Thursday, February 27, 2014

An Artist named Josefa

Art is what lures me to Europe year after year.  Yes, we have great museums in the States with textbook masterpieces, but in Europe art, both old and contemporary, can be found around every corner.  It's these unexpected, hit-you-in-the-gut marvels that make my trips to the continent so exhilarating.  Such was the case as we walked through the tiny village of Obidos, Portugal, and wandered into the Church of Santa Maria and learned that this beautiful altar was painted by Josefa de Obidos in the 1600's.   Did I read my guidebook right?  Josefa?  As in female?

My artist friends take great offense at having a gender attached to their profession.  In 2014, it is not politically correct to say "female artist", but in 17th century Portugal (or for that matter, anywhere in Europe) to find any paintings by a female artist of that time period, is so rare that you can't help but do a double-take.  And these paintings were stunning.  Absolutely stunning.
So who was this Josefa?  Well, it turns out her father was an artist, too, and had worked on many altarpieces.  His daughter inherited his talent and was allowed to help him with his commissions.  This, of course, gave her entrance into the art world and soon she was receiving commissions of her own.  Her male contemporaries never took her seriously even though she outshone them.  Stubbornly, she remained single and independent.  It was the only way she could continue painting.  She is most famous for her landscapes and today is considered one of the most significant 17th century artists in Portugal.  Sadly, she is not known outside that country, although an exhibit of her paintings called "The Sacred and the Profane" were shown at the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington D.C. a few years back.  I'm making it my mission to track these paintings down on further travels.  Stay tuned for more!

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The Walled Village of Obidos

Obidos is yet another fortified hill-top village in Portugal that could easily be a fairy tale setting for a Disney movie.  We parked at the foot of the hill and walked through a massive arch into a cobble-stoned wonderland.  While most people spend a few hours here and move on, we opted to spend the night.  We found a triple room for only 50 euros!   Roaming Europe without reservations can still be done!

We found a restaurant overlooking the valley below and splurged on the duck with orange sauce.  We ordered wine to accompany our meal and ate slowly while watching the shadows cover the red tiled roofs below us.  It was truly a magical moment which I have kept frozen in time.  The three of us still talk about it six years later!

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Yama Mama Style

I love, love, love the street fashion blogs from Japan.  The Mori Girls.  Gothic Lolitas.  Cosplayers.  Punks.  I tell you, these girls take fashion SERIOUSLY.  Four years ago, I discovered the Yama Girls.  These girls are Japanese fashionistas who happen to love hiking and camping and anything to do with the great outdoors.   (Yama means mountain in Japanese.)  But instead of wearing khaki pants and black fleece jackets, they wear colorful leggings under hiking skirts or shorts.   They lace neon pink laces into their sturdy boots and off they go, up Mount Fuji, cute as the dickens.  I decided to adopt their style.

Now,  I know, I know . . . . when you're pushing sixty, you can hardly call yourself a "girl", but "mama" works.  So that's me.  A Yama Mama.  And even if the trend is fading in Japan, I'm making this style my own.  Who says you have to wear ugly clothes when you're in the wilderness?  Not me.

Sharing this post with fellow fashion lovers at Patti's ever wonderful Visible Monday.  I have a hunch there's a few Yama Mamas among this group, too!  If you haven't discovered the blog, Not Dead Yet Style, come on over.   You're in for a real treat.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Mimi Wears Mount Fuji

I have a file next to my bed labeled "Future Trips" and I've noticed most of the articles I have stuffed in there are destinations in Japan.  I keep toying with the idea of doing one of those quickie jaunts to Tokyo out of L.A. because they're affordable, but I resist.  Do I really want to fly half way around the world to stay for only five days?  Sure, I would love to see the Tsukiji Fish Market, the Imperial Palace and shop in Harajuku, but I also want to see so much more.  Like the 2,000 year old Jomon sugi trees, the snow monkeys, the Buddhas carved into cliffs, ancient temples.  But most of all--I want to climb Mt. Fuji.

Because this iconic mountain is only 60 miles south of Tokyo, I probably could fulfill my dream on one of these quickie trips.  It's such a perfectly shaped mountain and very climbable.  In fact, it is the most climbed mountain in the world.  More than 100,000 people reach its summit every year.  The best time to do so is in July or August when the weather is nice and the snow has melted.  It takes about 8-12 hours to climb.  Most people take a bus half way up and then start from there.  There are stations along the way to get a bite to eat or even spend the night, if needed.

