Maize was first encountered by Europeans in Central America. There are some theories of how the Indians domesticated this cereal but it seems its origin are still involved in mystery. Europeans brought maize back to Europe and since then it has been consumed almost everywhere. In Guatemala, one of the main staple foods are tortillas, a flat bread made of maize. In the countryside, the tortillas are still prepared manually through a process called nixtamalisation. This process includes soaking and cooking the maize grains in limewater, and after, hulling, washing, and grinding the grains into the dough, that will be shaped into flat circles. These become tortillas after being cooked in the "comal". The process of nixtamalisation eliminates the toxins while improving the flavour and nutritional value of the grains. These tortillas were white but they can be different colours depending on the colours of the maize grains they are made of. Tortillas can be eaten for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Last April I was so lucky to be in Paris at the same time the exhibition about the work of the Portuguese painter Amadeo Souza Cardoso was being displayed at the Grand Palais. Amadeo's work is so great, across so many currents and so vivid that it was an immense pleasure to walk the galleries and absorb every detail of his paintings. Had he not died in 1918 at the age of 30 and he would have been remembered as Picasso, Dali or Modigliani (whom he befriended). The paintings have to be appreciated of course but as they can all be found in the internet I rather leave here a photo of him, confident, futuristic, someone who shocked the narrow minded Portuguese society of the time. When I came across this photo and sentence: "Je ne fais partie d'aucune ecole" meaning "I am not part of any current", I straight away empathised with it and smiled inside.
When I was a teenager I had this idea that I wanted to live and work in Africa. I have not managed so far but the idea is still in my head. Africa, is of course, a huge, hugely diverse, continent. In Ethiopia I loved the people, the spicy food, the landscape and the heritage. On the other hand, I have talked to young people that, even though had a smile in their faces, were disillusioned by what the future could bring. When I was little I remember once going to the church in the evening with my grandma to watch a slide show facilitated by missionary nuns about the hunger crisis in Ethiopia. After travelling around and seeing so much farming land I found difficult to believe I was in the same country where this happened. I noticed signs of prosperity and development but another food crisis is an hovering threat. Frail political stability, increased droughts, population pressure - the stressors are adding up...
Last April I met Mr Goncalo and his wife who guided me to Quinta d'Areia, nearby Praia Azul in the municipality of Torres Vedras, Portugal. He is a descendant of the nobles who owned this house and the land around it more than fifty years ago. The legend says that once upon a time, a mermaid and her daughter were hungry and went to pick some green peas in the farms belonging to the owner of Quinta d'Areia. The men who were working in the fields spot them and caught the daughter mermaid killing her even after her mother's plea. Because of this, the older mermaid threw a spell of bad luck to the owner and his estate. Since then, it has been sold several times and the big house is been in ruins until nowadays. When I was a kid, I remember listening my great grandmother telling me she used to listen to the mermaids singing near Quinta d'Areia. And when I was in Orkney last year, I bought a book about the Tales of Orkney and in there I found similar legends to this one. Everything seems to come together at some point of our lives!
If I remember well, the first time I came across the concept of the tragedy of the commons was during my Game Theory classes when undertaking my MSc in Economics. The tragedy of the commons describes the situation where individuals act according to their self interest and deplete the resources through their collective action. In this case, the "common resource" were mussels and the individuals were people who, compelled by the tradition of going "fishing" on Good Friday, came from everywhere to Praia Azul and caught as many kg of mussels as they could only in a few hours. As the weather was reasonably good, this meant hundreds of people on the rocks and hundreds of kg of mussels caught. Although the amount and size allowed per person have been finally regulated in 2014 (3kg per person per day and >5cm), with absolutely no control from the authorities, the tragedy happened. The excessive capture of mussels in a single day damages its population and also the food web, endangering other sea species that are dependent on this resource to survive.
Curiously, New College is one of Oxford's oldest colleges. It was founded by William of Wykeham in 1379 for the education of priests. A visit to the chapel and cloister at night was a supernatural experience. According to a colleague, there was some invisible people walking up and down the corridors. Spooky!
