Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Lisbon’

Not a Happy Anniversary

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 23rd June, 2017

Today is the first anniversary of Britain’s EU Referendum. Doubtless some arch-Brexiteers, such as Nigel Farage and Jacob Rees-Maggie, have been celebrating what they consider to be the UK’s first anniversary of independence. This is of course tosh, on almost every level. We are still members of the EU until at least 29 March 2019, but more importantly, being an EU member state does not undermine a country’s independence, but rather member states voluntarily share aspects of sovereignty for the common good. Britain has done very well as an EU member state, though not a single UK Prime Minister since we joined in 1973 took full advantage of the opportunities offered. Theresa May, or whoever will replace her, can only look on impotently over the coming months as Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron help fashion a reformed and confident EU, in which the UK will have no formal role, unless Brexit is reversed, which at present seems unlikely. Last year I came to Lisbon  immediately after the Referendum, to salve my wounds with some continental culture and joie de vivre. By coincidence, I am in Lisbon again now, but this evening I did not raise my glass to celebrate the Brexit vote but rather to savour being a full European citizen while I still can.

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Robbery Hurts

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 13th June, 2017

pickpocketsLast night, as I was making my way to Lisbon airport on a crowded metro train some nifty pickpocket succeeded in unfastening my shoulder bag and stealing my wallet. Fortunately, I still had my passport on me, so was able to take my flight back to London, with just enough time to make a formal report at the airport police station, where I was not alone in recounting such woes. Once home, I was immediately on the phone to my bank and all the credit card companies, who obviously train specially soothing overnight staff to deal with calls about lost or stolen cards. No-one had tried to misuse one of my cards and now I just have to wait for the replacements to arrive. Actually, I suspect the thief merely pocketed the money that was in the wallet and may well have dumped the rest in a bin. But that is not always the case. A few years ago, a pickpocket grabbed my wallet from my jacket pocket in a restaurant in London and before I could get home to report the thefts, he had managed to withdraw £800 from my bank account and bought a £8000 watch on my American Express card! I suspect it must have been a very professional guy with inside contacts as I don’t see otherwise how he could have managed it. Mercifully both Amex and my bank refunded the money/credit. Although last night’s loss was less significant, it will nonetheless mean the hassle of getting replacements for everything from my driving licence to airline loyalty cards, and the sense of vulnerability and outrage is acute. There is something deeply unsettling about being robbed, even when no violence is used. It hurts psychologically, if not physically, and makes one think less of the world and of humanity. But I shall draw comfort from the civility and concern I experienced both from staff I dealt with after the robbery and from friends on Facebook who reacted to news of the loss. After all, it was only a wallet, not my life.

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Return to Sintra

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 8th January, 2016

imageToday I went to Sintra for the first time for 40 years, taking the train from the Rossio station in Lisbon, itself totally transformed from how it looked in the 1970s. The journey itself was different, too, as modern apartment blocks have taken over much of the previous scrubland and only a few of the picturesque single-storey dwellings that I remembered remain. I first went to Sintra when I was researching my biography of Christopher Isherwood, who lived there for a period with his German boyfriend Heinz, before the Second World War. It was not hard to picture it in the 1930s, as most of the grand late-19th and early 20th century villas still stood, as they do today, even if nowadays some have been transformed into guesthouses. I’m glad I went back there in winter now, when the town was largely free of tourists, who I imagine flood the place in summer, which certainly was not the case four decades ago. And this time, because I was not in search of echoes of Isherwood’s past but just enjoying the place for itself, I did go into the Palacio Nacional de Sintra, which I had almost to myself — an extraordinarily atmospheric royal residence, with spiral staircases and sudden views of the valley below and an all-pervading atmosphere of loss, as if the building itself was crying out for the excited voices of young princes, long gone into exile.

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Sebastiao Salgado’s Genesis

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 29th May, 2015

imageimage I took a break from writing this morning to go to see the huge and imposing exhibition of back-and-white photographs by the Brazilian Sebastiao Salgado, which is running at the Galleria Municipal Torreao Nascente in Lisbon until 2 August. I had often seen Salgado’s work in the minimised format of magazine reproductions, but the sheer scale of some of the images full-size is arresting, whether it is a whale surfacing in the ocean to “blow” or a barren landscape populated with thousands of seabirds. The photographer obviously have a soft spot for penguins, but few of his shots could be called cute or even life-affirming. The overwhelming effect (not just because his photographic palate is limited to greys) is one of gloom, even doom. This is of course deliberate, as a major reason for this exhibition, which is touring the world, is to alert people to the dangers threatening the planet. Having earned quite a lot of money from his work, he has ploughed some of it back into reforestation in South America. But at times the exhibition does seem over-didactic. The photographs of people are particularly unsettling, not just because almost none of them smile but because the photographer seems distanced from them, a remote observer, which makes the viewer feel estranged too. There are some particularly fine portraits of tribesmen in Papua New Guinea, but others have treated such subjects with something that seems curiously lacking in Salgado’s technically brilliant work: human bonding, even love.

