Following a hectic arrival after a long flight from Seoul via Doha (cheaper flight on Qatar Air), landing in Rome, being driven to Bologna, visiting a few friends, we went back to Roma again for a few days, and a dinner with old friends before heading on to Lisbon on EasyJet. The dinner was one of those that seem to occur in my life, where I am the catalyst for people to see each other again, though they live in the same city. At this dinner my writer friend Edoardo saw Theo Eshetu (who does video and installations) for the first time in 4 years, since we shot La Lunga Ombra, and Victoria, who was in Uno a te, uno a me, e uno a Raffaele back in 1995, for the first time since way back then. Dinner was at a good fish restaurant, Da Franco’s, in San Lorenzo. The next night Victoria and Leonardo, her Argentine husband, had us over for dinner Argentinian style – tons of excellent grilled meat and the rest. Very good and very filling, of course. Next day we flew to Lisbon, for screenings at the Cineteca, staying in a real cheap hostel place. The screenings, in their lavish Moorish-style old building in the center of Lisbon which serves as the headquarters for the Portuguese archive and exhibition facilities, now with new addition including bar and new cinemas, were thinly attended. 3 nights, and in a bow to the new “crisis,” no pay, money for travel or anything. As I had other reasons for wanting to be in Lisbon I accepted. The Cineteca, and I think also the production arm of the government funded film agency, ICAM, are due for a severe budgetary cut-back, maybe even just being folded. Portugal has for some time had a rather lavish support system for filmmakers, with 5 or so getting the equal of about a million dollars to make films each year – films which go to festivals but make no money at all. For little Portugal that’s a lot and surely they have far more urgent needs to be met for such money. I think most of the Portuguese filmmakers will hit a brick wall. Pedro Costa, having shifted some time ago to DV, will do OK. Many of the rest perhaps will be forced into retirement since they aren’t going to be getting money from elsewhere as that was always predicated on the chunk from ICAM.
Lisbon and Portugal have undergone a major change in the last few decades, flushed with European Union funds for building roads, and all kinds of things such as tourist-oriented museums or the Cineteca building or outside Lisbon they built a state of the art film archival facility masquerading as a traditional villa, a vast expense utterly unjustified by Portugal’s size, film industry, or other far harsher realities. Naturally all this happened with a sizable bit of corruption, such that an EU parliament member built a large and illegal house by the sea in the Algarve. Money was flush. But now the illusion is popped, and poor little Portugal must resume its poor ways, though now with baubles of enticing riches present to mock everyone. Portugal makes very little, still has large infrastructure problems and remains one of Europe’s poorest countries. One notices it when on the EU paid-for toll-ways, expensive 4-lane highways almost empty because few can afford to pay for them.
Once Portugal was a very rich place, with a far-flung empire. That wealth is still visible in its churches and grand civic buildings and the private estates through much of the country. But it has been poor for a long time now, weighted with its cultural legacy which acts as a drag on everything. Its famous music is fado, an emotionally intense song akin to the black American blues, and the essential Portuguese mentality is one of sadness and loss. Why this should be so in a place largely blessed with a warm climate, rich farming land, and other positives is hard to explain. They explain it by their formative myth, of King Sebastião, who went off to battle against the Moors in 1578 and never came back. As the story goes, the Portuguese are still sitting around waiting for him to return and save them. Implicit in this, and evident in many everyday acts, is they are certainly not inclined to save themselves. Rather waste away in depression and paralysis. The popular music though is not really fado, but pimba - a cheap, sexually loaded pop music for dancing, and to my ears sounding vaguely polka-ish and C&W, but yanked up to date with thudding electronic beats and cheap synthesizers. I suspect having to live with pimba is a large source of the Portuguese intelligencia’s tendency for saudade.
My real interest in going to Lisbon was to try – against all hope – to see my daughter Clara. For 10 years her mother has blocked all communications and contact – though supposedly I have a legal right to it, and according to her own written words, it would be best for Clara to have both her parents in her life. This story can be found elsewhere, or see this. I had an address, though mail sent there was returned, marked “unknown.” So on our visit, with no other leads, we went to the street of the address, Rua do Seculo, coming down from the Park Principe Real, and looked. One pass was inconclusive, and we found no one who knew of Clara or her mother, Teresa Villaverde. I frankly had imagined that owing to the announcement in the Cineteca program, as well as my own clear notices on the net, that Teresa would have sent Clara, and perhaps herself, out of the city, or at least to some other place in the city. I had about zero hope of actually seeing Clara – whether from a distance, or actually personally. The last day we were to be in Lisbon we returned again to Rua do Seculo, and looked in the park, and were just leaving the area when Marcella, my wife, spotted Teresa coming out of a bakery shop on the top of the street. She pointed to her, and I turned and saw, following her without being seen. She was on a mobile phone talking, and went to the door 157 Rua do Seculo, which was the address which I had previously. She entered, and we waited outside for an hour or more. I went again to Principe Real to see if perhaps Clara was with friends there, but she wasn’t. On returning Marcella, who’d stayed to keep watch, told me that a car had driven up to the door-front, driven by a short-haired muscular tattooed young man who seemed very nervous, glancing at her a few times. He’d phoned, and Teresa had then come down, bearing some journals and notebooks in her hands, and they had driven off. We then stayed a while longer, and finally went to ring the doorbell. A young woman’s voice replied, and Marcella said “Clara.” The door buzzer opened and we entered, going to the 2nd (US style, piso #1 in Portugal) floor where the young woman opened the door. It was not Clara, but someone in her early 20’s perhaps. I asked if Clara Villaverde Jost was there, and the woman acted as if she did not understand. I then asked if Teresa lived there, and again the woman acted as if she did not understand. Then Marcella asked, ever so different accent on the name, and the woman responded, saying no, but that she lived one floor up.
We went up, though I think the suggestion was false and misleading, and we rang the doorbell there to no response. My guess is that the young woman was Teresa’s perhaps live-in house-keeper (Teresa, when we lived together, was miserable at such menial things – cooking, keeping a house in order, clothes, anything like it), and she likely had erred in opening the door and then tried to cover for it by misdirecting us. We returned to the street, and on the thought that the opening of the door for the word “Clara” suggested she was anticipating Clara’s return, we stayed another hour and more, waiting to see if this would happen – though we suspected if that were the case a call would have been made and the return changed. On leaving we left a note, above, tucked into the crack of the bell plaque. Later that night, we returned and the note was still there. I imagine for sure a call had made sure no one returned while we might be there.
The next day we left for Elvas, a city on the border of Portugal and Spain, in the Alentejo region – an arid realm of cork oaks, cattle grazing, and lovely small towns of white. We stayed the night, watching the Spain vs Holland World Cup final in a cafe while we ate. I speculated, accurately, that all the Portuguese would be rooting for Holland. Talking to a few they confirmed this, assuring us they were not racist, but they hated Spain and Spaniards. I already knew that. The were glum at the conclusion. Spain was partying.
Posted from Matera, Italy