Saturday, 31 March 2012

Lisboa ... (Alfama)

 According to the Portuguese writer José Cardoso Pires "One only likes a city when one is its accomplice" ... and this is exactly what I feel most of us aren't ..., whether we may like  a city  or not ...

Not having been born in the capital city I have nevertheless tried to get to know it ... by wandering around, "capturing" its "personality", the one its traces may or may not tell us ... or maybe what I have been trying to do is merely understand  why certain buildings attract me more than others ... and if they do, why is that?

Campo das Cebolas Square is not exactly what one might call a nice square but the 16th century Casa dos Bicos (House of the Spikes)  facade with the Manueline windows and portals gives it a rather exquisite "touch" ... and whenever I walk by I can't resist looking at it.

The Catedral de Santa Maria Maior (Patriarchal Cathedral of Saint. Mary  Major) may not look that attractive because of  its medieval fortress-like resembling facade, but one just has to walk into its gothic cloister to have a different perspective.

The beauty of its sculpted archs  and columns is worth looking at and so are the 14th century Gothic tombs of the Knight Lopo Ferandes Pacheco, 7th Lord of Ferreira de Aves - a nobleman at the service of King Afonso IV and his wife's, both of which are "guarded" by dogs ...

I have always loved stone sculptures, tombs and details ..., which may be the reason why inspite of having only been inside it in 2008, I seem to have "changed" my initial opinion,the one I had had merely based on the outside ...

Walking further up on the left side of the Cathedral there used to be an old horse stable then adapted to an Art Galery, which no longer exists as such, having been replaced by a shop selling Portuguese hand-made artefacts. Though it is still interesting I feel it has lost part of its "magic", with the paintings hanging over the ancient horse drinking basins concealing the dim lighting that made them "visible" to the ingoing public.

The old trams will never lose their "magic" ...  they are still very much embedded in the old city quarters, such as the one around the  Castelo de São Jorge (Castle of Saint George), once fortified by Romans, Visigoths and Moors, whose oldest parts date from the 6th century.


There is no doubt that from its strongly fortified citadel one can have some of the most amazing views  of the city and the Tagus river, this having been one of the reasons why visiting the castle nowadays is not for free as it used to be.

 (to be continued)

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

The forthcoming trip to Cape Verde

Three of us (Henriqueta, Lurdes and I) will be travelling to Cape Verde by the end of the month and amongst our "assignements" is a visit to the ICCA (Cape Verdian Institute for Children and Adolescents) centre of emergency, with the aim of handing out a fairly large amount of children's clothes and nappies, under primary importance request.

We shall be accompanied by a Parliamentary deputy in what may well be the begining of a committment to further helping this Centre. Most of the things which will be handed out have been kindly provided by Celeste.

I have also been given Nolita's birthday presents (a dress, a little red cotton cardigan, a red heart-shaped bag, some sandals and a reading book) bought  by her "godmother" Filipa.  Lurdes and I have also bought a new two piece birthday outfit for Elcy to which we have added some earrings to go with it and a personalised wallet with her photo on (made by Lurdes herself).

In the wise words of Sir Winston Churchill "We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give".

Sunday, 25 March 2012

Cultural venues - March 2012 - Lisboa

I have been to two exhibitions recently and have enjoyed them both irrespective of the different aspects each of them was focussed on.

"Moments of Life"  (a black and white photograph exhibition by the famous Czech photographer Jindrich Streit at Arquivo Fotografico de Lisboa until the 30th of March) is like an immersion into the rural life of the Czech Republic in the eighties, as most photographs were taken during that period in the villages Streit lived in throughout his childhood. Some "drag" us into the intimacy of the villagers' private life of affections, whilst some are "brutal" in the way certain elements "take over" the visual compositions.

There is a very interesting film "Between the Light and the Darkness/ Mezi svetlem a tmou" running on the first floor which complements the exhibition as it focusses on the life of the photographer and some of the characters he has exposed in his photographs.


Octopus by Philippe Découflé and the DCA the Dance Company  is an amazingly unique dance/ music performance with nine majestic dancers on stage (Flavien Bernezet/ Alexandre Castres/ Meritxel Checa Esteban/ Ashley Chen/ Clémence Galliard/ Sean Patrick Mombruno/ Alexandra Naudet/ Aude Auffret) and two outstanding musicians (Pierre Le Bourgeois and Labyala Nosfell) playing live all throughout the performance. 

If the coreography is enrichened by the games of light and darkness, the shapes of the dancers' movements projected on a screen, as seen from a different perspective from the one the audience was exposed to, Labyala's exquisite compositions and vocal range give it a different "touch" altogether. The musical performance was supposed to intermingle with the dance performance and create a balance ... and if that was true most of the time there were moments in which Labyala's voice "occupied" the whole imaginary space.

I had never heard of Labyala Nosfell and thanks to Philippe Découflé I have had the chance of getting to see him perform for the first time (hopefully not the last) ... 

Monday, 19 March 2012

2001 circuit around the Cape Verde islands - the last stop - Maio island

Not to talk about the last stop in my 2001 circuit around the Cape Verde islands would be a "crime" ..., a crime almost similar to the one committed in the 16th century, when the English commandeered the salt production because the Portuguese never had much interest in it as an island (then used  as a grazing ground for cattle and goats, which soon ate its fragile vegetation leaving very little to sell but salt and lime).