Ben Vrackie is a Corbett located next to Pitlochry in the Cairngorms. The name comes from Gaelic Breac which means speckled (covered or marked with a large number of small spots or patches of colour). The walk started from Moulin and passed by a frozen lake named Loch a' Choire. The clouds did not allow to see much further than this, but according to Adam Watson (The Cairngorms), Ben Vrackie "commands a magnificent view up Tummel and across to Moor of Rannoch". At the top of the mountain there was an old man who asked us to take a photo of him in his new boots which had been a present from someone. This episode is as a good reminder that hill walking is a an activity that keeps fit the young and the old.
Sometimes when writing papers I need more than classic music to inspire me. Recently while browsing for Vasco Palmeirim satiric songs to listen to, I found the movement "Umbada Never Forget" which tried to resurrect a pearl of the 80's Portuguese music Umbada. I decided to make my own piano version, and thus also pay my homage to Jorge Fernando, a Portuguese Fado composer and singer I like a lot. Of course, I still need to tune it properly, but here it is my first attempt!
The Scottish people have to forgive me but the truth is that, I think there is a bit of Scotland in England. From thinking that England was a boring place for mountain walking, I am now almost convinced that it can have also spectacular views and quiet places (without or with few people around) to walk. This is the Newlands valley in the Lake District and if before what I encountered in this region of England was loads of tourists surrounded by beautiful landscapes, this time what I found, in a 7 hour walk, was great mountains, colours and nice people that occasionally stopped me for a little chat. Ok, I am definitely ready to explore more of the natural landscapes England has to offer!
In the winter, when the weather is not good for the mountains we have the sea. This is what it means to leave in Scotland. There is always a choice. New Aberlour in the north coast is an example of a great place for a coastal walk with its secluded beaches, rock pools and caves. Sometimes dolphins swim in the horizon and even whales. Yes, I have seen already a whale jumping in the water just in front of me. And that is just an amazing sight. If the whales decide to be shy, beach combing is another possible activity.
This is Aberdeen FC
playing Celtic Glasgow at
Pittodrie Stadium in January. And this was a game who got us, a bunch of
foreigners, screaming, singing and supporting Aberdeen FC. The energy felt in a
football field is just amazing and able of shadowing any worries. Aberdeen
FC was never again a team at the international level since Sir Alex
Ferguson left to Manchester United in 1986. But this game was special, as
Aberdeen FC was second in the Scottish league after Celtic.
As the score was 2-0 until minute 91' we all sang: to Celtic's manager "We're
going to be sacked in the morning".
This sculpture placed at the James D. Wolfensohn Atrium is a "call for attention" about a disease that affects several people in Africa. It is called river blindness and it is caused by the bites of infected black flies that breed in fast-flowing rivers. According to the World Health Organization, 99% of the infected people live in 31 African countries. The World Bank, in partnership with WHO, African governments and pharmaceutical firms is contributing to protect millions of people from river blindness.
The World Bank is a cooperative founded in 1944 with 188 member countries. The WB claims poverty reduction as the overarching goal of their work.
If the previous big snowstorm in Washington DC was called Snowmaggedon this one received the name of Snowzilla. The consequences of such storms were big, so the economists said: thousands of flights cancelled, closed shops, no traffic circulation, accidents...But the economists forgot to give a value to the amusement that people were having: from snowball fighting, to sledge races, to simply enjoying walking in the middle of the empty roads. And, the value of extra holidays, which for US citizens, should not definitely be dismissed.
BUT, it is a pity the storm description took over my post because there was so much to say about DC's history: the civil rights movement and the 14th street and Shaw neighbourhood, the "Revolution should not be televised" and Scott-Heron, the organic food supermarkets, the blueberry pancakes for breakfast, Georgetown and the Waterfront, the interesting books at the WB bookshop and more and more...
This picture was taken in the mosaic kiosk at the Smithsonian Castle. I found nice that visitors could choose the topic of the pictures that were going to be put together to build our photo. Mine was an easy choice: Art and music! And this is how I look like!
The Smithsonian is a complex of several (19) museums in Washington DC. One of its founders was James Smithson, a British Scientist who left his estate to the United States to found the "diffusion of knowledge". I went for a first recognition on a Wednesday thinking I would have the time to visit on the weekend. Of course this was again evidence that supports the Portuguese saying: "Don't leave for tomorrow what you can do today"!
