Lisbon - Portugal
( Originally Published 1936 )
Lazy clouds lined the distant horizon and as I gazed idly at the ever shifting panorama I noticed that one never changed.
Soon it took on form and substance and stood out boldly—a grayish-yellow head-land. It was our first view of the shores of Portugal.
Thenceforth the coast was continually in sight and a couple of hours later we were under a chain of mountains, with a cross and some old towers showing against the sky. The cross marked the summit of Cruz Alta and the castles that reared their hoary heads above the pine and cork trees were the Placio da Pena and the Castello des Mauros. We were opposite Cintra, the royal town of Portugal, celebrated in " Childe Harold " and the nation's epic, " Os Lusiadas."
" Whatever you do," warned Louis, " don't let them take you out to Cintra. It is all right, but it takes a full half day and you can see more of interest in the town. The tour companies try to get everybody to go out because it is the longest trip and they get the most money for it."
Usually I have taken Louis advice, but the lure of Cintra was strong and it was worth seven dollars of anybody's money to climb the scenic road and see the summer houses of the elite of Lisbon in their parks and forests seventeen hundred feet above the sea. The palace and park of Montserrate are the finest attraction. The Viscount of Montserrate was really an Englishman, Sir Francis Cook, and he built a lovely Moorish house and scoured the gardens of the world for rare trees and plants to adorn the grounds. There is hardly a spot in the world where a greater variety of plants thrive, and I believe the botanical gardens of Lisbon are properly described as without a peer.
The approach to the city is unusually fine. The beach villages of Cascaes and Estoril stretch along the shore. Everyone knows that Lisbon is on the river Tagus, but until I saw them I never had a clear idea of these waters. The lower reaches of the river are really a bay connected with the sea by a channel eight miles long. It is by this channel that shipping must enter to reach the broad waters that lie before the town.
As we came in the channel lights seemed very near together, but the mouth of the river is in fact about two miles across. The current had thrown up an enormous mud bar on which a lighthouse is set. It does not block the fairway but makes at this point a narrow and tricky channel. The. conflict between the current and the tide makes a bad rip here and in going out we encountered it. Dinner was in progress and the stewards removed the soup and water glasses and told everybody to sit tight. There was one terrific roll and all was quiet again.
Three miles up the river we were opposite the suburb of Belem (Bethlehem) and the panorama of Lisbon began to unfold. The lights of Buenos Aires twinkled high up the hillside and even in the gathering gloom it was easy to see that the city occupied an imposing site. There is no doubt of the charm of Lisbon's situation, and as it is built on a great slope it is one of the easiest of cities to view in its entirety. The houses are principally in white stucco and there are enough old towers and domes and castles and gardens to make the effect not merely beautiful, but picturesque. There are not many cities world-famous for their setting. Naples, Constantinople, Lisbon, Sydney and Rio de Janeiro are those that come to my mind. In this group I should not give the Portuguese capital the highest rating. She is most often likened to Constantinople and Naples, but in my judgment does not quite come up to either in the charm and interest of site and surroundings. Comparison with her great Portuguese sister city of Rio is futile, for Rio will always stand alone in the fairy like beauty of her setting. The oval bay, bordered by the sumptuous Beira del Mar, the strange Sugar Loaf, the slender finger of Corcovado and the tropical opulence of the mountain park of Tijuca combine to make a picture that knows no rival.
We landed at the open end of the Praca do Commercio, the city's most distinguished square, but here again our arrival had not made much stir among the population. The beggars alone had turned out to bid us " welcome to Lisboa." These represented all sizes, sexes and degrees of misfortune, and some of them were so persistently on the job that in my comings and goings from the ship I began to recognize them as old acquaintances.
Three sides of the Praca do Commercio are surrounded by Government buildings, all of yellow brick, stone-trimmed and four floors in height. The sidewalks are covered by arcades. In the middle is a large equestrian statue of Joseph I, dating back to 1775, that has given rise to the British nickname " Black Horse Square." There is something about the Praca that robs it of the dignity that distinguishes some great squares. What it lacks I don't know. Yellow brick is not an impressive material and some-how the buildings seemed too low for the space they enclosed.
The Triumphal Arch over the Rua Augusta is large and ornate, and if it stood alone, like the Arch of Triumph in Paris, it would be effective. But I think it loses a good deal by being tied into the adjoining buildings. The Rua Augusta is one of three parallel streets that connect the Praca do Commercio with the other prominent square, commonly called the Rocio, but officially Praca Dom Pedro Quarto. We were now in the newer part of Lisbon, the Cidade Baixa, all built since the great earthquake in 1755. The Rua d'Ouro and the Rua da Prata on either side were built for the gold and silversmiths, as their names indicate, and they still have something of their guild character; but the Rua Augusta now harbors a miscellaneous trade, including so many banks that it may fairly be called the Wall Street of Lisbon.
