22.9.04

Sob o ponte


Better late than never! Today was a better day. My email is working again, I got my new ticket for the National Library, and I had lunch with my colleague, Diego Palacios, with whom I spent some time in Madrid last February as we co-wrote an article that will be published by Routledge sometime next year. So, not only was it productive, in the sense that I got some real research done, it was also productive in the sense that I got the chance to speak to a kindred spirit in the world of Portuguese academe (i.e., we are both foreigners - Diego is Spanish). After work, I decided to "matar" a few "saudades". I wanted to go down to the Docas do Santo Amaro to photograph the very first Portuguese building I ever set foot in - the old seaport. Now, my flat is in Alcântara, a mere 5 minute walk from the Docas, and I have been to the Docas several times (although I must admit that it is not my favourite place); however, several people have recently asked me why I, a Scottish lad, am so passionate about Portugal. I have no real answer for this, but here is a true story from October 1972, which I believe may explain a lot. Way back then, I was a 9 year-old lad who had never been out of the UK, and only rarely off of the Isle of Bute. For adults, this was a terrible time to be living in Britain, what with powercuts, three-day-weeks, petrol and sugar rationing, etc. Anyway, our school had organised a trip on the SS Uganda, leaving Greenock for La Rochelle, Lisbon and Vigo. The cost was £60 - about one month's wages for my Dad. I desperately wanted to go, so my Dad scraped the money together and off I went on the adventure of a lifetime. I remember La Rochelle because of the shutters on the windows, and Vigo because of an anchor on a hill overlooking the bay. Lisbon, however, grabbed me by my tomatoes. It was big, brash, bright... It was so foreign, so different from anything I had ever known. To me, the people all looked strange, and they had strange looking money, and they spoke in a strange way, and the sun was shining, and there were old fashioned trams, and there were soldiers with machine guns, and the air was filled with new and exotic smells, and the pavements were works of art... We were waiting at Praça do Comércio - outside all the government ministries - for a tram to Belém, when an army truck stopped and a group of soldiers jumped out. I couldn't take my eyes off of their guns - it was the first time I had seen one for real (I was only 9, and loved Commando comics and war films). One of the soldiers noticed me staring and came over, muttered something, patted my head, and then went into the building. Who knows, perhaps he was one of the soldiers who, 18 months later, overthrew the fascist dictatorship. I certainly like to think so.

I chose this as my PaD, because it is under the Ponte 25 de Abril, and as a nod in the direction of Bruce Berrien, who is one of my favourite Pbase photographers. When we came into Lisbon on the Uganda, we all wanted to be on deck as it passed under the bridge, which was then called Ponte Salazar - after the dictator who governed from 1928 to 1968. The others that almost made it are here and here.

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