Stripping down… Bragança

Stripping down… Bragança

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I arrive in Bragança late in the evening. 3 passengers, the pilot and the co-pilot. The small airport was empty. A taxi was supposed to pick me up. A digital clock on the wall says that I’m late. I don’t have the driver’s number to call. I don’t even know where I’m sleeping as I went to photograph the camping park. I’m shooting a campaign for INATEL Foundation, to celebrate the 75 years of the Foundation.

The bar is closed. The airport is closing. I ask the woman that is locking the doors if she can give me a ride to the town centre as she owns the only car in the parking lot.

I just need to find a hotel and I’ll sort everything out in the morning.

As we’re getting ready to leave, a taxi arrives. I’m sorry, I didn’t know the time you were arriving. I heard the plane was late, probably some two hours – the taxi driver says. It’s ok, I got here slightly over half an hour ago – I reply.

The driver talks a lot, which is fine for he’s telling me all the gossip as if I was a local. This helps me understand the mood of the place and its people, a plus for my shooting. He drives me around. I guess he doesn’t feel like going home. Alas, family chapter… I knew we would eventually broach that subject. The kids that went away to finish their studies, the wife that is sick, the solitude. He likes his work, he gets to talk to different people all the time. But the city is falling asleep, he says. The wives started a movement against a brothel with Brazilian prostitutes that opened in the outskirts of the city. The news came out and even made the cover of Time magazine with a headline that read “Bragança, Europe’s new red light district?” Truth be told, the driver said, the prostitutes brought a lot of work. There was a lot of movement, restaurants and bars were always packed, new hairdressers opened, restaurants and shops were making a lot of profit, money was flowing and people looked happier, more “talkative”. Back in those days my taxi was always full, driving up and down the hill to the hotel. Even the hotel now is closed…  Tomorrow I can take you there, the view is superb, the driver says.

That night, before driving me to the hotel, I asked him to show me the city centre and major points of interest so that I could feel the place and plan my shooting for the next day.

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Not far from the hotel where I’m staying there’s a garden with a few spotlights lighting a couple of scary masked figures. These masks are called “Caretos”, and the tradition of using the Caretos for Carnival festivities dates back from the Celtic. The masks, made of wood with sharp cuts and lines, can be very colourful, often in bright red, or dark brown, and are pretty frightening to look at, some representing diabolic creatures.

The city of Bragança is located in the northwest of Portugal. The climate is harsh, specially in winter time. In the city centre there’s a beautiful medieval castle, monuments, museums and several emblematic buildings. There’s a square with a funny wall next to one of the sides of the square with several arches that could be doors. These doors are always opened and take you nowhere in this dimension… Probably they take you to Hogwarts if you cross them on time or say the right words.

One can easily loose track of time and space and fly a few centuries back. And I can be so many things! My mind leaves the body and merges with the cold statue of the shepherd watching two bulls fighting. I feel shivers down my spine as I slowly adapt to my new shape. The sky is starless and cloudy. The two bulls push each other, not going anywhere.  And I have nowhere to go, nothing to do but to watch the fight. An endless moment, as rich as it is empty and peaceful.

I ride my horse across town, towards the castle, pursued by two gigantic legs with iron shoes as an iron dark mask watches my movements with piercing see through eyeball sockets. Behind me stay the rooftops of the houses and the convent, as I speed towards the castle walls. And like the 1001 nights, I have to wait for the following night to know the end of the story. Do I reach the castle on time? And will there be a princess awaiting me?

The next morning I wake up to a rainy day. I have two days to shoot, rain or no rain.

S. Bento watches over the city from the top of the hill as the people find refuge from the rain. Very few umbrellas paint the cityscape. The buildings cast no shadow, enhancing my daydreaming. The city has outgrown the castle walls, where I want to be.

The taxi driver comes round to pick me up. I had already been out for at least two hours as I wanted to start shooting first light. After breakfast he drives me to the castle and citadel – built in the XII century. As I get out of the car I close my eyes and I hear the hooves of the horses against the cobblestone roads. What an enchanted place!

Visiting Bragança is not just visiting a city with beautiful old buildings. It’s a time travel where one can experience first hand what life inside the citadel must have been in the beginning of the millennia.

Finally, the camping. It was closed. Nevertheless I went to visit the land. A vast property full of old pine trees, and a very big lake. Lots of space to set a tent and enjoy the wilderness. If you’re a nature lover and like camping, swimming and long walks in the woods, this is where you have to go!

Link to photo gallery:Bragança

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