letter from d: lisbon

if i don´t make any sense wsoever in the course of your reading this email, forgive me because i am totally drunk out of my ass!! i am currently in seville, spain after being in a bus from lisbon the last 6-7 hours. actuall, i´m not totally drunk--- for all of those who know me well enough, you know i wouldn´t be able to put two sentences together since i tend to stay quiet when i´m drunk. i guess you could say i am happily buzzed! of course, i´m controlling it like crazy since i am travelling with my mom. i´m really just writing so i can sober up before going back to my room.

so as you know, i´ve been in lisbon the last 4-5 days. so far the trip has been really interesting. my mo´m´s family rented a 50 seazter bus for 16 people. needless to say, each of us gets our own row and window--- yáll know personal space is a must in this family! we haven´t killed each other yet but i´m pretty sure that will all change in the next few days. I´m at the point of selling my youngest cousin to the gypsies if he doesn´t shut up...

lisbon is a fairly interesting city but i´m still unsure about how i feel about it. it is very hilly (it´s got 15 hills) but fairly easy to navigate the streets. i walked from the city center to our hotel---alone and without a map, just for shits and giggles. i pretty much stopped at every bus depot to check the route, so it took me about 2 1/2 hours to get home. (ah well, at least i know i can plop down anywhere in the world and find my way around!) i mean, it´s not my favorite compared to the other european cities i´ve been to but it has certainly managed to pique my interest in its history. it is older than spàin by about 150 years so i guess you could say that historically, they were way ahead in terms of navigating and mapping out the world. and though magellan was portuguese, they don´t really count his discoveries as their own because he was commissioned by the spanish to look for the spice islands. when you study the routes that the portuguese took and the countries they colonized along the way, it´s pretty amazing how they actually managed to accomplish it since portugal is such a small country. but then again, they didn´t manage to hold on to their territories for very long anyway due to the fact that they didn´t have the man power to sustain the occupation in those territories. it eventually passed on to spain when Sebastian IV (?) dien in north africa. apparently, the guy didn´t have any heirs his legacy so when he died, it went to the closest living relative who happened to be his cousin, the king of spain. forgot the name of the guy...pretty sure it was a Philip but not sure of the number. don´t know why i´m telling you this since i´m pretty sure most of you think this crap is boring but i thought it was pretty interesting.

the one thing i did notice is that portuguese in portugal sounds very different from brazilian portuguese. over here, it sounds harsher and more stacatto-like as oppossed to the sing-song wispy tone of brazilian portuguese. to my ears, it sounds predominantly spanish than french mixed in with spanish. not that it´s anything bad---it just doesn´t sound as sexy when the brazilians speak it.

as i said earlier, i´m not really sure what to make of lisbon. i feel like it´s caught between being a city and province. architecturally, it´s got its pockets of, "oh wow, that´s cool." but nothing amazingly mind-blowing---at least, to me. they love the color pink in this country---i think it´s the national color. many of the government buildings are pink. Not Pepto Bismol pink but more like a dusty rose pink. a lot of the buildings are old and have graffitti on them but you can still see that they put an effort in keeping things the way they were. apparently over there, when you buy an old house, you are expected to keep the facade exactly as it was when it was built. this means that when you buy a house that has a tile facade and there are a bunch of tiles that fell off, you are expected to find someone who will make a replica of that tile. and the buildings aren´t cheap--- which is why a lot of young people are opting for modern housing since it will probably cost them more to restore an old house.

another thing i love are the cobblestone streets that they´ve managed to retain. a lot of the sidewalks in lisbon are decorated with raw marble and basalt stone so they´ve got all kinds of black and white patterns running throughout the city. they started decorating it this way after a huge earthquake they had sometime in the 17-hundreds (i think) but according to Carolina (our tour guide) it´s pretty much a dying art form because no one wants to do it anymore since it consumes too much time. it´s such a shame--- but somehow, with this being europe and all, i doubt that will happen since they take so much pride in being such an old and established civilization.

