May 17th, 2005


Cute alienation

Hisae and I went out in Lisbon last night with hosts Miguel and Sylvie to eat fish at a big tiled beerhall in the Baixa area, Cervejaria da Trindade, then wandered up through tiled and dense hillside streets (conversations audible through every window, the moon shining, hash being sold, fluorescent tiled bars, tangible uncertain poetry!) to check out Portugese books and records at our favourite bookshop, Ler Devagar.

On the metro downtown I recorded the sound of a beggar who was walking through all the carriages doing a sort of Portugese bossa rap, banging a drum strapped to his leg and using the handrails as supplementary percussion. He was in his 20s and had one big blind eye hanging out of its socket like a white grape. Here's what he sounded like:

Lisbon Rap (stereo mp3 file, 30 secs, 478k)

Lisbon links one-eyedness to poetry (but then again the city of Pessoa links everything to poetry) thanks to one-eyed poet Luis Vaz de Camões, whose statue stands in Camões Square in Baixa. As I walked through the square last night dressed in cap, cape and flip flops, two young girls shouted out "Es Camões!", as if I'd just jumped down from the pedestal. In 2003 I performed on an outdoor stage directly under that statue as a guest of local group Belle Chase Hotel, who've since split, allowing singer JP Simões to pursue a career as a "talking singer", one of those Portugese literary cantautores who whispers romantic poetry over heart-rending music.

Flipping through literary records of this type in Ler Devagar last night, I came across many titles like "Incerteza Da Identidade". The uncertainty of identity is a big theme here, and yet it can't help but seem poignant and even cute in such a gorgeously unalienated environment, a place where narrow streets full of nothing but the sound of human voices wind up hills to tiny hidden bars, walls and pavements are tile mosaics lovingly tooled by artisans, and all seems right with the world. Could we call Pessoa's characteristic tone "Cute Alienation"?