Tag Archives: place

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].

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 Imagined City (i)

7 May

Another way of dealing with the relationship between citizen and city can be found in Kevin Lynch’s book The Image of the City (1960). Although dated in many ways, the book describes a way of thinking about this relationship which is still of interest. Lynch and his fellow researchers were interested in the ‘cognitive maps’ which people carry of the cities in which they live. Wanting to find out what the relationship was between these cognitive maps and official maps of the city, they asked people to draw their own maps of the city and of particular routes through it, supplementing this information with questions regarding how their respondents dealt with particular negotiations when using the city, what they thought of different neighbourhoods and features, and so on. The results of this research showed that there were quite different imaginations of the city and that these, perhaps not surprisingly, were dependent on particular subject positions. While this data, as Edward Soja suggests, ultimately had the effect of reproducing certain dominant discourses of the city and of social relationships, it nevertheless provided a valuable ‘tilting’ of the normally-designated representation of space from an ‘official’ to an ‘unofficial’, or at least ‘semi-official’ discourse.

Lynch identified five main elements of the city from his respondents’ representations:

  • Paths – ‘channels along which the observer customarily, occasionally, or potentially moves … streets, walkways, transit lines, canals, railroads’. Lynch found that these were the predominant way of imagining the city.
  • Edges – ‘linear elements not used or considered as paths’, such as ‘shores, railroad cuts, edges of developments, walls’. These features help people organize and make sense of space.
  • Districts – ‘medium-to-large sections of the city’ which can be mentally entered and have some distinguishing feature.
  • Nodes – ‘strategic points in a city into which an observer can enter’, such as junctions, crossings, squares or other concentrations or condensations of space.
  • Landmarks – external point references whose ‘use involves the singling out of one element from a host of possibilities’.

(Lynch, Kevin, The Image of the City (Cambridge, MA, and London: The MIT Press, 1996 [1960]), pp. 47-8.) 

To take some examples from the city of Lisbon, we might consider the following:

Rua Augusta, Avenida da Liberdade, the Avenida 24 de Julho, or the tram and Metro lines, paths along which one might customarily move;

River Tejo at Belemthe Tejo, Monsanto park, or the train lines at Alcântara, edges which help to organize space;

AlfamaAlfama, Bica, or Chiado, districts with distinguishing features;

RossioRossio, Praça da Figueira or Martim Moniz, nodes which act as points of concentration;

Ponte 25 de Abrilthe Castelo de São Jorge, the Ponte 25 Abril or the Elevador da Santa Justa, landmarks that can be singled out.

Fado hymns such elements while also overlaying them with a wealth of less obvious cognitive mappings such as alleyways, windows and rooftops.

Alfama Rooftops

Flows (i)

7 May

Mark C. Taylor describes flows in terms of the changes wrought upon the metropolis:

In the city, place is transformed into the space of anonymous flows. As technologies change first from steam and electricity and then to information, currents shift, but patterns tend to remain the same. Mobility, fluidity and speed intersect to effect repeated displacements in which everything becomes ephemeral, and nothing remains solid or stable.

(Mark C. Taylor & Dietrich Christian Lammerts, Grave Matters (London: Reaktion Books, 2002), p. 19.)

 Charles Baudelaire’s work holds a central place here, with its emphasis on the ephemeral and the permanent. Taylor notes how this fluidity in modernity is associated with the emphasis in philosophy on becoming over being:

The infatuation with becoming issues in the cult of the new, which defines both modernity and modernism. The cultivation of the new simultaneously reflects and reinforces the economic imperative of planned obsolescence. In the modern world, what is not of the moment, up to date, au courant is as useless as yesterday’s newspaper.

(Taylor & Lammerts, p. 19)

The price of this, for Edward Casey, is ‘the loss of places that can serve as lasting scenes of experience and reflection and memory’. This in turn has led to the search for theories of belonging, dwelling and being-in-place, as can be found in the rather different projects of Martin Heidegger, Gaston Bachelard and Yi-Fu Tuan.

