For our next story, I accompanied Alex to an area not far from Sintra, to Mem Martins, where the columbophile club Algueirão e Mem Martins is located.
And it is here that we meet Antonio, introduced to this passion by a friend. Through his stories, he open to us an absolutely unknown world, that of carrier pigeons, which we therefore decide to share with you.
But before getting into the specifics, let’s try to understand more of this tradition which is much older than we can imagine.
From Ramses III to King Solomon, passing through Genghis Kahn or the armed forces of the 20th century, carrier pigeons have influenced the course of various armed conflicts throughout history and in recent centuries have become “highly competitive athletes”, capable of flying even a thousand kilometers in one day.
Pigeon racing is the art of breeding carrier pigeons for competition and became a sport in Belgium in 1820. Initially practiced mainly in Belgium, Holland and Germany, it then spread to the Iberian Peninsula in the 1920s and 1930s. Portugal won a gold medal at the 36th Pigeon Olympics two years ago.
Carrier pigeons fly miles in a single day with the instinct to go home and have a “biological GPS” aligned with the planet’s electromagnetic field, which gives them a unique sense of orientation. And they create a unique relationship with those who provide them with food and shelter.
The current carrier pigeon is the result of crossings of some Belgian and English breeds, carried out in the second half of the 19th century. This pigeon model has been continuously selected to ascertain two main characteristics: an orientation ability and an athletic morphotype.
The task of the pigeon breeders is to improve the physical and orientation skills to participate in the championships. They develop top speeds of between 87km / h and 102km / h over distances that can exceed 1,200 kilometers.
In these competitions, carrier pigeons do not carry messages from one destination to another but are transported from their loft to a certain starting point, from where they must return home.
It is a sport that, to the surprise of many, has become the 3rd most practiced nationally, it is practiced all over the world, from the Americas to the emerging and rich Asian continent, namely China and Japan, South Africa also has the ” largest race in the world “the” Sun City Million Dolar Race Pigeon “where the” amateur “(name by which the owners of the competing pigeons identify themselves) wins a prize of 1 million dollars, plus part of the value for which the winning pigeon will be auctioned.
Thanks to the explanation of Antonio, president of this club, we discover that there are practically pigeon clubs in all the districts which are then organized by region and then there is a national association.
Each “trainer” has about 100 pigeons or more. The selection of the best ones is always made to register them for competitions.
The Mem Martins club is quite old, it dates back to 1976, but Antonio explains that there are older ones. The one in Lisbon was among the first to start, but today it is not the strongest at the national level.
Each Club has more teams and Antonio leads us to meet his, called Avelinos, Barroso & Camolas where Camolas is Antonio, who in this team has Josè Avelino, Marco Barroso and João Avelino.
Through this team, we were able to observe more closely how the work of training and preparing the pigeons works. These are trained and cared for in dovecot and often fans of this sport are forced to give up because they don’t have enough space to place the dovecot. When, for example, you live in an apartment building, the other tenants do not always allow it, and even if you live in a house, sometimes the neighbors disagree. Not to mention the fact that often the evolution of the city and the need to build new houses has led to the destruction of dovecots.
In some cases the municipality has also tried to help by proposing the construction of real pigeon-loving villages.
Antonio explain to us that engaging in the breeding and training of pigeons is very complicated, as well as being extremely expensive because the necessary products, nutrition and medical care can be very expensive. And it is a passion that requires many hours of work.
First of all they explain to us that we need to have pigeons for breeding and pigeons for competitions (children). The eggs are fertilized for 18 days before the baby pigeons are born. Slowly newcomers have to get used to the environment and the street. It begins with small spontaneous flights in the dovecote, and then begins with the actual training.
The pigeon trainer has to come up with a real training plan. Pigeons need to train twice a day. When they are ready, we begin by getting them used to d get away, let them free and make them go home alone. It starts with 120 km and then increases the distance.
Daily accompaniment and a lot of care are required.
Nowadays the coach of any sport is not just a coach, he must be a leader, he must be a psychologist, he must be an athletic trainer, an analyst, he must be everything that revolves around the art of leading a team, and so on. And a “Colombophile” there is a breeder, a “nutritionist” – the food during the week is not always the same, these animals carry out tests ranging from 200-300 km (speed races), passing through 300-500 km ( medium distance) and from 500 to 800 km (depth), being that for the closest ones, the pigeon must be lighter than the more distant ones, where its energy reserves must be greater, a “veterinarian” – All pigeons for to be able to participate in the competitions must be vaccinated at the beginning of the season, after which it is essential to carry out treatments for the most common diseases, such as coccidiosis, trichomoniasis, salmonellosis and respiratory tract. It is important to always pay attention during the season, as a pigeon does not fly with only its wings, if its nasal passages and / or its lungs are blocked it costs it to run. He is also a physical trainer – expert in much of the physiology of the effort for the recovery of the athlete after the competition, the vitamins to be administered, the amino acids or even the electrolytes for recovery; all this is part of the competition and life of a pigeon lover.
Treating pigeons like competitive athletes is a long and very particular process that requires patience and work method.
In Portugal, pigeon races take place between February and June of each year and in the remaining months there are other pigeon races, namely derbies. The number of pigeons is estimated at 4.5 million.
The club arranges the delivery. Each pigeon has a ring at the paw. Before it was a rubber ring with a number that the coach recorded and when the pigeon returned, he wrote down the number and collected the ring. But this could lead to cheating. Today the system is much more complex. Each coach and each reference club has a machine that registers individual pigeons with the reference number of a tin ring on the paw which corresponds to a real identity card. The transport takes place in TIR trucks, equipped with the necessary care for the well-being of the birds, in terms of watering, internal temperature control and food, being authentic athletes of high competition.
Arriving at the starting point, the pigeons are released and begin the flight home. They reach a speed of 700/800 km per hour.
There are various theories, but there is still no concrete explanation for how they manage to orient themselves and leave, knowing that they arrive at the starting point in a completely closed truck. But the fact is that they find their way home. And once back, each coach directs the CIP of the document of each pigeon in the car and thus records the flight time and speed.
And if at the level of physical preparation of pigeons, the trainer must pay attention to the nutrition and health of the animals, in relation to the strategies to make them return faster, the speech is different, as the relationship between trainer and animal can be decisive. Since in these competitions it is not enough to leave the carrier pigeons in a certain place and make them return home. They need to get home as fast as possible.
There are several strategies.
For example, during the week the males are separated from the females and prepared for the test and when they return they automatically know that when they arrive in the attic the females are there waiting for them and vice versa. Or you can make some kind of milk and honey soup.
But as far as we understand everyone has his own secret and does not want to reveal it.
Are we about to leave our new friends when Carlos Barbosa arrives, who now has no more pigeons but continues to come to the club. He began to devote himself to pigeons for passion. Originally from Ponte de Lima, he raised pigeons as a child and created such a bond with them that, when the pigeons were sold in the market, if the buyer was not careful to keep them in the house in the following days, the pigeons would run away and come back to him. His father had once told him that the same pigeons had returned three times!
He leaves us with a truly amazing and funny story. He says he welcomed and trained a pigeon that no one wanted, because he refused to mate and spent his days close to male pigeons like him. Enrolled in a race, he managed to amaze everyone.
One day, he had left the house, calculating that the pigeons would start returning in a couple of hours. Soon after, a call from his wife warned him that a pigeon was already in the dovecote. Given that there was still a long time left, he had thought of a lost pigeon who had found refuge in his dovecote. Imagine his surprise when, back home, he discovered that that champion was not only his pigeon, but that pigeon that no one had wanted.
In short, we leave with the awareness of having discovered an almost unknown world, made up of ancient traditions, patience, a lot of work, affection, care and where there is no place for discrimination.
To tell the next story, pages and pages would not be enough, as there are so many things, experiences, facets of the person I am about to introduce. And even with so many words, I probably wouldn’t be able to fully convey the extraordinary energy she emanates.
This is Glow.
As we sit down to chat, because I love earrings, I see immediately the ones she wears, absolutely original. And Glow explains to me that she made them with a 3D printer and a special biodegradable resin made from corn and sugar cane. She has already won me over.
She tells me that when I get to know her story, I will also understand how the idea and this art form came about.
Glow was born in Brazil, in São Paulo. Her best childhood memory is her grandmother’s farm, near a river, surrounded by nature, with no contact with the modern world. A memory that probably greatly influenced her current sensitivity to the environment.
With about 6/8 years, she starts to live alone with her mother, as her father leaves Brazil to work in Portugal and other countries.
Her parents opened some businesses, stores that sell magazines, books, but also small food products. Unfortunately, their various commercial attempts always ended in failure.
But it is precisely through books and illustrations that Glow has her first contact with art that immediately impresses her.
Her childhood will be in Brazil, but around the age of eleven she reaches her father, who meanwhile has another family in Portugal and will live with him, his new wife and daughter in Ribatejo.
It will not be an easy coexistence.
Glow tells me something that impresses me a lot, and in the course of our interview, she repeats it often. What impresses me most, actually, is that she says it with a smile and serenity.
She tells me that her parents are “emotionally independent” people, whereas she was an “emotionally dependent” person. She has always sought her parents’ approval, the classic “slap on the back” at her choices, a “good” said at the right time, but that often didn’t come.
A period of self-discovery also begins for Glow. She starts to question her gender identity. And she also starts to express this moment of discovery through a new way of being and presenting herself. But she has to deal with a very conservative environment, especially in a small village, where her own father, as a foreigner, was discriminated against.
Glow’s reaction will be to stop expressing herself as she would like, to try to protect herself.
Around the age of 15/16, she faced a new challenge: she decided to enroll in digital marketing and advertising university. She begins to get to know the marketing and audiovisual environment and begins to experiment with new forms of expression through images and sounds that become a new instrument for Glow and a new way of talking about herself.
During this period she also began to write poetry. She also starts to frequent the circle of poets in Santarém and one of her poems will also be chosen to be included in a book.
It’s a way for Glow to express her feelings, those feelings she learns too early to hide. She defines herself as a lonely child. But she doesn’t say this with bitterness or anger towards her parents. On the contrary. She explains that in the beginning there was anger, but now there is an understanding of what it was, that she understood that each of us is done her way and that her parents are independent and couldn’t give Glow the approval she needed. Then, at some point, she stopped and understood that the support she needed had to be sought from within herself.
A big change happens when Glow is sixteen. On the way home to her father and wife, she strikes up a conversation with the two that leads to a discussion. At this point, Glow asks to stop the car and goes down, in the middle of the road. They lived 40 km from Santarém and the way home was still quite long. Her father thought he would find her at home, but Glow will never go home. She is going to take refuge with a friend where she will live for a while.
It is during this period that Glow begins to question herself about her “Modus Operandi”, especially questions about how she really wanted to be seen by others, what was the image of herself that she really wanted to give.
At the end of high school, another change, this time dictated by the heart. In love with a boy, she follows him to Peniche where she works in a workshop. “I would never do that again,” she tells me. And she doesn’t talk about working in a garage, because work doesn’t scare her, but about moving to another city to follow someone, because choices always have to be made for oneself and not for others.
At this point, Glow realizes she needs a different environment, a bigger city in which she feels free to express herself. And that’s when she arrives in Lisbon, about seven years ago. And it’s here in Lisbon that she starts with many experiences, some of which are quite decisive for her future choices.
In the beginning, it’s working in a nightclub bar where Drag Queens shows take place. A discovery. Glow begins to be fascinated by this world and decides it might be just the way she needs to express herself. She decides to start doing little street shows. A real change for Glow which at the time still wore men’s clothing. But for these performances, she wears the role of a drag queen, a stage dress, a wig. And every day dressed like this, she walks between her house and the area where she performs her show.
And that path Glow remembers well, but most of all, she tells me, she remembers the humiliation she felt as she walked it, every day.
This phase of her life, Glow sees it as a moment of reflection. The work was extremely tiring, from 10 pm to 7 / 8 am to earn €25, per night and not per hour. But Glow tells me this gave her a new perspective on life. It also allowed her to have a first contact with the LGBT community (acronym for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender, ed.).
Then it will be the turn of a job in a gay bar for a strictly male audience, where every night there was a “special theme” to follow. Glow makes a point of explaining to me how it worked because first impressions can be negative. And she confesses to me that she herself had a lot of prejudices about it. Once again she works at the bar. But every night she witnesses the routine of this place that impresses her a little at first, but then makes her think. Looking at the incoming audience, she understands how many people there are who need a “secret” place to express themselves freely, without being judged.
Glow starts to question herself about her personality, starts asking herself a lot of questions, she learns to be proud of her body and realizes that she doesn’t know anymore how much of Drag Queen Glow really is and how much she is just a character. Therefore, Glow leaves the role of Drag to think about it.
She leave for Spain, where she works at the reception of a hotel opened in an old convent.
In the meantime, she also starts recording podcasts about everyday issues that are often taboo.
And especially in this period she meets her father again.
For Glow, it is an important turning point. She explains to me that for all these years it was as if she couldn’t go on, precisely because that part of her life and her relationship with her father had been suspended. Seeing him, talking to him, for Glow was a way to close a cycle. She is no longer angry, she accepted them. Her parents simply cannot show their affection for her the way she would like. Glow remembers, for example, when, chosen from the cycle of poets in Santarém, her father did not come into the room to support her, but she knew he was happy for her. She sometimes talks with her mother by phone, but she hasn’t seen her in the last thirteen years. They want tat she is okay, and she knows it.
Glow is at the height of her artistic expression: she shoots videos on Instagram, she starts to take on a feminine style. With the arrival of the pandemic, she begins to feel more isolated. Until discovering a space in Lisbon for Voguing meetings. (In the 1920s in New York, the LGBT community found refuge in the so-called Ballrooms. Far beyond a simple party, it was and still is a welcoming space, a safe place where these people who daily lived on the margins of society could, at less for one night, feeling good about themself. The Voguing has its origins in the New York Ballrooms of the 1920s, having been created by the queer Latino and black communities of Harlem. They used the movement used by the models in the pages of Vogue, and also influenced by ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs and gymnastic movements, ed.) And in these Lisbon environments, Glow also begins to discover dance, a new artistic expression.
And here is the Glow that we see now, a great woman, the result of all these experiences.
Today, she is also very dedicated to environmental issues and it is from this new dispute that the Glow Oficina is born, in which she is dedicated to creating sustainable art.
For Glow, art should be “waste free”, a totally sustainable art. She says that to reduce the impact on the planet we must be the first to change. And Glow tries to do it through its creations, with donated or used clothes, through new eating habits. But Glow’s art has many facets.
In her last house in Alfama, Glow starts with posters on various topics hanging on her porch. Her idea is to make her house a living art gallery. And she shows me the work inspired by the work of Linn da Quebrada (Brazilian artist) and her first performance dedicated to the myth of Lillith (the first woman, before Eve, born like Adam and not raised by his rib, ed). Through a traveling exhibition in her home, including paintings, videos and images and sounds, Glow tells that story.
But something is still missing. Glow buys a 3D printer and starts making objects with recyclable materials. And she goes back to writing poetry. Today, she tells me, she understood that none of her forms of expression, to keep herself free, can be a source of salary.
Now she sold everything, bought a camera to film her life, and sent in an application to volunteer in Italy. At the moment when you are reading her story, Glow is in Catania, where she is dedicated to social support for the people in difficult situations.
She has many projects, but she’s going to think about it day by day, maybe a performance that encompasses all her arts.
Before leaving, she tells me that it’s no use waiting for others to change, we’re the ones who change and it’s this change that counts. Only by our actions, we impact the society, much more than building a character on social media.
Today Glow tries to live in a lighter way, not expecting too much, not asking too much of herself, remaining proactive and continuing to tell her truth.
