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.
In the Mouraria district, one of the most authentic but also multicultural neighborhoods of Lisbon, right at the foot of the church of São Cristovão, the ancient Santa Maria de Alcami Mozarabic, we find a shop that makes Vintage a way of life. This is Paolo’s Tropical Bairro.
Italian, from Monza, born in 1979, in Lisbon since 2016. Paolo’s story with Lisbon is that of many foreigners who have ended up being adopted by the Lusitanian city. Arriving here on vacation, Paolo is struck by the city, its extraordinary light, and begins to think that perhaps Lisbon could be the beginning of a new project.
The vintage world has been part of Paolo’s life for many years. And, to be honest, with his story he opens up a world to me. He explains to me that in reality there is what is defined as a subculture that is linked to the vintage world, with gatherings, thematic parties, complete with dress code, and a whole world linked to collecting, music, objects. A world truly to be discovered. And Paul is there to project us into this universe.
Before arriving in Lisbon, he lived in Milan and was mostly dedicated to online sales and at some fair. But his idea had been for some time to create a place, in which to unite various aspects of this culture. Then the holiday in Lisbon and many evaluations: the place, the cost of living, the bureaucracy to follow to open a place there and so he begins to think about it seriously. And in the end, the big change. He arrives here and opens a first shop, in society, and in the meantime begins to integrate into the Italian community.
Among the first people he met was the writer Daniele Coltrinari (author of Lisbona é un’assurda speranza, editor’s note) and then the community of Italians in Lisbon. And so day by day Paolo takes his place in his new city. And he comes to live in Mouraria.
And the Mouraria will be the second big turning point. One day, the lady who owns this shop, which sold jewels, ceramics and local handicrafts, approaches Paolo and tells him that she had heard of his she was looking for a place all her own and proposes to rent him this shop. And Paolo accepts. And so Tropical Bairro was born.
But Paul’s life is much fuller and more complex than that. And then Alex and I follow him, to try to understand all the various facets of his “typical” day.
11:00 am: the shop is open and it’s time to start.
Paolo sets up the shop and puts on some good music. Oh yes, the music, which just cannot be missing. Because Tropical Bairro is not a normal shop, but more an expression of Paolo’s love for vintage culture.
In the shop we find clothing, vintage of course, and collectible records. Two different but complementary products, two expressions of the same culture.
Paolo arranges the clothes on the stands with care and great precision, and then, behind his counter, he devotes himself to music.
This is a passion that he carries with him as a kid. And Paolo is also a DJ.
But let’s not rush too much, let’s go in order. We had arrived at the shop.
There are more chaotic days, others calmer, some customers come in to take a look, someone buys. Others stop for a small talk. And Paolo continues to tell his story, while he polishes his beloved vinyls and plays some music.
The atmosphere here is obviously different from that of a classic shop. The background music, the relaxed atmosphere, make it an extremely pleasant environment, where people come in and feel at ease.
And I keep chatting with Paolo, who tells me about his past as a scenographic builder and his collaborations also with Italian TV, a job that accompanied him from his 19 to 27 years more or less.
And then the passion for music that has never been lacking.
What is most striking about being with Paolo at his shop is the comings and goings not only of the customers but also of the people of the neighborhood.
So I take the opportunity to ask him what it was like to be, as a foreigner, in such a popular neighborhood. But Paolo immediately tells me that he never had the feeling to be a foreigner in the Mouraria. The important thing, he explains to me, was to maintain a low profile, not to impose himself, but to respect the place where he is. Knowing how to integrate with the people who were already there. And today Paolo has integrated very well into that spirit, typical of Mouraria, which welcomes you into his “family” creating a bond between “neighbors” rather than between competing shops.
“And how do you manage the shop, the purchases, in particular of discs?” I ask him. And Paolo explains to me that that is the most complicated part because, if technology comes and help him for clothes, with online research and suppliers, for vinyls it is more complicated. Most come from private collections and the purchase is often the result of more elaborate work. Paolo must make an appointment, visit the collection, evaluate, and then deal with the aspect of the buying. And sometimes it’s also about making long enough trips to contact collectors.
Being able to manage everything on your own, therefore, can be really complicated at times.
But the working day is almost over, at least as far as the shop is concerned. And Paolo prepares to close.
