Sempre Em Frente ⇨

Wow has it been almost two years already? Still feels like summer 2013 for me. I had a few posts I wanted to start last summer but never quite got around to– which is ironic considering I was in the country for a quarter of the year (a little over three months).

My name is Marielena Dias, for all new subscribers. I began this blog in summer 2012 as a “University of Florida Global Gator Blogger” when I studied abroad with the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth in Lisbon. That summer, I traveled all over Lisbon and south / central Portugal. I visited Evora and Monsaraz to learn about Portuguese southern agriculture, attended lectures in hot classrooms at ISEG– a gorgeous university that used to be a convent located directly across from Parliament–, witnessed protests on the economic crisis, got lost walking EVERYWHERE, and even had the pleasure of listening to aspiring fado artists in tiny, crowded cafes along the Bairro Alto (the Upper District, essentially a well known neighborhood in Lisbon home to all kinds of cultures– doesn’t that name sound so edgy though?)

Last summer was monumental for me. I visited quite a few new places and learned their stories, see some pictures below: blogFrom top left clockwise: I am sitting on a gôndola in Aveiro, considered the “Venice” of Portugal. I discovered a new, charming city– Mafra– home to the Palácio Nacional de Mafra, once considered one of the seven wonders of Portugal (a secondary hunting residence built during the reign of Dom João V [King John V] the Magnificent that holds the Rococo Library and consequentially one of the largest collections of Western knowledge [36000+ volumes] from the 14th to 19th centuries). I finally visited the Algarve for a few days, Praia Olhos de Água (Beach of “Water Eyes” because there are little oval shaped pockets of fresh water strewn among the sand in this famous fishing town in the region of Albufeira). And I finally had some more time to fully appreciate the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos or Jeronimos Monastery which, if you don’t get to read some of my other posts, is right by the birthplace of the pastel de nata (egg custard stuffed in a puff pastry shell with caramelized sugar on top)– a pastry shop called Pasteis de Belém. Fun fact: As legend tells it, this pastry was invented partly to help cope with the region’s excess of egg yolks since Franciscan monks used to use the egg whites to starch their clothes!

All in all, it was a successful summer (2014). I traveled a bit, like I said, but mostly I really connected to my roots via my family and I took a lot of time to figure myself out. I was anticipating beginning my doctoral degree in 2015 (although I later accepted a job at the Consulate of Portugal in Florida and will eventually go into my degree program) so I wanted to know who I was and what I really wanted beforehand. I am soon beginning a new blog on my musings of self and life and the meaning of it all, thesemidnightmusings.wordpress.com, and I post a lot of my thoughts on my instagram: https://instagram.com/marielenadias/. I biked through countless towns and neighborhoods last summer in an attempt to get fit, and coming back home this summer (2015) and going on my first bike ride made me come to a lot of conclusions about life.

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Photo credit: Google images

Ask any Portuguese person for directions and they will usually somehow include the phrase “sempre em frente” (which roughly means “keep moving forward”) in the instructions. Either you have to “keep going ahead” after the roundabout or when you turn left at the fork ahead… whatever way its said, its something that I have found so endearing about “Portuguese driving directions.”

In a way, I find it reflective of the Portuguese in general. They may be facing the hardest of times but somehow they keep moving, they keep on the path ahead. Of course life can be difficult and I often hear about these difficulties from family and friends, but the people I have met have never stopped appreciating the beauty of a sunny day, a treasured trip to the beach with family, or a lovingly prepared meal at the end of a hard day.

Two days ago, on my first bike ride, I became extremely lost. Normally I love getting lost in the small towns surrounding the city my father grew up in. But for some reason, I got scared. I was in the middle of the woods, the sun had gone down, and I had traveled down a huge hill which I feared having to walk back up if the road I was on didn’t end up in the place I needed to be. Furthermore, at one point it felt like I was walking in circles in the woods after I tried several directions and the woods never seemed to come to an end at the start of a regular road. I returned yesterday to photograph what I had experienced:

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Essentially, I went from visiting my grandparents’ graves in a region called Currelos to Casal Mendo, rode around that town for 30 min, and then turned onto a street that happened to go down a hill, lead to various paths in the woods, and bring me to a section of woods I had visited before on my way to a town in Vila Meã (which according to a friend who had two Norwegian neighbors that were formerly meteorologists, is home to some of the purest air in all of Europe– how delightful!)

What I came to learn from this ride, and in retrospect from the Portuguese and their favorite directional phrase:

There is no other way to live life other than by moving forward… sempre em frente. We can’t feel bad about our stories because they have made us who we are. You have lived through every bad day (think about that!)… through every day when you felt like your heart had taken too much and you simply could not go on, and regardless of the current conditions of our life, time WILL go on and the conditions will eventually change. Even when I couldn’t find my way, by peddling it kept me moving in some kind of direction. You don’t have to always be proactive in every situation, sometimes it’s ok to just sit quietly and breathe mindfully. But if you find yourself extremely unsatisfied with your story, write a new chapter! You have it within you to be the hero of your own life, instead of making yourself a victim of your circumstances. We can only fully understand a situation when it ends and that chapter closes, there is no way around the fact that we will never have the full facts, knowledge, or awareness of what is currently going on. That’s part of the fun! Instead of challenges around the corner we should be anticipating potential adventures and new perspectives!

– If we live in regret, remorse, or painful nostalgia (as in, when it causes negativity and sadness versus a feeling of happiness at a memory that has come to pass) then we are living too much in the future. If we are constantly worrying about the future, we live too much in a state of anxiety. A quiet mind lives in the present… a quiet mind is able to understand and hear our desires, wants, needs, and most importantly able to distinguish intuition over fear. Our task is to focus on our human journey, the paths we started… to focus on being present, being mindful, and simply loving. Love is the ultimate task we are called to do. If you think about it, it motivates our every step… from what we choose as a career to who we surround ourselves with. When we love, we leave the physical realm that our bodies are limited to and we dive into the infinite… and through loving we ultimately encounter gratitude as well. At one point I became extremely agitated at how I had let myself get so lost when I had been given such simple directions by a local resident… but then I realized how lucky I was to have this problem. I realized I was blessed enough to be in Portugal, on an adventure, with the ability to get around on some form of transportation– even if I was lost on some Godforsaken gravel path in the middle of nowhere. When I started looking at the journey with gratitude, I started to notice how bright it actually was outside thanks to a sky full of stars, or the fragrance of some nearby jasmine in their full summer blooms. When we look at life like a blessing, it becomes one.

FEAR, as I read once, can be defined in two ways: Forget Everything And Run or Face Everything And Rise. At one point towards the end of my ride, I became so disoriented that I couldn’t bring myself to take another step because I was certain that I would only be faced with more endless dark clumps of unrecognizable trees. Instead, thank goodness that I did because in about 20 paces I was met by a clearing and the main road which I had been longing to stumble upon.

– Finally, I learned the importance of perspective. Here and there, the path I was on would lead to a run down building or crumbling wall. (I stumble upon those a lot more often than you think when out and about, see picture below.) Naturally, at first these run ins heightened my anxiety in the dark. It made me think about how we seem to crash into or are forced to face our own ruins, our emotional pasts, insecurities, and anxieties… seemingly during some of the darkest times of our lives when we are already in a rough patch. But these ruins are not meant to provoke fear or even a reaction. They are a emblem of our past that we must lovingly embrace as our own, not an indication of where we are destined to go or even where we are meant to stay in the present moment. We must embrace these ruins, acknowledge them, and continue on our way… sempre em frente.

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I apologize for the length of all my thoughts, but being here really challenges everything I think I know about life. New scenery has the power to do so. But aside from a change of scenery, Portugal is my “perfect fit” for reflection. One of the most important things I have learned so far is that the right place, people, and setting can change your life. Your fit is wherever you most easily are able to love, and can love at your best capacity.

There is a quiet, understated, and powerful spirit of optimism and determination in this country. On the outside, I think it’s easy and valid to say that the Portuguese have truly been affected by everything that has come their way economically, socially, etc… but while their determination to carry on may not be as boldly present in every aspect of what they do, it has nevertheless allowed the culture, the tradition, and the people to prevail and stay present in the face of this chaotic world.

While this blog began as a journal of my cultural discoveries as a student and later researcher here, I can’t help but include my reflections now because these years in Portugal and last summers in particular have been the foundation of discovering who I am. Here, my capacity to love, cherish, give thanks, be mindful, and find peace is amplified. This is my perfect fit. This is what home is meant to be.

And when you’re in the right place, even if you get lost in the woods… you might just end up finding yourself.

With that, boa noite (goodnight). More to come soon. Starting this summer’s posts on a sentimental note. Beijos e abraços, meus amigoskissy (Hugs and kisses, my friends.)

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ℒℴѵε ♡ makes the Meal … ➢<((<((°)

Here is a story I wrote a while back, but never thought to share until today… I entered this story in a competition and won a partial scholarship to attend a literary conference in Lisbon, Disquiet International, but sadly I couldn’t attend. I wanted to share it with those who read my blog. Enjoy! P.S. I am sad to be leaving so soon! 11 days. </3

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Love Makes the Meal

A story on growing up Portuguese…

Late in the afternoon, on hot, scorching days after working all morning in the farm that has been in our family for generations, my Portuguese relatives like to have a large lunch and gather together to talk about what they did all morning. Before my 13th birthday, over the summer, my parents and I took a 10 hour flight to reach Portugal and were able to join one of their busy afternoon meal preparation scrambles a few days after we got settled in Portugal. Cries of “Tio Carlos, onde estão as pinhas?” (Uncle Carlos, where are the pine cones?) and “Estou  a acender o fogo já!” (I’m lighting the fire already!) filled the air, while my dad and cousins lit two pine cones and a few charcoal bits under a meat grill top, which had been suspended above the cement patio floor by two metal prongs. That particular afternoon, we were roasting and feasting on sardinhas.

