Historic cafés of Portugal and the great minds who love(d) them

on 12:51 am

There are places in Portugal that never go out of fashion and many of these places are coffee shops or cafés. The Portuguese love coffee, there’s little doubting that – they always have and something tells me they always will. There are cafés everywhere in Portugal – every suburb, every aldeia, by the sea, inland, underground, on top of the highest mountains … they are everywhere. On their daily routines, the folks of Portugal grab their cafés wherever they can and they do it fast. In some cafés, however, this is ill advised. Coffee has its history in Portugal as do many coffee shops. Every city and town possesses cafés that are very much a part of the local socio-cultural landscape to one degree or another. This is something Starbucks will never accomplish here (at least I hope).

Now how important are the cafés of Portugal to the country? Well, lets just say that some are as important as Portuguese culture itself, for many have served to inspire the essence of Portuguese culture itself. Nowhere is this truer than in the case of Portuguese literary history, for Portugal possesses a number of historical cafés that have served as a major source of inspiration for poets and writers, this beyond having been starting points for political, social and cultural rights movements. So if in Portugal and you’re hankering for some history (literary at that) let me recommend a number of cafés for you.

In northern Portugal, in the city of Braga, Café Vianna was a regular stopping ground for Eca de Queiros and Camilo Castelo Branco. Smack-dab in the middle of the city, Café Vianna has been under the famous arcades at Praça da Republica for 141 years.

Leaving Braga and heading south-west towards the city of Porto, here two cafés are particularly worth highlighting: The Majestic and Café d’Ouro.

A stroll down Rua de Santa Catarina will take you past The Majestic. More than just a café, The Majestic is a throwback to 1920s Porto, to the city’s ‘Belle Epoche’. The Majestic quickly became a hangout for the local intellectual bourgeoisie and for writers and artists as well. The café was abandoned for a 16 year period, from 1964 to 1980, restored during a 14 year period and reopened with all its splendor in 1994, becoming Cultural Patrimony of the city of Porto.

Located at Praça de Parada Leitão, the Café Âncora d'Ouro, also known as O Piolho (Lice, in English), has been around since 1909 and is known as the academics café. Here great minds of the city have come to study and to debate and to inspire. Interestingly, O Piolho was the first café in the city to have electricity (in 1957), the first to hook up a television and the first to get the famous Italian coffee machine "La Cimbali" which lead to the name given by the residence of Porto to expresso coffee or ‘uma bica’, that of ‘cimbalino’, name that has stack until this day.

Now if in the University City of Coimbra, a visit to the Café Santa Cruz and all its Manuelino architectural elegance, is a must. Located at Praça 8 de Maio, Café Santa Cruz has been a symbol of the city by the Mondego River since 1923. Much was the controversy when the decision was made to allow the café to exist wall-to-wall with the Santa Cruz Church, but today and through its history, this café has been a home away from home for intellectuals, writers, artists, academics, fadistas, rubbing shoulders with the working class, the wealthy and most recently, tourists.

Further south but still in the centre of Portugal, we reach the City of the Knights Templar – Tomar. Here we can visit the centenary walls of Café Paraíso located at Rua Serpa Pinto, Tomar’s major pedestrian street. Contemporary writer António Lobo Antunes did his military service in Tomar and has had his name tied to Café Paraíso, for example.

Our last stop is Lisbon. Here, three cafés are worth discussing. First, A Brasileira, located at Chiado Square, has been around since 1905. Although known through history as a place frequented by Lisbon’s top literary, artistic and intellectual figures, among these personalities, one frequent client stands out: Fernando Pessoa. In fact, the presence of Fernando Pessoa at A Brasileira was so common that, in order to recognise the poets’ link to this café, a bronze statue of Pessoa sitting at a table was installed in front of A Brasileira.

Our second Lisbon stop is Café Nicola at Rossio Square, once upon a time the favourite haunt of the much celebrated poet from Setúbal, Bocage. The art deco facade and the sidewalk sitting is today a touristic must, thus the reason why when one walks by it is mostly tourists that occupy the tables.

