorpotel, just the right accompaniment for long relaxed evenings with a drink on the beach. The word xacuti sounds Portuguese to my untrained ear, but it could well be a local Goan dish. Vindaloo is definitely practised very differently in Goa and in England, so I wouldn’t be very surprised if a Portuguese version turns out to be different. I’m prepared to be completely surprised by the food in Portugal: I expect lots of fish.
But the real fun is to look for sources on travel to Portugal. One part of this is to choose a guide book. The first search on Amazon threw up half a dozen books. The Michelin Green guide is not my plate of cod. I’ve had a wonderful time walking around Rome with the Blue guide, and would not mind doing the same in Lisbon, except that it is currently unavailable. That left me with the usual suspects: the Lonely Planet, Rough Guide, AA and DK. After some thumbing through the books in the usual downtown bookstore I settled for the Rough Guide.
The other part of the fun is to browse blogs. A comment on my previous post led me to the very new Kat’s travel blog, and on. A great find was the addictive Salt of Portugal; I’m still dipping into it for tips on what to do. A food blog called (as nearly as I can make out) The Algarve Kitchen caught my attention with an explanation of the phrase "Cha com agua salgada". I’m sure there’s much more out there, just waiting to be read.
In this slow way I’ve just begun to figure out how to collect the material I need to go through in order to become an instant expert on Portugal.