As we stepped outside, the eerie looking grey sky and the distinct smell of smoke reminded us of the tragedy that was still happening, only an hour away from us.
There were errands to be done, however, and the sounds and sights of the market quickly drew us in. People selling all manner of things lined up their goods on tables and on the ground, trying to entice you to come and look at their items.
Buttons, thimbles, coloured plastic pails, shoes, wallets made of cork, beach towels, tablecloths, baby clothes, nuts, seeds, pet food, live chickens, fluffy ducklings, hamsters, puppies - all set in the backdrop of the towering Monastery. This place always fascinated me as a child - the daily lives of people buying cheese and spare cutlery in the presence of this spectacular monument made a powerful impression on me.
We headed over to the food section, where people were selling fresh fruits and vegetables from their land. Tiny round apples, bright green pears, lettuce of all shapes and sizes, long green beans, herbs, melons, oranges, and other curiosities like loquats and fresh ripe figs.
On the way we encounter one of my mother's friends, so of course we stop to chat... then at the food market we see one of my father's cousins and stop to chat as well. This is life in such a small place... everyone really does know everyone, and even in a larger town like this, you're bound to run into people you know.
We spend the next little while following my mother around as she buys some green beans and lettuce from my father's cousin, chooses her sardines with a careful eye over at the fish tables, and chats with the fresh cheese makers as we taste some of the little round white cheeses and decide how many to buy.
Then it's time to drive back home and make lunch - barbecued sardines. I amuse myself taking photos of J as she tends to the coals and then the sardines themselves, while my mother boils potatoes inside. This has always been my favourite meal since I was a child... tasty, fresh sardines cooked over hot coals, lightly charred. My aunt and uncle come down the road to join us for the meal, and later at the table I model to J how to remove the skin and little bones from her sardine.
It's a fun experience, having her in the village with me. Whenever we travel, we always try and immerse myself in the culture as much as possible (e.g. staying in a traditional village on a remote Fijian island rather than a large resort), but as much as we try, we know we are always outsiders and can never quite truly experience what it's like to be part of there. Here, on the other hand, there is no need. The way of life is part of me, and I have enough of it in me to naturally include her in it, also.
After lunch we walk down the road to join my aunt and uncle for a coffee, and I show J some of his land along the way - beautiful peach, orange, plum trees; grape vines with bunches of hanging green grapes, and turkeys, ducks, and chickens running around.
The later part of the afternoon we head back to Batalha (it's only a five minute drive away), to visit the Monastery from the inside. I had seen it before as a teenager, but enjoyed seeing it again today with fresh eyes. The intricate stonework is incredible. We walked around, fascinated not only by the minute details that covered this monastery that took over 100 years to complete, but by the fact that all of this perfect symmetry and detail was accomplished so long ago (1368), without the use of any of our modern technology.
We wandered around liesurely, pointing out various little details such as stone snails or mysterious symbols that seemed to be randomly carved in the walls. Besides all its centuries of recorded history, the monastery still seems to hold secrets that only it knows. As it should be.
|The unfinished chapels|
When we returned home, I took J on a walk to find my grandfather's spring. In the 70's, he had found a small natural spring on his land and had tapped it. Returning there is a pilgramage of sorts, for me. Every time I'm in Portugal, it's one of the first things I do - head to the spring and drink from it. I remember him best there, than anywhere else.
We walked down the dusty road as I tried to remember where to turn. I had J wait on the main path for me while I bushwhacked here and there through overgrown and abandoned vineyards, trying to spot the little shed he had built himself that was near the spring. I couldn't see anything, so we walked further down the path. I was starting to get worried that it was all overgrown and inaccessible, until suddenly - there was the red clay roof! I hurried down the path of vinneyards and pear trees, until I was at the spring. I stopped.
"It's dry," I said quietly to J. Save for one little drop of water in the spout. Saddened, I pulled some scissors from my pocket and set about cutting all the thick weeds that had grown around it; at least I could do something for it. There are two small flower pots on each side of the spring, with tiny little wildflowers in them. My mother and grandmother planted them here over 30 years ago. I pull apart all the thick weeds surrounding them. I see delicate pink and yellow petals still furled up, ready to open, and I smile. At least something is still here. And surely when it rains, the spring will flow again.
For now, J and I sit in the silence of the old vineyards, watching the sun set over the hill, and I lose myself in memories.