With dusk creeping a little nearer every day and August coming to an end, we gave a last dinner party before closing up the house and heading back to Madrid. We invited six friends, who met each other for the first time.

Sofia and Duarte, architects in Maputo, on holiday around Europe.
Jeanne, a “musicienne” from Paris, here on holiday.
Patricia, an Argentine yoga and meditation teacher recently moved to Portugal.
Nuno, a land owner in the Alentejo, and an inveterate bachelor.
Miguel, a Portuguese journalist just back from the US who came without his wife.
Us, Celeste and Bob.

With this highly diverse group, the conversation was eclectic:

M- America is seething with change. It’s the only place I have seen where people walk around with assault rifles outside a war zone. The gun situation is a cancer in America’s society. But it is a country with guts. The deep national debate over health care is amazing, both for the health care mess and for the determination to make it work better.
B- It is an exciting time in America. I think Obama will get health care reform, but the vested interests are strong and they are making it as costly as possible for him.
S- And with Fox News and other radical Republicans constantly breathing down Obama’s neck, criticizing, spinning, doing everything to make Obama have a political failure, it takes real steel to prevail.
D- But Obama is doing so much right. Africa is waking up to America again. My God! Bush was so incompetent. It is so important to the rest of the world to have a good American President. His color matters for some things, but when it comes to his intellect he is universal.
J- You are so turned to America and I am so involved with Portugal! Today I visited the Palácio da Fronteira. Il est d’une telle beauté, so beautiful. I was completely taken by its fabulous collection of azulejos.

C- There’ s a book in French, “La Frontière”, with the story of “le bestière”, those bizarre animals from the XVIII century painted on the azulejos.

P- I heard Maria João Pires play Beethoven’s Fourth Piano concert there. I remember being completely taken by the atmosphere in the palace, and this fragile woman at the piano, entranced and precise.
J- I played Schumann’s Piano Quintet with Maria João, inoubliable!, an unforgettable experience for me.
D- That’s what we miss most living in Mozambique, the culture, museums, concerts. For instance, to see Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” in a scenario like the Regaleira Palace, in Sintra. It worked so well in the garden at night, the island was real amidst the thick foliage.
C- Prospero doing his magic in the mysterious garden, Miranda appearing on the tower, I can’t think of a better background for that play.

D- Living in Maputo is beautiful, but it doesn’t have the intellectual depth of Europe. Will we ever get there?
C- Don’t knock Lourenço Marques. I am who I am today thanks to growing up there. Granted, I am not the same person I was then, even though I thought then was forever.

J- This is a muqueca de camarão we are eating, isn’t it? I remember having it in Salvador de Bahia.

P- Right now I am in Brazilian heaven. Who was the cook?
C- I did it. Is it too spicy?
B- Actually Celeste climbed the tree for the coconut, cracked it open, drank the water, then straddled the coconut stool and rhythmically shredded the flesh. So sexy.
C- I wish I did….

