I’m not sure what this tree is trying to tell me, but I want to learn from it.
I woke early — it was light out, and I could see clearly across towards forested hills. Early morning fog pooled in the valley, covering the dam, flirting with the hills. The light was diffuse, flat, pearlescent. It seemed as bright as day — a dismal, foggy autumn day, at least. As I watched, the fog gradually eroded away at the hills. I debated internally: was this worth a photo? Could I capture it?
Eventually, I gave in. The hills had all but disappeared. And it was not, I found, as bright as day. My first few exposures were pitch black. I had to ignore the lightmetre: 30 seconds, with the sensor sensitivity at its highest setting, were needed. The landscape seems lost in fog and grain: dreamlike, dreaming.
It was an odd day, that. The hills glowered in fog, which came and went, revealing and hiding the vista. By evening, the light went weird: first sepia, then purple, as the day faded into evening.
By the beach. Cafés and bars all along the beachfront. People lie on towels. A young boy with crutches tries test the water, supported by his mother. Music from the bars. Out to sea, sailing ships cluster, their sails billowing. Two guys hawk shawls printed with stylised Indian designs of elephants and intricate abstract patterns. There are no takers. The constant swish of waves against the beach.
Back by the bar, in public seats, old men play dominoes, mahjong, cards. They smoke and argue, animated but amicable, their voices cigarette-hoarse.
The sun goes back beyond a cloud. Another kid builds a sandcastle. A woman has a massage. Helicopters circle.
- The ‘m’ in Belém isn’t pronounced.
- Alfama, winding, fractal-like, sprawling, tumbling towards the sea but never quite reaching it, is the old part of town. Being on a hill, it wasn’t destroyed by the tsunami that followed the earthquake of 1755. Baixa, the lowlying city centre area, was; and was rebuilt on a grid. It is more formal, more ordered.
- The city, to Lisboans, is like a young woman. Is a young woman. Lisbon is always referred to as ‘she’, never ‘it’. Maria Lisboa. Alfama’s narrow streets are like her arms, holding you in an embrace.
- St Anthony of Padua (Santo António de Lisboa in Portuguese) is Lisbon’s patron saint. His feast day — in June — is an excuse for a festival, a city-wide party, with stalls hawking food and drink all over the city. He is also the saint of mariners, of the poor, of pregnant women and of infertility, of travellers and of the unemployed, of seekers of lost articles, of shipwrecks and starvation.
- The Torre de Belém (Belem Tower) stands out alone in the bay. From the Monument to the Discoveries, you can look past it towards the Atlantic. But it’s better close up. From the shore, you get a sense of its isolation from the land it is meant to protect. The river roils against its walls, fish pushed into crags in the sheer stone walls. If it is isolated from the land, it also seems alien in its riparian setting. Neither one nor the other.
- The melancholic whistle of the traditional knife-sharpeners is meant to bring rain. They cycle from door to door, their knife-sharper pedal operated.
- Fado is, perhaps, the music of Portugal. It is expressive of saudade – a peculiar kind of melancholy and nostalgia, a longing for lost love, or a lost homeland. It’s sad, but it’s happy too, as if looking back on a lost or almost forgotten joy. Fado is the music of immigrants, of wives left at home whilst their husbands were at sea. When much was banned or repressed under Salazar, fado was still allowed.
- Fado is played with classical guitar and Portuguese guitar. The Portuguese guitar — somewhat like a cross between a lute and a mandolin — is tear-shaped, because fado is sad, the music of loss and longing.
- Fado is the music of Alfama. At night, it spills out from the cafés into the winding backstreets, where nine hundred years of living have created a chaotic labyrinth of streets and houses. In its steeply sloped alleyways, people come and go, stare out of windows, stand in doorways and watch the world. Women hold conversations across the street, from one window to another. Even in October, the night is still warm, the air filled with a sense of the ocean.
I am not normally an early riser, but for once I made the effort. The drive from Port Campbell to the Twelve Apostles was difficult — there was a beautiful predawn blueness to the sky and the land, and I sensed I was missing something special. Still, I got to the Twelve Apostles around 6:30. There were already people there when I got to there, though the bay still hadn’t got any direct sunlight. I took some photos, and moved on. These two were taken further back towards Port Campbell, at the Razorback, at about 7:20. There was still a touch of the blue light of morning, but the sun was already warm and golden.
One argument I have long had against blogging is that any idiot can start a blog, and then expect to be treated as an expert — even me. Well, I finally decided to put my lack-of-money where my mouth is, and (re)start my own blog.
I do not claim to be an expert in anything — despite having studied both systematic botany and oenology — so will make no claim to authoritativeness in any particular area. Nor will I try to keep this blog focussed on any particular area — it will be eclectic and roam freely as I feel fit. There will probably be quite a bit about wine, botany, gardening, computing, photography, food and history. Unless there isn’t. We’ll see.
I also cannot promise to post daily — or weekly — but as and when things interest me, or I find time. For the moment, I can only promise ‘more soon’ …
(As an aside, I should thank Sonia Ghiggioli of Vine Time, who has encouraged me to resume blogging a number of times.)
À bientôt …