For as long as I could remember, seafood had never appealed to me. Once, when I tried sardines at the age of six, its taste was so unappetizing that after that day their salty, fleshy smell made me gag. The minute I learned what was on the menu that afternoon, my appetite was instantly curbed. However, watching the men in my family prepare the sardines was a sight to see, and thus I was entertained watching the spectacle. They all took turns flipping the sardines with such ease, and the flames were dancing about, licking the sides of the sardines until their skin was flaky.

In the house of my cousin we were staying with, the outside walls lay adjacent to the houses on either side. Yet from the garage, there is a path that connects the house to my uncle’s, which is next door. Along this cement path, which is obscured by the houses behind ours and by fruit trees from my neighbor’s farm, a patio lies between the house and my uncle’s house. The cement path then slopes upward, in the form of narrow, winding steps. Those steps have been tread upon by many relatives, and were probably only comfortable for my deceased grandmother, whose dainty feet carried her up and down on those sweltering evenings decades ago, when she would hand wash her garments on the wash board and hang them to dry outside her window. It was in the patio that the men congregated to roast their tasty sea treasures, their conversations based on how well the fish were biting and how tall the children had gotten.

Over the centuries, the Portuguese culture has been generally known as one that relishes in the art of fishing and preparing seafood. From birth, boys are aware that at some point in their lives they will fish for a meal, much like our ancestors did thousands of years ago. Upon reaching an age where they can stand, the boys are taken on long fishing trips with their fathers, and taught the art of catching a fish, whose scales glitter in the sun like a million silver coins when they are pulled from the murky depths where they lurk. The women and girls, on the other hand, prefer staying indoors and making bread than being sprayed by the salty waves inside a small, cramped fishing vessel.

It was indeed this task that my aunts were performing that afternoon. Underneath the cement steps, in a hidden room designed to be a summer kitchen, I found my aunts huddled around the oven, baking broa (cornbread). The whole scene was rather comical; a pear shaped clay oven, which was tall enough to reach the ceiling, was spewing wispy white smoke while my aunts, all of them decked in yellowed, traditional aprons, fed it thick, square chunks of traditional corn bread (made from the corn they had grown that season).

“Já acabaram as sardinhas filha?” (Did they finish the sardines already daughter?) was my greeting as I entered the door from Aunt Margarida. Shaking my head no, I sat in one of the many tan wood chairs, all of which complimented the wood table, where a festive blue and white checkered, plastic tablecloth covered the surface. My aunts all went back to baking their bread, sharing stories of their morning and of breakfast as they molded the dough. Their conversations were a flutter of Portuguese, full of tidbits and gossip they had heard that day. As they pressed the golden-brown corn cubes together, my older female cousin Dulce sat stirring deep cauldrons full of boiling potatoes that would later be drizzled with oil to accompany the sardines. Every now and then she would push her haphazard curls out of her face. Occasionally, she would pause to rest her arms, smile at the other women, and wink at me.

The salty smell of the greasy sardines drifted into the kitchen, a sign that the salting of the sardines was taking place and that they would be done soon. Eager to leave before the meal started, I darted out of the kitchen and up the cement steps into the top floor of my uncle’s house. On this floor, my grandmother used to spend quite a lot of time. From the top floor a kitchen door led me to the final bit of the cement path, which wraps around the top of the house like an old, unprotected stone path that once wound around a castle tower. After working my way well around the outside of the top floor, the cement path stopped suddenly and I found myself suspended several feet above the patio, which was directly beneath me. Here, I sat down, my legs dangling above the activity involved in preparing the sardinhas. My family moved like ants, darting here and there, crying out occasionally when the bread had burnt or when a gust of wind filled the fire with life, and it softly roared, showering the sardines with orange and yellow sparks.

For decades, the three adjacent houses on the end of the street, Rua de Estação (literally meaning “Road of Station” because there is an old train station at the end of our street) have been part of our family history. Countless guests, relatives and Portuguese people have been born, visited and passed on in these houses. My father, for example, and his siblings were all born in the big house to the right of the one we were staying in (which used to be a hotel back in its day), while my older male cousins grew up in the house to the left. In fact, the house we were staying in was once the outdoor kitchen and patio area from the hotel that belonged to my grandmother, but my father and his brothers knocked it down to build a small breezy home where family members come and go.

I sat on the cement ledge and watched the sun hide behind the top floor of the house. I thought about my grandmother. Avosinha (grandma) Herminia died years ago from Alzheimer’s disease, before I met her. Many of my relatives tell me I remind them of her, whenever we get the chance to visit Portugal and see them. My grandmother put love into all her meals, and into everything she did. At times my father remembers her docile, forgiving ways and how she was stern, yet wise in all of her decisions. She loved having the family together for meals, when the love she put into her food would nourish the souls of her family, and the food itself would help her family members grow stronger.

“Oh Lenita, onde foste?” (Lenita [my childhood nickname], where did you go?) I ran back around the path, down the steps and made a flying leap onto the patio. My brawny, sweet tempered older cousin, Nuno, ruffled my hair and playfully pulled me by my collar into the kitchen under the steps. All of my relatives, proud of the meal they had created, sat at the table. They passed each other dishes of food and began loading their plates with the fruits of their labor. Looking around me, I saw the beautiful faces of my Portuguese relatives, all bearing a resemblance in some way. Ten tanned faces, with dark eyebrows and brown or hazel eyes looked back. They all knew what was coming in a few seconds.

A chipped, ceramic dish was placed in front of me, where a single sardine lay staring at me with its dead, cold, fishy eye. All of my relatives watched me with curiosity and humor as a piece of the flesh was sliced from the sardine and exhibited on a fork in front of my nose. I carefully put the sardine in my mouth and found, much to the satisfaction of my family members, that it was not as disgusting as I had imagined it would be.

Perhaps it was the fact that earlier, when the men had set up the fire, they let me light the pine cones and charcoal. Or the fact that I had helped prepare the salad (Portuguese style, with nothing but olive oil and salt). It could have even been the after-lunch dessert, which consisted of fresh fruit that we had picked earlier that had been cleverly cut up and served with fruit juice for a cool treat. At some point that afternoon, I learned that while food may be prepared with a multitude of spices, vegetables or sugars, the key ingredient is love, and family. That afternoon, the sardinhas didn’t make me want to retch, and I had enjoyed the presence of my family preparing a meal together. Surrounded by the love of my relatives and the harmony of our family, I didn’t mind what was being served, so long as we had an interesting conversation going.

It was for this reason that my grandmother put so much effort into her meals. She knew that while ingredients make food, togetherness makes a meal. Her tradition was one that I one day will be proud to carry on. Be it a Portuguese, Chinese or African custom, what’s true is that I tried to proudly eat a sardine not too long ago at a Portuguese-American restaurant here in the U.S., and it made me gag.

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Just a side note, I found the beautiful sardine graphic from Google Images. Sardine designs become popular around the time of the St. Anthony festival in Lisbon (see previous post). Many sardines are drawn with things that represent Portuguese culture, such as these others I liked below:

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This one is my favorite (above) because it has Fernando Pessoa and the trolley and fado musicians, very Lisbon-ish!

I also loved these:

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Beijos e abraços, meus amigos. kissy

♫ Festas & Rediscovering Religion ✞

Greetings! I want to take this time to kill two birds with one stone- covering the tradition of festas along with my musings on the Portuguese religious culture.

So, to start, what exactly are the festas? To countless people, festa is synonymous with sopas (particularly caldo verde), and beyond that- rancho, rifas (read more), family, eating and good music. But the tradition has been more than 700 years in the making and holds a deeper significance. They usually commence on a weekend with a church service and town procissão or procession honoring the Holy Ghost.

The Holy Ghost? To better explain it, I will use the miraculous and enchanting story of St. Isabel, former queen of Portugal. (By the way, I was confirmed a Catholic when I was younger, and I chose Isabel after I heard this story! Plus she was Portuguese 😉 )

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St. Isabel’s Blessings and the Origin of the Festas

The festas all began hundreds of years ago in 1296 when Queen Isabel of Agagao, wife of King Dinis of Portugal, saw her subjects suffering from the effects of a devastating drought followed by a long famine. Thousands of people died during those years. Wells ran dry, and food began to get scarce. Portugal’s Queen Isabel did all she could for her people during that time. There is a tradition that shows her, always with red roses in one hand and a small loaf of bread in the other. This stems from her habit of taking bread from the palace and secretly passing it to the poor and hungry. One day the king found out about it and confronted her. When she opened her apron to reveal the stolen bread, a miracle had occurred. For instead of bread, a bunch of red roses fell to the floor. Her generosity and love for her people had been honored by God.

Masses were said continuously during a nine-day novena until the day of Pentecost when the people witnessed three ships sail up the harbor and docked in Lisbon. These ships were filled with grain. Their hunger was finally at an end. It also began to rain, after several years of drought. This was considered to be a major miracle. In thanksgiving to the Holy Spirit for this miraculous deliverance, the day of the Pentecost was declared to be a national holiday. This holiday persisted in Portugal for several centuries before being exported to the Azores Islands, and when Portuguese people migrated to California and the East Coast, they brought the Holy Ghost Celebration with them, introducing it to their American neighbors.

Queen Isabel was canonized by Pope Urban the Eighth in 1625. Her devotion to her people was symbolized by the promise she made to the Holy Spirit that if her people were delivered from the famine and drought, she would lay her jeweled crown on the altar as a gift to the church. Replicas of her crown adorned with the dove, the Holy Spirit’s symbol, were made. The tradition of the festa has survived nearly 700 years of tumultuous worldly change and may very well survive another 700 years, for its inception is deep-rooted in religion, but more importantly, in faith.

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Festas usually are therefore tied to a prominent figure in the faith. For instance, when my hometown (Carregal do Sal) has their festa, they have a procession honoring the Virgin Mother Mary. Several firetrucks drive between two long straight lines of people with speakers on the tops of their roofs that project the voice of the priest at the head of the line praying the rosary. As the people walk, several women pull out their rosaries and pray along with the father. The celebrated Saint or figure usually is carried throughout the street by several church servers, and when spectators see the Blessed figure pass they shower it with rose petals.

