Home to Porto

House Cat Returns to Porto from Germany…briefly.

The Grimm brothers, authors of fairy tales such as Hansel and Gretel and Little Red Riding Hood, could only have come from a country like Germany.  German culture is deeply rooted in the forests and from my window of the train, as the sun was rising I saw the forests of these tales from my childhood.  The brothers lived in Kassel and did much of their writing while working as librarians in the city. The landscape was also strangely familiar to me:  rolling hills and farms between piney forests.  No wonder so many Germans settled in Pennsylvania.  It must have felt a lot like home.

However, I was not able to visit the beautiful forests because my time at the University of Kassel was a blur of  work activity.  I taught two classes and a seminar, and I saw three residential programs for youth and interviewed staff at these programs.  The students that I taught were bright and engaged in their studies in social work.  I did get a brief tour of the city from Juri, Franzi and Sigrid, my hosts for the week as we went to visit programs.  Juri, a native of Kassel, explained that 90% Kassel was destroyed by  the RAF and the US Air Force because it was an important manufacturing center of German tanks and airplanes.  The photos of the city around the turn of the century and then after the bombing show the extent to which the city was obliterated.

Although most of the town was rebuilt post-war, the style was more utilitarian than romantic.  Nonetheless, it is a lovely city with a great tram system, a city center and a University.

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The University of Kassel began in 1971, so it is a relatively “new” University for Germany.  One architect scathingly called the design “smurf village” but I think that it is a complement. The cobbled diagonal though campus, the tiled roofs and brick village are rather smurf-like but charming and cozy. and a little confusing.  One day when I could not find my way though the campus to the department of social work, I considered using bread crumbs.

Being this far north in Germany, the darkness lifts slowly and starts around 4pm, so the bright lights of the café and the library were welcoming as you walk into the campus.

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After taking a taxi, two trains and two planes, I touched down in Porto late afternoon on Thursday.  It is strange how Porto feels like “home”.

Next week:  Lisbon!

House Cat en route

As I have mentioned, I have two cats—Maggie and Chip and they are very different.  Maggie can’t be bothered to run away. If she gets outside, she just plops down on the sidewalk in the sun or grazes in the grass.  She likes being outside–she just doesn’t go far. Mr. Chips is a different kind of cat.  He looks for every opportunity to run outside.  He’s jumped out windows, escaped from the garage, and I swear one time I saw him tying bedsheets into a rope.  He is fast and more than once I’ve chased him through the neighborhood in my  robe and slippers, screaming “I’m going to turn you into ear-muffs if I catch you” (I would not, but it feels good to yell that).

 

I’m like Maggie.  But today I am in the airport en-route to Kassel Germany via Frankfort. I’d be happy to stay in my “cozy apartment”  (that is how it is advertised) find my sun spot and watch TV and follow my little routine, but I told myself when I accepted this Fulbright that this was the time in my life to say “yes” to opportunities.  My colleague Sigrid James, formerly from the USA but now living back in her home country, extended an invitation for me to teach and to view some residential programs in Germany.  Sigrid is one of the experts in out-of-home care  and a friend, and I’ve very happy to spend time with her and her colleagues at University of Kassel. I teach two classes and a seminar and visit three programs to make contacts and collect data, one of which is a center for unaccompanied refugees.  The University of Pittsburgh University Center for International Studies funded my travel and support of this research.

My time here has helped me to think about the potential my research has for extending an understanding of “home” beyond the rather limited academic path that I’ve taken with it.

Although Portugal does not have a lot of refugees, it has a group of involved researchers at my university, who have been studying how the refugee experience impacts education.  I also personally have thought a lot about home and what makes something restrictive or not, just from my own experiences of living in several kinds of places in Porto.  So, this house cat is on her way.

