Lovely Portugal, where do I begin? Azulejos, Miradouro's, Fado, Pessoa, Saramago, Manueline achitecture Ginjinha, Pestiscos? Or do I begin with the blue skies, blue ocean, and the blues of the Rio Teju and the Rio Douro? Portugal, you slay me! Portugal felt like a place in which I once lived and was returning to after a long time away. Inspiration was tucked in every corner! I will begin with Lisboa, Fado and Azulejos.
We stayed in the Alfama district which is the oldest neighborhood in Lisbon and the only district to have survived the great earthquake on All Saints Day, November 1, 1755, which devastated the city. It literally had to be rebuilt. Alfama is also well know for the sound of Fado music echoing through its winding medieval corridors at night. It was once the poorest, grittiest neighborhoods home to dock workers and sailors in contrast to its current trendy, hipster reputation.
Our flat was situated near the Lisbon Cathedral, which was above us and the Museo de José Saramago which was a stone's throw away. Right around the corner were several wonderful Fado restaurants which we enjoyed. I have heard the sound of Fado described as haunting, decidedly plaintive, filled with emotion and longing as the performers sing of heartbreak, lovers, husbands, sons and brothers lost at sea and the tragedies of everyday life, and it is true. As one resident told us, in traditional Fado, "nothing ever turns out well." Amália Rodrigues (b. July, 23 1920-d. Oct. 6, 1999) the queen of Fado, grew up in the Alfama neighborhood and it was she who moved away from traditional themes and popularized Fado throughout the world. We also stumbled upon a free concert in the Baixa district by contemporary neo-Fado star, Deolinda. The streets were crowded and alive with people of all age groups singing along and clapping. A woman standing next to me asked me in English if I liked the music, shaking my enthusiastically up and down I said ,"Oh Yes!" Live Fado is a must see/hear and it is frequently my inspirational musical choice as I work in my own studio. The passion and pure élan vital flowing from the performers is spine tingling artistry that is forever etched in memory.
Speaking of memories Azulejos was one of the reasons for my visit. On our first full day in Lisbon we walked from our flat in Alfama to the Museo do Azulejos. Everyone told us it was too far, however, urban and wilderness hikers that we are, we were undaunted and continued on our quest. Good thing we did, because we saw fabulous Azulejos on buildings throughout the winding, twisting, corridors.
Traditionally rendered in white and blue, that changed over time and a wide range of colors were incorporated. All this and more is explained at the Museo do Azulejos, a must see for ceramic artists, although you don't have to be an artist to enjoy the rich history of stylistic transformation from one era to the next. At the museum you will learn that Manuel I (1495-1521) brought the Azulejo tradition to Portugal in 1498 after a visit to Spain. The idea of ornamenting architecture originated in the Arab world and when Christian and Islamic/Moorish cultures lived together peacefully the exchange of ideas flourished as well. Transculturation! In most cultures tiles were used to decorate floors or pools, but, because Manuel I was so taken by this artform, he wanted to decorate the walls of his palace in Sintra. Over time Azulejos adorned the exterior of buildings as well, making this method unique to Portugal. The plus side of this addition is the ability of the tiled surface to inhibit moisture. Of note is the unusual practice of installing a tile that fails over time with a tile that does not necessarily match the current theme or color of a particular building. I absolutely loved the Museo do Azulejos, but I particularly loved the smaller tiles and vignettes on street shops. They were quirky, lovely and spontaneous.
It is said that nothing lasts forever, however the beauty of clay as a medium as opposed to other art forms is its permanence. The plasticity of this wonderful material allows the maker to work on a small to monumental scale, utilizing two and three dimensional design skills. The most wonderful thing I felt in experiencing the Azulejos of Portugal was the beauty of the history of this country as seen in the Azulejos themselves and endless ways in which they were represented from traditional to contemporary motifs. Lisbon was just the beginning and there is more to elaborate on, which I will in future. For now, I will pause, because, next up is Sintra, that mystical, magical town in the foothills of the Sintra mountains. A day trip from Portugal is simple, but I've decided on next visit I will have to stay for more than a day....To be continued.....And in the meantime...if you fear a visit to Portugal because you do not speak Portuguese, they will tell you Náo Faz Mal! Don't worry about it!