Here is the Virgin Mother entering the church in my town at the end of the procession. She is being showered in rose petals:

Procissao for blog

Sometimes, if enough students are in town, they participate in the festivities wearing their traje academico (see previous post) or academic uniform complete with the black cape. They lay their capes down on the ground in front of the church before the Saint or Virgin Mother returns home.

During the procession, everyone carries a candle that burns for the length of the walk. At the end, people place their candles in an outside alter with a prayer.

Procissao for blog2

Before I continue covering the more cultural and non-religious aspects of the festas, I want to make a point about Portuguese religious culture. It’s funny because I am no longer Catholic in the United States (I am now Christian), but when I come in the summers I instantly transition back to the way I grew up. I can still even recite all the prayers and songs, except I am the only one who does so in English at the small church in my town.

Catholicism is all about that tradition… traditions that date back centuries are the life force and unifying thread to the religion. What I notice about Portuguese Catholicism or piety in general is that many religious customs are thoroughly ingrained in the society as cultural norms. And they are given substantial respect. I was impressed because, as with every town, Carregal do Sal has its “troubled youth” (as older people refer to them when complaining about society today), but I saw many of those same “trouble makers” quietly revering the passing Virgin Mother, joining the walk or just overall showing respect to the “processioners,” if you will, that passed. I expected many to scoff at the spectacle as they would probably do back home where the youth is more vocal and where, even though the U.S. is perceived as a “Christian nation,” the diversity of cultures and religions makes it hard for one set of religious customs to become the norm (that is if you exclude something like Christmas, but even that has really become two holidays rolled into one).

Catholicism is different here. It’s relaxed (low church attendance and participation for the most part during the year) yet it’s not since many of its practices have found their mark as national norms. Festas are a great example! They started out with a religious significance, but now they have just become a fun time for families and friends. Even the procession is more of a community thing than a faith walk or prayer time, for instance. Interesting.

Nevertheless, moving on! What can be expected at a festa? Lots of activities! In the past, Carregal do Sal festas had this event based around a large wooden beam and a bag of codfish (bacalhau) at the top. The beam would be greased and men would try to climb it to reach the prize at the top. Today, that kind of stuff still occurs but it’s mixed in with a more carnival type environment. In bigger cities, festas resemble big carnivals with lots of rides and cotton candy, popcorn, games, burgers and french fries, concerts, street vendors, churros, etc. Carregal do Sal and other small aldeãs (small towns) have smaller scale carnivals.

I attended one near Lisbon and here is a picture of things you would find…

Top left to right: entrance with the typical lit up festa archways, a place to get waffles with ice cream (very popular here), and a churraria or churro stand. Churros are also called farturas here. Middle left to right: ice cream booth, sweets booth, a place to buy chichas quentes or cachorros (hot dogs), the hot dogs are really strange here- they come with crushed chips on top!, some women selling goods and toys. Bottom left to right: It’s popular here to have jantar or dinner at the festas for the length of the week. The first picture is one of the barracas or dinner barracks. You can get some hot soup from the top or some bread with cheese and sausage, and later take some home for the family. The next picture is what the dinner barracks look like next to one another. During the night, people will go from one to another depending on the prices of drinks or to find a booth still serving hot soup at 3 AM. The last two pictures are my favorite. Often at the festas people will pay for small samples of drinks. These pictures show one of those tastings, of ginjinhaGinjinha is a cherry liquor, and a shot of it is served in a little chocolate cup! So cute.

Lisbon festa

The festas in Lisbon were very exciting. I went out with the entire UMass Summer in Lisbon crew and we had a blast! The festas were held in Lisbon in honor of St. Anthony, the Saint of relationships, love, matchmaking and marriages. His feast day, the 12th of June, is a special day. Many weddings are held on this day, and single girls carry out all sorts of rituals to implore Anthony to help them find a worthy husband. The girl might fill her mouth with water until she hears a man’s name mentioned, or write her suitors’ names on pieces of paper, roll them up and place them in a bowl of water under her bed. In the morning, the piece of paper that has unfurled the most indicates the lucky man. If girls are really sick of being single, they stand a small statue of Anthony upside down and bury its head, returning it to its proper position only when the hard-working saint has placed their case at the top of his long list of lonely hearts.

For more on this day, read here: http://www.lonelyplanet.com/portugal/lisbon/travel-tips-and-articles/77201

The UMass students and I had a lot of fun, here is a picture from that day:

Marchas Populares, festas, Alfama with the group! (4)

To the right, you have a sardine vendor! It’s a tradition here to have the tasty grilled snacks for the Saint’s feast day. And we also watched the Marchas Populares this year. This time, as opposed to last year, I had us sit in the Restauradores area where the parade ends and we got to interact with the groups and were so much closer to them! Here is a dancer from the Macau (Portuguese colony in China) group:

Marchas Populares, festas, Alfama with the group! (30)

In terms of what is left of the old traditions, traveling rancho groups still perform at the festas every year. Rancho Folclórico groups basically dance traditional dances to folkloric tunes and wear the customary dress from different regions of the country.

Rancho completo

They spin and waltz around one another in pairs, and usually with their arms in the air. Here are some awesome pictures of what they look like up close: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=60VYhcotMew and a clip of them dancing to give you an idea: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yKjD–wDndc

The costumes are meant to represent all the different types of people in the town, and each group is dressed according to what those different people would wear in that region of Portugal. Literally all walks of life are represented in the group, from the sassy wives of fishmongers to a viúva or the widow (dressed in black, bottom center). The musicians and singers typically sit in the back, and guitars, accordions and drums are the common instruments for the show.

I used to do rancho and I absolutely loved it! The shoes that the girls wear are like slippers that are hand embroidered on the front. The shoes are worn with slippery socks and have no backs, so that was always problematic when you are trying to move around!

Another fun tradition is the rifas! or bazaar. I have loved the rifas for as long as I can remember! What you do is go up to the booth or quermesse

Rancho & rifas (39)

pay for a set of rolled up pieces of paper…

Rancho & rifas (38)

and then you unroll all the papers you were handed to see if one of them has a number in it. If you find one with a number in it, the man looks it up in his book and you take home a prize! When I was little, I once won a beautiful china doll that I still have at home!

All in all, the festa is one of the main elements of Portuguese culture that I love the most. This year it was interesting to learn the deeper religious significance behind it. I grew up knowing the story of Isabel but I had no idea she was one of the main participants in executing the festival! No wonder I chose such a dynamic lady for my Catholic confirmation name 😉

Before I go, I want to share a funny story that occurred at home. The day of the first festas-related church service, if my relatives and parents are all around, we gather and have a family reunion lunch to celebrate the growth of the Dias family clan! This year, my aunt celebrated 50 years of marriage and so my mom bought some 50€ napkins for us to use.

Family Reunion Lunch (1)

My cousin dropped some champagne on her foot and used the napkin to wipe it up. My other cousin shouts from across the room: “Cousin! Washing your feet with champagne and wiping them dry with notes of 50€? How shameful! We are in a crisis!” LOL. It was awesome.

Well, time for sleep…

As always,

Beijos e abraços, meus amigos. kissy ❤

The benefits of a Portuguese university degree

So one of the things that I have been dying to write about is very near and dear to my heart. I apologize in advance for the lack of pictures, but this is a super important blog to me!

I have been working at ISEG all summer- the Instituto Superior de Economia e Gestão or the Superior Institute for Economics and Management. At ISEG, I have used some of my down time to check out some of the academic programs they offer, and I am very impressed! For example, I am very interested in development studies within political science. They have a Master’s program in Development that takes one year to complete and the total cost of tuition (propina) is less than $6000! What?!

I read an article recently on how Portuguese universities are some of the best in Europe. Check it out here ✏ http://marketeer.pt/2013/05/13/universidades-portuguesas-entre-as-melhores-do-mundo/. 3 universities in Portugal made it in the top world-wide rankings of professional schools!

There are many benefits to attending programs in Portugal, especially for students that are Luso-Americans with Portuguese heritage! To start off with…

1. COSTS!!!! It’s all about the money, honey! Dinero, moolah, the big bucks… I cannot stress this enough. Here are some examples of Master’s programs at ISEG: http://aquila.iseg.utl.pt/aquila/instituicao/ISEG/cursos/mestrados. If those prices are not ultra seductive to prospective students everywhere, I don’t know what is! Think of the costs that are incurred for the average Master’s program in the U.S. $40,000 a year at a school with low chances for a scholarship? No thank you! Can you imagine a Master’s program in Portugal for only $5970? And with the economic downturn, housing is also relatively affordable here and available almost anywhere. I have found living here in the summers extremely doable. The prices for food, travel and fun are very fair in my opinion! As a university student in the summer, the school cafes still offer great meal deals- 4€ (about $6) at ISEG will get me some bacalhau (codfish) with a side dish, salad, flan and drink! Or, a close to $17 bus ticket can get me to the other side of Portugal to visit my family in 3.5 hours (thank goodness Portugal is so small!)

Which brings me to #2…

2. LOCATION! Location is everything for education. Here I will admit that I lied to you in the beginning of the blog, because I do have some pictures to share after all.

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Do you see this amazing, splendiferous, luminous city? I am presently inside its bounds and loving every single second! Yes classes and school are important, but location means everything! The surroundings to your university are where you’ll spend more than 50% of your time! And Portugal is such a richly diverse space, all within compact borders! The culture changes part to part… North and South Portugal are different from one another, island and mainland Portugal differ immensely, and so forth… it doesn’t take more than a day long trip to be in a completely new region.

You have lush, green landscapes and strong traditions in the Northern mountain regions, crystal blue waters and gorgeous beaches in the South, the small town, “farmsy” feel of the Alentejo, the traditional and academically rich university city of Coimbra, and more!

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And so much history! On the left you have the region of Douro, one of Portugal’s national treasures, where grapes are grown on cascading hillsides to be made into zesty Porto wine… in the fall, you can take a train along the river and see the hills dressed in splendid robes of gold and brown leaves! In the middle you have the beautiful city of Agueda and it’s yearly umbrella spectacle. And on the right, the hidden castle pieces from within the valley of Sintra.