As we strolled through the dimly lighted street the shutters were drawn and the windows dark and in the shadows lurked gendarmes with rifles in their hands. But few windows were exposed and in an occasional shop the merchants were working late over their accounts or dressing their windows for the morrow's trade. The buildings rose five or six floors and some of them were really handsome. Here the use of tile for exterior decoration was general and designs, varying from the simplest linoleum patterns to the most ornate flower and vine effects, completely covered the facades of many blocks. The finer work was marked by some restraint, and anyone who is interested in ceramics will find the streets of Lisbon an endless exhibition.
Near the Rocio things began to brighten up considerably and the first glimpse of the square told us where Lisbon spent its evenings. Everywhere were cafes and crowds, but the famous pavement that gave the name of " Roly-poly Square" to this district has been replaced by modern asphalt. The old pavement was one of the great features of Lisbon. It was of mosaic in an undulatory pattern that made even a sober man dizzy when he walked across it, and the British sailors who found it " roly-poly " were not often in that condition. There were only two electric sky-signs in sight and one of them read—" Buick," the other " Chrysler."
The streets all around were now animated, but most of the people were afoot and the traffic policemen in their great leather helmets were not overworked.
We passed a little hole-in-the-wall cantina crowded with drinkers, and I paused to look in. Three youths were coming out and one of them called good-naturedly: " Good wine, good beer, good night." I think this must have exhausted his stock of English.
In my hand I carried some letters written on ship-board and I was looking for a post box when an undersized youth sidled up to me and inquired in good English whether he could help me mail them. Thus did Humberto Nunes attach himself to us in the capacity of guide, Paytone+One and friend for the duration of our stay. He was the son of an English mother and a Portuguese father, and though he had never been out of the country he had learned our language at his mother's knee. His address was obscure, as foreign addresses usually are to one who knows neither the language nor customs—Rua Particular, No. 5, second floor, A. T. de Sta. Guitera. The first step toward reaching this mysterious place was to go up the nearest of the seven " ascensores." As to the rest—well, I couldn't follow it.
The collection of mail from the street boxes, which were none too numerous, had ceased, so we went to the Central Station in the corner of the square. We climbed two long flights of stairs, threaded our way through long corridors and waiting rooms and finally came out at the train shed where some small, untidy carriages that constituted the night express for Madrid were standing. " Your letters will go out on that very train," Humberto said, collecting from me fifteen cents for each one. Recently I happened to read that the night train from Lisbon to Madrid was now one of the fastest in the world. Surely it must have some new motive power and rolling stock.
It was now time to look about for a place to spend the evening, and the difficulty was not to find one, but to choose from many. The Rocio was fairly lined with cafes, which unlike so many in Southern Europe, did business inside, instead of on the pavement.
They were all so crowded that it was difficult to find a seat, and an evening in Lisbon would furnish any prohibitionist with a lifetime of argument on the economic waste of the liquor habit. But this was not worrying the young men about town. They had put on their broad hats, and artist's ties and set out for a good time. To go to the cafe in the evening is as much a part of the daily routine as to go to work in the morning. A Portuguese gentleman whom I later met told me some particulars of cafe life. " These cafes," he said, " are really the clubs of the people, and nearly all of them have their regular clientele. There will be one for the doctors, one for the lawyers, one for the artists, one for the architects and one for each of the political and revolutionary societies in which the country abounds."
We chose one of the largest and wormed our way through the crowded tables to a spot near the orchestra. The manager cleared a place for us, making some of his local customers double up with their neighbors. We were in Portugal, the home of port, and of course it was the thing here. Humberto knew all about the vintages, so he said, and he made the choice. I can only say that either he knew little of the brands, or Portugal sends her best wines out of the country. There were many family parties in the cafe, but the women got scant attention, their men folk preferring to talk politics or read the evening newspapers. I wish I could say that our entrance attracted attention, but the most we got was a casual glance. The home folks found their own affairs more interesting than a group of foreigners from overseas.
The National Theater occupies the north end of the Rocio and just beyond it is the smartest street in town, the Avenida da Liberdade, three hundred feet wide. The first section is called Praca dos Restauradores in honor of the patriots who drove from the country the Spanish " intrusos." I may as well confess it—we were on our way to Maxime's; but I could not fail to notice that the plate glass windows of many shops were full of holes and stars and cracks. " What is this? " I inquired.
"Oh, those are bullet marks from the revolution." " What revolution? "
" Why, the revolution of February, 1927. That was the worst revolution I ever saw. It lasted three days. I didn't work at all while it was going on. I stayed down town and watched the shooting. To-morrow you will see much greater damage."
