Friday, March 1, 2013

Moledo do Minho: Small-town Portugal

One of my favorite small towns on the Iberian Peninsula is Moledo do Minho, a dot on the map, if listed at all, on the northern border between Spain and Portugal. You won't find this sleepy hamlet on destination websites, but it's one that always springs to mind when I envision perfect expat or retired living. 

The Minho River divides Spain from Portugal, winding its way to the coast and reminiscing on days when the border was relevant with the contrast of aging shoreline fortresses to the tiny, one-manned boat that guards the frontera today. The estuary hosts one last castle deteriorating in the breakwater and then gives way to pristine, surfable coastline. To the north is the Galician town of A Guarda in Galician, or La Guardia in Spanish, and to the south you will find Moledo, in Portugal.

Moledo, with a view of A Guardia across the Miño River

A place of cultural interlay, the border offers a glimpse of Spanish, Portuguese, and, in particular, Galician culture. The Galician language is just one example of commonality; it bears a resemblance to both Spanish and Portuguese, and most people on both sides of the border are, more or less, trilingual. From a historical perspective, the Kingdom of Galicia included parts of both modern day Spain and Portugal, something that feels obvious in the way that people interact today, and renders the river a convenient, though arbitrary, line. 

That's not to say that there aren't differences. Although crossing a European border is comparable to driving from Ohio to Indiana, it is combined with the state of actually being in different countries. The effect on day-to-day life is largely an economic one, with citizens of both nations tcrossing the border to purchase different goods and wares at an advantage. The symbiosis is fine by me, a stranger happy to enjoy the benefits on both sides of the line.

I crossed the border to visit Moledo about a year ago, when it was dressed up for Valentine's Day. The February sunlight offered a cool warmth without the crowds; perfect for strolling down country roads past sheep and donkeys, admiring the pretty white and tiled houses, and heading to the beach for a caipirinha or a francesinha. It's Portugal, after all.

coastline along the Miño River

the walk to town
francesinhas on the beach

I visited Moledo because some Galician friends had started a month-long rental for weekend getaways about three months earlier, and as far as I know you'll still find them there today.

My friends call their rental a casa abierta, an open house where visitors are always welcome. And this is true. Friends and family stopped by to stay the night and share meals, and everyone was met with a hug or dois beijos. As a new friend joining them for a weekend, I felt fortunate to be able to discover such a beautiful place with such beautiful people.

My friends' life in Moledo paints a pretty picture of relaxed, neighborly living. Breakfast was thick Portuguese toast dipped in rich Portuguese coffee, plus a loaf of fresh bread that seemed to tasty to leave without. The café is also the community center, where you can find most of the community and nearly all of the local children out to play. The rest of our meals were supplied by foods from the local market, excepting, of course, the tremendous francesinha on the beach. The time between meals is a peaceful blur of meandering country roads and long strolls through the parks, along the beaches, and around the neighborhoods. Nightfall brought everyone together for dinner and to appreciate the slow sound of crepitas escaping from the burning firewood.  

Spending a weekend doing each of these things with friends in leisurely turn felt like precisely the speed at which time was meant to pass. While I know that it is the experience and not the border that creates this impression, I think that an arbitrary line can sometimes have the power to delineate our perspectives, to draw the line between work and leisure, or reality and reality

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