Wednesday 30 April 2014

Mesa Solo

All it takes is a guy wheeling a keg of beer to block a Fiat blocking a Smartcar blocking a Mitsubishi flatbed on one of these Alfama street/sidewalks. The keg guy parks his wheelie in front of the beat local café I’ve visited several times for a beer—make way for the keg guy!—and here I am again, at a table outside for one, now that Lucy’s flown home.

This joint is friendly but a little rough around the edges, until we extend those edges to 22+ degrees and a sky full of blue and fado from a nearby window, as if edges promise more. I suppose if I drink enough Sagres and write and cross out enough notebook I could arrive at or depart from the meaning of a day like this when my daughter’s gone home and Alfama’s alone again.

This café sits at the base of a hundred stairs, counting only the ones I can see, that lead to hundreds more. Tourists can’t walk by without shooting them. That’s Alfama, a song should go. The guy’s exchanged the full keg—unhooking a worn green bungie—for an empty and wheeled off. That surge of traffic has unblocked and subsided.

And, you dedicated readers keeping me company now that Lucy’s flown home, I’m handing over my 1 Euro 30 and moving on. Good afternoon to you all.

Tuesday 29 April 2014

One More Afternoon at the Beach

Who knows when we’ll get back to the ocean, Lucy and I agreed, trekking toward the train to Cascais around noon. By 13:30 we’d parked our lunch, bathers, towels, notebooks, cameras close to where we’d parked on Sunday, maybe up the beach a bit where the tide couldn’t get us. Lucy, not yet burn-proof, spent a quarter of a bottle of sunscreen on herself. I opted for 3 bottles of Sagres which, like the Mexican beer, seems brewed for beach days, when you can down a few and get more refreshed than hammered, but hammered enough. At about 14:15 we shifted a bit and did our other sides.

After a while we walked east along the promenade toward the next beach—Estoril, pronounced Shto-REEL—and caught the train back from there. And thank you, bank machine in Estoril, for finally getting it right with my bank card and handing over some cash.
For tonight, Lucy’s last in Lisbon.

Who knows when we’ll get back to Praça do Comércial. Might as well jump.

Monday 28 April 2014

One Afternoon at the Castle

We take our time getting to the castle, but who hasn’t. Everybody’s pre-Roman, when it comes to Castelo de Sao Jorge, built on a mosque, built on a temple, built on the highest cave. Site of siege and occupation, national legend, the royal and the military; urban capstone; survivor of the earthquake of ’55—1755, for you post-Romans—the castle now lets tourists overrun it, the way an old hound might tolerate the frolic of a pup. Today, Lucy and I tour among them, as if finally paying our respects to that fortress from which all Lisbon descends.
What we’re paying is €7.50 each to troop behind other tourists up and down and along battlements, gardens, walls . . . but don’t get me going on the tourists. We’re willingly in line with them today, for the castelo, as these tourist things go, is excellent for its views (the best in Lisbon), its deep stone, its 1100 years. And for its pastries, to tide us over, as we said.

Maybe for the first time in its history, the castle becomes an item on the same itinerary as a café on Rua da Graça, near where I lived in February. See the gates and towers! Eat the soup! As it turns out, getting from the castle takes a while too, by the time we loop below and have to catch the tram back up and around.

Sunday 27 April 2014

One Afternoon at Guincho Beach

Today we spent a couple of hours in the engine room, the giant wind-‘n-wave scene of Guincho beach, west of Lisbon, that blew out everything else.

For the hang/wind gliders/boarders it was paradise, and the families and dogs, the daughters and dads.

Lucy and I had already taken two hours of sun in the resort town of Cascais (kes-KAISH). It was sandy business, requiring a change of footwear new shades.

At Guincho we dozed and snacked and took pictures of each other.

At 5 or so we walked back on the boardwalk to the bus to the train to the metro to the short walk, the usual climb and descent, to our place.

