Friday, 7 August 2015

Postcard from Lisbon

I've just returned from 10 days in Lisbon, staying in an apartment* with my partner and daughter, who -- to our surprise and pleasure -- had asked to go on holiday with us as a 21st birthday present, and chose this remarkable city as our destination.  Myself, I'm afraid I can think of few things I would have been less likely to have asked for when I turned 21.  In fact, by mutual agreement, I stopped going on holiday with my own parents after 1970, when I was 16.  But the "generation gap" was much wider back then, I suppose.

I'd not visited Portugal before.  So, as I can hack a fair bit of tourist Spanish, I thought I might as well quickly pick up some Portuguese in the preceding weeks.  How hard could it be?  I hadn't reckoned with the pronunciation, however.  In summary, written Portuguese looks pretty similar to Spanish, but spoken Portuguese sounds like a sibilant carcrash of Russian and Spanish.  Don't believe me?  Try playing the sample text at this website (weirdly, Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights).  I loved Lisbon so much, though, that I have resolved to put some effort into this intriguing language, and revisit at a cooler time of year.

With a "proper" camera, too.  As I have explained before, I never have any great ambitions for my holiday snaps; even the best of them exist in a contextless limbo which cannot be incorporated into any existing "serious" sequence (although something could be made, I'm sure, out of "daughters successfully evading the camera, again").  As a consequence (and in order to carry hand luggage only onto the flights) I chose to take just a Fuji X20 compact that I bought second-hand a couple of months ago.  It's a solid little camera with a built-in zoom that folds away very neatly and yet offers a reasonable range of focal length and aperture.  The image quality is what you would expect from Fuji, but it only has a 2/3 inch sensor that gets noisy above 400 ISO and I'd hate to try and get a gallery-sized print out of most of its indoor files.

Calouste Gulbenkian Centre for Modern Art

Like any sensible person on holiday in a hot country, in the heat of the afternoon I head for museums and galleries rather than the beach or the shopping streets, and Lisbon has some world-class examples.  I particularly enjoyed the Museu Colecção Berardo, a sensational collection of modern art from the early twentieth century to the present day and -- most importantly -- air-conditioned to perfection.  The so-called LX Factory was also worth a visit, a set of old industrial buildings beneath the gigantic "25th April" suspension bridge that have been turned into a creative hub, offering workshops and gallery space, as well as retail and refreshment outlets (including Landeau, selling allegedly the best chocolate cake in Lisbon).  Although I have to say there seemed to be little that was characteristically Portuguese going on there:  there seems to be a universal Euro-Trustafarian style, which borrows elements from everywhere else -- grafitti from America, tattoos and hairstyles from Britain, interior decoration from Scandinavia, philosophy and graphic novels from France, attitude from Germany -- but studiously ignores most local styles and traditions.

A zen-lite worldview is still all-pervasive, too, among the "creative" young.  I may have more to say on this later, but at 61 I do find it amusing to be encouraged to consider the brevity of life and the necessity to live it to the max by young people still lazing their way through the long morning of their lives.  As if, when we were their age forty years ago, we weren't doing and thinking exactly the same things.  Come on, you kids, do make more of an effort to move it along a bit!

LX Factory window

* My first serious experience with airbnb, and I can recommend both it and this apartment.


Richard Parkin said...

Didn't you find the Brazilian version, on the page you referenced, much clearer?

Mike C. said...


I did, but unfortunately all the metro station announcements in Lisbon are in "European" Portuguese...

It is one of the confusing aspects of learning Portuguese (as it must be of learning English) which version you are being shown. The word for "crocodile" came up (as it does) -- "crocodilo". Setting aside the vowels, that "d" is a "j" in Brazil, and a sort of "d" in Portugal.

It's odd to hear young Europeans who have acquired a US accent, like the young girl I encountered in the pharmacy with a perfect "Valley Girl" intonation. I suppose if I was learning English in Lisbon, I'd probably want to speak "American", too...


Martyn Cornell said...

Portuguese has a strangely Slavic sound to me too, and I've heard others say the same.