Northwest DjangoFest

Last week I spent a day at DjangoFest on Whidbey Island.  In case this doesn’t mean anything to you, you can search “Gypsy Jazz” or “Django Reinhardt” in cyberspace to hear what this music sounds like.  Or, watch the two below videos.

The first one is of an informal jam session outside a coffeeshop in Langley.  I sat in with this group for a song shortly after taking the video – the guitarist on the right needed a break.

The second one below is of an impromptu jam in the small merchandise room off the main concert venue.

At DjangoFest that day, I also took in a concert featuring two 19-year-olds from the Berklee School of Music, who were phenomenal.  They were the just the opening act.  The headliner was Sebastien Ginaux with his Trio.  Ginaux is a shy Frenchman who speaks little English, but his playing that day was on fire.  He would pile arpeggios on top of each other so quickly that the music constantly shifted keys, moods, and directions, endlessly surprising.  He would sometimes punctuate melodies with splashes of difficult “false” harmonic tones that rang as clear as chimes.  It was complex, but beautiful music.

The Sephardic Synagogue in Porto

On our last day in Porto, we set out to find it.  We were close, and kept asking directions.  Everyone knew it, “it’s right around the bend, then take a left at the corner, you can’t miss it.”  But we couldn’t find it.  Discouraged in the midday heat, we wandered down a side street, and all of a sudden, there it was.

Street View of Synagogue Kadoorie Mekor Chaim

Street View of Synagogue Kadoorie Makor Chaim

The Kadoorie Makor Haim synagogue is a big. bold building, set in a nondescript neighborhood of  low-rise apartments and small businesses.  Eventually, a man and woman came to the gate and talked to us.  Tours were available, but usually needed to be arranged in advance.  Learning that we were departing the following day, they told us a little of  the history of the synagogue.

It is a story of perseverance.  The synagogue stands today largely because of the decade-long efforts of a determined former Portuguese army officer, Artur Barros Basto, and of a key benefactor, the family of Laura Kadoorie, whose ancestors had been forced to flee Portugal during the Inquisition.  The synagogue opened in 1938, and has led to the revival of Porto’s still small Jewish community, which had gone underground and virtually disappeared since the early days of the Inquisition, over 500 years ago.

After leaving the synagogue, we wandered the back streets until we found a neighborhood cafe.  We asked if there was any food beside the displayed pastry items.  The owner’s face brightened and asked if we’d like some chicken and salad.  A few minutes late, we were enjoying lunch, newcomers in a comfortable place where everyone seemed to know each other.

Coffee shop in Porto

Flamenco Fusion in Lisbon & other favorites

Below is the link to a short video clip of a group of street musicians playing at Castelo São Jorge in Lisbon.  Their music, which sounded like flamenco fusion, was very interesting to my musical ear.

Click here:       https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QHWkUbY9urE

The following two photos of unusual art:

Portrait of the last Portuguese King Dom Manuel, with an old bullet hole still visible at right

Portrait of the last Portuguese King, Dom Manuel, with a repaired bullet hole still visible at right

A Last Supper Painting, with a rabbit on the passover plate

A Last Supper Painting, with a rabbit on the passover plate

Vender weighing items at Porto market

Vender weighing items at Porto market

Two sharp looking city bikes, with leather bags, on a Porto street

Two sharp looking city bikes, with leather bags, on a Porto street

Citizens on Porto's waterfront watching the Rabelo sailboat regatta on Saint John's Day

Citizens on Porto’s waterfront watching the Rabelo sailboat regatta on Saint John’s Day

Leading boat, representing Cockburn Port wines, comes into the harbor

Leading boat, representing Cockburn Port wines, enters the harbor

Vendor cuts a squash open

Vendor cuts a squash open

Kindly French-born Celeste with Urania. She showed us how she was counting her change out so we could see it was correct.

Kindly French-born Celeste with Urania. She showed us how she was counting her change out so we could see it was correct.

Newly restored building front in Porto

Newly restored building front in Porto

Porto’s Futuristic Casa da Musica

Porto is known for its very old town center, where block after block of well-preserved buildings are hundreds of years old.  Our guide Christina Duarte told us that when developers want to reconstruct or repair an exterior, everything must be rebuilt exactly the way it was found.