The island guides  refer to it as "the forgotten island" or the one "tourists  are least likely to go" ...  (though it may have changed since I last visited it) but it was a bustling one from the late 16th century through to the 19th century, exporting 11,000 tons of salt in good years, until the principal market for salt was switched to Brazil.

An extraordinary lake of salt still stretches for 5 kilometres north of the town and a smaler one close to the village, still referred to as vila do Porto Inglês (village of the English Port).

I flew in from Praia  on a 20 minute  TACV flight and soon found myself in the backpart of a public van going into the centre of the town. The "Spencer's" with rooms to rent right behind the church was my only reference. As I sat outside its front door, two more "guests" joined in and it wasn't but one hour later that someone came around with the keys to actually let us select the rooms (first to arrive would have the right to choose first).

The Spanish couple I had met the day before outside the Spencer's and I rented a car with a guide driver and virtually visited the island, which can easily be seen in one day  The island is flat, a desolate brown-like desert, whose landscape is unexpectedely broken by specks of colour, such as the ones visible in the fertile valley planted with crops and palm trees in the east ...

... and the colourful houses one stumbles onto almost everywhere ..., though a lot more noticeable in the little village of Barreiro, as they line the single street that runs along it.

The fresh baked rolls and the cheese still encased in their molds were still sold from door to door, which  vaguely reminded me of my childhood and the clear distinct "calls" of those who came to the door to sell their goods day after day.

Maio had this peaceful and calm atmosphere that people need from time to time ... and though it could be easily identified as typical of a languishing-like existence it was not ... it rather corresponded to  a rhythm of life in which  urgency played no role.

Many beaches were hidden from the main roads, though many could be reached by walking  just a few kilometres ... some were practically wild but all of them were magnificient  ... and had this undescribable  turquoise water ... that made you want to  touch it as if to confirm what your eyes could not believe ...

Swimming in the calm sea of the village beach by late evening seemed to be common practice ... mostly among the very few tourists who were on the island ... and as part of the surrounding atmosphere it was also common to see couples strolling around or admiring the sunset beauty.

I left the island four days later and vowed to go back some day ... which I haven't (yet) ...

Sofi Oksanen ...

It is not uncommon for me to read  a book in two days, but "The Purge" by Sofi Oksanen, the latest book I have read,  has actually "been" with me since then, which is a lot less likely to happen. 

Much has been said and written about this fabulous young writer, I had unfortunately never heard of before, though the book was first published in 2008 (the first edition in Portuguese having been published in October 2011) ... and the truth is I don't feel I can describe how I felt when reading this "gripping portraits of women and the female experience of the loss of freedom" set  in two completely different periods of time - the wartime  1940's  Estonia during the Soviet occupation and the 90's with the reality of victims' trafficking.

Having won numerous literary prizes "The Purge" is " a sheer masterpiece ... a marvel " in the words of the writer Nancy Huston and according to the Times its author "has become a literary phenomenon".

A book worth reading more than once ...

Sunday, 18 March 2012

The 12 day Guatemala circuit (Days 11 and 12) - Antigua - The 4th and 5th of April 2008


Part of the afternoon of the 4th of April was spent still visiting Antigua. Right in front of the Town Hall Palace, which now houses the Museum of Santiago and the old book Museum there is the fountain of the mermaids behind which we could see the Cathedral, best known as the Church of San José.

The Cathedral, which initially had five naves and eighteen chapels suffered severe damages during the various earthquakes which affected  its former structure dating back to the sixteenth century, having had to be reconstructed several times. We visited not only the actual Cathedral (1985) but also the old ruins.


After a short drive to the Ciudad Vieja we came back to Antigua and until our departure the following day had the possibility to stroll around the old streets of the city, which really fascinated us all. There was something rather mysterious and unexpected about this city, as we often found out, when entering an open and "inviting" door leading into a patio where there would be amazingly beautiful paintings depicting religious traditions on its walls or even street scenes that were really worth watching.

The whole area around the Arch od Santa Catalina, a landmark in the city, was a "colonial" beauty ... starting with the Arch itself which is what remained of the Convent with the same name founded in 1609 and then used as communication between two buildings keeping the nuns cloistered to the details of the bronze knockers on the doors and the windows.

We still had time to visit the House Museum of old tissues, which displayed a huge collection of huipils and textiles, apart from demonstrating different weaving techniques. I could have easily got "lost" and bought a few more huipils but held back, as I had already bought three (which I often wear).

I knew I would miss Guatemala ... and the reality is that after six years and a few trips inbetween I still think of it and feel I would not mind going back and (even) visiting the same places ...

The last morning was a fairly sad one ... it was as if we had not visited everything we could have ... and wanted to do it in the few minutes left ... to add those precious moments to the memories.

As the bus was driving out of Antigua, we still asked to photograph the ruins of the 1662 Santa Cruz hermitage, in the Southeastern part of the city ... a pretext to delay the return ...

Among some of the precious things I always buy when I am abroad apart fom books I have brought a few embroidered mats (I have never used), a small  collectionn of hair bands from various Guatemalan regions (I use as belts), a "corte"  from Chichicastenango (I haven't yet  adapted to a long skirt) and the three huipils (from Santo Antonio Palopo, Almolonga and Atitlan)  I really feel proud of (particularly when I wear them).