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

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Between ephemeral and eternal: the stone caravel

Here we are in the Lisbon’s district of Belem, approaching the white tower, built exactly 500 years ago to defend the Tagus estuary. The concrete jungle and asphalt rivers of Lisbon coexist with the serene park and the breezy walkway along the Tagus (Tejo) shore, just a few dozen meters away.

The wide river promenade was once a setting for an important exhibition: “Portuguese World Fair” took place there in 1940, just at the time when the rest of Europe … well, had other things in mind.

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At the starting point, in front of the Belem tower, an unfocused gaze quickly centers at a stone caravel: this is the area from where Portuguese ships departed to explore the unknown continents, back in the epoch of discoveries and glory. The Monument to Discoveries was built on the occasion of the mentioned Fair: Henry the Navigator and many other famous Portuguese of those times are sculpted in stone, with heroic expressions and brave postures, reflecting also romanticization of the epoch and its admiration by the then regime.

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However, the structure we see now is not the original one: the monument designed by the architect Cotinelli Telmo in 1940 was not meant to last at all. Like most other exhibits for the Portuguese World Fair, it was conceived as an ephemeral structure of metal support and gypsum coating, to last one summer. And so it was, after a while, in 1943, the monument was demolished, though some politicians found it a very powerful symbol of the nation’s aspirations and wanted to keep it.

There is evidence that the architect himself was against its reconstruction (however, I couldn’t find more details on that issue). But, he didn’t live to see it reconstructed. In 1948, he died after an accident – while fishing, he was dragged by a wave that crashed him against a rock.

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All the others thought reconstructing the monument would be great, once the idea was revived in the late 1950s.

And so, in 1960 (on the occasion of the 500th anniversary of Henry the Navigator’s death), it was rebuilt in concrete, dressed with stone, and given some extra functions: exhibition space, auditorium and a viewing terrace on top, to become one of the most visited sites in Lisbon of today. The square in front was decorated with a marble wind rose and a world map depicting Portuguese discoveries, a present from South Africa.

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In fact, the history of the monument is all about the political decisions, that made possible both creation of the first, ephemeral one, and building of the present structure, revived in stone. Outliving the poor architect and the Salazar’s regime too, the monument is today symbolizing pride of the glorious Portuguese 15th and 16th centuries. And more universally,  facing the unknown and making the world change.

Many Portuguese, not to mention foreign tourists, don’t know the above facts. I am happy to have found out this story in an exhibition on life and work of Cotinelli Telmo, that has just ended in the very monument’s exhibition space.

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Photo credits: 1st – from the 1960 brochure issued on the occasion of the monument opening.

Source: http://www.padraodosdescobrimentos.pt/wp-content/uploads/Doc1.pdf?6f4ee7

The rest of the photos – JS.

Porto in the Geotaggers’ World Atlas

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This map of Porto is one of a hundred city maps created by Eric Fischer, an American software developer and data artist. I have found it in his 2010 Flickr collection named “The Geotaggers’ World Atlas”. In that project, he used geographical metadata associated to the photos. The data from Flickr and Picasa helped him reveal the locations where people most frequently took photos in various cities around the world.

So, this is tourism in Porto visualized! Besides the historical center inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage List, tourists flow most intensely along both shores of Douro and the Atlantic coast within the city limits, all the way to Matosinhos. The remaining three bright nodes outside the historical city center are the Crystal Palace gardens, Casa da Música and the Serralves museum. Everything we already knew, now confirmed and represented in this elegant plot!

I enclose a map of another Portuguese city – Lisbon, of course, but the interpretation will be postponed until my next visit to the country’s capital.

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I found some other Fischer’s projects and hobbies also interesting to look at (“See something or say something”, “Locals and tourists”, his old map collection on Flickr…). And I wouldn’t know about him without the Álvaro Domingues’ lecture on the city and its icons I attended in Porto on December 18th, 2014.

The Portuguese Life

What to bring home as a remembrance of a trip to Portugal? When it comes to souvenirs, a proper cultural tourist would, of course, aim at finding items of genuine Portuguese origin, typical and informative of local tradition and cultural identity. But where to look?

