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Mark Benham

In Foz do Arelho there is one Pastelaria with an ocean view, Doce Mar. It sits atop the cliffs on the northern side of the lagoon and looks out over the crashing waves as they attempt to break down the barrier of the dune. Ruth and I spent a month or so in Foz before we ever ventured in. Our first time there we met Sergio, the proprietor of Doce Mar and had our first encounter with Mark Benham.

Mark fundamentally changed our experience in Portugal. As a fellow artist we shared a special bond. Mark also provided an introduction to many other wonderful people, including his wonderfully exuberant partner, Jeannie. We spent an intentional moment in a cafe to ask him questions for this interview but there was so much we got to know about Mark through our time together.

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Mark grew up in Hampshire, England he currently lives in Bath. ‘From the age of 18 I knew that I wanted to travel but I worked in various design jobs before leaving to travel the world in my 30’s.’

Since we are in the midst of our own world travels, we were eager to hear a few details about Mark’s.

Mark- ‘The plan was to spend a year travelling, ending up in Zanzabar but that leg of the trip wouldn’t happen for another 10 years. I began in Toronto, Canada and rode all the way across the country to Vancouver. From there I made my way to Seattle, then drove to San Fransisco and on to LA visiting design firms as I went along. My next stop was Fiji which was highly enjoyable. On through Australasia before flying to Thaliand where I took an 18 hour train ride from Bangkok to Panang. In Thailand I ran across several young Buddhist Monks on a 9 hour bus ride on my way to Phitsanulok. New Zealand had some freelance work for me. I have an interesting story about New Zealand.’

 

And you have to understand that any time Mark is speaking we are entranced by his fantastic British accent. So attempt your best British while reading through the rest.

Mark- ‘The New Zealand landscape is beautiful. I took some time to hike Mt. Aiken and Arthur's Pass. With my sketchbook and days worth of time the trails became mine - each day I would sketch the amazing things that I saw. On one particular day I got lost and it was beginning to get dark. The sun was going to be lost behind the horizon soon and I didn’t know how to get back. I tried to cut across a valley, but that made things worse because I ended up even more lost! After slipping into a river, which I figured would help me find my way down the mountain, and becoming more disorientated, I found the path I had come in on by pure chance! The thought of sleeping on that mountainside wasn't enticing - I still remember it well

Detail with energy. Limited edition ink drawings and bespoke commissions. See more  Mark Benham

Detail with energy. Limited edition ink drawings and bespoke commissions. See more Mark Benham

After spending a large part of his life working as a designer, Mark has ventured into the worlds of professional photography and drawing.

Mark- ‘I always loved to draw and when I went on my world tour I was given a sketch book which I promptly filled. Then I filled several more.’

 

The Caldas Community Arts Center in Portugal showed a selection of Mark’s drawings that we had the pleasure of viewing. In addition to the drawing Mark seemed to always be wandering with his camera. Everything was viewed from the perspective of his camera. Ruth and I were so excited when we had the chance to purchase a print of one of his photographs for our private collection.

Mark- ‘Photography is still new for me but I love it. I need to figure out how to have an income from the work. After so many years in the Design industry, with all of the marketing and selling it is nice to just create what is beautiful to me. That is where it get’s tough, trying to sell my work without selling out, without going back to the design for marketing mentality.’

Here's a look at the beautiful image we have the pleasure of owning.

Here's a look at the beautiful image we have the pleasure of owning.

We are so thankful to Mark for enhancing our experience in Portugal by sharing his time, wisdom and talent with us. Check out his photography at markbenham.co.uk and drawing at markbenham-art.co.uk.

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Elizabete e Miguel

Sitting down with Elizabete and Miguel was a real joy. Ruth and I have learned and experienced the hospitality and the patience of the Portuguese- Elizabete was no exception.

