Category Archives: Guest writers

The Sun in Lisbon

Lisbon spreads her arms until she is hugging the statue of Cristo Rei on the opposite side of River Tejo. She is a huge hug to herself. I say “her” because she’s more than a city, I do feel it. Lisbon is my partner, my lover on this journey.

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Lisbon is located on the river. Actually, this is just the final part, the mouth, the outlet. Exactly here, it is meeting and mixing with the Ocean. That’s why the water becomes salty. So Lisbon owns sea, river, earth, and sky. She is the perfect result, the combination of all the elements that make you feel alive.
Two hundred and fifty sunny days per year, an everlasting summer…The sun is so big and the daylight so strong and powerful that you can even absorb it. Therefore you get tanned so easily, just walking through the streets, and your hair can even become blonder while your eyes must close a little bit. Call it magic.

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At the moment that I’m writing it’s the 4th of November 2017, time 17:37, and the sky is still so bright, clear and wide-open, preparing its next breath-taking sunset. Lisbon is the city of sunsets, or better of ‘Pôres-do-sol’. In Italian we used to say: “Rosso di sera, bel tempo si spera”; when the sky turns red at the sunset, you may expect for good weather the next day. This happens here every day, almost. We check the correct time on the forecast online when the sun goes down, when it falls in the river or in the Ocean, depending on your point of view. We all go to one of the hundreds of Miradouros, we seat and we breathe the end of the day. Lisbon is a city to think, to meditate, to first know yourself better, and then to love others more.

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Lisbon is so close to paradise, Portugal is Lisbon, white city, pier and ship, Europe and Atlantic. From all this derives its hidden meaning: the Saudade. Saudade is Lisbon’s key word, ranked as the 7th most difficult word to translate. It denotes a melancholic feeling of incompleteness, due to a previous pleasant experience, state, or place, absent and missed at the present moment. Saudade is what you can feel while leaving Lisbon, she is able to give a real and natural sense of place.

In Lisbon I’ve learned to stop and relax, to come back late at night but not so late, and before going to bed -in short pyjamas even if it’s November- I can’t wait to stay staring in front of my window just to watch the city sleeping and the planes landing. In Lisbon you can see airplanes all day long, you hear their noise and notice them so close that it can scare you. It seems that everyone is coming here, everyone wants to reach this peace, and catch a flight.
In Lisbon, I’ve learnt that you can reach anything you want, which I learnt because I always prefer to walk instead of taking the metro. Every street is a climb and when you reach the top the city gives you a panorama most of the time. In Lisbon I’ve learnt to get lost, to be patient, and to wait.

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I arrived here two months and two days ago, I’ll be here for three more. After the first phase of “organisation” and adaptation, I’ve started taking the advantage of every moment, that here more than anywhere else, seem to pass so fast. I must be honest: I didn’t want to come to Lisbon. Or better, I didn’t know so much about Portugal and its capital. Portuguese people may be still trying to live in their peaceful paradise, a little bit out of the world, believing in traditions and blessed by their sun. So everything was a surprise, and it was by chance. I am so grateful now- OBRIGADA- to be here, surrounded by all this sunshine, and discovering day by day something that for me was more than unknown.

I’m a happy and satisfied Erasmus student. I made a promise to myself here in Lisbon: I won’t complain anymore as long as I can, because my life is so wonderful and I’ve definitely understood it more now. One more last detail: my flatmate calls me -in Spanish- “terremoto”, that is, “earthquake”. Lisbon is the second city in Europe for highest seismic risk. I’m here. “Onde a terra se acaba e o mar começa” (Luís Vaz de Camões), where the land finishes and the sea begins.

 

Written by Paola Pedrotti and edited by Bethany Naylor 

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I am an Italian journalism student now based in Lisbon, enjoying Erasmus+ programme at ISCTE-IUL University. I study in Verona. After one year spent in Madrid, I definitely decided that I could not stop exploring this world. My hometown is Desenzano del Garda, on Lake Garda, such a touristic but inspiring place. I practise sport since I was born and teach artistic gymnastic too. I worked as guide in a private Foundation and I can speak 5 languages. Portuguese is my next challenge! Among my interests, I adore art, poetry, dancing and writing. I feel ready to create my future and just can’t wait to see what is coming next in my life.

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Relative Strangers

SAUDADE (saʊˈdɑːdə/) noun. A feeling of longing, melancholy, or nostalgia that is supposedly characteristic of the Portuguese or Brazilian temperament.

In an ever-globalized world, often it is oceans and seas (and perhaps now Brexit and the arrival of Donald Trump to the world political stage) that separate us from our loved ones. Having a French mother and an Algerian father, family gatherings were never a spontaneous affair: our school holidays were always spent in France, whilst a legal blip (I have my mother’s and not my father’s last name) and the continuing civil war in the country meant that I was only able to meet my Algerian family for the first time at the age of 22. This included my grandmother.

For me, like many young people huddled under the banner of ‘Third Culture Kids’, my Algerian family had been the pixelated faces that I saw over Skype calls. As a teenager I was reticent to speak to these fast-moving images, mainly because I had nothing to say. What relationship can you have with strangers that so happen to be your relatives?

