Belem pichkari jo tune mujhe maari
Toh bole re zamana kharabi ho gayi
Belem is gorgeous. What an inadequate adjective to use, so let me try harder, the sky is rich azure and it melds into the river in a ombre haze, foiled on it an intricately carved dusty cream tower jutting out over the water proclaiming magic. If you let your imagination run wild, you could see the boats coming in, their masts flapping the wind, soldiers marching on its moats, dragons flying overhead, and the preparation of conquest, combat zones, glorious flags, and the gore of empire building.
Present day, the striding armies have been replaced by serpentine queues through all the main structures. The sun relentlessly ravages atop so standing in these line-ups is no less than a battle. Please get all your tickets online. We did that with the Oceanario and it will save you so much of time and angst. This is especially so if you have little children.
We walked from the Belem tower to the Discoveries monument, which is right across the Jeronimos monastery (thankfully Apoorva did not sing Sheppard’s Geronimo, small mercies). Similar to the tower this monument overlooks the Tagus river. Though it looks old, it was built rather recently in 1960 to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the death of Prince Henry the Navigator. I was glad there was at least one female figure in that crowd of men, just one, token, at least she was there, maybe 1960s caused her to be there. What would this look like if it was built in 2017? Still one, I suppose.
The best part of the day was our visit to the Museu Berardo. This is a sanctuary for modern art lovers. Such a carefully curated and sensitively arranged museum with multi-medial and intermedial art. There are stunning works of: Andy Warhol, Max Ernst, Marcel Duchamp, Willem de Kooning, Roy Lichtenstein, and my favorite Joan Miro, amongst many others. My heart was so full that afternoon. There was so much beauty, pain, trauma, relief, exhaustion, overflow, greyness, form, fluidity, and tranquility, that I saw. It was moving, a profound experience for me, much akin to a pilgrimage.
We saw a temporary exhibition called “Learning to Live with the Enemy,” which was such an eye-opener:
It’s not really a dream. Perhaps it is rather a matter of science fiction, allowing for different periods and forms of colonialism to merge and appear, simultaneously, before us.
Inter-territorial fluxes, and the powers that recall them; biogenetic transmutations; resource extraction and the spread of agro-toxins; multinational capitalism subsuming the present under the laws of production. All of these define, against all other narratives, the control over life and death exercised by the colonial violence of capital. This is the colonisation of the present as the pure science fiction of the coloniser.
In opposition to this, the world is here considered as a system of social relations and contiguities between humans and non-humans, which splinters the quintessentially modern – and colonial – idea of Nature into a multinaturalism that is politically negotiated at each move.
(Source: Museu Berardo)
It was unlike anything I have ever seen before. Videos, installations, sculptures, graphics, elucidating the modern colonial program. Having walked from the Belem tower, and the Discovery monument (discovery, isn’t that the fancy term used for invasion, the informed act of disturbance?), via the capitalist hurrah of the marina yachts, through the Jeronimos monastery (doesn’t religion colonize the mind, heart, soul (if I may)?) to this expo of yet another type of colonial rule: disease, robots, genetic distortions, mutations, transgenics, chemical clouds, and ceaseless coexistence of it all, left a lasting imprint on my mind. I still get flashes from this exhibit while going through my daily routine, like ghosts haunting me, following me, whispering into my ear, “enemy.”
If there is one place I would insist on you visiting, it would be Museu Berardo. I understand modern art is not everyone’s cup of tea but I sincerely believe it should be, and this museum in particular is an absolute gem, an oasis, a hidden nugget.
What did we do on day 5? I need to take you with me to the extraordinary Alfama, ride on Tram 28, more museums, and more of our sunny days along with what is that special restaurant, which I have been raving about, all that and more I have still to share with you, so do log in and join us for that in the next post about magnificient Lisbon.