Archive | January, 2016

Tram 28

29 Jan


The tram that runs right under our apartment window, that we hear every morning at 6 a.m. rumbling by, the tram that got stuck for an hour outside our window because it couldn’t get by a parked car on this impossibly narrow street, is the most beloved tram in Lisbon, the no. 28. (A link to the video of this little nighttime drama:

We decided the other day, as it was rainy and we weren’t up for a hike through the narrow steep streets of our neighborhood, to take the tram for its entire run, and make photos as we went–I’m sure we’re not the only tourists who have done this! Most of these pics were taken from the tram, but not all of them.

lisbon_gb@tram28stop_ruapoiaisWe started at the tram stop on our street, and went up to the end station at Campo de Ourique, which is where our closest mercato is. The end of the line stops in front of the Cemeterio dos Prazeres, Lisbon’s main cemetery.lisbon_tram28endstop_@cemetery






The cemetery reminds me very much of New Orleans’ famous graveyards, with tombs above ground. A lot of Lisbon reminds me of NOLA, in fact.

The Mercato de Campo de Ourique is a little bit smaller than the famous Mercato Ribeira down by the river, but it has a great fish market, and all the other conveniences of a lisbon_mercadocampoourique&cathedralmarket with stalls for cheese, nuts, flowers, and a food hall. That’s the building with the white cupolas, next to a rather modern church, Santo Condestavel.


We also discovered lisbon_fabricshop_campoouriquethat this section of town is a center for fabric stores. The blocks around the Mercato had rows and rows of fabric shops of all descriptions. One of them seemed to have only pastel cottons, and another upholstery material. Portugal apparently used to be a center for textile production, although Asian companies have now taken over most of that market.


From the end line, we travelled down past the beautiful Jardim Estrela–a welcome green

area in a part of town with very little vegetation. That’s the garden outside the tram window, and an image of one of its ponds that we took on an earlier visit.

The tram then goes down the hill past the Assembleia da Republica–the Parliament House–into the Bairro Alto, the old part of town where we are staying (that’s our street where the tram is coming up). As you can see, these streets are very narrow and the houses are tightly packed. The place is filled with tiny little shops on the ground floors, and living spaces above. Some buildings look completely derelict but are still lived in, while others (like ours) are now being renovated and gentrified. According to our friend lisbon_combrobarber_tram28Paula, even five years ago, this neighborhood was a no-go dangerous zone. Still rough around the edges, we love the informality and the hilarious signage on some of the lisboncat_asleepstorefronts. This one is for a men’s barbershop–with cat? It is right next door to the window where we see this cat sleeping every day.



Now the tram heads up a steep rise and out lisbon_tram28_camoespracaof the Bairro Alto into Baixa-Chiado, at Praça Luís de Camões, one of the main plazas of town, and a central hub of the Metro–Lisbon’s subway. The kiosk usually has colorful characters seated at its tables, but today in the rain, they weren’t there. The statue, as I think I have already shared, commemorates Portugal’s most revered literary figure, Luis de Camões; the figures around the central figure are lesser literati. We come through this square nearly every day, and have often had to give up waiting for the Tram 28 and have walked DOWNHILL to get back to our apartment. The tram is lovable and a great way to see the city, but reliably efficient it is not.

From here, the tram enters the so-called ”Pombaline” section of town–named after the infamous Marquis of Pombal (1699-1782), Portugal’s very own version of a Cardinal Richelieu. After the 1755 earthquake decimated the town, Pombal, a minister of the King and the true power behind the throne, set out to rebuild Lisbon’s central area along more rational lines, with broad plazas, grids of streets with substantial buildings along wonderfully-tiled pavements. Many of these are now pedestrian zones. Alas, like so many of these enlightened leaders, who initially did so much good, Pombal got carried away with power, and began killing off his rivals. But his real end came when a new devout queen, angered by Pombal’s ousting of the Jesuits, stripped him of all political offices and more or less banished him to the countryside where he lived out his years peacefully.

The Pombaline section of town begins to merge into the oldest and most famous part of Lisbon, the Alfama; around the edges one still finds small shops, and a tiny garment district that P1020709made me want to go buy ribbons and buttons. Each of these shops specialized in one garment accessory.


Up the hill in the winding streets of this ancient, near-casbah-like neighborhood, past the Cathedral Se and the popular Church of Santo António (where Saint Anthony was born), the tram reaches a plateau at Largo da Santa Luzia, and around the bend to the Largos das Portas do Sol, with its magnificent views across the Alfama to the River Tejo and up the hill to the Church of São Vicente de Fora (Saint Vincent is one of Lisbon’s patron saints). P1020829On this plaza is the Museum of Decorative Arts, in one of the most elegant 17th-century buildings in Lisbon. Officially called the Ricardo Espirito Santo Foundation after the man P1020834who singlehandedly rescued much of the furniture and objects in the Museum, the building itself is worth the visit. The Portuguese approach to Baroque decor is much more to my liking than over-the-top pomposity of the Germans or the Italians–the aesthetic I find particularly appealing.

