Sunday, October 29, 2017


It’s some twist of fate perhaps that I land on Romania at Halloween time. The region of Transylvania, which is located in Romania, is the setting of Bram Stoker’s famous book, “Dracula.” The character is very loosely based on the actual person from history Vlad the Impaler. I actually have never seen any of the 40,000 Dracula movies, but I did read the book years ago, and it was an excellent read.

The name Romania is based on the word romanus, referring to someone from Rome. But why Rome? Well, during the 16th century, travelers from Rome ventured into this area, and since Rome was a major city during this time, it stuck. The country actually went through several name changes, but it eventually landed on Romania. In English, you may find it spelled Rumania and Roumania in older texts; it didn’t become universally spelled with an o until the mid-1970s.

Romania is actually quite a large country in eastern Europe. It’s bordered by Ukraine to the north, Moldova and the Black Sea to the east, Bulgaria to the south, Serbia to the southwest, and Hungary to the northwest. The country is widely mountainous, with the Carpathian Mountains running through the central part of the country. There are several rivers that wind their way through Romania including the famous Danube, which forms the southern border with Bulgaria. The climate can vary from a more moderate climate near the Black Sea to quite cold and snowy in the mountains.

Dating back to 40,000 years ago, the oldest human remains in Europe were found at Pestera cu Oase. Romans started venturing into the area and introduced Latin to those who were already there. During the Middle Ages, there were three main regions here: Transylvania, Wallachia, and Moldavia. For a long time, Transylvania was a part of Hungary. However, much of the Balkans joined together in the fight against the Ottoman Empire. Although they did end up falling under Ottoman rule, these three regions of Romania maintained a certain amount of autonomy. However, by 1600 all three joined together and was ruled by the Wallachian prince Michael the Brave. (At least he has a name you can take home.) By the mid-1800s, they had created the precursor for their flag and began talks of independence. But given the instability of several different conflicts and wars throughout Europe, it was delayed somewhat. After Romania helped out Russia in the war against Turkey, they ended up creating the Kingdom of Romania and actually had a period of stability up until WWI. They tried to remain neutral during WWI, but halfway through, they saw the war encroaching upon them, a cease fire was signed. Romania was hit hard during WWII, with a large number of Jews and Roma (gypsies) included in the Holocaust. After the war, the Communist party cheated the election and “won,” leaving the country under communist rule until 1989. Many changes took place during the 1990s and 2000s as the government tried to stabilize its finances and economy as well as put policy into place for a democratic government.

The capital city is Bucharest, which I used to often confuse with Budapest. Bucharest is located along the Dâmbovita River in the southern part of the country. The city became the capital in 1862 and known for its architecture, nicknamed “Little Paris” by some. As the center for government, finance, education, and the arts, it’s no wonder the metro area around Bucharest has about 2.2 million people (give or take a few). Bucharest has a lower crime rate than most European capital cities, especially for violent crime, but petty crime (mainly pickpocketing) is still pretty common, as in most places. However, it has a pretty high quality of life overall.

I would totally want to do this!
Romania has an upper-middle income economy, based on data from the World Bank. After trying to rebuild itself during the 1990s, it finally developed enough of an industrial base to help pull themselves the other way. And even though they began to show some stability, they couldn’t escape the 2008 economic crisis (although they’ve made significant strides since then). Romania is part of the EU and has relatively low unemployment compared to other EU countries. It has long been on the forefront of science and technology as an economic driver, and tourism is an important factor as well.

Romanian Orthodox Christian Cathedral in Sibiu, Romania
There is no official religion in Romania, although an overwhelming majority of the population practices (or say they adhere to) some form of Christianity. There is a small number of people who practice other religions and an even smaller number of non-religious or atheists. (At least there are some around somewhere.)

Apparently this warns drivers of drunk pedestrians. Lovely.
The Romanian language is the official language in Romania (makes sense). It’s part of the Romance family of languages, along with French, Portuguese, Italian, and Spanish. Hungarian and Vlax Romani are also spoken by a significant number of people. There are also a ton of recognized minority languages in Romania. English and French tend to be the most popular foreign languages learned in schools (I’m still trying to learn those two myself).

Romanian scientists and inventors have contributed much to the world. Some of the inventions and endeavors attributed to Romanians include the first automatic steam espresso machine, modern jet engine, the discovery of insulin, fountain pen, the first self-propelled flying “automobile airplane,” the beginning foundations of cybernetics, among with tons of other inventions. It must be nice to be in a country that embraces science rather than denies its existence.

