Stories in the stars
The vain queen and the missing ocean
The Valley of the Stars has a magnificent new queen of royal red who will henceforth be known as Cassiopeia.
Yes, our beautiful new Hilux arrived two months earlier than expected. She’s the brightest new star in the valley, and you can call her Cassie.
We dipped into Greek mythology and astronomy to name her after an Ethiopian queen whose boastful vanity almost doomed her daughter to death by sea monster and saw her cast into the heavens for all eternity.
The search for a name led me down this week’s rabbit hole of history, myth and legend, disappearing oceans and flying sandals.
And it suitably distracted me from worrying about finding a builder and getting all the spray-painting finished.
“I’m a little shy,” was how Ana first introduced herself to Cassie on a Toyota forecourt in the Algarve.
We had never, ever, bought a brand new car before and the towering truck in front of us was a little intimidating even without thinking of the price tag.
I’d had stress dreams the previous night about crashing in slow motion: not a big wipe-out movie-car-chase crash, just a slow but unstoppable roll into the back of another car.
And here we were – a year into our Big Portuguese Adventure – driving our first proper car, not worrying about an inability to reverse or the lack of brake lights, and finally being able to plan a drive to Sweden to see Ana’s parents.
The cost of second hand cars is so high in Portugal that getting a new company car seemed the best value, especially with the five year service contract and the seven year warranty.
Company car means we had to take out two of the back seats, but it still provides the perfect family car: Ana and I up front, Simon on the single back seat, and Garfy the horse/dog in the big gap where the other seats used to be.
“I see you’ve got a new bike,” said the Cow King as we passed on the dirt road (but secretly we think he was impressed).
Obviously it would have been great if customs had told Tiago the nice Toyota man that the car was almost ready when we panic-bought our cheapo Suzuki Vitara two weeks earlier, convinced that Millicent the Land Rover was going to die at any point and leave us stranded.
Regular readers who have feelings for Millicent will be glad to hear she is comfortable, pink eyelashes intact, awaiting a full diagnosis.
(We hope she’s operable – as long as it’s not too expensive – which it might be).
Having just gone through the trauma of searching for the name Siouxsie the Suzuki, the challenge was to find another name (and at one point we even considered asking for your advice), but the answer lay in the heavens…
The skies have been mostly clear these last few weeks and I’ve been back on the stargazing trail – studying star patterns in the Milky Way with a phone app and learning to recognise constellations as the zodiac stars move along their interstellar ecliptic motorway.
Given we’re Vale Das Estrelas, I’ve been reading about their associated legends courtesy of a few astronomy books and Star Stories by Anthony Aveni, a slightly chaotic meander through many of the myths.
The pronouns her/she were quickly agreed for the new Hilux, and after controversially alienating ourselves from any alliteration, Ana had a stellar idea…
We’d talked about the five-star “W” constellation just the night before, and when that turned out to be Cassiopeia it showed promise.
One deep Greek mythological rabbit hole later and all was settled – I mean how can you go wrong with a vain human queen boasting that she and her daughter were more beautiful than the godly sea nymphs?
What better name for an offensively large bright red bakkie? Confidence, vanity and balls. But you have to ask, what was Cassiopeia thinking?
For those of you who don’t know the story, to say that Poseidon was pissed off with her bragging would be an understatement.
After seeking advice from a sage, it seemed the only way out of it was for Cassiopeia and her hubby Cepheus to tie their daughter Andromeda to a rock as a sacrifice to the sea monster Cetus.
Don’t you hate it when that happens?
But as luck has it, while Andromeda’s writhing there waiting to become lunch, Perseus only flies past in his winged sandals carrying Medusa’s recently severed head and goes “wow, she’s nice.”
A few swipes of his magic sword later and he’s asking to marry her over the sea monster’s dead body. Awkward.
You see Andromeda was already betrothed to her uncle (Ancient Greeks, huh?) and so when he gets all “not on my nelly” Perseus whips Madusa’s head out of a bag and gets him and his mates turned to stone.
(You’ve got to ask why he didn’t pull that one on Cetus, but hey).
If this sounds a bit familiar (spoiler alert) it was the plot to the 1981 film Clash of the Titans, but you know what movie producers are like with their exaggeration…they even had Perseus on Pegasus the flying horse, and everyone knows in classical mythology that was Bellerophon.
I mean, that whole Pegasus thing was sooo Middle Age mythology.
And don’t get me started on the 2010 remake which is pure fiction.
Anyhow, Poseidon – the party pooper that he was – decides Cassiopeia’s not going to get away with it that easily and so sends her into the skies sitting on her throne with one foot attached to the north pole to spin for all eternity.
I can see a “W” but I struggle with the chair a bit.
Cepheus, Andromeda and Perseus all joined her in the end and now they spin around the sky together. Don’t you love a happy ending?
Stars inspire great stories depending on your perspective, how you look at them, how they are collected together and how their tale is told.
Since living in South Africa I no longer see a man in the moon, but a rabbit.
The Sámi see Cassiopeia’s “W” as an elk horn; the Marshall Islanders see the five stars as part of a bigger constellation of great porpoises.
In Arab cultures it’s different again, so a thousand years ago the men guarding the Moorish fort in Aljezur, just over the border from us in the Algarve, would have traced the outline of a camel…without the benefit of an app.
The castle was built in the tenth century – the mid-point of more than 500 years of Islamic rule in Portugal – only captured by Portuguese Christian crusaders in the 1240s.
It’s the reason there are hundreds of words in Portuguese that come from the Arabic.
Algarve comes from Al-Gharb meaning “the west,” while Aljezur means “of islands,” or “surrounded by sea,” according to the Aljezur museum curator.
But it’s not, and that’s when she told us the story of the missing ocean.
After Siouxsie the Suzuki needed a little tweak at the garage where we bought her (yes, in her first week!), we found ourselves with a morning to kill in Aljezur.
Visiting the castle and the museum was another reminder of Portugal’s amazing history from Neolithic times, through the Phoenicians, Greeks and Carthaginians; the Romans, the Visigoths, the Moors…and beyond.
But we also learned Aljezur was once a major port town – the main stopping off point for boats navigating this wild west coast – until the earthquake and tsunami struck in 1755.
It not only destroyed a huge swathe of Lisbon, but it toppled the castle walls and inundated this coastline, changing the town forever.
“When the earthquake hit, the sea disappeared and never came back,” the museum curator said, and now the ocean is miles away and the great river just a trickle.
We’re slowly exploring the beaches and coves of this coastline, learning some great stories along the way – stories I can’t wait to tell…once I’ve finished the painting, and we’ve found that builder.
PS. Please, please, please join us on Instagram: @Vale_das_Estrelas to see more pictures like this…
Alastair, i like your stories, just subscribed and read a couple of them. You live here for about 1 year and i will be 16 soon since i moved over. Unbelievable how you can see things that escape others. how much would you want for Siouxsie, now that you purchased a proper magic carpet ? Cheers
The Alenjento features in the Daily Telegraph this week:
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