The mountain has only recently been added to the World Heritage Site list, which baffles me.  Why did they take so long?  (Then again, why am I?)

Oh, well, until I do . . . there's always sushi!

Note Added Later:  Thank you to Roberta who commented below.  I took her advice and flew to Tokyo in March 2015 and finally fulfilled my dream of seeing Mt. Fuji!!!!

Thursday, February 20, 2014

The Portuguese Stonehenge

Cathedrals.  Medieval-walled towns.  Beautiful beaches.  Grilled sardines and madeira.  Colorful azulejos (painted tiles).   Castles.  Roman aqueducts.  And even a megalithic stone circle.  For such a small country, Portugal can hold the interest of a traveler for weeks.

The above group of boulders were placed on this hill about 5,000-6,000 years ago.  That fact alone is a puzzle.  Who put them here?  And how did prehistoric man have the means to haul such enormous stones up a sloping hill?  They are located outside the town of Evora, and no one knows for sure what they represent.  Theories include both astronomical possibilities or religious rituals.  The placement of several concentric circles suggests observation of the stars and sun, but the symbolic engravings hint at fertility rites.

For me, it was a nice break from the cities.  Besides the views being panoramic and beautiful, we had the place mostly to ourselves.  I could not believe we were allowed to wander among these monoliths and touch them.  The real Stonehenge is now off limits.  Just one more reason to visit this incredible country!

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Walking to Castelo dos Mouros

Is it my imagination or does the earth really spin backwards when I walk among ruins?  Weeks, decades, centuries, I am thrown into a far away world.  I am a part of history.  I am one with humanity.  I don't mean to sound sappy, but it is this feeling of magic that makes me keep moving forwards.  Or backwards.  Where am I?  It is unclear.

The trail leading up to this Moorish Castle, above the town of Sintra, Portugal, was memorable -- winding, lush, romantic, and full of promise.  We walked slowly, exploring the ruined walls, arches and moss-covered rocks along the way.  Walking the ramparts, however, was our ultimate destination and we were not disappointed.  This castle, originally built by the Moors, was captured in 1147 by a Christian army.  It was beautifully restored in the 19th century.

From the top of the castle, I felt I was looking over the entire country of Portugal.  There are great views of Sintra and of other nearby castles.  But it is the realization that I was standing on one thousand years of history that made me shiver.  And makes me keep traveling year after year.  Forwards.  Backwards.   Where the heck am I?  It still remains unclear.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Convent of the Capuchos

We couldn't resist.  The description from Lonely Planet's Portugal guidebook was just too enticing:

Visiting here is an Alice in Wonderland experience as you squeeze through low, narrow doorways to explore the warren of cells, chapels, kitchen, and cavern where one recluse, Honorius, spent an astonishing but obviously healthy 36 years (he was 95 when he died in 1596).

We were not disappointed.  The Convent of the Capuchos is a secretive, enchanting place.  Finding it is not easy.  We had rented a car in Lisbon to drive over to Sintra for a few days.  The convent is located 7 km away from the center of town in a remote forest of oak trees.  As you see from the above pictures, once we parked our car and walked in, we still couldn't see it.  If it weren't for another traveler, just leaving and pointing out the secret gate behind a moss covered boulder, we might have missed the entrance entirely.
It was founded in 1560 by eight monks and no more than twelve of them ever lived here at one time. (They wouldn't have fit!)  Over the years, because of its seclusion, it served as a retreat.  Many writers and artists found their way here and  I can understand its appeal.  The simplicity of the rooms are in perfect harmony with the nature surrounding it.  I'm not sure why they were built to house Hobbits, but we had to duck to gain entrance to the tiny cells.  The intention, I suppose, was to spend your time on your knees, praying, meditating, writing, dreaming . . . and dream, I did.  After walking through the narrow, winding passageway, I sat outside by the fountain in perfect contentment.  And wrote a poem in my journal.

I want to tango with the shadows of the moon
Dance all night
Sleep til noon
My blood will flow with a vampire's bite
I will laugh
and twirl
Learn to fight
the demons that bind me to the earth
Discover love