Adventures in Lisbon with the friendliest explorers

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On the back streets of Alfama

My experience in Lisbon had been of a rather curious nature. A lot more random and distressing things happened to me there than in any other place (apart from Brussels trip, on which my companion and I met an apparently famous flutist, an old British womanizer type, and proceeded to go for drinks with him and his very strange mate).

For starters, I became enamored with soft toned buildings and laundry hanging off every window. When I was in Alfama visiting the Castelo de Sao Jorge, I counted 22+ drying sets of laundry seen in every direction.

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The houses of Bairro Alto

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Alfama streets

Cobbled paths were a bit of a challenge with a carry-on suitcase though.

I talked to and met a lot of Portuguese people, starting with Regina, my very warm and friendly AirBnB host (check out her Bairro Alto room for rent here) and continuing with her Ukrainian roommate (what a pleasant surprise, we spoke Russian most of the time), her boyfriend, friends, mother and random people Regina and I met on the street.

One of the most striking features about Lisbon (and I assume, Portugal overall) is how friendly everyone was. Portuguese are a warm bunch. They are also proud of their heritage, cultural contributions, naval achievements and geographic discoveries.

When I saw the river Tagus view from the hills of the city (Lisbon is nicknamed as the City of Seven Hills), there was no question about it: If I had to see this all my life, I, too, would want to set sail and explore the world on ship. So hats off to the Portuguese for venturing out on our behalf. Are you not surprised that Lisboa’s other nickname is Queen of the Sea?

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View from Alfama; river Tagus in the background

I arrived at the cusp of November and December and, despite the sun on photos, it was pretty cold there. But I didn’t give up. I took a cable car to Alfama to explore the Sao Jorge castle and surrounding areas. Of particular interest was the Conserveira de Lisboa, which has been in operation for 80 years. It’s full of bespoke canned seafood products, and you can watch old ladies wrap sardines, octopus and other goodies in beautifully designed wraps (which I’m going to put on my wall as art pieces):

Source: Lisboa Diarios http://lisboadiarios.blogspot.com/

I recommend taking a small picnic to the Castle and surrounding grounds so you can enjoy breathtaking views without going hungry or thirsty. I also recommend overcoming any fears of heights and climb as many stairs as you can to experiencing what it might have felt like to be a arrow-shooting guard on duty.

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Took me a while to wait for the flag to move. This is from the castle’s highest point.

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About to enter the Castelo de Sao Jorge. Notice a figure eyeing us from the top.

I did not go into as many restaurants as I usually do when I travel, but one particular spot that stood out was The Decadente, which recently won a Best Restaurant award. Rightly so. Make a reservation and definitely try the pork belly on the menu. More photos can be found here.

Why are all these photos taken with what looks like a film camera? Sadly, my iPhone 4S was stolen by a pickpocket. My guard was down, I was too distracted in a busy cafe (at A Padaria Portuguesa, you might want to be more careful there), and someone took it. It was one of the most unpleasant feelings in my life. I won’t go into my feelings about the loss, but I’ll say that it me a day to regroup and equip myself with paper maps and disposable cameras!

On a Monday night, my last one in Lisboa, Regina took me out to have some of the best traditional Portuguese meat at Toma La Da Ca restaurant in Bica neighborhood. Cheap and plentiful food. We then ventured out to a Library Bar (one of the few bars that allow smoking indoors – take note, smokers) to meet up with friends before heading to an amateur drag queen night, some of which you can see below:

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Things you must do in Lisbon as recommended by me:

  • Stay in Bairro Alto, which is a nightlife central; it’s densely packed, all you need is within the perimeter of 4 streets.
  • Dine at El Decadente restaurant.
  • Have pastries for breakfast and do not overestimate the freshness of seafood shops. I found excellent cod and octopus salads at a seafood shop on Rua Loreto near the Largo Luis de Camoes square in Chiado.
  • Venture out to Belem for a day: see the Jeronimos Monastery, get your contemporary art fix at the Berardo Collection Museum, and stuff yourself with the tasty Pasteis de Belem, like myself over here:
  • If you are into dancing, go to LUX Fragil club; it’s co-owned by John Malkovich and even though the club is not new, it is still high on the list of excellent interior design jobs.
  • Catch some fado especially at dinner. But try to avoid tourist traps as they will overcharge you.

Few more shots:

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Tower of Belem

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Jeronimos Monastery in Belem

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Electricity Museum in Belem. Great contemporary art exhibits!

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Padrão dos Descobrimentos, or Monument to the Discoveries. Belem

Any questions? Just ask 🙂

All photos copyright Karin Abramova

Frank O’Hara & A Photograph

Yes, Frank O’Hara was featured in the last episode of Mad Men, season 2, and that’s how I first heard about him. Recently I acquired “Meditations in an Emergency” collection of poems, and to my delight, found that he’s an exceptionally talented poet. He mixes nuggets of pop culture with vivid images and aptly coiling phrases that project sly, sticky pictures in your head. If you follow the link at the beginning of the post, you will learn a lot more about him, and perhaps, be surprised. Frank O’Hara is not an obscure name in American literature, it is I who’s been an obscure mind in the dark about him! Bonus: he also loved Mayakovsky, and even wrote a poem to him.