And still our little tram chugs along noisily, heading up the hill past São Vicente, and then–to my surprise–into a residential neighborhood called Graça. Here are two of the most spectacular ”miradoros”, viewpoints from which to look out over the city to the river. The tram stops at Largo da Graça, from where you can walk to both of these lookouts.

I didn’t realize that our tram went all the way around the Alfama hill and into the neighborhoods of Intendente, before finally coming to its end station at Largo Martim Moniz. A seemingly lackluster square, with several stalls and a few places to eat, this plaza is on the edge of what passes for Lisbon’s Chinatown. The neighborhood up the hill of Mouraria did offer some playful visions in murals, which were fun to see. P1030146







Despite the tacky surrounds, Largo Martim Moniz does contain one lovely gem in the Capela do Nossa Senhora da Saúde e São Sebastião–the Chapel to Our Lady of Health and San Sebastian. Dating originally from 1505, heavily rebuilt after the 1755 earthquake, this peaceful little shrine contains beautiful tiles from the 18th century. It was so tranquil that we were almost tempted to join the women sitting there in quiet contemplation.

But we didn’t. Instead we jumped on the Metro line back to Baixa-Chiado, and went P1030150to Pastelaria Benard on the Largo; the most distinguished of the old pastry shops that we have encountered, less touristy than A Brasileira next door. Divine!

lisbon_tram28_stacatarina_peacockinalley_closeupAs luck would have it, Tram 28 was not to be had for our final leg to home. The way we find this out–that it is heavily delayed–is by waiting for 15 or 20 minutes, then when we notice the natives bailing and beginning to walk, we know that by some method they
have learned that the tram isn’t coming for a while. So we walked down the hill again–and discovered, in a little lane by the Santa Catarina Church, this sight: a half-grown peacock on the fence around a preschool!

And again by luck, that evening, out for dinner at the Goan place we had discovered on our first day in town, I captured the 28 coming round the bend next to the restaurant. Looking ever so much like a scene from ”A Streetcar Named Desire”. And running on time!


Golega and Casa Relvas

28 Jan


Now it is difficult for me to reconstruct how I ever found out about Golegã and the Casa Relvas. I think when planning our trip, I was looking for information about photography museums in Portugal, and so found the site about Carlos Relvas and his studio-house in the town. But it wasn’t until we were in Lisbon that I realized that Golegã wasn’t just a suburb of the city, but was an hour and a half away. And when no one at the train station had any idea how to get to the town, or had even heard of it, I started to think this was another case of an eccentric 19th-century photographer in the middle of nowhere, and wondered if it was worth figuring out how to get there. But going a bit stir crazy in our inner-city Lisbon apartment after a bout of the turistas, I determined that we would rent a car and drive north, stopping in Golegã if we could find it on the map, and then go on to the university town of Coimbra. Road trip!!!

From some guide books and the well-versed folks at the amiable car rental office, we did get vague information about Golegã being famous for its annual horse fair, but that’s about all we knew as we drove north on the expressway. Portuguese road signage leaves a lot to be desired, and the GPS in the car went a bit off-kilter, but we finally got on the country road to the village. As we entered I still thought this was going to be some sad hole-in-the-wall suspicious of foreigners. We parked the car as soon as we could, and tentatively walked toward the golega_cafecentral_fromplaza2church that we could see up the road. This is what we found:  a lovely plaza, with a prosperous-looking cafe. When we entered, we knew that this was not a poverty-stricken village, but instead a comfortably wealthy place, definitely the center of horses and prize bulls. Even the dishes at

the cafe touted this fact! From the other patrons and the general air of prosperity, we felt like we were in Lexington, Kentucky or other horse-breeding centers. (Actually, it reminded me a bit of Ojai, California). We had a lovely meal in its artistic surroundings (thoughtful artworks purchased at estate sales and flea markets on the walls), and then went out to explore.

The next surprise was the church on the plaza, Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Conceição. We entered from the side door, so were completely bowled over by the gorgeousness of the interior. Built in the 16th century in a Manueline style–the Portuguese national architectural form named for Manuel I, king at the time of its flourishing–the delightful ornamentation combined with fabulous early mudejar tilework, both narrative and decorative, make this a beautiful monument of Late Gothic/Early Renaissance transitional architecture.

When the Tourist Office opened at 2–so many places are closed for a long lunch in Portugal!–we went to ask how far the Casa Relvas was from the center of town, thinking it was some kilometers away. The nice woman there told us that it was only meters away from the main plaza. And indeed, a short walk brought us to this gem of the Aesthetic Movement era, designed and built by Carlos Relvas (1838-1894) himself, and set in a garden filled with plants that he had collected on his many travels.