Saturday 26 April 2014

Place as History as Place (3)

The other night we caught the Gurdjieff Ensemble at the beautiful Gulbenkian Auditorium in Lisbon. They play Armenian folk instruments, eight or nine of them, with names like duduk, blul, kamancha, oud, santur, and so on--the long-necked ukulele, the tabletop cello, the laptop vibraphone. So what we have, then, is Armenian musicians in an ensemble named after an Armenian philosopher-mystic, playing Armenian folk music, in a hall built by a Foundation created by the philanthropy of an Armenian businessman. 
In their hands, fingers, mouths and bodies, folk music, which they don't jazz or pop or otherwise contemporize, is the breath of a people. The act of forming this ensemble, and playing and patronizing this music, is an act of preservation of the music itself, the instruments used to play it, and the land and people it comes from.
You counter-culture types will remember that Gurdjieff's Meetings With Remarkable Men was required reading--at least required claim-to-have-been-read--4 or 5 decades ago. One of his remarkable men was the young businessman named Gulbenkian, who by the time he died in 1955 had become (thanks, petroleum) one of the world's wealthiest men. The fact that his Foundation, largely centered in Lisbon, had now hosted this folk music ensemble named after his mentor, and that, from the ensemble's perspective, they had brought their music to the home of their namesake's honoured friend--well, that had a lot of resonance the other night. Both audience and musicians seemed deeply moved.
For the occupant of seat C-3, the authenticity of the music was highly respectable but not that entertaining as a concert experience. That is, the haunting melody played so convincingly on the dap was quite a lot like the haunting melody played convincingly on the dhol. Still, I must say that I admire these artists and their benefactor more than a fumbling blog entry can express, for their dedication to life, land, and music.

Friday 25 April 2014

Place as History as Place (2)

Forty years ago today, when the dictatorship in Portugal was toppled by a set of dissident generals with the desperate support of the people of Lisbon, who first cast down flowers to encourage the generals, then took to the streets themselves, though the generals had told them not to, fearing resistance from the tired but still lethal Salazar regime (now ruled by Salazar’s successor)—forty years ago today, not a single shot was fired. The streets were ours at last, the people must have felt.
These events have been recreated in a series of large format, black-and-white photographs mounted in Lisbon at the points where they were taken in 1974. In the photos we see people shoulder-to-soldier, freedom in their faces. Viewing them, for a moment we stand beside them, reclaiming our places, right here.
Last night, another videomapping event at the Praça do Comércial presented a documentary collage of text and many of the same images. The plaza was full. It was as if that April 25 was on us again, so thrilling and thronged and immediate, even dangerous were the effects of the video. And so stirring. At one point a few bars of the old Salazar anthem broke out, older voices singing along. Later the new anthem gave rise to its own chorus, just as loud.
I’m one who loves such effects—a now and a then in who and where we are.

Thursday 24 April 2014

Place as History as Place (1)

Picture a long 18th-century arcade ending in a slightly taller square, the proportion of rectangle length to square length about 7 to 1. You're seeing the east façade of the Praca do Comercial. It's night on the Lisbon waterfront.
A blend of live action and animation, a video on the joys of spring, is projected across the plaza onto the façade. As an example of videomapping, the composition of the video incorporates the dimensions and details of the façade, so that the kids in the video seem to be re-painting the actual archways over the windows of the façade, or hopping from balcony to balcony on the actual building. Giant speakers deliver the soundtrack. Hundreds of us stand throughout the plaza to listen to and watch this sweet, inventive, entirely dazzling work.
The Praca do Comercial has for centuries been the site of arrivals and departures of voyages of discovery, demonstrations, armed occupations, assassinations, festivals and other public gatherings of all sorts. Thus, here we are where spring and history, night and the sea, the grand and the personal, the innocent and the deadly have taken their turns in the dance of this place, if we choose to see it that way.
Tomorrow is the 40th anniversary of the overthrowing of the Salazar dictatorship in Portugal. The plaza holds that memory too.