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In November 2016, I was finally able to go to Algerian capital Algiers and see where my father had grown up. I was welcomed into the happy cacophony of a family house where my 9 aunts and uncles and 40 cousins would pass through every week. But more importantly, I was able to experience for myself the family roots whose strength and vitality I hadn’t felt up until this journey. It was as if upon meeting my family that I did not have around me when growing up, that I had discovered a part of myself. I had become aware of a part of me that in fact had always been there.

I was soon initiated into one of the richest parts of Algerian culture, the food. Mhadjeb, a rolled pancake with a spicy tomato filling, is a staple of Algerian cuisine and one that my aunts continue to make by hand. Its preparation and the family’s recipe have been passed down the generations, though Fatiha, pictured below, repeatedly reminds me that each sister has their own way of making them. As a quick snack or part of a wedding banquet, Mhadjeb always feature on the Algerian dinner table.

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However meeting your family for the first time is no walk in the park: I had for a long time carried around the heavy burden of expectation that I thought my family would have of me. Whilst I was welcomed with open arms, feeling the warmth of an unconditional love that only now could be physically expressed, it soon became apparent that I had grown up in a culture very different from that of Algeria. I was asked all the time ‘What are your job prospects?’ and anxiously by my grandmother ‘Have you found a kind Muslim boy to be your husband?’. My cousins mirrored my own unease when I asked them ‘What are you passionate about?’ or ‘Why did you choose to study medicine?’.

But I come away from this trip understanding that such differences are not barriers to shun or to be fearful of, they are to be celebrated for adding richness to my complex family tapestry. On our penultimate day, we had a picnic on the Promenade des Sablettes esplanade in downtown Algiers to celebrate my grandmother’s 88th birthday. Passersby stopped, as we sang Happy Birthday in Arabic, French, and English.

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Written by Connie Leroux

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The Grammatic Crusade

 

“In Ecuador, poor spelling is fought with red spray sword”
Quitos’s nights can be really cold, at almost 3000 metres above sea level… but not cold enough to stop Agents X and Punto Final on their special crusade: correcting the graffiti misspellings that decorate Ecuador’s capital.

‘¿Para que, por qué, mi amor?

Por ti. Por mí.  lo siento.’

‘For what and why my love?

For you. For me. I’m sorry.’

“I used to pass in front of that graffiti phrase quite often… It looked like a love declaration, but I couldn’t stand that there were so many misspellings in it, 10-12, maybe! I just felt I had to highlight that, it was so hilarious.” Punto Final remembers laughing. That famous graffiti used to stand on a virginal white wall in Lugo’s alley, a narrow street in the bohemian neighbourhood of La Floresta.

It was his first correction. With a friend, they grabbed some red spray, an old pizza box, a cutter, and they corrected the theatrical mix of grammatical horrors, adding commas, accents, question marks, as a teacher would do with his students’ essay. The anonymous zorros signed themselves as “Acción Ortografíca Quito” (Orthographic Action Quito).

The group started the “correctional operation” in late 2014, searching for the misspelt graffiti around Quito, Ecuador’s capital. By night, away from police eyes and always protecting their identity, (“We want to share the cause, not be the protagonists”), they started to fight the bad grammar armed with the dreaded red spray.

Graffiti is by its definition a vandalistic and anarchic act – it’s a resistance, a fight against the rules and order of our society, the correcting agent explains.

“You have to be completely crazy, in some way fascist, and obsessive, to decide to go and correct a misspelt graffiti: it’s like wanting to put order into the mess, into the anarchy, into the vandalism. For me that makes it just so funny and ironic”, Final says.

Acción Ortografíca Quito signing their name
Acción Ortografíca Quito signing their name

But then, something none of them expected happened. Someone who was walking down that little one-way road, amused by the misspellings’ corrections, decided to take a picture of the graffiti, to tweet it and to share it with a friend living abroad. So, a funny but educational activity turned into a veritable movement going viral on the Internet.

“Brazilian BBC wrote an article about us, then it was BBC Mundo: I was stupefied, I just love the BBC so much!”, tells Punto Final. Local and international journalists started to seek them between the Andean capital roads, while homologues groups spread out in different countries. “They wrote us from Brazil, Argentina, Spain; people from Colombia want us to go correct their graffiti misspellings. If they pay us a ticket we go!”
But fixing all Quito’s misspelt graffiti is not a simple labour. Even if the “situation” is under control in the far north of the city, in barrios such as la Guangüiltagua, Floresta, Avenida America, much more contaminated public space needs to be tidied up. Acción Ortográfica hasn’t considered giving up because people thank them, considering what they do as a campaign, an act that can help people think more about how to communicate. Especially in graffiti.

“We happily realised that the messages are now better written, even if we know that some grafiteros hate us for what we do; but this makes it even funnier because making them angry wasn’t our purpose at all”, accepts Punto Final.
Now that the group is well known in the city, a lot of people ask Acción Ortográfica to help them with the Misspelling Purge. “We just got two beautiful new interns in our ranks; they want to be called Ninjas”, jokes Punto Final.

