Porto - the nation's modesty and virtue
By Ignatious Josephl
lmages © Mr Christian Baes (Christianbaes.myportfolio.com).
If the southern capital, Lisbon, is most closely associated with the adventurers and explorers whose caravels embarked from its quays, then Portugal’s second largest city, the capital of the north, embodies the nation’s modesty and virtue. It matters little today whether those qualities are innate or imposed. The political and intellectual drive for the discovery attributed to the Portuguese (and the Spanish) in school history books came from the core of Portugal, Porto, whose sobriquet “Invictus” expresses its claim to repelling the armies of Islam at the banks of the River Douro.
Porto is not only the centre of the historic Anglo-Portuguese mercantile network that dominates the wine trade, it is also point of departure into the core of Portugal’s national origins in the north. Port wine is not the wine of Porto, vinho verde is. The distinctive language, wine and food that made Portugal what it is come from the region of the Iberian peninsula extending from Á Coruna in Galicia to the mouth of the great Douro, hence the country’s name, essentially a portmanteau combining Galicia and Porto.
Although a conservative, even parochial city, Porto is very friendly in a village sort of way (the core city has only about 250,000 inhabitants). The Portuense, residents of Porto, and the Tripeiros, those born in the city, project a discrete but intense local patriotism, glazed by the English-style charm inherited from centuries of intermarriage and interaction. The city and the north as a whole are full of contradictions, too. Its favourite son, Almeida Garrett, introduced Walter Scott and Romanticism to Portugal. Here intense republicanism and mercantile libertarianism combined with a fervent adherence to the Latin Church. Thus Porto always celebrated a volatile marriage of rationality and religious fervour unknown in the rest of the country and the Iberian peninsula as a whole.
Walking through this river metropolis I cannot be sure who I will meet. Nearly every nationality prominades in the Rua das Flores or the azulejo-coated entry to the Belle Epoche style Sao Bento railway station. The locals can best be found in the distinctly Portuguese tascas and restaurants on the edges of the central district. These inconspicuous restaurants are known and frequented by the people who actually live and work in the city. Even if many of them have relocated to the edges where accommodation is still affordable, they meet for lunch near their stores, offices and workshops during the week.
Fortunately I have been introduced to some of them during my visits. It is in these corners and chambers that one finds the characters who have been shaped by and continue to shape the inscrutable charm of this modest town. As I return from one of those sumptious luncheons, I have to climb another of the city’s innumerable hills. It is there at the top, even at 30 degrees centigrade, that I feel the cool breeze from the Atlantic. The winds of Windsor waft and the ways of the world dispel the urban heat.
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