In the Alfama district, in the “costa do Castelo” or further down, almost hidden in the small passage going down the stairs from largo das portas do sol, you are captivated by Ruca’s voice and his fado.
Originally from Leiria, Ruca Fernandes discovers fado around the age of 20 by pure chance. During a wedding banquet, he attends a fado show, and it is immediately love.
From that moment he begins to listen to his father’s fado records, to learn the words and start singing. The first few times he does it in public will be in Karaoke evenings, when he discovers that fado is also available among the music for karaoke and he begins to sing.
Fifteen years ago he discovers fado vadio (“vagabond” fado, the one traditionally sung in taverns), and decides to try. He learns a fado, “A moda das tranças pretas” and shows up one evening in the Tasca dos chicos and asks to sing. A few minutes to agree on the tonality with the guitarists and his voice expands throughout the club.
Ruca begins to sing fado more frequently and begins to have contacts with other fadistas and this is how in 2007 he performs in the “Grande noite de Lisboa”, a special show dedicated to Fado. He also participates in two singing competitions, “Concurso de fado de Odemira” and “Costa da Caparica” and wins them both.
Ruca also begins to participate in guided tours dedicated to fado, where the emotion of his voice joins the story of the guides.
I remember the first time I heard him sing: it was in a fado restaurant, where Ruca sang accompanying himself on the guitar as he still does today. I remember the emotion of that voice, and how his skill struck the tourists I accompanied that evening. When I met him again and got to know him better, I discovered that behind his being an artist there is an extremely shy person.
And then I ask him how he does it, how he manages to dominate his shyness and sing in front of so many people. And Ruca confesses to me that Fado is almost a therapy.
The moment he takes his guitar and begins to sing, he enters another dimension, transports himself to a different plane, where there is no shyness, where there are no people watching him, where there is only him and his music. And it is no coincidence, he explains to me, that the types of fado he most loves to sing are the most melancholy and sad. After all, in that way he manages to express what he feels, channeling his soul into that music. Because singing fado means exposing yourself to the emotion, your own and those who listen to you, without filters. After all, in fado, even before the technique, the soul is important, and the ability to convey one’s emotion.
When I explain fado to someone who has never listened to it, I always say that understanding the words is not important, and neither is the fact that the singer has perfect vocal technique. What really matters is that whoever is singing is able to do it without barriers, without filters, so that those who listen to him can feel his soul.
Ruca agrees that fado is a universal music, which everyone can understand without grasping the words and their meaning, because it is pure emotion.
And personally I know this feeling well because I myself have been moved many times, often to tears, listening to fado, even at first without speaking Portuguese. And with Ruca it happened to me more than once. Because when he sings, he feels that he does it with his heart. For him, music is everything.
When I ask him what you feel when he manages to move people like this, he tells me that he feels he has done a good job, because it means that his music has reached the hearts of people, to their most intimate part.
As we speak, he occasionally interrupts himself, grabs his guitar and begins to sing. As if his soul was “possessed” by fado and he couldn’t stop to sing it. Our conversation is pleasantly interrupted several times by these moments, in which, in order to explain himself better, Ruca has to do it through music.
And then he starts playing, closes his eyes, and his voice begins to echo in the streets of Alfama, singing a fado, “Com que voz”, poem by the great poet Luis Vaz de Camões, sung by the famous Amalia Rodrigues.
And people stop, one person after another, fascinated by that music and above all by Ruca’s voice.
It’s been a few days since Ruca started singing on the street. There is less work in fado restaurants during this period. But Ruca does it above all to be in contact with people, basically fado is also that, to transmit emotion by singing among the people, in an absolutely intimate atmosphere.
Ruca confesses to me that his greatest dream would be to be invited to sing fado abroad, to be an ambassador of this music. And we wish him that. After all, many things have changed since his beginnings: now we can often hear his voice on Radio Amalia (radio dedicated to fado, n.d.r.) and has already released two CDs, in 2008 and 2018.
But there are always new challenges awaiting him. Ruca tells me that every day for him is a personal challenge, with himself, to improve himself, to be able to reach more and more technique, sing increasingly complicated fado, transmit more and more emotion.
Ruca tells me that at the beginning of him he had gone to a fado house to ask for information on where to study him and the porter of that house had asked him what he could help him with. Ruca had told him that he was looking for a school to learn fado. And then that gentleman had told him that “fado cannot be learned, you have to be born fadista”.
Certainly, as Ruca says, you need to know how to perfect and take care of your technique too, but I agree with that gentleman “You have to born Fadista”.
There is an emotion in singing fado that you either have or don’t have. And you can’t learn that. And Ruca has it.
Just look at the atmosphere that has created around us in the meantime. The sun has set, it is becoming night in the streets of Alfama.
In the small passage between two streets where we stopped to talk to Ruca, a dim light comes on. Ruca is singing “Gente da minha terra”, one of my favorite fado. On the stairs leading down to Alfama people begin to stop. A small crowd has formed, but all is silent. Nobody dares to interrupt the magic that Ruca has managed to create. As if at that moment everyone was holding their breath, struck by that emotion that Ruca’s voice transmits. He continues to sing, with his eyes closed. He doesn’t know how many people stopped, he doesn’t see them. At that moment there is no room for anything or anyone: there is only him and his voice, his music, his fado.
It is a rainy day in Lisbon today, a bit gray like usually in autumn. But our day, mine and Alex’s, will be brightened by a happy meeting.
Christian, Alex’s old friend, comes to meet us with his lively dog Chopin. And yes, Chopin, like the famous composer. Of course, a music lover like him could not have chosen a better name.
Christian, Christian Lújan, is in fact a baritone with a beautiful voice. But he is also a multi-faceted artist. Ready to discover more together?
Christian, Colombian by origin, arrives in Lisbon by accident.
It happened 15 years ago, when at the age of 21 he follows his mother, who, after the divorce, decides to come to Lisbon. Their arrival will not be the easiest because, as Christian tells us, they arrive without a visa and will spend 6 days at the airport in Lisbon waiting to know if they can enter the country or not.
Four months later Christian enters the National Conservatory where he begins to study opera singing. He also begins to attend the Faculty of Musicology in the FSCH, but without completing the course.
Music was now his way and Christian will never stop following it.
“But how did it start?”, I ask him. Again by accident.
Christian is originally from Medellín, central Colombia, not exactly a country where the culture of opera can be considered particularly rooted. He grows up with two different educations: his mother is an Adventist (Seventh-day Adventist Christian church, ed), but Christian attends the Salesian school in his city, is a vegetarian at home, eats meat at school, at home Saturday is respected as a day of rest, but at the same time begins to be part of the Salesian choir.
In the meantime, he begins also to play. It was customary to introduce children to music with small courses and Christian discovers the double bass which will be his first instrument.
And so begins his connection with music: between his double bass and the psalms sung with the choir during Mass. Until one day someone hears him sing. Antonio, professor at the faculty of medicine, but passionate about music and choir director. He hears something different, special in Christian’s voice and suggests that he start healing this gift from him. And so he begins studying at the Medellín Institute of Fine Arts and opens up to the world of opera.
When his mother decides to leave for Lisbon, for Christian it is an opportunity to arrive in Europe, in the continent where the opera and the culture of opera singing have been rooted for centuries.
And that’s how it started, and it was in Lisbon and its conservatory that he dedicated himself to this new world.
Christian still remembers his first work and his first role, that of Pinnellino, the cobbler of Giacomo Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi, at the San Carlo in Lisbon. He was 23 years old. I ask him how excited he was. Christian replies: “Excited? No. Terrified ”. This is his memory of the first two performances. But deep down, he tells me, it’s always like that. The first performances are those of tremor, anxiety, then you enter the scene, one evening after another, and little by little you begin to enjoy the show and the excitement of music and opera.
Lisbon will not be his only destination. He will move to Belgium for three and a half years where he will perfect himself at the Flanders Opera Studio.
