CAIS, the Portuguese monthly magazine equivalent to Big Issue in the UK, and Inês Amado, collaborated on a project staged in Praça da Figueira on 16th, 17th and 18th of December. The 'praça' is one of the major public squares in Lisbon, Portugal. The project, described below, was undertaken in conjunction with Lisbon City Authority and the Museum of Bread, Seia, Portugal.
The tenth anniversary issue of CAIS, published in December 2004, focussed on Bread and BREAD MATTERS, a program initiated by Inês Amado to raise the awareness of bread as a cultural, social and political icon.
In December, just before Christmas, two large tents were erected in a public space. The "Praça", surrounded by women's and men's clothing shops, food shops and the famous Suiça café patisserie, is the meeting place of peoples from all walks-of-life.
Praça da Figueira is a place of passage, a meeting place, a confluence for individuals criss-crossing the square; disparate peoples from Portugal's north, centre and south, city dwellers, people visiting families, foreigners and nationals bent on Christmas shopping, from the poorest to the wealthiest, the very young to the old, all meet and fuse under the same sunny winter sky.
Within one tent is the industrial paraphernalia of bread making, mixers and ovens, tables and cooling racks, the adjoining tent is where the bread will be distributed.
Volunteers do all of the work, they come from all strata of life, diverse in their class and profession, in the making and distribution of bread each is an equal, each bound to the other by process and ideology. Here is the person who designs some of the most advanced technological bread making machinery. He is happy to use his hands to shape small rolls from the dough. There is the banker, a smile on her lips, a knife in her hand she cuts chunks of bread for giving to dozens of 'asking' hands.
For three days we abandoned the convention of our lives and careers. Tens of thousands of breads were given to tens of thousands of people.
Bread of All was for me a unique experience of contrast and extreme humanism. To see and to read hunger in such close proximity to someone else's face in a public square in Lisbon was somehow shocking and made me question in depth the extreme and disparate reality of our time.
On consecutive days and as a continuation on my research on bread I distributed bread to people of all ages and walks-of-life; in return I asked for a thought, a memory of bread. The recollections are as diverse as the people I spoke with, memories of other times, other situations, from across Portugal and far flung lands.
The following texts are extracts from some of the memories and testimonies offered to me in a unique act of unity, a reciprocal experience of giving and receiving:
- I was brought up in Minho(1), my staple diet was maize bread and sardines, but during the war sometimes not even a little bread could we get!
- My mother would bake alqueires(2) of bread to give to the poor for the soul of her parents.
- In the old days they paid the forneira(3) with a so-called 'bolo' meaning: a small bread. There would be people who would 'dance' the bread, (kneading), those would be paid with a small amount of dough.
- I have made bread since 1970. In Africa I made bread in Cabinda(4) with temperatures of 70°C. the humidity was so intense that we had to use sheets of zinc on top of the bread. The opposite happened in Sabugal(5), only 8°C, that is extremely difficult to rectify. There I had to use 50kg of flour to 8 kg of yeast. In Cabinda 100kg of flour to 500g of yeast.
- In the Beiras(6) region even today they make a 'bolo' made of onion; It is a small flat bread with finely cut onion. To live those moments at the mouth of the oven is simply indescribable.
- There was a bread-maker who would go from door to door distributing bread.
- I am from Lamego(7), land of maize bread, a bread had to last for 15 days.
- I have a bad finger because as a child a neighbour dropped a masseira(8) on top of it.
- It was the time of hunger… I went through a lot of misery and need, so today I never throw not even a little bit of bread away. In Portugal, we have so many recipes to use left over bread!
In a festive Lisbon, extravagantly decorated and illuminated for the Christmas holiday, Bread of All was a sobering event; extreme in its significance, great in its exemplar simplicity.