Up next: art and literature

Sunday, October 22, 2017


I typically cook on Sunday, simply because I get paid on Friday and buy my ingredients on Saturday. I usually bypass anything on my cooking Sundays, but this was one of those weekends where I actually had something scheduled on Sunday (I couldn’t miss my grandmother’s 95th birthday!). So, I ended up moving things around and cooking on Saturday, which totally threw me off of what day it was.

So versatile, I'm keeping this recipe as my go-to pita recipe.
As usual, I started with the bread: Markouk Bread. This bread is like a pita bread, something I haven’t made yet. I proofed my yeast by mixing a yeast packet and a tablespoon of sugar in ¼ c of warm water and let it sit for about 10 minutes. Then in a larger bowl, I mixed 3 ½ c of flour. I swear I had enough all-purpose flour, but I only had enough for about 2 cups, and that was topped off with the last bit of spelt flour. So I substituted 1 ½ c of whole wheat flour for the remaining portion along with ½ tsp of salt. Making a well in the center, I poured in 1 c of warm water and the yeast mixture and stirred until it came together as a dough. I dumped it out on my pastry mat and kneaded it a little more, using a little more flour to stop it from being so sticky. Then I poured in just a little bit of vegetable oil and coated the bowl, putting my dough ball inside and rolling it to coat it just a little. Luckily I still had a piece of cheesecloth left over, so I dampened it and placed it over the dough and let it rest for 2 hours. After it rested, I punched down the bread and pulled apart enough dough about the size of a billiards ball and flattened it out with my hand. Then I cooked these in a skillet with a little oil in it, turning when it browns. It puffed up, some more than others. I thought these were great; and actually, I kind of liked it the way I made it with the two different (technically, three) flours. I want to open it and stuff it with something later, but the ones for today were to go with the next dish.

Who doesn't like chicken stew? Apparently my family.
Which brings me to Chicken Threed, the main dish of the day. In seemingly typical Middle Eastern fashion, this meal has a ton of ingredients although I left out a couple. I cut up about 2 lbs of chicken breasts into smaller pieces and boiled it for about 15-20 minutes. In a larger pot, I sautéed my onions in the bottom of the pot, then I added in some minced garlic, ground ginger, tomato paste, diced potatoes, diced eggplant, diced tomatoes, green chilies, sliced limes (in lieu of dried lime), and stirred. I did leave out the baby marrows because I forgot to Google what this even is. After a few minutes, I threw in my chicken pieces, some of the chicken stock from boiling it earlier, a couple of bouillon cubes (I have to use the fake stuff because of the MSG in the others), bell pepper, cumin, cinnamon, turmeric, curry powder, garlic powder, ground coriander, cardamom, crushed red pepper, and a little garam masala for good measure even though it wasn’t listed (I thought I still had some Baharat mix in the back of my cabinet but didn’t feel like digging it out). After letting it simmer for 10 minutes, I added in a handful of cilantro leaves and let it simmer for 10 more minutes. The potatoes should be soft at this point. To serve this, I laid out a piece of the Markouk bread and poured this on top of it. I really liked this, but no one else seemed to like it. I’m not even sure why. My husband said it tasted too “flowery” to him – probably the cinnamon and cardamom, but I wasn’t telling him that’s what it was. He’s so weird sometimes.

As a first-time try, this was A+.
Qatari Tabbouleh was my side dish I picked out. I wanted a cold side dish as a contrast, so I thought this would be great. And I don’t think I’ve ever even eaten it, much less made it. It was pretty easy. I bought red bulgur wheat and soaked ½ c of it in water (covering it completely) for 15 minutes. Then I mixed in lemon juice, minced garlic, and some salt and pepper and stirred, letting it rest for about a half hour. I added in some chopped parsley and mint, scallions, and diced tomatoes, and a tad bit of olive oil into it. I threw in a little more lemon juice and a little bit of garlic powder into it as well, and let it chill. I liked this, even though the mint was very noticeable. I thought it had a good flavor, but again, I think I was the only one with that opinion.

