A cultural week – Mike Williamson, Coimbra

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If you look up ‘cultured’ in a dictionary, it will often have as the last entry “not Mike Williamson”. But this week I decided to go a bit laa dee daa and do some culture (can you ‘do’ culture? Whatever). My first cultural experience was drinking until 7.30 in the morning and walking home in the sunshine (apparently in Figueira da Foz, a beach resort about 40km away, there’s a club where if you go at 6, they’ll tell you you’re too early and the place is empty – must close at noon or something). Now you may think this isn’t culture at all, but I’ve been assured that it’s an integral part of the Portuguese lifestyle. Besides, one of the times (I had to do it several times to make sure I got it right) it was Carnival, so there was a guy dressed as Napoleon dancing on a flaming bartop pouring beer over his own head. You don’t see that every day.

The other things were much more refined. I went to a cafe where several times a month they host a quartet who play fado, specifically Fado de Coimbra, which is apparently quite distinct from other varieties. It was nice, quite calm music but a bit boring. It’s something you feel obligated to do but not something you have to do repeatedly. The next night one of my friends from Edinburgh was invited to a Brazilian restaurant by her Erasmus buddy (only a very select few get one), and she asked me along too so I went. It was very nice and completely different to any restaurant I’ve been to in the UK. There was a set menu for Valentine’s Day and even though there were 6 of us we went for that. What’s Brazilian food? Well in this place, first you go around a sort of salad bar and pick out whatever you want from salad and rice and beans and things, and then after that the waiters come over with huge skewers with different types of meat on, and carve it off at the table, and you grab hold of it with these oversized tweezers. And in the back there was a guy playing all sorts of Brazilian music on a guitar. Topped off with a coffee and a caipirinha. Jolly good fun.

Then on Pancake Day I decided to share a little bit of my own culture and cooked pancakes for a few friends and some of my 10 flatmates. We were about 13 altogether so we only got a few each, but it was a nice evening, with calimochos for afterwards. Seemed to go down well with the others.

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