But I take time out of one last question: “Why Tropical Bairro?” Paolo explains to me that the name comes from the link with music, the rhythms of the tropics that are so much part of his culture and his musical passion. And he wanted to pass it on in the name of his shop as well. At the same time he wanted a link with Lisbon and its Bairro (ed. District). And playing a little with Portuguese and English in the title, “Tropical Bairro” came out
19h: It’s really time to close. The sun has become less intense, a Pakistani child plays football, someone drinks a beer on the steps of São Cristovão, and the shutters of the Tropical Bairro are lowered.
But our story is not over!
As I told you, there is a passion that has always accompanied Paolo since he was a teenager, and that is music. And he has always dedicated himself to DJ’s job.
I ask him how this passion of his was born and he explains to me that it all began with films and soundtracks. When cinematic music struck him, he would go in search of the film’s soundtrack and from there to the song, then the artist and his music. A real research.
And this is how Paolo discovers Reggae music, the American one of the 1950s, and begins to discover the influences between Jamaican music and that of New Orleans. And then the Latin, Brazilian and above all African, in particular that of Cape Verde and Angola.
And it was precisely the music that welded the meeting between Paolo and our Alex, who knows Cape Verdean culture and music well, who worked in Angola. And it is from there, from the common passion for this music, that a meeting, “um dia de cada vez”, was transformed into a friendship.
And when the shop’s shutters are lowered, the curtain rises on Paolo DJ, on his ability to mix sounds from many countries.
After all, he confesses to me, one of the things that fascinated him about Lisbon was the musical culture that came from the former Portuguese colonies.
10pm: Time to start. The vinyls are ready, Paolo has prepared his selection.
And there he is, with his original headset in the shape of a telephone handset, in perfect vintage style of course, to slide the vinyls on the plates. And his music spreads.
“What do you feel when you play? Do you get lost a bit in your world and in your music? “, I ask him. And Paolo explains to me that it is precisely what he tries not to do, to isolate himself in his music. For him it is important to share, to be able to convey those same emotions to those who are listening to him, to observe those around him to also see his reaction to the music of that moment.
“It’s not always easy,” he explains to me. “You have to know how to adapt to the place and occasion in which you are”.
On some occasions Paolo’s music plays the background in a lounge bar, other times it animates parties and evenings in which the “must” is to dance.
And it is in his role as DJ that Paolo is probably more comfortable than him.
What is certain, whether when you enter the Tropical Bairro, or when the Tropical Bairro comes to you through his music, you cannot help but be carried away by this fascinating world about which Paolo still has a lot to tell.
A very famous fado says: “Uma casa Portuguesa com certeza” (a Portuguese house, no doubt) and when you enter in Zé dos Cornos you may think that this phrase was meant for them.
Let’s put a family, add traditional Portuguese dishes, join a nice handful of joy, a pinch of irony, season with the typical welcome of the beautiful Minho region, and here you have Zé dos Cornos, a traditional place from four generations.
To try to reconstruct the long history of this family and the place, we ask Marco for help. João Marco Ferreira to be precise. But not to confuse him with his father, João Ferreira, for everyone he is Marco, the youngest of this family.
Marco, through memories also linked to conversations with his grandmother, helps us retrace the history of the Ferreira family and Zé dos cornos. But his father João can’t resist, and from time to time he leaves the counter to join Marco’s story and also tell some of his details and memories, giving rise to an extraordinary father-son duet that immediately introduces us to the atmosphere of this place, a place where you can breathe a family feeling.
But let’s try to go in order and, with some steps back in the time, let’s try to retrace this story.
Originally this place was not a restaurant but a carvoeria, that is a charcoal shop, a place that sold coal, oil, and everything that could be used to light and heat the houses. At the time, there was no electricity in the city. This was a job that normally did in Lisbon the Galicians, who, given the geographical proximity, often worked in Portugal. And this place belonged to Celia Cabo, and was managed by two Galician sisters.
Domingos João Ferreira, João’s grandfather and Marco’s great-grandfather, originally from Ponte de Lima in the beautiful Minho region, after his military service decides to buy this place and therefore continue with the tradition of coal.
The shop served the entire Mouraria area and beyond.
As in a perfect family saga, the family shop passes to his son José, for all Zé, who arrives here at the age of 13 and who, later, begins to manage it together with his wife Maria.
And here is the first evolution of the place: together with the charcoal shop, Maria begins to prepare some dishes in a small space next to it. Simple things, such as could be found in this kind of place. The family lived and worked here.
The kitchen, Marco explains to me, was located where today there is a small bathroom and, where the kitchen currently is, there was a room with a large table, and behind this room, the family house with a small courtyard. A typical Portuguese house.
And here João intervenes to tell us that as a kid he practically had to go through the shop entrance to go home.