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Don’t forget, fun! I have two words for this part: Music… festivals! Like I said in a past post, I saw AVICII and Martin Solveig here last summer for 20 euros! Like… what?! Portuguese people love their music, so you can bet on lots of cheap and exciting shows. Not into music festivals? There is so much more to do here- attend lectures, watch sport matches, visit nearby countries, watch a live bull fight, hear some great fado with a glass of wine. Portugal is your oyster.

Affordable schooling and affordable travel? Count me IN!

3. Quality of education and mobility, academic environment… I personally feel that the Master’s and Doctorate programs here are quite challenging! University of Coimbra, for example, has some really diverse and unique Ph.D. programs that I would like to look into for the future. ISEG, my current research home, has a lot of affiliations and ties to major think tanks or research institutes in the world. Many universities here also pair up with big name universities back in the States for programs. Harvard Medical School has a research program it does with a Portuguese university, for example. For those who want to become professors in the U.S. or in other countries, a U.S. Ph.D. would probably offer more mobility. But for a Master’s to be used as a step for a future career, Portuguese universities offer great academic environments.

As for the academic environment

4. Tradition. I love Portuguese universities because they are so rich in tradition. Last year I wrote about one of my most favorite universities, Universidade de Coimbra. There, the students still use all of their robes (see previous post on the academic traje or suit), they win “fox trophies” (a scratch on one of the school’s decorative wall tiles that has a fox design on it) if they fail tests, etc.

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Schools here are swimming in tradition. Given Portugal’s very Catholic past, many were once monasteries or convents so that always adds a bit of spice when you get to take your classes in a centuries old classroom with azulejo lined walls such as the one below at the Universidade de Evora…

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or when you hear the local Tuna Económica playing (student orchestral groups)…

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5. Global position. You’re probably thinking… global position? Da heck?

Portugal and the U.S. have a very strategic relationship as they both border the Atlantic and directly face each other. Portugal is very well situated… it’s just close enough to be Europe but not Europe at a great distance. It is literally the door to the rest of Europe. It’s not only an open doorway to Europe; is also boasts close ties with Africa and Brazil. For my Luso-American friends of Portuguese descent, claim that heritage and gain access to many other states that make up the European Union!

Plus, did you know that Portuguese is the third most widely-spoken European language?! Studying in Portugal will give you the chance to learn the language and explore the culture, economy, and history of the nearly 200 million people in the Far East, South America, Africa, and Europe who use one of the most important languages of the 21st century.

Not to mention that Portuguese people are extremely nice and accommodating! 😉

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So there you have it. I advocate studying here immensely! There are so many benefits to a Portuguese university education. However, with every good thing comes the bad… so here are just a few cons to an education in Portugal.

1. There are too many beaches to visit and not enough time… I mean, come on! What kind of country has this many stunning beaches? Does Portugal just expect me to have all this free time on my hands as a hard-working and focused university student? (P.S. Three beaches here were named among the best in the WORLD! http://inteligenciaeconomica.com.pt/?p=16014) Heck yes…  ☼ ☁

2. Too many good looking foreigners. With Portugal’s membership to the European Union and participation in Europe-wide ERASMUS exchange programs, there are just too many foreigners to meet here! Polish students, Hungarian students, Belgian students… too many new friends to make from other countries!

3. Peanut butter and Nutella are ridiculously expensive here. Like, close to $6! Ain’t nobody got euros for that. Plus the jars are always 1/3 of the size at home.

and more…

But seriously, if you are interested in a possible university education here, check out this fantabulous link below!

✎ http://www.studyinportugal.net/pt

This ^ is a website created by FLAD- Fundação Luso-Americana de Desenvolvimento. On the website they have listed the top 10 reasons to study in Portugal, http://www.studyinportugal.net/pt/articles/1-quality-education/1-quality-education, along with a listing of programs in Portugal TAUGHT IN ENGLISHhttp://www.studyinportugal.net/pt/articles/portuguese-university-network/portuguese-university-network37

Also, don’t hesitate to contact me at mdias2011@ufl.edu

More posts to come on religious traditions, small towns, monuments, and more.

As always,

Beijos e abraços, meus amigos. kissy

Where in the world am I?

So this blog is a little late, as usual. I have a boatload set to come out this week to catch up on what I have missed in the last few weeks. Last year, I did a month of study abroad with UMass Dartmouth Summer in Lisbon. This year, I was blessed to spend the month with the new cohort and play a role in helping to orient them to the city. However, that left little time for blogging 😉

Moving on, where the heck am I spending the summer?! This summer, I arrived in Lisbon in the beginning of June and I am living near the suburbs (Odivelas) … about 2-3 metro stops away into the city. It is a bit of a commute to the school where I am working but I don’t mind! I am living at a good friend’s house… here is my room!

My room

Isn’t it très chic? Every morning I get to wake up to this view:

view

Plus, my roommate’s cat has thumbs! Here she is:

Kitty

She is darling. Her name is Luna!

The school I am researching at is ISEG- the same school that hosts the UMass Dartmouth program I attended last summer and hung out with this year. My mentor or the professor I am researching with is Dr. Prof. Eduardo Sousa Ferreira. He is an African Studies specialist who was exiled during the Salazar period for his work in helping the revolutions in Africa! He has been incredibly inspirational throughout this fellowship so far and has helped me access many different African Studies libraries in Lisbon.

I love ISEG. It is seriously one of the nicest universities in Lisbon. The main campus is beautiful with two large white buildings surrounding a courtyard and then two huge flights of stairs on either side of the 4 story library- one leading to the old convent that used to exist there (much of the original azulejo remains intact there!) and the other leading to the big office buildings that the professors use. It’s there that I do my research. This is the view from my professor’s window- it overlooks the Rio Tejo! Beautiful!

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To get to work, I like to get off at the Rato metro stop and walk down Rua de São Bento. It’s a charming old road full of antique shops and this amazing genuine gelato place called Santini! 2 euros for a delicious cone with two scoops- super dangerous. I’ve only been there twice though.

Best part of the road to work? Passing by the house of my idol, Amalia Rodrigues- fado extraordinaire!

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Rua de São Bento is truly charming. Here are some other views I have along the street: Beautiful azulejo lined homes in the top pics, a view of Parliament right across the street from the school, many foundations that host free cultural and academic events, stores that sell “antiguidades” or antiques (middle right picture), and some delicious places to have lunch or dinner (Casa Macau Indian Restaurant- not sure why it’s called Casa Macau but oh well) or a snack (tea house on the bottom right picure).

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One thing is for sure, the effects of the economic crisis can be experienced everywhere in the city. Graffiti has become increasingly political, for example. Another thing I noticed is the incredibly large amount of empty apartments I see everywhere… really makes me wonder where everyone went. Many local graffiti artists have incorporated the same sentiment into some of their work (top left picture: graffiti says “Aqui podia viver gente” or “Here people could live,” top middle picture: “Criar emprego” or “Make new jobs,” and top right picture: “Baixar as rendas” or “lower rent rates”). I particularly liked the bottom graffiti, which poses the question: “Até quando vais ser ovelha?” or “How long are you going to be a sheep?”

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I did notice some other popular topics in the graffiti, such as this complex one that is promoting green feelings: The corporate businessman is drinking out the oil from the Earth through a straw and his crown has the logos for several gas and oil corporations.

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As for the economic crisis, conditions here are only worsening. The austerity measures have many people on edge and they are certainly not making anything better. http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2013/jul/11/how-austerity-has-failed/?pagination=false#.UcjLCuFQiVQ.twitter

(P.S. Greece is just as bad, if not worse http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/11/opinion/global/greece-at-the-boiling-point.html?smid=fb-share&_r=0

Actually, many people don’t know which country is at its worst at this point, some even predict that Portugal might end up in a more dire situation than Greece. It’s chillingly frightening.)

But I am rather shocked at the low levels of protest I see here. I attended the greve geral or strike on Thursday, June 27th and honestly I was not impressed. This was during the time of the protests in Brazil and they were making great strides in their efforts, http://www.bostonreview.net/blog/pardon-inconvenience-we-are-changing-country , and then there were the protests in Turkey and the Turkish journalists risking their lives by covering the demonstrations when they had been told not to do so.

Here, during the greve geral, everyone was supposed to meet at the Rossio plaza at 2 or 2:30, and then I am assuming that they walked the 30 min journey to Parliament. I arrived at the Parliament building at 4:30 and this was all that was left:

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SERIOUSLY? I didn’t know what to think. I heard that the strike had moved, and the police were pretty tight that day. But for a country with such serious economic problems, I don’t know if the people are just too preoccupied with their fight for survival or if the rowdy Portuguese flame that overthrew Salazar has just been beaten down by Europe and the Troika.

Anyways, there are more posts to come.. just playing catch up! I have loved being in Lisbon again. I feel that every time you learn more about a city or spend more time in it, it becomes smaller. I visited the suburbs of Lisbon for the first time a few weeks into my visit and it was really an eye opener. I don’t know how to explain it, but for miles and miles it just looks like a pop-up storybook full of white and yellow apartment buildings built onto these massive hills. Many commute into the city, but it looks really confusing to get to some of the apartments!

Suburbs for second post

I also felt like I was driving through Brazil because some of those hills looked like favela communities. It was a very new and eye opening experience. More blogs to come on some religious customs and musings I had, my research, Portuguese historical monuments, and more…

Beijos e abraços, meus amigos. kissy

I’m baaaccckkk!

So, it has been quite some time since I re-started the blog, but here is my first post! I arrived in Lisbon May 31st, and the first couple of weeks I met with my research mentor and worked on an introductory PowerPoint for the new UMass summer cohort. Therefore, not much time for blogging!

It is so wonderful to be back. I will tell you about my roommate, research mentor, school and room in another post. I am looking forward to next week where I will be meeting with a development agency in Lisbon that interacts with former Portuguese colonies (my current research topic!)

