Archive for the 'Lisbon' Category

Street Art Pictures: London, Spain, Morocco and Portugal

First, a disclaimer: I don’t profess to be any kind of expert in street art. Or even a novice, really. I just know that, when I spot a fresh stencil or spy some sick piece, it makes me smile—and, if I happen to have a camera with me, snap some photos.

I guess the thing about street art is the sense of place it evokes—which one naturally notices more when one is traveling, seeing a city with fresh eyes. As the world gets smaller, regionalism can be hard to find; this is especially true in the Westernized world. Traveling in Western Europe, you constantly see the same chainstores, the same brands, the same fashions—girls are wearing whatever’s hip at H&M everywhere from Malmo to Madison (and I’d like to say myself excluded, but that would be a lie). Street art, whether it’s good or not, shatters through that; its viscerality marks a place, claims it, and if you’re traveling, can often reveal a lot more about where you are than reconstructed period buildings and restaurants with picture menus (really, paella all kinda looks the same).

I hung around some East Bay graf kids for a time, and still smile when I see their tags around town. A repeated stencil, a tag, a distinctive style—they’re like recurring images from a dream, someone else’s dream, and you catch little glimpses, train your eyes to look down alleys and up at overpasses, and you feel like you’re in on something. It grounds you in a very tangible way, connects you with the phantoms that sneak around at 3am with backpacks full of clanging illegality, with their finger-staining passions and illicit dreams. Of course, I was never one of them; a certain romance remains when it’s not you getting arrested or jumped in some strange turf battle. But I will say you interact with a city—its architecture and landscape, its thingness—differently when you’re even vaguely in tune with its street art. And when you’re traveling, it can often be your only contact with the night-crawling kids that in large part create the pulse of a place.

My first stop on my trip was London, where I of course went on an all-day goose chase for Banksy (chronicled here). The hunt also took me past several of these digitized little fellows by Invader..

Super poor picture quality, but what can you expect from a 2am street lamp and a mediocre camera? This I spotted in Madrid, near Plaza Sol. If you can't tell, it's two tangoing figures with security cameras for heads.

Granada generally had some piss-poor graffiti and stencils, but this one made me laugh. Totally fitting for a college town.

I spotted this one several times around the beach breakers in Tarifa. The sentiment jived well with the surf-town vibe, and the fact that it was in English spoke to the internationalism of the unassuming little place-between-places.

As you might guess, there wasn't a whole lot of street art going on in Morocco, or at least in the places I went. What one does see a lot of is stenciled Muslim calendars, on the side of buildings, with icons depicting certain holidays and dates. My favorite was the rose. I of course have no idea what it denoted or what the Arabic says, and retained none of the heavily accented, half-French explanations.

But of course, the best stencil piece I saw was in one of my favorite dirt-road beach towns, Mirleft. Popular with vacationing Marrakeshis, artists, dreadlocked travelers and, well, me, Mirleft seemed a perfect place to find this, peeling away on a side street.

Back in Europe, much of Lisbon's street art had a distinctive Brazilian flavor, which makes sense considering the city's large Afro-Brazilian population, and the fact that São Paulo and Rio are some of the biggest and baddest producers of street art in the world. I saw this stencil around the center, around uber-hip Barrio Alto.

And this was a simply incredible wheatpasted portrait over near the Alfama district.

Another college town, Coimbra had a fair amount of politicized stencils. This one was especially interesting given the prevalence of domestic violence in Portugal, and the pervading stigma against seeking help: "Every 2 weeks, a Portuguese victim of domestic violence dies." The number is a little more somber when you consider the small country's population of 10 million.

On the flip side, this was just awesome.

And I quite liked this one as well.

But the place that really took the cake was Porto. Good ole unsuspecting Porto, forever in the shiny, smiley shadow of Lisbon. These were all taken near hip-slick-and-cool Rue Miguel Bombara.

The paper cranes were part of the 1000 Tsuri Project. They acted like punctuation, all over the walls of the street, serving as both a kind of visual break and space filler between the other pieces.

Part of a larger project by artist Costah; check more out here: http://www.costah.net/the-icons.html

This little girl is up a few places; each time, she's touching something different. From what I could tell, this was the logo of a nearby art gallery/collective.

One my favorites. Simple but expressive, and totally took me aback when I spotted it down an alley.

I don’t know if these reveal any more about the places I was in, but to me they do. And if nothing else, they’re better than cell phone ads.

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The Trials of Trying

DSCN3637I´m learning to become a travel writer—which has a lot more to do with learning to travel, and travel differently, than it does learning to write.

Sure, it´s its own genre, a new craft to negotiate. And, yes, it involves hours hunched over a notebook or a computer, weaving images and experience and attempting to capture the whiffs of a place, the strange sentiments it evokes—those vague stirrings that Viriginia Woolf lamented go “fluttering through the nets” of even the best writers.

But, for me, the tricky part has been the first half of the phrase, the “travel” part of “travel writing.” It means traveling in a different way, pushing myself more beyond my comfort zone and inherent shyness in order to experience more—more interactions and more adventures mean more to write about. It means forcing myself to follow those little nudgings, those whispers to, say, delve into that shadowed medina alleyway or say yes to going out on the town when I´d really rather sleep. Fuller travels equal richer content; everyone wins.

I knew on the on-set of this trip that it´d be different for me—my first long trip since getting serious about travel writing. And I set out blazing—tromping around, joyfully holding hands with serendipity, taking feverish notes and spending long hours at cheap internet cafes, searching for punctuation marks on foreign keyboards. I was feeling positive, productive, learning more each day to let go and follow my hunches, the random doors that open.