N- (Whispering) Tell me about Jeanne, she is so interesting, is she married?
C- (Whispering) She was married, but going on tournees all the time took its toll, and they separated. I don’t know if she has anyone now. Why don’t you ask her?
J- Dites nous Nuno, tell us what it’s like living in the Alentejo.
N- Mainly, I breed Lusitanian horses, which are bought by Arabs from the Gulf. But my current passion is restoring a fifth century convent I bought with the economic crisis, and I am opening a school for poor, rural children. The school will teach music appreciation, as well as literature, science, mathematics and languages. It would be wonderful if you could do a concert for the kids while you are here.
S- It does help to have the means to do all one wants. It is a different story when you are limited economically like us.
P- That’s not true. Look, I am 54 and own nothing. I left an easy, familiar life in Argentina and I am starting again in another country. I emigrated only with my expertise -- yoga and meditation classes for executives. It helps increase productivity and alertness. I am signing a contract with the telephone company in September to limber up the suits.
J- How about your family in Argentina?
P- The glue that holds a marriage together, sometimes it’s messy and embarrassing, so I cut entirely with the past. I guess you could put my inner age at 18!
C- Here’s to second chances!
S- To leave one’s country with only a dream, and begin again elsewhere at 54, yes, very daring.
M- We all know that success, power, fame, and especially happiness come with expiration dates.
B- Not necessarily. You have to know when to stop and, like Patricia, re-invent yourself.
D- As they say, think globally, live globally.
C- Patricia, why Portugal, why did you leave Argentina to come here?
P- It is an easy country to settle in, and things are going well for me. I may not be here forever. Let’s see what the future holds.
D- I cannot conceive of living outside Maputo, with all its problems, it is the place that makes the most sense for me.
S- Me too.
C- Bob and I like to move and start again. It is a challenge to learn a different language, make a new home, make new friends, plunge deep into a new culture. It keeps us on our toes. We both have portable professions. As long as I have my easel and books and the dog is happy, that’s where home is.
J- Paris is where I always return to, my center of gravity. But I travel constantly for concerts. Ideally I spend half the year in Paris and half on the road.
M- My wife would love to leave Portugal and go live elsewhere, but my work is here with the paper, I have the job I always wanted. I suppose I could take a year off to write. But not yet, maybe in some years.
N- I am perfectly happy in the Alentejo, I am one of those people who don’t travel well. I am like a tree, my roots go deep. When I am in another country I miss my house and my horses, the special smell of the air in the fields, Guida’s delicious cooking. I only travel for music, Prague’s musical festival, operas at La Scala, for me music is the main reason to travel.
P- When are you having a show, Celeste?
C- I am starting a new art project when I return to Madrid. I will be totally involved with it, won’t have much time for blogging or anything else.
B- She has been blogging all summer.
J- C’ est vraie? But you must give me the link.
N- When do you leave for Spain? Would you like to spend the weekend at my place in northern Alentejo? I think you will enjoy the horses, do you like horseback riding?
B- The weekend would be great, on our way back to Madrid.
M- Perfect, I will count on you for lunch on Saturday. It is near Avis, about an hour and a half from here, I’ll email the map with directions.
B- I’ve always wanted to explore that area more.
C- We have our dog with us, is he also invited?
N- Of course. Jeanne would you like to come with Bob and Celeste? It will be another Portuguese experience for you. And of course Patricia, Miguel, Sofia, Duarte, you are also invited.
S- We leave tomorrow for France, but we would love to come another time we are in Portugal. I am crazy about horses too.
P- I am giving a yoga retreat this weekend, too bad.
M- My wife arrives Saturday, maybe another time?
N- Jeanne? I hope you can come.
J- Avec plaisir, but I don’t ride horses.
N- Madame, I will take you in a calèche to see my vineyards. Would you like that?
J- Bien sur!
P- Celeste, tell us about this art project, please.
C- It is too soon to speak about it. I will tell you more when it is underway.
M- Do give me the recipe for the muqueca, I want to cook it for my wife, she loves everything spicy and exotic.
C- I will post it on the blog.

Muqueca de Camarão (for 8 people)

3 tablespoons Dendê oil (red palm oil, a staple in Brazilian cuisine)
2 medium onions, finely chopped
3 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 ½ cups coconut milk (bottled or canned)
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
3 large tomatoes peeled seeded and chopped
Salt and fresh red cayenne pepper
2 lbs of peeled shrimp
Bunch of coriander, chopped

Heat the dendê oil, and softly cook the onion and garlic until translucid. Add the salt, lime juice, tomatoes and cayenne. When barely cooked, add the coconut milk. Simmer. After the sauce thickens, add the shrimp for about 3 minutes. Switch off. Let it sit for a while, or better still, cook the muqueca the day before. Then, just before serving, heat it up and add a good amount of chopped coriander. Serve with Basmati rice.


Argentina's Route 40, like US Route 66, drives deep into your imagination.

Patagonia exists almost more in my mind than as a concrete geographic place. The images from a visit in December and January will not go away. Patagonia is a place to be swallowed up by. It has so many sides to it that you can find your own separate reality and live it out. In my case, I found many realities that I continue to live out mentally. Maybe I will choose one and go back.

But how does one get to that memory, that desire? Even Bruce Chatwin, whose "In Patagonia" is one of the great travel books, in the end resorted to recounting stories of others, fantasizing on encounters with unique people and inventing quests. I dogged Chatwin during my journey in Patagonia and talked with people he talked with, went to the places he went to. It would be easy to say he was a phony, but in the end I understood he had arrived at a deeper truth about Patagonia. I appreciated that Chatwin was striving to express a deeper, mystical, truth about the place: That Patagonia exists more solidly as an idea.

We traveled 10 hours by plane around Patagonia and did 3000 kilometers by car, and still only saw a fraction of this immense expanse. So as one of the proverbial blind men defining an elephant, I will let the images below show the flawed glimpses of what I saw of Patagonia.

In 1901 Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, with Miss Etta Price, settled right here in Cholilla, province of Chubut, Argentina. They lived like gentlemen farmers for about 5 years, inviting the local people and the governor of the province for parties, where the Sundance Kid entertained them playing sambas on his guitar. But Etta Price got impatient with so much gracious living and incited them back to the exciting life of robbing banks. With the American and Argentine police after them, they escaped to Bolivia, where it is believed that they died in a shootout.

