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

 

 

 

Colonial Williamsburg in the snow

Sometimes karma rolls through and you find yourself in a once in a lifetime experience.  A few years ago, my wife and I spent an extended weekend at Colonial Williamsburg to celebrate our birthdays, which are two days apart.  Colonial Williamsburg is one of our favorite places to visit and we’ve been there several times.

This time, as we slept a winter storm rolled through and covered Williamsburg in a six-inch blanket of snow.  We woke up to a place that had been turned, overnight, into a winter wonderland.  Although everything was closed, we enjoyed wandering around the town, which was virtually abandoned, and enjoying the beauty of the snow.

This photo is one of my favorites from that day.  I love the colors of the buildings and the timelessness of the image.  You can imagine that you’re standing in the town before the invention of automobiles, the discovery of electricity, and they creation of all things electronic.  It was a peaceful day and one that we’ll always remember.

Kodak Camera 284

Cathedral of St. Mary the Great, Viana do Castelo

Portugal has a long history with the Catholic Church and there are beautiful churches and cathedrals everywhere.  While the undisputed star of the show in Viana do Castelo is the Basilica of Santa Luzia, situated on the mountain overlooking the city, the 15th century cathedral is quite beautiful as well.

The cathedral, with its twin towers topped with battlements, was built to be a fortress as well as a church.  Built during a time when Viana do Castelo was made wealthy by Portuguese ships returning from their many colonies around the world, the exterior belies the ornate interior, with gold gilt and renaissance art.

One aspect of the interior is unique.  The cathedral is probably the only church in Portugal that has a model of a Portuguese caravel, the sailing ship that was used by Vasco da Gama, Christopher Columbus and other explorers in their discoveries of the world.  If you look in the photo below, you’ll see the ship in the case on the right.  The white sail with the red cross was inspired by the Knights Templar, known in Portugal as the Order of Christ, who wore a white surcoat with a red cross on the chest.  Henry the Navigator, the Portuguese prince famous for initiating the Age of Discovery, was the Order’s first Grand Master.

Interior with Ship Model

It’s easy to overlook the tiny model among all the ornamentation inside the cathedral, but it’s something that pays tribute to the importance of the sailing ships of Portugal, some of which left from Viana do Castelo to begin their exploration of the world.

Lisbon: War in the Shadows of the City of Light, 1939-1945

Most of the Portuguese history books I’ve read dealt with older events and times in the country’s history- the 1755 earthquake, Henry the Navigator, the Templars, etc.  This is the first modern history book I’ve found about Portugal.  While many younger people may regard World War II as ancient history, let me assure you, in a history that goes back thousands of years, World War II is modern.

Neill Lochery’s book gives a fascinating look at António de Oliveira Salazar’s efforts to maintain neutrality during World War II while playing both the Allies and the Axis powers to the benefit of Portugal.  Initially, Salazar’s insistence that Portugal remain neutral during the conflict was built around his fears that either Germany or Spain would invade his country, and that Great Britain, Portugal’s oldest ally, would not be able to help the country if an invasion did happen.  His fears were valid; Spain actually had plans in place to invade Portugal, but never followed through with them.

Lisbon, as Portugal’s largest and most important city, was awash with Allied and German spies during the war, each side monitoring the other’s activities.  Among the agents was a young British Intelligence agent named Ian Fleming, whose Casino Royale, the first James Bond novel, drew heavily on his time in Portugal.

Additionally, Lisbon was crowded with refugees, many of them Jewish, who were fleeing Nazi persecution in their home countries.  Several chapters describe the events of various organizations to help Jews escape the war through Lisbon.

While remaining militarily neutral, Salazar had no qualms about selling wolfram, also known as tungsten, to Nazi Germany.  Because counterfeit currency was common, and the value of the currency fluctuated wildly, Salazar insisted that the wolfram be paid for with gold.  By the end of the war, Portugal’s gold reserves increased from 63.4 tons at the beginning of the war to 356.5 tons near the end of 1945, much of it Nazi gold.

The story of wolfram and Nazi gold is the most fascinating part of the book for me.  Much of the gold was taken by the Nazis from the occupied countries’ banks.  Some also was obtained during the Nazi persecution of Europe’s Jews.  While the Allies insisted that the neutral countries return the gold to the countries of origin after the war, Salazar negotiated an agreement where only 3 tons of an estimated 122 tons of Nazi gold was returned.  It’s a fascinating story.

