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An example for us all

Dinosaurs don’t exist any more

They aren’t with us any more, it’s true, but they’ve accompanied me most of my life. I’m talking about dinosaurs, extinct for millions of years and an example for us all. To some extent, when we look at the past that was made with them, we can also see the future. Which must be made by us.

I remember that, when I was a child, in the days of the magic cube, there was another small marvel with what was for me a rather peculiar name: Kalkitos. Kalkitos were strips of card with a scene pictured on one of the sides. You could stick different pictures on them, which came on a separate transparent sheet. Once you’d transferred them onto the background scene, you ended up obtaining some quite surprising things for the time, and, above all, for my age. I remember, for example, how I distributed Mexican and Texan soldiers at the Battle of the Alamo, in Texas, which was fought in 1836. But, above all, I remember my sense of wonder about how I could stick animals I’d never seen before on another strip of card with meadows and forests. I remember how I placed there the most varied animals, some of which were even capable of flying.

It was the Kalkitos that gave me my fascination with dinosaurs. And, many years later, decades even, with my four children, I ended up discovering that, after all, this extinct species was in fashion. And that my own children were fascinated by them. Our house was filled with dinosaurs; some of them even had names that, as I was only a semi-specialist on the subject, I’d never heard of before, like one that I started to find very funny: the parasaurolophus.

At that time, I delved into a box of things from the past, looking for something that, at the old college in Monchique, now destroyed, had helped me raise my mark in the last period from four to five in the subject of Handicraft. A green animal with a high back full of spikes, a small head and a long tail: this was the dinosaur that I most admired in my adolescence, after discovering it some years earlier with the Kalkitos: the stegosaurus.

My children never paid much attention to that clumsy-looking dinosaur that meant so much to me. They had others that were much better made, bought in a shop that, next to its normal door, had a smaller door they could enter through and which they made a point of using. They also had stegosauruses, perfectly shaped and much more attractive than the one I’d made of plywood and painted green.

My children’s fascination had a greater impact on me than Steven Spielberg’s creation of dinosaurs in film had done some years earlier. There’s no comparison. So much so that, one afternoon, driving alone the Via do Infante, at some distance from my home, I suddenly became aware of something. The image that I saw as I looked to my right. I’d already contemplated it many times before, but suddenly it all made sense to me. In the two mountains of Monchique, one a little taller than the other, but both of them much higher than the whole of the south of Portugal – in the shape of these two mountains, which besides being high are also long – I saw two dinosaurs. Peaceful, not making any movement that could be noted from the motorway, some twenty kilometres away. And I was certain about this. Thenceforth, the range where these two peaceful mountains are to be found became known to me as the Serra of the Two Sleeping Dinosaurs. I even believe that, since then, I have always had great difficulty in referring to it as the Serra de Monchique, just as other people do and as you read about in books. The image has stayed with me. The two mountains are two giants that have survived from the Jurassic Age. And I walk on top of them when I’m at home, when I go up to the top of Fóia, when I’m looking for the castle of Alferce, and when I look down from the peak of Picota and try to see the whole of the Algarve sea. And, if I’m far away, even to the north, for example driving through the area around Ourique on my way back from Lisbon, what I see are two dinosaurs. Sleeping (in this case, for me, and not extinct). The Serra of the Two Sleeping Dinosaurs, as one day I’d like a lot of people to say.

António Manuel Venda
Writer, publisher, journalist and business manager

amvenda@sapo.pt

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