 

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Maria/Mary Beth

 

In the past two months I’ve created another life, and to some degree, another persona here in Porto.  It is my way of dealing with the separation from my family and home and friends.  I try to not think much about home and I do it by existing in a state of semi-denial.  My watch is on Portuguese time and in the 24 hour format.  I try not to skype or face time because it is too difficult for me—email, whatapp, messaging works best at keeping the wall up. Seeing faces makes me very homesick.  I try to not think about what they could be doing or what time it is in Pittsburgh.  I live here in this place and in this place people only know me as I present now.  Since I can’t speak fluently, people don’t really know me as Mary.  Here they know me as the Portuguese version of Mary, which is Maria.

Maria is browner than Mary and her hair is shorter and she weighs a little less.  She knows how to de-bone a fish and knows the ingredients that go into a dish called “old clothes”.  She eats cabbage and Brussels sprouts and drinks wine when she cooks her dinner.  She cooks.  She knows what a cooked pig’s ear looks like but draws the line at tripe. She waits in line for food.  She can harvest olives.  Her TV obsession is “Australian Master Chef”.   As you can tell, Maria is interested in food.

Maria is always being asked directions or for the time.  She walks everywhere and takes the steps rather than the escalator.  She likes to walk the city and look at doors and the faces of people and at families.  She says good morning/afternoon and night and hello to everyone even though her accent is strange. She goes to the Church of Paranhos daily to sit and think.  She knits.  Maria can go 48 hours without talking to anyone other than her posse of feral cats.

Maria/Mary Beth worlds came together when my long -suffering and patient Portuguese teacher realized that his aunt was working with me at the University.  He asked her– “do you know Mary Beth”? and she replied, “who is that??”  They finally figured out that Mary Beth was Maria but it made me think about this duality.  Here they only know what they see and who is presented to them and the information that Mary Beth can share in her limited way.

It’s an interesting duality.  We will see how Maria develops and what remains when Mary Beth returns.

When small becomes global

In the spirit of the “listening project” this week’s post is about the story of PICKPOCKET®” and small business in Porto.

I spend endless hours searching for the perfect work bag.  It has to be large but I do not want to look like a bag lady.  I need wide handles and reinforcements to manage the weight of a laptop and student papers and books.  I like a pop of color and style.  I also don’t want to spend hundreds of dollars.  I usually end up with a bag that I tolerate rather than love.

That is, until I ran into André & Teo  at the market in Porto.  They create individualized bags and backpacks and wallets using locally sourced leathers and methods that they learned from elder artisans.  I am now the owner of a hip and functional work bag that didn’t break my budget and was personalized to my needs.  I feel as though I am carrying a piece of art throughout the day and that makes me happy.

When I picked up the bag I asked Teo to tell me the story of Pickpocket.  In many ways it is a story of the new model of Portuguese business.

When Teo was growing up in the 1990’s, Portugal experienced a building and economic bubble that burst.  The entry into the EU and the infusion of money led to an expansion in business and construction that could not be sustained.  When  this economic bubble burst, the process of recovery influenced the younger generation who lived through it to re-imagine the idea of sustainability and economic success.  Rather than go “big”, Andre and Teo made a conscious decision to go “small” and focus on quality and using historically authentic Portuguese methods, and collaborate to with other artists in a sustainable way.  They survived the most recent economic crisis and as Teo writes:

A thought about scale and growth:

Our reality is a bit more complex. Regarding our scale, (although small) it allows us to touch different markets, in a ‘’cirurgical’’ way, for example: in Germany and Spain we have like- minded collaborators that sell our products.  We are open for this kind of collaborations.

As a brand, we sell to an audience that is tired of “massification”, and has a desire to know where things are coming from, and how they are made. So, we end up, like you said supplying niche markets, but not just for the Portuguese reality, we also are supplying a global market.  And this is the point where we see our growth potential and expansion.

 This is not the land of Walmart. While I appreciate the scale of large business with its convenience and efficiency, I’ve come to appreciate how this model of “small” has advantages for the quality of life and the quality of the product, and how small can be global without “massification”.

I now have a beautiful and functional work bag (in University of Pittsburgh colors)  and a new acquaintance in Porto.  Now to find the perfect lined raincoat…..

If you are interested in learning more about their business model and products, this is the website https://pickpocketbags.netIMG-0133