Monday, July 27, 2009

Porto, Day 6

Finally we have hit the water! There is one beach near Porto that offers some waves, near the fishing village of Matosinhos. To the south of this there is nothing but rocks; and to the north there is industry. And today we arrived to find no waves! Within a couple of hours though things changed. We suited up and hit the Atlantic to ride its ankle-slappers. Carla and I can be seen above catching a wave.
Our friend Fabien was friend enough to loan us the use of his board and boogie board. In the background you can see that "castle" we discussed in a previous post.

Here Fabien and I catch a wave together. His apartment is in one of those buildings. It is a huge place with beautiful wood floors, a large kitchen, and three bathrooms. The red sculpture to the right is called the Anemone. It is made out of fishing net and blows with the wind like a jellyfish.

Though it has been over four months since we last surfed, it was like we never left. Carla and I got right back into it without any trouble at all. I do have some sore ribs though, and Carla's chin is hurting because she uses it to steer or something.

There Carla is now!

After an hour and half surf session, it was time to eat! And being in Matosinhos, and being Sunday, fish was for dinner. Fabien's girlfriend Christina said that one should never eat fish on Monday because fishermen don't work on Sunday, and thus the fish will not be fresh. At the restaurant, out on the street, this man was grilling the sardines for the restaurant.

For our table of nine, we were offered this huge fresh fish, called a "black ruppert," or perhaps "black sea bream," but on the receipt it said "1 choupa -- 125 euros"! That entire fish fed us all and then some. Excellent with what is called "green white wine" --- a local specialty of the Douro valley.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Porto, Days 4 and 5

The bus numbered 502 takes us from the old part of Porto to the end of the Duoro river into the Atlantic ocean, and with it the beaches beside the Forte de São Francisco Xavier, or Castelo do Queijo, which was built in 1661. It looks much more exciting than it actually is.

Truly a welcome sight! On Sunday we will be surfing with Fabien.

This is called a "francesinha" and is a specialty of Portugal. Underneath all that cheese topped with a mildly spicy red sauce, is a toasted sandwich of fried meat (and perhaps tripe) topped with a fried egg. Surrounding this are fried potatoes. I am sure that if we had not shared this sandwich, one of us would be in cardiac arrest.

For the banquet of the conference we went to the Taylor Port vintner and got a tour. The English came to Portugal in the 17th century to buy wine because trade with the French had come to halt due to some disputes. The wine produced by Portugal did not do well on the journey to England (it would turn rancid by the end of the boat trip), so the English merchants experimented with the wine to see if they could make it last longer. They discovered that by adding brandy or Cognac to the wine, it would stop the fermintation. It also made the now fortified wine pretty strong (40 proof!). According to the guide, the Taylor Port company was started in 1691 and is the oldest vintner in Porto that has remained in hands of the founding family. The room of aging Tawny's smelled very sweet and nice. We learned the difference between vintage, late bottle vintage, and crap. The tour guide amused us by claiming the wine at their factory is still pressed by human feet. Carla leaned over to me and said, "I read in our tourbook that they say this even though it is not true to make you think you are getting the real handmade thing. Everyone uses machines." Fine be me. I have something against feet presses.

The balcony of the vintner provided an absolutely lovely view of Old Porto during sunset. We even got to see an arial acrobat practicing!

Friday, July 24, 2009

Porto, Days 2 and 3

YAY! I gave my first tutorial to about 40 people, and so I must high-five myself. 150 minutes of continuous talking, 128 slides, and I got through it all with time to spare for several questions, and some blank stares.

Here is my good friend Dr. Fabien Gouyon. I have known him since the famous Summer of 1999 at CCRMA, Stanford. The last time I saw him was in Berlin in 2000. Since then, he has obtained his doctoral degree, has become a "Senior research scientist in the Telecommunications and Multimedia Unit of INESC Porto," and is now the general director (host) of this excellent conference! On Sunday Fabien, Carla and me will be going surfing.

This bridge, it turns out, was designed by a student of Gustav Eiffel. It is one of the six famous bridges of Porto spanning the Douro river --- which is not a lesser-known Clint Eastwood movie.

Here is the sanctuary of Igreja e Torre Dos Clérigos, or church of the clergymen. The glass box at the bottom contains "the mortal remains of the saint martyr Inocencio," put there in 1752. I have no idea who that is, but when I got a little closer I saw a skull wearing a wig!

