Thursday, May 10, 2012

Tudo Isto É Fado (e Azulejo)

Fado, the melancholic, traditional music of Portugal, conveys a sense of nostalgia and longing with its lyrics about Lisbon, the sea, or the fate of the poor people.  It's a type of music that you need not understand, but rather feel, and it is best rough, live: emotional connection, not melodic perfection is the goal.  I've been listening to my one fado compilation album nonstop the last few weeks, and Shawn and I also made a point to go to a dinner accompanied by fado music while he was here.

Our restaurant, A Baiuca in The Alfama, was very quaint with not but five or six tables squished together with benches and strangers crawling over one another to sit, eat, and listen.  The song in the video above, called Cheira Bem, Cheira a Lisboa, one of the few uplifting fado songs I've heard, comments on the beauty and the aroma of Lisbon.  The sweet lady singing is blind, and you can feel how much the music touches and enlivens her.

Later on in the evening, after our fish had arrived and we had starting conversing with the friendly Brazilian couple next to us, an insouciant Portuguese gentleman began to bellow out more fado, unsmiling, indifferent to any applause, but certainly passionate about his music.  Afterwards, this Abel Lopes made the rounds, and both me and the Brazilian lady next to me indulged ourselves by purchasing his album, which he autographed.  The Brazilian couple were telling us about where they lived near São Paulo, and when I said that it sounds beautiful and joked that I should come visit, she literally wrote down her address told me that I should in fact come.  Everyone here is so kind and hospitable, it's really unbelievable!

A couple days after Shawn left, I decided to follow up with a visit to Museu do Fado.  It didn't quite live up to my expectations, but it was fun to listen to more singers and to see the way fado music has permeated into other forms of Portuguese art and culture.

Next, feeding my ceramics obsession, I simply had to make a stop by Lisbon's Tile Museum, or Museu Nacional do Azulejo, to learn about Portugal's long tradition in tile making and decoration.  This museum, as opposed to the Fado Museum, far exceeded my expectations.  The museum fills the convent of Madre de Deus; it's right on the waterfront and surrounded by lovely tropical plants and roses.

There are several rooms exhibiting tiles from about six different centuries, starting with pre-Renaissance practices and moving up to modern examples of art.  There was an impressive panorama of pre-earthquake Lisbon, which was actually quite sad to observe as much of the old town was completely destroyed and never rebuilt in the same style.  Gorgeous churches, harbors, etc. have simply disappeared.  At least our peaceful Tower of Belém managed to survive!


Inside is also the sumptuous Madre de Deus church, where one can see blue and white tiled walls juxtaposed with gold-gilded wooden altars.

As we approached more recent centuries, some of the art became less traditional and/or more colorful, for example the roosters riding in monkey-driven carriages, or the vibrant mural of the three kings.

Tile is ubiquitous in Lisbon and all over Portugal, covering countless altars, door frames, facades and pavements.  It is the chosen mode of art and it pops up frequently in unexpected places.  Decidedly, my future Portuguese summer residence (because my imaginary Sicilian summer residence might by transforming into a Portuguese one.  Or hell, why not have both?) will certainly be covered to the hilt with these magical, colorful ceramic tiles.

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