Today proved to be busy one. We started the day by heading northwest to Belém, which might be described as a suburb that is about three miles from central Lisbon. The area runs along the Tagus River, with the Atlantic Ocean visible in the distance.
Like everyone else (or so it seemed), we started at the Jerónimos Monastery, which includes a cathedral, monastery, and cloisters, all constructed in what is referred to as Manueline style (Gothic). The monastery is closely associated with the Age of Portuguese Discovery, largely because construction commenced in 1501 and the facility is close to the river bank where the yearly voyages to India, China, and Japan departed from. For you grade school history buffs, the church is the final "resting" place of Vasco da Gama, although it is open to question whether he is actually buried in the tomb that bears his name and life-like stone figure resting in repose. He died in India in 1524 after contracting malaria. Given the lack of refrigeration in those days, it is hard to believe his body made the return trip to back to Portugal.
We initially were only allowed to view the cathedral from a balcony because there was a wedding underway--I can only imagine what it cost to book the cathedral, but the wedding party looked very prosperous, with a Rolls Royce transporting the bride and groom to the reception. Eventually, we were admitted to the ground floor for 10 minutes. The columns, stain glass, rose window, and massive columns made quite an impression.
Next, we headed to the small shopping area just east of the monastery so that Evelyn could visit Antiga Confeitaria de Belém for a custard cream pastry which came hot out of the oven--she admits that she had seconds. The recipe is much imitated, but these are the real deal, made using the original 19th Century recipe that came from the monastery's kitchens. The pastelaria has been turning these little gems out since 1837 at this same site, with 15,000 being produced daily. I took a pass.
Next we made the short walk to the Monument to the Discoveries, which immortalizes the Portuguese explorers who are said to have left in search of spices and gold from this location. Were Google Maps to pinpoint the exact point of departure, it would be slightly to the north. We were standing on landfill. Unfortunately, the entire monument, which prominently features Henry the Navigator, was under scaffolding, but we got the idea. We decided to take the short walk to the Torre de Belém, which also is on the water's edge. The tower served as a fortress that protected the mouth of the Tagus River from invaders. It was a fine tower, and a must visit, but we had seen similar fortresses on our travels, including, most memorably the castle in Bodrum, Turkey, which is a hundred years older, so we didn't spend a lot of time exploring the tower.
Evelyn had been talking about visiting the Berardo Museum, also located in Belém, but she was not opposed to skipping it. She had heard it held works by Portuguese artist and illustrator Paula Rego in its collection. Thankfully, we decided to take a peak. The museum is the anchor in Centro Cultural de Belém (the CCB in popular parlance) a large art complex that overlooks the Tagus River, as well as the Jerónimos Monastery. The Berardo houses its namesake's impressive modern art collection that fills dozens of rooms that offer a u-shaped path through 20th century art history. It is a fascinating journey that reveals over 900 works, organized into about 40 groups. Not only does the collection feature the works of Duchamp, Mondrian, Picasso, and dozens of other well-known artists, but it also includes the works of lesser known (at least in the eyes of Americans) European artists who developed and utilized similar stylistic techniques. As a result, a room that appears to contain six paintings by Piet Mondrian actually displays only one of his works. Did the other artists imitate Mondrian's style, or were they the unheralded originators of that style?
In sum, the Berardo holds a knockout collection that José Manuel Rodrigues Berardo first began to assemble toward the end of the Sixties. Born in Madeira, Berardo was an industrialist, who held in interests in farm equipment, mineral, oil, telecommunication, computer, paper and mining recycling businesses. With ties to South Africa, he became a leading opponent of apartheid.
After our tour of Berardo's collection, we explored other parts of the CCB, which includes interesting stores, restaurants, and performance spaces. We decided to have dinner at Este Oeste, which offers the eclectic combination of sushi and wood-oven baked pizzas. We split a pizza and a large salad. We should have ordered the larger pizza--mighty tasty.
We decided to stay for the evening concert on the terrace overlooking the Tagus. It was billed as summer jazz, but we were treated to Indian music, performed by a guitarist, bass player, electric pianist, drummer, tabla player, and a singer. Not our cup of tea, but the setting was nice, Evelyn did a very nice sketch, and I photographed the musicians.
We then headed back to town, where we planned to to attend a performance at the Hot Club of Portugal, a top-notch jazz bar with deep roots. The room was very intimate, particularly after it filled to capacity. Like Chicago's Jazz Showcase, we couldn't quite figure out the economics. How does any establish cover rent, staff, and the musicians with a 7.50 Euro cover and no minimum?
We saw four accomplished players who would be right at home in Chicago playing at Constellation or the Logan Center. The quartet was comprised of a hollow-body guitarist, contra-bassist, drummer, and sax player. On the walls hung old posters for performances by the Art Ensemble of Chicago, among others. The quartet was not as out there as the Ensemble, which is not necessarily a bad thing. They played straight-ahead modern improvisational jazz, but with an edge, and they played it extremely well, particularly because this was the first time that they had played together. When we spoke with the musicians between sets, we discovered that all compositions were original.
But before the 10:30PM show, we had to kill a little time, so we headed up the hill from Avenida da Liberdade to the Bairro Alto. At the Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcântara (an overlook that provided a spectacular view of the city which was backlit with a pinkish turquoise sky), we encountered a group of jazz musicians who were solidly into funk, together with a group of spirited dancers who were just hanging out on a beautiful Saturday night. We hung with them for about a half an hour, and then walked to the Hot Club, following the path of the graffiti-covered Gloria funicular which is one of three in the city. It has been in continuous operation since 1885.
Quite a day.
Copyright 2016, Jack B. Siegel. All Rights Reserved