This same church boasts the tallest tower in Porto, finished in 1763. The clock at the top is synchronized with an atomic clock in London, which I find painfully ironic.

Every walk through Porto gives us the feeling that this old, old city has seen its good times long ago. You cannot walk more than a few steps without seeing boards coving up decaying buildings.

Many people dry their clothes the old-fashioned way, which adds bright colors to the already bright buildings.

To celebrate a job well-done, we walked across the bridge into Gaia to find some authentic Iberian eats. Here is the restaurant we decided on, though no one else was inside.

Our waiter carved us up some nice jambon. That is a smoked pig leg.

Carla ordered roast kid with potatoes and mushroom. That is kid as in young goat. And that is only 1/2 serving!

I ordered the roasted wild boar, a small portion of which you see above. To my surprise, meat wasn't the only thing served with it. Do you see that oddly-shaped item at 12 o'clock? That is stuffed boar intestine. I decided I was going to try it, so I cut it in half and was greeted with an incredibly awful smell. Carla smelled it and winced, saying, "That smells like a pig pen!" She tasted just a small bit and, in between several swigs of water, claimed it tastes exactly like it smells. After my minuscule sample I concurred. It, and the six other pieces of stuffed boar intestine, were left pushed to the side --- obviously an unappreciated delicacy. When the waiter came over I decided to ask "what on Earth is in that?" He said there was bread and flour and some hot peppers, then said "I adore it! You don't?" He had a great laugh with the cook at the rear over my lack of culture.

Our waiter was very nice and took our picture at the end in front of several hanging hams.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Porto, Day 1

We have finally arrived in Porto, Portugal, for our seven-day, six-night vacation --- one day of which I (Bobby) will be giving my first tutorial at the 2009 Sound and Music Computing Conference. So far, we have walked through different parts of the city, gotten a little lost, gone through five churches, and had some yummy food.

The view from our hotel room is this wonderfully-tiled church, named "Capela das Almas de Santa Catarina" --- which is not a very old church, but still interesting to look at.

Here it is from the street.

On our walk we found a market, so being curious humans we went in.

At the front of the market was this shrine, and placed on top were hollow wax doll legs. No idea.

Along with fruit, fish, and blood and liver sausage, some were selling chickens!

Here I am taunting some kids to come beat me up. "T-Hombre" will protect me.
The thin medieval streets were excellent! Here Carla poses in front of one of the oldest surviving houses in Porto --- a five-story house from the 13th century!
There were beautiful colors in many hidden niches, and every once in a while there would be a shrine, and every once in a once in a while there would be a woman as old as the house watering her plants.

Here is the oldest cathedral of Porto, the Sé Cathedral. It was begun in the 12th century in Romanesque style.
Here is the front of the cathdral. One thing that was noticable upon entrance was its extremely tiny width and darkness, which is the opposite for Notre Dame de Paris and Basilique St. Denis.

Another church we visited was the Igreja da Orden de St. Francisco (you can see some of the pictures at that link), built in the 14th century. Its interior was nearly covered in total with painted, gold leafed, and bedazzled wood carvings, much like the cathedrals we visited in Prague.

At the bottom of one of the most impressive wooden sculptures was this glass case, containing "Our Lady of the Good Voyage or Bad Death," or something extremely strange like that.

Underneath the cathedral is the ossuary, and if you know me, you know I like to see bones. Underneath each one of those planks are buried people. And in the walls too.

And if you peer in one, this is what you see. They stopped putting people here in 1866, when a new health law was put into effect.

Through one of the keyholes of a locked door at this church, you can spy an alter containing a woman with several swords stuck in her bosom.

We are slowly coming to realize that Portugal is an extremely religious country -- mostly Catholic. There are many shops around that specialize in products for the religious, like rosaries, statuettes, medallions, baptismal clothing, and not to forget the burgeoning business of relics.

We love the desserts here! So many to choose from when it is afternoon coffee time! Just after this photo was taken, I ate the "Fatia Chocolate", and Carla had a somethingrather topped with chocolate!

Friday, July 17, 2009

Basilique St. Denis

Twenty minutes north of Paris is what appears from the exterior to be an unassuming church; but open any book about Charlemagne (a.k.a. Charles the Great, a.k.a. Carolus Magnus) and you will learn that the Abbey and Monastary of St. Denis played a very important role in his empire, not to mention that it served also as the burial place of most (all but three) of the French monarchy, stretching back to the 7th century (King Dagobert I, 628 AD), and continuing to the 19th century (Louis XVIII, 1824).