And it is in Belgium that the great turning point in his life will come. He will return to meet a colleague, Mariana, from Lisbon, an opera singer too, whose path he had already crossed but without the spark being struck. Two different characters at the time, she lively, he in a phase that he defines as “bohemian”, had not met. But fate gave him a new chance, in Belgium, where they ended up sharing an apartment and fell in love. Their love story has lasted for ten years now and a few months ago was crowned by the birth of the very tender Camila.
Christian has played so many roles, but when I ask him which are the ones he most identified with or loved the most, he has no doubts: Scarpia (the “villain” of Tosca) or Marcello (the painter of La Bohème), and the tragic roles of the romantic opera, especially that of Giacomo Puccini.
Today Christian lives on music, but he didn’t forget the times when he devoted himself to many different jobs and in the meantime, he moved from one audition to another. Certainly a tiring situation at first, but that never made Christian give up. Today he has been able to make his name and his special voice known in the world of opera and finally can live off what he has always dreamed of.
But Christian’s range of artistic nuances doesn’t stop with music and opera singing, and while he tells us he started studying to learn Chinese massage techniques, he also talks about a photography project. He says that he is not a professional, but his photos really leave you speechless. (Search Instagram @quotidianoss, and judge for yourself).
The project is extremely interesting: spending a morning with a stranger and photographing him in his everyday life, natural, naked. These are not models but ordinary people.
Christian has always been passionate about photography, even as a boy, and tells of when at the age of 15 his camera was stolen with the film still inside and some photographs including two first photos of nudes. Since then this project has been suspended until today.
Christian tells us that he had to fight against a series of preconceptions and that he needed time to confess, even to his own family, that the nude was the subject he chose for his photographs. A project that has now been going on for about 5 years and that gives us images of a natural everyday life, without filters, without constructions.
A world to be discovered, in short, that of Christian.
In the meantime, the rain has given us a moment of respite and Chopin doesn’t stop jumping on Christian’s legs: it’s time for a walk.
So we accompany them and take the opportunity to chat more about life, the many changes experienced, the projects of the future and, above all, about the new wonderful adventure of his recent paternity.
Here we are, it’s time to let them go, but first I still have a curiosity: “And the double bass?”
He hung on the wall of a farm in Colombia. Maybe one day Christian will go to retrieve him, maybe he will stay there as a sign of where it all began.
Before saying goodbye, Christian tells us that in his future there are still journeys, still places to discover and in which to test oneself. After all, art is a continuous evolution. But in the meantime we can still enjoy his voice in the Lisbon theaters, an experience not to be missed, that of letting ourselves be carried away by the magical atmosphere of the opera and the melodious voice of our Christian.
When I arrived in Lisbon, one of the first places I visited was a historic shop right in Rossio square. This is the Madeira Shop.
I remember that when I entered in this shop there was an elderly couple who welcomed me with extreme kindness. They were the owners of this place which, for generations, has been in the hands of the Abreu family.
And so, to tell you our next story, we decided to go right there.
On one side of the Rossio square, to the right of Pedro IV, which dominates the square from the top of a column, among modern shops and international brands, stands the Madeira shop, opened in 1959.
And to welcome us this time is Ana, daughter of that couple who welcomed me years ago during my first visit.
Ana begins to talk to us about how this place was born, but above all about her family because, we will soon discover, the two stories are closely linked.
Ana begins to tell and we discover that it all begins with her grandfather, Antonio Abreu, a native of Madeira island who moves to the “continent” with five of his seven children (other two are born in Estoril) Ana tells us she never met her grandfather, because she was born when her parents were already 41 and 39 years old, and her grandfather had already disappeared at the time. But the memory of those times and how it all began, Ana received as an inheritance from her parents and today she helps us to reconstruct their history.
When her family moves to the “continent”, she arrives in Estoril. Probably to stay close to the sea. After all, you know, when you grow up on an island, surrounded by the sea, it is impossible to stay too far from it.
The great change came in 1916 with a person who was responsible for an important change in Portuguese tourism: Fausto Figuereido, who, in addition to launching the construction of the casino of Estoril, also gave rise to the railway line that, over time, will connect Estoril to Lisbon. The consequence of this important change will be an important tourist increase that will bring new international customers to the shop opened in this coastal area.
The Abreu family begins to open more shops, in Estoril, Lisbon, in Sintra and finally two more in Lisbon.
It is the latter that will be managed by Ana’s parents. A commercial activity but above all a family inheritance. Starting with her grandfather, then Ana’s father and now with her and her husband João.
Ana tells us that their business has had to go through various crises, starting with the one that followed the carnation revolution of 1974 which ended the dictatorship, passing through the stock market crisis in the United States, the economic crisis of 2008 and, finally, the pandemic of the last period. There are so many trials and moments of crisis to overcome, but each time they have managed to move forward, above all out of pride, in order not to lose this tradition that is so important to their family.
Ana clearly tells us that the main reason they continue with the tradition of their shop is not the financial gain, but above all the desire to not interrupt a family tradition that has lasted for many years.
There are several products that we can find in the shop and from different regions of Portugal, but above all an excellent product which is what also gives the shop its name: Madeira embroidery.
The origin of Madeira’s embroidery (Bordado) dates back to antiquity and the need to decorate spaces. The art of embroidery was for a long time an activity to which women of the wealthier classes as well as religious were destined and the great impulse came in the 1950s.
Even this tradition do crafts participated in the Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of all Nations in London in 1851, enjoying enormous success.
It is an embroidery on linen, which, due to its delicacy and tradition, was always a luxury product that was found in aristocratic homes. And today it is considered the best embroidery in the world.
Ana’s family always dedicated themselves to the “bordados da Madeira”, first selling it in their shop and then in the production in Madeira. Today no more, since following the production at a distance was becoming complicated.
Today these are still expensive products and objects of great value, which have mainly tourists as buyers, who have always been part of their regular customers, since the time of the first Estoril shop. But Ana says that many Portuguese families also buy embroidered linen to enrich the family kit or, for example, a tablecloth to use for special occasions. These are objects that are then handed down from mother to daughter and which often remain in the family for several generations, ending up becoming custodians of memories and memories, special moments to remember, family celebrations not to be forgotten.
And in an era where there is so much talk of sustainability, the artisanal products of this quality are certainly an important support.
And the memory handed down through the objects purchased means that Ana and her family somehow end up being part of this memory too.
Ana shows us a notebook where regular customers, foreigners and Portuguese, customers who have returned several times to the store, leave a memory, a story, a thank you for something that, purchased in the Madeira Shop, has then become part of the family history . Ana tells us that she has received calls and messages during this pandemic period from customers who are worried about her and her parents, sincere expressions of affection.
Ana started working with her family in 2003, but since 2008 she has been actively involved in the family shop and with her with the active help of her husband João.
Ana’s parents, Joaquim e Maria Antonia, are now 86 and 84, but it was not because of the age that they left the work, but because of the pandemic. Anyway Ana tells us that from time to time they can’t resist and go back to the shop, and when they can’t, they demand a full report of everything that happened during the work day from Ana at the end of the day.
Until 2019, their presence in the shop was never lacking, while Ana and João supported him in the shop and, at the same time, took care of traveling around the country in search of unique handicrafts.
A glance at the shop immediately makes us understand that it is not a common shop or even ordinary objects. Ana knows the history of each object, listening to her is like a journey through the history of Portuguese traditions, she knows how to show us each different school or artist behind each single object. Because she chose them one by one, she met the artisans, she saw them work.
And the more fragile objects, Ana and João carried them personally.
Because this work is also a way to preserve and pass on the family tradition and the love that her parents have always had for this work.
Ana guides us among the ceramic objects of Coimbra inspired by works of the fifteenth and eighteenth centuries, the classic hand-painted Rooster of Barcelos, a symbol of faith and justice and lucky charm, and today also one of the symbols of the country, the “Figurados” represented by more modern and refined artists and other older ones who still hand down an ancient art of sacred representations and daily life in the field. The romantic tradition of lovers’ handkerchiefs is inevitable, which in ancient times women embroidered by hand for the beloved man and that the man had to use on Sunday at Mass to show that he reciprocated the feelings of the woman in question.