The charcoal shop of Zé is transformed, thanks to Maria’s dishes, into the Casa de pasto (a tavern) of Zé Ferreira. But people kept connecting Zé to his work as a charcoal burner, and it becomes Zé Carvoeiro – Zé Coalman.
But how did we get to the name of Zé dos cornos (Zé of the horns) then? I ask Marco.
And he explains to me that in reality it all begins on the day when Zé, whose portrait dominates the entrance of the restaurant, comes home with a pair of horns, the ones to hang on the walls as a hunting trophy and which still dominate today on the head of his portrait. From there, people began to call it Zé dos cornos. Marco also shows us a sticker, one of the first made for the restaurant, where in fact we see Zé with these horns.
And so I joke with Marco, because I knew a different version, namely that this nickname came from the fame of womanizer who accompanied his grandfather. And Marco and João laughed. And they tell me that the name does not come from there, but that this is not exactly an urban legend because Zé really was a Don Giovanni.
João tells me that when there was a woman at the restaurant, she didn’t get rid of his father so easily. And he says it has always been like this, until the end. Unfortunately, Mr. Zé cannot be here to disprove as he passed away in 2013 after a fulminant liver disease.
And today to hold the restaurant, there are João and his wife Carmelinda, for all Minda. Another generation, the third, another story.
In the meantime, the place hasn’t changed a lot, also because Mr. Zé, João tells us, didn’t like big transformations, he was very conservative, and convincing him to modernize the place was not easy. For example, the steel counter of the restaurant has been there for at least 40 years and it was already 32 years ago that this tavern took on its current appearance, except for some minor renovations.
The great innovation of this place was the great embers that were offered to them and that allow to the tavern to prepare its specialties: grilled dishes, meat and fish cooked on the grill. So delicious!
There are other family members in the kitchen, most notably Minda’s sister Maria. And it was thanks to Maria, albeit indirectly, that Minda and João met.
And then Marco explains to us that Minda worked in Braga and had arrived in Lisbon to help her sister Maria after her childbirth.
Maria lived not far from the restaurant and Minda therefore passed in front of the tavern door. And when João saw Minda … “He never more gave up on me!” Minda intervenes. “Of course I wasn’t expecting him, I had another boyfriend in Braga!” she continues, amid general laughter.
Minda is like this, the soul of this place, a woman of great spirit and sympathy.
And so in the end Minda and João got married, 28 years ago. And now they live together, they work together… “I can’t take it anymore” she says laughing. But theirs is a really beautiful union.
Maria also tells us that always staying together in the family is not always easy, sometimes at work there may be small tensions, but then affection always wins over everything and they forget and very quickly everything is ok.
And in the last years, Marco, the son of Minda and João, the fourth generation of this extraordinary family, has also been working in the tavern.
Marco says that he had started working in another field, but that after his study he finally decided to join the family.
As he tells us, it’s hard work, mostly because of the working time, but it’s their place, their family and what they do best.
This tavern keeps intact the spirit of the typical Portuguese “tascas”, with large tables and wooden stools. And the tradition of this place has always been to combine complete strangers at the same table, a truly impeccable way to find yourself having lunch and making new friends.
Marco tells us that when, for example, people of the same nationality arrived, he joined them at the same table to make them feel more at ease. And he has, in this way, also lit the spark between some people. He tells us, for example, that years ago he had seated at the same table an Italian and a Brazilian who had ended up chatting for a long time and they had continued long after that lunch at Zé dos cornos. Finally they got married and even wanted to organize the wedding dinner there in the tavern, where their love was born.
There are many stories to tell, Marco tells us. Zé dos cornos remains an authentic place despite the great publicity it has received over the years and which has attracted many tourists. An advertisement not sought, Marco tells us, but happened, with old customers who recommended the place to others, journalists who showed up at the door, they also talked about them on Dutch TV. And many famous people have passed and still pass by. “But for us, famous or not, it makes no difference,” says Marco, because anyone who arrives is welcomed in the same way.
Definitely a place out of the ordinary, where tourists and regular customers have met in the last years, where hospitality reigns supreme and where you can still enjoy a cup of red green vinho. A Minho specialty that is very rare to find outside that region, because it is produced only for local customers. But like a good Minho family, the Ferreira da Zé dos cornos have it.
One more reason to visit this place and immerse yourself in a familiar, fun, relaxed atmosphere while enjoying a plate of meat or grilled cod, sipping a glass of wine, “red green” of course.
Zé dos cornos is in Beco dos Surradores 5.