domingo, janeiro 15, 2017

Short winter getaway to Seville and Ronda

The week before Christmas, I had a few free days and used them to go on a little road trip with my son to Spain. He loves driving, unlike me, so the driving was a part of the pleasure (for him doing it, and for me watching his joy). The weather was perfect, cold and sunny. We drove from Lisbon through Alentejo, Extremadura and Andalusia, on the highway and on the national road, stopping along to way for a coffee at a gas station or a smoke by some river, till we reached Seville.

Seville is a most beautiful city, I had stopped there a few years ago on my way to Granada (one of the most beautiful cities in Europe) and wanted to see more of it ever since. After leaving our things at a nice hotel in the centre, we walked around the city till the sun set, taking in the sights. I like the small squares, the wrought-iron balconies, the colourful buildings by the Guadalquivir, where some people were canoeing. The sun set with a beautiful light over the Torre del Oro, the Triana, the Giralda. There were several street Christmas markets, including one of nativities by the cathedral,and colourful Crhstmas light decorations in the streets. We ate calamares and iberian ham at the Triana before having coffee at the roof bar in our hotel, with a splendid view over the cathedral.

The next morning, we strolled around the city, enjoying its bustling life, and visited the enormous cathedral, climbed to the top of the Giralda to have some splendid panoramic views, and visited the wonderful Alcázar, with its Moorish architecture designed to a Christian king, an example of how complex the interaction between cultures was during the Reconquista.

After the historic Alcázar, some more picturesque streets and squares toward the Maria Luisa Park, and the huge folly that is Plaza de España, that was used lately as a scenery in the Star Wars movies.

We then left Seville, and drove across Andalusia to Ronda, where we arrived by night. We settled at the very nice apartment we'd booked and took a stroll around the narrow alleys of the old town, all white washed walls, suspended flower pots, iron grilles, and cats everywhere.

Only in the morning could we see what an astonishing place Ronda is. It looks like an eagle's nest, its white houses atop the cliffs, with the famous bridge, towering over the beautiful green landscape. We walked around the edge of the cliff, then went down taking a very nice walk, then up again, and visited the small museum, in a beautiful little palace with lovely courtyards and gardens with splendid views. I was sorry I couldn't stay longer, but was really happy I went there.

Then back to Portugal, crossing again Andalusia, Extremadura and Alentejo, and listening to the dreadful Spanish radio stations - we have definitely much better ones in Portugal! It was a very nice trip, and I hope I'll do others with my Little Lamb.

terça-feira, janeiro 10, 2017

História de quem vai e de quem fica, de Elena Ferrante

Reaching the third volume of Elena Ferrante's Naples books I am familiar with the characters and the writing. And it's a very engaging writing, the characters keep developing in believable ways; the narrator keeps us interested and wanting to know what will happen next, how the characters will evolve and deal with life. And it's also a good portrait of the late 60s and 70s, the turmoil in Europe at the time, in this case Italy. Sometimes, there are a little too many coincidences, but even so it's a very good novel, that brings back the pleasure of reading just to know what happens next.

sábado, janeiro 07, 2017

Boussole, by Mathias Enard

A very good book, beautifully written, poetically informative about the East and its cultural relations with the West. Extremely knowledgeable, full of lots of anecdotes about European orientalists, all very interesting and captivating to someone, like me, that has dreamt about the East and its interactions with our own culture. And, apart from its love story, it's a good way to remind us how East and West are so interrelated in many complex ways, how the Oriental is a cultural construct, and how we fundamentally are all the same.

domingo, dezembro 18, 2016


Genova was my last stop on the Italian trip, and it was as beautiful a city as the ones before. I arrived at night, and the walk to the hotel, along Via Antonia Gramsci, full of African immigrants, left me a little weary, but then, the next morning, the city enchanted me as soon as I walked out.

From the Piazza delle Fontane Marose to the Piazza de Ferrari, then to the San Lorenzo Cathedral, one of the most beautiful Italian cathedrals I've seen - full of beautiful Romanesque and Gothic details, I even visited the treasure, which boasts having the Holy Grail (unfortunately away for restoration) and has beautiful pieces like the Baptist's plate.

The historical centre is huge, full of beautiful piazzas, narrow alleys and stunning façades literally everywhere. I visited the beautiful Romanesque churches of San Donato and Santa Maria di Castelli, then headed to the old port across the lovely Piazza Banchi.

The Porto Anticco is actually quite modern, totally renovated. The Via Antonio Gramsci by day was very different - even more African immigrants, many selling their usual wares, everything looking peaceful and lively.

From the port, I walked along the old streets lined with the palazzi dei rolli - Via San Lucca, Fossatelli, Garibaldi, Balbi. There are dozens of palazzi, each one with its characteristic colours and details, and the ensemble is truly remarkable.

Trying to get a view over the city, I climbed the steps to the Albertis castle - a Romantic 19th century folly on the hill. The sun was against me, so the photos were not good, but still I had glimpses of the port and the old lighthouse.

Down again to the Via Balbi, more views of palazzi and back to the old city with its many wonderful viccoli and churches, small piazzas and nice restaurants, where I had a very tasty Italian dinner.