From my preliminary search for information on Relvas, it was clear that he WAS an eccentric early photographer, but it was difficult to find any details in English. Coming up golega_casarelvas_modsculptofrelvasto his studio-house, a statue of the photographer at the entrance, based on one of his photographs, was the first indication of how eccentric he was.  Who in the 19th century would photograph themselves bare-chested?relvas2

It turns out that he was from a very wealthy Golegã family–horse-breeders for generations, and owners of a huge property next to the present spot of his studio; the property had its own horse ring. He married into the nobility, and when this wife died, scandalized everyone by taking a much younger wife. Skilled as a horseman and bullfighter, he became a passionate amateur photographer in the 1850s, when photography was still often considered a gentleman’s hobby. Because he could afford it, he built this house in the early 1870s as a paean to the photographic arts, and began photographing in every genre.

He constructed the studio with ingenious pullies and enormous glass walls, to capture as much light as possible. The staircase was made of liana vinewood, and the studio still houses the original props he used in his portraits. A sign of his aristocratic status in Golegã is the amusing fact that he had separate entrances for his elite clients coming for a portrait sitting and the peasants that he paid with meals to pose for genre photos.

The house is now a museum, run by very amiable guides, who have created an introductory video with narration in about seven languages. The video is shown in a room in which they have attempted to liven things up by including an animatronic talking head of Relvas (he blinks and everything!) who narrates some of his life story:



After being amused by this presentation, and noticing the house’s details in celebration of the camera and the figures of Niepce and Daguerre, we were sufficiently impressed with Relvas’s accomplishments.

I am also simply amazed that this photographer is so  little known outside of Portugal (and even here known by very few). I wasn’t even able to get an explanation for his most famous self-portrait, from 1870. It apparently has something to do with elaborate family dramas concerning his extravagances. His son, Jose Relvas, was more moderate than his father, becoming a beloved liberal politician; he proclaimed the first Portuguese Republic in 1910! carlos_relvas_autoretrato_1_510_300

And his garden substantiates that he was in Australia! The guide, who also acts as archivist, says there are prints of the photos he took in Australia, and the immense eucalyptuses here are apparently grown from seeds he brought back from his travels.P1030208

Obviously, I will have to do something about this dearth of knowledge of this fascinating person. Another project, despite my lack of Portuguese…

After being so stimulated by our visit to Casa Relvas, we wanted to see a bit of the horses that make Golegã famous in horsey circles. (A link to information about the horse fair:  The fair has been taking place here since the 18th century, and has been the center of stud farms for nearly as long. We walked to the main horse ring, but no one was performing.  We did find one stable that was open, so that a group of school children could visit. golega_horsestables_white horse

Outside the stables were streets and streets of the typical country houses of Portuguese villages, but here, because of the town’s prosperity and tourist venue, in much tidier shape than most houses we have seen.

golega_housesnearchurch2What an enjoyable surprise this village became for us.  Now we want to do some more exploring.  And Carlos Relvas, you haven’t heard the last of me!

Portuguese language

22 Jan

Having now been in Lisbon for two weeks, I have now heard enough Portuguese to have some opinions about it! So here are some comments:

–because Portuguese looks somewhat like Spanish, one gets the false impression that it will SOUND like Spanish. It does not!  I can read Portuguese pretty easily, but I do not understand a single word that is spoken, especially when they speak informally.

–this may sound strange, but spoken Portuguese sounds a little bit like Russian or some other Slavic language. I think this is because of all the sounds in the front of the mouth.

–we were here two weeks before I realized what the days of the week were. Check this out:  while Saturday and Sunday are like Spanish–sabado and domingo–these are the names for the rest of the week:

Segunda-feira [say-goon-dah fay-ee-rah] – Monday.

Terça-feira [tayr-sah fay-ee-rah] – Tuesday.

Quarta-feira [kwar-tah fay-ee-rah] – Wednesday.

Quinta-feira [keen-tah fay-ee-rah] – Thursday.

Sexta-feira [say-eesh-tah fay-ee-rah] – Friday

So that is, essentially, Monday as ”second day” or ”second fair” (?), etc. Sunday is considered the FIRST day, and then everything else is just second day, third day, and on til Friday, sixth day.  This seems very strange to me for some reason.

–to get an idea of how different the pronunciation is from what the words look like, here is Cesario Verde’s famous poem, O Sentimento de um Occidental:

Nas nossas ruas, ao anoitecer,
Há tal soturnidade, há tal melancolia,
Que as sombras, o bulício, o Tejo, a maresia
Despertam-me um desejo absurdo de sofrer.

