George Wythe House, Williamsburg, VA.

This beautiful house, photographed several years ago after a snowstorm, was the home of America’s first law professor and signer of the Declaration of Independence, George Wythe.  Born in 1726 and admitted to the bar at the tender age of twenty, Wythe was a respected scholar, educator and judge.

As a teacher at the College of William and Mary, Wythe was mentor to future Presidents Thomas Jefferson and James Monroe and future Chief Justice of the United States John Marshall.  Wythe and Jefferson remained life-long friends.  When Wythe died in 1806, a victim of suspected poisoning by his sister’s grandson, George Wythe Sweeney, Wythe left his extensive library to his friend Jefferson.  Years later Jefferson followed his friend’s example and left his library to the University of Virginia.

The Wythe House is one of the most beautiful colonial houses in Williamsburg and is well worth a visit.

George Wythe House

Nazaré Funicular

The Portuguese beach town of Nazaré is divided into two distinct parts- Praia, which is the lower section of the town and built along the beach, and Sitio, which is the more traditional area built atop the cliff that overlooks Praia.  There is a steep walking path that can be used to climb to Sitio, but the easier way is to ride the funicular.

Nazare with Sitio
Nazaré’s funicular connects Praia to Sitio

A funicular is basically a railway car that is moved by a series of cables up and down steep inclines.  Nazaré’s funicular was originally opened in 1889, but the current cars date from the most recent renovation in 2002.  Riding the funicular up the 42-degree slope provides some great views of Nazaré and is pretty fun to boot.  While one railway car makes its way to Sitio from Praia, a second car makes its way back down, passing each other at roughly the halfway point.

Praia de Nazare.jpg
The two railway cars of the funicular approach the point where they pass

The ride takes just a few minutes and is popular with both tourists and Nazaré residents, who use the railway to visit shops in Praia or the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Nazaré, the beautiful church in Sitio.  The renovated lobby in Praia is quite nice,with a beautiful mural on one wall and traditional Portuguese pavement flooring.

Ascensor Lobby Art
The lower lobby of the Nazaré funicular

Elavador da NazareFuniculars and elevators are quite common in Portugal and have been celebrated by the country with several postal stamp issues.  This stamp, issued in 2010, celebrates Nazaré’s funicular.

If you’re visiting Nazaré, it’s well worth the time to take a ride on the funicular to Sitio.  In addition to the sanctuary, you’ll find the Fortaleza, with the surfing museum, and the tiny Ermida da Memória, or Memory Hermitage Chapel, which celebrates the legend of Nazaré.  You’ll also have some stunning views of Praia and, to the north, the famous North Beach, where world record waves draw surfers from all over the world.

Small Memories, by José Saramago

José Saramago was one of Portugal’s greatest and most revered authors.  The winner of the Nobel Prize in 1998, Saramago passed away in 1010, leaving behind a rich legacy of fantastical novels like Blindness and the Stone Raft.  Small Memories was one of his last books, and is a memoir of his early life growing up between his grandparents’ farm in the small rural village of Azinhaga, and Lisbon, where his parents moved when his father got a job as a policeman.

Jose Saramago
1998 postal issue honoring Saramago’s Nobel Prize award.

Told from a distance of eight decades, the small snippets of Saramago’s early life are simple but touching.  The stories deal with the death of his brother, who died at four years old, visiting his grandparents, farmers who, though illiterate, had a tremendous impact on Saramago’s life, and life as a young child in the tenements of Lisbon.

One memory tells of his grandparents bringing the weakest piglets into their bed on especially cold nights.  While it’s obvious from the stories in this little book that Saramago’s grandparents were, in fact, kind and loving, the story of the piglets emphasizes just how valuable the piglets were to a poor farm family.  From a practical viewpoint, the loss of the animals would mean a loss of income and could make the coming year harder.

If you’re interested in reading José Saramago’s books, Small Memories would be a good starting point.  Saramago’s novels can be difficult reads; punctuation is rare and paragraphs can go on for page after page.  Small Memories, is unusual in that it conforms to normal expectations regarding punctuation and layout, so it would be an easier read for those new to Saramago’s writing.  It’s also a sweetly told and enjoyable memoir.  As an added bonus, the family photos included at the end of the memoir, accompanied by Saramago’s sometimes tongue in cheek descriptions, will leave you smiling.

If you’re interested in reading Small Memories, you can purchase it Small Memories you can purchase it here.

Capitol Building, Williamsburg

Colonial Williamsburg at dusk is a magical place.  This photo was taken a few years ago after a day of snow.  The H-shaped building, one of the first buildings reconstructed during the restoration of Colonial Williamsburg during the 1930s, was home to the House of Burgesses from 1705 until it was destroyed by fire in 1747.  It’s well worth touring the Capitol Building during a visit to Williamsburg.  It’s a beautiful structure and you get a history lesson with the tour.

Capitol

The Piano Cemetery, by José Luís Peixoto

For many non-Portuguese readers, Portuguese literature IS José Saramago, Fernando Pessoa and Luís de Camões.  It’s not easy to find information on Portuguese authors or English translations of their books.  I was quite happy when I found The Piano Cemetery, by José Luís Peixoto.

At the heart of the novel is the true story of athlete Francisco Lázaro, who carried the the Portuguese flag in the country’s first-ever appearance in the Olympic Games, the 1912 Summer Olympics in Stockholm, Sweden.  Unfortunately, Lázaro, an amateur athlete and carpenter, became the first person to die during a modern Olympic event, when he collapsed at the 30 kilometer mark.