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In the heart of Porto, there is a very, very special shop, or more than that: A Vida Portuguesa (“The Portuguese Life”). Thanks to the effort of Catarina Portas (1969), a journalist and entrepreneur from Lisbon, A Vida Portuguesa offers to the public a carefully selected collection of objects of importance for understanding Portuguese spirit, thus playing, in a certain way, a role of a museum beyond museum walls. It is interesting to mention that Catarina Portas is a daughter of a well-known architect Nuno Portas (1934), who has had a significant role in promotion of Portuguese architecture abroad. A Vida Portuguesa even has a manifesto – their main goal is to “reveal the soul of the country”, based on enabling future for old Portuguese products. The first shop was opened in 2007 in Lisbon, and the one in Porto is of more recent date.

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A great thing that they do in A Vida Portuguesa is establishing partnerships with a number of factories from all around the country, to revive ancient and beloved brands that were once part of local everyday. Many of them come from Porto and its vicinity, ranging from the finest soaps produced by “Ach Brito”, hygiene and cleaning products by “Couto” or pencils by “Viarco”, to a vast array of local foods and wines.

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Not only is the collection found in this distinctive souvenir shop informative for tourists who wish to learn about the past and the contemporary Portugal  – it is also valuable for the Portuguese themselves, to refresh memories of “the good old times” or to return, at least for a moment, to beautiful, carefree worlds of their childhoods. An untranslatable term saudade immediately comes to mind as one of the well-known keywords to understanding this country: a nostalgic feeling of longing and endearing remembrance of something or someone being missed (may it be a person, object, experience or epoch), that might never come back.

Some might suspect this initiative is just a consequence of the global trend – idealization of the past and its values in the turbulent and globalizing epoch of ours. A market niche that has emerged inspired a commercial response in form of “selling nostalgia”. However, my impression is that past and nostalgia are still truly embedded in everyday life of the Portuguese. And that can be felt strongly throughout Porto. Not only the immense number of antiquity shops, velharias (vintage item shops) or alfarrabistas (antiquarian bookshops), but also all the many lively shop windows, nameplates and interiors of cafés that didn’t change a bit over past decades, convince me I am right.

The Portuguese Life Manifesto and the photos come from: www.avidaportuguesa.com

Sivan Askayo’s trips

Recently I discovered an amazing, artful travel blog of Sivan Askayo, a photographer from New York/Tel Aviv. She has a dream job – traveling and photographing for the world’s most renowned magazines. But traveling is more than that for her: it is “a state of mind”, she says. From Portugal, there are photos and impressions from Aveiro, Coimbra, Lisbon (a lot) and, of course, from Porto.

She also pursues some personal projects, like this, named “Intimacy under the wires”. None of these photos are from the streets of Porto or Lisbon, but they could easily be depicting everyday life of the Portuguese cities!

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Here is the link to her blog: http://sivanaskayoblog.com/?s=portugal

Now I have the photo-guides to Aveiro and Coimbra!

 

The house in Alenquer

Another post about the Aires Mateus brothers!

Just because I am amazed with this decisive project of theirs, that is exactly about harmony of old and new, about giving new, contemporary life to a ruin and enriching the meanings of the new structure.

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 The project is, however, from the past century (the house was built between 1999 and 2002). Initially, the plan was to adapt the old stone house in Alenquer near Lisbon, and the first version of the project was developed in that direction. And then, the old structure partly collapsed, so the architect brothers started thinking differently. The problem became an opportunity, a potential for the new whole (too bad there is no photo of the old house anywhere online, nonetheless one of them can be found in the recent monograph on Aires Mateus brothers’ work by Francesca Vita)!

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The old walls embrace the new house (and the swimming pool), protect the privacy of the owners and create a lot of multifunctional nooks and crannies. The volumes of the new structure’s first floor overlap the ground floor and thus create shade or shelter in case of rain. And everything is in white & wood, enhancing even more the sense of unity of two epochs in this contemporary casa portuguesa!

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Metamorphosis – an exhibition about the potentials and possibilities of cork

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Browsing through the web site of IGESPAR, I have just found the ongoing Bienal EXD13, taking place in Lisbon (Jeronimos Monastery), between November 8th and December 1st, 2013. Among other events, an exhibition named “Metamorphosis” is a part of the Biennial. The exhibition is dedicated to exploration of limits and potential of cork in the realms of architecture and design. Interesting!

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Also, the names of participants assure this is something to look at.

Btw, the whole thing is organized by Experimentadesign, a team doing inspiring research within the areas of culture, design and the creative industries.

More info here: http://experimentadesign.pt/2013/en/01-01-04.html and http://experimentadesign.pt/