Thursday 15 May 2014

Rooftops and fado

In the words of a popular fado, it's the bairro mais alto do sonho, the highest quarter of dreams. From the narrow cobbled streets of the Bairro Alto you can look up to slices of blue sky 

and over the rooftops of Lisbon to the river on one side

view from a terrace in the Bairro Alto

and the castle on the opposite hill.

view from Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcantara

You can drive up here, though good luck manoeuvring a car through the narrow alleys once you get here.

(I learned to drive as a 19 year old in this city and credit the experience with giving me nerves of steel behind the wheel; I can drive literally anywhere with sangfroid). 

Or you can do it the old-fashioned and more fun way via a wood-panelled and brass interior-ed funicular. 

Elevador da Gloria

Look up at the windows here and there's always life going on

Drying hair over the balcony

Student playing guitar for friends. I snapped this with my phone from where I sat at a restaurant table across the street!

Lunch at this place at the top of a steep alleyway in the Bairro is a mandatory ritual ...

Give me queijo fresco, azeitonas and pão caseiro with a glass of vinho verde and I'm all okay with life

Later at night in the Bairro Alto there was arroz de marisco (seafood rice) and ... fado, the music invented here in the oldest, poorest quarters of the city.  

Dark, grainy iPhone snaps. For the best Portuguese food blog I know and superb photography see here: Pratos e Travessas

Sunday 11 May 2014

Baixa de Lisboa

The Baixa is downtown Lisbon. It literally means 'low', which you understand properly when you're down there looking up - in this view, to the castle that  has watched over the city, guarding and protecting it, since the 11th century.

Castelo São Jorge viewed from the Baixa near Rossio

If the thought of walking up these hills is exhausting, there's a crazy elevator at hand to crank  you up to higher levels

Elevador Santa Justa

Walkway of Santa Justa elevator over Rua do Carmo

When I was here last month I'd recently read David Leavitt's The Two Hotel Francforts (here), set in 1940s Lisbon, in which the Santa Justa elevator features memorably, as well as Rossio square, with its fountain and wavy cobblestones, pictured on the cover ...

So although I've walked through this square a thousand times, I was imagining it now in the early months of the war, filled with wealthy refugees waiting for safe passage on ships out of Europe from Lisbon's harbour.

and although the sun came out brightly for a bit while I had a coffee here at Café Nicola, it was fun to play with retro effects on my pictures afterwards. Lisbon is the sort of city that can make you see in sepia and faded colours.

Rossio station's fabulous façade

Dom Pedro was looking lonely up on his column, and I let the seagulls lead me down towards the river, to Praça do Comércio

where once upon a time a giant royal palace had stood, complete with lavish cathedral and opera house, built on the river bank by Portuguese kings flush with gold from Brazil ...
 all destroyed by a massive earthquake and tsunami in 1755 which took almost all of the Baixa, downtown Lisbon, with it. Sic transit, etc.

A pair of inscribed stone beacons remains to mark the spot where the the kings' ships laden with treasures would have moored - now a lonely but photogenic, in the mist, spot.

For a moment I thought the suspension bridge that crosses the Tagus a little way down from here had unbelievably disappeared, but it gradually revealed itself in the mist.

It was chilly, and time to head back up one of those vertiginous hills in search of food ...

Tuesday 6 May 2014

Rainy April morning in the Chiado, Lisbon

Looking down on the Praça Luis de Camões through a fine mist of rain from my window

taking in the familiar patterned cobblestones and blue tiles of Lisbon.

There are bargains to be had at the street bookstalls outside the Livraria Bertrand

... and what better place to hang out when it's raining than the bookshops of the Chiado? 

Outside the Basilica dos Martíres, and looking down the Rua Garrett, an ancient lady in black begs for money. 

Around the corner, the elegantly faded façade of the São Carlos opera house.  Click here to see some of the Lisbon opera choir performing spontaneously just above the spot where I took the photo above.

A hundred cobbled steps will keep you in shape as you head down the steep hills of Lisbon

but first a visit to my favourite store for Portuguese nostalgia

A Vida Portuguesa, purveyors of retro and iconic Portuguese products, in a converted soap factory

I'm heading down to the Baixa and the port of Lisbon, hold on for more ...

Sunday 4 May 2014

Béguinages in Flanders

Minnewater in Bruges/Brugge may possibly get its name from other sources, but is translated in English as the lake of love.

... appropriately enough for a romantic park and lake filled with swans (courtesy of a legendary medieval injunction that the inhabitants of Brugge must keep swans on their lakes and canals for eternity).

Walking along here, a bridge gives access to the city's béguinage.

Unlike the swan legend, béguinages arose out of the real and harsh social context of many women in this part of Europe during the middle ages.  At a time when wars had taken the lives of many men, unmarried and widowed women were left with few secure options in life and some came together for support in communities of women.

The béguines established a cultural tradition of independent religious women. Unlike nuns, they didn't seclude themselves from the world, took no vows, kept their own possessions, and earned a living while doing charitable work. 

Entrance to the Begijnhof, Brugge

The Flemish béguinages, like this one in Brugge, endowed by benefactors, were surrounded by walls, had a church and small houses enclosing a central, peaceful green space. 

The béguines housed here usefully served their communities while having a degree of economic independence and self-determination in how they lived their lives, under their own elected councils.

A positive development in all respects that ultimately ended badly for many of these women.

 Inevitably, the strength of the béguine movement with its uniquely feminine spirituality came to be seen as a threat to the authority and control of the church. This was a time when women had only two legitimate spaces: in the home or in a convent. They were condemned as heretics, many béguinages were dissolved and béguines forced into convents or burned at the stake, depending on local authorities' interpretation of a papal decree.

Béguines in Flanders were more fortunate, though. They were left in peace with support from religious authorities and survived many centuries.

I discovered after visiting the one in Bruges that there is a revival of the concept and spirit of the béguinage in different parts of the world (including Germany, America), adapting the tradition of the béguines to the needs of many women today.

Outside the walls, swans, seagulls and cyclists in and around Lovers' Lake ...

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