I have missed Portugal too too much. I miss the culture here when I am away. For instance, the other day I was at a cafe and this woman started reading another woman’s journal over her shoulder, and the one with the journal happily gave it away after asking if she wanted it. Everyone is in everyone else’s business; the whole country is arguably just one huge, friendly and happy family! However the climate is different right now. Both meteorologically and societally. It is one of the coldest summers in history, since the 1800s if I am not mistaken. Hope here is also dwindling, and some of the Portuguese fire I used to love so much is now lost. People are making minimum salaries that aren’t enough to pay for rent or even groceries. They are so concerned with making ends meet that they don’t even have time to protest against the government! The metro will be on strike sometimes or other services. Last summer, I dealt with a trash strike for two weeks- P.U.! Here is a snapshot of what the country looks like at the moment:

“In Portugal today practically 1 million people are unemployed. Of those 60% are long-term unemployed. 55% receive no unemployment subsidy. 45% of young women (aged 18 to 24?) are unemployed, the respective figure for young men is 40%. Many young people are now emigrating… The demographic pyramid (inversion) continues to get worse. These and other depressing data are in the Publico newspaper today. More than 2 million retirees, many of whom live alone, live on a pension which is less than the national minimum wage (about €470 a month). The mean income of Portuguese families has suffered tremendously, and large numbers of families have more than one unemployed person within them. If we include those who are off of the official unemployment rolls because they have been unemployed for too long, the real unemployment figure is probably about 1.2 million, even higher than the official unemployment rate of 18%… It’s a deeply unsettling picture of the price of austerity here in Portugal.”

Here is an article link on what’s going on as well: http://mobile.nytimes.com/blogs/krugman/2013/05/27/nightmare-in-portugal/

Nevertheless, I intend to make the best out of what is going on. The country is still as beautiful as ever and the food is also how I remember it! (I made the mistake of shopping on an empty stomach my first day here- not the prettiest grocery bill but what can I say!)

There is a lot of fun stuff ahead such as the Festas de Lisboa tonight celebrating St. Anthony. I, along with the new UMass cohort, will be watching the parades on the Avenida de Liberdade and then trekking up to Alfama for some sardines and beer! (Not a beer person, I’ll be going more for the sardines!) I will try to attend many festas and musical festivals this summer as well. I already found a great site listing many of them: http://www.festivaisverao.com/Festivais-2013/index.html not to mention many Facebook pages I subscribe to like: https://www.facebook.com/LISBOALive.PT or https://www.facebook.com/AllyouneedisPORTUGAL?fref=ts. Also, I will be meeting a creator of Portuguese Azulejo jewelry very soon. I am obsessed with her stuff! Check it out here: https://www.facebook.com/o.Atrio

I am excited to be in Europe at such a crucial time. Signs everywhere are advertising the Ano Europeu dos Cidadãos 2013 (Year of the Citizens) and telling people to participate in the debate! http://europa.eu/citizens-2013/pt/home

I didn’t make this blog to talk about a vacation spot I like. At this point, I have been in Portugal 3 summers in a row for 3 months or 1/4 of a year. It has become a partial home for me during the year so it hurts to see so much pain and suffering going on here. But it still has the same amount of love as when I leave. They say that there is nothing like coming home to a place where nothing has changed to see how much you have. It has been interesting to return to my beloved country every year and see it through fresh eyes. Hopefully this blog has allowed you to see some of the passion I have for this wonderful place. Here’s to the next post! (Don’t miss one on Portuguese universities coming this week!)

 

As always,

Beijos e abraços, meus amigos. kissy

 

P.S. I saw a funny item on a McDonald’s menu I passed yesterday at the mall. The McBifana. LOL

P.P.S. A Bifana (or Prego) is a traditional Portuguese sandwich and popular snack that consists of a small beef or pork steak in a roll, often served at beer halls with a large mug of beer.

Ƹ̴Ӂ̴Ʒ Farewell post… final adventures and goodbye to the summer! ☼

I am so sad to be writing this final post! I flew back to the U.S. two days ago and I am prepared for another absolutely fantastic, fun-filled (yet stressful) year!

I had my “festa de despedida” or “goodbye party” on August 11th at midnight, two days before I left. It was in my small hometown at my aunt’s house. She has this cozy little summer kitchen under the stone steps leading to her house with a traditional wood oven in it that she uses to make bread every Saturday before making her weekly sardine feast for the family.

Just as I did the last time I visited Portugal, I made s’mores for my friends! In the picture on the left, I have a glimpse of some of the desserts and treats we devoured that night. We had a really sweet orange soda I like in Portugal- Sumol. They have Sumol in the U.S. for anyone who wants to try the orange or pineapple flavor. I had baked a delicious chocolate cake drizzled in chocolate sauce and bought some candies (Smarties- they are like Portuguese M&Ms) and nuts. I don’t know if you can see the little tray of cookies I had picked up at the store- they were graham cookies with attached pieces of chocolate… perfect to make s’mores! Marshmallows in Portugal are called “gomas” or “gummies” and they change to a grayish color when burned which is quite odd. Other than that, the s’mores actually turned out to be very tasty. 🙂

I love making American treats or sharing my Americanisms with my Portuguese friends and family. When you live in a country for so long, you forget the little unique aspects of your culture. Being among international students or friends, you realize the characteristics of your culture that are typically taken for granted and you begin to appreciate them in a new light. In fact, this was one of the main reasons why I enjoyed my time in the group NaviGATORS at the University of Florida this past spring semester. For those of you Gators unfamiliar with the NaviGATORS group, it’s basically a chance for you to be paired up with an international student to help them assimilate to American culture for whatever semester they are visiting. Here is the group website: http://navigatorsintl.com/. I am looking forward to another great year with NaviGATORS- especially now that I am back after an exciting summer in Europe!

This summer was truly interesting. Not only did I have the chance to share my American culture with new Portuguese friends through nights like the s’mores night or through the July 4 celebration I took part in with my friends from the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth program, but I also realized the unique aspects of my Portuguese culture when my best friend from America paid me a visit.

I have been meaning to tell you about the beach visits/weekend I had with my best friend in Portugal. It was her first time in Portugal or Europe and she loved it! We visited the beaches of Carcavelos, Estoril and Cascais.

Visiting the beaches is a popular thing for Lisbon city dwellers or visitors in the summertime. It is so easy to reach any of the beaches from the main train/metro/bus/ferry area of Cais do Sodre in Lisbon. You simply take the metro to Cais do Sodre for 2,50€ and then from there you get on the train round trip for about 4,50€ and you get off at whatever beach you like. The train goes all the way to Cascais, the last beach… but it stops at the Carcavelos and Estoril beaches. See the map below:

Personally, my favorite beaches were in Cascais and Carcavelos, but Estoril was nice too. If you look at the map, there is a road called the “Avenida Marginal” or “Av. Marginal” that goes from Cais do Sodre all the way through the area of Belem (remember the Portuguese White House and Pasteis de Belem area I visited), the beaches, the train areas, the Lisbon docks, etc. My best friend and I had the opportunity of driving down this entire road. I cannot even begin to describe to you how many gorgeous buildings line this avenue. We went through beachy/touristy areas, rich areas with huge shopping malls full of pricey department stores, passed mansions and futuristic looking apartment buildings, drove by a huge casino and always had a picturesque view of the ocean. See the top middle picture.

In the top left picture, we are standing on the golden sands of Carcavelos beach. The top right picture was taken when we were driving along the Avenida Marginal… we saw a beautiful lookout spot and took a picture! One really great place we visited when driving near Cascais was “Boca do Inferno” or “Mouth of Hell” (bottom middle picture). It is a deep abyss that has crashing waves and a little bridge you can walk on to stand over the water and look down. The place is now a tourist area (middle long picture) with little cafes with red roofs and whitewashed stairs leading to different overlook areas of the abyss. There was a huge section of tents with souvenirs that we spent hours in (bottom left picture). Later, we drove near Estoril (bottom right picture) before spending the rest of the weekend suntanning in Carcavelos and eating juicy strawberries from a vendor we met at the beach.

One fun and simple feature of Portuguese student life I got to share with her was going to the grocery store and picking up our dinner. I know it sounds like something you might do in America, and I don’t know how to explain the difference between what we do in Portugal and the U.S. but a lot of my friends and I like to pick up dinner at the grocery store after going out all day or hanging out at the beach for the afternoon. On this day, my best friend and I were with another friend of mine from Lisbon and we picked up a ready-made roasted chicken from the supermarket along with the usual side items from the aisles- toast crackers, chips, fruit, soda, and a dessert. We then sat outside of the supermarket at a table in the shopping mall and had dinner. It’s not like in the U.S. where you go eat at Wendy’s or somewhere relatively inexpensive… near the beaches it’s almost impossible to find a cost friendly place to eat. To conclude, there were other fun parts to Portuguese culture that I got to share with her and it made me appreciate my heritage that much more. 🙂 This is why I love traveling and meeting new cultures so much, it adds flavor to life!

Going on, I also want to share my last big adventure in Portugal before leaving. I spent a weekend in a town called Leiria- it is known for it’s roasted piglets or leitões. During my time in Leiria, I visited the Castelo de Leiria, Batalha Monastery, Alcobaca Monastery, beaches of Nazare and went to the festas of Leiria. I mentioned the festas once before, where each town holds a week of celebration for one particular saint or religious figure. Large Portuguese communities in the U.S. also host their own versions of the festas- here is an upcoming one in Fall River, MA: http://portuguese-american-journal.com/grandes-festas-26th-holy-ghost-festival-of-new-england-fall-river-ma/. I ended my mini-vacation visiting friends in Lisbon, riding another couple of Lisbon sightseeing buses and going to the wonderful village of SINTRA!!!! 😀

The top picture is of the beach at Nazare. The top picture on the right hand side is a fountain at the Alcobaca Monastery. The bottom picture on the right hand side is in front of the Batalha Monastery. We visited the old dormitory for the young men and the military history museum inside the monastery. Also inside was a lit torch over a tomb of an unknown soldier to honor those who have died in battle. The bottom middle picture is the outside of the Alcobaca Monastery. Alcobaca is known for its glass blowing, so there were beautiful windows, lamps and glass figures everywhere around the monastery. The bottom left picture is of me at the Castelo de Leiria. The photo above it is also at the Nazare beach. The center photo is me running through the fields where the religious procession took place in Leiria during the festas. The townspeople had used painted wood chips and fresh flowers everywhere to make the streets look so ornate! To the left of the picture is a picture of the saint being honored in the festas on a pedestal. The final picture is that of a house- one of Figo’s vacation homes! I’m not sure if you are familiar with the famous (now retired) soccer player, but it turns out that he has a vacation home in Leiria!