This picture was taken in early January in Cambelas. Walking up and down the cliffs in the late afternoon was a great opportunity to capture images like this one. Unfortunately not everything was perfect. The rough sea brought lots of litter to the sand...And this is a problem no official entity wants to be responsible for so far...
With this picture I want to contribute to the promotion of a local porcelain maker I found in Kazimierz district in Krakow. I was just passing by in a rainy afternoon when my eyes caught these strange cups in a big window of a pottery workshop. The maker was a really nice girl who explained me all about her products and distinct design. The name is "manufaktura porcelany" and this is the website: http://manufakturaporcelany.pl/ . It has been the second time this year I meet such pleasant artists!
If it was not for my cousin, I would probably never find out about this little quiet and picturesque corner of Amsterdam. This is the recognition that having someone more knowledgeable (local!) about the cities or places we stop by is a real privilege. This courtyard dates back to the Middle Ages and takes the name from the Beguines, Catholic women who lived here as nuns. There is even one house in wood (Wooden house) dating back as far back as 1528. It a peaceful space surrounded by the busy streets of Amsterdam which is worthwhile visiting.
I was about 14 years old when I saw the movie Schindler's List for the first time. It was on a history class with one of my favourite teachers: Ana Machado. At such a young age the movie made a big impression to me and I think it was by then I fully understood the importance of tolerance. I was far from imagine that one day I would find myself stepping inside Schindler's Enamel factory in Krakow. I was surprised to discover that the reason why Schindler employed Polish Jews was because he wanted cheap labour to run his factory. I was relieved to found out that he eventually started actively saving as many as he could. The factory now holds an exhibition about Krakow under Nazi occupation, including several photographs taken between 1939 and 1945, Schindler's office furniture, a hairdresser's salon, a conspiracy apartment and many other features of the time. I should not finish by mentioning the Portuguese counterpart of Schindler: Aristides Sousa Mendes, Portuguese consul in Bordeaux (Paris) who provided visas to around 10,000 Jews so they could run away from a Nazi surrendered France.
Autumn colours were back in Scotland last month. By the time I write this post they are almost gone. Every year is different but not less spectacular. A bike ride around Braemar hills, Linn of Dee and Invercauld Estate in a sunny Autumn day is one of the best ways of appreciating one of the best things Scotland has to offer!
Glencoe is a valley in the highlands of Scotland. The walk up the hill (Sgorr na Ciche or Pap of Glencoe) was very steep but I found that listening to the BBC programmes "Desert Islands Discs" and 'The Unbelievable Truth" on my ipod really helped going up. Appreciating the view from the top of the hill, sheltered from the wind in a clear and sunny day is the best medicine to charge batteries for another working week.
Chanfana is a traditional Portuguese dish of old goat cooked in a clay recipient with red wine, garlic, laurel, pepper, paprika and salt. We were recommended a small restaurant in Miranda do Corvo to eat this delicacy. We arrived and were received by a small lady who spoke 'gallego' to us. We thought that we were going to make a mistake: eat chanfana cooked by a 'gallego' cook?!. After an hour which we used to cycle around the town, we sat at the table in the restaurant and just enjoyed this food of the gods. The 'gallego' cook could not have cooked a better chanfana for us.
Gondramaz is one of the many schist villages of the centre of Portugal. They are lost in time and because of that they seem enchanted. People have left many years ago to the city or abroad, and only few still insist in living there. Walking in the silent streets we appreciate the architecture and the stories it buries inside each house. In a corner we find a couple of people, those who insisted to stay where their heart lives. What they tell me I already read in a novel by Aquilino Ribeiro while waiting in a hospital bed to be operated to my ankle. Five years later, it was my ankle who brought me here, pedalling my bike eight kilometres up the hill to experience one bit of the environment that provided Miguel Torga the inspiration to write Bichos - a masterpiece of Portuguese literature in my opinion.
