April 25, 2012

Portugal got Silver in the World's Best TV & Films Awards

“Portugal – The beauty of simplicity” won Silver Medal at The 55th World's Film Awards 2012 awards ceremony for Short Film category for the promotional film. The video was a production of Turismo de Portugal. The Jury honored the World’s Best TV Programs & Films and awarded three Grand Trophies while only 2 silvers were awarded this year in the Short Film Category. This festival received entries from forty countries around the globe. All winning entries were selected by a Grand Jury made up of award-winning Television and Film professionals. The film can be download here.

April 23, 2012

Animation about Barcelos Rooster!

Graduation movie at Willem de Kooning Academie, Rotterdam. The unofficial symbol of Portugal is the brightly colored Galo de Barcelos - Barcelos Rooster. This animation tells the story of the legend.

April 22, 2012

Be careful when hitchhiking!

Last week I read shocking news in the newspaper. A young Danish woman asked for a ride and was raped. It happened in Rio Maior maybe 80km from my town. Although not able to speak Portuguese she asked for help in English at gas station. She came to Portugal with a group of friends and settled in Oporto. Then the 24-year-old woman decided to leave her friends and discover the country by herself. She wanted to get to Lisbon. At Leiria, she asked a ride to a truck driver. Not far from Leiria the truck driver stopped the truck in a desert place and threatened her with a screwdriver and then raped her. In resisting him she was attacked on the head, forehead, and neck. The attacker then dropped her on the roadside. She was clever and took the license plate number so the police were able to identify and arrest him. The man lives in Rio Maior and is married. He will be presented to a judge soon and punished.

These situations are infrequent but do happen in Portugal. From time to time one tourist gets in trouble. Please do not facilitate when you visit my country. About three weeks ago three young British teen girls loaded with luggage also wanted to pick up a ride to Leiria city and I gave them the necessary information. It was Sunday and they were next to a park in this city where I live. On Sunday not many traffic goes through that area. If they stayed where they would never be able to get to Leiria! But they were three not just one. Even when traveling in a group my advice is that youngsters must be aware of some risk. A trip from Leiria to Lisbon on public transportation is not so expensive. The bus ticket costs 12 euros. Nothing excuses the behavior of that trucker driver but the time of careless hitchhiking traveling is gone. Certainly, there are countries where it is even considered a dangerous activity. In Portugal this is not the case and most of the times you'll meet good people who will assist you with goodwill and sympathy. Nevertheless, bad encounters can happen, as was the case for this young woman.

Here's some Portugal travel advice! About this issue it reads:

" Sexual assaults are infrequent. Nevertheless, be alert to the possible use of ‘date rape’ and other drugs, including ‘GHB’ and liquid ecstasy. Purchase your own drinks and keep sight of them at all times to make sure they cannot be spiked: female travelers should be particularly watchful. Be aware that alcohol and drugs can make you less alert, less in control and less aware of your environment. If you are going to drink, know your limit and remember that drinks served in bars overseas are often much stronger than those in the UK. Avoid splitting up from your friends, and don't go off with people you don't know. See our Rape and Sexual Assault Abroad and Victims of Crime Abroad pages."

April 21, 2012

Fontinha's squatters forced to leave the school by force

António Serginho Photo

Hello friends and readers. I’ve been too busy to write anything but today I bring to this blog an important story. Sure that you already know that I love Oporto city and its people. I have already shared with you some photos of the city and you can expect some more in the future. Last year in June I spent some days at Oporto during St. John’s Festival. It’s traditional to celebrate it on the streets with dancing, music, eating sardines and lighting paper balloons or jumping bonfires. I attended Fontinha’s St. John's street party. It was a collective party. People were invited to bring food to share. There was already music and typical decoration hanging when I arrived at the scene with my friends. When we left the place was full of people from all social backgrounds and ages - babies, children, youngsters, adults, and seniors. From the windows of the surrounding buildings some os, the Fontinha quarter inhabitants watched us and waved to us. It was cool. That’s how I knew about Es.col.a da Fontinha project. Once this area had factories and around it, workers built small houses where they lived. Today houses are still there. Some are very old and lack good living conditions. But that's what these people can afford.

Mural painting inside the school (source)

Es.Col.A. means Collectively Managed Space. Escola is the Portuguese word for school. So, there was this public school at Fontinha quarter that was closed and abandoned for 5 years. Junkies gathered inside to get their usual fix, the floor was covered with syringes, broken bottles, all kinds of garbage and possibly lots of rodents. Kids jumped over the gate to play football in the patio during the day. At night streets in the neighborhood were empty as they were considered unsafe. It was a great place, an inspiring one. But the municipality had no money - and no ideas - to do anything about it.

On 10th April of 2011, a group of people decided to occupy that abandoned public space. Oporto has a lot of empty houses facing a slow but certain decay and so does the rest of the country. There is no tradition of occupying public buildings in Portugal. Squatting is when someone settles on land without right or title. We don't do that in Portugal. People are too afraid to disobey law even if our Constitution provides some support for that. Ok, bottom line, it's illegal. In the course of one year, the group managed to bring a new life to Alto da Fontinha where most people are forced to live with very low income and uncertain fate every day. They welcomed the group and together they worked hard to clean and paint the space. The squatters created a self-managed social center with recreational ( photography, yoga, music, capoeira, film and debates, recycling workshops) and educational (a library, after school for kids, foreign language teaching) activities aimed to the most needed, children and older people. All decisions are taken collectively; there is no leadership or hierarchy. Es.col.a project goes by the principles of self-organization and practices of consensus through weekly popular assemblies.