It was a beautiful place to end this amazing trip. Italy has so much to see, and enjoy! And there's still so much of it I don't know.

quarta-feira, dezembro 14, 2016

Born to Run, by Bruce Springsteen

I was 16 when I first listened to Bruce Springsteen, The River. I was literally awed, it spoke to me on so many levels. Then I listened to Greetings from Asbury Park, NJ, and The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle, and then Born to Run, that literally knocked me out. I remember buying Born in the USA without having even listened to a single song, because I trusted I would like it, and I did. Bruce Springsteen was one of my youth years musical heroes, and one of the few that aged gracefully, the music of his later years always from the very good to the excellent. So, I was curious to read his autobiography, and I enjoyed it immensely. The writing is down to earth, blunt, one seems to be listening to his song lyrics; I'm glad I read it in the original English because it relates so much to his song writing. He comes across as a sensitive and intelligent man, someone who learnt through life experience and knew how to grow up and become cultured and aware out of a blue-collared upbringing. I didn't know about his lifelong battle with depression, and I think the way he describes it and how he dealt with it, namely the anti-depressive drugs, extremely articulate and to the point.

All in all,it was one of the great books I read this year. Bruce Springsteen didn't let me down, as always. The Boss, indeed.


I spent a few hours in Bologna on the way from Ravenna to Genova, and it was a good idea. Bologna has lots of what I love in European cities - great architecture, art, and a bustling modern life. I always love to be in historical places that feel still very much lively, so much more interesting than pretty places made up as a kind of museum towns for tourists. Bologna it's certainly authentically lively, with a big university - the oldest in Europe - which attracts lots of young people, and all the rest that comes with a big modern city. And all that in a beautiful scenery of old buildings - arcaded streets, big palaces, old churches, and all in reds, yellows and ochres that give it a characteristic colour, like Rome (also like Rome, it features a huge amount of motorbikes).

I left my bag at the train station, and headed to the city centre, along the via dell'Independenza - majestic arcaded buildings - reaching the Piazza Maggiore, a big space with eautiful buildings on all sides. I visited the Bailica di San Petronio- free, but you have to pay 1 euro to take pictures... and then roamed around the busy Quadrilatero area, full of restaurants and food shops, passing the two towers - one leaning probably as much as the tower of Pisa!

It was a sheer pleasure just walking around the busy and noisy streets, almost all arcaded, passing a beautifully frescoed chapel on the way to the old Jewish ghetto, then the University quarter, a food street market on the way to the San Domenico piazza.

Then, passing by the 16th century seat of the University, I walked in to see the courtyard, and was curious to visit the anatomical theatre. Glad I did it, because it's truly wonderful - all in carved wood, the marble dissection table in the middle like a sort of scientific altar, the beautiful wood sculptures - of famous doctors, mythical gods related to Medicine and two skinless men. The paintings and shields on the corridors' walls witness a long tradition of people from all over Europe coming there for knowledge, and the ceremonial room is impressive, especially the glimpse one has of a seemingly endless library that all book lovers cannot but love.

Then back to the train station, passing the tombe dei Glossatori. The Italian trip was a really beautiful experience!

segunda-feira, dezembro 12, 2016


For many years I have wanted to go to Ravenna, the Roman capital of the 5th cantury; the names of Galla Placidia, Justinian, Theodora, Theodoric, the pictures of the Byzantine mosaics had been on my mind ever since I read about them, so Ravenna was the high point of my latest Italian trip.

Ravenna is presently a small and pleasant city, with cosy piazzas and nice cafés, and its treasured churches with Byzantine mosaics are its biggest asset. And what asset they are! I started at San Vitale basilica - the modest exterior doesn't prepare us for the stunning interior. It's not only the amazing mosaics, but the whole building, one gets inside a soaring and majestic space, and the magic sets in. The mosaics are incredibly beautiful, no picture makes them justice. I stood literally dumb founded. The colours, the details, such beauty and perfection. And it was just the beginning.

In the courtyard of San Vitale, there's the mausoleum of Galla Placidia. A small red brick building, then one enters through a dark courtain and it's like an Ali Baba's cave, all blue and gold, the fabulous mosaics around three heavy stone sarcophagi.

After such wonders, the Domus dei Tappeti di Pietra, with its Roman pavements, seems almost lame. But then I went to the Archepiscopal Museum, with several very good artefacts and the beautiful Cappela di San Andrea. Right next door, the Neonian Baptistery, with more amazing mosaics, especially the centrepiece of Christ's baptism.

Sant'Apollinare Nuovo is another wonder, a huge church with two symmetrical set of mosaics, a female and a male procession, and lots of characters and biblical scenes, like the Magi.

The Arian Baptistery is like a smaller version of the Neonian Baptistery, more impressive Apostle figures surrounding the Baptism scene.

Taking a pause from the mosaics, I spent some time chilling and writing in a nice café by the San Francesco church, and then visited the Church of San Giovanni Evangelista, with beautiful Paleo-Christian pavements.

Theodoric's tomb is a big building, with an empty interior. I took the bus to Sant'Apollinare in Classe, another big church with a luminous mosaic in its apse - green and golden; and a beautiful set of corinthian columns.

I finished the Ravenna tour visiting the church of San Francesco, with a crypt that is lighted paying a euro coin - a magical space flooded with water where goldfish swim over Roamn mosaics.