Wednesday 23 April 2014

Cycling With Lucy

We picked up a couple of bikes from BikeIberia, down by the ferry terminal. Not planning on climbs, we opted for the Standard Hybrid, as opposed to the Front Suspension Mountain Bike, the Comfort Touring Bike, or the Carbon Road Racer. I'd forgotten about Avenida da Liberdade, a steady climb once we cleared the clumps of tourists at the bottom.
We'd promised ourselves plenty of rest stops. This was one, in Lucy's pic looking south toward the river. We carried on past the Roman aqueduct--It survived the earthquake of 1755! I told Lucy, as if I'd built the thing.
That got us into the Monsanto green space--yes, that Monsanto. The friendly young woman at BikeIberia had warned us to stay along the outside, if we didn't want to be climbing, in our Standard Hybrids. That meant a long, slowish perimeter journey, with significant climb to it anyway. We stopped to eat lunch.

From the Monsanto summit, as it seemed to us, we cruised in the Standard Hybrids downhill to the river, all the way to the tourist enclaves of the Torre of Belem and Padrao Dos Descobrimentos. By this time our bums needed relief. We stopped for Italian, then dropped the bikes off at BikeIberia and walked home.
Lucy paused to consider the salmon.


Tuesday 22 April 2014

My Book of English Exercises

(Found today at a flea market in Lisbon.)

The king appreciated his journey very much.

The bridegroom entered the drawing-room with his _________.

Is this your bag, Frank?

Please give me some more pudding.

The boys will paint the flowers in their books.

We should have seen beggars in the streets.

This boy has a fine horse.

Hours are short periods of time.

Neither explanation was good.

Every man must die.

Monday 21 April 2014

After Yesterday

I didn't see much Easter Sunday church-related activity yesterday, as I was saying. Not that I'd recognize it. I do remember sunrise services decades ago in Herbert, when mom would troop us up to the Lutheran church at the east end of town--at Easter, I think--not into the church but to the far hillside to witness, somehow, the rising sun. It meant a good breakfast, that much I knew.
What did seem religious yesterday was the public ecstasy when one of Lisbon's football teams, Benfica, won the league championship. Ending at about 20:00, the game incited mass celebration among Benfica believers, who behaved as if delivered to some promised land. I caught the end of the game in a fado club which, once the champagne was sprayed, photos of children holding the trophy taken, and busty medal-presenting young women escorted out of sight, became a fado club again, serving a couple of sets of fado with tapas and wine. This was house variety fado, strictly amateur, but enough to effect that powerful sense of meeting, audience and song, toward fulfillment of both.
All of that was already in the past (where else could it be) 15 hours ago when I rode the metro to the airport to meet a certain Miss Lucy from Regina. She slept for 4-5 hours when we got back to the apartment. After that we hit the streets of Alfama and beyond in a traveler's first day, when she begins to build a sense of where she is and where she might want to go tomorrow.

Sunday 20 April 2014

Easter Sunday

Cloudy, chance of cruise ship, said the forecast which, as I read it, 08:25, came true when the Costa Fortuna--who came up with the name?--slid into sight. That's 900 feet, 13 decks, 3,700+ passengers and crew, 150,000 tons worth of sliding.
I'd been woken at 02:00 by singing. Slow harmonies--an Easter procession? One of these displays of hauling a Christ-on-the-cross through the streets, which I'd seen in Sevilla? The Portuguese are known for their religious festivals. What else would Easter have in store?
Not many stores, as the day turned out, one of the quietest days I've seen here. A few bells, straggles of tourists, announcements from the CF, in five languages. I got pretty quiet myself, not working much. Later I got stuck into Blue Sky, with Jessica Lange (fabulous) and Tommy Lee Jones (tentative). Portuguese subtitles for today's language study.
By now I can tell when cruise ships are leaving. At about 19:00 I went down to watch the CF. Unlike the Azura, this ship fired its stern engines sideways--crude ship talk, for sure--and rotated its rear end counter-clockwise, putting me squarely into its bow webcam for a few seconds.
About three minutes later, I could see the captain reach down and put her into drive and sail off, as I did, over to the grocery store to buy flowers for MY DAUGHTER LUCY WHO ARRIVES TOMORROW!
Closed Easter Sunday, said the grocery store.

