Master Zé bears on his skin the marks of the years spent at sea. And in his eyes, the stories that life has taught him engrave in the intensity of a gaze that contrasts with a curious simplicity. This could be a foam and sea fable, rhymed with real life. But no. It is really and truly the hard life stories of a sailor who never had much but really knows that he always had everything.
Sitting on the sand with eyes set on the sea – always the sea… – hunched over by the passing of time and a face carved by the sea salt and the scorching sun, after so many years spent there, Mestre Zé remains true to tradition: traditional fisherman’s beret, checked flannel shirt with loose sleeves, and trousers held by a black band, wrapped six times around the waist. The traditional Nazaré clothing is an extension of his very self. Fingers run through the sand, as if drawing his story as he tells it, slowly, while his feet become buried in the sand and come out again, producing a feeling that keeps his childhood memories alive.
He recalls those early years, sometimes running along the long beach at Nazaré, barefoot and happy, sometimes mending the nets for the next fishing trip while awaiting the returning heroes with the women and mothers sitting on the sand, suffering, wearing their seven skirts. And years later he himself was one of them: a sea wolf.
Following the relief of the boats and fishermen arriving came the ritual of pulling the boats up onto the sand with the help of pairs of oxen and the many arms that gathered there to watch the success of the fishing trip. Shortly after, still jumping in the nets, the horse mackerel, mackerel, sardine, seabream, meagre, and octopus would be carried off the beach, stretched out in the shallow baskets that wound their way along narrow streets, resting on rolls on the heads of the fishwives calling out with the cries of the Portuguese varinas (female street fish vendors), as only women from Nazaré know how. And the following day, the scene would play out all over again.
The images of the past also hold expectations of the future. Mestre Zé regards the sea as if glimpsing a Nazaré full of life, though now it is a portrait of a tourist town, where some traditions stubbornly hold on. Today, fish is sold at the auction market without the poetry of the varinas; now, the size of the waves dictates the town's popularity. But the old Sea Wolf, naive and superstitious, carries still in the tone of his voice his vocation and his destiny, repeating that "now is nothing".
From the height of his mastery in the art of net fishing, and of his 78 years – as old as Comur – between smiles and comments of one who knows that he always had it all, Mestre Zé is a happy man who looks to the past, even if unaware that the canning industry – and especially Comur – brings him horse mackerel, mackerel, sardines, seabream, meagre, and octopus, fresh and tasty as always, honouring its origins and rewriting the history of the Portuguese sea.