Place in contemporary thinking occupies many ‘sites’ that are the consequences of the rush to modernity, among them the postindustrial wasteland, the high-rises and ‘concrete islands’ described in the fictions of J.G. Ballard, the abandoned high street, the migratory routes of tourists and vagabonds, and the ‘non-places’ analysed by Marc Augé. These non-places are echoed in Beatriz Sarlo’s discussion of the ‘decentered city, in which she posits the out-of-town shopping mall as the quintessential example of a site for the contemporary consumer-subject to get lost. As Sarlo points out, displacement is happening here on more than just the physical level: ‘the mall is part and parcel of an evacuation of urban memory.’ Zygmunt Bauman, meanwhile, points to the slipperiness of any sense of space within ‘liquid modernity’. In another kind of evacuation, we are also asked to consider the escape from ‘real’ place into the hyperreal space of simulation and the ‘placeless places’ of cyberculture described by Taylor:

The placeless place and timeless time of cyberculture form the shifty margin of neither/nor […] In this ‘netherzone’, ‘reality’ is neither living nor dead, material nor immaterial, here nor there, present nor absent, but somewhere in between. Understood in this way, cyberspace is undeniably spectral. The virtual realities with which we increasingly deal are ghostly shades that double but do not repeat the selves we are becoming.

(Taylor & Lammerts, p. 20. The notion of the ‘netherzone’ comes from the artist Eve André Laramée.)

Before we lose sight of the actual citizen, however, we should think of how one responds to such developments in everyday life. Common to a number of the arguments presented above is an assumption that the city operates as an ideological pressure upon the subjected citizen, who is born into a time and place and must adapt to their situation. This immediately raises questions of negotiation between citizen and city, between dweller and dwelling place.

The geographer Yi-Fu Tuan begins his exploration of space and place with the body, describing a world which is made sense of spatially as a user moves through it. Tuan also presents space as a dialectic of freedom and constraint, shelter and venture, attachment and freedom. Place, meanwhile, is distinguished as ‘enclosed and humanized space’.

Tuan makes the point that space can be both desirable in offering freedom and frightening in threatening loneliness. He is talking here about open space (against which the city might be built and defined) but the point also holds for certain city spaces. The inhabitation of space that produces place relies on a certain amount of imaginary relationships with objects. There is a temporal as well as a spatial dimension to this process. Place is not just the taming of space but a pause in time. Objects, as well as familiarizing us with space, ‘anchor time’ and provide a relationship between person, space and time that is intimate:

To strengthen our sense of self the past needs to be rescued and made accessible. Various devices exist to shore up the crumbling landscapes of the past. For example, we can visit the tavern: it provides an opportunity to talk and turn our small adventures into epics, and in some such fashion ordinary lives achieve recognition and even brief glory in the credulous minds of fellow inebriates. Friends depart, but their letters are tangible evidence of their continuing esteem. Relatives die and yet remain present and smiling in the family album. Our own past, then, consists of bits and pieces. It finds a home in the high school diploma, the wedding picture, and the stamped visas of a dogeared passport; in the stringless tennis racket and the much-traveled trunk; in the personal library and the old family home.

(Yi-Fu Tuan, Space and Place: The Perspective of Experience (Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press, 2008 [1977]), p. 54.)

There is an obvious correlation here with the process of remembering pioneered by Joe Brainard and discussed in a previous post. Tuan also reiterates a point made by Georges Perec about the memorian’s project, that it is meaningful even when (perhaps especially when) others do not share the specifics of the intimate moment; there is something about the process that is recognizable beyond the personal. It is worth positing, then, that what Brainard attempts for time, Tuan does for space. This relationship is even more notable in Bachelard’s ‘poetics of space’, where the intimacy of the poetic line finds its mirror in the intimacy of the domestic sphere, itself a microcosm of the broader relationship between body and world.

Nostalgia, for Tuan, is not simply a passive process to be opposed to agency; rather, the question of whether one feels nostalgic is intimately related to questions of power and control over one’s destiny:

In general, we may say that whenever a person (young or old) feels that the world is changing too rapidly, his characteristic response is to evoke an idealized and stable past. On the other hand, when a person feels that he himself is directing the change and in control of affairs of importance to him, then nostalgia has no place in his life: action rather than mementos of the past will support his sense of identity.

(Tuan, p. 187.)

Mindful of theories of nostalgia and how they reflect or are challenged by supposedly nostalgic practices, I am not sure whether we can import this suggestion of Tuan’s wholesale into an analysis of cultural practices (such as fado) that, having taken nostalgia as their bedrock, have developed more nuanced and even agency-oriented versions of longing. In Fado and the Place of Longing, I offer a discussion of the work of Carlos do Carmo that suggests it is possible to imagine a progressive, agency-oriented programme that deliberately and explicitly uses nostalgia as its base.