the one thing i really liked was that they use tiles for decorating everything. i´m not talking just the bathroom---i mean metro stations, churches, building facades...the works! it is particularly charming when you see a whole row of run-down looking buildings (which, ordinarily, would make you feel like you were walking through a ghetto) decorated with ornate tile work. the tile work is really pretty amazing especially when you actually stop and think of how much work goes into it. i´m pretty sure they mass produce it now but in the olden days, every tile was made by hand. and i´m not talking repetitive patterns either---there are full blown landscapes and portraits and each tile is numbered in the back so they know exactly where each piece goes.

i went to two museums: the Gulbenkian and the tile museum. The Gulbenkian was alright--- really more the equivalent of the Lopez museum in Manila, only bigger. If i´m not mistaken, it´s the largest private collection in Portugal left behind by an Armenian guy who made his money in oil. I think he poretty much advised all these arab nations and the Shell family of the financial rewards in investing in oil. Then when he was able to get them as investors, he requested for 5% of any profit they gained. needless to say, he made a crapload of money. but since he didn´t have anyone to leave it to, he left it to Portugal since he loved it so much. don´t really know much about his private life or if he was a greedy bastard but isn´t it funny how people who normally start off for selfish reasons all of a sudden become great philanthropists when they´re dead? it´s a little bit like politicians who steal but give back a portion of their loot to the community. it seems to make everything justifiable, don´t you think?

so anyway, there´s a whole bunch of greek coins, furniture, a bunch of paintings (some by monet and gainsborough) and a lot of oriental art. i guess his big love was the latter because there really are some of the most amazing tapestries, ceramics and tiles i´ve seen. most of the tapestries and carpets are of muslim origin and are very intricate. everytime i look at one of those pieces, i really am so amazed at how much time people spend working on the intricacies of a pattern. i mean, if you just glance at it, all you´ll really think of is, " it´s a whole bunch of leaves, flowers and insects. anyone in drawing 101 can do that." but when you actually stop and think of what tools they had to work with then and the work that goes into harvesting the cotton, dyeing the thread, weaving it into a forest of flora and fauna....it´s a tad bit overwhelming, at least i think so. then you think about the hours and months it took to create it...hay! i go nuts just thinking about it.

there was also a little room full of Rene Lalique pieces. and i don´t mean just the little glass statues--- there were necklaces, rings and haircombs encrusted with jewels with little faces or people carved into the crystal/gems and everything is so damn precise! and to think it´s all done by hand and no lasers! it takes a different kind of mind to actually conceive such an idea and have it brought to fruition. again, when i think of all the hands it had to pass through, how they figure out how to bring out the best facets of each stone...it´s just mind boggling.

the second museum i went to was the tile museum. like i said, the portuguese love their tiles. again, wasn´t too keen on the idea of going to a tile museum but this one is a must see. i mean, who would´ve thought a tile could turn into an art form?! each tile was hand formed and flattened into a mold. then they glaze it with a white coating so the paint can stick to the tile. then they get a piece of paper and prick little holes in it so they can layer that piece of paper on top of the tile and pounce charcoal on it. the charcoal provides the outline and if they happen to make a mistake, it can be erased using rabbit fur. then the tile is painted, glazed and numbered. and those are just for the flat ones! there´s another kind of tile that looks like a raised relief and that mold has to be carved before they can put the clay in to make the tile.

since portugal has both moorish and christian influences, the pattern on the tile depends on where it´s going to be used. the christian churches have more realistic patterns: leaves, flowers, people. when you enter mosques or palaces with muslim influience, you´ll notice that the patterns are more geometric and repetitive. this is because the muslims believe that God does not come in an imaginable form or shape. pretty cool, huh?

didn´t do much shopping since yáll know i´m not much of a shopper. besides, what can i possibly get over here that i can´t get over the internet? i thought about bringing home a bunch of tiles so i could make a small patio table for my house but my mom looked at me like i was nuts. reality hit and yes, i guess it is pretty stupid of me to be lugging a crapload of ceramic tiles around europe which will probably be all cracked and chipped by the time i get to Vegas. oh well, it seemed like a good idea...

