March 18, 2013 § 1 Comment
Her grandfather, who worked in an antique shop, believed that it takes several generations to create a great artist. Maybe this belief was the point of departure for Joana Vasconcelos, who often draws inspiration from age-old artisan techniques. Most of her pieces have a colossal scale, shoes built with pots and pans, giant wrought-iron teapots, towers fashioned out of champagne bottles. But she also makes small, whimsical objects like the crochet-patterned lizard in the photo.
In 2012, the Palace of Versailles invited Vasconcelos to showcase her work. The artist filled the palace with glamorous objects made of humble materials: feathered helicopters, ceramic lobsters, giant fabric sculptures, outsize hearts built with plastic cutlery. She dedicated the exhibition to the Portuguese women who work in Paris as concierges.
From March 23 to August 25, Vasconcelos shows her work in a perfect setting: the Ajuda royal palace in Lisbon. Portugal abolished the monarchy in 1910. But, in the arts, Joana Vasconcelos is our reigning queen.
Click here to visit Joana Vasconcelos’ web site. You can see her exhibition at Ajuda from 10 am to 7 pm every day except on Wednesdays. On Saturday the exhibition stays open until 9 pm. Click here for more information.
February 14, 2013 § 4 Comments
Historians trace the costume of kissing on the cheeks to the French Revolution when it was used to show solidarity. Since then, the French made greeting into an art form. Depending on location and circumstance, they might kiss twice, thrice, four times, or not at all.
The Portuguese are quite formal, but greeting norms are relatively simple. Men greet each other by shaking hands. Women greet man or other women with two kisses, the first on the right cheek and the second on the left.
There is, however, one tricky exception: close friends kiss only once, on the right cheek. So, as you start making friends in Portugal, you might go through a period of hesitation: should I greet them with one or two kisses? It’s a cost well worth paying for the joy of having Portuguese friends.
Drawing by Ana Lebasi, ink on paper, 2013.
August 12, 2012 § 2 Comments
July 13, 2012 § 3 Comments
In the late 19th century it was fashionable to make a list of questions and keep a notebook with the answers supplied by friends and family. The answers of the French writer Marcel Proust were so admired that these lists became known as Proust questionnaires.
To our knowledge, no fish has ever answered a Proust questionnaire until now. Here are the answers offered by a Portuguese sardine.
Your favorite virtue: I’m rich in omega-3, but it’s hard to buy things with it.
Your main fault: Being a sustainable species. People think I’m replaceable!
Your idea of happiness: A world-wide ban on canning small, cute fish.
Your idea of misery: Being smoked; do I look like a cigar to you?
Your favorite food: Plankton!
Where would you like to live: The island of Sardinia.
What others misunderstand about you: There’s no need to chop off my head; I don’t bite!
What you don’t understand about others: Why they hate my guts.
Favorite expression: Let then eat hake!
Favorite motto: Salty is the new sweet, silver the new gold.
April 23, 2012 § Leave a Comment
Renée-Paule Danthine is a Swiss painter who, in her miniature series, celebrates the allure of old-fashioned mail. We have all but forgotten the pleasure of handwriting a letter, hiding it in an envelope and affixing the stamp, trusting the precious package to a mysterious delivery system that, somehow, almost always worked. Danthine reminds us of all that we lost by using post-office stamps as the point of departure for her work. Her travels to Portugal inspired several paintings in this series. Each of her wonderful watercolors is a lesson on how to see the extraordinary in the ordinary.
Click here to see more of Renée-Paule Danthine’s work.
March 9, 2012 § 1 Comment
If you were here today, you could spend the morning on the beach, collecting shells, wondering why no one told the sun that it’s not Summer. You could have a simple lunch of roasted chicken with piri-piri sauce, visit a romantic palace, and sit on a cliff, watching the sun bathe in the ocean. You could dine on grilled fish, drink a great local wine, and go out into the warm night to gaze at the stars. And, when the day is done, you would know the meaning of the word felicidade.
March 2, 2012 § 3 Comments
Calçada Portuguesa (Portuguese cobblestone) is a mosaic pavement built with cubes made of limestone and basalt. Each stone is carefully cut and laid by hand by a master “calceteiro.” It takes months, sometimes years to build these majestic pavements. So, if you visit Portugal, by all means, look up to see the cerulean blue sky, the castles on hilltops, the seagulls gliding on the wind. But do not miss the beauty beneath your feet.
February 24, 2012 § Leave a Comment
Portugal has beautiful scenery, wonderful food, perfect weather. But what makes this country truly unique is its history. Africans, Celts, Jews, Moors, Phoenicians, Romans, Suevi, Visigoths, they all shared this corner of the world. They all left their marks on the Portuguese landscape. Monuments to their triumphs, ruins from their defeats are everywhere. No stone is without a name.
February 16, 2012 § Leave a Comment
Many visitors arrive in Portugal with their body clocks disoriented by jet lag. They lie awake in the early hours of the morning, stranded between dream and reality. If you are close to the ocean, this is your chance. Go to the beach and walk on the immaculate sand. Watch the sea put aside its black nightgown and try on different shades of blue. These simple moments can be extraordinary. Here’s how the writer Raul Brandão describes them in his 1923 book, The Fishermen:
“There are mornings when the dust of the sea mixes with the blue dust of the sky. A fresh, moist breeze, vibrant and salty comes from afar, from the deep, from an endless groundswell that makes us feel that life has no limits.”
January 30, 2012 § 4 Comments
It is not easy to write about the great poet Fernando Pessoa. Even if we weight every syllable, our words are still too heavy to describe his graceful prose and sublime rhyme. So, perhaps we should stick to the facts.
Pessoa was born in Lisbon in 1888. His father, a journalist, died when he was young. His mother remarried and moved to Durban, South Africa, where Pessoa received a British education.
After returning to Lisbon in 1905, Pessoa earned a modest living making translations and writing business letters. He published poems, essays and literary criticism, but remained unknown during his lifetime.
Many of his poems were written in coffee shops, at Brasileira in Chiado or in Terreiro do Passo’s Martinho da Arcada. He wrote under different identities, each with its own personality and distinctive style. Some say that Pessoa and his four major pen names, Álvaro de Campos, Ricardo Reis, Alberto Caeiro, and Bernardo Soares are the five finest Portuguese poets.
Pessoa died in 1935, at age 47, one year after publishing his first major book, The Message. He left a literary treasure trove: a trunk full of poetry and prose, including The Book of Disquiet, which, published in 1982, created a new wave of interest in the poet.
Reading Pessoa can change your life, at least that’s what happened to the Italian writer Antonio Tabucchi. A chance encounter with Pessoa’s poem “A Tabacaria” (The Tobacco Shop) made him fall in love with the poet’s work and with the language and culture of Portugal.
Here are the first lines of “A Tabacaria” translated by Richard Zenith. Read them at your own peril.
I’ll always be nothing.
I can’t want to be something.
But I have in me all the dreams of the world.”