status viatoris – being ‘on the way’/being in a state of pilgrimage
Before I wrap up my holiday anecdotes entirely (and in light of the fact that I may never be able to afford another one) I would just like to make sure that I have given Portugal the in-depth reportage it deserves.
I developed a soft spot for the country on my first visit at seventeen. Admittedly there was nothing very highbrow about the boozy karaoke – boozy dancing – boozy hanky panky – hungover sunbathing direction that the holiday took, but it was whilst there that I was struck by a revelation: leaving the UK to move to a foreign country did not have to be a pipe dream, for as long as there were Brits keen on boozy karaoke – boozy dancing – boozy hanky panky – hungover sunbathing holidays, there would be jobs opportunities.
Sad, but true.
And within a few months, I was packed up and on my way; not to Portugal, but to Spain, since I had surmised that Spanish would be the most useful language.
My heart, however, still remained firmly in the land of Os Lusiadas.
Spending two nights in the beautiful university city of Coimbra, was therefore a pretty exciting prospect.
The university’s influence was apparent everywhere we went – a source of conflict, in the opinion of one local we spoke to, as the establishment and those connected to it are seen to be given a lot more consideration that the rest of the city and its inhabitants.
But the thing that struck us the most, were the sinister cloaks worn by many of the students flitting about the streets.
And even stranger, was the whir of activity that these cloaked apparitions partook of one evening whilst we were sitting in the main square noshing our not very Portuguese, but extremely tasty, korma.
Groups of students, some in cloaks, some in normal clothing (but almost all as drunk as any British youth on a Saturday night) raced hither and thither, staging loud public chant-offs with other groups.
Further investigation revealed that this was a practice known as “praxe” (lit. institution, formality), and was essentially an initiation ceremony for new students who were obliged to get rip-roaringly drunk, before blasting rival faculties with their individual chants. Those in cloaks, were the 2nd and 3rd year students mentoring them (often unsuccessfully, if the vomiting, semi-comatose youngsters dotted about the streets were anything to go by).
It was without doubt an impressive sight to behold, although judging by the grumbling of a lot of non-university types, and the wall daubings that are to be found, praxe is not to everybody’s taste.
And after having to lift Pooch over a squillion shards of broken bottles scattering the cobbles of the most picturesque areas of town, I think I can see why.
Next stop was the beautiful city of Porto, a city that is also known by the intriguing nickname of “Invicta” (undefeated, unconquered).
It is apparently this historical lack of suppression by outside forces that enables Porto to be one of the most friendly and welcoming cities in the country: so sure of its inconquerability, that it is able to welcome strangers and foreigners with open arms, knowing that they pose no threat.
Its air of laid-back conviviality and peaceful contemplation, were certainly apparent in every corner of the city.
Despite only spending three nights in Portugal, I discovered that my yearning to get to know the country in more depth has not diminished in any way since my first visit in 1994.
Someday, somehow, I will definitely be back. But in the meantime, I carry with me a permanent reminder of three simply sumptuous days spent in the Country of Camões.
This is Status Viatoris, finally putting her holiday anecdotes to rest, but boy, what a holiday, in Italy.
P.S I would like to thank my travel companion (not Pooch) for allowing me to use some of her photographs for this post, namely photos 4, 5, 6, 11 and 13. You know who you are!