This is a keeper. My husband thinks it needs gin. I would agree.
I haven’t done a drink for a while, so I thought I’d give a go at a Lemon-lime mint drink. I squeezed 4 lemons and 3 limes into a pitcher, sifting out the seeds when I was done. Instead of making my own simple syrup, I just used some I bought at the store. I added in 1/3 c of simple syrup to my juices along with some chopped mint leaves. Then I poured the whole thing into my blender plus a bottle of water. I blended it until the mint leaves were about as small as they were going to get and it was a little frothy on top. Pouring this back into my pitcher, I added another 3 ½ bottles of water and stirred. It was still a little too sour for my taste, so I added in ½ c of baker’s sugar to it. My husband thought I should’ve added another ½ c, but I liked it the way it was. This one, however, was something everyone enjoyed. I thought it was quite refreshing.
I thought this was fantastic. And my opinion counts as 4 opinions. Because I'm the mom. 
I’ve finally accepted the fact that there will be some meals not everyone enjoys (there will be no meal quite like the wine venison, though; that one lives in infamy). And even though I enjoyed it, I was in the minority on this one. And that’s ok. I guess. I realize that my tastes typically have a wider range than most people’s tastes are. I have such a wide palate that there’s not a restaurant out there I can’t find something good to eat at – I enjoy upscale cuisine and pub fare all the same.

Up next: Romania

Saturday, October 21, 2017


One of the most common types of folk music in Qatar is that of sea shanties. And in particular, work songs that were created for the pearl divers. These songs were sung only by men which encouraged everyone to keep in a routine while working and to give them something to focus on during the long, tedious days. They would have different songs for the different activities they were doing, each activity with a different rhythm. Group singing was an important part of the job, and each boat had its designated lead singer. In a way, I suppose the lead singer is the one responsible for production?


Women also had their music as well. Most of their traditional songs were also work songs, except theirs were about gathering crops and cooking. Of course, they also developed songs for when the pearl divers came to shore as well. Whenever a ship would come in, they would gather and break into song. (That happens at my work sometimes, too. But it’s usually met with mixed reaction.)

Many of the instruments used in Qatari music are similar to that of nearby countries. Instruments generally fall into three categories: strings (oud, rebaba), percussion (cymbals, tambourines, tabl, tus/tasat, galahs, and a variety of drums including the al-ras), and wind instruments (ney, other types of flutes)

The Qataris have several dances that accompany their music. One dance that is still danced in Qatar is the ardah. This is a men-only dance, where two lines of men face each other. Sometimes a few dancers may don swords, because you know, swords are cool. The actual music behind this is generally just percussion and spoken poetry. The ardah is actually performed across the Persian Gulf states, and there are two types: land ardahs and sea ardahs. But the Qatari ardah is somewhat of a mix of the two styles. Women only have two dances that are performed a couple times per year. The al-moradah dance is generally before Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha. Dancers find a place off the beaten path and wear their best embroidered clothes. All women, despite where they fall in social class, gather to dance this dance. Although it’s somewhat fell in popularity since the 1950s, it’s sometimes performed at weddings. The other dance, al-ashori, is almost solely performed at weddings.  The lyrics are typically based on nabati poetry and are accompanied by the tabl drum. 

There weren’t too many examples of modern music from Qatar. Popular music is still pretty censored and restricted, I gathered. However, there was one musician, Naser Mestarihi, who has ties to Qatar. This Jordanian-Pakistani musician was born in Qatar and has worked with both a metal band called Asgard Legionnaires along with producing his own rock album. To me, it was definitely a hard rock album, with a few elements of 80s hair bands like Whitesnake, Cinderella, or Def Leppard. Not only do they do hard rock, but they also show a softer, more melodic side to them as well. I actually really liked the music, and they sing in English, so that’s a plus for me as an English speaker. It’s the type you can rock out to in your car with the windows down. 

There is also a small but growing rock band following in the Doha area. Although there aren’t as many bands that are widely known outside of the area, there are several smaller local and amateur bands that entertain locals and expats alike. And for the most part, these bands are made of ex-pats and foreigners living in Qatar. One of the problems is that there aren’t that many places to play a gig, but that’ll chance, I hope. Most of these bands end up doing covers of familiar songs because that’s what tourists know. I found a few bands on YouTube like Yema, The Exiles, Cronkite Satellite, and Sector 9 (a Lebanese band based in Qatar).

Up next: the food

Wednesday, October 18, 2017


Prehistoric rock carvings and rock art have been found in several places around Qatar. Some of these drawing depict humans, animals (like turtles, ostriches, and fish), and boats while others were merely geometric and tribal designs. 

There are a ton of other folk art styles. Weaving and dying fabric is common, especially in a Bedouin fashion. Typically sheep or camel wool is used while the dyes were made from herbs and other natural resources. Embroidery was also a common ornamental feature in clothing. Gold threads imported from India were frequently used. There were several different kinds of stitches used as well as designs like flowers and birds.

