Last Friday I was in Aveiro giving keynote at ENEI, the national congress of Portuguese informatics students. The event was organised for and by the students themselves and I was looked after wonderfully. João was especially great picking me up from Lisbon airport at midnight, driving me to Aveiro the next day and then on Saturday driving me to Porto airport after less than 2 hours sleep … but more on that later …
The congress itself was in Portuguese except my talk, and I was only able to spend one day there as I needed to get back to pack, and so, by the time I met press and talked to different people, the day flew by … in time for an evening of typical Portuguese culture of different kinds.
First dinner of roast suckling pig – prepared in the town near Aveiro where this is the traditional dish. Those who know me know that despite all appearances to the contrary: sandals, long hair, beard; I am NOT a vegetarian 🙂 The meat itself reminded me of the rich flavour of belly pork at Sunday dinners when I was a small child; although much more delicate and without the tooth breaking thickness of the older meat.
After traditional cuisine I was given a taste of traditional student life. This period was a weekend when first year freshmen students all over Portugal have parties … for several nights in a row. The student organisers I was with had been up to 6am the previous night as well as organising the conference during the day. And this night, after having eaten suckling pig at 10pm, drove me down to a location in the dockland of Aveiro, far form any homes that would be disturbed by the noise, to a tiny village of food stalls, a huge music tent … and bars run by every student club in the university.
Some of the students wore traditional academic dress of Portugal – a thick black felt cloak hanging nearly to the floor and hats – different for each University. A group of visiting students from of Braga wore three cornered hats and looked every bit like a troupe of Dick Turpins. The cloaks are torn around the bottom, where family and friends would tear a gash in the edge … social networking before Facebook. The middle of the back of the cloak is reserved for the girlfriend or boyfriend to tear … but if a relationship ended you had to sew up the tear ready for the next one!
I talked with a group of students from Évora who explained their tradition of peer tutelage (I have forgotten the name of the practice). Two older students take a new student under their wing and teach him or her the practices of the University. The young student did not have his cloak yet as only after six weeks did he become a true freshman and entitled to the cloak. In the mean time they would carry him home of the parties proved too much and also put him right if he did things wrong … I missed the details of this, but I’m sure this included eggs (!?). The young student was enjoying the process and the older pair clearly took their responsibilities very seriously. At the end of the evening they asked me to tear their cloaks, involving using my teeth in order to start the tear. I was very honoured to be asked. The idea of biting cloth that had been scraping ground is not something I would normally relish (!), but given the evening consisted largely of groups of students, who had been at the afternoon lecture, pressing shots of various drinks upon me, by 4am, a little dirt didn’t seem to matter so much 🙂
And this Friday, no shots of liqueur in chocolate cups, or suckling pig and Portuguese wine, but instead packing a Luton van ready to move up to Tiree for my sabbatical. Kiel was an absolute star, coming first thing in the morning, lugging filing cabinets and freezers … and boxes some way beyond the current 25kg one-man lift limit. I recall routinely carrying hundredweight sacks wen I was younger and Kiel spent his youth lugging rolls of cloth around a textile factory, so for both of us 25kg seemed a little wimpish … however, there is a vast difference between a 20kg box and a 30 kg one … so the health and safety people probably have it right … and we did try to keep them all below 25kg, but very hard with boxes of books … and there are many of them a ton weight of books in fact, not to mention another half ton of bookshelving.
So this morning finds me half way up the M6, tomorrow morning we’ll be on the ferry, and the next morning in Tiree, ready for a year of hermit-like writing and working … not to mention the odd walk on the near empty two-mile beach outside the door … but that will be another story.