And there is no shortage of traditional azulejos, painted furniture from the Alentejo, and many other objects, extraordinary works of craftsmanship.
The embroideries of Madeira are joined by those of Viana do Castelo, equally beautiful but less expensive, to allow to reach other customers as well.
And there are also traditional clothes from Madeira and Viana, which are often bought by tourists but also by Portuguese emigrants to bring a piece of their country with them. For children they are also bought as carnival dresses, while northern families still use them in traditional festivals, such as the one dedicated to Our Lady of Sorrows (August 20, editor’s note) or for some special events.
In short, a place where on each shelf, there is a new world to discover.
Ana’s shop, recognized by the city of Lisbon as a “loja com historia”, an historical shop, is actually not very protected by the city itself.
Times change, the city of Lisbon evolves, modernizes itself, and over the years international brands have increasingly replaced the old small local shops.
But basically it is these shops that contribute to making Lisbon a special city different from the others.
Together with the increase in tourism which, Ana tells us, is obviously welcome, it would be desirable to be able to protect in some way these ancient shops in the city to ensure that they do not disappear.
After all, it is no longer just a commercial place, but a space that day by day tries to preserve the memory of a past that at times it is difficult to recognize, the memory of a place and, in this case, of a really special family.
In the Anjos area in Lisbon, going up the rua Triangulo Vermelho you come across an art gallery, or rather, an art platform, which is dedicated to the promotion of visual artists, but which, above all, has as its mission being a place of meeting and cultural and artistic exchange, of course.
We are welcomed by the two creators of this place and this project, as well as the soul of this place: Vital Lordelo Neto and Julia da Costa.
As soon as you enter, the love for art is tangible, not only for the works of different artists on the walls or in the catalogs, but above all for the atmosphere that Vital and Julia have been able to create, conveying their great passion for art and their life as artists, in this project, born concretely in 2019: Joia, “orivesaria dos sentimentos” (jewelry of sentiments)
The name derives from their first space, in the Baixa of Lisbon, which they had installed in an ancient jewelry shop and hence the idea of the name Joia (joy). But as the title of their project says, the jewels that are sold here are very special: they are the emotions that the artist transmits through their works.
But let’s get to know Vital and Julia more closely.
Vital is Brazilian, from Brasilia. He was about 20 years old, when he moves to the south of the country, to Portalegre, a place of great colonization and many cultural influences, that his career as an artist begins. He also studied for a while advertising and journalism, and he arrives in Lisbon in 2016 already with an important artist background. When he arrived in Lisbon, Vital was working on a really interesting project on feelings and emotions, conveyed through the art of illustration, on posters. The support is not accidental: the desire to use a support that is normally exhibited on the street shows his desire to communicate with people and bring art within everyone’s reach. And talking about emotions and feelings is because it is increasingly difficult to be able to express what you feel and even less to communicate it to others. Vital tells us that the pandemic has certainly made all this even more complicated and that the need to communicate with others is very relevant and the road is certainly the best stage to leave this message.
When Vital arrived in Lisbon he had already made 18 posters of the 30 which today counts the project that has been going on for nine years. And that he still has a lot to tell.
In 2019 his experience as an artist and his contact with the city of Lisbon, which Vital defines as an excellent place for meeting and exchange between cultures, led him to the idea of creating Joia. Knowing the difficulties of an artist who arrives in a new place or who decides to undertake his artistic path, the idea is to create an environment that detaches itself from a usual art gallery and that rather wants to be a concrete reference, on the territory, in which to exhibit, but also in which to be oriented.
In 2020 Julia also arrives in Joia. French from Vichy, she arrives in Portugal to learn the language in 2016. Her journey has led her on two parallel tracks, art and psychology, which today merge in her works. Julia, arrived in Lisbon, dedicates herself to a project of drawing, sketches of the city, which between the pages of a notebook comes to life in a union of words and images that gives rise to a work with which she participates in the important artistic event “Rendez-vous du carnet de voyage”. She will restart with another work the following year after an experience in New York.
But her psychology studies make themselves felt and Julia begins to create works centered on the analysis of emotions.
And it is in 2019 that the way of Julia and Vital cross. As artists first, then as life companions.
Joia’s project has grown a lot in recent years: 50 artists and 8 different countries are represented here. But the great innovation of this project is its basic idea that differentiates it from a normal art gallery. Joia is a space to grow, as Vital himself tells me.
When the project started there was no idea of transporting it on a virtual level, but also due to the pandemic the things have changed and, with the help of Julia, today Joia is a physical place, but also a virtual space, in addition to also counting with a tattoo studio, an illustration agency and an online magazine, Frestas (cracks) born during the pandemic, to ensure that from those cracks through which we had to wade into the world for months, today we can look at the art and the works of the artists here represented.
The artists in Joia’s project are all local artists, of different origins but all linked to the Lusitanian city in which they live. Joia takes care of exhibiting their works but above all she takes care of them: to guide them, to advise them.
But Joia’s message is a message that goes even further. Art first of all, as a choice of life, as a message for everyone.
What today is also a job for Vital and Julia, in reality ends up being a real mission. Their priority is art and living on art. And whoever joins this project as an artist must feel the same. There is no space for those who see art only as a pastime or as a means of making money. First of all, art must be at the center of an artist’s life, it is the artist himself who must believe that one can live in art and that one must devote oneself to art. Only those who share this thought and this way of life, they can fully appreciate this project and become part of it.
Vital and Julia live it as a real mission and dedicate themselves to this body and soul. And not only to the platform they have created and to the guidance of the artists who are part of it, but also to the dissemination of art itself.
The idea of creating this physical space is also to allow everyone to take advantage of the art they offer. Those who enter this space can enter to buy, of course, and it is always a good investment because as Vital and Julia tell us “a work of art on our walls is like a new window” that allows us to look at a different world . But others come in just to look, and that’s okay, because they will have enjoyed art anyway, even if for a moment.
Spreading art, reaching as many people as possible, because for Vital and Julia art is not the benefit of a few, but an emotion within everyone’s reach.
The choice of the type of art on display also goes with this reason: for a long time illustration was considered a minor art, and this project is committed to giving it the importance it deserves. Different types of art exhibited, different types of “supports”: from posters to postcards. Because in this way everyone can find a work that matches their tastes and also their possibilities. Julia and Vital are committed to ensuring that art is not considered an elite product, but so that all those who wish to have their work of art at home.
Even the choice of frames participates in this idea: simple, almost essential. Because the frame is not the important part. As Vital says “the support is simple, the art is noble”.
The message that Joia launches is precisely that of giving art its due importance and also making it understood that art is a job, not a fantasy or a pastime. Whoever makes art his life invests work, emotions, thoughts, time and often an artist is not considered on a par with many other works. Many times the artist himself ends up not considering himself on a par with other professions. And Vital and Julia with their project try to do it too: help to gain awareness of their work and make the world understand what lies behind an object of art.
And Vital and Julia also attach great importance to the documentation behind it, so that an artist is considered and recognized.
A full-time job that goes well beyond the opening hours of the art gallery / platform.
But Vital and Julia are not only dedicated to curating the work of others, and they continue their personal journey as artists at the same time. Vital with a project called “Vitalis”, in which he works on a heart created with various modules that can be altered in colors and positions, on which he then adds designs. The details. For a work that is new and original every time. Julia, on the other side, dedicates herself to a project that sees her two paths joined, art and psychology, and after a first comic dedicated to alcohol addiction, today she highlights the dignity of mental illness.
What to say: you will be fascinated by this place, by this project, by Julia and Vital who have made their passion a job and their work a mission.
Probably before we begin to give the right importance to art and artists for their work, we should continue to wait, but certainly Joia is a place where those who want to experience art find a reference, a place of growth, of inspiration. And for those who are only passionate about art, they will rarely find a better place to breathe deeply the sacred fire of this passion.