Then came Lisbon.

I loved Lisbon. Maybe that was the problem. Maybe its bittersweet melancholy sunk in a little too deeply. It´s hard to say. But I spent my last morning woefully walking its steep streets, ruing in a mosaic of regrets not too dissimilar from the sidewalk stone designs.

Vibing well with my hosts, I´d stayed a day longer than intended, and still felt like I´d wasted my time, hadn´t used it well enough—missed out on a chance to go to my first football game, didn´t make the trek to a huge experimental design expo, didn´t go inside a cool-looking vintage toy store that probably would have made a killer (and sellable) story. I´d dropped so many balls, as my friend Katie would say, you´d think I was trying to dribble.

I´m not sure why I fell off so steeply, as precipitous as the seven hills of the city (at least I´m making some anaolgies out of it). It´s possible I´m just being hard on myself. I´m a person that always feels like I should be doing more, working harder, being better. I´m excellent at rallying, at pushing myself—working six days a week for months, saving money to travel. I told myself that for every place I visited on this trip, I´d come out with at least one story. This didn´t happen in Lisbon, and I think there´s a lesson somewhere in there.

I arrived in Lisbon tired. Exhausted, and it wasn´t just the six hours of broken sleep on an overnight bus. I´d been power-traveling for over a month, never sleeping in the same place for more than three nights. My clothes were filthy, my chest blossoming in a recurring stress-related rash. I´d had on-and-off-again diarrhoea for almost two weeks, but hadn´t had a period in over six. My last day in Marrakesh was emotionally draining, and I was ready to relax. To hang out with fun people, to eat pasteries in a shady park and watch trashy American movies. Which is what I did. Rejuvenating? Yes. Fodder for great travel writing? No.

There´s no use in wallowing in regret; all I can do now is try to learn something from it. And while I need to continue to push myself to take risks while traveling—to push open those cracked doors, to go into that toy shop—I also need to go easier on myself. Working as hard as I could got me sick for a month with summer (with swine flu, a whole ´nother story); similarily, traveling as hard as I can will burn me out. It´s tough, cause my time is so limited and my resources are so meager, but I need to move a little slower. Schedule in down time. Take moments to breathe.

Of course, it´s a spiritual challenge as well as a travel writing challenge, a lesson I´ve had to have beaten into me repeatedly. Maybe this time, I´ll finally learn.

Lisa, the Beautiful

DSCN3627Tiles and terraces and tired-ass legs: it´s my third day in Lisbon/Lisboa/Lisa, and she´s working her charm on me.

Portugal´s an intriguing country: it feels overlooked, almost forgotten to me, hanging on to the edge of Iberia, of Europe, like fluttering laundry. I never hear much about it, tucked away down there, in the shadow of both Spain and its dominating former colony. (Prior to my arrival, my only two words of Portuguese were Brazilian: “caçhaca” and “caipirinha.”) A small country, it´s hemorrhaged emigrants for decades, leaving the country a little empty and a little lonely. It´s bittersweet, and so far, I love it.

I´ve spent my days in Lisbon rather lazily, sleeping late, hanging out with my Couchsurfing hosts, lunching and napping and strolling slowly. It feels like a city to be taken in slowly, to be savored, and I´m doing my best to oblige.

My hosts tell me that Lisbon is the most underrated city in Europe; they´ve seen more than I have, but I´m going to venture to agree. They live in a comfortable flat with smooth hardwood floors and modern appliances, in the heart of the city—“In no other city in Europe,” my host told me thoughtfully, “would this be possible.” Rents are cheap, and abandoned buildings with boarded-up windows and cracked tiles line streets that in Paris or Barcelona would be bustling, booming, and demanding rents at least twice as high.

Lisbon is a humble city. Though complete with all the usual big-city stuff—busy metro stations and graffiti and honking snares of traffic—there´s a certain quiet underneath it all, a kind of yearning in the gleaming stone streets, the zig-zag of rust-colored tiled roofs. She´s filled with a brave nostalgia, this Lisa, with the rattle of yellow street cars that young boys cling to the sides of, hooting and yelling, sharp limbs hanging in a bravado that feels old, a relic from another time. Her seven hills rise and fall sharply, like breath; steps are carved into the sidewalk. The hills don´t slope gradually but seem too reach, almost hungrily, for the water, too bright and sparkling for blue eyes to bear.

DSCN3639Today I wandered around Alfama, the old Moorish neighborhood, a European version of a medina—tight alleys that twist and angle and dead-end into the sides of terracotta buildings dripping with flowers and bushes and colorful plastic streamers. The streets are so narrow that old women can lean their full arms against the wrought-iron railings and gossip between the buildings, between the lines of laundry, laughing and shouting in their flower-patterned aprons. In little squares, trees jumble the black and tan stones that have been worn smooth—by Romans and Moors and Crusaders, by my thin-soled Toms that make me slip from time to time, lose myself amid it all.

It sounds sentimental, and it kind of is. It´s a city like that—with soul. And tonight, I´ll go to hear the sound of its melancholy mourning, its bittersweet longing, its Fado. I think Lisa´s prepared me well.


Lauren Quinn is a writer and traveler currently living in Hanoi. Lonely Girl Travels was a blog of her sola travels and expat living from 2009 to 2012. She resides elsewhere on the internet now.

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