O céu parece baixo e de neblina,
O gás extravasado enjoa-me, perturba;
E os edifícios, com as chaminés, e a turba
Toldam-se duma cor monótona e londrina

Batem os carros de aluguer, ao fundo,
Levando à via-férrea os que se vão. Felizes!
Ocorrem-me em revista exposições, países;
Madrid, Paris, Berlim, S. Petersburgo, o mundo!
 Semelham-se a gaiolas, com viveiros,
As edificações somente emadeiradas:
Como morcegos, ao cair das badaladas,
Saltam de viga os mestres carpinteiros.
 Voltam os calafates, aos magotes,
De jaquetão ao ombro, enfarruscados, secos;
Embrenho-me, a cismar, por boqueirões, por becos,
Ou erro pelos cais a que se atracam botes.
 E evoco, então, as crónicas navais:
Mouros, baixéis, heróis, tudo ressuscitado!
Luta Camões no Sul, salvando um livro a nado!
Singram soberbas naus que eu não verei jamais!
 E o fim de tarde inspira-me; e incomoda!
De um couraçado inglês vogam os escaleres;
E em terra num tinir de louças e talheres
Flamejam, ao jantar, alguns hotéis da moda.
 Num trem de praça arengam dois dentistas;
Um trôpego arlequim braceja numas andas;
Os querubins do lar flutuam nas varandas;
Às portas, em cabelo, enfadam-se os lojistas!

Vazam-se os arsenais e as oficinas
Reluz, viscoso, o rio, apressam-se as obreiras;
E num cardume negro, hercúleas galhofeiras,
Correndo com firmeza, assomam as varinas.

Vêm sacudindo as ancas opulentas!
Seus troncos varonis recordam-me pilastras;
E algumas, à cabeça, embalam nas canastras
Os filhos que depois naufragam nas tormentas.

Descalças! Nas descargas de carvão,
Desde manhã à noite, a bordo das fragatas;
E apinham-se num bairro aonde miam gatas,
E o peixe podre gera os focos de infecção!

Cesário Verde, 1880

Now listen to how it’s pronounced:

So fascinating!  I have also found that I would never be happy living in a country where I couldn’t speak the language. It’s driving me crazy not being able to understand or respond!


Infant Joy!

21 Jan


Our first grandchild, Lyle Albert Boeck, was born earlier than planned (he came the day before a scheduled c-section, and in a real hurry!), on January 13, 2016.  I have been filled with the whole gamut of emotions, being so far away and only being able to see him on Skype or Google Video. But he’s beautiful! I decided we as grandparents should send out an announcement to our friends. We went to a copy shop here in LIsbon, and had these made up in no time. LOVE the new era of technological innovation that makes it possible for us to see our grandchild in real time when half a world away, and allows us to print up our own birth cards. The message on the card is one stanza of William Blake’s poem:


Infant Joy
I have no name
I am but two days old.—
What shall I call thee?
I happy am
Joy is my name,—
Sweet joy befall thee!

Pretty joy!
Sweet joy but two days old,
Sweet joy I call thee;
Thou dost smile.
I sing the while
Sweet joy befall thee.

I think that Goethe also wrote of ”Freude” and babies.  Freude, Joy, Joi, alegria:  any way you say it, it does describe this miracle!

Revolutionary Lisbon

18 Jan


Seeing this mural on a wall in the Bairro Alto today made me remember that some of my only conceptions of Portugal came about in 1974, when I was in Germany on my Fulbright. 1974 was a BIG year for Portugal, when the Portuguese people finally overthrew the government of their dictator of 40 years, António de Oliveira Salazar. Salazar had died in 1970, after having been in power since 1926 (!), but his minions had attempted to continue the Estado Novo–his regime–after his death. And as is so often the case with dying regimes, the antiquated machinery that kept the dictatorship going became even more oppressive and paranoid as their power was diminished.  But finally, and surprisingly under the initial aegis of the military, democracy arrived, in what has been called ”The Carnation Revolution” (because the students who spearheaded the popular revolt placed carnations in the guns of the policemen). The first free election was held on 25 April 1974, a day still celebrated as a national holiday.

It was a heady time to be a student in Portugal, and we Fulbrighters experienced some of that excitement second hand. In early April 1974, all the Fulbright scholars in Europe convened in Berlin (I remember the date because I celebrated my 25th birthday there on April 1) for some kind of ”American community of scholars” celebration at the American Consulate there. You cannot imagine a more motley group of young intellectual radicals and scholarly firebrands descending on the Consulate than this batch of long-haired idealists, and more conservative American diplomats would have been hard to find. The rooms of the Consul General’s house, where we were all invited to a dinner, were filled with the latest American art–Rauschenberg’s famous tire and goat was there!!–but I remember the Consul’s wife taking me upstairs to show me her own collection, which were mostly tepid washed-out watercolors. I still have this image of this group–all of us living on about $200 a month–simply devouring this mound of shrimp and ham sandwiches, more meat than we had seen in months. (Several of us, myself included, got very ill that night–we figured that was the Nixon government’s revenge….)