Our last stop is under the arcades on the right hand side of Praça do Comercio (if you’ve got your back to the river). Café Martinho da Arcada has been around since 1778, originally as a liquor trade house, and in 1829 as the café that still stands today. If any café in Portugal is inevitably tied to the history of Portuguese arts and literature it’s Café Martinho da Arcada. Writers such as Cesário Verde, António Botto and Almada Negreiros were regulars in their day. Fernando Pessoa also has a table permanently reserved for him here. He certainly loved his coffee shops. More recently, Martinho de Arcada also has a table permanently reserved for Noble winner José Saramago.

So if you’re in Portugal and you think coffee is just coffee and a café is just a café ... think again. From north to south, if you’re searching out literary inspiration these ‘temples of culture’ are sure to provide you with some, and do take your time to enjoy our coffee.

Hockey poem week - the recap

on 6:44 pm

Hockey's place in Canadian culture is closer to religion than a simple sporting pastime; a unifying force in a country of 33 million people that, let the truth be told, is often split by politics and language. There is little arguing that the game is part of the national identity, a rite of passage between fathers and sons and, in the present day and age, between mothers and daughters as well. We all know that generations of Canadians grew up listening to Hockey Night In Canada on the radio, for example, and decades later the Saturday night tradition continues intact on high-definition television.

Surely the NHL is the sporting league that must be followed and every town has it's junior hockey team that is often the pride of the community as well. Still, the game goes beyond fandom and community pride. Tell me if this doesn't sound familiar: 'We had a hockey rink in the park. Every afternoon after school, my friends and I would head there and play until the sun went down'; or maybe this: 'The kids who lived on my street, we'd play street hockey almost everyday after school through winter'. Hockey games at the local rink or on the street brought kids from all ages together to partake in “pure happiness”. I do, however, question if this can be said in relation to today's generation, or if technology is robbing todays youth of this sort of comradery. As the popular saying goes: 'Street hockey is great for kids. It's energetic, competitive and skilful, and the best of all, it keeps them off the street'.

Generally speaking, however, Canada's love for hockey is hard to put into words non-Canadians can relate to, and the fanaticism may be hard for people outside of Canada to understand. I guess it might be similar to the way Brazilians feel about soccer but with one exception - the fact that the passion felt towards hockey in Canada brings with it a bit of lunacy. I'd like to see Brazilians go out for a game of road soccer when it's -20ºC.

And thus it is here where the uniqueness of the game lies as far as connecting to a people and a country is concerned. Hockey is not so much the image of Canada as it is the image of Canadians - hard, touch, sentimental, fun and, of course, uniting; and everyone, from coast to coast to coast, idenitifies with that. So that said, I will finish this so-called 'hockey poem week' with a quote by the Canadian author and humorist Stephen Leacock that goes like this:

"Hockey captures the essence of the Canadian experience in the New World. In a land so inescapably and inhospitably cold, hockey is the chance of a life, and an affirmation that dispite the deathly chill of winter we are alive".

... just as hockey is alive in us wherever we end up going.

Hockey poem week - Poem 6

on 3:40 pm

Truly as it always was, your neighbour was your goalie or our goal scorer, but nobody was ever a defensemen. No glamour in defending. It was always about scoring picturesque goals and making game-winning saves. It was about making memories and in some cases, re-enacting them.

The Goalie Who Lives Across the Street - Gordon Downie

Jean Beliveau's welcome any time
at the outdoor rink
in the park
just across from my house
for morning hockey under blue skies
this winter.
Birds wheeling overhead
Russian temperatures
lousy to no gear.
I'm the Goalie Who Lives Across the Street.

Kids play with smokes hanging out
of their mouths;
beautiful puck hogs
with incredible tricks.
They are so easily fatigued,
they take a break after every rush.
Old-timers heckle:
"Hey, Jim Carroll. Pass the puck."
They don't get it.

No literary pretensions allowed.
Two minutes for
"I saw his blood,
a billowing crimson cloud
against the milk white ice."
That's an infraction here.

When the predatory follow the puck
down to the other end
my net swarms like the Great Barrier Reef
with the smaller fish.
My crease fills with good questions
and wobbly wrist shots
(there are no bad questions, only bad wrist shots).

And then there are
the parents
always yelling
always telling them
where to aim.

At the rink across the street
Gerry Cheevers is welcome any time.

