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April 08, 2019


This is so beautiful, evocative and thought-provoking - thank you! Maybe there's a visual artwork to be made of questioning and fragments, just as you've made this haunting and suggestive essay?

The patterned pavements are like Copacabana in Rio...
or rather, Copacabana is like Lisbon, I suppose. Rio is an old but still vivid memory for me, while Lisbon, forty years ago, is too long ago to be more than a brief flicker of remembered light and hills.

You articulate so insightfully and eloquently what I felt and thought during my visit to Lisbon over a decade ago. When I think of that city, the moments I recall are so often ones that we arrived at by following a smell (sardines grilling over a grill on an old metal barrel) or a sound (acoustic guitar, solo voice in a shaded square; Brazilian jazz that led us through a curtain-door, up stairs, to a rooftop lounge). . . and the walking. Walking and walking . . .

I've visited both Lisbon and Porto. There is of course the language barrier since Portuguese doesn't link helpfully with any of the more familiar European languages. On top of that is the ever-present conviction that Portugal is one of the "ends" of Europe, that the next westward step is 2000 miles of ocean. Also the country is small dimensionally and by population (a mere 10m, 88th in the world). In terms of news little seems to happen there, especially when compared, say, with Greece which has a similar population. One isn't entirely surprised to learn that Portugal supported one of the most enduriug of tyrannical presidents (Salazar; 33 years) and that his reign extended into quite modern times (he died in 1970). I am, however, slightly surprised to discover that Portugal was one of the original signatories of NATO.

You talk of struggling with its essence. My feeling is that Portugal is, obviously, isolated and that it is content to be so. Unaffected and seemingly uninterested in what lies to the east. Its most famous product, the fortified wine port, is perhaps typical of the country. Vintage port is comparatively rare and may involve decades of maturation - nothing very exciting there.

Oh Beth, I wish I'd known you were going to Portugal! I would have given you my dear brother's address, or at least his phone number, and you could have been in touch. He lives in a lovely part of the Algarve - not near Lisbon, I know - but maybe you were planning to go south as well.
Anyway, as always your travel impressions are fascinating. I loved Brazil where, as you know, I lived for a while and I love what I've seen of Portugal. It's 'otherness' is one of the attractions for me and the quintessentially Portuguese sound of Fado resonates deeply within me, in a similar way as Flamenco.
I want to hear and see much more about your Lisbons experience!

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Who was Cassandra?

  • In the Iliad, she is described as the loveliest of the daughters of Priam (King of Troy), and gifted with prophecy. The god Apollo loved her, but she spurned him. As a punishment, he decreed that no one would ever believe her. So when she told her fellow Trojans that the Greeks were hiding inside the wooden horse...well, you know what happened.