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6 Books Extolling the Beauty of Portugal

Night  Train to Lisbon  –  Pascal Mercier  

Raimund Gregorius is a Latin teacher at a Swiss college who one day—after a chance encounter with a mysterious Portuguese woman—abandons his old life to start a new one. He takes the night train to Lisbon and carries with him a book by Amadeu de Prado, a (fictional) Portuguese doctor and essayist whose writings explore the ideas of loneliness, mortality, death, friendship, love, and loyalty. Gregorius becomes obsessed by what he reads and restlessly struggles to comprehend the life of the author. His investigations lead him all over the city of Lisbon, as he speaks to those who were entangled in Prado’s life. Gradually, the picture of an extraordinary man emerges—a doctor and poet who rebelled against Salazar’s dictatorship. I loved the depth of the  descriptions of Lisbon, the intrigue, the exploration of oneself.  We are all quite complex beings – many faceted and fickle.  This book explores those feelings, the need to understand not only our partner and/or children but ourselves, our souls and the need to accept who we are.  Fascinating and really quite complex but, conversely, simple because it’s possibly the meaning of life or the reason for living for the vast majority of us. 

The Return  –  Dulce Maria Cardoso

The book begins in 1975. The Angolan War of Independence has been raging for at least a decade but, with the collapse of the Salazar dictatorship, defeat for the Portuguese is now in sight. Thousands of settlers are fleeing back to Portugal to escape the brutality of the Angolan rebels. Rui is fifteen years old. He has lived in Luanda, Angola, all his life and has never even visited Portugal, his homeland. But, now his family are finally accepting that they too must return, and Rui is filled with a mixture of excitement and dread at the prospect. But just as they are leaving for the airport, his father is taken away by the rebels, and the family must leave without him.  Not knowing if the father is alive or dead, or if they will ever find out what has become of him, Rui, his mother and sister try to rebuild their lives in their new home. This turns out to be a five star hotel in a quiet, seaside suburb of Lisbon, where returnee families are crammed into luxurious rooms by the dozen.  These palatial surroundings are a cruel contrast with the reality of returnee life. The hotel becomes a curious form of purgatory as the families wait to discover what will become of them, ever conscious of the fact that they are hardly welcome back in their homeland. Rui has his own personal struggle with his new life: growing up, dropping out of school, facing discrimination, and the ever-present worry over his mother’s deteriorating health and his father’s fate.  I’ll have to stop there as don’t want to give the story away but I was intrigued by this book.  It’s an incredible history of a society changing rapidly on so many levels.  The political climate, the personal tragedy of the family and Rui’s coming of age all rolling about together. Fabulous!

Baltasar and Blimunda  –  José Saramago

Saramago was one of the most important international writers of the last hundred years. Born in Portugal in 1922, he was in his sixties when he came to prominence as a writer with the publication of Baltasar and Blimunda. A huge body of work followed, translated into more than 40 languages, and in 1998 he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. Saramago died in June 2010.A “brilliant…enchanting novel” (New York Times Book Review) of romance, deceit, religion, and magic set in eighteenth-century Portugal at the height of the Inquisition.  When King and Church exercise absolute power what happens to the dreams of ordinary people? In early eighteenth century Lisbon, Baltasar, a soldier who has lost a hand in battle, falls in love with Blimunda, a young girl with strange visionary powers. From the day that he follows her home,  the two are bound body and soul by a love of unassailable strength.  Bliminda’s mother is tried as a witch and burned at the stake .  It’s all terrible and the ignorance of the people, the corruption and the mis-use of power to exhort conrol is frightening.  To compound matters, a priest, with terrifying and heretical views, befriends the couple and shares with them his fantasy:  to invent a flying machine. As the inquisition rages and royalty and religion clash, the three journey through life exploring fantastical events which stretch the imagination but in a delightful way which is a little odd against the backdrop of burning people alive but this guy didnt win the Nobel Prize for Literature for nothing! It’s not the easiest if reads but certainly worth investing the time and effort.

The Blandys of Madeira: 1811-2011  –  Marcus Binney

In celebration of their bicentenary, the Blandy family commissioned English author Marcus Binney to bring together some of the history behind the 200 years of the Blandys.This beautifully illustrated book is a personal family perspective of society over the last 200 years encompassing the beginning and evolution of the business, the family intrigues and responsibilities as well as the huge challenges and opportunities that were encountered and surpassed over a period of 200 years.  This is the story of a merchant dynasty founded two centuries ago on the Atlantic island of Madeira by a young Englishman in search of better living. Today the Blandys are best known as the leading shippers of Madeira wine but, from the foundation of the firm in 1811, they built up an extensive trading business, sending shipments of wine and goods across the oceans, to North America and Carribean, to India and the Baltic. The family made remarkable sums from coaling and victualling passing ships, supplying both Yankees and Confederates during the American Civil War. While numerous English wine houses were ruined by the devastating wine plagues of the 1850s and 1870s the Blandys emerged with the world’s finest stock of vintage Madeiras, a tradition magnificently maintained at their Wine Lodge in Funchal. With their growing fortune the Blandys built handsome town and country houses, notably the estate at Palheiro, where they have laid out one of the island’s most beautiful gardens, 1500 feet above sea level. Blandy’s became agents for many of the great liner companies sailing to the Cape and South America and for over 50 years were the owners of Reid’s, one of the world’s most legendary hotels. Now the Blandy hotel business is once again rapidly expanding, with new hotels in mainland Portugal and Brazil. As well as being a fascinating family history, the book tells the story of Madeira from a personal perspective – an incredible social commentary.  The illustrations are incredible and despite visited many times I’m chomping at the bit to return and visit places mentioned in the book I’ve missed and no absolutely no clue existed. 

The Taste of Portugal: A Voyage of Gastronomic Discovery Combined with Recipes, History and Folklore  –  Edite Vieira 

I ummed and aarred over which cookbook to choose and sought the advice of a Portugeuse cafe owner friend who picked this book citing it as her bible.  An absolutely marvellous collection of traditional recipes which are surprisingly uncomplicated and beautifully photographed.  For added interest, the author has included the history and tradition of each recipe.  This is not haute cuisine in any way, shape or form but real Portugeuse food cooked by generations of housewives living on a budget and feeding huge families. It feels like the Delia Smith of Portugal and is by far the most comprehensive Portugeuese cookbook I’ve encountered.

Wild Guide Portugal: Hidden Places, Great Adventures and the Good Life – Wild Guides

A new compendium of adventures from the best-selling and award-winning Wild Guide series.  Everything a tourist could possibly wish for from summer walking in windflower-strewn ancient cork forests, plunging into clear turquoise rivers, playing on hidden beaches and tasting wine to boutique vineyards accompanied by the freshest seafood. A comprehensive guide to the hidden treasures of Portugal’s better known tourist areas, as well as incredible lesser known coastal and mountain regions. Guides you to over 700 secret places: wild swims, ancient forests, lost ruins, secret coves, castles, village eateries, wilder campsites and unique places to stay.  Features stunning photography and rather usefully, co-ordinates, detailed direction and maps.We seem to have an endless stream of visitors who require entertaining and we’ve become slightly fed-up with the usual round of tourist attractions so I presented the last lot with this book and told them to have a lovely time! It worked and we only saw them for dinner which was quite wonderful!

Text credit: Dawn Annandale

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A little bit about me if you are even remotely interested! Live here in the Algarve with him indoors and all these cats that seem to know there is a crazy cat lady with food in residence. Six horrible kids aged 24 to 34, five of whom we have managed to leave in different countries which is a result. Always wanted to be a journalist and writer so rather chuffed to have made it. Had a Sunday Times Bestseller, worked for various magazines, newspapers and radio shows and, very excited about my new novel published in April 2021. If you have any ideas for features or fancy a chat about anything generally, let me know.

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