I'm one of those people that always signs up for a local cooking class while traveling. Does the info come back with me to my own kitchen? No. I'm still sitting here making the same chicken and lamb recipes I've always been making. But, I have, over the years, collected some fun classes to my name: Ivorian Coast cuisine, macaron class in Paris, Malaysian food at the chef's home (blog posts on all of these, coming up soon!).
So when in Lisbon I thought, I'm eating amazing food here 24/7, maybe try something different and break the spell? After scouring through the depths of the internet and going from blog link to blog link, I discovered a class given by a tile maker, Marie. Portuguese tiles date back centuries to the times of the Moorish invasion, but really took off in Portugal after King Manuel I travelled to Seville and saw the extravagant use of tile work there. The word azulejo comes from Arabic, meaning 'small polished stone'. The creation of these small polished stones in Arabic artwork began as direct opposition to the mosaics of the Romans. The Moorish, when bringing this style of tile work to Portugal, also brought their tradition of horror vacui, the fear of empty spaces. They would completely cover walls with tiles, so that there would be no room for spirits to come in and disturb the area.
Azulejos are traditionally in blue and white. Marie told us that some colors are harder to make than others and blue was the first one that was discovered. Some say that the colors were influenced by the Age of Discoveries. Yellow and green also began to become popular in the tradition. Nowadays, many colors may be used, but most tiles still adhere to the blue and white tradition, with some yellow or green sometimes added in. You can see tile work all across Portugal, interior decorations, on benches, the outside of most houses, and even in metro stations.
We all arrived at her studio, a quaint white stucco house located on the eastern side of Lisbon, near the National Tile Museum. We thought about visiting the National Tile Museum beforehand, but Marie recommended to go after so we could have a little experience and understand the difficulties before seeing the masters. We each were given two tiles to make and Marie walked us through the steps.
Azulejos take quite a while and much patience is needed. (My patience with myself was long gone by the end of the class!) The brushes are thin, the paint can be fussy, and you need quite a steady hand! Marie was hilarious and kept us laughing about our novice work :).
After the 3ish hour class, a bunch of us took her advice and headed towards the National Tile Museum. There, we had lunch in the garden terrace (try some green wine and the cheese plate!) and chatted it up with our polyglot waiter. I can't remember what languages he spoke, but it was 6 or 7, all fluently! The museum is fairly inexpensive, I don't remember the exact price but around 2-4 euro. Inside, it houses azulejos from centuries ago up to modern day examples. There is also one of the most unique churches I've ever seen, since it's completely tiled on the inside!