Sintra was my favorite part of my mini vacation.

Sintra is known for a few things: its nature trails and winding paths through the parks and trees, the old city center with the two towers (see panoramic shot), its walkways through the village area where artists and budding fashionistas display their crafts, the cute and unique items you can buy walking along the main road (I met a man who sold mini versions of his photography- he liked to photograph cityscapes reflected in puddles, lakes or other bodies of water. I bought my mother a handmade mother of pearl jewelry set that was individually carved out of a larger piece that had designs chewed into it from sea creatures.), the home of Lord Byron (bottom left picture), the view of a larger fort overlooking Sintra (bottom picture 2nd from the left), its city hall (bottom 2nd from the right), and a well known pastry.

The pastries are called Travesseiros da Sintra from the Casa Piriquita bakery. They have a filling made with pumpkin, squash, egg yolks, and other spices. They were scrumptious! The queijadas de leite or mini-cheesecakes are also well known in Sintra. I spent a glorious afternoon walking around the small, quaint, quiet town of Sintra.

Time for the sad part…

All things eventually come to an end, and I am really sad to have left Portugal. It was a magnificent summer full of enchanting sights, travel, adventures, fun, friends, family, delicious foods, work, studying, learning, fado, history, culture and more.

Studying abroad is such a worthwhile experience. I read this intriguing article recently on how my generation is the “global generation” (http://www.npr.org/2012/07/10/156463825/globals-generation-focuses-on-experience) and it is so true! Being a member of a larger, global community is such an incredible feeling! You learn so much about yourself and come to appreciate your culture (and possibly heritage) in ways unimaginable. Furthermore, my study abroad experience shaped my future research project by allowing me to immerse in the environment of my project.

One thing is for certain. No matter where I go in this world, I will always be a GATOR!

LONG LIVE THE GATOR NATION!

Beijos e abraços, meus amigos. kissy Hope you enjoyed my blog! Good luck to everyone starting a new school year this semester!

P.S. If you want to try some of the Portuguese delicacies I ate this summer, there is a NPR post I found with recipes for traditional Portuguese meals: http://www.npr.org/2012/08/14/158775530/travel-the-world-through-portuguese-cooking

& here is a great article I came across as well: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/travel/article-2177333/Portugal-city-breaks-Lively-Lisbon-Europes-capital-romance.html?ito=feeds-newsxml

For those of you wanting to see more opportunities to study or participate in Portuguese student life, a group I am a member of- PALCUS (the Portuguese American Leadership Council to the U.S.)- recently partnered with MultiWay to provide student exchange opportunities. (http://www.multiway.org/) MultiWay is an organization that helps students achieve their goal of studying abroad. Through this partnership, Portuguese-American high school and college students now have the opportunity to spend a year in Portugal going to school and living with a host family. Students from Portugal also now have an opportunity to study and live in the United States with an American host family. If you are interested in hosting a student, please browse the profiles below and contact MultiWay directly by sending an email to multiway@multiway.org.

Finally, if you want to join the fun with a UMass yearly or semester program, check out this FANTASTIC scholarship opportunity: http://www1.umassd.edu/communications/articles/showarticles.cfm?a_key=2985

A Little Bit of Lisbon Fun (◕‿◕✿)

Boa tarde! So I am writing this post in the comfort of the home of my relatives while watching a traditional Portuguese bullfight.

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Side note: Portuguese bullfighting differs from Spanish-style bullfighting in a variety of ways. Portuguese bullfighting is very much about the spectacle, more emphasis on the cavaleiros – the horse riders (can be male or female) than the matadores or the bullfighters who end up killing the bull. For example, in one part of the spectacle, the bull runs wild and a group of the men hold the bull until he becomes immobile- a very Roman-like fighting style. In fact, in Portuguese bullfights the bull is never killed in the ring- they are usually killed by butchers outside of the arena.

This was due to one man who made it illegal to kill the bull in the ring- Marques de Pombal. A picture of his statue below.

He was the Prime Minister of Portugal credited with rebuilding Lisbon after the death and destruction of the 1755 Lisbon earthquake. (Another side note: this statue is a popular spot in Lisbon. After winning some of the Euro Cup games, news crews in Portugal would come to the statue area to interview spectators engaging in mass celebration. Also, this was one of the main areas for the Marchas Populares- you’ll see below. The statue is very well known in the city.)

There is only one small town called Barrancos where they killed the bull in the ring illegally so many times that the region was allowed to do so despite the law. Nevertheless, sometimes the bulls are even restored to full health and released to pastures for breeding.

Moving on! I wanted to touch upon two exciting events that I attended in Lisbon during the course of my program. While these two events take place in other cities, they have a rich history in the city of Lisbon.

The first one has to do with fado.

I started singing at a very young age and after visiting my family a few times in Portugal, I really fell in love with fado after seeing performances in Lisbon (the capitol of Portugal and a big city important in the history of fado). My parents always listened to Amalia Rodrigues- a very famous fado singer with a truly unique voice- and I would imitate her just for fun for family and friends. There are two prominent cities/styles important to the development of fado- Lisbon and Coimbra. Lisbon fado is more of the popular fado type and where current modern fado is rising up through known singers like Mariza. Coimbra is home to the older more traditional fado and even has academic roots. Students (mostly male) from the University of Coimbra, one of the oldest universities in Europe still in operation, dress in their academic outfits (dark robes and leggings and a dark “cape”) and sing in the evenings in the big city squares or streets or even the staircases to the ancient churches in the town. I love listening to Coimbra “tunas” or musical groups made up of the students. My favorite song from Coimbra style fado is “Amores de Estudante” which talks about how “the loves of students are like roses that bloom for one day and are carried away by the wind.” The chorus is sweet too, and basically has the message: “I want to stay always a student to eternalize love at first sight, and this way my dreams of love will always be prayed within me.” Here are the lyrics if you want to use a translator to understand them better: http://www.c2com.up.pt/blog/rasganco/arquivos/004089.html. They even call this song the “Academic Anthem” ! For more information on Coimbra fado, there is a wonderful group you can join on Facebook- Canção de Coimbra. Or you can listen to some fado and maybe see some performances on their website, http://www.fadoaocentro.com/pt/.

Like I said above, there are many famous fado singers in Portugal today and Lisbon is not the only city where fado can be heard. But, I want to focus on Lisbon fado for now. But before I do, here is a short history of the genre of music:

There is not much written on the history of fado. It always was passed through time in the culture of Portugal by word of mouth. Fado songs are traditionally sad and full of heartfelt feelings- especially saudade (a Portuguese word that loosely translates to a feeling of longing for a person, place or time) with subjects usually on love, lost love, the sea, poverty and elements of Portuguese life and culture. Fado was sung and is still sung everywhere… cafes, taverns, outdoors, concert halls, gardens, churches and much more. Typical fado singers wear all dark clothes- dark dresses and stockings with a shawl over their shoulders- and are usually accompanied by a Portuguese guitar (the bottom of it is not long like a regular guitar and is instead circular-pictures below). My personal favorite fado singer is Amalia Rodrigues- the “Queen of Fado” who was popular from basically the 40s to the 70s. She sang both Lisbon and Coimbra style fado, and her ethereal voice tugged on the heartstrings of anyone that had the chance to listen to her. Here is one of her famous songs, check out some of her other songs on YouTube! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uFgctURyGp4

Lisbon fado is quite different from Coimbra fado, for regional differences mostly. It is more “modern” I guess you could say. A friend of mine took me to A Tasca do Chico in Bairro Alto for a fado performance during the course of my program.

On the left photo, you can see the traditional, round fado guitar. There is a picture of Amalia on the wall behind the right guitar. In the center photo, someone painted a photo of Mariza- another famous fado singer. A Tasca do Chico is known for helping fado singers get ahead in their careers, and she sang there a few times in the past and still visits. The right picture is what the inside of the place looked like. It was absolutely packed but I loved the soccer banners hanging from the ceiling.

Here is a great article on fado: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/elysabeth-alfano/fado-music_b_1588410.html?utm_hp_ref=fb&src=sp&comm_ref=false Check it out! 😀

The next event I attended was the Marchas Populares along the Avenida Liberdade. The Marchas Populares are like the Mardi Gras of Portugal. From the statue of Marques de Pombal all the way to the Castelo de São Jorge (the neighborhood of Alfama), many Portuguese neighborhoods participate in a parade and compete to have the best costumes, props, etc.

I got some of the performers to look my way for a picture, but I was bit far away. Sorry for the blur! While many towns in Portugal have their own festas, these are the biggest in the country. There is massive celebration on the streets until the following morning. Most people go up to Alfama where the parade ends. The roads there are already packed and tiny with barely enough space for cars, so imagine them with 5 or 6 times the people, if not more!

Here is another picture I snapped. 

1 post and 1 week left til I leave. 😦

Beijos e abraços, meus amigos. kissy

Field trips! + Farewell… ツ SUPER LONG POST!!!

So, I can’t believe almost a month has passed since my last post! Time really flies- especially with all the non-stop fun that summer has to offer! Sadly, my program in Lisbon has already come to an end, but there were so many exciting parts to the experience that I will continue to post about my study abroad trip- especially since I am still in Portugal until the end of the summer. ☺

This blog is the one I’ve looked forward to the most. Growing up, the absolute best part about school (besides nap time) was when the whole class would go out for field trips. For the price of the study abroad program I am currently in, I feel like it included so many adventures and outings. We went on a bus tour of the city of Lisbon, visited the Palácio de Belém (which is basically the Portuguese White House), ate some of the best pastries in Portugal at Pastéis de Belém, explored the historic University of Coimbra, marveled at an open space of Roman ruins in Conimbriga, and stayed overnight in Evora- a charming, quiet town full of history.