The second time in my life I caught an octopus (third time I went fishing) I felt again that hunter instinct I discovered some time ago. It must be remains of primitive human instinct left on me and I was surprised to find out how alive they still are. The fishing tools are very simple and traditional: a pole with a net in one hand and a pole with a crab attached to attract the octopus in the other hand. I need a bit of patience and perseverance to go from rock to rock and from pool to pool. Suddenly, big tentacles surround the crab with a strength I am not used to. The heart beats faster, and mum comes to help. I caught an octopus.
This was by far the best sunset I ever photographed. Photographed, filmed, looked at, everything we can imagine possible during 10 magic minutes. Time the sun takes to hide behind the sea. Or better, 10 magic minutes that the Earth offer us while rotating around its own orbit. Adding this to luxurious and almost deserted beaches (well, not so deserted this year!), exhilarating sea cliffs, romantic countryside and we have the perfect combination for idyllic holidays. And this is my village, Cambelas...
"The headland closest to the road end, about 5-10 minutes north west from the bridge and visible from the parking spot. the crags extend for about 400 metres north wards, before petering out into the boulders and sand of the fine Camas Eilean Ghlas (Blue-green Island Bay)." - in Scottish Rock
While here, an otter, a seal and a guillemot with fish on his mouth passed by!
An easy climb not too far away from the car park, which means a nice walk is involved. There are many options here, ranging from 'Very Difficult' to 'Severe'. Relaxed climbing with the midges sometimes around. The view from the top is great, both to inland and to the coast.
After an afternoon climbing in Glen Clova, starving for some fish and chips because restaurants in Scotland do stop serving food at 9.00pm, I ended up in Kirriemuir (Angus), the village where J. M. Barrie was born. James Matthew Barrie was a Scottish author and dramatist and he wrote the story that torments me the most: Peter Pan - "He is afraid of nothing except of mothers, fathers, and growing up."
July 10 2015,
Paris: "Emissions of
carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases must eventually fall to zero to
stabilize the global climate, according to scientists leading the biggest
international climate science conference prior to the Paris UN COP meeting in
December. But they also indicate cautious optimism that growing political
momentum means the two degree Celsius climate upper limit is still within
In practice, limiting global warming to 2 degrees Celsius above
pre industrial levels will require cutting emissions of heat-trapping gases by
40-70% below current levels by 2050."
"In the centre of the cliff is a beautiful sheet of low-angled pockmarked gabbro with the unique unmistakable and justify famous landmark of the Cioch block rearing up above its right (west) end. The top of the Cioch is one of the finest picnics spots around." (in Scottish Rock). However, for those who climb, bear in mind the chimney in the way up to the Cioch. No rucksacks and no fat people can pass that. It is as if we are being born again!
Curiosity: It was in the Cioch that a famous sword fight was fought in the film "Highlander" and the swords are still there! Of course Sean Connery did not rock climb until reaching the Cioch, but was flown in by helicopter instead.
In my last stay in Cambelas I found that I have someone now guarding my house when I am not there. I can breath of relief :-). I do not know her real name. In the village everybody calls her Ti Loira - Aunt Blonde.
The Plitvice Lakes National Park was founded in 1949. It is situated in the mountainous karst area of central Croatia. The important north-south road connection, which passes through the national park area, connects the Croatian inland with the Adriatic. It is UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1979. The park is full of green lakes, energetic cascades, luxurious vegetation, fish, aquatic insects and...Chinese! To get away from the crowds and have some quietness in nature the best is to walk the path in the edge of the main lake instead of taking the boat connecting the two extremities of the lake.
A little post to promote a sustainable way of travelling to London: The Caledonian sleeper Aberdeen - Euston station - Aberdeen. A comfortable bed, a nice view at waking up, a tasty and warm porridge for breakfast. This is what it means to travel environmentally friendly in the overnight train to the capital of the British Isles.
It is true that I can eat everything and that I like every cuisine I try. Some food I like more than other, but in general I eat and enjoy everything. After teaching in a PhD course at the Faculty of Forest Sciences (SLU) in Umea, the Swedish students presented the best delicacies of the region. Raindeer, moose and pickled herring are only absolutely DELICIOUS!!
It is true that Vienna is beautiful in spring time. There are flowers everywhere, people seat in the parks, the Naschmark is more vibrant than ever. But how can one resist to a cosy musical concert by virtuoso players?