Sometimes, in the middle of nowhere, one comes across a lonely rider.

The immense Perito Moreno glacier, covering more territory than Buenos Aires.

Breathtaking Torres del Paine, in Chile.

Puerto Natales is known for its "magellanic" architecture, with colorful houses made of wood and corrugated zinc plates. Abandoned dogs are everywhere in Patagonia, it breaks your heart. We gave them food, but it was like a grain of sand.

Wind. There is wind everywhere in Patagonia, and the further south you go, the more wind there is. In Punta Arenas they put ropes at the intersections so people will not be blown out into traffic.

The emptiness of Patagonia prompts the few people who live there to reach out for very personal forms of spirituality. You come upon lovingly cared for shrines in the most desolate spots. These shrines are mainly dedicated to two very popular “saints” in the local folklore.

Gauchito Gil was a young cowhand murdered by the authorities in an atrocious way because he loved the rich widow who owned the estancia. At the place where he was killed, miracles were recounted – good ones for the poor and bad ones for the rich. His red-painted shrines with his painted or sculpted image are filled with bottles of wine and cigarettes.

Difunta Correa was a young woman who had just given birth and died of thirst while walking through Patagonia’s vastness. When her body was found four days later, her baby was still alive and nursing from the dead woman’s breast. Difunta Correa’s shrines, with the image of the miracle, are piled with mountains of bottles of water.

Patagonia's magnificent fauna -- eagles, guanacos, foxes, ñandús, and many others.

A characteristic sight in the windy vastness of Patagonia are "arboles bandera" - flag trees - bent from the constant wind.

We stayed at the estancia in Viamonte, belonging to the descendants of Lucas Bridges who wrote the must-read book on Tierra del Fuego, "The Uttermost Part Of The Earth".

Traveling south in Tierra del Fuego.

The meeting of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans – the Drake Passage – is one of the very roughest seas in the world, where countless ships have sunk over the centuries. The End of The World Museum in Ushuaia is filled with beautiful figureheads and historical memories rescued from the waters.

Leaving Ushuaia for Antarctica.


Soon after returning from the north, I received a surprising message from Anna Thulin, who I talked about in a previous entry. She thanked me for my note – left at the hospital the day before she was to be discharged – and invited me for tea.

Ms. Thulin greeted me at the door of her lovely home. She is very pretty and young looking. Proper. Lithe as a dancer.

She took me to a room bathed in sunlight, big windows giving onto a garden. I gasped, recognizing a painting of mine on the wall. Anna smiled and told me she loves the painting, and had always wanted to meet me. What a rare and wonderful coincidence for me!

As we sipped tea and ate little hot almond pastries, Anna Thulin talked. I will try to transmit here, in an impressionistic way, the gist of what she told me.

“I have been like a fish that lives in the sunless depths of the ocean….

“I married a year after arriving in Portugal. I was very young. I was staying with a Swedish couple, friends of my parents, and attending art classes. One day I was invited to a party where I met Vasco. I was blown away by his charm and seduced by his extravagant love of life. I was in over my head.

“I guess we go on playing various roles until we find our own….

“I seemed concocted to fulfill Vasco’s fantasies, like an exotic pet one likes to show off to one’s friends. At first I loved it, to be treated like a valuable collector’s item, but with the passing of years I was more and more dissatisfied. I became filled with frustrated artistic visions, daydreams, restlessness, chain-smoking….

“My husband’s schemes and pace were getting wilder, his demands on me more and more difficult. It frightens me to admit I was frightened.

“I suppose I could just have walked away, but it was not so easy. Everything was his, the travel agency, the houses, the cars, all in his name. I was naïve and he was a lawyer.

“My dissatisfaction with myself was the hardest. I have artistic talents, but if they are not expressed and acknowledged they don’t exist.

“And I was being tossed aside like a fading mistress. I felt there was no way out for me.

“I had to do it, get out of my life -- get out of life as I’ve known it for almost 20 years -- and I felt an unfamiliar kind of courage. I started collecting sleeping pills.

“I went to Hotel Central, a place I know well from work. All our clients stay there. I knew the hotel’s routines well. The rest you know. As it took place in a hotel, it became public. Vasco has a total terror of publicity, he has to control everything. Then he was exposed by his wife’s attempted suicide splattered across the paper. You picked it up. Others did too. The police are all over him because of the note I left behind in the room. I am being invited daily for interviews with TV and papers. He is giving me all I want, divorce, this house, in exchange for my silence.

“You know, the world is beginning all over again for me, and I intend to savor the exciting days ahead. I am going to design fabric. It has been my passion since my art school days in Sweden. I came here to learn how to paint azulejos, Portuguese tiles, and now I am starting again.