But I digress. Among the Fulbrighters were the two who were in Portugal–and what tales they could tell!  They were in the thick of the demonstrations at the universities. We stayed up late to listen to their stories.  And now I realize that they were back in the country, just in time for April 25, and the days of euphoric celebration.

lisbon_ccribeirossantos_signLisbon still has reminders of those times, as I realized when I saw this plaque while walking down Calcada Ribeiro Santos, a street once named for a Salazar cronie, and now memorializing Jose Ribeiro ribeiro_santos 1Santos, a student leader killed by the police in 1972 during the last of the demonstrations attacked by the Estado Novo forces. His death was an important catalyst for the civil ribeiro_santos_funeral_zorate_0uprisings against the entrenched government. Those were interesting times, and we were all so young, and so hopeful, and so certain that things could only get better and better.




The socialist government that came to power then lasted a little while, but NATO and other American interests–ever vigilant about the possible spread of Communism–made sure that utopian ideals of a classless society would never have a chance. And of course, economic realities set in as well.  Portugal has since swung between conservative and socialist governments, and is now just trying to keep its head above water after the 2008 crisis and the EU financial dilemmas for all the smaller countries. But there are signs that some left-wing forces are still relevant and may be making a bit of a comeback. In any event, seeing that plaque took me back to my most radical days, when we really did think we could make the world a more humane place.




Lisbon rains

17 Jan


Yesterday was absolutely brilliant blue sky, but today we awoke to overcast and gray clouds. George, ever the optimist, insisted when we went out that it wouldn’t rain, so we didn’t go back for an umbrella. Of course, we then had to stop in a sweet little shop to buy one, as it started to come down in big gloppy drops. We had planned to go to Estoril this afternoon–an AA meeting there at 7 p.m.–but I really didn’t want to slog around in a lovely beach town in soggy weather. Thankfully, we have enough time in Portugal that we can postpone a visit to the coastal communities until it’s a nice day–and hope that we do get some sunshine again. Perhaps this is why this cat is always sleeping in the chair lisboncat_asleepnext to the heater.

This weather might also explain the Portuguese character: much more somber and dignified than I expected, melancholic, friendly but not exuberant–just as scholars try to describe the nature of fado, the Portuguese national music, filled with saudade, a longing for place. Being such a literary people, with so many revered poets, surely they have produced some interesting poems with rain as a metaphor for something, I thought.  But searching for Portuguese poems under that subject, the ones I found were for the most part so depressing that I didn’t feel like sharing them. About the best I could find was this one about cloudy skies by Carlos Oliveira:

The afternoon was striving
without a sound
in the happy realm of its high clouds,
shimmerings and shudderings,
the tenuous vibrations
of the world,
when I
saw the poem put together on the heights
reflected here,
in rhythms, patterns, structures
of a syntax bringing forth bright
airy things – like wind and light.


(I’m sure this sounds beautiful in Portuguese:
A tarde trabalhava
sem rumor
no âmbito feliz das suas nuvens,
citilações e frémitos,
as ténues vibrações
do mundo,
quando vi
o poema organizado nas alturas
reflectir-se aqui,
em ritmos, desenhos, estruturas
duma sintaxe que produz
coisas aéreas como o vento e a luz.)


 And another short one:


Yes, yesterday rained
Rained a rain that was fine
And today I miss already
The drumming in the old window
By the drops of the rain that was mine.
–Eduardo Jauch


Given this dearth, I asked George if he could come up with a haiku-ish kind of poem. Here is his tanka for the day:


Not a silent snow

Not a dark, pounding downpour
Just a Lisbon light rain
Drips from terracotta eaves —
Lets just stay in and make love

Not bad for an afternoon attempt, eh?  And on that note, I’ll finish with a photo of brilliant sun on the Tagus River, just yesterday. More characteristic of Lisbon?


Things I’ve learned about Lisbon

14 Jan

Let me present some things I have now learned about this fascinating city, in no particular order:

–According to our new friend Paula, sardines have become a kind of new popular symbol for the city. “I don’t know why, or when this started,” she said. But we have found sardines in all shapes and sizes in all the shop windows. Above are two examples in ceramic and in fabric.


— Henry Fielding, author of Tom Jones, came to Lisbon in hopes of recovering from TB, wrote one of the only early descriptions in English of a journey to Lisbon , and then, unfortunately, died soon after arriving in 1754. And who knew that there has been a British Cemetery in this Portuguese city since an agreement between Cromwell and King João IV in 1654? The cemetery, appropriately called St. George’s, is charming and serene, with a lovely small church amidst the many graves. Along with those of British sailors and British residents in Portugal, the graves include ones in memory of Dutch prisoners of war from South Africa, and some other nationalities. No one knew exactly where Fielding was buried, although they know he was buried here. The memorial tomb was erected in 1830 by the British community in Portugal. We had to pay our respects.


