Portugal – the country of cocks

Almost every visitor to Portugal brings home a souvenir cock.

By cock, I don’t just mean adult male chickens but male genitalia, the devices used by advanced biological organisms for sexual reproduction.

Both are readily available in the curio stores of Lisbon and the surrounding areas, although I only managed to nab one of these unique treasures. There are no prizes for guessing which of these mementos I decided to take home. After all, I doubt if I could get a rooster past Australian customs.

The rooster is one of Portugal’s trademark mascots. It is the symbol Westerners most commonly associate with the nation, given their prior familiarity with the fast food-cum-restaurant chain Nando’s. As such, these tacky miniature models are overpriced at every corner store; in order to take one home, one must depart with a whopping ten Euros. It’s a hefty price tag for a figurine that’s destined for the bargain bin at a future garage sale.

For a fifth of that price, I managed to score a cock of a different type. It was handed to me by a larger-than-life Portuguese man in the small town of Caldas Da Rainha, an hour away from Lisbon. Few people in that cosy community speak English. Yet what they lack in vocabulary, they make up for in charisma.

I'll never be able to look at a tea-pot the same way...

Inside the quirky Louças e Artigos Regionais store, one can spot over a hundred sculptured wieners. They literally come in all shapes and sizes; some are decorated to look like soccer players, while others have been converted into water dispensers (don’t think about this too much). The smallest ones cost fifty cents and can be used as toothpicks. The larger ones can be used as room ornaments, ideal gifts to give one’s home that extra personal touch. My tool of choice came in a cigarette box; upon opening the container, one is treated to the charming sight of a baby phallus or three.

Just as amusing as these novelty gifts was the accompanying over-the-counter exchange. As you might expect, they don’t just let any Tom, Dick, or Harry work at a penile depot. One has to be amiable, passionate and – most importantly – straight-faced.

As with all shopkeepers, the owner of Louças was quick to perceive my fascination. He watched me bounce around his museum of ornaments, staring wide eyed at each of the peculiar concoctions. Upon making eye contact with him, he began his sales shtick. One by one he would pull out a different product from the back walls, each one serving a different household purpose. He explained them all thoroughly, and even let me touch the occasional rod.

What made this sales pitch even more hilarious was that he only spoke in Portuguese. In fact, two minutes into his spiel he asked Diogo – my “tour guide” – whether I too spoke the local dialect. Diogo, in hysterics over the whole situation, duly informed him otherwise.

This communication breakdown, however, was not enough to stop the salesman. Like a wind-up toy, he paused momentarily, only to re-commence his diatribe at an even faster pace. Given these outlandish circumstances – a man was trying to sell me a penis in a foreign language – I had no choice but to laugh. Two minutes later, I’m sure the vendor was likewise laughing to himself, having convinced yet another bemused tourist to part ways with their money.

Another curious thing about this episode is that Louças e Artigos Regionais was just one of the street’s numerous penial departments. Down the road, a cake store advertised erect chocolate cakes in their display window. Further up the alley lived a small spaghetti and meatballs figurine, complete with its own set of family jewels.

The obscure back-alleys of Lisbon, however, are not the only neighbourhoods I’ve noticed with an unhealthy fixation with the male reproductive organ. In London, for example, the appropriately nicknamed Gherkin dominates the city skyline. Meanwhile in Barcelona, the similarly shaped Torre Agbar competes in size against the nearby La Sagrada Familia church. Art galleries tell a similar story; most works suggest that the inhabitants of the 15th century lived permanently in the buff.

As somebody who disdains the prevalence of sexualisation in Western culture, I am baffled by this European obsession. It seems so contradictory that a continent so famous for its pilgrimages and monasteries can also be in love with the most offensive body part.

Then again, maybe this is all just a ploy to capitalise on cockamamie tourists. After all, we’re the ones purchasing their privates and making them rich.

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