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Saboteur

06 April 2011

A few days in Lisbon

I'm a rubbish tourist,and this is shown nowhere better than in my travel photos. I don't see the point of photographing the well-known sites, because I know that I can come home and find in minutes a better picture than anything I can take. Here's the Castello Sao Jorge in Lisbon, for example, as seen by me

 and as seen by someone on the internet:

Even at these small sizes you can see he or she has a better camera, and more patience to wait for the evening air to thin and the sunlight to warm up.

And it's not just photographing that I'm rubbish about with famous sites. That castle, you'll notice, is on top of a bloody great hill. I've seen loads of castles, thanks, and climbing a bloody great hill isn't my idea of a holiday. Almost everything in Lisbon is on top of a bloody great hill, in fact.

The photographs I'd like to take are the photographs that show how people live: photojournalism, I suppose. But I think it's rude to take photos of people you don't know, and it's definitely patronising to make a technically perfect (I wish) photo of a gap-toothed grimy shoeshiner an emblem of 'local character' like some guidebooks do. (Lisbon looks generally down-at-heel. While I was there, more and worse news of Portugal's economic position was being revealed daily. I don't understand economics much in English, let alone Portuguese, but it seems to amount to a state of being in the shit, with possible IMF intervention, which will surely slash public expenditure. It's alarming to think what state Lisbon will be in after a few years of this.)

So I don't take photographs of people. Here's one:
It's the Praca do Commercio, down by the river, a huge public space that doesn't seem to have any purpose. There's a lot of public space like that in Lisbon, I think. It struck me as an attempt to brag about Portugal's grandeur, but the emptiness seems to reveal that when these spaces were created, that grandeur was already in the past.






Here's a photograph of a railway signal.













Even as a picture of a railway signal it's rubbish. I took it on my way back from Sintra. (Actually, the economics of that trip might illustrate Portugal's problems. A return journey of  40 minutes each way cost around 4euros. I think it's great that rail travel is subsidised to that extent but it can't be sustainable. Sadly.) Sintra is like a posh Brighton, where the rich of Portugal indulged their follies in mad over-the-top constructions. Unlike the actual Brighton, there are several Pavilions. It's a side of Portugal I do like, the fairytale buildings that talk about unbelievable past fortunes on display.

The photo I'd most have liked to take is of the most surprising sight. My hotel overlooked the Praca Munoz Martim, a fairly bleak, hard-surfaced big and empty square. On Sunday afternoon a group of local kids were playing cricket there. Cricket in Portugal! The kids looked south Asian so I guessed they were Goan (surely Goa is the only intersection between the former Portuguese empire and cricket). A more brazen tourist would have photographed them, asked them, but I'll just have to hold the memory and in ten years time, when Portugal beat England in the cricket world cup, I'll say it was me who saw it coming.

So, I couldn't say I fell in love with Lisbon, like I did with Madrid at first sight. But I'd have liked to be there longer.

(Next post: food and television)

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