Shortly after our arrival to Foz we discovered her Pastelaria Beta along the main road, Rua Fransisco Almeida Grandela. Ruth was excited about the fresh bread, I the coffee and both of us were excited about the fresh pastries. Our Portuguese is mostly limited to hello and good day and Elizabete matched our Portuguese with her English. When we had the chance to sit down with her it was fortunate for us all that her son Miguel was available to translate.

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Sentar-se com Elizabete e Miguel foi uma verdadeira alegria. Ruth e eu temos aprendido e experimentado a hospitalidade e a paciência do Português - Elizabete não foi excepção.

Logo após a chegada a Foz descobrimos a Pastelaria Beta ao longo da estrada principal, na Rua Francisco Almeida Grandela. Ruth estava animado com o pão fresco, eu, o café e nós dois estávamos animado sobre os bolos frescos. Nosso Português é mais limitado a Olá e bom dia e Elizabete acompanha o nosso Português com o seu Inglês. Quando tivemos a oportunidade de sentar com ela foi uma sorte para todos nós, que o seu filho Miguel estava disponível para traduzir.

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As Elizabete and Miguel were bouncing between serving customers and answering questions we wanted to begin with a broad idea. What does it mean to be Portuguese?

Elizabete- ‘That is hard for me to put into words. I was born in Portugal, in Foz. That is what makes me Portuguese.’

Miguel- ‘It is a great responsibility to be Portuguese. There is so much history. We are a happy people. We like to talk, to party, to spend time with our neighbors- we are very hospitable. Portugal used to be really big but even though that has changed our way of thinking has not. We are always helpful, always making people happy.’

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Como Elizabete e Miguel foram saltando entre servir os clientes e responder às perguntas, queríamos começar com uma idéia ampla. O que significa ser Português ?

Elizabete - 'É difícil para mim colocar em palavras. Nasci em Portugal, em Foz . Isso é o que me faz Português .'

Miguel- 'É uma grande responsabilidade ser Português. Há tanta história. Somos um povo feliz. Nós gostamos de falar, de nos divertir, de passar tempo com os nossos vizinhos, somos muito hospitaleiros. Portugal costumava ser muito grande, mas mesmo que isso nao mudou a nossa maneira de pensar. Estamos sempre prontos a ajudar, sempre fazendo as pessoas felizes.'


The process of translating was a bit slow and at times there were no words in English to define the Portuguese. But we moved forward and started to dig a bit deeper by asking why Elizabete lived in Foz.

Elizabete- ‘I was born in Foz, in one of the houses. My roots are here’

Miguel said she was ‘True-Foz.’

Elizabete- ‘I got married and moved to Lisbon for a while where my sons Hugo and Miguel were born. Then we moved to the United States. After some time there we came back to Portugal, near Foz in Nadadoro. We owned a restaurante called Tropicana and brought the Fado to the area for the first time.’

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O processo de tradução foi um pouco lento e às vezes não havia palavras em Inglês para definir o Português. Mas nos mudamos para a frente e começamos a aprufundar um pouco mais perguntando a Elizabete porque morava em Foz.

Elizabete- 'Eu nasci em Foz, em casa . Minhas raízes estão aqui.'

Miguel disse que ela era 'Mesmo da Foz.'

Elizabete- 'Eu casei e mudei me para Lisboa por um tempo em que os meus filhos Hugo e Miguel nasceram. Mais tarde mudamos para os Estados Unidos. Depois de algum tempo voltamos a Portugal. Nós tivemos um restaurante chamado Tropicana entre a Foz e o Nadadouro e trouxe o Fado a esta zona pela primeira vez.'


Everyone has a story and we were really getting a broad look at Elizabete. There is just so much about people you can’t know without stopping to ask. We still hadn’t arrived at the present and how she came to run the Pastelaria Beta and the story only broadened from there.

Elizabete- ‘Twenty four years earlier I had run the restaurante Tropicana. Since then I have worked as a seamstress from home and at different Cafes. To help a family member I partnered to open up the Pastelaria Beta but then I had to run it on my  own. Once we began I had to see it through.’

Miguel- ‘I help out on weekends and holidays. The Pastelaria is open every day of the year and I help out where I can.’

