On Saturday, however, I decided to walk into the village. I usually have three or four places to go to: the pharmacist, the bank, the butcher shop and the bakery. To carry my purchases I take my Portuguese shopping bag. It’s a traditional handmade carrier bag with the image of Portugal’s national emblem: a cockerel.
I’ve only been to Portugal once, in the late eighties. Although it was a business trip, visiting a hand file manufacturing plant on the Costa Verde in northern Portugal, we had the opportunity to do some sightseeing. It was in the month of April and the temperatures were already relatively mild. There was a stiff wind blowing from the North Atlantic though. Our hotel was located on the beach and during the night we could hear the crashing of the waves.
On the first day of our stay, we visited the manufacturing plant. We got to wear a protective helmet and ear protectors. The latter proved to be very useful as the noise in the plant was hellish, with big machines cutting long strips of solid metal and stamping the required file profile on both sides. Our guide was one of the plant’s engineers. I’m sure his explanations were very interesting, but the deafening noise and the ear protectors made it almost impossible to hear what he was saying.
After the tour, the plant manager invited us to have a drink and some nibbles on the terrace outside the factory’s mess. Our party of 40 or so (clients and colleagues) stood around sipping drinks while the manager delivered a speech. Close to the drinks table stood another table, loaded with colourful parcels. When the manager had finished, the manager’s wife and some other ladies working in the plant stepped forward and started to distribute the parcels. All the men in our party received a bottle of some strong Portuguese liquor – I can’t remember the name – while the women received the typical handmade shopping bag. The ladies very proudly told us that they had made the bags themselves and that they were a typical ‘home industry’ item.
My handmade Portuguese shopping bag.
At the time I thought it was the ugliest thing I had ever seen. When I came home I hid it in the bottom of my wardrobe. I completely forgot about it until 2001 when I moved to my current apartment. Since then, it has become my faithful shopping companion. It’s light, yet very sturdy. And although I still don’t think it is the prettiest thing on earth, with age I have come to appreciate the craftsmanship of the Portuguese women who made it.
Maybe you have an object which you loathed in the past, but have come to like over the years?