Space and Place in the City

7 May

Fado provides topographies of loss in its hymning of the city, allowing a renegotiation undertaken by the citizens of the fadista world of what the names of the city’s streets and neighbourhoods mean. What Michel de Certeau writes with other cities in mind might just as easily be said for Lisbon:

Saints-Pères, Corentin Celton, Red Square … these names … detach themselves from the places they were supposed to define and serve as imaginary meeting-points on itineraries which, as metaphors, they determine for reasons that are foreign to their original value but may be recognized or not by passers-by … They become liberated spaces that can be occupied. A rich indetermination gives them, by means of a semantic rarefaction, the function of articulating a second, poetic geography on top of the geography of the literal, forbidden or permitted meaning.

(Michel de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life, pp. 104-5.)

 Certeau is talking about words – names – but we should also note the relevance of this quotation to music itself, which also detaches itself from place to serve as metaphor, and which also becomes a liberated space to be occupied.

The occupation of which Certeau writes relies on memory as a spatial practice. Frances Yates tells the story of the ancient ‘art of memory’ known as ‘mnemotechnics’ that relied on the fixing of memories in particular places and how this art was later developed in the medieval ‘memory theatre’. The sense of memories occupying space depends on some notion of inscription. For Plato, memories were inscribed or imprinted in the mind, ready to be recalled and ‘read’ at a later date. This also suggests that memory is a palimpsest, a notion that fits the idea of place as location of memory in the city. As Yates notes with relation to the passing on of the art of memory from the Greeks and Romans to the European tradition, ‘an art which uses contemporary architecture for its memory places and contemporary imagery for its images will have its classical, Gothic, and Renaissance periods, like the other arts.’ (Frances A. Yates, The Art of Memory (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1966), p. xi.)

In The City of Collective Memory, Christine Boyer notes the desire accompanying modernity for a disciplinarity in city planning that would double as a disciplinarity over the citizen:

If the masses, housed and fed by meager allowances and expanding in number within the working-class districts of nineteenth-century industrial cities, presented a dangerous threat to social stability, then how better to discipline their behavior and instill democratic sentiments and a morality of self-control than through exemplary architectural expression and city planning improvements?

(M. Christine Boyer, The City of Collective Memory: Its Historical Legacy and Architectural Entertainments (Cambridge, MA, and London: The MIT Press, 1996 [1994]), p. 12.)

Boyer also discusses Foucault’s work on architecture as discipline. Foucault was fascinated with the ways in which space was used to exert power, whether through the surveillance allowed by the panopticon or by the disciplinary possibilities of modernist urban planning. Such disciplinarity is accompanied by, and largely a product of, capitalist accumulation, which, as many Marxist geographers have noted, has been the agent of continual change in the landscape. As David Harvey points out, the lip service paid to collective memory in the city is only one part of the equation:

Capitalist development must negotiate a knife-edge between preserving the values of past commitments made at a particular place and time, or devaluing them to open up fresh room for accumulation. Capitalism perpetually strives, therefore, to create a social and physical landscape in its own image and requisite to its own needs at a particular point in time, only just as certainly to undermine, disrupt and even destroy that landscape at a later point in time.

(David Harvey, cited in Edward J. Soja, Postmodern Geographies: The Reassertion of Space in Critical Social Theory (London and New York: Verso, 1989), p. 157.)

 While for some writers the association between the Enlightenment project of ‘totalizing’ experience and the twentieth century experiences of authoritarianism has been maintained, others have suggested that we have moved into a new ‘post-disciplinary’ era. Zygmunt Bauman, for example, in his account of globalization, has claimed that we have moved on from the panopticism described by Foucault to a ‘synopticism’ in which the many watch the few rather than vice versa. Globalization shows world affairs as indeterminate, unruly and self-propelled, in marked contrast to the Enlightenment project of universalization which contained the hope for order-making and was utopian. Capital has become ‘emancipated from space’ and with it industry, jobs and people.  Migratory flows create two classes of people that Bauman describes as ‘tourists and vagabonds’: tourists ‘become wanderers and put the bitter-sweet dreams of homesickness above the comforts of home – because they want to’, while vagabonds ‘have been pushed from behind – having first been spiritually uprooted from the place that holds no promise, by a force of seduction or propulsion too powerful, and often too mysterious, to resist.’ (Zygmunt Bauman, Globalization: The Human Consequences (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1998), pp. 92-3.)

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.)

Aerial LisbonAerial LisbonLisbon aerialLisbon aerialAlfamaAlfamaAlfamaAlfama

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.