“Living means change and growth. Sometimes one has to take risks.”

PEDRO AND INÊS – A Portuguese Medieval Love Story

Shakespeare wishes. On my trip to the north of Portugal I have been criss-crossing with one of the most beautiful love stories of the Middle Ages, which took place 200 years before Shakespeare’s fable of “Romeo and Juliet”. The Pedro and Inês love story is not only true but fully documented.

It started in 1340, when the heir to the throne of Portugal, Prince Pedro, was 20 years old.

His father, King Afonso IV, the 7th King of the newly created nation of Portugal, had secretly arranged by proxy the marriage of his son to Lady Constanza, a Castillian Princess. Pedro had not been consulted or informed of his arranged marriage because there had been an earlier episode of repudiation. When he was 14 and laid eyes on another Castillian Princess his father had planned to marry him to, he revolted and had the Princess returned to Spain. This time Pedro’s father had arranged that Lady Constanza arrive in Portugal as Pedro’s official wife and future Queen. The Prince was enraged with this “fait accompli”.

When Princess Constanza arrived, Pedro was smitten by one of her ladies-in-waiting, Inês de Castro. In the words of his chronicler, Inês was “...beautiful as a flower, blond as the sun, and extremely elegant.” Pedro fell madly, rapturously in love with her and they became inseparable lovers. The resulting scandal was such that the king ordered his son to stop seeing Inês. Pedro ignored his father’s demand and hid Inês in a castle away from the court.

This situation continued with the mounting disapproval of the King’s counselors, who began insinuating that the only solution was to kill Inês. Afonso IV resisted and instead exiled the young woman to Spain. The lovers were separated for two years, but Pedro, who had a deep romantic streak, stayed strongly connected to Inês through countless poems and love letters he wrote for her.

Princess Constanza died in 1345 while giving birth to a son. Poor Constanza, hers was an unhappy lot. Pedro immediately sent for Inês, ensconcing her in the Santa Clara convent in Coimbra, where Pedro thought she would be protected from the King and his counselors. The lovers met secretly at the nearby Quinta das Lágrimas – the Manor of Tears. Pedro insistently asked the King and the Pope for permission to marry Inês, but his requests were always denied.

With Princess Constanza’s death, Afonso IV’s advisors insisted on Inês’s demise so that Pedro would forget his obsession and consent to marry a princess who would ensure a peace treaty with the Kingdom of Castile.

Finally the King and three advisors planned her murder in all secrecy. They traveled to Coimbra, waited in hiding until the lovers, Inês and Pedro, bid farewell at the Fountain of Tears, and Pedro went off hunting. The assassins chopped her head off in the early morning of January 7, 1355.

Fountain of Tears

The death of his beloved Inês brought out Pedro’s dark side. He was profoundly altered by her murder and vowed to take revenge on her assassins. But he waited until he became King in 1357 upon his father’s death. The three murderers meanwhile fled Portugal, because they knew they would not be safe, and disappeared in Spain.

As soon as he became King Pedro I, with his heart black as tar, Pedro had Inês’s killers hunted down in Spain and brought back to Portugal. Two were found, but the third escaped to France. Pedro had the two men brought before him in the presence of his full court and had their hearts ripped out, one from the front, the other from the back. He then called for vinegar and bit into the still beating hot hearts of the assassins to inflict further insult.

The nobles of the court, the Pope and even Spanish Kings urged Pedro to re-marry, but he refused, saying that he needed time to honor Inês’s memory. Pedro had other ideas.

Seven years after Inês’s death, Pedro, claiming that he had married her in secret and that she was the true Queen of Portugal, had her body exhumed and, covered with a veil, sat on the throne next to his. The royal crown was placed on her head and Pedro ordered all the court nobles to kneel and kiss the dead Queen’s hand.

Pedro also had two magnificent stone sarcophagi sculpted, one for Inês and one for himself, and placed in the Monastery of Alcobaça. The tombs, his and Inês’s, were to be placed foot to foot so that when Judgment Day came and all souls would rise up, they would see each other before anything else.

Pedro took an interest in every symbolic message on the sarcophagi – down to the detail of having effigies of her assassins carved to support her sarcophagus, so they would bear the weight of their sin forever. The tombs, which can be seen today in the Monastery of Alcobaça, are wonderful. And to stand between them, looking from foot to foot, you almost wish you could be there on Judgment Day.

The effigy of one Inês’s murderers bearing the weight of his sin.

The Medieval depiction of the judgement of souls at the foot of Inês’s tomb.

The angels are to help Pedro and Inês rise up on Judgment Day.