Francisco_Lázaro
Portuguese marathoner Francisco Lázaro

The Piano Cemetery tells the fictionalized story of the Lázaro family, carpenters who would rather be piano makers.  The piano cemetery is a back room at their workshop that is full of broken and discarded pianos that the family occasionally uses to make repairs.  The room is also where many important events in the history of the family take place.

Narrated by three generations of Lázaro men, the Piano Cemetery is a beautifully-written dreamlike journey through the history of the family.  Full of the contradictions that make up life- birth and death, new love and love lost, joy and pain- the book is a wonderful, melancholic read.  The novel also captures the uniquely Portuguese concept of saudade, a feeling of loss or incompleteness or longing for something that is being missed.  While loss is a major theme of the novel, it leaves you with a feeling of hope for the future of the family.

José Luís Peixoto is one of Portugal’s most acclaimed writers and a winner of the José Saramago Literary Prize.  I wasn’t surprised to learn that he also writes poetry; the cadence and use of repetition in the Piano Cemetery is quite poetic in places.  Peixoto is also a fan of the Portuguese goth metal band Moonspell and has collaborated with them in a book based on their album, the Antidote.

Jose Luis Peixoto
José Luís Peixoto from http://www.joseluispeixoto.net

Peixoto’s books have been translated into 26 languages, but for me, he is a new discovery.  I enjoyed the Piano Cemetery and will be picking up more of his books.  If you’d like to read the Piano Cemetery, you can purchase the book from Amazon here.

Ana Moura, A Case of You

I love the music of Joni Mitchell and A Case of You is one of her most beautiful songs.  In this video, Portuguese Fado singer Ana Moura performs the song.  It’s from her 2012 album Desfado, which was the best selling album by a Portuguese artist in the 2010s.  It’s a truly wonderful performance.

Gaylord Opreyland at Christmas

Gaylord Opreyland Resort, in Nashville, goes all out when it comes to decorating for the Christmas holidays.  We were there several years ago and were lucky enough to be there during the holiday season.  Here are a few photos of the beautiful holiday decorations displayed at the resort during our visit.

Princess Joana of Portugal

Joana was the daughter of King Afonso V of Portugal and his wife, Isabella.  Born in in 1452, Joana expressed at a very young age the desire to become a nun.  After the death of her older brother, John, she became next in line to become ruler of Portugal, and her desires were postponed.  After the birth of her younger brother, King John II of Portugal, she was no longer the presumptive heir to the throne, but was still known as Princess Joana by the Portuguese people.

402px-Santa_Joana,_Princesa_de_Portugal
Nuno Gonçalves [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons
While her father, the King, refused to allow Joana to become a nun, she joined the Dominican Convent of Jesus in Aveiro.  She died at the convent at the age of 38, and was beatified by Pope Innocent XII in 1693.  Although she was never canonized, she is known in Portugal as Santa Joana.

Today, the Convent of Jesus is the Museum of Aveiro and is the third most popular thing to do in Aveiro, according to Trip Advisor.  The museum is full of beautiful artwork and also contains the tomb of Joana.

Museu de Aveiro
Museu de Aveiro

Santa Joana is much loved in Portugal.  There’s a beautiful sculpture of the Princess on Avenida Santa Joana in Aveiro.

Santa Joanna Statue

In 1953, Portugal issued a beautiful stamp of Joana, based on the painting by Nuno Gonçalves.  If you visit Aveiro, it will be well worth your time to visit the Museu de Aveiro as well as the statue of Santa Joana.

Santa Joana

Distant Music, by Lee Langley

Distant Music is a novel by Lee Langley, and is quite unique.  It begins in 15th century Madeira, when a young Catholic woman named Esperança meets a young Jewish man , Emmanuel, and they fall in love.  The story then follows them through the next six centuries, touching on the Age of Discoveries, the Inquisition, a serial murder and a failed love.

I found Distant Music to be quite beautiful love story that does a great job of capturing the uniquely Portuguese feeling of melancholy called saudade, most often translated into English as longing.  The novel also captures the Jewish concept of gilgul, where unfulfilled lives are cycled, or reincarnated through multiple human bodies until their love is fulfilled.

If you’re interested in this book you can purchase it from Amazon at this link.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gil Eannes

Gil Eannes was one of the Portuguese navigators who, with the support of Henry the Navigator, expanded the known world and turned Portugal into the premier world power of the 15th century.

In the early 15th century, Cape Bojador, on the western coast of the Kingdom of Morocco, was considered impassible.  Upon reaching this western-most point of Africa, sailing ships found themselves pushed away from the coast by strong northeastern winds.  Navigational tools and charts were either non-existent or very primitive.  Early navigators sailed mostly by sight, using the coast as a guide.  The wind, which pushed them away from the coast into open waters, was terrifying to the men attempting to round the cape and most of them turned around rather than risk losing sight of land.

Finally, in 1434, Eannes and his crew became the first Europeans to cross this barrier.  This was a major achievement and opened the way for the Portuguese to explore and to colonialize Africa and eventually led to Vasco da Gama’s journey to India.

Portugal is rightfully proud of their role during the Age of Discovery.  Henry the Navigator and his navigators da Gama, Magellan, Eannes and others are national heroes.  Eannes is pictured on several Portuguese postage stamps like this one from 1945.

Gil Eanes

The Portugal Navy named a medical ship after Eannes in 1955.  After decommissioning, the ship became a museum located in Viana do Castelo.  According to Trip Advisor, the Gil Eannes museum is the second most popular thing to do in Viana do Castelo.

Gil Eannes 2