While the book focuses on Salazar, wolfram and Nazi gold, there are plenty of other side stories to keep you interested.  One chapter covers the Duke and Duchess of Windsor’s attempt to return to Great Britain from France, Peggy Guggenheim and Max Ernst’s similar escape from Burgundy, and the death of Hollywood star Leslie Howard, when the plane he was returning to Great Britain in was shot down by Nazi fighters.

It’s an interesting read, with plenty of the twists and turns associated with wars and spies.  In this case, though, it’s not a James Bond novel, it’s history.

If you’re interested in reading Lisbon: War in the Shadows of the City of Light, 1939-1945, you can purchase it from Amazon here.

 

Anchorage, Alaska, May 2016

The final stop on our Alaska cruise was the city of Anchorage.  Established in 1914 as the terminus of the newly established Alaska Railroad, Anchorage is the largest city in Alaska, with over 40% of the state’s population living in the city.

Anchorage 4th Ave HDR Outdoor 2

On Good Friday in 1964, much of the city was destroyed by the second strongest earthquake ever recorded.  Downtown Anchorage sustained much of the damage, but many areas of the city were destroyed.  The Turnagain neighborhood was destroyed when the land it was built on dropped seven feet and then slid into Cook Inlet.  The destroyed area was turned into Earthquake Park and can be seen from the Anchorage Trolley tour.

While we’re on the subject of the Trolley tour, our tour guide had an interesting account of the earthquake.  Her husband, a kid at the time, was at the dentist on the day of the earthquake.  When the earthquake happened, the dentist grabbed the child from the chair and they climbed out the first floor window.  The young boy, having never been anesthetized before, thought the shaking was the result of the Novocain.

Despite the extensive damage, Anchorage was quickly rebuilt and today is one of the most beautiful cities I’ve ever visited.  Monuments and art, including several totems,  are everywhere.

 

There are murals everywhere in Anchorage, even in back alleys.  The largest and most beautiful is Alaska’s Marine Life, the 54th of artist Robert Wyland’s Whaling Walls.  Other standouts are the Iditarod mural on the side of the Alaska Experience Theater and a small mural on the side of Kobuk Coffee.

 

We had roughly a day in Anchorage and we made the most of it.  We like to research restaurants before we visit a city and the place we chose for dinner was Glacier Brewhouse.  The place was packed when we stopped and we had to wait more than an hour to be seated but it was worth it.  The food, the beer and the service were all great.

The next morning we took a walk to Snow City Cafe for breakfast.  Another popular spot with both locals and tourists, we had about a half hour wait.  While we waited we wandered across the street to Resolution Point and the Captain Cook monument.  Resolution Point gave us a great view of “the Sleeping Lady”, Mount Sisitna.

 

After a wonderful breakfast at Snow City we wandered back to the Anchorage Visitors Center for the Trolley Tour.  The Visitors Center is a cute little “cabin” with a sod roof.  The Trolley Tour took us on a very informative tour of the city.  We visited Earthquake Park, Lake Hood, some of the oldest neighborhoods in Anchorage and saw Engine No. 1, the first locomotive of the Alaska Railroad.

Lake Hood was interesting. We learned that 1 out of every 60 Alaskans have a pilot’s license (the national average is 1 out of 400).  This makes sense when you find out that roads reach only 30% of Alaska.  We also saw the iconic de Havilland Beaver airplane.  Only 1,600 of these airplanes were built between 1948 and 1967.  Despite the last Beaver rolling off the assembly line 50 years ago, hundreds are still operational and are so popular in Alaska that they pass down from family member to family member.

 

After the Trolley Tour we took a leisurely walk back through town, eventually stopping at Town Square Park for a reindeer sausage.  The weather was great and the park was a wonderful little place to enjoy the day.

Anchorage Park HDR Outdoor 1

Eventually it was time to get to the airport.  Ted Stevens Airport was pretty interesting with a lot of art.  The ducks and geese were quite striking.

 

So, after twelve days, it was time for the flight home.  We enjoyed everything about the trip and will always look back on it as a trip of a lifetime.