Hockey poem week - poem 5

on 12:59 am

There are those who play and there are those who just like to watch. Here in Portugal we are limited to watching and even that's recent ... but thank goodness for it. Playing not so much but it would be good to change that so we too could get ourselves ...

In Shape - Stephen Scriver

just to move, man
feel those muscles stir again
long summer of beer and sun

just to move
hear the old heart pounding
full of one more season

feel the body burst again
charged with easy sweat

two weeks of up, down
up, down
backwards, forwards

blows that whistle, man
sounds like music now it's easy

... move, man
only six strides down now
around the net
leg over leg
and blue/white/red ...

lungs smooth with swelling breath
legs pump push that ice again

ah, but just to move

Hockey poem week - poem 4

on 7:15 pm

Who among us growing up in Canada didn't grow up on road hockey? Who among us didn't pretend we were 'Rocket' Richard, Guy LaFleur, Wendel Clark or Wayne Gretzky? Every generation had its hockey idols and today's still do. No matter how cold outside, a round up of friends for a game of road hockey kept us warm.

Road Hockey – Bruce Meyer

The middle of my journey,
as the train shakes,
I wake from a dream
about my childhood
where I saw the boys
I played hockey with
on the frozen streets
beneath purple dusks.
Snow had settled
on the brown furrows
of the fall ploughings
the way a dusting of ice
clung to our corduroys
as we shouted and raved
in a dead-end street,

pushing and hacking
each other’s spindly legs
until the night descended
blackening the game
and calling us home
to those tiny rooms
taped with clippings
of Howe and Hull
and silver grails.
I wanted to go back there,
wanted to dream again
of what I would become
but only become
the things I am
regardless of the dreams.

And as I woke just now,
at some point in a journey
I realized we’d all
become grown men,
and the waking, not the growing
left me angry. Snow whirls
by the coach car window,
still clings to the furrows
of pantlegs and fields
as the journeymen continue on
their battles of earthly overtime
and the sudden darkness


Hockey poem week - poem 3

on 1:03 pm

The term "pond hockey" is often used, especially in Canada, as a synonym to Shinny. It is meant to describe any form of disorganized ice hockey that is played outdoors, typically on a naturally frozen body of water. In fact, before hockey, there was shinny. Frozen lakes, frozen rivers, frozen ponds, frozen backyard rinks - all conducive to the game of hockey. The documentary film Pound Hockey is a must see for any enthusiast of Canada's game, and you can see it here free of charge: http://www.snagfilms.com/films/title/pond_hockey.

Shinny - Dale Jacobs

Days of shinny, we played pick up games for into the night
until our feet were numb, toes feeling like they would snap off,
fingers rubbing through socks soaked with sweat, kneading
the feeling back, ready for another period in the never ending
game past the moment's break.

Spring when the ice got slushy, bumps grew along the boards
where water dripped from the metal roof, deep winter when ice
was burned to a ghostly white, hard, unforgiving, knees elbow
bruides to a fine black, shaving rising from stopping skates,
a delicious arc of ephemera.

Half-cylinder of corrugated steel, oversize machine shop becomes
a rink, men of the town coming in from the field, tractors giving
way to hammers and saws and arc welders, coming together for
us, for skating, for games of hockey on cold Canadian winter
nights that seemed to last forever.

Sitting in this southern town, no nights cold enough to frost your
moustache, I wonder if anyone knows who built our rink or what it
meant, if anyone skates or plays hockey long into the night, giving
themselves over to the game, surrendering to air thick with cold,
breath suspended for just a moment.

Hockey poem week- poem 2

on 11:54 pm

It’s one of those beautifully frigid winter nights that inspire poets. The skies are clear and the light from the moon illuminates the backyard. Fireplace smoke rises straight into the air and hangs motionless over the suburban outpost. The noise of metal on ice and the clacking of sticks rule here, in this time-honoured tradition.

Rink - Raymond A. Foss

After Minnesota’s lakes
in the winter of ’71,
it was no big deal
but for us it was
it was something we did together
dad, mom, and us some plastic, boards to frame the edge
and a thin film of ice added layer by layer, day by day
brittle pockets of air, deep solid parts and ragged places
where the lawn dipped, sloped draining the hose after each time,
so it wouldn’t fill setting lights to shine on our practice
under the stars and moon
using it after school too; but mostly at night,
watching mom figure skate and dad teaching us hockey
before the lure of skiing changed our winter sport.

