PORTO BY Ana Luísa Amaral

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Porto By

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Livraria Lello

She was born in Lisbon in 1956, and teaches at the Faculdade de Letras do Porto and is a member of the Board of the Instituto de Literatura Comparada Margarida Losa, where she runs the international group for Intersexuality research. An author of over three dozen books, between poetry, theatre, fiction, juvenile, which were translated and edited in several countries. She translated different authors, such as Emily Dickinson, William Shakespeare or John Updike.

Her most recent works in Portugal are What’s in a Name (poetry, Assírio & Alvim, 2017) and Arder a Palavra e Outros Incêndios (essay, Relógio D’Água, 2017); abroad, Oscuro (translated by Luis María Marina, Zaragoza, Olifante, 2016) and The Art of Being a Tiger (translated by Margaret Jull Costa, Dartmouth, UK, 2016 and Tagus Press, USA, 2017).

She has already been distinguished for her services to Literature and received several awards: Literary Award Correntes d’Escritas, Premio di Poesia Giuseppe Acerbi, Grand Award in Poetry from the Associação Portuguesa de Escritores, Premio Internazionale Fondazione Roma, PEN Award, in Fiction.

Alongside Luís Caetano, she hosts a weekly program on poetry in Antena 2, O Som que os Versos Fazem ao Abrir.

 

. My favourite location is… Passeio das Virtudes, but there are many other places I love in Porto. The thing is that Passeio das Virtudes has the prettiest view in the city and perhaps in Portugal. The area around Teatro Nacional de São João, with its coffee shops and terraces; the theatre itself is a beautiful sight, the building looks wonderful.

Another great location is the Biodiversity Gallery, in the Andresen house, and the Botanical Garden (that one has always been amazing).

As I live in Leça, I also love the entire shore zone. I watch the sea a lot, I wouldn’t be able to live far away from the sea. I lived three years in the United States, and, at least once a week, I took a one hour drive to watch the sea.

Porto also has the river… Ribeira, further up, next to Ferreira Borges Market and Palácio da Bolsa must be mentioned.

There is a wonderful place in Foz, in Cantareira, when you start seeing Arrábida Bridge, either by car, on foot, on the tram, and you see that scenario… Whenever I pass by the Bridge, I always say: “I’m not sure what side is most beautiful, the one that closes to the river, or the one that opens to the sea”.

Porto has hidden things, many restaurants, bars where you can eat wonderful dishes, traditional Portuguese food that is good and cheap. I feel that Porto, in that regard, is (still!) undamaged, even if the small trade was replaced by shops that sell pizzas, burgers, crepes, things that are more “globalized”, in the worst sense of the word. However, the small restaurants that used to exist continue, fortunately: “O Buraco”, for example, is excellent.

 . What I like the most in Porto is… I have a book that is called “Entre Dois e Outras Noites” (2007, Grande Prémio de Poesia da Associação Portuguesa de Escritores), and that book defines me in a way, as I always felt divided between two rivers, Tejo and Douro. I came to Leça da Palmeira when I was nine years old and I stayed here, but I never stopped loving Lisbon deeply. I do feel divided between the two places, Lisbon and Porto. When I came to Leça, in the 1960s, the country was torn by rivalry at the time, in a very petty way – which, unfortunately, still remains, in a way. Too often, you still hear that the best in Lisbon is the train to Porto and vice-versa. At the time, there really was an idea that Lisbon was the capital city and nothing else mattered, and, while there are still some people from Lisbon who think like that, the rest of the country has been making a positive stand, and Porto is included, of course. It came to be that, little by little, I felt in love with the North and Porto. Lisbon is a city that is easy to fall in love with, very quickly, whereas you have to learn to love Porto. And once you, you never stop loving it, as love never ends, passions do. Any tourist will easily tell you that Lisbon is beautiful, a city you feel passion for. But Porto… Porto, you learn to love slowly.

I like the colour of Porto, the dark granite, the rough accent in the words – which I never picked up, people still notice I’m from Lisbon -, the people.

For many years, I thought that light was exclusive in Lisbon has it has a beautiful light, with plenty of sun and the limestone, which makes for a bright city, much more white. Porto is darker, because of the weather, obviously, but also for the architecture, and that gives it a special light, a different way to relate to things.

. People from Porto are… faithful, loyal. People from Porto tend to be more closed, less open in first contacts, but then they open up. If I could or wanted to define the way of being of the people from Porto, I would say they are more reserved people, more closed, but, when they open up, they become friends forever.

 . A defining story… I came here when I was nine years old. We came because my grandfather had throat cancer, and my dad felt he had to support him, so we all came, my parents, my grandmother, who lived with us, my mother’s godparents, and the dog, called Stop.

For me, it was complicated, as there was a huge difference between Sintra from the 60s and Leça da Palmeira from the 60s. There were bakeries in Sintra, “Tirol”, for example, where my mom used to go with her friends, and, when we got to Leça, there was only one coffee shop, and only men went there. Even in Porto, in the 1960s, the ladies at Império drank wine from cups of tea so no one would realise they were drinking wine. That was Porto, a lot more closed than Lisbon, which is normal, as Lisbon was the capital city, and had many foreign influences. The physical distance between Lisbon and Porto was huge, you took eight or nine hours travelling. That notion you had from the North, that people were far more provincial than those from Lisbon, made, the way I see it, sense in the 60s.

Now, looking back, I believe this was caused by the fact that my mother didn’t want to come here, so, as the only daughter, that had an impact on me. I remember seeing her cry, and then I went to a school where people made fun of me because of my accent, they made fun of me because I called our teacher “madam”, they made fun of me for not knowing how to play dodge ball.

My first impression was that I was among Celtics, that I was an Arab, from a very delicate culture, and that, all of a sudden, I was among Celtics as they played dodge ball – I had never seen it – and even invented a game just for me, “hit the girl from Lisbon”, and they would throw me in the air. And I, as a revenge, would take Diário Popular to school, where you could read “News from Lisbon” and “News from the province”, and I would make fun of that – “Look, this is the province”. Then I moved to a school run by nuns and I continued to be mistreated for a long time, exactly because of my accent, so I grabbed on to it, to how much I missed Lisbon, and I would fall asleep crying over it, I didn’t want to be here.

When I was about 14 or 15, when I went to high school, I finally made my peace with the North. I grew up and started to really like it, even though I never stopped loving Lisbon. Lisbon is still a beautiful city for me, and I always go back there.

. Culture in Porto is… excellent. I would say that, in the last few years, in terms of culture and art, Porto is perfectly comparable to any European city. I think that came from smart politics, from more investment from the City Hall, but also from the fact that, apparently, we are out of that dreadful economic crisis, and there’s more investment in cultural agents, nationally and locally.

I remember that the theatre plays from a few years ago were just monologues or dialogues, as there was no money to pay for actors. Despite everything, I think there is still a lot more to do in the theatre, it doesn’t make sense that actors rehearse for three or four months and then the play is only available for a week or three days… Everything is measured by quantity and not quality, and that needs to be looked at.