~iberian treasure hunt~

December 25th, 2008


I promised you Fado (the melancholy musical genere named after Fate), and Fado you shall have, or at least the town that is famous for it: Lisbon.


Lisbon is also a city famously destroyed in an earthquake (suspected Richter 9) followed by a tsunami and fires spread by toppled cathedral candles on November 1, 1755. That the earthquake came on a major Catholic holiday (All Saints’ Day) and took with it all Lisbon’s churches, as well as much of the city and 100,000 lives caused much philosophical pondering among Europe’s Enlightenment philosophers.

Elevador de Santa Justa designed by Raoul de Mesnier du Ponsard (another apprentice of Gustave Eiffel), opened in 1892 to connect Baixa to Bairro Alto (the lowest and highest points of the city). Originally powered by steam, it is 45 meters high.



Voltaire used the quake in Candide, Kant expanded his concept of the Sublime trying to get his head around the catastrophe. I wonder if Fado’s Saudade (longing for what will never return) was born from this as well?



Lisbon is considered to be a sister city to San Francisco. My first impression (albeit one quickly created) is that unlike SF, the city has yet to recover from its earthquake. Probably the garbage strike that accompanied our visit didn’t help, but I am responding most to the local mood, which in many areas fell somewhere on the scale from resignation to sneering hostility. A depressed economy trapped in a symbiotic relationship with tourism fosters bitterness, what else?


Cinema Odeon opened in 1927 with “The Merry Widow” by Erich von Stroheim. Apparently it’s gorgeous inside and set to be demolished.

We explored the historical neighborhoods that remain post quake: Alfama and Bairro Alto, as well as Baixa and the fancier Chiado.

Estação de Caminhos de Ferro do Rossio (train station) designed in 1887 by José Luís Monteiro in the Manueline style, a sort of Portuguese hyper-Gothic. The finest still standing example of the style is The Hieronymites Monastery (Mosteiro dos Jerónimos).

Part of the insane facade of Igreja dos Mártires.



Our “exploration” of our own Alfama–once the center of the Visigothic town, and now an Arabic sailor’s quarter–consisted of an increasingly desperate searched up and down the hills for food on Christmas Day.




Like everything else, the Fado clubs were closed, but the voices of Madalena de Melo and Amalia Rodrigues echoed in my head.
Arriving home with our hard-won booty, we tucked in to a Christmas dinner of peanuts, bananas, and a kind of cobbled together sandwich thing. Just like they had in the manger. Well, the unheated (December! Port town! Freezing!) room was something like it anyway. Which is to say if there had been hay I would have buried myself in it.


Instead, we got Johnny Depp as Captain Jack on the fuzzy little TV.

More appropriate would have been Guy Maddin’s The Saddest Music in the World.

3 Responses to “~iberian treasure hunt~”

  1. Noria says:

    No, no, no! How can they demolish that beautful theater? Can’t they let artists live in it or something?

    Also set to be demolished: the Tonga Room.

  2. kim says:

    No! Not the Tonga Room! Really?! That seems simply impossible. What’s next, Bimbo’s?

  3. […] mentioned in the Porto post the Portuguese concept of Suadade: a longing for that which will never return. Often used in […]

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