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Published: September 6th 2019
Head buried in an iPad, as usual.
Today is an opportunity to visit the couple of things that still seem important to see. Tomorrow we catch a train to Porto at 11.30am, and we’ll rattle our poor luggage down the narrow cobblestone footpaths to the station and settle back for the 3 hour trip.
Last night we had dinner at a House Of Fado. Fado is a traditional style of music, believed to be born here in Alfama. It dates back to the 1820s but it’s thought to be much older.
Fado has a reputation for being sad, serious, soulful music, but from what we saw it does have more upbeat moments.
It’s difficult to describe without sounding an arthouse theatre going, coffee sipping, left wing wanker, but basically that’s what I am, so I’ve nothing to lose. Sue and I - notice how I’m spreading the blame already - have never see a fado performance before, in fact I’d never heard of it.To me, Fado musicians these days are preserving a kind of story telling, unique to Portugal, and it centres around the sadness or darker facets of life for working class people.
The night we attended had changing musicians , who crisscross
House of Fado
Early evening before the performance.Not a full house tonight and probably only 20 attended. Good for us.
Alfama doing small sets at different venues, and a young woman and a young man who alternated in singing each set. They are called Fadistas. The music plays until 2am, but we bailed out at about 1am. The owner, the waiter, and a regular customer who approached our table to chat, at one stage all encouraged me to sing, if I would like. I assured them that no one had drunk enough wine to endure the sound of my voice. Even the young singer said, ‘You can if you want.’, as we walked out to go home. It may seem ridiculous to anyone who knows me, and I know people who would jump at the opportunity, but I figure it’s best I stay silent, and they just think I can’t sing, than to sing and confirm it. If you’d heard their performances, you’d realise how bizarre that offer was.
The girl was first up and for the duration of her first song, both Sue and I were looking for her microphone. I have never heard voices as powerful as these two and, while the small venue contributed, these were world class singers. The emotion was raw, and even without
12String Portugués Guitar
Sounds similar to a mandolin
understanding the lyrics, you are drawn in to the mournful tunes, all revealing a feeling of melancholia, resignation, or hopeless fatefulness. At one point the girl, dressed simply in a white calico dress, leaned against the club wall, eyes closed and head tilted, connecting to the soft tones of the Portuguese guitar - similar to a mandolin - and the acoustic guitar, before she sang, and you felt the intensity of her mood. At one stage she held out a pleading hand, while clutching her dress with the other, as if asking, Why, or begging for another chance. It was genuine.
She moved through the small audience , eyes closed, her movements saying as much as her voice ( thank goodness for us ) and her deep gentle sound reverberated throughout the small venue.
The male Fadista had a similar tone to his voice, but I thought he sung more upbeat songs of hope. The nearly operatic tones - and I’m not an opera fan - emphasised the mood, and occasionally his face, eyes closed, would smile a little, and you felt the songs meant something to him. Likewise both musicians, who jammed in the breaks, swapped tips,
and quietly played while the singers sang for their own pleasure.
It was a small venue, and it was more an expression of emotion than a straightforward performance; the singers and musicians were genuinely connected to the songs, but somehow you felt included.
Sue and I were welcomed into this place; referred to as a House of Fado, I think, because for a brief time you are part of a special family. We were thanked for coming, for being respectful of the Fado tradition , and not talking during the performance, and while it’s not a cheap night, it’s certainly less expensive than a night out in Melbourne.
I know most of this post is about Fado, but it was a genuine Portugués experience with traditional food and music, and I wish I had everyone I consider friends there to experience and enjoy the evening as we did.
Anyway, today, after breakfast at home, we walked up to the Castle of St George, a place of importance in Portugal, and joined the crowds in the late morning heat, crawling over the ruins like busy ants. The Tower has the best views in Lisbon, and brings out
The singer stood against the left white pillar, or moved through the people
the most stupid behaviour. People standing on walls for dramatic photos, one step from death, and the walls are less than 500mm high. This wouldn’t pass safety regulations in Australia but it would be a shame to miss it.
The queues to climb to towers were long and you had to hold your breath in the two way traffic, up and down.The main lookout area was shaded by ancient olive trees and spruce trees, and peacocks wander freely, or perch in large numbers up in the trees. The usual food vendors pump out burgers, ice creams and drinks, but we were destined for a return trip to Santo António Pastelaria, a local bakery that won First prize for best Cream Custard Tart, 2019. I’m eating one now and the best part is, there’s more in the box.
It must be ‘wash the streets down day‘ today, and we’ve already seen one poor woman fall victim, literally, to wet smooth cobbles, and it’s obviously the best way to clear the streets of thousands of cigarette butts; wash them down the drain. They race down the hills like little boats until they drop out of sight. Parked cars also get
the treatment, and their wheels and doors were covered in damp leaves, pine needles and mud. Local councils are the same everywhere.
Sue’s washing a few clothes today, and we hang them out the window on our old fashion rope on a pulley clothes line. If we don’t peg them out properly, I imagine I’d have to find out where our window at the bottom of the garden really finishes.
If you want to go broke in Lisbon, consider opening a clothes dryer shop. I doubt whether there’s one dryer anywhere. Two hours on the line and you can bring them in. The sun shines most of the year here and the breeze freshens it all up.
Tonight we’re going to Praca do Comërcio, a large plaza in the commercial area near the sea. Well have a meal, enjoy the sunset, and return home for our last night in Lisbon.
We will definitely return here, for at least a week, as you just get your bearings in most places and it’s time to leave. Porto tomorrow, and many people rate it above Lisbon.
That’s a big call.
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