Miranda and other miracles

14. Oktober 2016 § Hinterlasse einen Kommentar

Cycling – like many other of life’s pursuits – is so very mental that one often disbelieves conventional physics. Gravity seems to work more effectively on a day with dark rain clouds lurching over not-so-distant mountains, and its evil work on uphill stretches is actually worsened by loud cars and trucks roaring by. If you start to ponder the drivers’ motifs for their haste (in my case, I suspect they are rushing across the border to Portugal for cheap buys and petrol), it could drag you down even more.But then I charted a backroad shortcut for myself, and the signpost confirmed my mental image of a better path: GANAME MORALINA. Two names of remote villages which, loosely translated, tell me to GAIN MORALE. And so I did, only stopping at a bar for half an hour to sit out the worst of the rain.


Then I had to rejoin the main road, for there’s only one border crossing for obvious reasons. The Duero/Douro river has cut a deep ravine into the Iberian meseta, and here the engineers have dammed it, so the crown of the concrete wall serves as the bridge between the two nations, which more often than not stand back to back in their struggle towards an interpretation of late modernity.


In the Portuguese town of Miranda de Douro I visited the museum (which opens a rainy hour later than I had hoped – well, the clocks go differently here) which firmly keeps its look turned back to the times when the shepherds stood stoically in the rain with 13-kilo handmade felt capes. I was the only visitor (the Spanish tourists had other thrills in mind, see above) and was followed around by a kind but obnoxious lady. Still, this visit was a highlight of my trip this year because it actually delivered living proof that the area is bilingual: all the signs and descriptions were given not only in Portuguese, but also in Mirandés, which is not just a dialect (hm!) but a language of its own, more closely related to the Asturleonese of its Spanish neighbours than to the Lusitanians’ standard. I heard the difference in vowel quality clearly through the loudspeakers, in a recording of three women preparing to slaughter a pig. The experience reminded me strongly of the museum of Ladin in the Val Formazza 5 years ago. The language is nicely displayed together with the old customs and products, but out there in the streets it’s globalised barter and sloppy hamburgesas.


Talking about globalisation: Later in the evening, I took a room in Bragança, a mid-sized town in the back of the mountains (Tras-os-Montes), where I had once dared to go on a bus in 1978; after walking through the market then, I wrote down in my travel diary that this was what I supposed Africa looked and smelled like. Today, there are still some musty decrepit corners, and the women at the stalls are selling the same kind of figs, chestnuts and boletus mushrooms, but there are conspicuous white museum buildings (with e.g. Sebastiao Selgado exhibits) and a large new cathedral. In the evening, I go to the Teatro Municipal across from the hotel and listen to a great jazz concert, a quartet of Portuguese and French musicians who all live in Paris. What??? A whole jazz festival in Bragança? I don’t mind internationalisation at all as long as the music is as exciting as last night. And the fact that I cycled all the way from the Guggenheim in Bilbao to the Fauksa 4tet in Bragança makes it even more rewarding to me. I told you, it’s mental, all of this.

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