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June 1, 2014

Santos Populares – Popular Saints

June in Lisbon means grilled sardines and Sto Antonio and the feast days of the santos populares (“popular saints” or “people’s saints”)…

The feast days of the most popular saints in Portugal — St Anthony, St Pedro and St John– are all in June, and every year this is an excuse for Lisbon (and much of Portugal) to turn the month into one big party.

Sto Antonio (St Anthony) is said to have been born in 1195, in Lisbon, and his saint’s day (June 13) is  a municipal holiday. He is held to be the patron saint of matchmaking and on the June 12th each year the St Anthony weddings are held. Dozens of couples vie for the honor of participating in the group weddings (since 1997, those selected can opt for either a religious or purely civil ceremony). Around 15 couples are chosen to be the Noivos de Santo Antonio, and the festivities are paid for by the city.

(The grey-haired gentleman who appears repeatedly in the video–kissing people, handing out statues and making a speach at the end–was the mayor of Lisbon at the time the video was made.)

St Anthony’s Day is also the height of the arraiais, or street parties, that the festas populares are best known for, and which pepper the city throughout the month of June.
Look for streamers strung over the roads, music in the streets – often live – and fresh sardines grilled over charcoal, served on a slice of hearty bread. The most famous festivities are in the Alfama, but almost every neighbourhood has their own arraial for the Popular Saints.

The biggest party, though, is on the Avenida da Liberdade, where people gather to watch the marchas populares, in which the bairros (neighbourhoods) compete with coreographed march/dances down the Avenida. This year the marches will be held on June 12th, and if you happen to be in town that evening, you should stop by, since it really is quite a spectacle. The whole event will be televised, as well, but it loses much of its flavor that way.

The weeks of the Popular Saints are an excelent excuse to visit Lisbon, since it’s the time of year when the Portuguese–normally a private and somewhat reserved people–are the most open and friendly. I’ve even seen Portuguese families invite total strangers and tourists to share their dinner of grilled sardines.

January 16, 2014

Portuguese Water Dog

Kappa, our Portuguese Water Dog
“The dog had long black hair, clipped to the first rib, and with a tuft
at the tip of the tail.”

– a Monk, describing a dog rescuing a child from the sea, 1297 A.D.

To All Who’ve Asked (or wondered):
Yes, indeed. Kappa, above, is related to Bo Obama. Maternally via Heitor do Vale Negro; Paternally via Anacoves la Primera Samba and White Cap Graça Bravata.
Lucky Obamas!


Although my husband insists that no self-respecting male would be seen with a dog without pants (photo, above), I see no reason to mess with more than 700 years of tradition (quote, above).

And so here is our Portuguese Water Dog — in honour of her heritage — proudly sporting fashionable black leggings.

Non-shedding, non-allergenic, super-inteligente, natural clowns, loyal and loving, this breed was virtually extinct in the 1930s. At that time, a man named Vasco Bensaúde located a few excellent examples and the first recovery litter was born on May 1, 1937, securing a future for one of the world’s oldest known breeds.

Although the first written documentation is the Monk’s quote from 1297 at the top of this page, during the Roman occupation of Portugal the dog’s particular grooming already had a name: the “Lion Cut”, indicating the full mane at the front and the clipping of the hindquarters. The engraving, above, shows a Portuguese Water Dog swimming to meet King Miguel as he landed in Belém in 1828. In 1981, Guiness Book of Records (dubiously) noted the Portuguese Water Dog as the “rarest breed in the world.”

The Portuguese Water Dog (PWD) is a working dog, intimately connected to its owner, and used by fishermen along Portugal’s extensive coastline to assist with fishing, barking to alert to schools of fish in the water and carrying messages ship-to-ship and ship-to-shore.

The PWD’s esteem amongst the coastal population, especially just south of Lisbon and in the Algarve, is a testament not only to the breed’s working tradition but also of the fishermen’s attitude towards these dogs: they were never sold, but always only given as a gift, because they were believed to be “priceless.”

As recently as the early 1900s, the Portuguese Water Dog was still an indispensable part of the fishing boat ensemble, not just on the wharves, but also on the boats. With its well-known bravery and loyalty, it was ready and attentive to the fisherman’s movements, recovering fish that wriggled off of hooks and objects that fell from the boats, as well as herding alongside the nets — under the water — in order to keep fish from escaping. “But the dog did not always go after a fish. Sometimes the dog, seeing a fish fall from a line, did not jump into the water to catch it, as it normally would. Instead it would run into the depths of the boat, hiding inside, howling. In these cases, the fishermen never insisted that the dog follow the original command because, according to them, this attitude was a signal that sharks were in the vicinity…” (1)

Unapologetically playful and energetic, the Portuguese Water Dog’s loving nature is evidenced in their work with hospitals, hospices and autistic children worldwide.

A fantastic companion, this breed is not for everyone. Most importantly, Portuguese Water Dogs are not happy alone. They must not be left in an empty house, day after day, for this is a dog determined to love and be loved.

(1) Text and 1828 engraving used by permission from Thank you, Isabel, for your assistance and for our wonderful dog.
June 7, 2013

Quality Lisbon Busking, II: Lisbon celebrates its Arabic roots

Lisbon was an Arab city before Portugal even existed. The Moors held Al-Isbunah, as they called it, from 711 until D. Afonso Henriques and the crusaders drove them out in late 1147.

And even then their influence remained. From the twisting streets of the Alfama (Arabic: al-hama, for fountain or bath), to the still-standing remains of the old Cerca Moura (Moorish wall), to the lofty minaret-like spires of the Manueline architecture at the Rossio train staion and the Belem tower, Lisbon often tips her hat to her Moorish ancestors. The collection of Islamic art at the Gulbenkian Museum highlights these Arabic influences as well.

Belly Dancing Buskers remind us of Lisbon's Arabic past

Belly Dancing Buskers remind us of Lisbon’s Arabic past

Legend has it that, long ago, poor unmarried women would dance for money in the streets (and then sew the coins onto their dance scarves for safekeeping), until they had earned enough for a dowery. But once they were married, they could only dance for their husbands.

So it seemed fitting when I saw these dancers… Surely some other woman danced these same dances on a Lisbon street, almost 1000 years ago?

Belly dancer – Lisbon’s Arabic roots

Sword dancer – Lisbon’s Arabic roots

February 15, 2013

Quality Lisbon Busking

For every dozen street acts that are annoying or just odd, you get busker that has quality: original, beautiful, fun… or otherwise brightens your day.

Floating man busker

Floating man busker

I walked past this guy and thought “Meh. Another statue-man painted gold…” Then I did a double-take when I realized his feet weren’t touching the ground!

* What was the best busking moment you ever saw in Lisbon?

June 21, 2008

Annual Street Party!

Here’s a 2 minute video clip of the annual “Midnight Sardine and Fado Festival” on our tiny little street.

Friends, Fado & Sardines:  the essence of Lisboa

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