Saturday, December 3, 2011

A Week in Portugal / Day Four

Sorraia horses at Herdade do Azinhal


Note:
All photos taken by Lynne Gerard unless otherwise identified



Day four (September 30th) of my week in Portugal was, like the others before, overflowing with interesting places, people and best of all, Sorraia horses!

First on the agenda for our group of three (myself and my generous traveling companions, Rose and Hardy Oelke) was to pay a visit to Herdade do Font'Alva, home--actually much more than this!--of Dr. Ruy d'Andrade's grandson, José Luis. Though Hardy tried both before leaving for Portugal and repeatedly once there, he was not able to connect with José Luis by telephone to arrange a special prearranged visit, so we were trying our luck, hoping that he would be on the estate and maybe have a bit of time available to show us his Sorraias.

Aside from being a grandson of the man who saved the Sorraias (the regional wild horses formerly known as "zebros") from a sure extinction, José Luis is the president of the Associação International de Criadores do Cavalo Ibérico de Tipo Primitivo "Sorraia". It is perhaps, however, the quality of the "touros" (fighting bulls) raised at Font'Alva as well as finely bred Lusitano and Alter Real horses that have made this man's name so highly respected. José Luis has a degree in agricultural engineering and his fame also includes his own experiences as a bullfighter, to which he was recently paid homage captured in this video clip.

Hardy has relayed that over the years, José Luis d'Andrade has been very good to him, selling him Sorraia horses for export to Germany, providing historic information and even one time arranging a special setting with mounted herdsmen moving bulls so Hardy could photograph how well suited to this job the Sorraia horses are. The long-time acquaintanceship of these two men has been mutually beneficial--the expansive exposure and additional, highly relevant research Hardy Oelke has given the Sorraia horses has raised awareness and interest in these endangered horses and served to inspire more people to become part of the preservation efforts.

Having already seen some video clips and photos of José Luis from my research on the worldwide web, I was hoping to meet this famous gentleman in person and convey to him how dedicated Kevin and I are to the small, unique role Ravenseyrie is playing in preserving the types of horses his family has protected for almost a century.




We entered the estate and drove the rugged, scenic road towards the interior, stopping alongside one particular range were Hardy said the young Sorraia colts are typically turned out. While we could see some cows grazing among the Cork Oak trees, we did not sight the horses until we neared a rustic shelter built into a massive rock face. Like the other days during my autumn visit to Portugal, the weather was oppressively hot (especially so for this Northern Ontario gal) and the Sorraian youths were taking refuge from the heat and sun by shading themselves in this naturally cool shelter.


I have adjusted the lighting of this photo considerably so readers can see how this shelter is built into the face of a massive rock outcropping

We could see that it appeared these Sorraia youngsters had a "babysitter" in the form of an older Lusitano, which made for an interesting contrast between size, colour and overall form. One can clearly see here that Sorraia horses are not simply small, dun and grulla coloured Lusitanos, but have a distinct morphology all their own.
















Just as I have experienced with our own offspring at Ravenseyrie, the young horses-- especially colts-- are intensely curious and the inquisitive, rather playful nature in them often wins out over their innate shyness. Several colts inched close enough to Hardy to be lightly touched before being waved away.






After milling around a bit near the shelter, this group of horses decided it was time to move back out on the range to find something (probably Cork Oak acorns) to nibble upon, so we resumed our drive to the network of buildings where we hoped to find José Luis.
Young Sorraia stallions at Font'Alva





Entrance to the residence of Font'Alva
(photo: Rosa Oelke)

And what a network of buildings! Nothing that I had seen in video or photos prepared me for how spectacular Font'Alva is! These magnificent structures are based upon a medieval Piedmont design adapted by José Luis' great-grandfather--world-renown painter and architect--Alfredo d'Andrade, who left quite a legacy in Italy where he married and spent most of his life. It was his son, Ruy d'Andrade who was sent back to Portugal to oversee the installation of the Font'Alva compound and lived here, developing superior Lusitano horses and used his talent and intellect to pursue many other interests, including the preservation of the Sorraia.



José Luis' father, Fernando, carried on the preservation of the Sorraia as well as maintaining the estate of Font'Alva and, upon his passing, the horses and other properties belonging to the d'Andrade family were divided among Fernando's four children. José Luis thus inherited this splendid piece of property and significant buildings.