But Porto is also looking to the future.  I visited the futuristic Casa da Musica, designed by the same architect, Rem Koolhas, of Holland, who co-designed the new Public Library in downtown Seattle, where I live.   They were both finished around 10 years ago and in the world of architectural design are termed post-modern.

From the outside, it is sort of odd looking.

Rather routine exterior of the Casa

Exterior of the Casa

But inside, on a guided tour, it gets interesting, especially if you play music, or love it.

A striking display of illuminated spheres suspended in air

A display of illuminated spheres suspended in space, shadows resembling notes on a page, or notes of higher and lower pitch, or …..

The Casa is both for professionals and the public to use, not just a professional performance hall.   It has a large concert hall, a more intimate concert hall, recording studios, practice studios, listening rooms where the sound system can be fine-tuned to fit the music and needs of listeners.  It has two children’s rooms, one orange (active), and one purple (calming).  Most interesting about the interior is the way ambient light is allowed in.

Curved glass absorbs the sound and keeps it in while lighting the room

Curved glass absorbs sound in the concert hall and keeps it in, while allowing natural light into the room

Orchestra members taking a break at rehearsal are distorted through the glass

Orchestra members taking a break at rehearsal are distorted through the glass

Soundproofing in listening room

Soundproofing and ambient light in a listening room

Sheet music suspended in air in the lobby

Sheet music suspended in air

A Ranch in the Portuguese Alentejo

It was uncanny.  We were an hour and a half out of Lisbon, in the vast, hot, plains, ridges and rolling hills of the Alentejo.  And here was the bright summer sun, the grasses turned gold by summer drought, the scattered oak groves in the distance.  It was as if I had returned to the Central California foothills where I had roamed during my college days.

Alentejo Landscape

Alentejo Landscape

We were in the middle of a reconnaissance of the lands of the Almeida family’s Rovisco Garcia ranch.  Francisco Almeida, who looked to be in his 60s,  talked about the cork industry, while his daughter Sofia added her thoughts on management of the

A link to the video of the cork oak woodland at the Rovisco Garcia estate is here.

Artist's rendition of the Alentejo Cork oak Country.  Painting by Urania Pérez

Artist’s rendering of the Alentejo Cork Oak Country. Painting by Urania Pérez, 2015

Farmers like the Almeidas thin Cork oak woodlands (Montados) to allow harvest of the bark of the cork oak (Cortizo). Around 60% of the world’s cork is produced in Portugal.  One year recently, Francisco told us, there was a poor harvest of natural cork.  To make things worse, a small fraction of it imparted an unwanted flavor to wine.  So businesses who manufactured plastic wine stoppers saw an opportunity and jumped in, expanding their sales.  Ever since, natural cork producers in Portugal like the Almeida family have been battling the misconception that the cork supply, although normally far superior to plastic, is not reliable.  

In recent years, the Almeida family has expanded their olive groves to 80 hectares and their vineyards to 28 hectares.  Since the initial release on 2007, their wines have achieved international renown.  They also harvest the acorn of the native umbrella pine (Pinhal Manso), which is  eaten locally.

Umbrella Pine (Pinhal Manso) at the Ranch

Umbrella Pines (Pinhal Manso) at the Ranch

Urania talks things over with the family patriarch

Urania talks things over with the kindly family patriarch, now in his 90’s.

Being out on the distinct landscapes of the Alentejo, with its inviting openness and almost spooky similarity to old stomping grounds, made for an unforgettable day.  Getting to know the Carvalho family, who like the Carvalho family of the Douro, have the same deep connection to the land, was equally memorable.

Warm 10K in Nazare

Our guide Christina Duarte told us early that day that a 1o-kilometer road race would start and end right outside our hotel room window, just across from the beach.  It was a hot summer day, but fortunately, the start was at 7 pm when it had cooled off some.  By 6 pm, runners began to  gather while crews finished up with the course infrastructure – barricades, a starting line and overhead clock.

The start/finish line from our hotel room balcony, with Nazare's beach in the background

The start/finish line from our hotel room balcony, with Nazare’s beach in the background

Related festivities were taking place right next to the starting line, as couples in traditional costumes performed regional folk dances to music.