Saturday 19 April 2014

Hanging Clothes to Dry

Stains, wrinkles, the life of grime—just a memory, now that I’ve hung my clothes to dry. Anybody can see what’s out there. From left to right, the quick-dry shirt (a tourist special), the Cougars running shirt . . . well never mind. See for yourself!

I’ve got the right day, when even the river seems to lie back and love the sun, which in turn loves my laundry. The last time I had a thrill like this, not counting my last radish and cheddar sandwich, was when a bunch of us were trying to create text and image presentations on an Apple IIe—this was 1981-82 in Nelson, a town about as far up the edge of Kootenay Lake in southeastern B.C. as I am right now above the Tagus in Alfama. I’d worked out a sequence of commands for a screen that would say, in crude early computer font, the supreme joy, over a piece-at-a-time assembly of a primitive car, of perfect motoring. I loved the effect.
So, the supreme joy of hanging clothes to dry, liking the thought of what I get later: my stash of river breeze up the pantlegs and down the sleeves. Re-delicate undies! Never mind later, I like it now, the flag of my undies and socks and the full kit, pinned loosely on the line, as they do it here. A breeze keeps things cool. The sun bides its time. While the clothes hang, I’ll head out for a little dangle in the breeze of my own.

Friday 18 April 2014

Alfama: Good Friday

Yes, good Friday for another cruise ship, the MSC Orchestra.

So you’ve got eight hours top get back to the ship. You’ve read about Alfama. You’ll get over there on one of those three-wheeled conveyances, get the driver to cruise along Remedios and stop when you see a great photo, which you take from the seat of your conveyance, down some set of stairs.


This is grab-and-run tourism, that treats a neighbourhood as their amusement park (and river their parking stall, waterfront their audio field, city their mall, but let’s keep the focus local). So they tour up and down the streets, gawking. No photo op = no interest, no interest = don’t give a shit that people live there. The walkers get their bodies in gear, at least—cradling the lens of their camera in their left palms, hungry for the next shot. There, a playground. Let’s lean on the fence and take pictures of the kids playing!

These tables need some serious turning. For my part, I’ve glared at tourists, talked to local business owners about tourists, stood watching and taking pictures of tourists. Next, guerrilla action against the conveyances, and a stern talking-to I’ll deliver to the bridge of the Orchestra by sundown.

To be fair (about time!), I’m a tourist myself. And these small linguistic pics/tics I offer are my version of grab and run, usually more of a sit and watch. I’ll take my pics home and edit them a bit, I suppose, as they will theirs. I did feel a moment of fear for the tourists, when I saw a local guy bomb downhill on his motorcycle, his kid behind him, no helmets, along the route the tourists prowl.

Why should I have to hear the ding-dong that precedes on-board announcements on the Orchestra? Why, in Alfama, should people have to feel that their lives are on display for the consumption by a few hours’ worth of a visitor?

Thursday 17 April 2014

Alfama: Elevation in 12 Steps

The sea is said to be level. Everything else is up and down.





On cruise ships at anchor they line the railings to watch your step—this one up, this one up, the next four down, a couple up, ten more down.



You can swallow that bite of pastry but it won’t stay down.



You can drop a coin at your feet, pick it up at your ankles.



A newborn’s first journey in Alfama is the 15cm ascent from crib to change table.



One kid kicks the ball past another. By sundown it's ridden an ebb tide out to sea.



The trees don’t know which way to grow. I stepped on a leaf the other day!



Your shoes age erratically.

If your mood is rising, it’s likely, around the next corner, to descend.



Last night, turning over in your sleep, you woke up three feet lower.



You’re always lower than you used to be.


But this is the closest you'll be to bottom.


Wednesday 16 April 2014

Incident at the Alfama Waterfront

This is the normal view out my window.


Today I woke up to this.


I headed down to investigate.


We’re piling into shuttles to tourist destinations, people from the ship told me.


The Azura seemed in no hurry to budge.


I waited a few hours. This was my view at lunch.


Finally I had enough. I went down and spoke to the men in charge.


Get your rust-bucket outta my face, I told them.


They relayed my message to the guy at the front who casts off the giant ropes.


Take your time coming back, Azura.


But now the damn navy’s moved in.