The Problem of Historical Environments

While I was at Bucaco, I found out that the forest was also the sight of a major battle between the Duke of Wellington and Napoleon’s troops. It was an accidental discovery, paging through the guidebook and reading the strangely nondescript signs around the museum. Apparently, the Duke of Wellington had stayed in the convent down below and later they fought at one of the hilltops. The museum supposedly had artifacts from Wellington, but we only saw a dusty old portrait on one of the walls. (Later, we found a Sequoia tree planting by the Duke of Wellington at another famous Portuguese sight, Lagrimas, which is now a hotel as well, although instead of a forest, it has a very sad looking golf course.)

The Sequoia Wellington

One of the things I am constantly surprised about whenever I go to Europe is the various layers of history. My knowledge of the Napoleonic Wars is primarily from a combination of reading War and Peace and various 19th century English novels, so it never occurred to me that somewhere as far away as Portugal would be effected by continental politics. Of course, looking back, that is a naive point of view, but nonetheless, I was rather surprised. Before I visited Portugal, I always assumed it was its own strange non-European world.

Among most Europeans when you ask them about these historical icons, they seem rather disinterested. Of course, there’s a certain level of jadedness you get when you live among something commonplace, regardless of how historical it is. You see it all over, whether it was Baroque Rome stripping the Coliseum for building materials, or Scots joking about Stonehenge being no big deal — they have standing stones in almost every backyard in the north.

Americans definitely have the same problem when looking at their own history, but when I was studying in Scotland, it drove me crazy to hear so many Americans going on and on about how there was actually  history here in Europe. Once, when I was sitting in a fairy average pub in St. Andrews, some American guy started going on and on about how in this pub alone, there was so much history, it was crazy! It was a fairy ordinary late turn of the century pub, but I gave him the benefit of the doubt. Maybe he was from a suburban world where the earliest thing was from the 1950s. But no, he was from Philadelphia.

But you get a lot of stuff that’s older there, I said.

But it wasn’t as historical as this, he assured me.

He later invited my friend and I to join him on a road trip to Wales that weekend. I was half-tempted, having never been to Wales, but after our earlier conversation, I wasn’t sure how I was going to be able to put up with 12 hours or more in the car with him.

On another note, I’ve recently been looking back at the old blog I kept while I was abroad in Scotland and it’s been rather entertaining to read about some of my past travels and adventures. It’s been an interesting exercise to realize that all that stuff I promised to never forget, I barely remember.


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