Joia, the jewelry of emotions: and emotions will not be lacking if you accept to let yourself be accompanied by Julia and Vital in this colorful whirlwind made of drawings, colors, words and a lot of heart.
In a society where we talk more and more about organic agriculture, respect for our planet, sustainability, today we want to talk to you about a project that has made these issues a real mission. This is the project of André Maciel.
Originally from Setubal, André has always shown a great sensitivity towards nature. After studying “Design do equipamento” (Design of equipment) in Setubal, he begins to devote himself to the realization of projects with recycled materials.
In this project and passion, his family will always be present, in particular his brother and his best friend who will support him in this adventure right away.
And this is how his first Purisimpl project was born in 2013.
André firmly believes that it is possible to be self-sustainable, create a small ecosystem and produce our own food.
Behind the idea of this project there is a very strong personal story, the name itself hides it. Purisimpl: puri from purifição, which not only means purification, but which was also the name of André’s mother who died prematurely following a tumor when André was only 13 years old. He recalls that in the last period there had been an improvement precisely following the fact that his mother had begun to follow an organic and healthy diet. For André it had been a signal; he begins to think about how this and other diseases are closely related to nutrition.
Organic products existe from a long time but are often too expensive for most of the population. So André’s idea is “Why not make sure that we produce the foods we need ourselves?”
It is precisely to follow his passion that in 2015 André leaves for Coimbra where he studies Organic Agriculture and, after a period of pause in which he dedicates himself to other things, he dedicated himself again to his project.
The basic idea is to be able to create organic food for everyone and within everyone’s reach, counting on everyone’s participation in the production of our food, using the energy of the earth, creating a real small ecosystem within the city. What is called Permaculture.
Today there is a lot of talk about saving our planet, respecting it and looking for ways to take care of it. André began very young to pursue this idea, at first even taken little seriously by those who considered him a young boy who was running after a utopia.
Although today this is his job, for André it was and is a real mission to “educate” people to a completely different kind of life and relationship with the planet.
André defines himself as an activist in some way, and his project is a real movement in which he firmly believes.
For this to work, for this new way of life to reach as many people as possible, it is first of all necessary that everything be simple (hence the second part of the name Purisimpl) almost a return to initial simplicity. We have to go back to understanding simple things, put our hands in the ground, go back to feeling this bond with the land itself.
Three pillars are those on which this project is based: Believe in it, Act, Evolve.
And the life of André and the growth of his project is based precisely on this. Believe it fully, even when no one believed it, even when the idea of him seemed like a utopia, a vague illusion; act by concretely putting into practice what he believes in and showing others, through his concrete example of him, that all this is possible; Evolve, continue to grow on this path.
André’s life met Lisbon in 2017 and three years later, in 2020, a new project is born, a new seed from the mother plant that continues to be the Purisimpl.
André dedicates himself to the urban gardens of Lisbon with the idea of encouraging and motivating people to create their own garden at home.
And this is how the Hortas LX project was born. André has also created a Facebook and Instagram page with the aim of giving some advice to people who are starting to approach this new reality.
A great boost to this project is given precisely by the period of crisis in which we live. This era of pandemic has awakened in many people the desire to take back our planet, to do something concrete, and also to learn how to produce on their own what is most needed.
The motto of the Hortas LX project is “taking care of what will take care of us”, which is our nutrition.
But what is most striking about this project is the fact that around the creation of the garden a real small company is created, where not necessarily everyone must be able to plant their own garden, because maybe there will be someone who will plant it for him. What really matters is that everyone works together for a common project. An idea of mutual aid to give rise to a better society.
Today Hortas LX is an important project, with consultation services, workshops.
There is also a school, which relies on the realization of its lessons, in the sports club of Campolide, and which was created by Fundoambiente, the “Escola a compostar” (composting school) which now has 500 registrations and offers live and online courses.
There are planted also vegetable gardens within companies and André is in charge of creating and managing the teams that will take care of these spaces. It starts by planting the garden in a common area of the company and then, a monthly meeting to deepen each time a different theme and at the same time help in the management of the space, which, in an environment where we often have a cold routine, becomes a small oasis to take care of, where we work together, where we collaborate in the realization of a common project, an alternative way to create that group work, the team, which is so important in companies.
André welcomes us to the “Underground Village” where his office is today, in a co-working environment. A place, but also a challenge: in a space made of stone and ancient buses, today the containers where the offices are located, the challenge is to transform it into a green environment, through its gardens.
André is also a grower of Noocity, creators of the intelligent pots that surround the buses where André built some gardens where everything produced is used in the kitchen of the village restaurant.
And the gardens we see in the village are truly extraordinary: aromatic plants, edible flowers, vegetables and fruit of various types. A truly incredible world. And in front of two Italians like me and Alex, André can’t resist and prepares us the most fragrant bouquet that can exist: that of basil.
Today André’s greatest satisfaction is that of having convinced those who accused him of being a dreamer, of having shown that what he was fighting for could become reality, and that it has become a concrete reality. And even more so to see many of those people today interested in what André does with his projects.
After all, this project is the image of André, who worked by giving him an example, showing that it was possible to do what he was talking about. And today there is a bit of him in all the projects he has created.
There are city gardens in Porto, Setubal, as well as in Lisbon. New gardens have been planted in schools, businesses and even people’s homes.
But what continues to give André the most joy and satisfaction is when he finds himself with his plants, with his hands in the ground and in contact with nature.
What André tries to do through his various projects and his work is above all to pass the message, a concrete message that says that we can really take care of our planet and our future, but we can do it concretely, through a return to simplicity, to earth, to our hands in the ground. To really take care, as André says, of what will take care of us.
In Lisbon, in the square that everyone knows as Rossio, in the heart of the city, there is a tavern, which keeps the memory of a time when this square was full of cafes and taverns, one of the favorite meeting points of the Portugueses.
It’s the Tendinha, which since 1840 continues to represent one of the landmarks of Lisbon and beyond, for those who want to take a break and eat something while drinking a cold beer or a glass of wine.
And when we say Tendinha, we say Alfredo.
His image and Tendinha’s are closely linked.
Alfredo, alfacinha doc (a nice way of saying authentic Lisbon), has been working in this place for over twenty years. He saw time pass, places and tastes change, many customers, each with their own history, and he is present in this place, which he perfectly knows, since 1998.
I am sure that anyone who has been to Lisbon has been to Tendinha at least once. And you will certainly remember Alfredo.
Many hours of his day are dedicated to work and no doubt this can be tiring, even if Alfredo always finds a way to give space to his interests, such as visiting new places, as well as photography and dancing, a passion discovered 20 years ago. His personality is certainly versatile, and a friendliness that make him a real point of reference in this place. Alfredo says that a writer also mentioned the Tendinha in one of his books and, obviously, he didn’t forget to mention it too.
And if you want to know the history of Tendinha, there is no better person.
Alfredo tells us that Tendinha had only three owners in its long history: the first family was from Viseu and remained the owner of the place until 1974, passing this place from father to son, then the last heir, who dedicated himself to other things, decided to sell the tavern. And 12 years ago the current owner bought it and became the third official owner.
But ten Tendinha, despite the passing of the years, hasn’t changed much. The only major change occurred in 1974 and then it remained almost completely the same.
In its original appearance, it had an upper floor where the ginjinha (traditional cherry liqueur) was produced, which was later sold on the lower floor where the tavern existed and still exists.
The Tendinha was never a tavern where people came just to drink, but it also always sold sandwiches and snacks (traditional croquettes based on cod or meat or shrimp, etc.).
When Tendinha was founded it was in 1840, although recently a newspaper article reports its inauguration as early as 1818. Lisbon was very different from what it seems today, the city limits were not far from Rossio and, where today stands the elegant Avenida of Liberdade, were gardens.
People did not eat at home, among other things in many houses there was no kitchen, as charcoal in wooden houses would have been the immediate cause of the fire. For a long time eating in taverns or in the so-called “casa de pasto” (old taverns) was a common habit and this also explains the low cost, in the old taverns, even today. Eating out wasn’t a luxury, it was a necessity. And in the past, says Alfredo, people came here to heat or cook food and in exchange they bought wine.
