Thursday, 26 July 2007

Segundo consta, o João não tem tempo livre para trabalhar...

A piada preferida da minha irmã:
Encontram-se duas pessoas, uma diz "Eu sou de Fiais da Telha", a outra diz "Eu sou de Ervedal da Beira".
"Oh - então somos vizinhos!"

Ghymes - Tánc a hóban

Wednesday, 25 July 2007

Uropis Schatten

Lua & Estrume

Aquilo é pior que eu / This is worse than me

I'm not going to resolve any question here, however I want to share my reflections about a trait frequently found among "radical ecologists"; namely, the rejection of what exists. Apparently people with difficulties of social integration are overrepresented in the ecological movement. Is it dissatisfaction with the status quo that makes people unable to integrate or is it the other way around?
There are so many opportunities of joining positive initiatives, giving a positive contribution... What is it that we miss? Is it that we are not able to deal with current circumstances or are we unwilling to do so?

Currently my brother-in-law is rejoycing in what we call the "Portuguese Journal of Misanthropy"... Each author explains to the World, and the "stupid people" what's wrong about politics, science, the internet, and so on. Each of them appears to believe to have eaten wisdom with spoons at breakfast. Unfortunately we know many of the authors personally and we discuss and wonder why they need to reject their surroundings in order to improve their self-esteem. Why they have to deny all the good things of the World to feel good.
I'm myself afraid of writing in their agressive style, to imply I'm better than they are, because I decided not to be against everything for the sake of distanced superiority and the feeling of belonging to the enlightened minority of the "radical ecologists".
Surprisingly, most of the facts worrying radical ecologists are recognized widely, maybe only the context of analysis differs. I wonder whether ecological communities are an adequate unit of analysis for my research, whether their existence is more interesting from a psychological point of view rather than from an ecological one. What is their role in the advancement of the understanding of society? Probably there are two types of eco-communities: the ones where misanthrops are gathered together, fleeing from society, and the ones where positive contributions are developed.
I already feel The Scream dissolving. What should I do, Zareen?

Tuesday, 24 July 2007

Mongolia, Uyanga, Chingees Khan, SIGNer,

Helpful comments

"A basic difficulty when trying to describe how to do research is the gap between textbook accounts of how research should be done and how it actually is done."

"...beliefs about personal fulfilment".

De Vaus, 2007

Monday, 23 July 2007

Verwickelte Geschichte

Ein Mensch wähnt manchmal ohne Grund,
Der andre sei ein Schweinehund,
Und hält für seinen Lebensrest
An dieser falschen Meinung fest.
Wogegen, gleichfalls unbegründet,
Er einen dritten reizend findet.
Und da kein Gegenteil erwiesen,
Zeitlebens ehrt und liebt er diesen.
Derselbe Mensch wird seinerseits -
Und das erst gibt der Sache Reiz -
Durch eines blinden Zufalls Walten
Für einen Schweinehund gehalten,
Wie immer er auch darauf zielte,
Dass man ihn nicht für einen hielte.
Und einzig jener auf der Welt,
Den selber er für einen hält,
Hält ihn hinwiederum für keinen.
Moral: Das Ganze ist zum Weinen.

Eugen Roth

Shopping in Vila Soeiro

Friday afternoon this little truck comes to Vila Soeiro to sell all sorts of things that people need, as there is no shop in the village. The people come out of the little granite houses and from all little village streets to the place where the sale takes place. Prices are discussed and converted to escudos ("Quanto é isto na moeda antiga?") and the salesman says "One cent more, one cent less, why don't you buy my stuff? It's so convenient." And so the ladies take radioactive juice (at least it looks radioactive) for 1,50€ when it is 0.80€ in the shop in the town. Even though the truck comes only once a week the women buy almost nothing, they produce all food they need themselves. Yes, and this picture is representative of the local population: mainly elderly women with hurt knees from climbing up and down the steep village streets all life long.

Land and sky

In this picture, taken from the train between Guarda and Mangualde, both colors and direction are inverted: clouds turned into shrubs and shrubs turned into clouds; dry grass into spots of blue sky. Inverted or not - the landscape is the same.

Wednesday, 18 July 2007

Am I progressing at all?

Now it is 6 months that I'm working on this Ph.D. Sometimes I ask myself if I progressed in any way. It seems that until now I've only done "diffuse" background work...Reading, writing the literature review, sitting under a tree and looking at the fields, dreaming of papers, and...mainly, and most of the time: writing down and summing up my questions. I've not yet progressed in finding answers to my questions. I just found some questions pointless and got much more other questions without knowing yet which of them have been solved already by someone else.