But City Hall had no sympathy for this occupation from the beginning. After a month of functioning the group was evicted by municipality order. Some negotiations with the City Hall were engaged and the project was allowed to stay. There was a promise of a contract to give the situation a legal frame and the group was forced to establish itself as an association, that is an institution that can be a source of legal rights and obligations. No one from the City Hall ever visited the space.

By 19 of April, a few days after Es.col.a was celebrating its first anniversary, the municipality sent police forces to evict the group. Maby 30 people offered pacific resistance. Police outnumbered them, there were maybe 200 officers there. I read that a dozen police cars arrived at the scene with masked and armed anti- riot-trained police.

Police destroyed what they found inside the building - a library, computers, toys, bikes, kitchen utensils, and furniture, children drawings and craft works. They broke the windows. Things were thrown down and smashed on the floor. I was really angry when I saw this destruction on internet videos as I considered to donate things to the group myself. Come on. This was too much. In my opinion, City Hall did not make serious effort to negotiate a solution. From what I've been reading it seems obvious.

Three people were detained after being injured by the police officers and three more got beaten up by the police. The two detainees will be presented to the court of law in May. Maybe 200 people protested in front of the City Hall building. The next day, in Lisbon and other Portuguese cities more people protested peacefully against the eviction of Es.col.a. I was at Coimbra and joined the protest. As an ex-lawyer I understand that to occupy a public place might not be legal. But we have to consider all scenario. If the City Law can give some institutions money so they can organize these kinds of activities, why not consider to recognize this group that was working for free? I condemn the lack of a proper negotiation between the two opposite parts. City Hall did not seek a solution because their mind was already made up from the beginning - Es.col.a should be crushed.

Now the school’s windows and doors are all boarded up. These events opened on TV main news. Hashtags like #Fontinha and #ocupai trended on Twitter. On Facebook and blogs, there are plenty of videos, photos and shared links about what happened on Fontinha.

The formal City Hall site statement says that given the group's incomprehensible refusal to accept the minimum requirements applied to any citizen or institution by law, the occupants themselves have forced the authorities to intervene coercively. City Hall also says that it isn’t clear if this movement is really interested in promoting community activities or just to disturb and challenge public institutions.

A petition is in circulation. What more than 2000 persons who signed are asking Oporto’s City Mayer is to reverse the eviction. In my opinion, proper negotiation should take place. This group should be considered and treated as a partner in community development and not a criminal one. It’s obvious that Fontinha’s residents need support. The municipality speaks about a project that will be implemented at Fontinha but I would like to know about schedule and budget when we all know that most of our municipalities are broke. Meanwhile, this group that was around for a year already providing support is banned with extreme violence and a lot of goods, some donated but people who had sympathy for what was being done was destroyed. To my eyes, it seems that City Hall social technicians and bureaucrats are discriminating the group just because they don't act by the book and not because they are not useful and needed at Fontinha's quarter. Before condemning the group's methodology they should learn about their activities. But to my knowledge, those City Hall social workers never set foot at Es.col.a. Why not join efforts in the name of social development?

The Assembly of Es.Col.A gathered on the evening of April 20 with around 200 participants and decided to reoccupy the building on April 25th. As you may remember from previous postages this is a national holiday that represents the end of the dictatorship in Portugal in 1974. I fear more violence on the way.

The official blog for Es.col.a is in Portuguese language, here.

A text in the Portuguese language I wrote about Es.Col.A can be found here.

April 4, 2012

Portuguese Sagres Tall Ship photos!

As I told you previously I went to visit NRP Sagres on the weekend. I had great expectations about this ship and they were totally fulfilled. I visited Sagres during the night with my sister and nephew and then in the morning, just by myself. It's amazing to watch the ship with all 6000 lights up - it takes 2 hours and a half to put all the cables and lights one by one! But by night there were too many visitors for my taste. The next morning I returned and then I was able to watch every detail of the ship the way I wanted and even asked the crew all sorts of questions.

Sagres has sailed across the world and will continue to do it. If you have the chance to visit it, don't miss the opportunity. It's a beautiful ship. I also watched her going up the river and then going away to the sea in her return to Lisbon. It was quite a show. Usually, Figueira da Foz is very windy but on Sunday morning there was no wind at all and when she left neither! So I did not have the chance to watch Sagres with all the sails on. But nevertheless, it was pretty exciting! Watch my Sagres photos on Facebook! I hope you like it!

A video about Sagres, here!

Unique Bonjour liqueur almonds from Arcadia

It's Easter time. In many countries, it is traditional to eat almonds at this time of the year. The small fruit is often covered with colored sugar or chocolate. We eat those almonds too. But in Portugal there is a special kind of almonds that I believe are unique in the world. They are called Bonjour Almonds and their price is high, 36 euros per Kilo. It's a small luxury. That small amount you see above cost me more than 5 euros. In fact, they are not exactly almonds, they are dragees. You can buy these anytime of the year in a little store at Oporto. It's called Arcádia.

The small and traditional shop is the visible face of Arcádia, the candy factory. Skillful hands create delicious treats, almonds, and chocolates. Margarida Bastos, along with his brother, John Bastos, manages the Arcadia. The grandfather of Margaret and John opened the Arcadia in 1933 and Bonjour Almonds were inspired by a recipe that he has brought from Paris. Inside of these almonds, there aren't any dried fruits. The multiple layers of sugar are concealing an interior of very sweet syrup. Different shape, different syrup flavor. Not everyone enjoys their taste. I loved it since I was a child. They are all painted and decorated by hand, one by one. You can identify different kinds of beans carrots, strawberries, babies...! They are really cute, a handcrafted item, precious. These were bought at Arcádia. I am going to give it to my nephew but first I photographed it so I could show it to you and tell you this small story.