Saturday, October 13, 2012

Portugal Day 4 - Rice, salt, grapes and a killer robot.

Headed out early into the paddy fields in case the changeable weather we were having would be on my side, but all it seemed to bring was cloud and a bit more cloud, add to this the fact I was battling a ferocious gale that whipped about my person like the thrashing skirts of an enraged flamenco dancer trying to wrestle me to the ground, it was not the most calming way to spend a morning, especially a morning feeling as groggy as I did.

The brooding, overcast sky bought out the colours of the vegetation

I gave it a good go but had to call it quits after a an hour or so, and headed back to the car, where Andre, our de facto guide for the week was waiting patiently with a book, probably ruing his generous offer the previous night, after a few glasses of the local vino, to accompany me out to the paddy fields the next day. So we drove into the village and had a coffee before heading back to the house where I feasted on some sickly, jaundiced looking croissants, picked up from the supermarket the day before and sealed for freshness.

I thought someone had been out trying to make crop circles, albeit very badly,
but this is all down to the wind, that cheeky little scamp
After everyone was feeling a bit more refreshed and the weather had cheered itself up no end we went back to the rice fields with the intention of catching some shrimp for lunch, well I didn't go with that intention, but I went anyway. While the rest of the gang (I use the word gang, because a group of men with a fishing net trying their hand a bit of shrimp scrumping just seems to suit) I wandered around and got some pictures of the salt pans that are found dotted among the rice fields.

Salt has been produced in Portugal for centuries, but these small pans have long since been abandoned to the elements as the practice moved out to the large commercial pans further down the coast in the Algarve and the vast salt flats in the centre of the country at Aveiro. These ones however were now home to thousands upon thousands of tiny shells, that had presumably been washed there, but why the specific concentration in these areas is anyone’s guess, no one local seemed to know of a reason.

I did like this rock.....
....and this small shrub. The lightness of the ground is due to all the shells
A rice field under a busy sky
So after I got a few shots and the gang got no shrimp, apparently the tide was ‘too high’, yes my thoughts exactly, we got in the car, said goodbye to the very distinctive smell that permeated the area and headed to a fishmongers to pick up a couple of crabs and a varied selection of water based morsels that would grace our plates for dinner.

After a quick late lunch we stopped by the Rice Museum. Situated on the outskirts of the village, it charts the history of rice production in the area and was far more interesting than you would imagine, made more so because it was Andre’s Grandfather that had bought the idea of growing rice to Comporta in the first place, and his family have been involved in the business in one way or another ever since, so he could give us the inside scoop on how it all works, in fact I think it was his Aunt, behind the admissions desk, who surreptitiously let us all in for free.

After a comprehensive tour of the very well presented museum, we made our way to the local winery, the very same winery that was responsible for my inconsonant disposition that very morning, but I was willing to forgive and forget, I’m not a man to hold grudges and I sincerely hoped we would be firm friends again before the evening was out.

We took a tour of the premises, where we saw the huge steel tanks that hold the grapes as they are crushed with a special ‘robot’ type contraption that looked quite impressive, but, alas we were not able to see it smash and pulp the juicy fruitage while it’s massive robot hammer hand delivered one devastating barrage of mutilation after another.

As I observed it sitting there, perfectly still, the florescent lights tearing an industrial tattoo of raw, freezing fire on it’s sinister exoskeleton, I somehow knew deep inside, that what sat there, mutely, defiantly before me, could not be bargained with. It could not be reasoned with. It didn't feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And it absolutely would not stop, ever, until you were dead.

So it was a shame that we couldn't see it in action, but there were two very good reasons for that, one, the harvest was all finished, the vineyard is only 30 hectares so this is quite a small operation, and two, the robot thing was just a length of metal hanging above the vats, that, I assume spun slowly around to gently mulch the grapes. For now at least……

I left with an uneasy feeling this wouldn't be the last time I’d face this brute, yes, I thought, I’ll be back……

But before I left I got a few shots of the wine as it aged gracefully and soundlessly in 500 litre French and American oak barrels, as they nestled under the rich glow of warm orange lights.

Oak barrels
More oak barrels
And even more. Well actually they're the same ones just from a different angle, but you knew that didn't you
Got back to the house and as I was minding my own little business, the light, seemingly out of nowhere, took on a most brilliant hue. The cloudy sky turned an astonishing mazarine blue whilst the sun, which hitherto had been hidden from view, returned with a furious splendour and inflamed the terracotta roofs into a blazing display of orange, which when set off against the sky made for a breathtaking display.

Here is the church with the ubiquitous stork nest perched on the bell tower. Every structure of a certain
height in the village seemed to have one, there were a lot of storks around
Leaning tree under that astonishing sky
Here is the church again, but I didn't much like the orange hue the light was casting over it for this image,
so I got rid of it i'm afraid. And I don't feel in the least bit bad about it
Looking back at my notes from that day, I noticed I’d written that it was ‘a light of unusual virtue’, but I shan't be using that here, as it’s the kind of grandiloquent thing only a pretentious twat would say.

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