Trip #1: Lisbon Bus Tour ~ Date: June 11th, 2012

The bus tour was part of the study abroad program. While we went on to do bigger and more exciting field trips, this was such a nice introduction to the city. We passed by the Belem Tower (the “Eiffel Tower of Lisbon”), the Jerónimos Monastery (pictured above: top left) where Vasco de Gama is buried, several “miradouros” or hilltop spots where you can look out to the city, old churches, gorgeous purple trees, the statue of Marquês de Pombal and many other spots! It was a lovely afternoon, and we spent a few hours on the bus before our first welcome dinner.

P.S. I chose the two monuments in the pictures because they were both part of my list of favorite Lisbon monuments. The Jerónimos Monastery was not only the birthplace of the pastéis de nata, but I also liked its decorative theme. Since it was built in the time of exploration and ocean navigation, it has a lot of hidden nautically themed decorations such as ropes and shells and anchors along its walls. On the balcony of the building in the bottom right picture, town hall, the First Republic was declared in 1910. While the First Republic was not well organized and would eventually give way to an even more harmful dictatorship period than the original monarchy with Salazar’s “Second Republic” or Estado Novo, Portugal had already taken a leap into the future democracy that it would grow to be. In fact, when the dictator was overthrown officially on May 1st, 1974, Portugal only took one year to assemble parties and have the first free elections for everyone in April of 1975. This is truly a marvelous country.

Trip #2: Palácio de Belém & Pastéis de Belém ~ Date: June 18th, 2012

This field trip started out with us going to eat some delicious pastéis de nata at the place where they originated, the Fábrica dos Pastéis de Belém in Lisbon. Every year they have taste contests to see who makes the best ones in the area, and the ones we had were superb! They are usually eaten warm with powdered sugar and/or cinnamon on top. The pastries are said to have originated in the Jerónimos Monastery… the story starts off with the fact that during Portuguese medieval history the convents and monasteries produced large quantities of eggs- especially since the egg whites were in demand for starching clothes. As a result, many pastries were invented in the convents and monasteries from the leftover egg yolks- such as the pastry above.

From the cafe that serves the pastries, we walked to the Palace of Belém- the Portuguese White House.

 The Belém National Palace was home to many Portuguese monarchs and later home to the Presidents of the Portuguese Republic after the installation of the First Republic. The outside has a stunning garden on a veranda that overlooks the palace and allows you to see for miles until the river.

I love Portuguese architecture for one main reason: AZULEJO! Azulejo is a form of tile work found in both Portugal and Spain. It has Arabic roots and the tiles can be found anywhere- from metro stations to churches to ceilings and floors! Here a great page if you would like to see some azulejo or learn more ☞ http://mnazulejo.imc-ip.pt/en-GB/Collections/Collection/ContentList.aspx. Also, if you really love how azulejo looks, there is a great Facebook page where you can get some exquisite, handmade/hand painted pieces of jewelry with azulejo designs! That page can be found here ☞ https://www.facebook.com/pages/%C3%81trio/130388867024937.

The palace has 12 panels of azulejo around the main building and another 14 on the veranda depicting figures of mythology. *In fact, if you read on to the section of our Evora trip or Coimbra trip- you’ll see how big of an influence mythology had on Portuguese culture. The ceilings of the historic library of Coimbra University have Greek Gods and mythology figures on the ceiling, even though Portugal is so predominantly Catholic. The classroom we had a lecture in at the University of Evora happened to be the “Greek Philopsophy” themed room, so there were azulejo tiles with famous philosophers all over the wall.* Here are some pictures from the outside of the building and veranda area:

If you look at the bottom left picture, that is where the last princess to live in the palace used to keep her exotic pets. She loved having animals like lions and giraffes and elephants. The bottom right picture shows the garden in the background where she used to let her wild animals roam around. That garden is now full of roses of many colors- reds, yellows and pinks.

The inside of the palace is spectacular, but we were not allowed to take photos. I stood on the same ground that Obama once walked on for a state event! The rooms all have themes- there was a “blue room” with a nautical feel to it. Large woven tapestries on the walls that had been created in the Alentejo (a region of Portugal) depict Portuguese sailors conquering parts of the world such as Africa and Brazil. Pride is still very much abundant among Portuguese people from their period as a grand maritime power.

Our time at the National Palace ended at the palace’s museum. Inside, we learned the history of the presidents and people to live in the palace. My favorite part was learning about the medals and other decorations that the presidents wear for formal events. Pictures below 🙂

Trip #3: University of Coimbra & Conimbriga- Roman Ruins ~ Date: June 25th, 2012

The trip to the University of Coimbra was hands down my most favorite part of the UMass in Lisbon summer program. It is the 9th oldest university in the world, and we had the opportunity of attending an intriguing lecture on Portugal’s foreign policy at the College of Economics led by visiting professor Teresa Cravo. I personally have wanted to attend this university since I was a preteen, so it was great to go back and visit.

As I may have mentioned before, I grew up in Portugal as a baby, and returned at ages 8, 12 and 17. Both times, my parents took me on visits to the university and I fell in love with it immediately. When I was 12, one of the guards from the library even let me hold one of the books inside from the 1600s! It is such a historically rich university, and undergrad life here is so different from that of the U.S. in all the universities. In my other posts I already talked about the the first difference- the use of the school uniforms and the capes. Aside from that, students have so many traditions with their universities. For instance, they wear different colored ribbons on their wrists for the entire length of their program terms, moderate hazing is part of their freshman year (for instance- the student professors or seniors will have a week of events where they yell orders at the students, have them perform crazy stunts and tease them to no ends), and more.

At the University of Coimbra, one of the traditions is to kick a fox azulejo tile that is in the hallway leading to the main classrooms 3 times before exams for good luck. If you fail an exam, though, you are entitled to a “fox trophy” or a scratch on the tile.

Another tradition that I have touched upon before, the student uniforms/capes, was better explained to me by a student doing a demonstration in front of the university’s library.

In the picture below are 3 panels. The first shows how the uniform is meant to be worn. The uniforms don’t have to be worn all year, but are a tradition at certain times of the year- like the entire month of May. At the University of Coimbra you must put on your cape correctly when you walk under the front gate. However, once you are inside you can drape it over your arm as seen in the 3rd picture. She explained that the reason why the uniforms are all black minus the white shirt is because the students wouldn’t go home for long periods of time (since travel was more difficult in those days) and the white shirt was all they would have to wash or keep clean.

The center picture is the most interesting, because it shows how students used their uniforms as a form of expression and continue to do so today. Students cut slits on their left side of the cape f0r each member of their family and slits on the right for each close friend. The center cut is for relationships. Each time a student is in a relationship, he or she cuts a slit up the middle of the cape and sews it back once the relationship ends. In the “old days,” it was said that girls or boys would know how many relationships the guy or girl they liked had been in by counting the slits, but of course sometimes not all the cuts would be accounted for. 😉 The last part is the pins that you see on the 3rd picture. The pins can tell where you are from, what soccer teams you like, or what clubs you are in.

The final 2 traditions at the University of Coimbra have to do with the bell tower and the Ph.D. ceremonies.

For the bell tower, since it used to ring so early in the mornings (and still does), the students used to refer to it as “the bi**h” in Portuguese because once the bell rang they had to be on the university grounds before the guard shut the gates. Now, the students still call the tower this when they come in every morning. The picture on the right is the Ph.D. ceremonies hall. Every time a student tests for their Ph.D., they change the carpet colors and tapestry colors to match those of the student’s college. At the end of the test, if the student passes, they put the teacher cape and hat on the student and the student officially becomes a professor.

Later on in our trip, we visited the university’s library and chapel. *FUN FACT: Anyone who has attended, taught at, or worked for the university can get married in the chapel- and many people do! If you did not personally attend, teach at, or work at the university bur your future husband/wife did, you can get married there.* We were not allowed to take photos inside either one, which was upsetting 😦 – especially since there was a beautiful organ in the chapel from the year 1733 that still works and produces 240 sounds!

Here I am in front of the library, the same place that made me fall in love with the university years ago:

The inside of the library once allowed people to take photos, but then they noticed that the gold designs engraved on the sides of the bookshelves were tarnishing so all photos were banned. Yes! You read that right… there are numerous gold designs (with gold taken from Brazil when it was a colony) depicting scenes from when Portugal was active in Macau that are engraved on the sides of the wooden bookcases (made of special woods that were taken from Brazil).

Anyone is  allowed to take out books and read them in the library or at home! The books in there come from all sorts of time periods. The oldest book in there is from the 12th century! In fact, there is even one of the first editions of the Bible printed off the Gutenberg press in the 15th century.

Portugal is currently one of the most green countries in the EU, and that comes from a long history of being eco-friendly. For example, bats live in the library in order to eat the insects and keep the library free of pests (don’t worry- they are nowhere to be found during the day!). The walls were built to withstand heat and moisture, so no air conditioning is really needed inside the library- which is amazing considering we are talking about a library built in the 13th century!

The art in the library is so amazing. There are 3D murals on the ceilings to make the ceilings seem taller, and there are inspirational messages painted up there that emphasize the value of honesty, education, righteousness, and so forth. When we visited the basement, we saw the original rejected ceilings by the king since he always had the final say on what the designs in the library could look like.

We ended our visit to the university with a trip to the academic prison! In the basement of the library lies the academic prison. Students or professors were placed in the prison for many reasons- from damaging books to having revolutionary ideas. We saw two solitary cells where professors were kept in the dark for up to one month. Students could have up to 6 months in the larger, shared cell… but they still had to attend their classes! Sometimes, the guards and students would play cards or games and have bets, so students might have a night out if they won one of the bets.

