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Flying To Portugal for the Troia International Film Festival

Sunday, June 4---Remember the good old days right after 9/11 when everyone was afraid to ride on airplanes, and those of us intrepid (or stupid) enough to continue flying off to film festivals always had empty seats around us? And airlines left on time? And the airline personnel were so happy to see a customer that you got treated like you were in first class (even though you were inevitably in the cheapo seats)?

Well, I am here to tell you, brothers and sisters, that those times are long gone. My flight from New York to Lisbon was PACKED (go figure) and there was barely room for me, my laptop computer, my Sunday New York Times and my Pringles potato chips. When I confirmed my seat online the morning of my departure, there seemed to be two empty seats next to me. No such luck. Two not very trim people were sitting next to me, having a non-stop debate (about which I'm not sure, since it was in Portugese) that kept them (and me) up all night.

As far as airline courteosy, or the typically sumptious meals one was once served on overseas flights, they also are gone with the wind. The airline stewards on my flight (and they were mostly men) seemed like frat boys itching to take off their uniforms and seriously start their drinking once the plane had barely landed. The dinner meal served consisted of chicken that looked like rubber and tasted like cardboard, with clumpy white rice and mystery vegetables.

Of course, the first class revelers were treated much better, and I assume had a superior culinary experience, but film festivals tend not to use their hard-pressed budget on first class tickets for lowly journalists like myself.

Hey, don't get me wrong. The travel is secondary to the destination, and in that regard, Portugal does not disappoint. The sun was strong but not yet impressive when I landed on Sunday morning, bathing the flowering trees, modern buildings and remnants of historical edifices with a beautiful light and an intoxicating glow. After the cardboard chicken, the cramped seats, the crying babies, the frat boy stewards, it was nice to take a deep breath and inhale the pungent sea air that permeates the landscape.

Traveling over the expanse of what is still referred to as "the new bridge" (built for the Lisbon Expo in 1997), the azur waters of the Tagus River that spills into the Atlantic Ocean a sea of glowing diamonds in the sun, it is clear why this country was such a pioneer in naval exploration. The sea is everything in Portugal, and the land that hugs it is made all the more beautiful for its proximity to it.

Setubal, the coastal town that hosts the Troia International Film Festival (which I have visited several times before) is a sleepy kind of place, a former fishing village that now still has most of its industry connected to the sea. The breezes blow through the beautiful oaks and palms in the Bonfim Park directly across from the Festival hotel headquarters. The old town, only a few minute walk away, is an atmospheric maze of narrow streets that lead to impressive town squares,distressed edifices and tiled walkways. It being a Sunday, most shops were closed, although the various ice cream parlors were doing a bang-up business, as the therometer soared into the high 80s.

From the coast, where the smell of grilled sardines fills the air, coming from the many seaside restaurants that dominate the area, one can see the Troia peninsula, the long expanse of sandy beach that is the favorite seaside haunt of the locals. The surrounding hills, the ever-present sea breeze, the rich texture of Southern gives the area a Technicolor sheen that is very dramatic and appealing. Too bad most of one's Festival experience is spent in a darkened theater. Oh yes, the films, more on that later.

Sandy Mandelberger

Comments (1)


Well that is true that Portugal was a pioneer in naval exploration...and made some important discoveries ..some even donated to a beneficial association

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