–Portuguese TV (we have a TV with satellite dish in this apartment) consists of about 10 channels of local Portuguese content, mostly news and sports, then the rest is almost entirely American programs, presented in English with Portuguese subtitles. There are also a few French channels, and one in Russian. But none in German! All of the worst of the reality shows are here, and none of the PBS or HBO ones. It’s a good way to learn Portuguese, and people here say it’s how they learned English.



–Lisbon is a city of many neighborhoods, but all of them seem to have tons of tiny ”tascas”, cafes with about four tables and a bar. Here’s one in our neighborhood, with workers bellied up to the bar at noon.  They all serve a special of the day, um Prato do Dia, which is usually some kind of pork stew, feijoada (beans) and perhaps a fish or squid dish.


George with feijoada

To our surprise, Portuguese cuisine is not big on vegetables, despite having good ones in the markets. Alternative/new age food fads don’t seem to have made much of a dent here, either, and we haven’t seen any juice bars or signs for gluten free anything. There are some organic markets, but they’re fairly lacklustre. We have found only one ”supermercado”, a supermarket as we would understand one, and it is huge: part of a ginormous department store/mall called Corte Ingles. We found it by accident when we went up to see the Gulbenkian. The Metro stops within the shopping center. That’s where we have had to go to find goat’s milk and sheep’s milk yogurt. And this is the land of white bread–goodbye to the heavy German breads that we love.


My bacalhau

The only thing I knew about Portuguese food was bacalhau, which I thought referred to one particular dish, but which is just the word for salted cod, prepared in a variety of ways. This must be the ultimate comfort food, and I can imagine homesick Portuguese
longing for their mother’s beloved bacalhau meal. Here’s the version I had at the Museu Nacional do Arte Antiga. Sort of like a creamed tuna pie, with spinach.




Portugal has a deep and rich literary tradition, and they revere their writers, as the statues to Camoes and Ribeiro Chiado indicate. And there are statues to other authors all over Lisbon. Their most beloved modern poet is Fernando Pessoa (1888-1935), a fascinating character who wrote poems and prose in the voice of 4 distinct and separate identities, and wrote some of them in English. Growing up in South Africa, he returned to Portugal to go to university. Perhaps because of this experience as a Portuguese away from his homeland, he became committed to making the rest of the world aware of the Portuguese language and culture. After his death, scholars found in his manuscripts the outline of a tour guide to Lisbon, geared at the English-speaking traveler. Here he wrote ”For the average Britisher, and, indeed, for the average everything (except Spaniard) outside Portugal, Portugal is a vague small country somewhere in Europe, sometimes supposed to be part of Spain…” We are now checking out this guide, which has been recently published. George notices with glee that a lot of what Pessoa writes here seems to have been appropriated word for word from the Baedeker’s for Portugal from 1907.  He is checking on that right now!


Normally I find most public sculpture to be rather boring or formulaic, but I have found Lisbon’s sculptures to be elegant and evocative, if not downright erotic. Above a lovely sculpture in the middle of the pond at Jardim da Estrela and on the left an amusingly poetic paean to the writer José Maria de Eça de Queirós, apparently being inspired by a scantily clad Muse.  Lovely!

As I have been writing this, other monumental personal events have occurred–the birth of our first grandchild!–so I will have to continue these musings later!

Lisbon is uphill!

11 Jan


After a short week in Lisbon, we can make a few observations:

First of all, it’s obvious that we are now in a Latin country, with all the positive and negative connotations that such a blanket statement implies. The most attractive thing to us so far is that, while the city has made some concessions to tourism, tourist traps do not dominate; the city is still a city for its own people, with all the messiness that such a situation implies. The buildings are often in various states of dilapidation, but are still often inhabited; one will be beautifully restored next to a completely derelict-looking building. lisbon_condebarrao_derelictbldgThere is a sense of a bit of romantic decay everywhere, a distinctly different aesthetic than in Vienna or other Northern European cities. Perhaps we sense this now because we have an apartment in the Bairro Alto, the old working class part of town. There are no supermarkets here, just tiny little shops for meat, fruit, vegetables, tea, pastries, coffee, and anything else you might need, but not much variety, and lots of the so-called ”necessities” missing. But these shopkeepers are part of the community, and are the eyes of the street, too. There is no recycling bin, or even a garbage bin. We take the garbage bag out every night and leave it by the side of the house, and someone comes and picks it up every morning! The streetcar runs right up our little narrow street; it comes pretty often, but is never really on time, and sometimes you have to wait 20 or 30 minutes, and then 3 of them will come all at once. P1020719

The pace of life is definitely Latin–very casual, nothing rushed. Lots of noises in the neighborhood: dogs barking, music of all sorts coming out of the windows, boisterous singing on the street when the bars close, conversations overheard through the wall in the next apartment, the people above moving furniture around. But people do seem to be respectful of others after 10 at night or so, and people are friendly to each other. In this neighborhood, not everyone speaks English, and they will go to great lengths to correct one’s feeble attempts at speaking Portuguese–it may look a bit like Spanish, but it is pronounced completely differently!

