Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Portugal’

Eurovision: A Return to Authenticity?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 14th May, 2017

NB&D Eurovision nightMost years I watch the Eurovision song contest in the company of fellow Liberal Democrats, and this year was no exception, with a jolly event last night at the home of the Chair of the Newham and Barking & Dagenham local party and his wife. Even during an election campaign it’s good to let one’s hair down once in a while. Besides, the idea of European nations coming together to celebrate — along with the odd outlier like Australia — chimes in well with the LibDems’ pro-European character. Among the membership of the local party there are nationals of a range of other EU member states, as well as Asian and Afro-Caribbean activists, making it one of the most multicultural in the country.

Salvador SobralAs for last night’s Eurovision show, even though I still lament the passing of Terry Wogan, it struck me as a distinct improvement on some recent years, for a couple of main reasons. The first, naturally, was Portugal’s victory with Salvador Sobral and his ballad Amar Pelos Dois. Quite apart from the poignancy of the singer’s health problems, he showed that you don’t need over-the-top light shows and pyrotechnics to win. The simple act of singing a good song well is rightly what it takes. The second thing that cheered me about last night was that far more entries than usual sang in their own language, rather than in English, as had become the fashion. In my view, that is how it should be, as Europe is a stunningly diverse continent when it comes to languages and culture. We should champion that diversity, and celebrate it (as indeed the European Union does). And what better way than the annual songfest that is Eurovision?

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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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London’s Portuguese Gala

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 28th April, 2012

Among the many newspapers that serve London’s multicultural community, the Portuguese language As Noticias is something of a leader. There are reputedly around 400,000 Portuguese in Britain — not to mention the large numbers of Brazilians, Angolans, etc. — a substantial proportion of whom are in London, notably in the Vauxhall area of Lambeth. But it was in Battersea, at the Portuguese-owned Pestana Chelsea Bridge Hotel, that Joao Noronha of As Noticias hosted the fourth Portuguese community Gala dinner last night, with splendid live entertainment flown in from Lisbon. The guests of honour included the Secretary of State for Portuguese Communities, José Cesario (pictured), who is one of four members of the Portuguese parliament elected by expatriates: two for Europe and two for the rest of the world, the latter being Mr Cesario’s constituency. That means a huge amount of travelling for him, from Brazil to Goa to Macau and points in between. It’s an interesting system of representation which I suspect Britain will one day have to consider following. There are hundreds of thousands of Brits who live abroad — notably in Spain — who become disenfranchised after 15 years away. Moreover, the concept of a Diaspora helps maintain a nationality’s sense of identity and community, as many of the ethnic groups in London demonstrate. The Portuguese community in Britain originally consisted largely of people working in the hospitality business and low-skilled jobs but these days they are of all types, including bankers, as was illustrated by the sponsorship of last night’s event by four of the leading Portuguese banks with operations in London. I was there as a guest as a Portuguese-speaking LibDem, alongside the similarly lusophone Conservative MEP Charles Tannock.

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