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A Man in the City (i)

7 May

In 1976 Carlos do Carmo represented Portugal in the Eurovision song contest and recorded what would become one of his signature tunes, ‘Lisboa, Menina e Moça’, a popular song which feminizes the city as a ‘young girl’. It was his 1977 album Um Homem na Cidade [A Man in the City], however, which really showcased what Carmo meant for the future direction of fado. Described by Rui Vieira Nery as ‘one of the most significant albums in the whole fado discography’, it consisted of a series of specially written poems about Lisbon by José Carlos Ary dos Santos and set to music by a variety of composers from the worlds of Portuguese pop, jazz and fado. It was a concept album and one which clearly was aimed at the post-revolutionary metropolis, showcasing new possibilities of being in the city alongside recognition of longstanding customs that predated (and could therefore escape the taint of cooptation by) the recently overthrown dictatorship. The album came with liner notes by Carmo, Ary dos Santos and two of the composers, António Vitorino D’Almeida and Martinho D’Assunção, all of which stated a commitment to creativity, modernity, Lisbon and the people. ‘With love we leave you this disc’, wrote Carmo at the end of his note. The ‘man in the city’ is also to be found in the dedication at the beginning of Michel de Certeau’s The Practice of Everyday Life and it is interesting to consider these two works alongside each other:

To the ordinary man.

To a common hero, an ubiquitous character, walking in countless thousands on the streets. In invoking here at the outset of my narratives the absent figure who provides both their beginning and their necessity, I inquire into the desire whose impossible object he represents. What are we asking this oracle whose voice is almost indistinguishable from the rumble of history to license us, to authorize us to say, when we dedicate to him the writing that one formerly offered in praise of the gods or the inspiring muses?

(Michel de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life, p. v)

Certeau’s words bear an echo of the commitment shown by Henri Lefebvre to the lived experience of those connected to representational spaces. It bears a challenge to authority and the ‘view from above’, while also acknowledging the modest endeavour of a description of the everyday. So, too, with Carmo’s album, which mixes quotidian description with an imagination that recognizes the potential for transformation. Almost all of the tracks included in the album make reference to the city of Lisbon. In addition to regular references to the city as a whole, other features of Lisbon are hymned. The title track records the Tejo and the Rossio area, ‘Fado do Campo Grande’ refers to the area of the same name, and ‘O Homem das Castanhas’ uses Praça da Figueira and the Jardim da Estrela as backdrops to the chestnut vendor’s song. Two songs celebrate the public transport systems that connect Lisbon’s neighbourhoods to each other and to the world beyond. ‘O Cacilheiro’ describes the ferries that criss-cross the Tejo, connecting the quays of Cacilhas, Seixal, Montijo and Barreiro and carrying ‘lovers, sailors, soldiers and workers’ to their destinations, while the tram system is the subject of ‘O Amarelo da Carris’ (Carris is the company that operates the buses and trams in Lisbon, easily recognized by their distinctive yellow colour).

‘O Amarelo da Carris’ provides a good example in its lyrics of wider theories regarding agency, passivity, consciousness and the unconscious in the city. The first verse describes the tram which runs from runs from Alfama to Mouraria, from Baixa to Bairro Alto and ‘climbs shuddering to Graça / without knowing geography’. On one hand, the tram serves a purpose similar to the train in many popular song texts, providing a potent metaphor for the workings of fate as it faithfully follows its pre-designed course. Its passengers are passive citizens unable to alter the text of the city, etched as it is in the steel rails. Like the tram itself, which does not require knowledge of geography, the passengers can put their trust in the hands of the network and its operatives (which include, of course, the tram driver). On the other hand, they have chosen to be carried thus and are actively using the tram for their own purposes. They have a starting point and an ultimate destination; the tram and its driver are merely the means to achieve this destiny.

