Food for Thought

Viva o Santo António!
Viva o São João!
Viva o 10 de junho e a Restauração!

Portuguese folk song

On December 1st Portugal celebrates a national holiday, “Dia da Restauração (da Independência)”, that roughly translates to Restoration (of Independence) Day, the date when Castilian rule was overthrown and Portugal was, once again, an independent nation-country.

As a child, I didn’t really know all these historically details, and I found the holiday rather confusing, because in my head it was “Restauration Day”. Though I could easily recognize the significance of food in Portuguese culture and history – the Baker from Aljubarrota or the Siege of Porto - it seemed to me that to dedicate a whole day to the catering food industry – restaurants – was a bit over the top, even for Portuguese standards.

As I grew older, of course, I realized that it was Restoration rather than Restauration, but the confusion did not succumb to the evident mistake, it only grew bigger. My mind wondered what had indeed been restored then: was it a national heritage thing? Where we to remember how Lisboa was rebuilt after the 1775 earthquake? That made a whole lot more sense, for in Lisboa there is quite a huge square dedicated to “The Restorers” (Praça dos Restauradores), with an equally outstanding (and a bit phallic I may add) monument right in the middle.

Eventually, I focused less on semantics and more on the historical facts and realized that we were celebrating the 1640’s eviction of the Castilian monarchy. As it happens, the Praça dos Restauradores is part of my commuting route, when I walk from the office to the train station. I  stride through the square on which, on one side stands the beautiful Tourism Office and on the other side a huge Post Office building. So  the square is usually busy with curious tourists and helpful policemen.

Early this Summer, as I was passing by right in front of Palácio da Foz (the tourism office), I found a middle-aged Spanish couple, equipped with backpacks and digital cameras, inquiring relentlessly a helpless policeman what was the monument on the square, which bears a huge carving of 1640.

“So what is this monument? What happened on 1640?”.
“Well… bien esto es un monumento bélico… historical, big battle in 1640, muy importante para Portugal”.
The couple was not quite convinced.
“Ya señor, ya vemos que es bélico. Pero qué ocurrió? Por que es tan importante?!”
“Eeeer… pues… es histórico, una guerra, a long time ago, in the pasado…”

As I walked by and looked back, I could not help but laugh. The inquiring couple was determined to get an answer, and the policeman was adamant in dodging the question. Both parties were playing their role in their best: the tourists wanted to learn about local history and show interest for their host, and the host wanted to be warm and welcome, avoiding any kind of diplomatic incident.

The centennial rivalry seemed something of the past. Isn't that food for thought?!

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