A certain amount of art and aesthetics went into their historical architecture as well. Although simply made, geometric shapes and symmetry were important decorative features in homes. Elaborately designed doors are frequently created from wood or metal. Much of their architectural design was created with the heat in mind, and windows were seldom used. Instead, they used other ways of ventilation. However, there were vertical windows that were designed to pull in wind and naturally cool the inside of the building. Colored glass is sometimes used as a decorative feature.

Although calligraphy has long been an art form, painting didn’t really gain popularity until after the oil boom struck. Common themes include Arabic and Islamic culture. In order to cultivate more artists, the government offered scholarships to young artists to study abroad, bringing back what they learned to share through exhibitions. Art museums and galleries were then built to preserve and promote Qatari art. Jassim Zaini is often considered the founder of the modern art movement; other artists of note include Faraj Daham, Wafika Sultan Al-Essa, Yousef Ahmad, Salman Al-Malik, and Hassan Al Mulla.

Historically, poetry has been an important part of literature and has been practiced for many centuries. During the 7th century, Qatari ibn al-Fuja’a was well known for his poetry and often considered a folk hero of sorts. Most poetry during was oral and performed during social events. The most common type of poem is the Nabati poem and passed down from generation to generation. Today, they’re still being read on radio and television. Women were also poets as well, but they mostly wrote laments called ritha, which served as elegies. 

Kaltham Jaber
Modern literature, written in Arabic, didn’t really begin until the 1970s when they gained their independence from Britain. And this is one art form where females have been included pretty much equal to men from the beginning. What is amazing is that the first person to publish a book was a woman: Kaltham Jaber first published her anthology of short stories in 1978.

Up next: music and dance

Sunday, October 15, 2017


It’s a weird word how we spell it in English. It violates that one rule about a q always being followed by a u. And how do you pronounce it? I’ve heard it pronounced as “cutter” for years and even pronounced it that way for a long time. However, I did a little research earlier and found a clip from NPR’s “All Things Considered” about the pronunciation of Qatar and came to the conclusion that it’s most likely pronounced as “kuh-TAR,” rhyming with “guitar.” 

Roman writers were well aware of this peninsula, and Pliny the Elder is credited as the first European to give it the name Catharrei, possibly named after some town. However, Ptolomy was the first to draw a map of the area and label it as Catara. During the 18th century, it was labeled as Katara, and today it was changed to reflect a modern Arabic spelling.

The country of Qatar is a peninsula that juts out into the Persian Gulf in the Middle East. It borders one country by land (Saudi Arabia), two countries by water (Bahrain and United Arab Emirates), and is directly across from the country of Iran. The vast majority of the country consists of low plains and deserts. Summers are very hot and dry while the winters are very mild and slightly wetter, although it’s really not by much. On average, the country gets less than 3” of rain each year. 

People have lived on the peninsula since the Stone Age. The Sasanian Empire moved into the area and Qatar contributed to their economy and trade with their pearl cultivation and creation of purple dye. Christianity was introduced about 400 years before Muhammad sent in his scouts to force them to practice Islam instead. This area was also an important breeding ground for camels and horses. And because of its location along the gulf, Qatari cities have long been an important stop in the trade routes. During the mid-1700s, clans from Kuwait started moving into the area. In turn, Qatari forces took over Bahrain. In retaliation to this, the Egyptians and Ottomans teamed up and hit them from the west side while the Omanis hit from the east. In 1821, a ship with the East India Company attacked the city of Doha because it was tired of their piracy. (Who wouldn’t be?) A few years later in 1825, the House of Thani was established as the ruling house, and they’re still in power today. And like most places, Qatar eventually did submit to Ottoman rule. However, initial support waned, and they stopped paying taxes. When the Ottomans stopped by in a “Where my money at?” moment, things went downhill from there, and battle ensued (more or less). In the end the Qataris gained the status of being an autonomous state. Reeling from losses from WWI, the Ottoman Empire relinquished its holdings to the British. Oil was discovered in 1939 but wasn’t explored until the 1950s. It was also part of the Trucial States, although Bahrain broke off, then Qatar, and what would be the UAE. During the Gulf War, Qatar allowed Canada to hole up there as well as the US and France. They also allowed the US to base its operations there after the invasion of Iraq in 2003. In June of this year, several of its neighbors and Egypt cut off ties with Qatar because of its alleged support of extremist groups.

The capital of Qatar is Doha and is also one of its chief ports. It literally means “the big tree.” Although it was established in 1825, it wasn’t officially declared the capital until 1971 when they finally gave the boot to the British. The city played an important part along the trade routes and in the pearling industry. Today, Doha has hosted several pan-Arab and pan-Asian sporting events, international conferences, and will host the 2022 FIFA World Cup. Doha is the center of government, commerce, culture, and higher education. Al Jazeera Media Network, the second largest media company in the world (second to the BBC), is based on Doha. There are a number of art museums, theatres, and even a film festival based here. 