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Todo mundo tem uma história e nós realmente obtemos um amplo olhar para Elizabete. Há tanta coisa sobre as pessoas que você não pode saber, sem parar para perguntar. Nós ainda não tinhamos chegado ao presente e como ela veio a ter a Pastelaria Beta e a história só ampliou a partir de lá.

Elizabete- 'Vinte quatro anos antes eu tinha tido o restaurante Tropicana. Desde então, tenho trabalhado como costureira em casa e em diferentes Cafés. Para ajudar um membro da família unimos para abrir a Pastelaria Beta mas no fim eu tive que executá-lo sozinha. Depois que começamos tinhamos que acabar.'

Miguel- 'Eu ajudo aos fins de semana e feriados. A Pastelaria está aberto todos os dias do ano e eu ajudo sempre que posso.'

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My coffee was almost through and the chocolate cake and bola berlim we ordered were staring us down. We wound down the conversation by asking what Elizabete’s favorite foods are.

Elizabete- The 'Cozido a Portuguesa' is my favorite. It is a traditional Portuguese stew made of meats and vegetables. Portugal is known for the Pastel de Nata but my favorite pastry is the 'Trouxas de Ovos'- an egg based pastry sheet rolled into a log.’

We finished the pastries, had final sips of coffee and left with kisses and hugs.

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O meu café quase tinha acabado e o bolo de chocolate e a bola berlim que pedimos estavam olhando -nos. Acalmamos a conversa perguntando quais os pratos favoritos de Elizabete.

Elizabete- 'O cozido à portuguesa é o meu favorito. É um cozido Português tradicional feito de carnes e legumes. Portugal é conhecido pelo Pastel de Nata, mas o meu favorito é a trouxas de ovos, e um doce feito de folhas de ovo enroladas.'

Acabamos de comer os nossos bolos e bebemos o pouco cafe que tinha sobrado. Saimos com abracos e beijos.

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Sergio Quaresma

In A Flash!

Sergio Quaresma
-Proprietor of 'Doce Mar,' -a Pastelaria overlooking Lagoa de Óbidos and the Ocean
-Loves to eat Octopus cooked in a traditional Portuguese style with potatoes, garlic and olive oil.
-Relaxes in the cool weather of Autumn and Spring.

Sergio happens to be the brother of Miguel (look down one post and you'll see Miguel and Gillian). Ruth and I walked into Sergio's Pastelaria, Doce Mar upon the suggestion of an acquaintance. At the time we were unaware of our single degree of separation. We took a seat in the slightly raised seating area next to a large window overlooking the ocean. The view is gorgeous and it would be egregious of me not to mention the insanely delicious chocolate cake. We have had the opportunity to get to know Sergio a bit during our time here in Foz do Arelho and wanted to share him with you.

When you visit Foz and step into Doce Mar say hello to Sergio for us!
 

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Gillian and Miguel

It’s the stories we share that bring us closer together. We met Miguel and Gillian on our first day in Foz do Arelho. They own the bungalow that Ruth and I rent in Portugal and run the Mini Mercado where we often buy our groceries. We’ve had the pleasure of getting to know them during our time here, and recently had the opportunity to sit down with Miguel and Gillian to chat with them about their story. How they each came to end up in Foz and how that has brought them together.


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We began by asking what it means to be Portuguese. Gillian is Scottish and Miguel is Portuguese, so we got both the insider and outsider perspectives.

Miguel- ‘The Portuguese are a proud people. Past explorations and conquest instill pride in the Portuguese. Portugal found Brazil, parts of India and parts of China. Though you might have a hard time seeing that today. We have lost most of what we conquered but the Portuguese are still hard workers, very hard workers. Portugal may be on hard times but we still have good soccer (futebol).’

Both Miguel and Gillian support the team Benfica, which is good since there are three futebol teams in Portugal with thick rivalries.