Since I’m on a movie bend this week (and generally, too), I’m sharing his “To the Film Industry in Crisis”, below:

Not you, lean quarterlies and swarthy periodicals
with your studious incursions toward the pomposity of ants,
nor you, experimental theatre in which Emotive Fruition
is wedding Poetic Insight perpetually, nor you,
promenading Grand Opera, obvious as an ear (though you
are close to my heart), but you, Motion Picture Industry,
it’s you I love!

In times of crisis, we must all decide again and again whom we love.
And give credit where it’s due: not to my starched nurse, who taught me
how to be bad and not bad rather than good (and has lately availed
herself of this information), not to the Catholic Church
which is at best an oversolemn introduction to cosmic entertainment,
not to the American Legion, which hates everybody, but to you,
glorious Silver Screen, tragic Technicolor, amorous Cinemascope,
stretching Vistavision and startling Stereophonic Sound, with all
your heavenly dimensions and reverberations and iconoclasms! To
Richard Barthelmess as the “tol’able” boy barefoot and in pants,
Jeanette MacDonald of the flaming hair and lips and long, long neck,
Sue Carroll as she sits for eternity on the damaged fender of a car
and smiles, Ginger Rogers with her pageboy bob like a sausage
on her shuffling shoulders, peach-melba-voiced Fred Astaire of the feet,
Eric von Stroheim, the seducer of mountain-climbers’ gasping spouses,
the Tarzans, each and every one of you (I cannot bring myself to prefer
Johnny Weissmuller to Lex Barker, I cannot!), Mae West in a furry sled,
her bordello radiance and bland remarks, Rudolph Valentino of the moon,
its crushing passions, and moonlike, too, the gentle Norma Shearer,
Miriam Hopkins dropping her champagne glass off Joel McCrea’s yacht,
and crying into the dappled sea, Clark Gable rescuing Gene Tierney
from Russia and Allan Jones rescuing Kitty Carlisle from Harpo Marx,
Cornel Wilde coughing blood on the piano keys while Merle Oberon berates,
Marilyn Monroe in her little spike heels reeling through Niagara Falls,
Joseph Cotten puzzling and Orson Welles puzzled and Dolores del Rio
eating orchids for lunch and breaking mirrors, Gloria Swanson reclining,
and Jean Harlow reclining and wiggling, and Alice Faye reclining
and wiggling and singing, Myrna Loy being calm and wise, William Powell
in his stunning urbanity, Elizabeth Taylor blossoming, yes, to you
and to all you others, the great, the near-great, the featured, the extras
who pass quickly and return in dreams saying your one or two lines,
my love!
Long may you illumine space with your marvellous appearances, delays
and enunciations, and may the money of the world glitteringly cover you
as you rest after a long day under the kleig lights with your faces
in packs for our edification, the way the clouds come often at night
but the heavens operate on the star system. It is a divine precedent
you perpetuate! Roll on, reels of celluloid, as the great earth rolls on!

 

 

And to start the week on a friendly foot, here is a September picture of me, taken by Slava:

Tetro

tetroI still have the images from this film in mind. What an excellent work of art. It’s Francis Ford Coppola’s first original screenplay since The Conversation. It is  a beautifully told story of the two brothers and the unveiling of the family secrets. The writing is absolutely fantastic, complemented by outstanding performances of Vincent Gallo and Alden Ehrenreich. Maribel Verdú (from Y Tu Mama Tambien) as the wife of Tetro (Vincent Gallo) does an amazing job, too.

I have never seen Vincent Gallo on screen before, and this film has put him into my favorite actors pool. He’s absolutely mesmerizing, the writer on a perpetual writing sabbatical, a not quite failed genius. And his eyes transmit a lot of emotion. The part where he stares at the blinding peaks of Patagonian mountains carry all the emotion of the subsequent ballet scene (which is also five stars).

Speaking of the ballet – Francis Ford Coppola created some of the most amazing dance scenes in this film. Some of them filled my eyes with tears. Apparently many of them have been shot in the studio only to be decorated with memorable and beautiful backgrounds in post-production. The whole film is actually in black and white – the present is in black & white, whereas flashbacks and scenes from memories are in color. In other words, for Tetro, the present is pretty bleak and not as vivid as the shaky past. I was wondering why the choice of black and white, until I hit the mid-peak of the film. My oh my.

I recommend this movie. It is now in my top 10 favorite movies of all time, filled with fully developed characters that undergo shocking changes as the story unveils. I’m still in a mild coma, and a sea of emotions that I can explain, but won’t. I don’t think it’ll be a stretch to say that Oscar nominations are due, but who knows. Go and watch it. Here’s the trailer: