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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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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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