Tours, Tiles and Tattoos

For our last two days in Portugal we stayed in the Lisbon Central Park Hotel. On the first day we visited the Bernardo Collection where there was tons of modern and contemporary art. The guided tour lead us through most of the second floor, but the museum was so huge there was no way we’d finish it all. The tile museum was our next stop, and here we painted our own tile before walking through and looking at MANY different designs and colors of tiles. Of course, we went off for some serious shopping after this and then dinner and a semi early night compared to the rest of the trip. We were all so exhausted from the week. The next day we headed out at around 9:30 to another collection of a super rich Armenian guy, whose name escapes me now, but he collected tiles, Chinese vases, Japanese wallets and a ridiculous amount of other pieces. After walking through with our tour guide we came out to the vast gardens that surrounded the building and there were some very strange birds living with the little ducks that had taken over. Another museum was on the same grounds, but a separate entity and had many more pieces including sculptures and some beautiful work from a few Portuguese artists. One last stop was on our agenda at a section of the museum of design which was all over the city because of the construction in their main building. This exhibit was composed of tattoos… directly on human skin. Literal cut outs of skin from the chests, backs and arms of deceased inmates from 1912. The staff there were very insistent on NOT taking pictures. It was pretty gross. Once we left, we ended up wandering through a festival in the city for a while before we headed home to rest for our early taxi ride to the airport the next morning. The airport was crazy as usual, and it didn’t help that our flight was pushed forward so we were supposed to leave even earlier. A brief sprint through the terminal and some intense maneuvers through passport lines and security got us to our gate on time. From there life was easy, and we came back to Logan after a stop in Philadelphia. I’m happy to be home, but I will miss Portugal dearly. This experience was life changing and I will definitely be back to Portugal someday soon!

Experiments, Embryos, and Escapees

escaOur last day in Sao Luis was a calm and relaxed day. We checked on all of our experiments; the urchins, bacteria and fruit flies. The urchins’ cells had multiplied and formed a blackberry type shape which was the start of an embryo! Our petri dishes with the agar and bacteria had grown significantly, some looking like tiny white forests, others like frost on a window. Our fruit flies left a few colorful poops, but it seemed most had escaped from our containers. I quickly went to check on my terrarium as well, just in case something fell over, and I realized that one of the seed pods I used had opened up and it looked even better than when I put it in and it was closed. After breakfast we headed to the beach to release the sea urchins and their new babies and then stopped for a coffee before heading home. We cleaned up and relaxed before dinner and then said our goodbyes as we were off to Lisbon for our last two days.

Sea, Sex, and Super Gross Dissections

We got up even earlier on Thursday, and headed straight to the beach after breakfast. Our mission was to gather sea urchins from the tide pools. Using our little knives we scraped them out and put them in a bottle of sea water and brought them home. The goal of this assignment was to observe the fertilization and cell multiplication of the sea urchins. After our attempts to make them ejaculate naturally (by gently rocking them back and forth like the sea) failed, they were injected with a harmless solution that made their muscles contract to force them to. Under the microscope, we looked for the eggs and sperm but it was kind of hard to stabilize the image. We left them to do their thing while we dissected a pig heart, which was super gross. It was strange thinking that we only had one day left in Sao Luis, it felt as if we had just gotten there.

Fears, Flies and Fungus

Wednesday was going to be a super hot day, so we all got up very early to go to the horse farm down the street. Oh my God, I rode a horse. It was great to face one of my biggest fears, but now I can also say the first (and probably last) time I ever rode a horse was in Portugal! After being excited and terrified at the same time for the entire half hour lesson, we headed back to Marta’s and began our work for the day. Marta had a collection of fruit flies and we were going to use them to “paint” with. When fruit flies’ food is dyed with food dye, they will poop the color of the food dye they ate from. So Marta put the flies in the freezer to make them sleep while we setup our containers with paper and little food bowls of red, blue and yellow coloring for them to eat. We put the flies in and then started on our next assignment while they ate and pooped. Marta took out a bag of mushrooms and we peeled the tops, cut off the stems, and placed them on white paper and cloth. The mushrooms, when made wet by the spritzer we had, were going to release their spores and make the pattern of their bottoms on the cloth and paper. After covering them with bowls we started on one last thing for the day, terrariums. I was so excited for this because I love tiny things. We gathered plants and rocks and put our mini worlds together in jars and documented them with pictures.

