Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Lisbon: Custard & Clouds

Greetings from Lisbon where I arrived last night, just in time for a spitty gray fog to roll in. Whether it's a little bit of San Francisco summer coming over to make me feel at home (sigh) or it stuck to me in the Undisclosed Location I just visited I'm not sure, but it's actually not so bad, although I hope the famous Portuguese sun comes out soon. Speaking of that Undisclosed Location, I'm sure the 7 or 8 family and friends who read this blog probably already know where I was, and I suppose it looks pretty pretentious to keep it a secret, but let me explain: first of all, there are a lot of "acquaintances" in this place that I should probably have looked up but didn't really have time (or energy) for; secondly, it was a bit embarrassing not to get a booking there, and there are a variety of people around my Facebook fan page that might raise a ruckus if they knew I'd been hanging around, and a certain media figure who would probably have wanted to speak to me, but again, I was a little embarrassed to do so without anything real to talk about. So, it was a secret visit, but a fun one, and thanks to those who helped make it a wild weekend--you know who you are, or maybe you don't, because it's so secret!

But anyway, here I am in Portugal, which isn't a secret at all. I have gigs in the area of Lisbon Friday and Saturday nights, and then another gig at a beach club the next Friday, so I get a few days of R&R here, which I'm incredibly excited about. Of course, my Portuguese is nonexistent, and my Spanish is like taqueria-level (para llevar, por favor!) so I'm a bit at sea, but everybody I've dealt with so far is either happy to let me muddle through in pseudo-Spanish or speaks English just fine. The city is uniquely beautiful, and reminds me a lot of Puebla, Mexico, where I DJed last year: the center of town was mostly destroyed in the 1755 earthquake and was rebuilt on a strict grid, just like Puebla; but the tiny, winding lanes immediately snake up the seven hills the rest of the city is built on. First on the agenda today was—what else?—the funicular!

Actually this is one of I think three funiculars, all slightly more useful than your typical funicular that just climbs up a few hundred feet. The one I took actually rises from the main drag, Avenida de Liberdad, to a hip nightlife area, the Barrio Alto, although it was still chock full of tourists, as well as some guy who got in an endless shouting match with the driver and three policemen halfway up, bringing everything to an amusing stop that I utilized to take pictures.
The cars have cockpits at both ends (since they can't exactly turn around) so riders are free to stand in the rear one, and to step, accidentally at first, on the little silver button (see at left) in the floor that rings the bell. (I tried not to do it too much after my accidental discovery, since I imagine the driver was in a bad mood after the big argument about who knows what, but there was no way I could resist a few dings).

Barrio Alto at around 3pm seems pretty deserted, but apparently its tiny streets fill with revelers later in the evening, so I'll have to check that out. In the light of day, it's charming and strange, its ancient buildings scrawled with graffiti and signs for the tiny late night bars.

The transit system is a bit complicated, especially to get to the hotel I'm staying at (for now) out in Belem, a neighborhood that's a bit of a ways down the river and accessible only by a suburban train whose ticket cards look exactly the same as the metro cards but are, of course, incompatible, which one discovers when swiping the incorrect one and getting a red light and warning bell immediately identifying one as a doltish tourist. Thankfully there are some good reasons to be here, like a beautiful old monastery, the presidential palace complete with fancy-dress guards, and perhaps most importantly a famous pastry shop, Pasteis de Belem, whose custard tarts are made from a secret recipe known only to three chefs. I do like the custard, as desserts go, and this little dollop, cradled in a flaky pastry shell and dusted with powdered sugar and cinnamon, was worth the line of tourists and complicated Russian style pay-at-one-counter-get-'em-at-the-other system, as well as the 80 euro cents it cost (about $1.15).

As far as my gigs go, while I usually try and do some mashuppery/remixery of local tunes, I'm a bit overwhelmed by the breadth of Portuguese (and Brazilian) music, from the groovy baile funk of Rio to the banging local dance music kuduro and of course the traditional, mournful fado. So I'm not exactly sure where to start. Conveniently, my faves Buraka Som Sistema are mega-huge here (headlining a festival next weekend whose top-billed artist the day before is Faith No More), so I can at least drop them into my sets if people get confused. We'll see how it goes.


OstrasOCaracoles said...

i was in lisbon a few months ago and i took the same photos you post in this post. Awesome!

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