For a long time, fishing and pearling were the main economic drivers for Qatar until the Japanese came up with cultured pearls during the 1920s, which rained on the Qatari’s parade. However, oil was discovered in the gulf, and although it took a while to fully assess the area for extraction, it changed everything. Qatar is the leading exporter of liquefied natural gas. There’s no income tax and unemployment is super low (like 0.1%). Although they have a high-income economy, they rely quite a bit on foreign workers to get there.

Like much of the region, Islam is the majority religion of Qatar. The majority of the people practice Salafi Islam (part of Wahhabism). There are also sizable followers of both Christianity (mostly Catholic) and Hinduism and a smaller group of Buddhists. The minor religions in Qatar are pretty much only practiced by foreigners.

Arabic is the official language here, but locals speak a Qatari Arabic dialect. They even have their own Qatari sign language as well. English is the most studied/most spoken second language, and in many cases (commerce, for example), it’s used as a lingua franca. Because of its international make up of foreign workers, there are many other languages and cultures (mostly Asian) represented in Qatar.

This area is so hot in the summers that it’s nearly unbearable. As a half-Scottish and half-German woman, I would practically burst into flames if I were to go during summer. Architects have come up with some solutions for creating more shadow areas as well as advanced ventilation and cooling systems. They’re even looking into using more reflective materials on the buildings themselves. Scientists predict that if climate change stays its course, Doha and other areas of Qatar will become inhabitable by the 2070s. That’s roughly 50 years from now. I will be 88 years old. It’s entirely possible I will watch this country disappear. And that scares me.

Up next: art and literature

Sunday, October 8, 2017


I can already tell you this meal is making me work outside of my comfort zone. I started picking things that sounded good, but not realizing what I was getting into. Definitely not the first time that’s happened. But it usually takes the form of buying “fancy” alcoholic drinks at restaurants, the kind where you get to keep the glass, but didn’t realize each drink was $10 apiece until you got the bill. 

This might be really good with ice cream. I'll have to test this.
So the first thing I started with is the Portuguese Sweet Bread. In a saucepan, I heated up ½ c milk, ¼ c of butter, 1/3 c sugar and 1 ¼ tsp salt just enough until the butter melted; then I took it off the heat. In a large bowl, I mixed together 3 ¼ c of all-purpose flour, 1 packet of yeast, and the zest of 1 lemon. Then I poured my milk mixture into the flour mixture and stirred everything together. I added in 2 eggs plus the yolk of another egg (keeping the egg white for later) along with 2 tsps of vanilla extract (ok, I used 2 ½ tsp because I love vanilla). I stirred and kneaded the dough until it became a smooth bread dough. I lightly oiled the bottom of a bowl and put my dough ball in it, covered it, and let it rest for about an hour and a half. After punching it down, I transferred it to a lightly greased 9” round cake pan and covered it loosely in plastic wrap that I rubbed with a little bit of oil (to keep from sticking to the dough). I let it sit for another hour. Toward the end of this time, I take my egg white that I reserved and mixed it with 1 Tbsp of water and brushed the top of the bread. I baked it for 15 minutes and then lightly covered it with aluminum foil. Then I put it back in the oven for another 25 minutes until it looked golden brown on top. This was really good. You can definitely smell the lemon zest in there. It kind of reminded me of lemon cake, but I wouldn’t put any icing or frosting on top—it was sweet enough. The kids absolutely loved this.

This turned out way better than I thought. And I thought they were pretty good. Not as "fishy" as I thought they'd be.
So now, it’s the dish that makes me nervous: Amêijoas à Bulhão Pato, or clams with lemon and garlic. I bought clams still in their shells, something I’ve never done. It just seems like one of those dishes that’s really easy to get food poisoning from if you screw this up. Anyway, I found them at Kroger for $2.99/lb and bought 3 lbs (I got 8 clams, so each of us could have two). I have never done this before, and I really didn’t know what I was getting into. Then the lady added a bunch of ice on top of them and said, “This is so they don’t die of dehydration. They’re still alive, you know.” Um, no I didn’t fully put that all together in my head yet. But now I know. Of course, then the kids wanted to “babysit” the clams on the ride home, talking to them, and being generally creepy (“Hi, clams. We’re gonna eat you tomorrow. Enjoy your last night with your friends in our fridge.”). Anyway, I digress. When I was ready, I soaked the clams in a large bowl for about 2 hours in salted water before cooking them. I did rinse them off first. In a skillet, I heated some olive oil and sautéed some minced garlic for a few minutes. Then I added in my clams and covered the skillet, shaking the skillet every now and then until the clams open up. I imagine that’s them screaming from being cooked alive. It took about 10 minutes or so. Once the clams have all opened up, I turned off the heat and seasoned it with pepper, lemon juice (from the lemon I used the zest for), and chopped cilantro. I actually really liked this and was amazed they turned out really good. I’m still checking myself for signs of food poisoning, but as I write this, so far so good. I did have to tell my daughter not to eat the part of the foot that attaches the meat to the shell. She says, “Oh. Well, it was still good.”

