Thursday, March 24, 2011

Porto Day 4 (23 March) Suffering

Last day, and a walk up to the Sacred Art Museum, actually a church, with a dozen or so wooden statues of Christ and the Virgin Mary. The ‘suffering’ of Christ is central to Spanish and Portuguese art, and these statues, worked by both sculptors and painters, strove for realism. The statue was an object of devotion and the wounds, with their trickles of blood drove home the sacrificial nature of the crucifixion. Christ is seen being flayed with horrific skin wounds, on the cross with streams of blood flowing from open wounds and in his tomb. No one can doubt the artistry, but it’s a horror show designed to induce fear and subjugation. It’s the art of the Inquisition, where the torture of Christ became a model for the torture of one’s theological enemies.

The Sao Bento station was a surprise, with its vestibule covered in blue and coloured tiles. It really is worth a visit, along with what must be the nicest Macdonalds in the world, inside an Art Deco building with original stained glass and relief structures on the walls. It doesn’t seem like a Macdonald’s at all.

On leaving Porto news came in of the impending collapse of the Portuguese government, as the opposition had refused to ratify Jose Socrates’ minority government budget. This most likely means an election and a bailout by the EU, namely forced austerity measures as in Greece and Ireland. Our departure was perhaps a sign of the problem. A spanking new metro system to the airport at very cheap, obviously subsidised fares, and a huge airport with very few passengers and flights, empty shops, but lots of staff. We went to Egypt three months ago (revolution), Gulf two months ago (mayhem), Syria three weeks ago (crackdown) and now Portugal (economic collapse) – off to Iceland in 10 days, now surely that can’t fall further than it already has.

The Pestano Hotel was a real find. Big rooms on two levels, friendly staff, and a breakfast restaurant overlooking the river. I like Lisbon, but honestly, I like Porto more. It has a more relaxed ambience, fine river, is less touristy, quirky, cheaper, has better wine and food, and port! Obrigado.

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