PC 246 The Five Senses

You might think from the title of these scribbles that I am going to write something about the human body, taking a leaf out of Bill Bryson’s book ‘The Body: A Guide for Occupants’. Well, I am but only to frame these thoughts and give them some cohesion.

Have you unconsciously started listing them, these five basic abilities we have? For those of you who are missing one or more, I feel sorry for you as our colourful life will have lost some of its tones. For those of you whose sense of taste or smell was ruined by the after-effect of a Covid infection, I hope they return, functioning as well as ever. Writing in last weekend’s Times, the author Kate Weinberg’s article in Long Covid had this: “Then, one morning, my cup of tea tasted like hot water and my eggs like scrambled Polyfilla. (Note 1).”

We see, we hear, we touch, we taste, we smell, but this is not going to be about three monkeys! My sixth sense woke me at 0610 this morning and I realised I hadn’t written anything about it! (see Note 2)

Up above the marina, in an older part of Cascais, Portugal, is a restaurant I have been to a couple of times before, called 5 Sentidos – Five Senses. The name always stops me in my tracks and then I get the delightful subtlety of it, as the whole process of ‘eating out’ can be really enhanced by the active engagement of all senses.

A large church, Igreja Paroquial de Nossa Senhora da Assunçăo, overshadows the plane trees that line the square, along one side of which lies Largo da Assunçăo and the ‘5 Sentidos’.

 Having circled the church (Can you circle a square?) looking for a parking space and been unlucky, we head off to the underground car park between the marina and the castle. Cascais has, like any town, a parking problem, made worse by the Portuguese habit of believing that parking restrictions apply to everyone else but themselves; they park on street corners, half on pavements, on pedestrian crossings (Note 3).

As we walk towards the restaurant we sight early diners already occupying the pavement tables. Then another sense is immediately assaulted – the large sonorous church bell chimes the half-hour: “boonnnnggggggg”. It’s so loud that I think maybe this wasn’t the best choice of places to eat, if this happens every 30 minutes! Fortunately it must have been rung for some other non-temporal reason as it only rang once more while we were there. Reminds me of stories of urbanites escaping to the country and complaining about the rooster’s crowing and the cows mooing!

Walking up the steps to our table on an outside terrace, my heart sinks for near where we are to sit is a table of three men and a woman and one of the men, an obvious Englishman, has a loud voice and finds everything he says funny. ‘I just need to get over my reaction!’ I think!

Our bottoms touch the slatted, painted wooden chairs and we settle down. The table has been chosen as a nod to Covid advice but also as inside can be a little claustrophobic on a warm evening. Unfortunately it’s not a warm evening; this Atlantic coast is cool compared with the Algarve’s down south or further, through the Straits of Gibraltar, along the Mediterranean coasts and we are grateful for a nearby space-heater.

Adriana brings the menus and takes the drinks’ order. When I am eating out I try to choose a dish I don’t normally have at home. I spy Camarão à Braz; ‘sounded interesting’, I thought ‘and I love shrimps’. ‘À Braz’ means cooking the shrimps with onions and minute potato sticks, all bound together with scrambled eggs and sprinkled with parsley and black olives. Bacalhau (salted Cod) à braz is the more famous version.

A restaurant’s choice of the size of plate in interesting. If it’s small yet piled high with food, we think ‘how generous!’: extremely large plates with large portions are for Americans. On her last visit here my mother-in-law had had a huge plate of rice with a thimble of chicken curry in the centre; rice is cheap!

When my dish arrives I am reminded of my teenage years when a packet of matchstick-shaped chips or sticks was a treat; these are they, simply made soggy and eggy. My first mouthful tastes ‘interesting’ …… but that’s as good as it gets. I pick out the shrimps but struggle to finish the mound of now mash, my taste-buds covered with a glutinous coating!

There’s the general murmur of low muted conversations around us when we stop to listen, when our own chatting pauses; sounds of people eating, waiters waiting and occasionally a little snippets invading one’s own hearing. Across the terrace the 3+1 table have been asked to vacate to a table on the pavement as it’s passed 2100; we have no such restriction and order puddings. The ice bucket wobbles on the uneven slats and condensation forms on its shiny surface; tempting to run my finger down the outside! Ah! The tactility of cold and wet!

Having discovered from Adriana that the orange tart on the sobremesas menu was ‘off’, which was a pity as it sounded unusual, I opt for some chocolate soufflé instead and head for the loo. Cascais is old, and the street drainage system whiffs; inside the unisex loo there’s that damp, musty smell that is often present, no matter how many scented candles or smelly sticks abound. There is no lock on the outside door so I keep a wary eye out for another visitor!

And on the topic of smell (note 4), you remember when it was permissible to smoke inside a restaurant? With diners at different stages of their meal, it was irritating to get the whiff of someone else’s cigarette smoke across your delicate Sea Bass! This evening any smokers are banished to the pavement tables and the evening breeze keeps the smell away.

We signal for the bill with the international wave of the hand, settle up and, threading between the tables, step out onto Largo da Assunçăo, the assault on our five senses complete. Out into the night of Cascais.

Richard 3rd September 2021


Note 1. Trademarked ‘Polyfilla’ is a type of plaster used for filling small holes.

Note 2 The five senses keep us informed about the physical world. A sixth sense Proprioception “allows us to keep track of where our body parts are in space” (?) Quite! Normally we describe it as our ability to perceive something which isn’t actually there, or hasn’t happened – yet! It was also the title of a Bruce Willis horror film in 1999.

Note 3 In Madeira it was so bad I surmised that pedestrian crossings were there purely for drivers to have more certainty of nudging a pedestrian; they never stopped!

Note 4 This sense is called Olfactory – which I find difficult to pronounce! And taste is officially known as gustatory.

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