I liked this dish, but next time, not with the olives. I just learned that olives and fish are not one of my favorite food combinations.
This was one of those weird days where I made two main dishes. The other one I made today is Portuguese Traditional Cod. I washed some small potatoes (they were literally the smallest potatoes I have ever found) and boiled them for about 20 minutes. No need to peel them. When they were done, I drained my water and set them to the side. I took my cod filets and cut them into large pieces (I roughly cut each filet into 3”x3” squares). In my skillet, I heated my olive oil and sautéed some diced onions, sliced red bell pepper, and some minced garlic for a few minutes, until the onion looked translucent. Then I added my cod and seasoned it with pepper and paprika and cooked it on both sides for 10 minutes. After the cod is cooked through and flaky, I added the potatoes into the skillet as well and cooked for 3-4 more minutes. Then I took it off the heat and garnished with chopped cilantro and sliced black olives. I actually liked this pretty well, although it probably needed a tad bit more salt.

The best veggies are fried. It's thought that the Portuguese introduced tempura to the Japanese when they were exploring Asia.
Finally, to go with this, I made Peixinhos da Horta, or fried green beans. I bought some fresh green beans and snapped the ends off of them. In a saucepan filled with salted water, I boiled my green beans for 10-15 minutes. When they were done, I drained the water. In a small bowl, I mixed about ¾ c flour, 3 eggs, pepper, parsley, and a little salt and whisked with a fork until it’s a creamy consistency. I had to add in a little water because it was too thick. When my oil was heated in my skillet, I dipped my green beans in the batter and fried them until the sides are golden brown. Then I placed them on a plate with a paper towel. I liked these, but the kids weren’t really fans of them. Maybe if I had a sauce or something to go with them, they might’ve liked them better.

Definitely a half-glass, after-dinner, sipping kind of wine. 
I also bought a bottle of Madeira wine and a bottle of Port wine. However, both bottles of what I bought are American versions of its Portuguese counterpart. Madeira wine is from the Madeira Islands, which are off the coast of Africa while Port wine is exclusively made in the Douro Valley in northern Portugal. I definitely like the Port more than the Madeira because it’s a little sweeter. I do like dry wines, but these are fortified wines that have brandy added to them, and I’m not so much of a fan of brandy. Brandy tastes musty to me; it’s the same reason I don’t like raisins. (I’ve always said raisins and prunes are the farts of the fruit world.) But the upside is that both of these come in at 18% alcohol by volume, and I’ll be damned if I waste some high-alcohol wine.
Overall, I'd give his a thumbs up. Now to get over there for real.
Up next: Qatar


Portugal’s music history has been influenced by several different European traditions. One style of folk music that is widely associated with Portuguese music is fado. Fado, which means fate in Portuguese, often has lyrics that aren’t for the weak. It is typically centered around loneliness, sadness, poverty, and other similar themes. Fado was developed from the urban poor of Lisbon and usually accompanied by the acoustic Portuguese guitar. There are a few offshoot and variations of fado, but it is all an expression of how tough life is. Amália Rodrigues is a fado singer, often called the Queen of Fado. 

The Azores and the Madeiras have their own variations and musical traditions as well. There are a variety of plucked string instruments they utilize, such as the cavaquinho, the machete (no, not the big knife), and rajao. Bagpipes are also used in Portuguese music as well. 

The Azores are also known for their dance called a chamarrita. This dance is performed in ¾ time and primarily accompanied by a fiddle. (There’s actually a dance in the southern Brazil-Uruguay-northern Argentina area of the same name, but it’s not quite known whether the two dances are related or not.) The Madeira Islands also have a dance called the Bailinho de Madeira (as shown above). There are several dances that are well known in mainland Portugal: Fandango (although Spanish in origin, it’s one of the national dances here, and especially from Ribatejo), Corridinho (especially of Algarve and Estremadura regions), Bailarico (starts out as a circle dance and ends in a waltz), and the Schottische (also called xote in Portugal, a type of circle dance where pairs of partners never change).

