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.
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.
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!