Sunday, April 05, 2009

Lisbon: A Second Day

My parents spent a rewarding Palm Sunday in Lisbon.

They had an early breakfast at their hotel, and at 8:30 a.m. they set out for their final day of sightseeing in Portugal.

My parents had hired a driver for the day, as they had four stops on their schedule, none close together, and they wanted to travel between stops quickly, dependably and comfortably, free from worry and stress. The driver was arranged through an agency. He spoke English, and he was very courteous and very reliable.

The first stop was a return to the Alfama Quarter, where my parents visited two important houses of worship.

The first was The Church Of Saint Anthony Of Lisbon (“Igreja De Santo Antonio De Lisboa”), a church dedicated to Saint Anthony Of Padua (1195-1231), who was born and raised in Lisbon and who is known in Portugal—but nowhere else—as Saint Anthony Of Lisbon. (Saint Anthony never left Portugal until he was 25 years old; he first traveled to Italy in 1220 or 1221, and spent the last decade of his short life in and around Padua.)

The Church Of Saint Anthony is sited upon ground that formerly was occupied by the house in which Saint Anthony was born. A church dedicated to Saint Anthony has occupied the site for over five hundred years. The current structure, of Baroque design, is the fourth church building on the site. It post-dates the 1755 earthquake.

Next to The Church Of Saint Anthony is the Lisbon Cathedral (“Se Patriarchal De Lisboa”), which my parents also visited.

The current Cathedral structure has been in place since 1150, but numerous and substantial changes to the Cathedral have been imposed over the centuries. One hundred years ago, the Cathedral was simplified in an attempt to return the Cathedral’s architecture to its original Romanesque form. Renaissance and Baroque embellishments were removed, inside and out, and original Romanesque features were emphasized. The Cathedral is now believed to resemble the original structure, more or less.

It is a very severe building, lacking grace and beauty, and exudes a fortress-like harshness. It is surely one of the least imposing and least admirable cathedral buildings in Europe.

The interior of the Cathedral is very spare. It is also very gloomy, as there are so few sources of light (the Cathedral lacks windows).

The Cathedral is home to numerous tombs of historic persons. It is also the repository of the baptismal fount of Saint Anthony, perhaps the Cathedral’s most cherished artifact.

My parents found the Cathedral to be very unimpressive, almost displeasing, and they did not make a long visit.

From the Alfama Quarter, my parents were driven to the English Cemetery. In the center of the English Cemetery is an Anglican church, Saint George’s Church, at which my parents attended Palm Sunday Service.

There has been a large English contingent in Lisbon for centuries owing to longstanding trade ties between Britain and Portugal. As a result, Anglican worship has been offered in Lisbon for almost 400 years.

There are currently at least four English-language churches in Lisbon—one Anglican, one Baptist, one Scottish Presbyterian and one non-denominational—and additional others in nearby Estoril and Cascais. (For centuries, there has also been a Portuguese-language Roman Catholic church in London.)

The current Saint George’s structure was consecrated in 1889 and is of typical late-Victorian ecclesiastical design. It has a splendid organ.

After Palm Sunday Service, my parents were driven to Portugal’s largest and finest art museum, The National Museum Of Ancient Art (“Museu Nacional De Arte Antiga”).

The National Museum Of Ancient Art is a comprehensive museum, holding paintings, works on paper, sculpture, antiquities and decorative arts. My parents, owing to time constraints, only viewed Old Master paintings from the 15th to the 19th Centuries, which were of very high quality.

After two hours at The National Museum Of Ancient Art, my parents were driven to The Calouste Gulbenkian Museum (“Museu Calouste Gulbenkian”), established by the estate of oil magnate Calouste Gulbenkian and home to Gulbenkian’s fabulous personal art collection.

Gulbenkian’s great art collection resides in Portugal because, during World War II, Gulbenkian settled in Portugal to wait out the war. He liked Portugal so much that he remained in the country until his death in 1955 and, further, left the bulk of his estate to a foundation that promotes various cultural activities in Portugal.

The Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, like The National Museum Of Ancient Art, holds a full array of art objects—paintings, works on paper, sculpture, antiquities, decorative arts—but, once again owing to time constraints, my parents concentrated on Old Master paintings.

Gulbenkian, following Andrew Mellon’s lead, acquired many of his paintings from The Hermitage in Leningrad during the 1930’s, buying them from a Soviet government desperate for foreign currency. Many of the most-renowned paintings in the Gulbenkian collection were formerly owned by The Hermitage (and had been acquired for The Hermitage by Catherine The Great during the 18th Century).