Similarly, the lovers described in ‘Namorados da Cidade’ are like Certeau’s ‘lovers in each other’s arms’, blind to anything beyond themselves while simultaneously creating that ‘beyond’ by going about their business. The protagonist of the title track, the man in the city, is the equivalent of the walkers found in Certeau, Aragon and Sinclair, going through the street under a ‘moon / that brings my Tejo into season / I walk through Lisbon, naked tide / that flows into Rossio’. Another song, ‘Rosa da Noite’, also hymns the incorporation of the city into the body and vice versa, claiming that ‘each street is an intense vein / where the song flows / from my huge voice’. The city is both body (a theme employed by other fados such as David Mourão-Ferreira’s ‘Maria Lisboa’) and a channel through which other bodies (human, non-human, mechanical) flow. Um Homem na Cidade celebrates all these corporeal manifestations. It is, importantly, an album, and therefore, like a photograph album, something to be taken as a whole; its songs are snapshots of the city and its citizens, a collective creating a collection, a thing. This sense of the album as a thing-in-itself was highlighted by the release, in 2004, of an album entitled Novo Homem na Cidade which recreated the original album with versions of its songs, in the same running order, recorded by twelve different artists, a number of them associated with the novo fado of the early 2000s. In addition to showcasing these younger performers, the album serves two other purposes, commemorating Carlos do Carmo’s original album as a thing-in-itself (without which the new album would not exist) and highlighting the continued relevance of the city of Lisbon as a thing-in-itself to be celebrated (without which neither album would exist).

Fado texts provide a tour of the city of Lisbon by incorporating various names associated with the city and, in Certeau’s terms, ‘liberating’ them into a new poetic and metaphoric language. Yet, given that we are dealing with a musical form, it is also necessary to remember the role played by sound in this process. If fado texts take us on a tour of the city, part of that tour involves the hearing of fado music itself. The sound of fado, its instruments and cries, are both representations of space and representational spaces, products of and responses to space itself. In Um Homem na Cidade, there are additional sounds of the city referenced, such as the sound of the tram bell emulated by the guitarra in ‘O Amarelo da Carris’ or the use of the chestnut vendor’s cry in the refrain of ‘O Homem das Castanhas’. This practice develops in sonic form a process earlier undertaken by numerous European and American modernist writers and artists to provide a representation of the noise of the city, albeit witnessed in silence (in the space of writing). For example, we find the following in Fernando Pessoa’s Book of Disquiet:

Future married couples pass by, chatting seamstresses pass by, young men in a hurry for pleasure pass by, those who have retired from everything smoke on their habitual stroll, and at one or another doorway a shopkeeper stands like an idle vagabond, hardly noticing a thing. Army recruits … slowly drift along in noisy and worse-than-noisy clusters. Occasionally someone quite ordinary goes by. Cars at that time of the day are rare, and their noise is musical. In my heart there’s a peaceful anguish, and my calm is made of resignation.

All of this passes, and none of it means anything to me. It’s all foreign to my fate, and even to fate as a whole. It’s just unconsciousness, curses of protest when chance hurls stones, echoes of unknown voices – a collective mishmash of life.

(Fernando Pessoa, Book of Disquiet, p. 14.)

This ‘collective mishmash of life’ is wonderfully transformed in ‘Fado Varina’, from Um Homem na Cidade, into a noisy and salty metaphor suggested by the cries of a woman selling fish in the market: ‘Os teus pregões / são iguais à claridade / caldeirada de canções / que se entorna na cidade’ [Your cries / are like brightness / a fish stew of songs / spilling over the city].

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Lisbon’s Narcissism (i)

7 May

In my discussion of real-and-imagined cities in Fado and the Place of Longing, I have attempted to place Lisbon into a wider discussion of urban space and place, for I believe that fado invites such a theorization. Yet, in attempting to make this connection, one cannot help but notice the absence of Lisbon, Portugal or the Iberian Peninsula from the discussion of much cultural geography, where the literature has shown an overwhelming obsession with Paris and the modern cities of the USA – Los Angeles especially. Areas such as the Algarve are seemingly in Lefebvre’s mind when he speaks of ‘the current [early 1970s] transformation of the Mediterranean into a leisure-oriented space for industrialized Europe’ and of ‘the consumption of space, sun and sea, and of spontaneous or induced eroticism, in a great “vacationland festival”’, but industrial centres of the Iberian Peninsula have not generally received the attention given to other European cities. It could be argued that this is due to a fairly late industrialization of this area but such an argument would neglect the importance of Iberia as a world centre in the past; it is Venice’s past, after all, rather than its present that made it exemplary for Lefebvre in his description of the city as work and product.