Clams, Chinese Shops, and Collecting Flowers

The day started off with Liz and I getting up before everyone else in the house. We sat with coffee and peaches and waited for the rest to wake up. Breakfast was the same as yesterday and JUST as fantastic. Going back to food in America is going to be so hard, everything is so fresh here. After we cleaned breakfast up we went to check on our petri dishes to see if any of the bacteria had grown at all. We noticed that not much had changed, but the food coloring we used to paint on the agar had seeped into it and spread out. Also one type of white fungus was strating to grow. Marta told us that the white fungus would grow very well. When we were done examining our perti dishes, we went to Milfontes to get some groceries for the day. At the market, we picked up some clams, apricots, peaches, strawberries and a few other vegetables. The colors were so vibrant and everything just seemed more vivid than it does in the US. The fish had been caught that day, and some of them looked terrifying. We then went to a more general supermarket to get a couple more things, and Liz, Ellen and I picked up things to send home to our families. From the super market we headed further into town to the Chinese Shop. It’s basically a tiny Portugese Walmart. Very claustrophobic, but they have everything and anything there to buy. After getting some water shoes for our adventures later in the day, we went walking to find the post office. While Ellen, Liz and I went into the post office to mail our family things, the rest sat a a small coffee shop. Of course we had some espresso when we finaly came to join them. It’s surprisingly cheap here.  Two espressos, and a cappicinno was 2.50 euros. That would probably be around 6 or 7$ in America. After baking in the sun for like 20 minutes, Liz and I went up the street to find an ATM. The first bank we got to was closed, the hours said from 8:00-12:30 and 13:00-18:00. I found it funny how the entire bank closed for their lunch. Anyway, we ventured further and found another bank that was also closed. This bank however, had a card reader to enter, and I figured it was for the bank’s personal customers only, but when Liz swiped her card the door opened! We quickly got euros and headed back. All of us got into the car and drove to Casa Branca, which is by a river very closed to Marta’s house. Liz and Ellen searched the mud for clams while Manuel and I swam in the river. It was an amazing place, and it looked like all the mountains closed us in. The salt water was a bit shocking when some got into my mouth, but it was perfect to keep the clams in that we had just bought at the market. With the bag of clams, they sold us a bottle of salt water to keep them in, because they were still live. Since we stopped at the river, putting the clams in the big bottle of water was not a good idea, so we just stuck them in the river. The water was pretty warm but still kind of cold, so we stayed for only a couple hours. We drove back and had lunch at the house, which was leftovers from last night in fish broth with bread and herbs. Again, delicious. Coffee and cookies followed this and Marta began to explain our next assignment. She told us to go out and collect plants and flowers to press in our notebooks. However, we weren’t supposed to just gather random samples, but we had to come up with a specific criteria to connect all of them. Liz collected a rainbow of colors to make a gradient, Ellen collected micro flowers, and I wasn’t sure what to do, so I went out and gathered things randomly at first. I soon became interested in holes in leaves. The negative space and the fact that most of the holes were caused by insects was an interesting concept to follow. However I soon became bored with the green, and tried collecting small plants that grow between the sidewalk cracks. I also becaame bored with that, and picked some flowers that looked pretty. When we got back we began to press them in our notebooks, which was kind of hard because none of us had pressed flowers before. As I was pressing them I decided to put all three of my categories in my book and just separate them because I wanted to keep all of them. I sat on my book to press them, but later put books on top of my notebook. Manuel came into the barn with us to give us our next lesson on memes, and temes, which was pretty mind blowing. I always thought of memes as those stupid pictures that circulate the internet, but everything is a meme. Anything that can be copied, from styles of art to piercing your ears. Anything. We talked about certain styles and techniques that were copied, and also subjects that are memes in the art world. Our lesson was cut a bit short because we were off to see a horse show at a realative of Marta’s farm. It was magnificent to see the horse trot to music. After the show and going to see the other horses and chickens, we came back to the house and now here I am writing this post before dinner. We will probably continue our lesson after dinner and we will learn about ecoystem and art tomorrow. Hopefully our bacteria has grown a little bit. My final post will be all of the pictures I took this week.

Beauty, Bread, and Biology

Finally, we made it to Sao Luis. After two plane rides, a tram and bus ride in Heathrow, another bus ride to meet Marta and one final car ride to the farm, we made it. Since I didn’t do a blog post for the first two days because I wasn’t sure how often we are supposed to be posting I figured I’d start from here and summarize the first two days quickly before I got into what we did today. The first to days were filled with craziness, like spilling my tea in Heathrow, having trouble at the Portuguese boarder, exploring he water front of Lisbon and a girl passing out on the train ride home to Marta’s apartment. I knew that there was only more to come and I was beyond excited (and still am). After arriving at Marta’s farm we were given the grad tour of the whole place from the barn turned studios to the cute little bedrooms with windows without screens. The mosquitos love me so far. Anyway, we lounged around and talked for a while before we started preparing dinner. We all pitched in to help make tomato soup and sausage in wine. After all was made we sat and ate together at the dining table. Here we talked about life in general and how things are different from country to country. After we finished cleaning up from dinner, we all sat outside and looked at the stars for a while. There were a couple of shooting stars and Liz, Ellen and I noticed that the big dipper was in a completely different place than it was at home. Everyone started trickling out and going to bed so we brought everything inside.