Even if in some unintentional way, Acción Ortografíca Quito reminds people how important a good grammar and syntaxes are. Their message inspired a graffiti artist to paint its tags (the graffiti writing sometimes used as a signature) on white walls using Times New Romans fonts.

The antiheroes, the anarchists that put order on the mess, won the respect and sympathy of more than one. For example, Susana Puente, the 75 years old owner of the wall that was first graffiti modified by the agents, decided to keep the correction because she found it funny and she is now famous among her friends for that. Acción Ortografica also brought glory to a small village in California, where lives the grandmother of Final’s roommate. She just got crazy when asking his grandchild if he had an idea about whom “these people who correct graffitis in Quito” were, she got a “he’s my roommate” as an answer. Local newspaper probably had content for weeks to write about.

'Without beer, there is no revolution'
‘Without beer, there is no revolution’

In Quito, sunsets arrive early, and the shadows allow Acción Ortográfica agents leave for their job. When I ask Punto Final which is the most difficult graffiti he found on his paths, he smiles before answering.

“It said: << god is movement… >>. And we decided not to correct it. In our society, God with a capital letter refers to the Catholic god. We think instead, the author wanted all the people reading his phrase to identify, no matters their beliefs. And we decided not to correct it” Final remembers, laughing with a red spray can in his hand.

 

Written by Sara Andreini, edited by Bethany Naylor

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Off the beaten track: Walking in Jordan

We made our way up a track going straight through someone’s olive grove, passing by picnicking families and some very angry dogs. We were slightly confused. Map with instructions in one hand, compass in the other, my travelling companion Mike and I were definitely on the right path of the Jordan Trail. So, through someone’s property it was. After a tense 5 minutes fearing someone might shoot us, we got back to the road just before sunset. We found the forest, and there suitable-looking ground for camping. All was well—until we started hearing the approaching barks of some very angry dogs, then the cries of wolves, human shouting, and gunshots.

This was our first attempt at walking and camping in Jordan: the next few weeks would not be nearly as frightening! Mike and I walked from Ajloun castle, a 12th century fortress built by Salah al-Din’s nephew on the remains of a monastery on a forested hill in northern Jordan, to Orjun, a traditional village situated in a lush valley full of fresh figs and pomegranates. On our way, we casually passed by the 6th century church and pilgrimage site of Mar Elias, as well as an unusual rectangular roofless mudbrick mosque.

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‘Hello! what’s your name?’ excited children ran after us; adults asked us the more sensible question: ‘What are you doing here?’. The Jordan Trail, though far from complete and in need of correcting the logistical issues of going through people’s olive groves, allows travellers to see both the nature and culture of Jordan, beyond Amman, Petra and Wadi Rum, Jordan’s top destinations.
After making our way south, Mike and I reached Wadi Dana, a valley renowned for its numerous birds and ibex. Another opportunity for enjoying nature and culture: our budget hotel (to be far from the wolves this time!) was on the roof of one of the 19th century houses of Dana village. Another sleepless night; although this time because I couldn’t take my eyes off the Milky Way. Though traditional villages of Jordan have mostly been abandoned in the past 50 years, with their inhabitants moving to cement apartments, the locals of Dana keep a strong relationship with their past by allowing travellers to sleep in the village. These hotels are all locally run, and are even at competition with the big ecotourist companies. The villagers let us into the Nature Reserve for free, and were critical of the government-backed organization that charged entry fees to the land in which they grew up.

 

Our footsteps sank into purple and red sand from Dana to Feynan, the landscape was a striking combination of the awesome rock formations of south and the green hills of the north. Gradually, the green disappeared and we were in a fully fledged desert –one that had been used for copper mining in the Byzantine period. A Bedouin on the way thought we looked funny, and told Mike to try riding his donkey. Shortly after politely refusing tea from the Bedouin over and over again, we arrived in Feynan and finally wondered: how are we getting anywhere now? Luckily, a lorry driver was passing by, so we hopped in and told the lie that we were engaged when he asked Mike ‘What are you doing with her?’ — a young man and woman who are travelling together and not in a relationship are still not quite understood in Jordan. The lorry went down to Aqaba at the incredible pace of 45km/hour— with nothing to look at on either side except for endless desert, and the winding music of Mohammed Abdu. I was in a stupor.

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Then we were in Aqaba, and soon after in Wadi Rum. The third sleepless night: not due to wolves, stars, but the punctuated echoes within the still silence. One dog barked; one thousand barks came back in a wave. The endlessness was almost nauseating. And when I heard the echoes of the braying of a donkey –that, my friend, is the demonic sound of hellfire. Once morning came, off we went walking into the true silence of the desert. I was overcome by desire to lie down and live in that silence. But too soon, it was time to return to the city—if for anything, due to lack of water.

Written by Maïra Al-Manzali, edited by Bethany Naylor

To read another article about a hitchhiking experience, read Beth’s post about hitching in France and Spain

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