Subsistence farming doesn't exist at the level of the national economy. But the fields are planted and corn, beans, potatoes are ripening without ever reaching the market. The new Policy Plan for Rural Development gives special support to the maintenance of farmers in less favoured mountain areas: farms with more than 1 ha of Utilized Agricultural Area receive an area payment. But...which farms in the mountain area of central and northern Portugal have 1 ha of UAA? And would the maximum payment of ca. 300€/ha/year make the difference to keep the farm? With other words: this state support for marginal areas seems to miss the target.

A big part of the economy in Portugal is like the Violet - like the plants that flower in hidden places ("wie das Veilchen, dass im verborgenen blüht"). Thanks to the grandmas all over, that produce potatoes and cabbages to feed their relatives in the towns! This sort of self-reliance doesn't exist anymore, or only to a very reduced extent, in central and northern Europe.

Sometimes I think it is the difficulty of "catching up" and "modernizing", improvisation instead of organizational capacity, that are at the heart of the very best assets of the country. Do "we" really want to overcome them? Do "we" want people to become entrepreneurs and rational profit maximizers? It is said that Julius Caesar was talking about the Lusitanos when he stated: "On the Iberic Peninsula, there lives a folk that doesn't rule itself and that doesn't allow anyone to rule it" / "Na Península Ibérica existe um povo que não se governa e não se deixa governar".
Now, this might be true for the older generation, but is my generation not already entangled in the "Nike/Coke/Coolness" trap of consumption?

I just have to think at the ultra fashion hairstyle of teenage boys now, to give up hopes for a better future! :) I mean, there is apparently little joy and such a deep need to belong to the stylish crowd. It seems that when the connection to nature is lost, also the connection to our own nature is weakened. Maybe practical work could help (see below) to retune thought and actions, to provide a path for finding out about the non-monetary worth of things.

I mixed all different topics together, this are alcaline pH reflections.
Still the question remains: have I progressed at all since I started PhD? Am I muddling through, or is this "Flexible Design, typical of Real World Research"?

What is Research and Development for?!

"...the formal R&D of international and government institutions has largely failed to produce technology directly applicable to the situations of Low External Input Agriculture farmers. This is hardly surprising, as most formal R&D has focused on "high potential" areas and forms of agriculture. From a national viewpoint, the question can indeed be raised whether the returns from farming in marginal areas and from products intended primarily for local consumption justify high investment in formal R&D."

in Reijntjes, Haverkort and Waters-Bayer (1992). Farming for the Future. ILEIA

Come on! What are investments in R&D for?
Uhps, you are right: to increase tax returns and the power of the state...
Certainly not to support ecological sustainability and a good quality of life for the poor.

Tuesday, 17 July 2007

The importance of practical work

Since the industrial revolution and increased specialization of work, practical work has been increasingly marginalized as something to be done only by whom does not possess mental faculties which allow for intellectual work. However, practical work, the transformation of materials, unifies mental and physical creativity in a process that challenges both mental and physical faculties and leads to their refinement and development.

Human creativity and productivity can be divided into two aspects: the formation of thoughts and their concretisation in the real world. Each person has the capacity to unfold both these complementary aspects for the interaction with and transformation of the world around him. During practical work intellectual and physical activity are combined.

There are also two ways of learning about the world: learning through the use of words and learning by doing.

The transformation of materials / practical work allows for learning by doing and is an important experience of own productivity and provides opportunities for significant learning about oneself and the world.

Every work, every material resists in some way to transformation. It is necessary to learn how best to transform something according to our intentions when we do practical work. For this to happen, we have to coordinate our mind with our physical activity and tune them to the requirement of the task at hand. At the beginning, usually it is difficult to adapt our actions and individual movements to achieve what we have in mind. But continuous training, insistence, help us to acquire the capacities to do the work properly. This learning process confronts us with the qualities of the material and our own. When we finally master a technique we have learned much about ourselves and the world. Practical work is a challenge and opportunity for personal development and self-education.

Fucke. E. (1996). Der Bildungswert praktischer Arbeit. Gedanken zu einer Lebensschule. Verlag Freies Geistesleben, Stuttgart.

Sunday, 15 July 2007


In the interior of Portugal people survive on air mainly plus subsistence farming and low wages of 1-2 family members in construction work, or a factory, either local or abroad. Now, what is the solution? To keep people in the countryside and improve their living standard? (Yes, because it’s not about the quality of life, but about consumption, as this is so much easier to measure).

