Friday, 2 August 2013

Sharing Cultures 2013 Technical Visits

Sharing Cultures 2013 international conference on intangible heritage that I attended last week in Aveiro, Portugal (see previous post), included a day of visits to see local expressions of intangible heritage – so I thought I’d give a quick summary of some of the things we saw.

We began the day with a visit to an 'ovos moles' studio, a traditional sweet from the Aveiro region. ‘Ovos moles’ means ‘soft eggs’, and the recipe was created by the nuns of the area who had a surplus of egg yolks because they used the egg whites to starch their habits. The sweets consist of a wafer-like outer casing made to the same recipe as religious hosts, with a filling made from egg yolks, sugar and water. Ovos moles have EU ‘Protected Geographical Indication’ status (like Melton Mowbray pork pies), as a result of which they can only be made in the region and no changes can be made to the recipe - e.g. you can't add flavourings or dip them in chocolate. I found this very interesting as it raises familiar questions in the intangible heritage debate about the extent to which measures designed to safeguard something can actually lead to its demise because they stifle the creativity and change necessary for something to remain relevant.  
Salt pans at the Ecomuseu Marinha da Troncalhada
Our second visit was to the city's ecomuseum to see salt harvesting. Historically, salt extraction played a major role in the local economy, but the rise of new methods of food preservation, such as refrigeration and freezing, led to a rapid decline in demand for salt, especially from boats going cod fishing in the North Sea – today most of the salt is used to grit roads in winter. As a result, the number of ‘salinas’ has fallen dramatically – from 270 in 1970 to 8 in 2011. Concern for the loss of cultural, landscape, ecological and ethnological values associated with traditional methods of salt production have led to the city exploring ways to keep the heritage alive – through artisanal salt production, combining salt production with other products, and through tourism – such as the ecomuseum, which has two crystallisation pans for visitors to have a go at scraping out the salt. See here for a detailed article on the subject.

In the afternoon we went to the ‘Association of the Friends of the Lagoon and the Moliceiro Boats’ to learn about the traditional painting of ‘moliceiros’ boats – small boats used for harvesting algae. The boats are painted using particular colours – red, yellow, blue, green and white – which are separated in a prescribed way. The boats have four picture panels – two at the prow and two at the stern – which are not repeated, and these are surrounded by a patterned border. Sexual innuendo is a popular theme for the panels we were told! There are also ‘rules’ regarding the colours and designs used on the insides of the boats. The Association appears to be very active in keeping the shipyard going and keeping the skills of making and painting the boats and of sailing alive, as well as in promoting the tradition to the wider public.
Local residents making adobe bricks
Our final visit of the day was to a local ethnographic museum, which used to be a family farm (the family still live nearby). I didn’t have a chance to look around as I was too distracted by the elderly locals demonstrating traditional skills for us – including adobe brick making, netmaking, plant grafting, and basketmaking (which I was hooked on). We ended the day with a feast of fish, bread and wine, and live music and dancing from the local residents.