Food wise, not too impressed. the portuguese are supposed to have the highest numbers of diabetics in the world but i´m surprised they haven´t died of hypertesion first. everything i´ve eaten has been incredibly salty---like someone consistently spilled a bottle of salt all over the food. i guess the traditional food over here is bacalao and i am totally bacalao´d out! there was only one restaurant we went to where the food was amazing and it was called O Mattos. you sit at this table and they just keep bringing you these amazing appetizers: olives, cheese, squid, sausage, ham...the works. you´ll get full just eating all the stuff they put in front of you that you forget that you actually have to order a main dish. the cheese was amazing!!! stupid me, i forgot the name (olijieda?) but it looks like a mini-wheel of camembert. they don´t slice it in wedges: instead, they cut the top part of the wheel to reveal this stinky, runny, creamy delight. it is absolutely sinful! it was really hard being polite and offering it to everyone when i really just wanted to scarf it down for myself. it is so soft that you have to spoon the cheese out on to your bread. YUM!!!! and i guess you have to serve it at room temperature because it just wouldn´t be the same if you took it out of your fridge. and the ham! oh my god! may God bless the pig and the guy who cured it! (for those of you who don´t know what i´m talking about, curing is the process of drying and processing the meat to make it a salty, smoldering piece of yummy goodness! that salty piece of jamon you´re eating could have been sitting in a warehouse for years.) i think it was jamon serrano, but again, not too sure. i can totally live on the cheese and ham alone. for the main course, we had grilled pork which was also really good but to me it was really more like, "oh yeah, i guess i´ll have some of that main course."

the portuguese are geniuses when it comes to eggs and sugar. i´m not really a pastry person but geez louise, i can´t seem to stop eating the damn things! and so far, every sweet thing i´ve put in my mouth is just one step closer to sweet ecstacy and diabetic death! my bloodstream is totally saturated with syrupy, sugary sweetness. it´s not good because i get hyper and there´s no gym here so i end up getting these weird sugar rushes and crashes through the day. it´s kind of like being on drugs but natural. sick, huh?

when we went to Sintra (which is where the nobility built their homes), i stopped by a pastry shop called Piriquita whichwas somewhere in the little town that swe were in. if you ever find yourself in that area, you must try the queijada---it tastes kind of like cassava (so it´s not too sweet) but it´s in this little pastry cup that has been rolled out really, really thin with the consistency of unleavened bread. so when you bite into it, your fingers don´t get gooey and sticky because it´s protected by that non-greasy cup plus you get the crunchy, chewy texture in your mouth. then they had another dessert called croquete coco which is pretty much a conglomeration of coconut, egg yolk and sugar mixed together then rolled in sugar so they look like these bright yellow logs. pastel nata is an egg custard and the travesseiro is another pastry that looks like a very thin, flaky Mcdonald´s apple pie but with sugar and eggs on the inside and dusted with more sugar on the outside. as you can imagine, i ended up ordering way too much dessert that by the time i got to the egg custard, i was just eating the mushy part and leaving the crust out. i had to hide the box of pastries from my mom because i didn´t want her to remind me that i was getting fat, but she caught me anyway. then she took my picture as i was stuffing myself silly. oh well...

After Sintra, we made our way down to Cascais and Estoril. Cascais is a fishing village where we stopped for lunch and between Cascais and Estoril, there were a bunch of beautiful beaches, both sandy and rocky. We drove by Cabo de Roca, which is considered to be the most western point of Europe. A lot of windsurfing championships are held in this area and the views of the coast are absolutely spectacular. Estoril is actually where Ian Fleming wrote the first of his James Bond novels. it became a european hotspot among the wealthy in the 40´s and 50´s and seems to be a favorite place of exile among deposed dictators and politicians. a house on the coast could cost as much as two million euros--- and that would be a small house. BUT... you get the privilege of telling the Jones´ that your neighbors are the Grimaldis. Ha!