Folkdance in Costume

Folk dance steps at race start

More Nazare Dance steps in costume

More dance steps

 

Short clip of folk dance

Urania poses with Alex (who wears a cross and Jewish star) and his partner, selling their artisan wares

Urania poses with Alex (who wears a cross and Jewish star) and his partner, selling their artisan wares

 

 

 

 

 

 

Meanwhile, at the starting line, as maybe 150 runners lined up, the anticipation was building.  The Portuguese have a history of distance running excellence.   Over 30 years ago, working in California’s Central valley, I walked into a cafe in a town called Gustine, which had a large Portuguese-American population.  There were newspaper clippings on the wall about several hopefuls preparing to compete in the Olympics in Los Angeles later that summer.  Carlos Lopes won the men’s marathon that year, while Rosa Mota got the bronze medal in the women’s.  She would win the gold medal 4 years later.  Fernando Mamede held the world record for the 10,000 meter distance.  These are just a few.  Maybe one of the runners at the start line in Nazare would be next.

Are the winners in this photo?

Is the winner in this photo?

Or this one?

Or this one?

And They're Off!

And They’re Off!

 

 

 

 

 

The images below tell the story.  About 10 minutes after the start, the leader came through, at least a minute ahead and seemingly in command.  There was a tight race for second place.

The early leader wins, finishing strong

The early leader wins, finishing strong

a balding man, maybe slightly older, finishes second

A balding man, maybe slightly older, finishes second

a woman exults as she finishes third overall

… and a woman exults as she bests most of the big boys, finishing third overall

 

 

It was a day of the old and the new

It was a spectacle for both young and old

All in all, a fine day in Nazare

All in all, a fine day in Nazare

The Miracle of Santa Eufemia

Historical view of Quinta  Santa Eufemia

Historical view of Quinta Santa Eufemia

The grounds as they look today

The grounds as they look today

Senhora Diana of today's Quinta management family at the official estate marker.  The marker appears in the historical photo in the right foreground

Senhora Diana co-owner and manager of today’s Quinta at the official estate marker. The marker appears in the historical photo in the right foreground

We were being given a tour of Quinta Santa Eufemia, a family-owned vineyard of Port and Douro wine grapes.  The Quinta is named for the Catholic Saint (about which more later).  Senhora Teresa Carvalho of the Quinta’s family first took us on a walk in her vineyards and a visit to the small bottling plant. Later, the family and staff served a group of us lunch; salad, bacalao, (cod), a bean stew with meat, and opened several  Port wines for us to taste.

Bernardo Rodrigues de Carvalho founded the Quinta in 1864. It is now managed by the fourth generation of vintners; great-grandchildren carrying on the family tradition. Port wine goes back still further; the Port vineyards of the Douro valley are the world’s oldest designated wine region, dating from the 18th century.

As we savored the delicious food and Port, co-owner Senhora Teresa, stood in the dining room and began to tell us of the legend of Santa Eufemia, who lived during the early days of Christianity, near the present-day Istanbul, when the Roman empire ruled.

Eufemia, a Christian maiden, was told she was to marry a noble, but the brave girl refused, and for her crime, she would be fed live to the lions. Written accounts say that she was in hiding with fellow early Christians to worship their God and resist a Roman order to take part in sacrifices to a Roman diety.

At this moment in the tale, I looked outside and noticed a strong wind had suddenly risen, blowing up the mountainside.

Teresa continued that when the moment of Eufemia’s public death arrived, the lions, instead of killing and devouring the condemned young Eufemia, suddenly stopped short and bowed down before her, (and, perhaps, licked her wounds received at the hands of Roman torturers).

Just as Teresa spoke this, a sharp gust of wind blew through the open doorway and pushed a large straw and wooden figure off the alcove behind her and onto the dining room floor.  She stopped and turned to recover the straw man. Someone else scrambled to close the front door. I remember thinking out loud, “It is still a pretty powerful story”.

The wood and straw human figure on the alcove

The wood and straw human figure on the alcove

And so the ancient miracle of Santa Eufemia, as passed through the generations, lives on today.

And so, as we tasted the family’s Ports, pairing them with freshly cooked regional dishes, we could consider a humbler, more mortal miracle; winemakers working with the unique terroir of Quinta Santa Eufemia to coax stunning wines from the soil of these steep mountain slopes.

Vineyards at the Qunta

Vineyards at the Quinta

Workers at the Quinta winery take a short pause as visitors move through

Workers at the Quinta winery take a short pause as visitors move through