February 17, 2017

Braga, Portugal. October, 2009

Early on a misty gray Saturday, we boarded the bus in Santiago de Compostela and headed south. Was it my imagination or did the sun really come out the very minute we crossed the border into Portugal? First stop: Braga, reportedly the country’s most conservative and religious city. We loved it. Off we went to Bom Jesús do Monte, the grand hilltop church approached by an almost endless series of stairs and terraces. But our first dazzler was something down below: the beautiful sidewalks everywhere we looked. Pixillated tableaux, crafted by hand from smooth black and white stone blocks, arrayed in patterns that ranged from simple stripes and criss-cross diagonals, to more elegant designs such as this one, to spelled-out names of adjacent merchants, sometimes complete with iconographic flourishes indicating products or services offered. Bright in sunlight and radiant by streetlight at night, these underfoot artworks serve up a real clue to the country’s reverence for beauty and craft, simple day-to-day pleasures that life can offer when you slow down and notice.

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