Slains Castle is a ruined castle in Aberdeenshire. It overlooks the North Sea from the top of a cliff and it is very close to one of the most beautiful beaches in this county: Cruden Bay. The core of the castle was built by the 9th Earl of Erroll in the 16th century. But Erroll decided to be catholic and because it conspired with other catholics, signing letters aiming at aiding Spain's aspirations in the British Isles, the castle was destroyed. After rejecting the catholic religion, the Earl of Erroll returned to Scotland and built a new tower and courtyard in the castle. In the 19th century, the author Bram Stocker stayed in Cruden Bay and the castle inspired his novel Dracula.
Spring in Aberdeen is usually glorious. There are beautiful and colourful flowers everywhere. This picture was taken in the walled gardens inside Seaton park, just a 3 minute walk from my office at University of Aberdeen. Seaton park is one of the nicest parks in the city and it was bought by the council in 1947 for public use. The river Don passes along the edge of the park and there is now a big lake where ducks and other birds rest. The park is used as a pleasant break from work and at the same time as an inspiring place for new ideas.
This history of Brazil has been drawn by amateur painters and street artists. They do not pay much attention to techniques, proportions or art currents. They do pay attention to colours, rhythms and smells, which are, in my opinion, the best categories of words to describe Brazil. The absorption of these senses by artists has provided colourful paintings, which are classified as art Naïf (Naïve art). The MIAN is the Brazilian International Museum of Art Naif and presents a big collection of this type of art.
Eleven million people live in Sao Paulo, Brazil and this is more than the Portuguese population (10.5 million). Such a big city require a fair amount of resources to survive: water, food, energy... If one of these fail there might be a conflict. Water scarcity caused by the lack of rain in the summer triggered a series of adverts on TV on how to best save water at work and at home. This measures intended to avoid water rationing in case the drought was to persist. I was surprised to see that little actions, which I considered basic and which I learnt at primary school in my "prone to drought country", where not yet embedded in a society where 9 million people depend of one only catchment: the "Cantareira reservoir system". Household water use was not the only activity at risk due to drought. The newspapers described that coffee production was going to decrease between 15-20% in Sao Paulo state in 2015. If we can survive without coffee, other products are more necessary, and the production of these are also at risk. Water scarcity and government corruption originated something called "panelaco" - people came to their balconies to beat cooking pans in protest. Let's hope the "panelaco" will be the worst consequence.
And, thanks to Antonio, I have this beautiful picture from Avenida Paulista, in Sao Paulo. For a photography lover, it is a torture to travel without a camera. But I found it very liberator as it allowed me to focus more on smells and sounds, and it trained my brain to memorise every image. An experience I definitely advise.
I think it is more than time I write a post about His Magesty's Theatre. It is here I satisfy my thirst for culture when I am in Aberdeen. I love the Scottish Opera and the Scottish Ballet, and also the plays and musicals. Other venues (e.g. Music Hall, Lemon Tree or Woodend Barn in Banchory) are great places to listen live music and experimental stuff. But HMT is "la cerise sur le gâteau"!
I have never really looked properly at charity shops until I was back from Paris. If I analyse the facts, Paris might have played a role in my current interest for charity shops. The famous "marché aux puces" (flea markets) which are set in the different "arrondissements" (neighbourhoods) of Paris have an array of little treasures to be found: retro furniture, porcelains, paintings, art deco (and nouveau), lamps, old postcards, photos, clothes, jewelry etc etc. In Scotland, charity shops and antiques shops are the replacements of the Parisien "marché aux puces". In Aberdeen, these have been flourishing in the high street and I am loving it. My last achievement was this retro 60s Royal scale which I found in the charity shop in Cults, just off Aberdeen. It is so cute and it will look great in my modern Portuguese kitchen.
The sacred city of Caral is the second oldest civilization in the world. It has been established in the North-Central region of Peru, before any other civilization has established in the Andes and America. The development of the Caral civilization was premature in comparison to other civilizations (e.g, Egypt, Mesopotamia) established in the old continent. In addition, while other civilizations exchanged goods, knowledge and experiences among themselves, the civilization of Caral developed without any contact with other big civilizations. Absolutely fascinating!