We started the day off with the most extravagant breakfast from Marta. We woke up at around 8:30 so we could make it to the market on time to get some fresh fruits, vegetables and fish. For breakfast Marta put out a very soft cheese with pumpkin and blackberry jam. I was sort of apprehensive to try the pumpkin  butter because I thought it sounded strange. I was so glad I did because it was so sweet and really didn’t taste that much like pumpkin at all. Along with this we had bread with goat and sheep butter, Greek yogurt and peaches, and Portuguese pastries. After breakfast we headed out to the market. The streets here are so narrow and all of the houses look the same but it almost feel like a fairytale setting. I keep thinking of Beauty and the Beast and I’m waiting for someone to pop out of their window and scream “Bonjour!!” but I suppose they’d say “Ola” instead. We approached the market and Marta and Manuel told us that the building’s construction materials included horse manure. I personally never thought that horse manure would be that stable of a building material but here stood this super old building made of it. We walked in to find the market closed, Marta suggested it was because there was no fishing on Sundays so there was nothing to sell but fruit and vegetables I guess there was just no point to the market without fish. Instead we made our way to the supermarket across the street and bought some things for the next day and dinner tonight. The shop was so tiny and very cramped compared to the market baskets and stop and shops I’m used to, and we got an enormous amount of peaches. I had promised my sisters that I would bring something back for them, so I looked around the store and found what I thought was a juice box of wine which I thought was comical, but I’ll have to continue my search, they requested candy not wine. After our shopping adventure we went to a small cafe that was close by and got espressos. Ellen was feeling rather sick, so after she finished her coffee she went off the doctors with Manuel to get some antibiotics. Liz, Marta and I walked back to the house and started our first experiments. We went into the barn and received our notebooks to take observations, sketch and write whatever comes to mind during the experiment process. Marta brought out a huge bin of old experiments in petri dishes; different types of bacteria in all of them, and food dye in some. The patterns and shaped in the dishes looked very interesting and we examined them under the microscope. It seemed as though there were small forests in some of the dishes. After looking at these specimens we went to the kitchen to start making medium for our own experiments. There were 5 different bottles of medium. The first we made was a pink, it had red food dye, cow’s milk, and agar which is a gelatin made of plant algae. The next was purple, which had red and blue food dye, almond milk and agar. Third was yellow, which was oat milk, yellow food dye and agar. Fourth was maroon colored because of the wine that was in it, with agar, and LB, which is a nutrient to make the bacteria grow because wine does not have nutrients like milk does. Lastly was probably the most intensely colored one, with soil, agar, and LB. It was a reddish dirt so it looked like a liquefied brick or barbeque sauce. The contents of the jars needed to be boiled, so three were put in a pot and boiled on the stove in water, and the other two we manually boiled in the microwave so we could try to recreate the experiment at home. The microwave method was really annoying because we had to intently watch the bottle to make sure it did not overflow. After all the bottles were boiled we quickly brought them to the barn and began pouring them into petri dishes. There ended up being a lot of them. When all the bottles were empty, we took a break to let them cool and solidify. Lunch was amazing again. We ate left overs from last night and previous nights of cooking, with more bread and butter and the soft cheese. After lunch we went back to the barn to hear a presentation from Manuel about medium as the message. The intense philosophical background of art was astonishing to learn about and has made me think more deeply about art and how the medium artists use can be the message of the piece itself. When the presentation was over, we went back to our petri dishes and began the real experiment. The goal of this experiment was to create art with different bacteria so we thought of things that could produced interesting patterns in the petri dishes with the bacteria on them. I grabbed a few flowers from outside and stomped a couple dishes and left some flowers in a couple more. Food dye was also available to paint patterns in the dishes. Ellen stamped a dog’s foot, and I can’t wait to see what that turn out to look like. After our vigorous experimenting, we made dinner which was again, delicious. Tonight it was cod with onions, potatoes and eggs, with a side tomato and onion salad. Dessert was more interesting conversation and honey dew melon. We will look back at our petri dishes tomorrow and go to the super market once again. This whole place seems like it’s out of a story book, I can’t wait for tomorrow. Pictures to follow soon!