Gillian- ‘I can’t speak for the Portuguese since I am not from here but I see that they are like the Scottish. Portuguese people are very open people. There are no secrets. When I walk into a market or cafe I walk out knowing everyone’s stories. They are also very friendly and patriotic, just like the Scottish. When you are from Portugal you are proud to be from Portugal and when you are from Scotland you are proud to be Scottish.

I see that the Portuguese are also very hard workers. There’s a man who comes out and sweeps the streets every day- just to do it. He is not paid or obligated.’


We seemed to see so many of these ideas to be true in our short time in Foz. The people are very friendly and anyone working at a market, cafe or pastelaria seems to always be working. The next question was about the greatest day Miguel and Gillian ever had. That proved to be difficult to answer. We narrowed it down to their best day together in Portugal.

There was a bit of pause.

Miguel quipped with a smile that, ‘We have had some good days,’ attempting to buy some time.

Gillian mentioned a day when they attended a Portuguese wedding.

Gillian- ‘Daniel and Catarina’s wedding was our first large, formal outing with everyone (Miguel, Gillian and Miguel’s children).’

Miguel- ‘Gillian ‘stirred things up’ when she arrived in Foz. She is ‘earning credits’ as a member of Foz. Foz do Arelho is a small village where everyone is either related or is a family friend. People know when a blond woman comes to town, especially with a Scottish accent. Talk get’s around and suspicions abound. The wedding was a great opportunity for us to go out as a family and for the community to see us together.’

Gillian- ‘It was a good day.’


The discussion went on for a while and led Ruth and I to wonder, ‘Why Foz?’

Miguel- ‘I am from Tornada, Portugal. My father was a salesperson up and down the Silver Coast. He had opportunities to take over Mercado’s in Nazare and in Foz. Tornada was closer to Foz so that’s where we moved on April Fools Day 1971. Twenty years late I moved to Canada. I was doing well when my father told me that I could have the store or he would sell it. So I came back to Foz to run the market.

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I also purchased a bit of residential property. In front is an historic house built by Francisco de Almeida Grandela- a wealthy business man who built schools and buildings and donated them to Foz. One of the plans for the house was to tear it down and build apartments but it is protected under historic preservation laws. I ended up restoring it and rent it out as Quartos.’

Gillian- ‘I have been back forth from Portugal to Scotland a couple of times. I grew up in Aberdeen, Scotland. There I ended up owning my own salon and cut hair for a long time. I moved to Portugal and I fell in love with the Silver Coast. I moved back to Scotland and did some work for a jeweler but loved Portugal too much. I moved back and met Miguel and here we are now.’

 

Miguel and Gillian's separate stories are so dense and their story together is still growing and building on that foundation. By now we had taken up much of their time and had one more question. What is one phrase a visitor to Portugal should learn to say?

Gillian didn’t hesitate- ‘Uma Cerveja.’ Know how to ask for a beer.

That gave us all a good laugh and helped to spur the discussion. What it seemed to come down to is to know the social greetings that everyone uses.

Gillian- ‘Know the greetings- ‘Bom dia, boa tarde, boa noite (good day, good afternoon, good night).’ If you are sitting in a cafe and someone walks in they are likely to say ‘Bom dia,’ and expect a reply from everyone. It is the custom to greet and be greeted. It is a part of the social structure that supports the generosity and openness of the people.’

 

If you want to visit Portugal you should stay in Foz do Arelho for a while. Miguel and Gillian rent out space through AirBnB during the heavy tourist season and the offbeat winter season. The Lagoon (Lagoa de Obidos) is a few minutes walk and just up the beach is the roaring of the ocean. Take a walk along the cliffs and sip an espresso overlooking the waves.

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David Aleixo

Grey hour of his Sorrow
Do not feel so heavy, Cross
On the long road of Mishap
I so understand the Fate

Da hora cinzenta da sua Amargura
Nao sente a cruz tao Pesada
Na longa estrada da Desventura
Eu so entendo o Fado

-excerpt from the 'Fado Lisboeta'

David Aleixo. Canadian living in his parent's homeland

David Aleixo. Canadian living in his parent's homeland

Ruth and I met David our first night in Foz. We stopped in the Restaurante Central on the main road for a bite to eat. There was no time to stop for groceries and we were hungry.

