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Posts Tagged ‘Portugal’

Lello Bookstore, Porto, Portugal

April 24, 2013 | by

The Lello bookstore, Porto, Portugal,

The Lello bookstore, Porto, Portugal.

“Standing there, staring at the long shelves crammed with books, I felt myself relax and was suddenly at peace.” —Helene Hanff, Q’s Legacy



Letter from Portugal: To a Portuguese Nun

September 18, 2012 | by

Around the sixth day of my trip to Portugal, I forced myself to accept the fact that I would not be returning home with vast quantities of convent-made lingerie, replete with handwork and bobbin lace. Not, I assure you, for lack of trying. When something doesn’t exist, as a hundred thousand visitors to Loch Ness will tell you, finding it makes for very tough work.

Why the obsession, you ask? Well, I will tell you. First, I happened to reread Rebecca just before we left. Do you remember when Mrs. Danvers shows the narrator Rebecca’s exquisite nightdress, folded and left waiting for her in a silk case? “Here is her nightdress … how soft and light it is, isn’t it? … They were specially made by nuns of St. Claire.” This alone would have been enough to fire my imagination: this one garment, after all, serves as a symbol of Rebecca’s unattainable perfection: delicate, beautiful, worthy not merely of the most exquisite things but of the work it entails. Somehow both ethereally pure and erotically charged. A sex goddess blessed by Brides of Christ. No wonder the nameless narrator is intimidated.

Then, flipping through D.V., I ran across the passage wherein Mrs. Vreeland describes her London lingerie atelier:

The most beautiful work was done in a Spanish convent in London, and that’s where I spent my time. There was a brief period in my life when I spent all my time in convents. I was never not on my way to see the mother superior for the afternoon. “I want it rolled!” I’d say. “I don’t want it hemmed, I want it r-r-r-rolled!”

And a conviction grew in my breast: I would return to New York with a wearable piece of the Old World. Read More »


Letter from Portugal: Sonnets from the Portuguese

September 11, 2012 | by

Dollhouse with Portuguese tile, Museu Do Brinquedo Sintra.

You will have heard of Sintra. A stunning enclave some forty minutes outside Lisbon, filled with palaces and piles and follies of every era, Lord Byron called it “Glorious Eden,” and started “Childe Harolde” at Lawrence’s Hotel, on the Rua do Consiglieri Pedroso. (There is now an Escadinhas Lord Byron just outside its doors.) Tourists have been flocking there ever since.

We visited the Palácio da Pena with its majestic views, and the pink-hued Palácio Seteais, and the fourteenth-century Palácio Nacional de Sintra and the Gothic pleasure gardens of the Regaleira Estate, rich with grottoes and gargoyles and secret passages. We ate at the Queijadas de Sintra. It was very much the Lucy Honeywell school of tourism, but wonderful all the same. We were part of a multinational throng. I was vaguely aware of being a failure as someone who experiences life to the full, and probably the worst kind of American imperialist to boot. I studied my vocabulary list diligently.

In the afternoon, I visited the Toy Museum, lured by the sight of a six-foot Playmobil woman beckoning me in from a wrought-iron balcony. Some visitors seemed disappointed by the somewhat haphazard collection (“Where are the teddy bears?” demanded one disconsolate British tourist. “Where are the rocking horses?” implored her companion.) Read More »


Antonio Lobo Antunes on ‘The Land at the End of the World’

July 26, 2011 | by

Portuguese author Antonio Lobo Antunes is the author of more than twenty books, including the novels The Return of the Caravels, Knowledge of Hell, The Natural Order of Things, The Inquisitors’ Manual, and What Can I Do When Everything’s On Fire? His book of newspaper “crónicas”—a free-form amalgam of essay and fiction—was published in the U.S. in 2009 under the title The Fat Man and Infinity. Last month, his groundbreaking 1979 novel, South of Nowhere, was reissued in a new translation by Margaret Jull Costa as The Land at the End of the World, and this September Dalkey Archive will release another early novel, The Splendor of Portugal. Both books are dense, kaleidoscopic visions of a modern Portugal scarred by its Fascist past and its bloody colonial wars in Africa. Lobo Antunes has been called “the heir to Conrad and Faulkner” (by George Steiner) and “one of the living writers who will matter most” (by Harold Bloom). I spoke to Lobo Antunes, now sixty-nine, over a scratchy phone connection to his home in Lisbon.

Your author bio mentions that you were trained as a psychiatrist and served as a military doctor in Portugal’s war in Angola before becoming a writer. This experience seems to be at the heart of The Land at the End of the World, which takes the form of the soul-baring rant of a Portuguese war veteran honing in on a sexual conquest in a late 1970s Lisbon nightclub. How do you see this novel now, which has since been acclaimed as a literary masterpiece on the absurdities and wretchedness of war?

I started that book more than thirty years ago, as a very young man. In the first versions, there was no war at all. In many ways, it’s impossible to speak about the war directly. For me, it was a personal matter. When I arrived in Africa I looked up at the sky and said, “I don’t know these stars. Where am I? What am I doing here?” I just wanted to return alive. I remember we kept calendars and would cross off each day that we were still alive! Read More »