We didn’t expect Anna to adopt the role of tour guide but she did anyway and that would have been a lovely idea except for one thing: she didn’t seem to know anything the history of Braga, the place where she had worked for decades.
“This,” said Anna, pointing to the building which bore a prominent sign saying palace, “is the Palace.”
We murmured our appreciation and asked how old it was. There was a brief pause.
“Very old,” said Anna.
We muttered our thanks again for her insight and we walked on to the cathedral. We could tell it was the cathedral because it said Cathedral on a sign outside.
“This,” said Anna with evident pride, “is the cathedral.”
It was our turn to pause as we struggled to form the next question.
“I don’t know anything about it,” said Anna quickly, before we had the chance.
We once again nodded our appreciation of her candour and wisdom and we trooped inside the cloister.
“You have to pay to go into the cathedral,” said Anna defensively, as if searching for reasons to stop us going into the main building and asking questions that she didn’t know the answer to.
“They are very expensive to maintain,” said my brother. I think he was championing Anna’s cause – that of leaving someone’s ignorance unchallenged. Both of us were suitably impressed that anyone could live in a city for so long and know so little about it. That takes real skill.
We didn’t have to pay to go into the little chapels around the courtyard so we popped into a couple of them. Actually, ‘pop’ might be the wrong verb because one of them was so dark that Anna didn’t see the Archbishop lying on the floor and she snagged her foot on the old fellow. Anna teetered and Anna tottered but she just managed to save herself from falling face first into the arms of the supine, alabaster archbishop. Above the old boy’s tomb random boxes of bones jostled and murmured in alarm. It was close call. We displayed too much levity at the narrowly avoided intertwining of limbs and a serious ten year old studying a Latin inscription scolded us with a severe look.
Outside the cathedral we walked past the town hall and turned up to the Santa Bárbara gardens. We stood aside as a delegation of a few hundred farmers bearing banners marched in protest about the scandalously low prices farmers were paid for their produce. Anna recognised some acquaintances from the Communist Party in amongst their ranks and her back straightened in pride and solidarity with the farmers and her moment of teetering in the presence of the Archbishop was forgotten. This was a woman who could stand on her own two feet. We read through one of the leaflets handed out by the protesters and bemoaned the wicked ways of all-powerful supermarket chains and noted the universality of the problem.
The gardens of Santa Bárbara were pretty in their spring clothes and Anna, determined that we didn’t ask her any questions about it or the ancient arch standing at its southern end decided that she needed to take photographs of us against the scenic backdrop. We posed suitably, slightly tight-lipped, perhaps, due to the fact that our collective store of knowledge was now no greater than it had been an hour earlier. Anna did what photographers do and stepped back to get in the full scene. Call it the Archbishop’s revenge if you like (I know that I will) but in the next moment Anna’s heel caught on the surround of the flower bed and before we had time to turn our cameras on her, she had tripped backwards and this time there was nothing to stop her falling. To the accompaniment of hoots of laughter from a couple of old women standing nearby, she toppled quite gracelessly into a bed of pansies. Without doubt it was a most inelegant collapse, with legs and arms flailing amongst the crushed leaves and crimson petals and I am sure I could hear the echo down the ages of an Episcopal laugh. Needless to say the result was when she finally got to click the button our smiles – broad grins even – were quite genuine and heartfelt.
Soon afterwards we took our leave. We didn’t want to burden Anna with any more questions that she couldn’t answer and she, I felt, wanted to leave while she was standing upright, on her own two feet.