Prior to the obsession with American cities, the models had often been ‘literary’ European capitals such as London, Paris, Rome or Vienna. The Iberian Peninsula was less frequently brought into the discussion despite the presence of its cities in literature. As Joan Ramon Resina writes, ‘[f]or the Lisbon of Pessoa, the Madrid of Galdós, the Barcelona of Oller, Pla, or Rodoreda, there has been nothing on the scale of the attention brought to Paris by readers of Balzac or Zola or to Vienna by the great novels of Roth and Musil.’ Resina’s own response to this absence comes in the form of an edited book entitled Iberian Cities. While this endeavour is a laudable attempt to reassert the ‘place’ of these metropolises, the reader interested in the Portuguese city cannot help but notice two things: firstly, there is the country’s continued marginalization via the inclusion of only one city (Lisbon) alongside eight Spanish cities (one of which, Madrid, gets two essays devoted to it); secondly, it is hard to know what to make of the air of melancholy with which that one chapter is delivered by its author, Miguel Tamen. Tamen chooses to emphasize the lack of anything to see in Lisbon, the difficulty entailed in getting around due to the steep hills and uneven pavements, and the confusion produced by the different names given to places by official maps and everyday local usage. It is certainly the case that, outside the flat grid of the Baixa, the city provides certain challenges for navigation. It is also true that Lisbon does not offer up a host of ‘obvious’ monuments from which to fashion a tourist itinerary (although this did not stop Pessoa from doing so). But what those who have been drawn to the city have invariably reported on is the pleasure to be found in this lack of obviousness. This has particularly been the case for those coming from outside the country. Ángel Crespo’s tour of Lisbon dwells on the pleasures of the stroll, the literary and mythical connections encountered in the city, and the numerous opportunities to gain different perspectives on the city from a variety of vantage points.  Similarly, Paul Buck, in his ‘cultural and literary companion’ to Lisbon, is struck by the city’s potential for narcissism:

It is a beautiful city, for it is built on a series of hills and valleys whose steepness give rise to a multitude of viewing points, such that the city can become almost narcissistic, encouraging one to re-viewing it, akin to stepping inside a house choked by mirrors, continually catching the reflections, sucked into the space of admiration.

(Paul Buck, Lisbon: A Cultural and Literary Companion (Oxford: Signal Books, 2002), p. 2.)

There are, of course, a profusion of guidebooks and websites devoted to Lisbon, all of which maintain that there is plenty to see. All have their own agendas and may be more or less implicated in the representation of space that Lefebvre identified as the dominant mode of spatial thinking. It is less likely (though perhaps not for those who can afford to do so) that one would take the car tour suggested by Pessoa, not least because the streets are nowhere near as painlessly negotiable as in his day. It is quite likely that one might pay for a bus tour or take the ‘tourist tram’ that combines authentic travelling with ease of transit. But equally, one might choose to walk and, if not content to follow one’s footsteps, to take one of the walking guides on offer. One company that implicitly challenges Tamen’s assertion that Lisbon is ‘a town with no flâneurs’ offers a range of walks tailored to specific ways of seeing the city. One of these, entitled ‘Lisbon Old Town’, promises ‘Maze-like streets, ‘Hidden vantage points’, ‘Migration and dockers’ and ‘Fado as the soundtrack of Lisbon’ among its features.

Each of these is related to one aspect or another of the theories discussed in Fado and the Place of Longing. The maze-like streets are the embodiment of Certeau’s point about the blindness of the city, yet vantage points emerge from the confusion to allow a sudden switch back to the controlling gaze. The history of comings and goings that have created the riverside neighbourhoods of Lisbon (of which Alfama is just one) is one in which the precursors and contemporaries of Zygmunt Bauman’s ‘postmodern vagabonds’ have plied their trades. As for fado as a soundtrack, it is worth noting that, due to the difficulty (perhaps impossibility) of accurately mapping as Alfama in any conventional manner, music may be as believable a map of this area as any.

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.

Taking Place (I)

5 May

For the city is a poem … but not a classical poem, not a poem centered on a subject. It is a poem which deploys the signifier, and it is this deployment which the semiology of the city must ultimately attempt to grasp and to make sing.

(Roland Barthes, ‘Semiology and Urbanism’, in The Semiotic Challenge, tr. Richard Howard (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1994), p. 201.)