Portuguese musicians span the gamut when it comes to what genres they typically work in. I’ll run this by genres just because there are quite a few bands I briefly sampled, many of them I liked. And many of these bands sing in English as well as Portuguese. I’ll just go ahead and start with rock: Xutos & Pontapés, The Gift, Blasted Mechanism (kind of an electronic rock), Wraygunn (like a blues-rock), Moonspell (metal), Quinta do Bill, More than a Thousand (metal), Decreto 77 (punk), Dream Circus (indie rock), Nelly Furtado (she’s Canadian but parents were from the Azores), and Linda Martini.

There were a few hip-hop artists I listened to: Da Weasel, Boss AC, Sam the Kid, Buraka Som Sistema (more dance and electronica and kuduru – I originally included them in my Angola playlist), and Valete.

I did find a couple of electronica artists: Noisia and Paranormal Attack. I think I liked Paranormal Attack more because Noisia’s music seemed a little too experimental to me, almost disjointed. And I also listened to a reggae artist from Portugal, Richie Campbell. I suppose I’m related to him somewhere way back there (my maiden name is Campbell). I’m a fan of reggae music, and I liked what I heard here.

Up next: the food

Thursday, October 5, 2017


Art in Portugal generally followed the art trends of the rest of Europe. However, one of the key decorative arts is azulejos, or glazed tiles. It was especially popular during the 16th and 17thcentury when homes, buildings, churches, and palaces used to finish their walls and floors with this kind of tile.

Tombs dating to the 12th and 13th centuries were decorated with a number of sculptures. And after the Portuguese began to explore the newly formed colony of Brazil, it became a source of inspiration for Baroque-style sculptures in Portugal as well, especially during the 18th century.
by Machado de Castro

The first art schools began teaching artists in Portugal during the 15th century. Portuguese artists really started to gain notoriety during the 17th -19th centuries as painters during the Classical and Romance periods took off. These were influenced by the art capitals of Italy and France. Flemish painters also introduced their painting styles to Portuguese artists as well, creating a deep legacy of religious artwork. Some artists of note during this time were Machado de Castro (also famous for his sculptures), Nuno Gonçalves, Grão Vasco, Jorge Afonso, and António Soares dos Reis.

by Carlos Botelho

A few prominent artists have graced the international stage when it comes to representing Portugal. Carlos Botelho (known for street scenes of Lisbon), Paula Rego (known for “storytelling” in art), and Maria Helena Vieira da Silva (known for her abstract paintings) have become well known in the 20th century. 

The literature of Portugal is written in Portuguese, which developed from Galician-Portuguese. Literary works trace back to about the 1200s and was mostly poetry that ranged in a variety of topics from love poetry to historical accounts. Much of these were influenced by Italian poetry of the day. Literary styles from Italy and Spain continued to influence Portuguese verse and prose on through the 16th century.  Drama was also introduced into the mix during the 16th century, but it was mostly relegated as a lower-class entertainment.
("It's the heart that makes the character." --Eça de Queirós

Like other literary movements in Europe, Portuguese also went through roughly the same ones. Portuguese literature during the Renaissance and the Baroque periods saw an increase in plays, lyric and epic poetry, and prose, although the Baroque period probably had more of a focus on prose. During the Neo-Classical period, historical, academic, and literary criticisms began to be published along with the usual canon of works. Brazilian literature also had its influence on Portuguese writing and was gaining popularity during this time as well. The 1800s brought Romanticism and a change of thinking. A sense of awe for nature, Eastern philosophy, and agnostic ideas began trickling into poetry and prose.

José Saramago

Some famous names to watch for in Portuguese literature include José Saramago (Nobel Prize winner, 1998), Luís Vaz de Camões (author of epic poem “Os Lusíadas”—it was him who Elizabeth Barrett Browning was referring to in her “Sonnets from the Portuguese”), Alexandre O’Neill (poet, one of the founders of the Lisbon Surrealist Movement), Eça de Queirós (novelist, founder of Portuguese Naturalism), Antero de Quental (poet, sometimes thought to be the head of Modern Portuguese Poetry), and Fernando Pessoa (poet, famous for his poem “Mensagem”).

Up next: music and dance

Sunday, October 1, 2017


For the past few years, I have been really interested in moving to Portugal. First of all, I have a basic grasp of the language, so it wouldn’t be as hard to get around. Second of all, there are a myriad of other reasons like universal health care, a world-famous wine region, affordable college tuition, and decriminalized drugs. And you can receive social security retirement payments (including direct deposit) while retiring to Portugal. Just putting that out there for those interested. But I also read that it’s hard to get sponsored to work there. Since I’m not a millionaire yet, this is important for me.
The name Portugal is named after the Latin name for the city of Portus Cale (modern day Porto), which became Portucale, and eventually Portugal. You might have seen the terms Lusosphere or Lusophone, which refer to the areas that are culturally tied to Portugal or the Portuguese language. The Luso- part of this is from the name Lusitania, an ancient (and possibly Celtic in origin) region of Portugal. 

Portugal shares the Iberian Peninsula in the southwest corner of Europe with Spain. Its western coast borders the Atlantic Ocean. Two island groups are also part of Portugal as well: the Azores (located in the Atlantic Ocean about 900 mi from mainland Portugal) and the Madeiras (off the coast of Morocco and north of Spain’s Canary Islands). The Tagus River cuts across the country horizontally, getting its start just east of Toledo, Spain and dumping out into the Atlantic Ocean near Lisbon. Portugal has a Mediterranean climate, although that can vary from south to north.

The earliest people in Portugal were the Celts, and then other people from elsewhere in Europe began to pour into the Iberian Peninsula. The Romans tried to control the area, but the Lusitanians fought them tooth and nail against it; however, they eventually became a province of the Roman Empire. Germanic tribes began to be moving into the area during the 5th century. In the year 711, the Umayyad Dynasty moved into the Iberian Peninsula and turned it into an Islamic state for the next 400 years. Portugal gained its independence in 1128. Like much of Europe, Portugal was also hit hard from the Bubonic Plague of 1348-49. From the time of the late 1300s until the early 1600s, Portugal was one of the key players in global exploration. Portuguese sailors ventured into Africa (Cape Verde, São Tomé and Principe, Guinea-Bissau, Angola, Mozambique), North America (Canada), South America (Brazil), and Asia (Oman, Japan, Timor and Indonesia, Australia, Goa in India, Macau in China, Taiwan), and others. Things got pretty crazy for the ruling class in Portugal, that they actually up and moved to Brazil and carried on their business from there. Although they had their own political instability during the 1920s and 1930s, they were one of the few countries that remained neutral during WWII. Starting in the 1970s, Portugal gave up most of its colonies, giving them their independence; East Timor finally gained its independence in 2002.

The capital city is Lisbon, famous for having survived a massive earthquake in 1755 (estimated at 8.5–9.0). It was even mentioned in Voltaire’s Candide. With between 2.7–2.8 million people, this alpha-level city is the largest city in Portugal and Europe’s westernmost capital city. It’s also one of the oldest cities in Europe. Lisbon is the center for government, commerce, and finance. It also has plenty to offer in the way of sports, cultural venues, higher education, transportation, shopping, world-class restaurants, and historical site that locals and tourists benefit from.

Portugal is part of the Eurozone and uses the euro as its currency. Their economy is highly developed, and they are a high-income country. However, if I moved there as an American, I can expect to earn about 57% less money. Their strong industries include footwear, textiles, and cork (they’re the leading producer of cork), and since the 1990s, Portugal has made a move to develop more high-tech jobs. They also have a significant number of agricultural products they farm as well as a strong fishing sector. Portugal is also a prominent tourist spot, often named as one of the best tourist spots in Europe. 

The majority of Portuguese (about 80%) claim Roman Catholicism, even though far fewer (about 18%) actually attend Mass on a regular basis. There are a number of other Christian denominations and Eastern religions represented in Portugal as well. What’s surprising is that over 14% list themselves as non-religious or unaffiliated.

Not surprising, Portuguese is the official language of Portugal. Portuguese is one of the Romance languages and has its roots in the Galician language, which still has many similarities (Galicia is the Spanish region just north of Portugal). The Mirandese language is a spoken in a small group of communities in northeastern Portugal. Counting first- and second-language learners, there are only 15,000 speakers, and it’s actually listed as a co-official regional language, but really it’s only used in this area.

I have long wanted to visit Portugal’s Douro Valley, which is famous for its wine production, especially for its port wine. Port wine is made by adding in brandy just before the fermentation process ends and aged for 2-6 years, resulting in a very sweet and more alcoholic (20%) wine. I’m a huge fan of wine, but I’m not sure if I’ve ever had port wine. However, I’m going to go to a larger liquor store this week to see if I can find some port. Because I have a feeling I might need it this week.

Up next: art and literature