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National Geographic publishes around the world, so who better to point you to the most unusual, unique, and sometimes irreverent cultural traditions in their countries than the editors of our international editions? Each month a real insider reveals five favorites in this monthly series.
Portuguese EditorWho runs the show: SÚrgio H. Coimbra, Editor

Name of the game: National Geographic Portugal

When it all started: April 2001

Where it all happens: Lisbon, Portugal

Who makes it happen: Three text editors, three layout designers, one coordinator, and one boss.

What goes out: 82,000 issues a month (35,000 to newsstands, 47,000 to subscribers)

September GeoHappenings:
National Geographic Portugal: Products Exhibition in coordination with “State of the Planet” feature in late September.

Portuguese National Geographic Society: Photographer Michael Nichols and ecologist J. Michael Fay discuss their adventures in Megatransect Across Africa, September 30.

Business as usual: “Our cell phones ring at least 800 times—in eight musical sounds—before we put the magazine to bed each month. That makes for a very eclectic concert.”

Best stress reliever: “The boys play basketball once a week. The girls go shopping.”

Best office perk: “Our office is located right between the Lisbon Zoo and Catholic University. That puts us in the middle of the lowest and highest ranking brains in town.”

What’s great about the Portuguese: “We’re very generous people. We once had half the world to ourselves. Now all we have left is our generosity.”
Locator map of Portugal

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Brazilian flagFive Cultural Bests

As the editor tells it, the Portuguese share a generous spirit of celebration, enjoyed with no shortage of wine. Here are his five choices for Portugal’s most unique cultural traditions complete with his favorite foods for each occasion.

1. Grape Harvesting
“In September the slopes of the Douro River in northern Portugal are alive with activity. This is the time when everyone—women, children, students, and farmers—arrives on the beautiful man-made terraces to work among the grapevines. One by one in what seems to be a never ending line, thousands begin the first stage in making Portugal’s best known product: wine. After cutting the grapes and putting them into big hand-woven baskets, people drop them in a room where they are stomped to the rhythm of the region’s folksongs. When it’s time for a break, they enjoy thin slices of presunto (Portuguese dried ham) with lots of red wine.”

2. Listening to Fado
“Fado is the soul of Portugal. The musical style originated among poor men and women, who lamented their problems in sad crying songs in the streets and tascas (bars) of Lisbon. The voice of the best-known fado diva, Amalia Rodrigues, is recognized worldwide. She died three years ago, but even without her there are enough fine singers to warrant a trip to Lisbon to visit one of the many places where fado is accompanied by the uniquely Portuguese 12-string guitar. While the music transports you, enjoy a meal of sardinhas assadas, sardines with boiled potatoes and roasted peppers, washed down with several glasses of wine.”

3. Alternative Medicines Festival
“This festival in the north of Portugal was started by a Roman Catholic priest, who was amazed by the variety of healing methods he witnessed in the towns of Portugal. He discovered devout Catholics practicing witchcraft with a combination of herbal medicines, Druid rituals, and Christian prayers. Now people from all over Portugal and parts of Spain gather in the town of Vilar de Perdizes in late August to share their wisdom and expand their knowledge of traditional healing. While there, be sure to sample alheiras (fried sausages) with boiled cabbage smothered in olive oil and a bottle of cheap red wine.”

4. Festa do Senhor Santo Cristo dos Milagres
“In July the small island of Sco Miguel in the Azores, located about 800 miles (one thousand kilometers) off the coast of Portugal, is inundated with expatriates—mostly American immigrants—who come home for the traditional festival of Saint Christ of Miracles. A series of parties—complete with colored flags and lights in the streets, music, dancing, and revelry—takes place in every village for an entire month. But all the madness doesn’t obscure the more spiritual meaning of the festival: a religious mission of the rich giving food to the poor. Pilgrims travel on foot around the whole island and spread the good news that food is being served in the towns. Every little chapel dishes out a rich meat soup to anyone who brings a bowl. During the festival you can get your fill of cozido das furnas, a delicious meat and vegetable stew that includes chorizo sausages, cabbage, carrots, and a million more items boiled in a volcano-heated hole. And don’t forget to top it off with wine.”

5. Carnival
“Thousands of international visitors come to Funchal on the beautiful mountain island of Madeira to celebrate Carnival. The festival is spectacular! Everyone dresses in exotic colorful costumes. A noisy march sets the pace for dancing in the streets. The icing on the cake is to try to discover the governor of the island among the crowd. It’s not easy since he also dresses in costume, anything from a fireman to a prima ballerina. The favorite food for this occasion is grilled swordfish followed by honey cake for dessert, and of course, your fair share of Madeira wine.”

Photographs by Tony Arruza, (CORBIS left), Charles O’Rear, (CORBIS center), and Wolfgang Kaehler (CORBIS right).

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