For those of you rushing here to catch the latest spiky iconoclasm, sorry to disappoint. It strikes me that this blog is taking itself entirely too seriously and that you, gentle reader, would be appreciative if I were to climb down off the soapbox for once. With a good summer crewing the boats out to the islands behind me and an even better final week of August in Portugal just beginning to lose its sun-bright immediacy, why not?
Despite intense traffic and soaring cranes, Portugal was as I remembered it. The bica coffee was just as pungent, the Porco Alentejo (pork with clam sauce) just as tasty and the warren of alleys of Lisbon’s Alfama just as indecipherable. Where else can you get several dozen snappily dressed students surfing the web amidst ancient tomes stuffed into teetering 18th © shelves and wallfulls of classic azulejo tiles than in the Central Library?
The Portuguese are very proud of their long history (independent since 1160; the main square of Restauradores celebrates their liberation in June 1660 from domination by the then all-powerful Spanish crown). They had a magnificent renaissance city in Lisbon, built on the riches shipped from the Indies on trade routes they had pioneered before its almost total destruction in an earthquake and tsunami in 1755.
They rebuilt the centre of the city adjacent to the Tagus and called Baixo (“Low Part”) in an orderly grid that, gridlocked with traffic forty years ago, has served them well as a pedestrian shopping district more recently.
On either side of the Baixo are two rabbit warrens of streets that have never seen much redevelopment and are therefore a joy to explore; the Alfama encircles the Moorish Castelo Sāo Jorge that dominates the city; the Bairro Alto is home to that most deeply Portuguese of entertainments—two dark-clad, serious guitar players accompanying an even more serious woman singing fado.
Lisbon is one of my three top cities—livable, human-scale and crammed with characterful inhabitants. Plus, on 25 April 1974, they had a revolution to throw out a fascist dictator and no-one got killed. The proud symbol of the revolution was a FN rifle with a carnation in the barrel; my kind of revolution; my kind of people