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Travel in music: Chapter 14 - 2000, Portugal

2020, the world is in confinement because of a corona virus. I have used this time to reminisce on my past through a musical blog series. They will take you through my peregrinations on this tiny, unique earth, in chronological order. Click on the song, use it as soundtrack, and enjoy!


2000 - Chapter 14 | After Brazil, I spent the remainder of the year in PORTUGAL. Though it required a major ear adjustment, I was delighted to spend more time in the lusophone realm.

Together with Sophie Nadeau and Marcos Melo Antunes, we were determined to get a proper taste of Lisbon and find a place to stay in the old part of town. An old man took a liking to us and agreed to rent out his small apartment in the walls of the Castelo de São Jorge, the medieval fortress that dominates the city. Our balcony was a tiny incision in its thick stone walls. It barely fit two chairs but it afforded us phenomenal views of Alfama’s rooftops and the shimmering Tejo in the background. If that was not enough and you wanted a more complete view of the city, all you had to do was exit the main door, climb a flight of stairs and you would find yourself on the castle’s battlements, with all of Lisbon at your feet. We were quite literally in Lisbon’s heart and we could hear its beating pulse: fado laments rising up from a tavern a few streets below, the church bells calling the faithful to prayer, the clanky metallic sound of the tramway, struggling up the steep sloping streets, the croaks of the seagulls fighting over a salted cod morsel. I understood then why the main character in Wim Wenders’ poetic ode “Lisbon Story” was the sound taker.

While the melancholic, old-soul charm of its capital had endless appeal, I loved equally all the regions of Portugal we visited during those brief months. Porto was prepping up to be European Culture Capital the following year and was in the middle of a facelift. The Alentejo reminded me of Tuscany, with its fortified villages connected by long cypress-lined roads and its olive trees dotting the yellow plains. The beaches of Algarve were refreshingly empty of tourists at this time of year. Paradoxically, through the calm, you could see both the natural beauty that made the region so popular and the ravages of mass tourism.

Beyond its beauty, I think the main reason I liked Portugal so much was the people. Geography and hardship have made them humble and unassuming but also philosophical, thirsty for exploration and turned towards the world. They are perhaps less ebulliently passionate than their Iberian neighbors but I would contend they are also more grounded. Funny thing to say when it is the sea, rather than the land, that has fashioned the country’s soul. Fado is akin to blues in its mournfulness but the ocean shapes it. Fado expresses the ‘saudade’ sailor’s wives and sweethearts feel when their loved ones are at sea. The fear of not seeing them again, the longing of absence, the hardship of the sailor, dock worker or fisherman’s life are all ingredients of this distinctive genre, which defines Portugal.


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