Frontline Position for Local Produce

Friday, May 11, 2018, 13:52

Granite carving of a shoeshine boy and his client

You won't see too many flesh and blood shoeshine boys in Ponte de Lima, not even ones as well coifed as this one. I'm delighted to say that our little town is thriving and provides plenty of good work without young men having to clean someone else's shoes.

We also have an entrepreneurial mayor who has encouraged people into the town by sponsoring every sort of festival you can think of, from the Festa de Sarrabulho, a local dish made from pork offcuts and rice stewed in pigs' blood and the Festa do Vinho Verde, a green wine festival, through exhibitions of science and technology for students to wedding dresses and accoutrements. Some festivals are more appetising to an outsider's taste than others: what about a festival of lampreys? I find the fish so ugly that it puts me off but others claim it is really tasty. Whatever your particular interest, though, there will be a festival for you in Ponte de Lima, so all summer long the town bustles with locals and visitors.

To find out where this charming, old fashioned scene of a city gent and shoe shine boy fits into the picture, click here.

The businessman reading his local newspaper, which bears the legend, 'Ponte de Lima Terra de Tradições ' – Ponte de Lima, Land of Traditions – and the young lad polishing his shoes are cut from local granite mined just up the road from the town. They can be found gracing one of the many new shops and eateries that have sprung up latterly along the riverside in Ponte de Lima. It's called the Casa da Terra and it functions in many different ways. Let's have a look at it.

The old women's gaol now a cafe and eatery

Under the name, if you look carefully, you can just make out the words 'Cadeia das Mulheres' or Women's Prison. It's hard to imagine what crimes women can have perpetrated in the olden days, when this town was a sleepy backwater, that merited such a thick-walled gaol. I hope it was empty most of the time.

However, now that communications have improved and Ponte de Lima is on the tourist map, neither the town nor the old gaol are empty these days. People flock here to imbibe the charm, history and local customs of an area which represents the quintessence of old Portugal. Lisbon and Porto maybe at the cutting edge of progress but Ponte de Lima guards Portugal's heritage. Everything that has made and still makes Portugal a distinct, special part of Europe is celebrated here. The other name painted on the wall is 'Loja Rural' or rural shop and I can't help feeling it's a much better use for this prominently placed building than locking up women. People who have come to soak up the atmosphere stop at the shop for coffee and snacks or to buy local produce brought in from the surrounding area.

Let's see what else you can find. As well as the shoe shine boy, there is a rural scene with a woman and her daughter going to till their fields and on the reverse a father and son off to the river.

Stone carvings of rural activities: going to till the fields and fishing

Above the woman with a mattock over her shoulder the words "Quem não semeia não colhe," are a warning that would-be slackers who fail to sow will also find that they are unable to reap; conversely, above the father, the message to his son is one of encouragement: "Come and learn to fish!" As so often in this world, it seems to me that the women get the tough end of the bargain. Labouring with a mattock is far less fun than sitting by the riverside with a fishing rod!

Inside, if you wish you can buy a similar kind of statue. If your garden is lacking in interest, why not add a rural workman with his tools?

A labourer with his tools is going out to work

Before you get too enthusiastic, though, just a warning: this will set you back €600 as well as being too big and heavy for hand luggage on a plane.

After sitting outside with a coffee and a snack you can pop inside to buy local green wine and processed meats. Portugal, like the Mediterranean countries to the east has a long tradition of smoked meats and sausages. My favourite is 'presunto', the Portuguese cousin of Parma ham from Italy and every bit as tasty.

A counter of local smoked meats and sausages

If naïve crafts are more to your taste, there are pottery items, and dolls in traditional dress. 

Dolls in traditional dress and pottery and

If you go upstairs, you will find a surprise. Where I had imagined there would be another collection of tables and chairs I found a mini lecture theatre where you can sit on comfy cushions with glasses of wine and titbits on small tables while listening to a recital or participating in Port wine tasting.

Upstairs Lecture and activity room

If you go up there, don't miss the 'chandelier' made of sausages. You'll also find sausage horseshoes hanging from the ceiling in the Ladies loo - and probably the Gents too, though I haven't been in to see. Clearly others have been as taken aback as I was to see food in the loo since by the door there is a notice telling you not to be concerned: these are not real sausages, they are just good imitations made from paper and glue.

A chandelier made from imitation ssusages

In a town where once there wasn't a lot to do and only a couple of restaurants; in a place where I felt that I stood out because I am a foreigner, there is now always something to do and a host of places to eat. In fact, I blend in perfectly. You would too, so why not join in. Come and have a toasted sandwich or a piece of lemon and carrot cake in the Casa da Terra. You'll enjoy it.

Do you have stories of interesting cafes or shops, especially typically Portuguese ones? If so, do write in and tell us. (If you are Portuguese, please feel free to write in your own language. You don't have to write in English. Lembre-se: o que é importante não é a língua mas a contribuição.)

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