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ALDE Congress Lisbon

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 22nd November, 2014

Hans van Baalen and Angelika MlinarThe congress of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) this week brought 600 delegates to Lisbon to discuss Reclaiming Liberalism. Though it was the first such gathering since May’s European elections, not too much time was spent looking backwards but rather forwards, as to how we can hone our message on the basis of our liberal principles in a context of growing illiberalism and nationalism. Liberals in some countries — notably Britain and Germany — fared really badly in May, whereas in other areas — such as the Benelux and the Baltic — there was a strong advance. It was good to welcome several new parties into the liberal family. Fringe events are getting much more numerous and valuable than used to be the case, and I especially valued the session on the EU digital single market. An election was held for two new vice-presidents on the Bureau, the victorious candidates being Angelika Mlinar from Austria and Hans van Baalen from the Netherlands. As usual, the Brits had the largest delegation, but as the number of delegate places reflects the vote a party gets in national general elections, we have to brace ourselves for a reduction after next May. Meanwhile, I was pleased to learn that I have ben re-elected by the Liberal Democrats to serve on the ALDE governing Council for the next two years, as well as on the party’s International Relations Committee. I also got elected to the LibDems’ Federal Executive (the first time I’ve stood) and know that we will have quite a tough period to face as a party in the run-up to May and beyond.

[photo: Hans van Baalen and Angelika Mlinar]

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Ascensor da Bica

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 21st November, 2010

The most spectacular funicular in Lisbon — often missed by tourists — is the Ascensor da Bica, which starts from inside what appears to be a normal building in the Rua de Sao Paulo west of Cais do Sodre and climbs steeply up the hillside before entering the narrow Rua da Bica de Duarte Belo, in the direction of Chiado. Built by Raoul Mesnier de Ponsard in 1892, it originally ran on steam but after a number of transformations, it was converted to electricity. A depressing amount of the tightest stretch of the route has been covered in graffiti and the station at the bottom was blaring loud American pop music when I took the tram earlier this week. But it still has plenty of atmosphere. There’s a little metal fence and gate in the bottom station which the driver of the tram has to open to let passengers in, ceremoniously closing up when it is time to leave. The service runs every 10 to 20 minutes. My fellow passengers were local pensioners, not surprisingly daunted by the alternative of walking up one of the steepest of Lisbon’s hills. The service is run by the city’s public transport service Carris, and therefore costs the same as buses and other routes: 1.45 euro (at the time of writing), or else included in day tickets, season tickets or other promotions.

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Lisbon’s Number 28 Tram

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 14th September, 2009

Lisbon tram number 28Trams have long been one of the iconic symbols of the Portuguese capital, especially the little wood-lined carriages that beetle up and down the city’s cobbled, hilly streets. Perhaps the most celebrated of all is the one I’ve been taking every day to get home to a friend’s apartment in Graça. It makes its way down from the cafés and bookshops of smart Chiado, across the flat straight of Baixa before it begins its long climb past the cathedral and along the increasingly winding streets up to Graça. At one point, the way is so narrow that one can touch the walls of the buildings on either side, if you stretch your arm out of the window. As the route takes in a couple of magnificent panoramic views, as well as passing as close as one can get to the Castle by this means of transport, the Number 28 is popular with tourists — who have suddenly become much more numerous in Lisbon in recent years. For decades, the city was Western Europe’s last remaining secret capital.

Tennessee Williams wrote a celebrated play about a streetcar named Desire, and I can well imagine a novelist could write a memorable book about the Number 28 tram and those who use it, as well as the residents of the buildings it trundles past.

[photo: Stephen Rees]

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Portugal’s Persil Politics

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 13th September, 2009

Jose SocratesAs the first hint of autumn arrives with cool evenings in Lisbon, some people, at least, are getting into general election mode. The country will go to the polls on 27 September, with the photogenic socialist Prime Minister, José Sócrates, campaigning hard for re-election. While I was sitting at the Brasileira café last night, I was handed one of his party’s glossy pamphlets, but my reaction was not what the party activist was expecting. The thing that struck me immediately was that every single face shown in the pamphlet was white. As Lisbon is as multi-ethnic as London (for the same reason of colonial legacy), the literature was in no way representative of the society the politicians aspire to serve. Not so long ago, one would have found the same situation with British political leaflets, of course, though I hope that these days that would be impossible, in the capital at least, apart from the BNP’s.

The irony is that Lisbon is actually launching a cultural campaign this week to celebrate the city’s diversity. How come the politicians (particularly the socialists) didn’t spot the inconsistency? But it alas symptomatic of a conscious or unconscious racism that still exists at many levels in Portuguese society. A Brazilian friend of mine here in Lisbon was horrified when a Portuguese colleague yesterday commented to him (approvingly) about Barack Obama, ‘Ah, that man is a negro with a white head!’

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