Well, there are two big solutions (and that’s where I’m getting cynical): attracting industry to the countryside or investing in tourism.

The industrial parks are growing on the outskirts of the townships of the interior of Portugal… As industry is so bitterly desired in the marginal areas, if a factory is installed it can basically do whatever it wants: low wages, no contracts, no rules.
We have the example of Avilafões S.A. in the county of Vouzela. They transform residues from slaughterhouses into petfood, fat for soap and fertilizer. Their factory is in the middle of nowhere in the woods. They frequently discard their effluents into the nearby river that flows to the thermal bath of S. Pedro do Sul. The people are afraid to protest loudly as this would endanger the business of the thermal bath, on the other side they are afraid that low water quality will endanger the attractiveness of the bath. The trucks carrying slaughterhouse residues to the factory frequently loose “material” when they cross the village street at high speed. There is an alternative way through the woods to the factory, but due to the spillages and consequent smell in another village, some people one day awaited the trucks with hunting guns in the wood and said to the drivers they will shoot the wheels if they continue driving through their village.

Regarding tourism there is the “good practice” of Castanheira de Pêra: they simply brought the sea to the mountains! A huge investment created an open air enormous swimming-pool with artificial waves. People from all around, even seaside counties, come to see it and have a dip into the water. It’s in fact a success regarding the development of tourism in a marginal area. And it is amazing to travel ages along curving streets around the mountain to reach this “seaside resort”. In fact it can certainly be a way to attract money to the mountain village, and if local people are clever to rent rooms and open shops with things demanded by tourists this solution can boost the local economy, at least as long as tourists find it worthwhile and can pay to go there.

Now it looks quite paradoxical to have this luxury, superfluous week-end & holiday resort for who can afford it in a really depressed area, where people struggle to stay and to survive.

How long will tourists be attracted? Is this a model to follow? Or will there be no point of other towns building big attractions? If there is such an attraction in every corner in the interior of Portugal, less people will visit each of them and it will not compensate the investment. On the other hand, diverse solutions are required, and tourism and industry could be a way forward in some counties, especially as they are easily endorsed by the local population. But don’t say that’s sustainable.

Wednesday, 11 July 2007

Ribeira Maior

When we were living in the 5th floor in Miranda do Corvo, in a moment of despair we fell in love with a piece of marginal land, Ribeira Maior. It lies in a steep valley in the Serra da Lousã and is crossed by a little river. I'm biased in favour of landholdings crossed by little rivers...

The land had been in the hands of a peasant family since the 1970's. As they were now quite old and the man one day fell in the wood and got too hurt to continue farm work, they moved to a daughter's house in the next village.

One day they came to show us the limits of the landholding. But, after a while we discovered that they themselves didn't know very well where the limits of their land were in the steep wooded area.

Below you can see the fire place in the "kitchen" of the house. That's where they cooked and ate and sat around in the cold winter nights... up to 5 years ago. It reminds me of the hut of the shepherd Ti Ferreira from Monforte da Beira... I think it's not unusual.

The soil is very fertile but extremely stony. Water abounds. In the first year we grew potatoes, beans and marrows. The corn was eaten by the wild boar when it started flowering and the tomatoes got a disease... This year we were too busy and living too far from the land (UK, Germany...) to cultivate it.
I'm sure this story is representative of what happens to marginal land in the mountain areas. It is not "abandoned forever", but abandoned temoprarily. It inspires and there is always the wish to keep it and care for it, the wish to return...


Yesterday I spoke to a woman from the Serra da Lousã mountain area. When I asked her from what people live, if they don't sell their farm produce her eyes became very bleak and she said without looking at me "It's difficult around here". I'm sure closeby, maybe the neighbours, are living from air mainly plus subsistence farming. How can this be there, so near and so unseen? I feel in fact guilty when I think of the many breakfasts taken in the coffe shop. (Beside all other reasons) It is a matter of solidarity not to live a wasteful lifestyle.
Yesterday then, I asked the woman if people don't keep goats, as this is the famous area of the Chanfana dish. Her eyes changed again, now revealing joy and pride. Not many people keep goats anymore... but they still make an excellent Chanfana with bought meat. I pretended to be a fan of fact I'm vegetarian. The other day I also applauded to a peasant who told me to have killed 15 chicken recently!... Haha - is this already the scientific objectivity and detachment?
Well, Chanfana is a dish traditionally made of old goats soaked in red wine to make the meat softer. There are two counties wich claim the intellectual property rights for Chanfana: Miranda do Corvo and Vila Nova de Poiares. They hate each other because of this battle: "Who makes the best Chanfana?" and "Where did Chanfana originally come from?". On the entrance of Miranda do Corvo county there is a placard saying "Universal capital of Chanfana", on the entrance of Vila Nova de Poiares it says "Worldwide capital of Chanfana". There are even people speaking of the "Guerra da Chanfana" (the Chanfana war).

