memoirs, art and fragments by Thomas Milner

Posts tagged ‘Porto’

Eye-catching Headline

I must say one sees some rather odd headlines in our newspaper:

MUSEU DE ETNOLOGIA DO PORTO VAI SER EXTINCTO

(ETHNOLOGY MUSEUM OF PORTO IS GOING TO BECOME EXTINCT)

Due to lack of funding, one assumes.

WINTER TREES – PAINTING – BY THOMAS MILNER

Dates (2)

The phone rang on my desk in Porto some 15 years later and I was put through to a very influential person in Lisbon (my boss) who requested me, as a personal favour, to meet a friend of hers (the Libyan Chargé d’Affairs in Lisbon) at the Meridien Hotel in Porto the following morning and give him lunch and generally show him the sights.

So the next morning I met the gentleman in the foyer of his posh hotel.

He was a charming man, polished and multi-lingual; he was easy to entertain and I knew just where to take him. The venerable old Porto Stock Exchange (the Palaçío da Bolsa) was situated in the old part of city behind the church of S. Francisco with its golden rococo wood carvings,   (deconsecrated now, it’s just a museum).

We went through the grandiose portals of the Stock Exchange and climbed the wide tiled staircase to the first floor and entered the fabulous Salão d’Arabe.

Salão Arabe in the Stock Exchange PORTO

I could see that he was impressed and moved to find such unexpected tribute to his culture.

It bought home to me the full force and meaning of the term arabesque – the depiction of the human form is anathema to that culture.

He pointed out with a smile that some of the tiles on one the columns quoting from the Koran had been laid in the wrong order.

Over lunch I recounted my episode in the Saharan date garden in Algeria and we spoke about the Persian poet Omar Khyam.

I deposited him back at his hotel in the early evening and he was effusive in compliments saying that he had enjoyed his day up in Porto.

A few weeks later I went down to Lisbon to attend a Director of Studies meeting and late morning Her PA summoned me into the Presence; She told me how much her Libyan friend had appreciated my hospitality and had left a small gift for me – a wooden box of the finest hand-picked Libyan dates!

(O)porto

After three enjoyable and carefree years in Lisbon, Portugal,

I was promoted and sent up to take over our school in Porto.

Underserved, unmerited and unearned,

The jigsaw pieces of my life seemed to click into place.

PORTO

Porto was the high summer, the apex of my life.

I finally got married to a nice attractive and intelligent Portuguese girl some ten years younger than myself, settled down and started to raise a family.

I entered the unfamiliar territory of domestic felicity.

I grew comfortable.

I became middle-aged and middle-class. The aspirations of these two groups became my aspirations.

We were very happy together and bought the top-floor apartment of a little walk-up building in a quiet, narrow street in the town-center just off the Rua de Constituição.

Over the years I began to take my marriage and my position at work for granted.

Well you do, don’t you?

I became complacent.

I didn’t see it coming.

My moment of Zen

My first day as Director of Studies of our school in Porto.

… By 6.00 o’clock I was feeling rather weary and the confident, alert but friendly expression I’d been wearing all day was beginning to slip out of place as though gravity was trying to pull it down.

I asked one of the secretaries where I could find somewhere nearby to get something to eat. She indicated a café a couple of streets away from the school and recommended a typical spicy sandwich called a francesinha. I made my way down to the Café Majestic and sat down at a table on a long leather bench. I relaxed and admired the 19th century ornate but faded décor.

(Over the years I was to spend a lot of time there, on that green leather bench under the speckled mirror).

CURVES – PAINTING by THOMAS MILNER

A waiter came up and I ordered one of those francesinha things and a glass of beer. When the sandwich arrived I examined it dubiously; I couldn’t actually see the contents of the thing because it was covered in a small mountain of yellowish sauce; after prodding the liquid gingerly with my fork I discovered various bits of meat, sausage and whatever. I struggled with it manfully before giving up and pushing it aside. Beside me on the bench at the next table sat a small elderly lady, respectably (but oddly) dressed in a little brown suit trimmed with pieces of rabbit. This person had been watching me trying to eat the sticky sandwich and, when I moved it aside, she leaned forward and asked me if I had finished with it; on my dumbly nodding, she whipped out a napkin from her handbag and in one smooth practiced movement she scraped the ruins from my plate, wrapped it up in the napkin, popped it into the bag which she then clicked shut with a snap. Then the mad old bat got up and walked out into the street, leaving me open-mouthed.

I had arrived in a city of magic; it was my moment of Zen.

Eye-catching Headline

I must say one sees some rather odd headlines in our newspaper:

MUSEU DE ETNOLOGIA DO PORTO VAI SER EXTINCTO

(ETHNOLOGY MUSEUM OF PORTO IS GOING TO BECOME EXTINCT)

Due to lack of funding, one assumes.

WINTER TREES – PAINTING – BY THOMAS MILNER

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