When we pulled up to the entrance to the "house", we parked behind another vehicle, whose driver was speaking to a groundskeeper. Somehow, though neither the gentleman nor the young man sweeping the stone entryway knew much English, and Hardy knows very little Portuguese, Hardy learned that this man, like us, was hoping to connect with José Luis, who presently was out working on a different sector of the property but would be returning soon if we cared to wait.




While waiting, Rose and I took photos, though, strangely, I felt rather out-of-place and paralyzed by all that I was seeing and took only a few shots and was too timid to walk around the exterior grounds and stables, though I certainly longed to do so! (An old chapel tucked into a shady grove fronted by massive cactuses looked especially intriguing...but I didn't even get a photo of it!)

After a little while, we heard the sound of horse hooves on the stone drive and we all looked toward the outer entrance expectantly...could this be the return of José Luis?. My jaw dropped at the genuine feeling of living history unfolding before us as the horseman rode through the entry way. It was José Luis!

José Luís Vasconcellos e Souza d'Andrade at Font'Alva
(photo: Rosa Oelke)

Here you have a Portuguese gentleman, the "real deal" --riding his impeccable, noble steed not for special exhibition, but because it is part of who he is and how he lives and is something done in harmony with the horse for a specific purpose and likely a regular feature of life at Font'Alva. I confess, I fell immediately in love with such a romantic visage! [Jean Lafontaine, if you still read the Journal of Ravenseyrie, I am sure your poetic soul can appreciate such a scene!]

Thankfully Rose was not so timid or paralyzed as I and took several photos which she sent me to use in the Journal of Ravenseyrie. How natural this horse and rider appeared together, in complete accord, each the epitome of suave-cool in their calm, composed confident deportments.

Hardy Oelke speaking with José Luis Sommer d'Andrade
(Photo: Rosa Oelke)


Speaking to each other in German, Hardy and José Luis exchanged greetings and made general small talk. At one point I heard Hardy say, "Canada" as he motioned toward me while José Luis, still astride his shining steed, gave me a dashing smile and a nod of his head. Sigh... That was it! That was the extent of my meeting José Luis d'Andrade...for the timing was all wrong for us as José Luis and the gentleman who also had been waiting for him had to go and make certain arrangements for an upcoming testing of the fighting bulls that are bred and raised at Font'Alva. With great disappointment I returned to the rented Opel with my traveling hosts and we drove away...but not without hope, as José Luis suggested we come back the next day and perhaps he would have time to show us the horses, if not, he gave his permission for us to walk the grounds and go see them on our own.

As we were paused on the drive out, looking for one last sign of the young Sorraias we had visited earlier, Jose Luis and the gentleman who had come to pick him up whisked by us and waved as they sped toward their destination.

The village fountain at Monforte

We next drove to the nearby town of Monforte to explore a little and hopefully find a "florista" because Rose wanted to purchase a bouquet of flowers to bring to the very special couple we were next scheduled to pay a visit upon. After a bit of sight-seeing to pass the time, we drove to Herdade do Azinhal where another grandson of Dr. Ruy d'Andrade--Fernando, and his wife, Martha were expecting us. Regretfully, I did not take photos of any of the beautiful structures at Azinhal so will break up the text early on with photos of Martha and Fernando's Sorraia horses.



A warm friendship with Fernando and Martha has formed over the many years that Hardy and Rose have been coming to Portugal to assist in the preservation of Sorraia horses and so this hospitable couple had arranged a special meal for us to visit over before escorting us out to see the horses.

As I passed over the aromatic meat dish and delicious looking cheese in favour of selecting just the homemade bread and lovely roasted potatoes, it became conspicuously known to the d'Andrade's that I was a vegan. Though I so wanted this not to be an issue of discomfort for anyone, my gracious hostess immediately dashed to the kitchen and quickly put together a sumptuous salad of mixed spring greens and fresh tomatoes with a topping of walnuts and a perfect wine and vinegar dressing. This was the best salad I had eaten during the whole week I was in Portugal! I could see that the entire meal was the work of a woman who knows how to bring the best out of wholesome foods as well as delight her guests with a magnificent looking (and tasting, according to Hardy who has a definite sweet tooth) mousse-like cake accompanied by a nice espresso.

My love of antiquities, art and earthy beauty was amply rewarded while a guest in Fernando and Martha's home. One such as myself (who lives in an architecturally boring rectangular vinyl-sided "stick-frame" home built within the last fifteen years) is completely inspired to see the old world structures in Europe, especially those that are so obviously well maintained and well loved, as is Azinhal. And the history that permeates these dwellings evokes a reverence for the centuries of stories the walls hold within.