And my God, is Lisbon hilly!  I am happy to say that while my legs and knees ache a lot, I have been able to make some pretty steep climbs, but I wouldn’t want to be an old person with limited mobility here.   But every turn reveals something new, some glorious architectural wonder, or poetic moment.

Just some of my thoughts about Lisbon at this point in our stay.



The Gulbenkian

9 Jan

When I thought that I would never see my camera again, I was afraid I would have to go to the Gulbenkian museums again to reshoot all the photos I had taken. But we were lucky: retracing our steps, we found the camera–at the administration building of the museum!! Still, I wouldn’t mind going back to this museum anyway.


Calouste Gulbenkian, as he looked when he moved to Lisbon, 1942.

Over the years, the name Gulbenkian is about the only association I had with Lisbon. That there was an interesting art collection here that had something to do with a person named Calouste Gulbenkian came to my attention at various times throughout my art history study and teaching, with occasional references to artworks being in Gulbenkian’s collections, and also something about activities of a Gulbenkian Foundation headquartered in Lisbon. When I worked at the Kimbell Art Museum, I think we also had loans for exhibitions that carried the name. Somehow the name always intrigued me, and I knew it had some mysterious connections to the Middle East–I got a vague ”Maltese Falcon”/Sydney Greenstreet mind-image whenever I heard it. What Gulbenkian, which having lived in the center of an Armenian community in California I knew was an Armenian name, had to do with Lisbon, I had never quite understood.

One of the first things I wanted to do in the city, then, was to delve into this mystery by at last visiting The Gulbenkian Museum. A short subway ride took us there. Surrounded by a lovely garden–green even now in what counts as Lisbon’s winter–the building is a typically 1960s concrete Brut Moderne.

The treasures inside are first-rate, and displayed in some of the most pleasantly laid out rooms I have seen. The awe-inspiring realization that these objects were all collected by one man (about whom I will write more in a minute) makes the experience even more engrossing.  Given Gulbenkian’s origins in the Levant, as my old professors used to call it, it lisbon_gulbenkian_egyptiancatsis not surprising that his works from Egypt, Persia, and the Islamic world are superb–enough so that I spent more time looking at these than I normally do. And there were Egyptian cats! (Although I am really skeptical that some of these are actually from the 26th Dynasty…)

One of the glories of the collection, appropriately enough for Lisbon, is a resplendent offering of Persian and Islamic tile work, installed in plaster walls. There are walls and walls of the most various styles and designs, including these two: a Persian star tile, and this remarkable 16th-century wall with the one tile at the top right deliberately installed assymetrically.

The rest of the Persian and Islamic ceramics were just as enthralling, with deep blue glazes and glass enameled with lions.




The rest of the rooms move through the canon of Western art history with stunning chronological predictability, each room containing some masterpiece by one of the big names from Dierck Bouts to Rubens to the Impressionists (Gulbenkian seemed to have favorites–a room full of Guardi, but no Canalettos, lots of Fragonard and very interesting Manets and Degas).  As a companion piece to KHM’s Helene Fourment, I had to get a copy of this Rubens, too:


And there was ANOTHER museum right next door:  the Centro de Arte Moderna, also funded by the Gulbenkian Foundation (this is where I left my camera). This building is the home for modern Portuguese painters, as well as changing exhibitions focussing on modern art with some relation to Portugal. We were delighted to find here an excellent show, ”O Circulo Delaunay,” looking at the works created by Sonia and Robert Delaunay while they were stuck in Lisbon during World War I, 1915-16 (not a bad place to be stuck!). The curator had reconstructed an entire wall based on a mural Sonia created for a Barcelona exposition.


Aside from some surprising works by both Delaunays, the best part of the exhibition for me was an introduction to works by Portuguese artists who worked with the pair while they were in Lisbon:  Eduardo Viana, Amadeo de Souza Cardoso and José Sobral de Almada Negreiros. Very sophisticated modernism by all three, artists whom I had barely heard of before. And who knew the Delaunays were stranded in Portugal during the war?


Negreiros, Diablo, 1918



Eduardo Viana, Revoltes, 1916




Amedeo de Souza-Cardoso, Windmills, 1916.

Finally, to get back to the story of Gulbenkian: I wasn’t completely off in my sense that there was a bit of the ”Maltese Falcon” vibe about him.  First of all, I learned that Armenians had been the leading bankers of the Ottoman Empire for generations. Gulbenkian came from a distinguished family of such bankers and businessmen, and married into another of the prominent Armenian families. Their influence extended to Egypt and, eventually through Calouste, to England and the rest of the Western world. His father acquired oil fields in Turkey before there were even automobiles, placing Calouste in an advantageous position once oil fields became THE prize investment. In the 1920s, Gulbenkian was able to use his clout to wrest the petroleum fields from the Turkish government, handing them over to the big Western oil firms such as BP and Shell.  In thanks for his efforts, the companies gave him 5 % of the profits from these investments, making him an extraordinarily wealthy man, and leading to his appellation as ”Mr. 5 Percent.”  He used his money to purchase art, which had been his passion since childhood.