Over time, people’s tastes have also changed and certain “recipes” no longer exist. Alfredo tells us, for example, that until a few years ago, sandwiches with cod croquettes and quince paste were bought at Tendinha, or ham with meat or cod croquettes were combined in the same sandwich. Today the offer is more modern and better suited to current tastes.
But the menu was not Tendinha’s only big change. Ten years ago, in a tavern managed by a man and frequented by men, a woman arrived: Margarida.
It seems strange to us to think that only ten years ago a woman could have had difficulty in being welcomed, but the Tendinha has always been a place out of time and has always been a very conservative place, where regular customers went for a drink and, drinking a bier or a glass of wine, they talked to Alfredo, man to man.
When Margarida started working at the tavern, she tells us, sometimes they told her that they were waiting for Alfredo to be available, to ask him directly.
Margarida had to face many difficulties to integrate in this environment, but she doesn’t lack character and that’s why today there is no Tendinha without Alfredo, but neither without Margarida.
It takes her a while to start, but when she start to tell, she opens up a truly irresistible memory box. And here we find that many clients, witnessing the irresistible fights between the both, often think they are married and Margarida confesses to us that when she started working there, to defend herself against unwanted suitors or to assert her presence in the tavern, she and Alfredo actually pretended to be married.
Today they really look like an old couple: they mess with each other, tease each other, joke. And when doing that, they create a truly unique work environment, made up of a lot of work, but also a lot of laughs.
Among the episodes she tells us, she also tells us that at the beginning of her presence there in the tavern, many customers, used to having a typical “bar” conversation and comments not appropriate to the presence of a lady, for example about the animatographer of Rossio, now dedicated to peepshows, began to invent a code, to talk about planes and boings so as not to be understood by Margarida, or so they thought. Sometimes she went to the kitchen to make them more comfortable.
But there are also poetic memories, like mister César who wrote poems on the napkins that Margarida still keeps in a box. Once, a group of Angolan poets gathered inside the tavern and spent the night not consuming, but reciting poetry for hours and hours, creating a moment that Margarida remembers as truly magical.
Of course, there is also someone who has already had a lot of drinks or who comes to drink after going through many bars and then Alfredo has his way of avoiding serving more: “Do you have a membership card? Not? Sorry, I cannot serve to you more alcohol ”
La Tendinha is a unique place of its kind and everything guarantees that the old environment is preserved: the place, the menu and even the glasses that the new owner carefully guards for being part of the history of this place.
It is obvious that over time Tendinha’s clientele has changed. Before, one tourist arrived a week and now there are more tourists than locals. Before, they went to Tendinha because it was a reference, now they stop because in the heart of Lisbon it’s still a cheap restaurant.
But whatever the reason, you will certainly be fascinated with the place and, above all, with the atmosphere that one breathes here.
Tendinha is a place full of history.
One of the few places that can be proud of having a fado that was dedicated to it (Velha Tendinha).
And it is precisely the verse of this famous fado that is now clearly marked on the entrance to the tavern and on the aprons of those who work there: “Old Tavern in this Modern Lisbon”.
Alfredo and Margarida continue to make this place unique, happy, facing the hard work with a smile and a joke, which cannot fail to engage those present.
And they both love being in contact with people and the fact that working in this place allows them to connect with different people and cultures every day.
Those who pass by Tendinha leave a dedication, a thought in Alfredo’s notebook that now has more than one notebook, testimony of the passage of those who, even for a few hours, were part of the history of this place.
After all, says Margarida, the charm of this place is just going in alone and talking to someone, because just like in the old taverns of the past, between a sandwich and a glass of wine, you start talking to strangers who, before the glass ends, they are no longer unknown.
And when someone tries to interfere in this tradition by asking “Is there Wi-Fi?”, they answer “No, there’s talk” .
Because the Tendinha is not just a tavern, but a place for meetings, stories and lots of laughs
In the old quarter of Alfama, in rua do Salvador 83, you come across a small shop / atelier of a truly unique artist: Alberto. And guarding his shop, lying right under the door, is his cat Gordon.
Born in Angola in 1969, Alberto has lived in Lisbon for more than thirty years. He has lived in different neighborhoods, but for about 15 years Alfama has become his home.
When he arrived in this neighborhood and on this street almost nobody wanted to live there, he was part of the less well-kept, more abandoned Lisbon. But Alberto immediately showed his fighting spirit, also involving the other inhabitants of the area to participate, taking care of the cleaning and care of this street themselves. A few years later, the area was re-evaluated. But Alberto would have made yet another great little discovery: an ancient plaque, hidden by electric cables, which would later turn out to be a road sign from antiquity, the oldest in the city.
And it is precisely here that Alberto welcomes us into his world, into his atelier where he creates and sells his works. When we enter, we are immediately struck by the vintage atmosphere that reigns in the store. Everywhere, objects decorated with ancient magazines bring us back to the past: screens, paintings, mirrors, objects of all kinds. But above all suitcases: ancient suitcases of all shapes and sizes, to which Alberto has given new life.
And then I sit down and listen to him while he tells me how it started.
He was very young when his family sent him to Portugal, and the Carmo and Chiado will be his first home. Alberto begins to work in different fields, but his desire was to be able to use manual skills. The artistic spirit has always been part of him, after all in his family from the paternal side of him were artists, musicians, poets. Alberto has always had art in his genes.
His great dream had always been one day to make this passion for manual art his work. And be able to live on his art.
16/17 years ago a serious accident changes everythings, seriously injuring the fingers of one hand. But Alberto does not give up and begins to work at the Feira da Ladra, the famous flea market in Lisbon. And it is there that he finds himself projected into a world of ancient objects, and two things strike his attention: period magazines and old suitcases.
The suitcase: an object that today we link to travel and holidays, but which for Alberto is an important memory of his life. When he was still a child, in the middle of the civil war in his country, he had to move often, escape. And then the suitcase was the guardian of important things, it was the house that you carried with you.
From one place to another, with the life enclosed in a suitcase.
And so the suitcase for Alberto is the memory of this past, a past that he does not necessarily want to tell, not because he wants to forget it, but because he says that he is not one of those artists who feel the need to make public their own personal hell in order to be understood and appreciated.
What Alberto lived in his childhood years was certainly not easy, but it is not what he wants to remember. Alberto considers himself a lucky person and it is always with a smile that he wants to look at life, looking for the beautiful things he has to offer us.
And then this object linked to a memory of the past, the suitcase, is transformed and finds new life through period magazines.
Alberto thus begins to make collages of vintage images and with these he begins to decorate old suitcases and, in the very place that had inspired him, the Ladra fair, he begins to sell them.
Those were different times, at the time there was not too much space for authors, artists. An original idea of him, but which initially clashes with many prejudices, on the idea itself and on who had this idea.
But as we have already understood, Alberto does not give up easily and therefore continues on his path and begins to enjoy some success, at first more among foreigners than among Portuguese.
An episode will make him realize that he is on the right path: one day, an 8/9 year old girl is completely fascinated by one of Alberto’s suitcases and she begins to ask her parents to have it. If her mother responds with indecision, her father decides to please her daughter who reacts with a joy and happiness that Alberto can hardly describe. He remembers that moment perfectly, that little girl’s happiness, how she hugged her briefcase, how she was grateful to her parents. Alberto had understood that if a work of his had been able to make that child so happy, then that was precisely his path.
And remembering it he is still moved. And he confesses to us, that when he has a few moments of despair, even today, it is precisely that little girl that he thinks of.
The turning point came when the then owner of the famous shop A vida Portuguesa, which Alberto already knew, opens her first shop of this famous brand and asks Alberto to be able to sell his suitcases. Alberto also accepts because Catarina immediately shows great confidence in his work, offering to buy his works and then sell them in her shop. And there, the great turning point. Alberto’s suitcases begin to have enormous success and his work becomes more and more known. And Alberto understands that it is precisely this, being an artist, that he is destined.