The Sorraia stallion who is presently living with Martha and Fernando d'Andrade's mares




Both Martha and Fernando speak English fluently so it was easy to learn from them about Fernando's great-grandfather, Alfredo and the rich history of the arts that runs through the family, much of which I could see was an integral part of Martha and Fernando's home. Large volumes of leather bound books with plates showing reproductions of drawings and paintings by Alfredo were amazing to behold...even more surreal was to have Martha bring out an original landscape painting rendered by Alfredo!






Hardy pointed out to me a section of wall space that displayed nicely many of the azulejos (traditional painted tiles) that Martha herself had painted, some of which looked to have Sorraia horses depicted. Absolutely lovely! And the visual treats just kept coming, this time accompanied by tender tales of life at Azinhal in the form of charming children's books Martha has written for her grandkids (a few were in English for those grandchildren living in the states.) Splendidly illustrated by photos and drawings Martha herself has made, these self-published books are definitely family keepsakes--I was honored and delighted to be able to view them.

We left the house then and went out to meet a special calf that Martha had been nurturing for some health troubles (wish I had taken a photo, she was a gorgeous and friendly calf!) and then we tucked ourselves into the d'Andrade's four-wheel drive Land Rover-like vehicle and drove to the range where the mares resided along with a stallion. There were no foals among them and it was hoped that the stallion, who had earlier that year been allowed to live among the mares, had managed to impregnate a good share of them. I should note here there exists a meaningful connection between the Sorraias bred under the name Herdade do Azinhal and our own stallion, Altamiro, for it was here that Altamiro's sire, Ultrajado was born in 2001.




While Rose and I took photos of the Sorraias, Hardy Oelke and Fernando Vasconcellos e Souza d'Andrade engaged in conversation


It was hot, and wine from our meal had mellowed me even more than usual so I was feeling quite languid and rather at home--in a sense--watching the Sorraias shading themselves on a beautiful landscape. After taking my fill of photos, I found a rock, not too unlike the type one can find out among the fields of Ravenseyrie and I sat down feeling happy to be having such a fine assortment of memorable experiences in Portugal, yet intensely homesick for my simple, quiet life on Manitoulin Island with Kevin and the animals.

Journal of Ravenseyrie's author, Lynne Gerard, takes a repose from photographing Sorraia horses in Portugal belonging to Fernando and Martha d'Andrade
(Photo: Hardy Oelke)

Fernando drove us next to see some other Sorraia stallions and colts living on a range in a different sector of the estate, a few of which might be possible candidates for Claudia Radbauer to choose a stud from. (Claudia is the woman in Vienna who is putting together a Sorraia preservation project that includes two fillies from Ravenseyrie.) They were on a pretty open range, among cattle, looking just wonderfully wild, not grouped together, but rather spread out. As I recall we never found where all the stallions were keeping themselves even though we were driving "off road" all over that range. It may be that Hardy got some photos of the other stallions with his huge telephoto lens, but I didn't bother to take any because I never felt I had a good shot. As we were leaving, I did take a couple photos of the stately bovines out there, though. Handsome!



The daylight was fading, it was time to bid our hosts farewell and head back to our hotel. So many great feelings stayed with me from sharing that time with handsome-eyed Fernando and beautifully talented Martha, the best of which, I think, was the exchange of stories of the interesting and sometimes challenging dynamics that occur when a stallion is allowed to live with the mares. There have been at Azinhal the occasional Sorraia stallion who, like Altamiro, is a highly aggressive and tyrannical presence when among his mares--many of the things I have observed here at Ravenseyrie have been played out in like manner at Azhinal.

Martha and Fernando d'Andrade with Lynne Gerard
(photo: Hardy Oelke)

Something in the way Martha retells the many things she's observed with their Sorraia horses makes me believe that, like me, she views these horses (and all the elements of nature) as special entities with their own rich cultures and ways of living. Of all the places where Sorraia horses are being preserved in Portugal, I felt that Azhinal was most like Ravenseyrie. Their Sorraias are allowed to live fairly autonomously in semi-wild conditions but with a true sense of nurturing and love that the presence of Martha and Fernando in their lives brings...reminding me again of a feeling I have that horses and humans--even indigenous wild horses, must have had an initial coming together that was based on friendship, not violence. History likes to tell the tale differently, but it pleases me to believe that they have represented (or conjectured) only one fragment of the whole story of horse/human relationships.