We arrived at that odd time in Portugal when food is not being cooked because the lunch rush is over and dinner has not yet begun. David must have seen some desperation in us and worked out the baking of a pizza.

Since that first night we have frequented Central and David has always greeted us with a smile and pleasant conversation. He likes to test our Portuguese but doesn’t force us to suffer our own ignorance too long. As one of our first friends in Portugal we had to get to know more about him so we sat down with him to chat.


David was born in Canada, but he has lived in Portugal most of his life. We wanted to understand a little of his perspective of Portugal, as both an insider and an outsider, so we began by asking him what it means to be Portuguese.

David- 'It’s tough. It can be rough. Things are slow in Portugal. My friends and family and everyone is trying to emigrate. We mostly sit down and wait for things to happen. Being Portuguese is alright, we have everything so we don’t care. There are the mountains and the forests, the beach and the ocean. There’s history and museums and tourism but the people are suffering right now.

It’s our destiny. That’s why we sing the Fado. It means, ‘destiny’ it’s a sad song- it’s our destiny. Portuguese are used to suffering. We just let life happen. Bad things are shown in the news and we ignore it.'

Restaurante Central in Foz do Arelho

Restaurante Central in Foz do Arelho

David and his brother own and manage Restaurante Central in Foz do Arelho. We asked him why he chooses to live in Foz.

David- 'My parents were born in Foz. My mother moved to the States and my father moved to Canada. They got married and moved to Canada together. That’s where I was born. I am Canadian. We moved to New York where my brother was born and after a while we came back to Foz.

I was too young to know that I wanted to stay in the States, but Foz is where I met my wife. We were neighbors and started dating, I was 16 and she, Cristina was 15. Ten years later we got married. Foz is home.'

 

If you’re going to visit Foz do Arelho, or anywhere in Portugal, it’s a good idea to know a little of the language. We asked David what words or phrases he recommended people learn before traveling to Portugal.

David- 'The basics. When you are traveling anywhere you should know several key phrases. In Portugúes specifically ‘Bom dia,’ ‘Obrigado,’ ‘Se faz favor/Por favor’ - Good day, Thank you, Please. Greeting people in their own language opens the door for conversation. '

 

Then we got a little more personal with our questions, moving from Portugal, to Foz to David and his family. The answer to our question “What was the best or most important day of your life” wasn’t too surprising. Even in our short interactions with David it has been obvious that he cares for his family.

David- 'There are two days. Both are when my daughters were born, Luísa and Adriana. There will be many special moments but none greater than when they were born. And of course every day with my beautiful wife Cristina.'

 

We’ve had our own impressions of David, but we wanted to know what he wanted people to think of him. (We think he’s pretty cool.)

David- 'I think often times people meet me and think that I am rude. I seem a bit frank or stand off-ish. I don’t want people to have that impression of me. It takes a little while for me to warm up to people. I’m a normal guy, I like to joke. There’s nothing special.'

 

Ruth had one more quick question for David before we wrapped things up. The past month and a half we’ve watched people kite surfing, wind surfing and just plain ‘ol surfing on the lagoon and ocean nearly every day. We finished by asking David if he surfed. (It seems hard not to if you grew up here in Foz!)

David- 'I’m too old for that shit! I have a bad knee now but I used to surf. I would run and play games and now I am looking to get a bike. A mountain bike would be great to lose a few kilos.'

Buondi cafe Abatanado and Bolo Berlim

Buondi cafe Abatanado and Bolo Berlim

If you’re ever in Foz do Arelho or just in the area, take a little bit of time to stop by Restaurante Central. Grab a coffee and a pastry, or beer and a pizza or maybe all of the above. Watch a game or sit down at the bar for a quick chat with David. We promise it will be worth your time.

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