Alberto’s life has not always been simple, various health problems in recent years have put him to the test, but he is a true warrior and has always come out of it. And it is also for this reason that the main purpose of his art is to give a smile.
Alberto makes it very clear that using sad episodes from his story in his art does not interest him. This doesn’t mean he doesn’t want to send a message. The images he chooses for the creation of his collages are never casual, but aimed at launching a message linked to today’s society, or to represent aspects of current life and of the people around us. But the message is for a few. Many stop at the beauty of the decoration. And for Alberto is fine. Whether you understand the message or just appreciate the beauty of the work, the important thing is for Alberto to give the positive message, observe Alberto’s work and smile, feel happy with his work in his hands.
This is what Alberto wants. He defines himself as an esthete, appreciates beauty and seeks beauty, in all its forms, in everything and every situation in his life. For him it is the most important thing. He says that life is a box full of surprises. He makes me think of Tom Hanks in the famous role of Forrest Gump when he says that life is a box of chocolates and you never know what happens to you.
After all, Alberto’s philosophy of life is precisely this: open the box and be surprised.
Sometimes there are moments of difficulty, also because in order to earn our place in society we end up belonging to a group, a category, and this sometimes also means learning to compromise. But Alberto shows patience for the most complicated situations and continues to emphasize how lucky he feels to be able to live with the job he loves and why in the end he got his place.
Alberto loves the contact with people and you can also see it from the comings and goings of people who pass, even just for a greeting, from his atelier.
Today his house is in Alfama, but he has toured almost all of Lisboa and knows it well. As he tells us, he went from hill to hill, from Chiado, when he arrived, in the most refined and least popular Lisbon, to Alfama, the most popular neighborhood in all of Lisbon. A neighborhood that Alberto remembers as very lively, with many people on the street. And even now that Lisbon is changing, modernizing, becoming more and more cosmopolitan, with many people passing by, Alberto sees the positive aspect of this change which, according to him, is giving new life to the city.
But in this modern and cosmopolitan Lisbon, his atelier remains a place almost out of time. Today Alberto devotes himself mostly to panels, small paintings. And when he can’t concentrate, he goes out, takes a walk, remains silent to contemplate and then comes back and begins to create.
Today we can only buy his works in his atelier but many people, especially Portuguese, ask Alberto to create tailor-made works.
Before leaving, I have one last question for Alberto: why the rose in the chest?
Alberto tells me that about 15 years ago he was fighting against a sickness he didn’t talk to anyone about. His colleagues in the Feira da Ladra had obviously noticed the physical change, but no one dared to ask. One day, a man who did not get along with Alberto at all, the one who had less well received him, approached him and asked Alberto how he was. And he had given him a flower to put on his chest, as a symbol of hope, of life, of trust. And since then Alberto has always carried a flower in his chest, because even today, when the sickness is over, that gesture should not be forgotten.
An unexpected gesture, a hand held out by those who did not expect, a message of hope that Alberto wants to keep remembering. Because, as he says, life surprises you when you least expect it.
The story we tell you today is that of Will, a great musician, an extraordinary person, who for years, “um dia de cada vez” has entered in my life and Alex’s.
Alex returning from work and I walking through the streets of Lisbon with my tourists, we have been surprised and enchanted many times by Will’s unique music.
Willfredo, to be precise. “But for everyone I’m Will,” he tells me as soon as we start talking.
Will is Swiss, but he has known Lisbon for about 40 years. Two marriages behind him, with two Portuguese women, two children, a 26-year-old girl and a 28-year-old boy, both abroad, and a girlfriend from Dakar who has been repatriated some time ago, leaving him here “suspended”, as he himself says .
Will’s life is an extraordinary life, difficult but courageous. And today it is up to us to try to tell you about it.
Will has a degree in anthropology, was an academic, translator, taught German, French and English to future interpreters at ISLA (Lisbon Institute of Languages and Administration, ed) for more than 10 years, but Will is above all a musician, a classical guitarist.
Will, is Willfredo Mergner, or Fredo Mergner as he is best known. Guitarist of the famous “Resistência” band of the 90s.
For those who have not had the opportunity to listen to it, I invite you to do so, for example in “A sombra da figueira”
A successful guitarist, a sensitive artist, a musician of great value, capable of ranging from Fado, to Jazz, to classical music.
But today is Will, who greets me saying “I don’t speak Italian, but I can speak with this” and starts playing “O sole mio” leaving me speechless. “It’s the Lisbon sun. It’s fado, ”he says.
There is confusion around him, people chat, laugh, drink. And they listen distractedly, without understanding the luck they have at that moment.
We are in Largo do Carmo, in Lisbon. It is getting evening. At the kiosk in the square there are many people sitting for a drink.
And among them, sitting on an improvised stool, embracing his guitar, there is him: Will.
Will has been playing on the street for a few years. Before he was often found in his favorite stage, the viewpoint at Largo Das Portas do Sol, then on the stairs of Calçada do Duque and now in Largo do Carmo.
Will has always had his audience, he tells us. The squares had become his concert halls. And there were always those who stopped to listen to him.
And in the meantime he continued to compose music: fado, jazz, sonatas.
It doesn’t matter why Will started playing on the street, that’s not the part of the story we want to tell.
But his love for music, for his guitar.
I ask him when he started playing and he explains to me that to play the guitar you have to be more adult, for the evolution of the hands, around 14 years old. But that he has practically always played. Music has accompanied him all his life.
And when I ask him if he plays other instruments, he says “No! No one who loves an instrument with all their heart can play another with the same intensity ”.
Because for Will it is like that. The guitar is his woman, his love, his life partner.
It is only on her that his hands can slide, it is only from her chest that the right harmony can come out to tell his soul.
Playing another instrument would be like betraying her. And Will can’t, because he loves her too much.
And we see this love, we feel it. Will never leaves his guitar, he holds it in his arms, like a lover the woman he loves.
And as he hugs her her gaze is lost.
The guitar that Will plays today is not the one he used in his concerts years ago, that was stolen. This one was given to him some time ago. But Will loves her the same way.
He can’t do without it, because playing is his life, his way of expressing himself. It is through music that Will talks about himself.
Better than he can’t do with words. Because in music there is his soul.
The pandemic has certainly made his life more complicated, added other hardships. And, today more than yesterday, playing helps him survive.
But Will is forced to do it in a more crowded place, because the pandemic has certainly limited the usual public that has always followed him.
And this just doesn’t suit him.
He says he feels tired, because playing like this doesn’t allow him to indulge in music. He could strum something modern and loud and earn a little more and with less effort, he tells me. But he doesn’t want to.
Quality music first and foremost. Good music must be respected. And it’s quality music that Will wants to play.
Will wants to abandon himself to the music, to let his soul express itself among the vibrating notes that come out of his guitar. “And this tires, it wears out,” he says. Because in this way you give yourself without filters, without limits, without discounts. You give yourself, and you do it completely. And playing like this is for few. And for few it is also to listen in respectful silence.
And it is this silence that is missing between the noises of glasses and the laughter of distracted people. And this for Will is the greatest pain. More than all the difficulties that life has put him and still puts before him, he suffers from the noise, from the fact of not being able to play in silence, of not being able to give himself completely as he would like.
But Will does not give up, he is already thinking about new projects. He already has an opera ready, a guitar concert that he has been working on for a while and that he hopes to see published.
Will works there with a fellow guitarist and the pandemic has suspended their meetings. But he is ready to start again, because he still has a lot to tell us.
And the difficulties have not extinguished the flame of his creativity at all.
We move away from the confusion a little. Let’s go and sit on the stairs of the Carmo church. And then Will plays for us, just for us, in silence as he likes it.
In a moment his eyes close, his hands begin to slide on his guitar, and the music of “Canção do mar” begins to spread on this warm summer evening.
Will plays hugging his guitar, squeezes it tightly as the chords follow each other fast. His eyes are closed, his mind is elsewhere, with his music, among those notes that have a whole life to tell.