The casino and most of the newer hotels are owned by Stanley Ho. It doesn´t surprise me that the best chinese restaurant is located and owned by him as well. The man seems to own a little bit of each friggin´country!


We also made a pilgrimage to Fatima which for me, was probably the most boring part of the tour. Not a big fan of seeeing churches since it just reminds me of how much wealth the Vatican bank has accumulated over the centuries through the religious blackmail it inflicted on its third-world colonies. (do i detect a trace of bitterness and resentment in the tone of my voice?) still, you cannot deny the fact that the devotion of the faithfull leads to the inspiration and production of beautiful art and architecture whether or not you may agree with their religious beliefs. you can almost forgive them for their torture, plundering and pillaging---almost.

I guess the cultural highlight of my trip would be the visit to the Fado house. Fado is actually a lamentation in the form of a song. The portuguese are a sea-faring people so most of their traditional songs are about losing their loved ones to the ocean but this has progressed into the usual lamentable love songs. i was so not in the mood to listen to something depressing---especially since i was still jet-lagging. i was also not that thrilled when we were taken to an obviously touristy place (it was full of drunk koreans and japanese) with bad food. Then a troupe of middle-aged dancers in traditional portuguese farmer costumes broke out into a song and dance. imagine the von trapp family singers only older---a lot older. watching a bunch of wrinkly legs in mini dirdle-like skirts and old men in little boy shorts with suspenders was so NOT my idea of fun! I wanted to kill the tour guide! And then...

two male guitarists got on stage along with an old, strapping woman who could easily have passed for a well-dressed gypsy. the minute they started to strum on their guitars and she opened her mouth, this big, booming voice jumped right out at you and instantly grabbed your attention. i completely forgot how tired i was and was absolutely enthralled with their performance. i was also surprised at how upbeat this so-called lamentation sounded. i mean, i didn´t understand a word she was saying but she you couldn´t ignore or deny the fact that you were touched--even just a little---by the song she was singing. it helpèd that she was super emoting and totally feeling the sadness of the song but to me, it still sounded kinda happy....no, maybe the right word is hopeful. and the guitarists were absolutely amazing. there were two kinds of guitars being played: one was the regular wooden guitar that was shaped like an hourglass and the other was a portuguese guitar which looks more like a big rounded banjo but the frets were smaller and the same amount of string as in a regular guitar. the common guitar was mostly used as a bass. it was really trippy watching both guitarists because their styles were so different. the guy playing the portuguese guitar had short, stubby fingers but they were flying off those strings! i couldn´t believe those stout nubs could get into those tiny frets and each chord was struck with such precision. you could hear it so clearly! the other guy (the bassist) had more guitar to work with and he played those chords like there was a beating heart in his palm. when he moves his hands over the neck of the instrument, it´s like he´s gesticulating and emphasizing the emotions conveyed in a song...like every beat was either alive or at the brink of death. it was weird. i´m probably not describing it properly but it was one of those thing where you just had to be there and really feel the performance.

anyhoo, lisbon was great but i wouldn´t say it´s my favorite city. I like it mostly because it is something new for me to see and ingest. i´m dying to read up on my portuguese history but i´m buying my books in the US where the economy is bad, the dollar is weak and the books are cheaper! i´m off to madrid tomorrow so hopefully i´ll get to write more about Spain while i´m there.

D

P.S.

i am so sorry for not having proper capitalization and punctuation. my thoughts are running faster than i can type and i´m too excited to think about proper grammar. normally, i am an anal, obsessive-compulsive stickler when it comes to crap like that but not when i´m travelling and writing long ass letters! i´m pretty sure it´s bothering some of you because it sure as hell bothers me when i read my letter over!

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