Hockey poem week - poem 1

on 7:13 pm

I recently came across a book called Going Top Shelf An Anthology of Canadian Hockey Poetry edited by Michael P. J Kennedy, a university professor who in 2001 put together a course on Canadian ice hockey literature at the University of Saskatchewan. Having been inspired by Kennedy's book, and given my own interest in Canadian culture; hockey and poetry has come to occupy my reading interest of late. That said, this week I'm going to be offering up a few poems, some of my favourites that I've come across on ice hockey in Canada. Here's the first:

Hockey - Jane Siberry

Winter time and the frozen river Sunday afternoon
they're playing hockey on the river
Rosie... he'll have that scar on his chin forever someday his girlfriend will say "hey, where...?"
he might look out the window... or not
you skate as fast as you can
'til you hit the snowbank (that's how you stop)
and you got your sweater from the catalogue
you use your
rubber boots for goal posts
ah...walkin' home
don't let those Sunday afternoons
get away get away get away get away
break away break away...
this stick was signed by Jean Belliveau
so don't fucking tell me where to fucking go
...oh Sunday afternoon
someone's dog just took the puck
he's buried it it's in the snowbank ....your turn
they rioted in the
streets of Montreal
when they benched Rocket Richard it's true
don't let those Sunday afternoons
get away get away get away get away
break away break away break away break away
the sun is fading on the frozen river
the wind is dying down
someone else just got called for dinner
hmm...Sunday afternoon.

Proud to be Portuguese Canadian - the event(s)

on 5:31 pm

For those Portuguese-Canadians who hail from the province of British Columbia, the name Terry Costa is one a lot of people got to know over the years. In Vancouver, when it came to community activism and participation within the Portuguese community, Terry (on the right) was, and in many ways still is, the poster boy of many initiatives. These days he calls the Azores home, although he still does a lot of traveling back and forth between Canada and the islands.

Presently, through his production organisation Mirateca Arts,Terry has set out on one of his bigger ventures yet when it comes to the Portuguese in Canada. Aimed primarily at Portuguese descendant youth, Terry is the man behind the initiative Proud to be Portuguese Canadian (PtbPC), an initiative that sets out a number of objectives that include: 1.) stimulating young professional luso-descendants, students, their families and colleagues in discovering the Portuguese culture of today; 2.) strengthing links between the Portuguese in Canada and the Canadian social, cultural, political and economic life; 3.) promoting Portuguese culture through the presentation of artists and other cultural agents; and 4.) expressing pride in being Portuguese-Canadian.

A series of PtbPC events will take place in Toronto during a 10 day period, from March 15th to the 25th, kicking off with a ‘not your regular kind of conference’ conference on Saturday, the 17th at the Mod Club Theatre, featuring special guests, among them Portuguese-Canadian celebrity chef extraordinaire, Carmen Correia, as well as presentations, talk-backs and more.

As well, the PtbPC initiative inviting members of his community to submit their “Proud to be Portuguese Canadian” videos to a video contest aimed at bringing greater invisibility to the heritage of Portuguese descendants residing in multicultural Canada. Videos can be sent via email to proudtobeportuguesecanadian@gmail.com or uploaded on YouTube with the link then sent in to the same e-mail address. The person who’s video gets the most views wins him or herself a cool ‘grand’ (aka $1000.00).

The PtbPC project is also a media partner with Canadian Music Week (CMW) and Missão Canadá: Mission Canada that, this year, are presenting a special "Focus on Portugal" session at the Slacker Canadian Music Fest, showcasing a series of music acts from Portugal. This year’s CMW will run from March 21st to 25th and will feature among the 100’s of music acts, a couple of hand fulls from Portugal, including Setubal’s Mazgani, Porto’s masked men Blasted Mechanism, Braga’s Peixe:Avião, among others…

So there you go, if you’re in Toronto come the month of March, this is something worth taking in. Leave you with a couple of fun promotional posters for the event which also contain the website where you can go to get more info.