We witness the advent of the number. It comes with democracy, the large city, administrations, cybernetics. It is a flexible and continuous mass, woven tight like a fabric with neither rips nor darned patches, a multitude of quantified heroes who lose names and faces as they become the ciphered river of the streets, a mobile language of computations and rationalities that belong to no one.

(Michel de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life, tr. Steven Rendall (Berkeley & Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1984), p. v.)

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Fado and the Place of Longing takes as one of its subjects the centrality of the city of Lisbon in fado texts. Fado, through the combination of word, music and gesture that has become solidified as the music’s style, performs place in a very particular way, summoning up a mythology that attempts to trace the remembered and imagined city of the past via a poetics of haunting. At the same time certain locales of the physical city present themselves as exhibits in a ‘museum of song’, offering up haunted melodies of a Portuguese sonic past that serves to assert the city’s identity.

The ubiquity of Lisbon’s presence in fado lyrics is exemplified by the song ‘Vielas de Alfama’ [Alleyways of Alfama], created by Artur Ribeiro and Maximiano de Sousa (commonly known as Max) in the middle of the twentieth century and revisited at the start of the twenty-first by Mariza on her album Fado Curvo (2003). The song hymns the eponymous alleyways of the ancient Alfama quarter and of ‘old Lisbon’, claiming ‘Não há fado que não diga / Coisas do vosso passado’ [There isn’t a fado / That doesn’t speak of your past]. At the close of the refrain, the singer wishes ‘Quem me dera lá morar / P’ra viver junto do fado’ [If only I could live there / To live close to the fado’]. A fado menor performed by Carlos do Carmo and his mother Lucília goes even further: ‘Não há Lisboa sem fado, não há fado sem Lisboa’ [There is no Lisbon without fado, no fado without Lisbon]. Whether referencing the city as a whole or one of the neighbourhoods most associated with the genre – Alfama, Mouraria, Bairro Alto and Madragoa – fado texts provide topographies of loss that place the city as either object of desire or lack or as backdrop to another lost, remembered or desired object.

Mouraria Mural

‘Fado Lisboa’ is a song that celebrates the city as a whole. It was originally performed by Ercília Costa (one of the great fado stars of the twentieth century) in a revista from 1939, O Canto da Cigarra. The song has also been performed by Lucília do Carmo under the title ‘Sete Colinas’, after the ‘seven hills’ of Lisbon. It has a distinctly royal tone and speaks of Lisbon as ‘casta princesa’ [chaste princess], going on to declare how beautiful the city must be ‘Que tens de rastos aos pés / A majestade do Tejo’ [That you have kneeing at your feet / The majesty of the Tejo]. As in many songs about Lisbon, the city is explicitly feminized. It also stresses Lisbon as a centre of empire, praising the discoverers who found ‘so many deserted lands’ and the heroes created in Madragoa, one of the historic quarters of Lisbon.

Severa Memorial‘É Noite na Mouraria’ [It’s Night in Mouraria], a fado performed by Amália Rodrigues and her sister Celeste, moves us toward a more particular location. Later recorded by Katia Guerreiro and Mísia, it is a typical ‘atmosphere’ song, listing a number of the mythemes we have come to expect from a fado narrative: the low sound of a guitarra, a fado being sung in a dark alleyway, the whistle of a boat on the Tejo, a passing ruffian. This fado works as a companion piece to the classic song of fado’s ontology, ‘Tudo Isto É Fado’; the delivery is not dissimilar, comparable mythemes are present, and there is a declaration in the song that ‘all is fado / all is life’. Mouraria is also represented in fados that mention the Rua da Capelão, linked forever to the name of Maria Severa and to the birth of modern fado. The most famous, ‘Rua do Capelão’ (with words by Júlio Dantas and music by Frederico de Freitas), places the street at the centre of the Severa story. The site of Severa’s house is now commemorated in a very Portuguese fashion, having its own dedicated pattern in the calçada, the white and black cobbled pavements found throughout Lisbon. At the entrance to the street there is also a monument to mark its place in history, consisting of a sculpture of a guitarra with the words ‘Birthplace of fado’ beside it. In this way, fado does not only reflect the city’s presence, but asserts its own presence in the city. One can, if one desires, use the Rua do Capelão as the start of a walking tour of the city solely based on fadistic associations, from the labyrinth of Mouraria’s streets up the slopes surrounding the Castelo de São Jorge to the neighbourhoods of Alfama, Graça and Madragoa.