It was very late afternoon by the time my parents completed their museum visits and were driven back to their hotel for the evening. They had dinner in the hotel dining room and prepared their things for tomorrow’s flight home.

My parents had a very nice visit to Portugal. Despite a few not-very-interesting activities called for by the tour itinerary, my parents visited many historic and beautiful places, experienced magnificent scenery, and met some very nice travelers (most persons on the tour were from the U.S., but a few were from Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Britain). The food and accommodation were of a high standard, the guides excellent, the itinerary varied, the pace of the tour active but not frenetic. They were able to enjoy a wonderful vacation without doing any work, having left all advance plans and preparations to professionals. It worked out perfectly for them: ten days of relaxation and stimulation in a beautiful country totally unknown to them.

Portugal must have reliable mail service. On Saturday, Joshua and I received a postcard that had been mailed from Estoril on Monday, March 30.

However, no postcards have arrived in Minneapolis yet. The postcards will probably arrive tomorrow, along with my parents.


  1. I posted this on Parterre:

    Drew has a lot to say of great value and I would encourage him to post a detailed review of AR’s book; clarity and actual information and intelligence are sorely lacking in the accessible outlets where one might find reviews. It’s easy to be intimidated by such a book if one knows very little, and there is ALWAYS and everywhere in arts criticism a feeding frenzy response, as one reviewer copies another who is copying the first minimally informed (or biased in favor of) review. Committees who vote awards are easily intimidated and dread looking stupid, I know this first hand.

    It’s foolish indeed to pretend that an author’s connections, current position and network shored up over in this case nearly 20 years don’t indeed effect ‘critical opinion’.

  2. Thank you for such kind words, Mrs. Claggart. I appreciate them very much, coming from you.

    I hate to get started on the Alex Ross book, because it was not very good and pointing that out will only irritate people. I am also uncertain what the book was intended to be—history? chronicle? essay? polemic?—and I am unsure of the intended audience.

    It is clearly not a work of scholarship. Further, it does not succeed as history, as chronicle or as extended essay. Polemic is closer to the mark, but I think the book, above all, is an unfocused magazine article in bloated form, and a rather peculiar one at that.

    What was amazing, to me, was that the book was showered with adulation, none of it warranted—and yet it received not a single serious review, positive, negative or neutral.

    I would like to tell you that my parents attended a performance of the original Broadway production of “Gemini” in 1979 and think very highly of the play. An unknown Kathleen Turner was in the cast my parents saw.

    I have read “Gemini”, but I have never seen a production of the play. I would like to some day. It is a very fine play, and I hope many more are in store from the same pen.

    Thank you again for your kind comments.

  3. Thanks, Drew. I just decided to check back here since I enjoy reading of your adventures and agree with you it seems most of the time -- can't stand Norrington but try to hear as much Haydn as possible live, Picnic is beyond dated, sadly so is Gemini about which you are so kind -- plays aren't like that anymore. But Inge was a good writer of perhaps modest scope and given with sympathy his plays often work well.

    Maybe you will get around to our Alex one day. I'm careful because I've known him since he started. He is the most singled out person I have ever met -- just a star from day one. I couldn't understand it then, because his writing was just ordinary, his insights not very -- insightful. But he has waxed and waxed, with that lousy book getting improbable raves. I actually think he is utterly unmusical, so all his judgments are suspect.

    Good luck to Joshua in his exams.

  4. I gather he’s a ruthless self-promoter, because his work certainly doesn’t amount to much.

    There are four major deficiencies in his work. One, he is not very well-educated, and that lack of education creeps into everything he writes. Two, he lacks taste. His level of taste is that of a 19-year-old. He’s a perpetual college freshman. Three, he is entirely agenda-driven, twisting and distorting everything to arrive at a preordained result, even when the facts point to an opposite conclusion. Four, he has no depth. He can utter opinions left and right, but he cannot justify those opinions or articulate solid bases for them.

    I think he has to be read as a representative voice of the New York downtown scene, with all the built-in biases and attitudes and dogmas of that group. Otherwise, his work is simply inexplicable.

  5. Andrew,

    From the soon-to-be sovereign, Central American country of Texas:

    Before you can review "The Rest is 'Roids" you'll have to first translate the book into English.

    I don't think you have the time to do it, do you? (Parker said he would do it for you, but he never studied that language.)


  6. Dane, in the final analysis, the book is not good enough to waste time writing about it.