Tuesday, 10 July 2007

Fanfare Ciocarlia

This is how Romania "really is" ;)

On the market of Góis

Góis is a village in a quite steep valley. The river Ceira flows through the village and at it's margins Alnus glutionsa trees grow, providing a fresh shadow and water clean enough to see the fishes. Above the village you can see the Penedos de Góis, the steep quartz mountain top.

On Tuesday it is market day. I asked people for the "mercado" and they wondered a lot, because they call it "feira"... There were basically no farmers selling on the market and I started to ask some people hanging around and looking very much like someone who has at least a kitchen garden. The people showed great mistrust, they didn't look at me but to the floor and said they were not from the county.

One women said very loudly, almost shouting "I can't read! I cant't read!". I said, this doesn't matter, she can still tell me what she thinks about farming. She replied "It's a problem. No one wants to farm anymore." I asked "Why?". She replied, shouting still: "Porque não!" (Because no!). I didn't manage to get any more information out of that lady.

Monday, 9 July 2007

Tiefe Brunnen muss man graben wenn man klares Wasser will.

Sunday, 8 July 2007

Trip to Caramulo

After properly venerating a diverse Lameiro and the only yew tree of the Serra do Caramulo we visited 3 villages: Malhapão de Cima, Malhapão de Baixo and Teixo.

The level of self-sufficiency there is amazing. Large areas of fields around the villages are cultivated, people harvest the grass of the upland water meadows and collect wild shrubs (mato) which they transport back home on carriages pulled by cows. A peasant woman told me that the only things she buys are rice, pasta, sugar and olive oil.

There were some young people and even children in the villages, but apparently most people spend their working life away and come back when they are retired. We heared that there were several day workers who worked in nearby cities in construction work or on the vine harvest in the nearby Bairrada region, but were based in the mountain villages. It was said that from the income from agriculture people were not able to pay their social security contribution, and therefore they had to find some wage labour outside the village.

The people seemed to be rather optimistic, they do not consider farming as an income source, and so don't even try much to make it profitable as they know that they will not be adequately paid for farm produce.

Friday, 6 July 2007

Sometimes we found it convenient to travel incognito...

Tuesday, 3 July 2007

Farmer John Peterson

John Peterson is a US Midwestern farmer who inherited a conventional farm from his parents. He had loads of struggles to continue in farming, but as he tried very hard to find solutions to the problems of his farm and wanted to be ecologically sustainable he found out about organic farming and Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). The things going on on his farm were found to be very unusual and the neighbours mistrusted him. But nowadays he is a sucessful biodynamic farmer, running an apprenticeship scheme and spreading good practice. The film "The real dirt on farmer John" describes Peterson's life and how he was discriminated in the local community for doing things differently. US sentimentalism, sometimes, but overall excellent and a great tool to spread the word about organics and CSA ;).
The song by Lesley Littlefield gives a fun overview of the farm and the story...
"Know your food. Know your farmer!"

Die schlesischen Weber

Im düstren Auge keine Träne,
sie sitzen am Webstuhl und fletschen die Zähne:
"Deutschland, wir weben dein Leichentuch,
wir weben hinein den dreifachen Fluch -
Wir weben, wir weben!

Ein Fluch dem Gotte, zu dem wir gebeten
in Winterskälte und Hungersnöten;
wir haben vergebens gehofft und geharrt,
er hat uns geäfft und gefoppt und genarrt -
Wir weben, wir weben!

Ein Fluch dem König, dem König der Reichen,
den unser Elend nicht konnte erweichen,
der den letzten Groschen von uns erpresst
und uns wie Hunde erschiessen lässt -
Wir weben, wir weben!

Ein Fluch dem falschen Vaterlande,
wo nur gedeihen Schmach und Schande,
wo jede Blume früh geknickt,
wo Fäulniss und Moder den Wurm erquickt -
Wir weben, wir weben!

Das Schiffchen fliegt, der Webstuchl kracht,
wir weben emsig Tag und Nacht -
Altdeutschland, wir weben Dein Leichentuch,
wir weben hinein den dreifachen Fluch,
Wir weben, wir weben!"

Heinrich Heine, 1853

Monday, 2 July 2007

Why boycott Coca Cola?

Max Keyser from Karmabanque...