Postcard from Lisboa, Portugal: Endangered Artistry Underfoot

Polished as slick as marble by thousands of feet passing over them, the pleasing patterned sidewalks contribute greatly to the distinctive character of Lisboa.

I had thought that the slickness I felt underfoot was caused by the poor soles of my seemingly sensible shoes, worn down by miles logged on the River Walk at home and on the cobblestones and pavers of San Miguel de Allende and Oaxaca, Mexico. While the rubber nubs of my soles are disappearing under the balls of my feet, that is not the only reason for a little slippage.

The reason I didn’t experience the same feeling in Porto was not shoe-related. An article published online by the The Wall Street Journal on June 1, noted Porto’s black and white pavers are made from granite, which is not as slippery smooth as the five-inch squares of limestone and black basalt residents of Lisboa must navigate daily.

Patricia Kowsmann wrote in The Wall Street Journal article:

Along Rua do Carmo, which slopes gently through an affluent shopping district, pedestrians caught in the rain last week navigated the sidewalk by clinging to lampposts, the facades of buildings or each other. Some gave up and stepped into the street, paying little attention to passing cars.

Obviously, I’m not alone. Old soles on old souls are always on the verge of spills.

But these sidewalks are simply stunning.

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As I periodically paused to snap photos, I had no idea the pavers could be an endangered species.

But Kowsmann reported elderly are in revolt, driven by their fears of falling. City officials now are authorized to replace sidewalks with more age-friendly materials when deemed appropriate. Although, are the city fathers’ concerns really with the aging population or the cost of continuing to hire craftsman to repair the existing mosaics?

Fortunately, Kowsmann says there has been some major backlash from preservationists and admirers of the artistry under their feet. As one man commented to Kowsmann, hopefully the city can simply rough the surface up a bit to prevent some of the spills.

It’s raining as I write this. Does this pair of seniors dare to brave the risk posed by the rain-slickened up or downhill routes to the closest stores or try to survive the evening safely holed up with one single bottle of wine?

Postcard from Coimbra, Portugal: Parting Shots

Don’t know why I haven’t shared more sidewalk shots, as we spend so much of our time walking them. This is the only one in this batch of photographs, but Portuguese sidewalks tend to be incredibly beautiful with varying geometric or lyrical designs. A culture paying artistic attention to what lies underfoot fills me with admiration.

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While females are associated with fado music in much of the country, Coimbra’s fado traditions are associated with the male population of the University of Coimbra. Rather than hear it in a club, we went to listen to the songs of loss or longing as preserved and presented by the nonprofit organization of former students, Fado ao Centro. Here, the male vocalist sings accompanied by a classical guitar and a 12-string Portuguese guitar.

The song we recorded is one of courtship, sung below the window of the target of affection. If the woman favors the attention, she signals by turning the light in her room on and off three times. Those gathered around in the street signal their appreciation of the talents of the musicians not by applause, but by clearing their throats three times at the conclusion of the song of yearning.