At the end of the day, we visited Conimbriga- a site with Roman ruins. It was a relaxing end to the day, just walking about these old Roman ruins and trying to picture what life might have been like in the day. The only bad part was the extreme heat we all suffered on this field trip, from the hot, white, reflective university grounds to the hot, expansive Roman ruins. Nevertheless, I took some stunning pictures and it was very worthwhile! See below. *Shout out to Filomena, our program director, who is in one of the photos below!*

Trip #5: Evora Overnight Trip ~ Date: June 28th-29th, 2012

My last trip with the UMass group took place in Evora, a small and charming village that I enjoyed visiting. It is one of the prettiest areas for visitors to Portugal yet not a completely tourist infested town. We departed from Lisbon early on the 28th, and first stopped at the university in Evora. Pictures below…

After touring the historic parts of the university, we heard a lecture on the progress of the Portuguese region of Alentejo. Our professor informed us that we were in the philosophy themed room of the campus (check out the painted philosophy figures in the azulejo!) and he showed us the lecturing balcony that older professors used to use:

When we left the university, our UMass professor/ leader took us to dine on some savory birds… quails! We went to a cafe that specializes in preparing them a special way, and (although they were not my favorite dish that I’ve had in Portugal) they weren’t that bad!

Our hotel in Evora was so beautiful and quaint. The rooms were cozy and there were large clay pots, plants, mirrors, and paintings in every hall! The hotel had an airy and cheerful tearoom for breakfast with a gorgeous veranda that overlooked the town for miles! Fortunately, we spent more time in the city than in the hotel, but I was so pleased with our accommodations!

Evora had two incredibly gorgeous churches that we visited (center photo: Fun poses! Me “getting hit” by the light of God), along with the “Chapel of Bones” which we also visited. The Chapel of Bones (see both of the far left pictures), located right next to the Church of St. Francis, was created in the 16th century by a monk from the church and decorated with the bones of those who died near the church from illness or other reasons. It was meant to serve as a message that life is short and just a fleeting moment in eternity. The ceiling is covered with messages about death, and hanging from one wall are two desiccated corpses- one a child and another an adult, to show how death is non-discriminating and can occur to any person at any age.

At the end of our day, we attended the festas (parties/festivities) that were occurring in Evora celebration St. John. The program director of my university (ISEG) and some of the girls and I all sang karaoke! It was a blast 🙂

The following morning, we visited a vineyard and learned about wine making. But my most favorite part of the entire Evora trip is the stop we made to a village called Monsaraz before coming home.

Monsaraz is a hilltop town that is one of the oldest Portuguese settlements in southern Portugal. The town is completely whitewashed with pink and red flowers lining the walls and streets and trees. Because the village is so high up and mostly occupied by older couples who live there during certain times of the year, we had an amazing view of the rolling fields and rivers of southern Portugal. It was quiet and relaxing, and the shops were delightful. I stopped at this tiny hole-in-the-wall store that seemed so small from the outside but ended up going on forever once you walked in the door! The woman running the store had been there for ages, and it was one of the nicest places I visited in the village with some of the girls. There were aromatherapy candles and oils, scarves, hand painted ceramic figures and dish sets, perfumes, clothes, jewelry (handmade or machine produced), old fashioned toys for kids and other trinkets. We definitely spent quite some time in there (poor boys!)

Before leaving, we headed to the “castle” where there were once bullfights and royal events. We climbed these ridiculously uneven steps to the top of the “tower” (top right picture below) and I sat across the top of the staircase for a picture (center photo below). I even got a photo in the bullfighting ring with a scarf I had just bought 🙂 I adored Monsaraz!

 

To conclude, all of the program’s field trips were educational, enjoyable and memorable. I feel that for a one month program, it really packed in a lot of adventures! Most importantly, I had adventures with the most incredible group- I miss them dearly! Our last trip together occurred at our farewell dinner, which was about a week and a half ago. We took a ferry across the Rio Tejo and ate dinner at a restaurant right along on the water. The sky changed so many colors as the sun set and we ended up getting home around 1 AM. When we said goodbye to our ISEG professors and coordinators there was not a dry eye to be found.

I was incredibly blessed to have spent the time that I did in Lisbon. The program was challenging, yet rewarding… and I have so many adventures to share because of it. While my posts will continue with more adventures in Portugal and research that I have yet to share, this is my last post of the actual UMass program I enrolled in for the summer! For any of you looking for an amazing and short adventure in Portugal, you should check out the UMass Summer in Portugal website, which can be found here: http://www.portstudies.umassd.edu/lisbon/index.htm#

They have year long and semester long programs to check out too.

Also, I want to share 2 videos I found on visiting Portugal. Enjoy! Until the next post, BEIJOS! kissy

http://www.youtube.com/watch_popup?v=sBZkR9TFFqk 10 Reasons to Visit Portugal

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eUvalj-ia28&feature=share Anthony Bourdain in Lisbon

⊱✿ Location, expanded… ✿⊰ *Sorry for the few pics! Definitely a lengthy post*

When I first touched upon location on this blog, I wanted to introduce you all to my physical surroundings- the sights, the history I get to interact with on a daily basis, the colorful characters lining the streets, and all the other dimensions of the gorgeous city I currently reside in. But more important than the physical aspects of my city are the cultural elements and the social environment of Lisbon.

For starters, Europe is already a fascinating creature with the development of the EU. I already love studying the EU because it is truly a moving target. Things are rapidly changing and evolving, there is never a dull moment with all the decisions and proposals being put forth. The best part is, I’m smack dab in the middle of history being made! In 50 years or 100 from now, scholars and populations will look back on this time period and think about how exciting it must have been to be living in Europe during this time. Being here makes me want to move to Europe that much faster and start contributing to the evolution of the EU! Not to mention the fragile state of Europe at the moment. Birth rates are lowering all over Europe and immigration rates are dropping, so the problem of creating a new generation to help take care of the older populations (that now live longer due to technology) is an important issue. Another huge EU issue I am living through right now is the euro zone crisis. Because of the austerity measures being implemented, workers are striking all over the city. Recently, there was a garbage strike so the streets were quite smelly for a few days. Finally, there is a lot of strong sentiment from the people against certain European nations that are dominating over them in the European Union- such as Germany. In a way, it’s kind of awe inspiring to see how history still plays such a tremendous role in how populations think of current events. For many Portuguese citizens and other citizens of Western Europe, they still harbor skeptical feelings against Germany in that they feel that Germany is trying to control and take over Europe through their ever increasing role in the EU.These feelings are seen in so much of the culture, even the soccer! (See below)

If that were not already exciting, I am also in the middle of Portugal’s development and transition into the amazing, productive, thriving democracy it is destined to be. You see, Portugal was ruled by Salazar- a dictator- until about the early 70s. While he wasn’t that terrible as a leader (especially since he didn’t believe in extreme use of the military, was highly educated in economics and came from a simple, religious upbringing), he still oppressed the Portuguese people from sharing their thoughts and ideas and from getting an education. So when his regime ended in the mid 70s, new ideas and creativity went flying throughout the cities- bouncing off walls and turning into a social/cultural revolution! It is so intriguing to see how Portuguese people interact with their authority figures compared to how authority figures are seen in the United States. Since the people overthrew the Salazar regime, they don’t have that instilled fear of authority figures or civil servants. Plus, I think that they sometimes don’t realize the precious situation that they are presently in! Portugal only came out of its oppression less than 50 years ago, so it has so much potential to do wondrous deeds with all the increased education it has access to! In fact, I would go so far as to say that this is definitely a pivotal time for Portugal and I hope it invests its people and resources wisely.

To top it all off, I am in Europe during the Euro Cup 2012! The soccer spectator scene (cafes, bars, anywhere with a TV!) has been such a blast with all the games and fans everywhere. I have always enjoyed soccer, but here it is definitely the 2nd most popular religion if you count Catholicism/Christianity as the 1st. And considering (a) the hostility between Germany and Greece at the moment with Germany trying to remove Greece from the euro, and (b) the fact that they are playing a match on Friday, the June 22, I predict that a religious war is about to break out. There is a great article about it here ☞ http://economix.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/06/12/greece-v-germany/

Last but not least, I want to mention the exhilarating university environment here. All the universities and schools are so geared towards innovation, exchange of ideas and networking. Due to a change in the amount of time needed to complete the “Bachelor’s” (here it’s called the Licenciatura) and Master’s, students are graduating much younger or enrolling in graduate programs at a younger age. While that has its own problems since they then graduate younger and still can’t find jobs, it’s so nice to be around younger students that are about my year in school. For example, this past Saturday I attended the Switch conference at a university called ISCTE, and it was a great place to meet young professionals and interact with them.

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These are a couple of my friends at the conference. The conference had speakers from all over the world that were there to talk about subjects ranging from technological innovation to African art preservation. (Check out some info here: http://www.switchconf.com/) Overall, it was a great environment for students, and I was so thrilled and honored to have attended. Especially since they have a great M.B.A. program at that school that I want to enroll in someday!

On that note, I invite all my international and American friends to look at Portugal as a possible destination for graduate school programs. There are many universities here with programs in English that are very cost effective! There are M.B.A. programs, law degrees, Master’s and Doctoral degrees and other training programs. In fact, this website ☞http://www.studyinportugal.net/ simplifies the programs available and gives you an introduction to the university network.

University life, as I mentioned above, is so unique in Portugal. The students are all young and ambitious, and I am excited to see what they will do for the next generation of this country. One of my favorite things about the students here is what they dress during the year. They wear black capes (as capas negras) over dress shirts and pants whenever they attend academic festivities. The “academic costume” or “traje académico” serves as one of the most important symbols of the institution of the university network. Not all universities adopt this practice. As an example, one of my friends in the picture above (Miguel, far right) attends a university (ESCS) where the “uniform” is worn on Thursdays. It’s not mandatory or a rule, but it encourages school spirit and unites the students with a centuries old tradition. Another tradition for students is wearing a colored ribbon around the wrist, to symbolize your commitment to your university/college until the end of your degree program. He wears a green one for his college, along with another friend in the picture above who attends the same university.

Today, I happened to discover a few groups of them in Lisbon sitting along the plaza streets and singing for money. (I ended up doling out 7 euros in donations to them, well spent in my opinion.) One of the boys in my study abroad program, Chris, loves to play guitar and so he spent some time playing with them and I ended up singing “Ai Se Eu Te Pego” for them before I left.

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Great day, great city and AMAZING environment. Goodness gracious, I am loving every moment here.

Beijo, meus amigos. ✌ kissy Posts about the fun places I’ve visited to come. Promise 🙂