Severa calçada

Lucília do Carmo can again be our guide to Madragoa when she sings, in a fado named after the neighbourhood, of the Madragoa ‘of the bakers and fish sellers / Of tradition’. This is the ‘Lisbon that speaks to us / From another age’.  The verse of this fado utilizes an associative turn of phrase common to a number of ‘city fados’; another associative fado, ‘Ai Mouraria’ speaks of ‘the Mouraria of nightingales under the eaves’, ‘of pink dresses’, and ‘of Severa’.  These associations have a similar function to the texts written by the authors of the ‘I remember’ school, evoking both personal and collective memories. The ‘Mouraria of processions’ is also the Mouraria associated with the object of the singer’s affections: both are now gone.

Alfama doorway

Zooming in still further, we encounter the alleyway, an unavoidable feature of the neighbourhoods surrounding the Castle. Alleyways are both places of intimacy (as in ‘Vielas de Alfama’ where they are ‘kissed by the moonlight’) and transgression (like the alleyway in Júlio Dantas’s A Severa). In the fado ‘A Viela’ (‘The Alleyway’), we meet a ‘typical’ character walking from alleyway to alleyway and encountering a ‘lost woman’ there.  The fado was recorded by Alfredo Duarte, better known as ‘Marceneiro’ after the name of his trade (joiner). Born in 1891, Marceneiro had a closer connection than many to fado’s past by the time he was officially ordained the ‘king of fado’ in 1948. For many he was the living embodiment of the tradition, a castiço singer who, while born in the phonographic era, did not seem part of it. Indeed, Marceneiro was deeply suspicious of recordings; his true home was in the fado houses of Lisbon, where, from the mid-century onwards, he was considered a living legend. If, as Rodney Gallop had suggested in the 1930s, one had to go a club such as the Luso to hold the fado ‘surely in one’s grasp’, then one could look for no better guardian than Marceneiro. A regular at the Luso, he transcended the venue, connecting back to a time before the forced professionalization of fado performance. Marceneiro, then, is associated with the city not only because of fados like ‘A Viela’, but also in his very being, an authentic fadista who sang about the city, was mainly known in the city, and who represented the city (or a certain image of it) more than the cosmopolitan Amália. Much the same could be said for Fernando Farinha, with whom Marceneiro collaborated on occasion (most notably on the fado ‘Antes e Depois’). Farinha, known as the ‘Miúdo da Bica’ [Kid from Bica] after the neighbourhood in which he lived, sang mainly of his life and the city he lived in. Farinha was not averse to recording, however, nor to appearing in films, such as the one that bears his nickname. His most famous recording, ‘Belos Tempos’, is rich with nostalgia and describes a desire to go back to the time of Maria Severa. Like Severa, Farinha’s presence is marked in the city itself, on a plaque in Bica, the neighbourhood he helped to make famous.

Cover of "Cancao de Lisboa"We might say, then, that the discourse surrounding Marceneiro and Farinha is one rich with ‘authenticity work’.  This work is done through ceaseless reminders of the connection between the performer and the neighbourhood/city; Farinha is ‘do povo’ but also ‘da Bica’, ‘de Lisboa’ and, ultimately, ‘do fado’. From this position he could then make claims to the city and its music, as he did throughout his career. Marceneiro was a similarly ‘ordained’ commentator on the city, as can be heard on his version of Carlos Conde’s ‘Bairros de Lisboa’, where the city’s presence is introduced by the framing device of a walk through its streets. The verses, sung as a duet with Fernanda Maria, present a sort of competition between various neighbourhoods as to which is most relevant to fado:  Campo de Ourique is the most elevated, Alfama is the most famous, the most fadista and maritime, Mouraria evokes the most nostalgia, Bairro Alto is praised for its inhabitants, Madragoa for its youthful optimism. In the end, there is a realization that the city should not be reduced to its parts: ‘Why go any further / If Lisbon is all beautiful / And Lisbon is our neighbourhood!’

But, as is no doubt clear from many of the lyrics quoted above, the Lisbon being spoken about in many fados is a city of the past. If, having read the inscription on the monument at the entrance to the Rua do Capelão, we turn around and face the opposite direction, this city of the past quickly vanishes.