The Real City

7 May

Martim Moniz Square

Michael Colvin has narrated the story of the demolition of the lower Mouraria area undertaken by the city planners of the Estado Novo from the 1930s to the 1960s and the effect this had on fado and the fadistas who called this part of the city their home. Colvin begins The Reconstruction of Lisbon (2008) with a description of the void that was the lower Mouraria and is now the vast and soulless Martim Moniz Square. Having been lured to the area by the romance of fado song texts, he soon comes to realize the reality:

The ideological tug of war between the Estado Novo’s modernization of Lisbon and glorification of Portugal’s past is palpable in the Baixa Mouraria. Tradition, as anything but an abstract notion, has lost! Street names tell the stories of inhabitants long gone: the palm tree on Rua da Palma; the plumbing on Rua dos Canos; the butchery on Rua do Açougue … The Mouraria is rich in history and tradition archived in memory, however, in terms of architecture and urban planning, it is sad, decayed, abandoned, depressing.

(Michael Colvin, The Reconstruction of Lisbon: Severa’s Legacy and the Fado’s Rewriting of Urban History (Lewisburg: Bucknell University Press, 2008), p. 11.)

The tale Colvin proceeds to tell is both a sobering one, in terms of decisions taken and the possibilities ignored by the developers, and a hopeful one, in that he finds a song tradition that has maintained the hopes and alternative futures of the past in a critical nostalgia that stubbornly refuses to let go. Fados have become stand-ins for the vanished architectural delights as the remembered city is restored in the lines of songs and the resonance of guitarras. José Galhardo and Amadeu do Vale’s ‘Lisboa Antiga’, recorded by Hermínia Silva in 1958, is a fado that once again feminizes the city, speaking of its beauty and declaring it a princess. An associative fado, it stakes its claim on nostalgia, asking its listeners to remember ‘Esta Lisboa de outras eras … das toiradas reais / Das festas, das seculares procissões / Dos populares pregões matinais / Que já não voltam mais’ [This Lisbon of other times … of the royal bullfights / Of the festivals, of the secular processions / Of the popular morning street cries / That will never come back].  Other songs, such as ‘Mataram a Mouraria’ [They Killed the Mouraria] were more explicitly political.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: