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.