Reclaiming the Wall

When describing a foreign world there is a tendency to try to encapsulate the experience with kitschy references and lazy comparisons until a whole city and culture is crudely packed into a marketable box of cheap valentines chocolates that are thrown away, uneaten the next morning. The truth is, I could spend my entire life nowhere else but in Porto and still not fully understand the city. As a visitor spending one more day here, I have only just scraped enough of the surface to get a bit of moss under my nails. Jason, Catarina, Win, and I spend the day following our guide, Pedro who has a greater understanding of the city than I do of my own shoe size. If “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” ever hosted a Porto themed episode, Pedro would clean house without using a single life line. We meet on the Dom Luis I bridge above the Douro River which runs perpendicular to the oldest wall in Porto, the Fernandina. The afternoon sun casts our shadowy silhouettes on the ancient stones like Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave.” The single vertebrae of the Fernandina wall that still stands, looks out over the city. There is no need for it to guard against invaders; it serves only to protect a deep heritage of Porto’s history as well as its growth. What happened to the rest of the wall?image Pedro says, “People was taking the stones to make houses and to make a lot of things or taking the rocks home.” Even when one part of the city falls into disrepair, the rubble is appropriated by the people to build a new foundation. This is their city after all. I take pictures of ancient city streets, back alleys, shops, markets, grocers, churches, street art, street performers, locals, cafes, Carnaval, and everything that moves me…which is everything. In order to tighten this experience into a focused narrative, I must first change myself, my perceptions, and the very way in which I interact with the world. Tonight, after seventeen years without eating meat, I order squid as a way to explore the many different angles of what it is to be a Tripeiro. Tripeiros is slang for Portuenses, or people hailing from Porto. Over dinner, Pedro says that the term “Tripeiros” comes from a period in history when Lisbon was under siege and the Portuenses sent the best of their food to the people in Lisbon. The people in Porto kept only the innards of the pigs and learned to cook new dishes using the leftover tripe. Hindrances are gardens of creativity.image I can’t say that eating squid has taught me anything important. I’m no food critic with an arsenal of colorful adjectives to describe the yellow ringlets of squishy dead stuff in my mouth, but I am coming to understand an important lesson when it comes to writing about travel. If I never walk down the shadowy streets tourists avoid, both literally and metaphorically, and if I never make mistakes, break oaths, or step outside of my beliefs then I am simply an unreclaimed wall.

– Nathan

3 thoughts on “Reclaiming the Wall”

  1. I’m throughly enjoying seeing Porto through your eyes. Looking forward to reading about the adventures, sites, sounds, tastes, and insights that await you.
    We’re off to a little adventure of our own in Ecuador and am a bit inspired to slow the pace and see what I can see.
    M & P


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