Although he had become a British citizen in the 1920s, he sought refuge during World War II in Portugal–probably to avoid British taxes and to be able to oversee his far-flung business interests away from the fray. So he was only in Portugal for 13 years and never learned the language. When he died in 1955, his Portuguese lawyer saw to it that the Foundation Gulbenkian had envisioned establishing would be headquartered in Portugal, and brought together all of his widely dispersed artworks in Lisbon.  As António de Oliveira Salazar was still dictator of the country, the lawyer and foundation board had to do some heavy maneuvering to carry out the Foundation’s goals of supporting education and scholarship, with a strong emphasis on support for Armenians around the world. But the prize of his magnificent art collection was a tantalizing carrot to offer even to a dictator as entrenched as Salazar. The Gulbenkian Foundation continues to carry out important philanthropic work, in Portugal as well as in Great Britain and Ireland and among Armenians everywhere.

In any case, visiting the Gulbenkian museums are worth a trip to Lisbon itself.

First impressions of Portugal

6 Jan


Yesterday was a long travel day–freezing blizzard conditions driving to the airport in Vienna, a 3-hour flight to Madrid, where we had to wait 5 hours for our connecting flight to Lisbon (nice architecture by Richard Rogers.)   But it was 60 degrees and there was evidence of sunshine at the airport, and even though we arrived after dark, Lisbon was still warm enough to allow us to take off our winter coats.

Lisbon’s airport was a bit inefficient, but we finally made it to ”Azulejos,” the apartment we rented through IMG_20160105_215258”Azulejos” means ”tiles” in Portuguese, and that’s exactly what we found. The original early-19th-century tiles are still here! The apartment building, in the Bairro Alto (the old town), won an award for historical renovation. The only drawback: VERY steep and narrow stairs! Sigh. I keep forgetting to check on this issue when booking these places.

Helena, the apartment manager, could not have been more helpful–and everyone seems to speak English. We slept well, until the butcher shop below the apartment began pounding meat at 7 a.m.! That made us venture out onto the street, where we can now savor these unbelievable old houses–many of them IMG_20160106_115914with tile facades in various states of repair, and little, tiny shops (like the butchers) on the ground level of the buildings all along the street. We ate breakfast in a little bar/cafe, where workers crammed in to have a morning drink (beer!). And then, on these already narrow streets, come the trams!IMG_20160106_103908

Our street has a tram line right down the middle; the one in this picture is from a side street near our building and runs down to the river. I literally gasped when I saw this view. Breathtaking!

Our only goal today was to find a post office to mail a package that we couldn’t do before leaving Vienna. This gave us a good opportunity to take a short walk–well, hike, since Lisbon is nothing if not hilly–over to Praça de Luís de Camões in Largo de Chiado. Named for Portugal’s national poet, Camões (1524-1580) has been described as ”a swashbuckler with a penchant for kvetching,” and was beloved by Melville, Byron, Emily Dickinson, and Borges. Across from this grand statue was this humorous little statue to Antonio Ribeiro ”Chiado”, another 16th-century poet, but a comical one. Legend has it that he is the source of the neighborhood’s name Chiado–a word that apparently comes from the word meaning ”creaking.” This area used to be where intellectuals and poets hung out, but it is now filled with the chicest shops.

While the day started out a little soggy but with sunshine and clear skies, by afternoon as we headed out of the subway station, the rains came. And of course we hadn’t brought umbrellas or other rain gear! This weather pattern seems to be the one that we will have for most of the month–this is, after all, still winter, if not a Northern one. Locals told us to wait a few minutes and the rain would stop–and it did, briefly. We made our way to the tram stop–they are not very efficient, and we waited a long time, and then 3 came in a row.  But they seem romantic!

Some quick observations:  we have noticed a strong African presence here, the legacy of Portugal’s colonial past. Nice to see lots of black faces, and many mixed couples with beautiful children. Also a strong Goan community! We had lunch at a very nice Goan restaurant.

Today is Three Kings Day, and knowing what a big deal this is in Latin America, we assumed it would be a big deal here, too. Not so, although we did find King cakes in many of the pastry shops. We finally found one that would sell us a couple of slices rather than the whole cake for our afternoon tea.


Today is also the 20th anniversary of my sobriety, so this was my little celebratory dessert. It was 20 years ago that I entered the detox unit at Woden Valley Hospital. I haven’t had a drink since. So here I am, in Lisbon, Portugal, with King cake, and a cup of coffee, in our beautiful tiled apartment. Not a bad life, eh?IMG_20160106_155021