The abbey, monastery, and basilica (now cathedral since it is the seat of a bishop since 1966) supposedly stands atop the spot where, in 250 AD, the martyr and everyday funny man Bishop Denis (patron saint of France) finally died after his decapitated body carried his detached head all the way from Montmartre where said decapitation took place. (His Roman executioners first tried to kill him by roasting him, then having him devoured by "beasts," and then baking him. Here is another interesting fact: St. Denis is called upon by the faithful for amelioration of headaches and dog bites!) The small buildings on this spot gave way to bigger ones, finally becoming an abbey in the 7th century founded by King Dagobert I. The basilica was added to and changed throughout the centuries, most notably by a sweet abbot named Sugar, who renovated much of the building in the 12th century.

At the entrance we see that Jeanne d'Arc, another patron saint of France, blessed her weapons here on September 13, 1492.

Here is something neat. Pick up the encyclopedia nearest to you. (Jordan, you might need to dig around the pile of clothes on your bedroom floor to find that one you received when you were 6 years old.) Now look up "flying buttresses" in the "buttress" section, and you will learn that the Basilica of St. Denis was the first place such innovative technology was tried. This transformed the previous dark confines of gothic buildings into open spaces of light. Because of this, St. Denis was marveled for the amount of light it let in, and was nicknamed the "lantern."

I (Bobby) have finished reading my first biography about Charlemagne (Charlemagne: Father of a Continent), which gives an excellent glimpse of the years 760 - 820 in Europe. Many times the book mentioned St. Denis. For instance, this is where Charles buried his mother Bertha and father King Pepin. Above you see the cadaver tombs of Bertha of the Big Foot (no kidding), and next to her is King Pepin the Short. These tombs were ordered built by King Louis IX (Saint Louis) in the 13th century, into which the bones of the kings and queens were moved.

Here we see in the distance the cadaver tomb of Charles Martel, the grandfather of Charlemagne. Next to him is Clovis II, the youngest son of King Dagobert I.

Many of these mortuary monuments are exquisitely crafted. During the French Revolution in the late 18th century, the tombs were emptied, and all the bones deposited into a common grave outside. Luckily, the externals of these tombs were kept intact because they were recognized as art works. I had no recollection of who these two people were supposed to be, and then I discovered allows one to browse by grave location, grave occupant's claim to fame, and even date of death. I used it to learn that these two are King Charles V of France, and his wife Joanna of Bourbon. (Her heart and entrails were buried elsehwere.)

Many of the funerary monuments are very lifelike. Here we see the feet of Francis I (left) and his second cousin and wife Claude de France (right). Two of her "laidies in waiting" were the famous Boleyn girls.

Here is a depiction of war below the feet of Francis I, executed with expert Italian craftsmanship.

Here is the tomb of King Dagobert I, who was the first to be buried here. You see him at the bottom on his side looking to the center of the church, underneath which St. Denis was buried.

In this giant urn is kept the heart of someone we cannot remember. In those old days of dealing with dead bodies, slow transportation, rotting heat, etc., it was common to remove the heart, entrails, and brains.

And in this glass vessel for all to see is the naked (and shriveled) heart of young Louis XVII, son of King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. The 8-year-old became king after the guillotteening of his father (who did not pick up his head and walk). The boy was imprisoned for five years, during which he was abused, and finally died from tuberculosis. A doctor who performed the autopsy smuggled the boy's heart out --- which in those days was normal for royal hearts. The heart was hidden and only recently discovered, to be reinterred in St. Denis in 2004.

Below the Basilica are more remains and tombs. In the center are the most recent tombs, including those of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, as well as Louis XVIII, the last king to be buried at St. Denis.

During the French Revolution, the remains of all the royal bodies entombed at St. Denis were thoroughly emptied and put into a common pit just outside. At a later time, all the bones were collected and deposited in this room. On the walls outside we see the names belonging to the bones, and the years of their death.

Of course, it behooves one to see the relics of St. Denis upon one's visit. In the sanctuary of the cathedral is a large ornate display case of various holy bones from St. Denis and two of his assistant martyrs. I am happy to report that upon my visit to St. Denis, I have neither been afflicted by headaches nor dog bites.