I live in a town made famous by the man who invented cabbage leaf bowls. Rafael Bordalo Pinheiro also did ceramic frogs and ugly people. How he made a career out of this is beyond me. He did, though, and busloads of people now come to traipse around the museum dedicated to his work.
His bowls have been creeping me out since I was a child. They remind me of something moulded out of brain tissue and left to rot in a swamp. I have broken several in my life, in circumstances that were not entirely accidental, but they just keep coming. It seems the world has an inexhaustible supply of cabbage leaf bowls.
To be fair Pinheiro did a lot of other things with his life and would probably resent being remembered for an item of crockery. I don’t know what he was doing with the frogs but he was a damn fine satirist who poked fun at the well-fed and powerful through a series of caricatures and illustrations. His most famous and enduring is Zé Povinho, a man of the people who is somewhat like the Portuguese equivalent of Andy Capp.
The caricatures are not as scary as the cabbage bowls but they are not pretty – mostly bloated, red faced and in need of some advanced dentistry. A bit like distant relatives who you’d chosen to forgot about until they show up at a family funeral and remind you of the glitches in your genetic makeup.
But the local council has decided the caricatures have spent too long in the gloom of the museum. Life-sized reproductions of the unfortunate creatures have been placed inside glass boxes at strategic points around the town. They’re okay seen in broad daylight but a bit disconcerting when you stumble across them at night.
I have tried to like them. I really have. I’ve squinted at them, tried to see their importance as social commentary and imagined how they would look with a makeover. I understand that they are quirky and fun in much the same way as English seaside postcards. But god they are ugly. I guess it could have been worse though. I have yet to see a cabbage bowl on the street. Hopefully the council is keeping them locked away. Either that or the world has finally run out of them.