Friday, 14 January 2011

Getting to know Porto

One of the joys of being a traveller rather than a tourist is getting under the skin of a place, and although I'm doing it in brief instalments, I'm really rather pleased with the way in which Porto is revealing itself. Last time I concentrated on the ancient waterfront; this time it was a student / working class district to the West of the tourist centre. One thing struck me here; although at street level there was a lively parade of very small, very specialist shops, the accommodation above them was in many cases derelict - huge swathes of 17th -19th century buildings utterly unoccupied. The clustering of specialisms would have delighted Adam Smith. This was an an area of traders supplying tools, parts and equipment, but in a way rarely seen. Here was a small 10' wide shop specialising in just castors, with an intricate window display of mesmeric patterns of every type of castor one can imagine. Here a shop for scissors and barber's tools - again, 300 types of scissor displayed with pride, and here a shop for chisels, likewise. There were dozens of such specialist outlets clustered on just two or three narrow streets.  

Around the Rua Do Bonjardin are the pork burchers; I was damn tempted to bring back half an air-cured smoked pigs head, a poor man's Parma Ham and probably just as tasty at a fraction of the price. Raw Pigs are also sold in large pieces, joints ready for home-curing like an entire leg, as well as the smaller cuts that are all we know here. Butcher's Row leads into Fish Street - and fish in Porto means salt cod. I counted eight shops all competing in selling this Portuguese delicacy within 100m - and of the half dozen varieties available, took a certain pride that 'Ingles' cod was the highest valued. Cheese and Charcuterie shops nestle close by in a perfect foodie heaven of prime ingredients.

I also accidentally discovered a small parade of brothels in a decaying terrace conveniently behind City Hall; my slow wandering with gaze fixed on the extraordinarily pretty Majoilica-tiled upper stories of these houses was clocked by a couple of the working girls, who although no doubt unaccustomed to customers at 9 in the morning, felt duty bound to come out to enquire as to my needs. They didn't seem too disappointed, though, when I declined their offers, leading me to suppose they'd encountered English architectural historians before. 

This city is starting to grow on me. .  

Oh. It was warm and sunny. 


Span Ows said...

Just as well you didn't tell the working girls you fancied a piece of bacalao, or that English bacalao cost more...or maybe it doesn't mean the same slang in Portuguese as Spanish.

Tim Worstall said...

The abandoned properties?

Rent control, the effects of.