From Tears to Fado

Trip Start Sep 05, 2011
Trip End Oct 08, 2011

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Flag of Portugal  , Beiras,
Saturday, September 24, 2011

Two beautiful days in Coimbra!  This is Portugal's former capital and the home of the second-oldest university in all of Europe.  (Bologna, Italy has the oldest.)  Less than 100 years after this area was "liberated" from the Moors, Portugal's first king made this his capital in 1139.  In 1290 the university here was founded, originally in Lisbon and then moved here in 1308.  Thus the city is jam-packed with history.

(Note: I put "liberated" in quotes above because it is hard to think of the Moors as invaders after they had lived and controlled the southern Iberian peninsula for over 800 years.  At what point does an "invader" become a "resident"?)

Included among the history is the story behind where we stayed.  The hotel's name, Quinta das Lagrimas, means "farm of tears".  Why the tears?  In the 1340's Pedro, the crown prince of Portugal and already married, fell in love with the Galician noblewoman Ines.  Pedro's dad, King Alfonso, waited for the infatuation to end, but it didn't.  After the legal wife had passed away and Pedro was poised to marry Ines, dad hired some men to kill Ines--and the dirty deed was done here on the property which is now our hotel.  (Legend says that the spring that runs through the property sprang forth from the very spot where she was killed.)

Soon thereafter when Pedro became king, he tracked down the three killers and gave them a gruesome death.  He then had Ines' body exhumed, dressed it in royal garments, had her crowned queen in a ceremony, and then had all of the members of court kiss the ring on her putrid hand.  How's that for revenge?

We took another of travel author Rick Steves' self-guided walks around the old city, seeing plazas, medieval walls, churches, a cathedral where Pedro and Ines are buried, and large sections of the university.  And we were treated to two unexpected highlights.

Steves recommended a Brazilian restaurant above the university that we managed to track down.  It turns out that we were the ONLY patrons of this fancy establishment while we were there!  It seems that much of the consumer portion of this struggling economy is timed to payday on the first of each month.  Consequently, there are very few Portuguese out spending money late in the month.  So we had the entire restaurant to ourselves, and the guitarist/singer serenaded us at just the right volume all evening.  The food and service were outstanding!

Our other surprise is that Fado is alive and in a slightly different form here in Coimbra.  You may recall our mention of Fado as a musical form in Lisbon that was born of the sad life of the fisherman's wife.  Here in Coimbra, Fado must be performed only by a man who is or was a student at the university, and is always performed in the students' traditional black cape.  The songs' subjects change from worrying about one's husband out at sea to instead about student love, love for the city and the bohemian life, and the ironic and critical reference to the discipline and conservative nature of the professors and their courses at the university.  We managed to catch a performance of this Fado de Estudante, and to learn more from a woman who is trying to maintain the traditions of the art form.
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