The Light of Lisbon

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There is something special about the light of Lisbon, something magical and inexplicable that has always enchanted artists, writers, poets, ordinary Lisboetas … as well as the rest of us who have been visiting the city. But how to explore, grasp and understand that magic (without killing the charm), how to explain and present such a complex, subtle, intangible feature in a museum?

An excellent (and still ongoing) exhibition, “The Light of Lisbon”, was created this summer, based on love for Lisbon and an combined artistic and scientific approach to the phenomenon of light. As such an unusual exhibition theme requires unusual collaborators, one of the curators was a physics professor, while another came from the area of film and cinema. The space: western tower of Terreiro de Paço, recently acquired from the military authorities and converted for cultural purposes, overlooking the Tagus river and the main city square.

The exhibition cannot be put neither in a scientific nor in an artistic box: actually, the secret might be in the fact that the rational, emotional and the experiential side to the exhibition worked so well together. All my senses were captivated! Pieces of art from the Museum of Lisbon collection (some of them have never been displayed before), poetry that could be listened to, the museum space with windows wide open, letting the view gaze towards the cityscape at times and the very light in question pour in, all that acted in a synergy. Light is a dynamic and changing phenomenon – wonderful timelapses from the very museum roof and the films displayed capture that very well.

And so, it is proven: the materials Lisbon is built of, the colours of its façades, frequent winds that clear out the air, the number of sunny hours, topography, reflections from the water surface, and the interplay of so many other factors have their role in enabling the particular Lisbon light. There are many complex but measurable features to it! Still, for science there always remains an inexplicable bit. As “The Light of Lisbon” shows, its magic and its sense can only be grasped and transmitted completely by bringing art, intuition and experience into play.

Photo credit: Nuno Cera, 2008

Rua José Falcão 199

The José Falcão street is often on my way: the office is situated almost around the corner and the number 199 can’t remain unnoticed: the neo-arab building with a fascinating façade in the middle of Porto stands out, even if it is clad with azulejos like so many other historical houses there. Azulejos are exactly the keyword to understanding the existence of such an edifice: the house number 199 was once the ceramics warehouse of the important Devesas factory, situated in Vila Nova de Gaia.

I entered there once or twice before, thanks to the friends’ recommendation – a very good restaurant occupies a part of the ground floor. But a few days ago, I had an opportunity to learn more about it. On the occasion of the European Heritage Days (this year’s theme was industrial and technical heritage), a guided tour was organized by the municipal Culture department about artifacts of ceramics industry in Porto. The starting point – José Falcão street, 199.

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The representative façades of this building, dating from the beginning of the 20th century, were meant to demonstrate the vast array of ceramic elements that could be produced in the Devesas factory. The façade design has been attributed to José Joaquim Teixeira Lopes (1837-1918), sculptor, dedicated mainly to ceramics, and the co-founder of the factory. Teixeira Lopes was, on the one hand, inspired by the Moroccan architecture and on the other, by classical mythology: that can be seen at the other façade, towards the Conceição street. Even if not very consistent in terms of architectural styles, the building does show the whole range of available approaches to ceramics production (I admit, it didn’t occur to me until the guided visit that those façades were part of the same building).

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I was enchanted to see the inner courtyard, hidden from the eyes of passers-by and isolated from the street noise: another characteristic of traditional Moroccan residential architecture, now belonging to an exclusive restaurant whose spaces unfold behind the iron gate painted in an unlucky combination of red and silver.

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And the two interiors towards the José Falcão street, belonging to the Comme Ça restaurant and an abandoned moto – disco – bar, are both creative and inspiring in their own, particular way. So representative of diversities and differences coexisting happily in Porto!

Singeverga

Autumn weekends in Portugal can be unstable in terms of weather: this one was just like that, with wonderful, sunny Saturday and grey, rainy Sunday. Saturday just called for being outdoors all day: the plan was visiting seemingly ordinary places near Porto where tourists and foreigners don’t usually head – peeking into the “real Portugal”, Portugal beyond the two principal cities and the coast. The itinerary included: passing through Roriz (the one near Santo Tirso), where a very important romanesque church of St. Piter is situated, seeing the Singeverga Benedictine monastery nearby,  stopping at São Mamede de Negrelos, popping to Pombeiro de Ribavizela to visit its monastery church dedicated to St. Mary of Pombeiro, passing through the tiny Vizela and Tagilde, ending at the mount and sanctuary of St. Quiteria overlooking Felgueiras, before the well-deserved dinner.

These places are unfamiliar to a majority of Portuguese, not to mention foreigners, however, the strangest one, Singeverga, might ring the bell for many. Not because its monastery has a huge butterfly collection or the painting attributed to Tintoretto in its posession. It is rather beacuse Singeverga is where the famous Portuguese liquor of the same name is produced. Of course, nobody but a few monks know exactly how it is made.

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One would think the tradition goes centuries back – in reality, it is thanks to a friend of monastery, who happened also to be a chemical engineer, that the production was made possible – back in 1945. The 6000 yearly bottles, manually filled, are one of the main sources of income for the monastery, lead by the Benedictine principle of ora et labora.

I had an opportunity to taste some beautiful, warm caramel coloured Singeverga: very sweet and flavorful, containing, besides alcohol, a range of spices, caramel, black tea, and probably some secret ingredients. But don’t be tricked with the sweetness – it is also very, very strong!

Photo: http://www.garrafeiraspedro.pt