Kissing in Portugal

Labios

Historians trace the costume of kissing on the cheeks to the French Revolution when it was used to show solidarity. Since then, the French made greeting into an art form. Depending on location and circumstance, they might kiss twice, thrice, four times, or not at all.

The Portuguese are quite formal, but greeting norms are relatively simple. Men greet each other by shaking hands. Women greet man or other women with two kisses, the first on the right cheek and the second on the left.

There is, however, one tricky exception: in Lisbon close friends kiss only once, on the right cheek. So, as you start making friends in Portugal, you might go through a period of hesitation: should I greet them with one or two kisses? It’s a price well worth paying for the joy of having Portuguese friends.

Drawing (ink on paper, 2013) by Ana Duarte. Check out her clothes collection here.

The Portuguese oranges of Louis XIV

As laranjas Portuguesas de Luis XIV, Rui Barreiros Duarte, ink on paper, 2012.

“Portugal,” “Portugal,” cried the street vendors in 17th century Paris. They were selling a novelty fruit: sweet oranges from Portugal. European oranges were bitter, good only to make marmalade.  That all changed when the Portuguese brought sweet-orange trees from India and China. These trees produced the most fashionable fruit in Europe. Portuguese oranges were so expensive, that Moliére used them in his play The Miser to signify extravagance. Louis XIV, who thought that sweet oranges looked like the sun, adopted them as his personal symbol and did not rest until he had his own “orangerie.”

If you visit Portugal, order a freshly squeezed orange juice in an outdoors café in an old neighborhood. Imagine yourself in the 17th century. Enjoy this luxurious drink that only kings and nobles can afford. Doesn’t it taste sweet?

Nullum est sine nomine saxum

That’s what the Roman poet Marcus Lucanus wrote about Troy. It means “no stone is without a name.”

Portugal has beautiful scenery, wonderful food, perfect weather. But what makes this country truly unique is its history. Africans, Celts, Jews, Moors, Phoenicians, Romans, Suevi, Visigoths, they all shared this corner of the world. They all left their marks on the Portuguese landscape. Monuments to their triumphs, ruins from their defeats are everywhere. No stone is without a name.

A letter to Woody Allen

Lisboa, Rui Barreiros Duarte, ink on paper, 2011.

Dear Mr. Allen:

Why don’t you shoot a movie in Lisbon? Lisbon is an ancient city that easily holds its own when compared to Barcelona, Rome, London or Paris.

We wonder whether the Roman name for Lisbon, “Felicitas Julia,” would make a good movie title. Naturally, the title would be up to you, we’re just throwing out ideas.

Lisbon is a city of serious Woody Allen fans. Those who try to live here without studying your movies are ostracized. Eventually, they choose nocturnal jobs or migrate to countries with languages that have no vowels. Just because of you, the clarinet is much more popular than the banjo among Lisbon youths.

The themes of your work are all here. First, beauty. Lisbon has the looks: the Tagus river, the cobblestone streets, the ancient palaces with draperies that could be turned into clothes that would look great on Scarlett Johansson. Second, romance. If this was not a romantic city, why would Ingrid Bergman fly to Lisbon in the last scene of Casablanca? Third, angst. The Portuguese have angst about everything: about the future, about the past, about being invaded by Spain, or worse, losing in soccer to Spain. Fourth, fate. Fado, the word that describes the traditional music of Lisbon, means fate. Which other city sings about fate? Fifth, obsession with fame. We call our periods of occupation by the French the Napoleonic invasions, even though Napoleon was never here. Sixth, mortality. The Portuguese do not recognize the concept of death. We’re still waiting for the return of D. Sebastian, a king who disappeared in the 16th century. We think he is on an extended diplomatic mission.

Lisbon is a movie set that has taken centuries to build and that is ready for you.

Portuguese cutlery

The Portuguese are obsessed with cutlery. They use a bewildering array of specialized tools to eat their food. Serving snails? You need a snail fork. Eating oysters? You need an oyster fork. The soup is a consomée? A normal soup spoon won’t do. You need a consomée spoon. Cake for dessert? Don’t even think of using a desert fork! You need a cake fork. And, of course, you can only eat fish with proper fish forks and knifes. You can see all this cutlery bravado on display at a Cutipol store. It’s more fun than many museums.

The fate of Portugal

The great poet Luís Vaz de Camões published his masterpiece, the Lusíadas, in 1572. In the first part of this epic ode we learn that the fate of Portugal is being decided in Greece. The Greek gods (called by their Roman names) are divided into two parties. Bacchus is the nemesis of Portugal. With the help of Neptune, he sows unexpected obstacles and unending perils on the path of the Portuguese. But Venus takes up the cause of Portugal. And, with her thoughtful help, the Portuguese show that they can accomplish great things.