Thus casually, even as I might discuss an unusually severe rain, did Humberto allude to his country's peril. To the Portuguese, revolution is an old story. The outbreak of February 7, 8, 9, 1927, was the sixteenth since the republic was inaugurated in 1910. It began with a mutiny in Oporto and soon spread to the capital. The censorship at the time was very severe and the situation remained obscure to the out-side world. I understand that in this case nearly all the political parties were united in revolt, but the army proved too much for their combined strength. The heaviest fighting was in the vicinity of the Poly-technic School, a fine section of the city. The mutinous regiments and their civilian supporters took refuge in the big homes and hotels and here they were relentlessly bombarded from the land, the air and the water. The Hotel Bristol was a sorry wreck and several of the mansions were badly dam-aged. The walls along the street were pitted by machine gun bullets and shell fragments until they looked like the houses of Rheims.
The secret political clubs that abound in the country are the chief focus of revolutionary infection. Political ambition or personal greed is the common cause and the general public as a rule knows little of what the uproar is all about. Eighty people were killed in Oporto and three hundred in Lisbon during the February insurrection, but our guide had only the vaguest notion of its purpose. " I only heard that the bankers hired some people to start it," he said. There is probably a germ of truth in this, for the policies of General Carmona were very objectionable to the business interests that had previously been so comfortably intrenched.
Responsibility for the trouble had never been fixed and nobody had been punished except the officers of the mutinous regiment, who were packed off to the African colonies to think over their sins at leisure.
The privates were set free on the ground that they were acting under orders and were not free agents. The previous revolution had a similar outcome, except in that case the Government more considerately chose the pleasant Azores as a place of exile.
The habit of dealing lightly with treason is easy to understand after a visit to Portugal. At one time or another nearly every politician in the country has himself been involved, and there is always the possibility that he may be again. So the people who happen to be in power deem it prudent to establish no precedent of stone walls and firing squads. It was the general opinion that if the real authors of the February revolution were ever found the worst they might expect would be the confiscation of half their property and possibly deportation. The owners of damaged property are not indemnified by the state and their only hope of reimbursement lies in a confiscation. I should think it might pay them to get together and hire a detective agency to ferret out the rich perpetrators.
Armed revolt is only one of the incidents that keep life in Lisbon from growing monotonous. Between the actual revolutions there is a generous sprinkling of bomb throwings, financial scandals and general strikes. I met a Lisboner of more than fifty years residence. He attributed all these disturbances to the excitable temper of the populace, the corruption of the politicians and the existence of an army deeply involved in politics and strong enough to overawe any Government.
The number of soldiers in Lisbon was evidence of the unwholesome power of the military class. There were several large barracks and at any hour of the day the drone of military planes could be heard over the city. Such part of the navy as I saw did not look very formidable. Lying in the Rada were four rusty gunboats manned by slatternly crews. They would not have lasted long in the face of an efficient foe, but their guns covered a defenseless city.
The present Government is purely a military dictatorship, though nominally the Republic still exists. The army is in supreme control and has been since May, 1926, when without bloodshed it cleared out all the public offices and set up General Gomes da Costa as dictator. The general soon proved too radical for his own followers and the same army, whose darling he had so recently been, turned against him and sent him to rusticate in the Azores. General Carmona then took up the reins and has held them with a strong hand ever since. His first act was to appoint General Lopes Domingues military commander of Lisbon, and the old commander showed what he could do last February. Carmona is pleased to call himself the President, but what is the constitution between brother officers? He is just as absolute as Mussolini in Italy or Kemal in Turkey.
We were on our way to Maxime's Club, I believe, and no revolution occurred to keep us away. It occupies a fine big house in the Restauradores and the size of the apartments and the splendor of its appointments are suggestive of a palace rather than a home. The principal dance hall and gaming room are upstairs, and eleven o'clock was altogether too early for the crowds. Perhaps a half dozen tables were taken, mostly by officers, and the professionals and the semi-pros of both sexes had the dance floor to themselves. The youths in dinner jackets and the short-haired girls were doing the Charleston, and if the girls had been thrown into a box with a bunch of Broadway hostesses, and the whole well shaken, I doubt if one could have been told from the other. The trade-mark of the cabaret seems to be world-wide,
The first surprise was the absence of a cover charge. The night clubs of South Europe have the pleasant custom of offering their " attractions" free, tactfully adding whatever they cost to the price of food and drink. But even then the prices are so much lower than the standard in America that I may as well say that the shows are free. In this house, for example, a quart of sparkling wine cost the modest sum of $I.25.
Toward midnight things became livelier. Girls of the demi-monde drifted in from all over town and mingled freely with the guests. Soon the tables were filled and the dance floor crowded. Many people from the ship came in after having made the rounds of the other places and one of these parties speedily became the center of an " incident." One of its members was Madame Falaise, an American woman, whose husband is physician to the Khedive of Egypt. She is a woman of beauty and the eyes of a Portuguese Brigadier General, who had been drinking too much wine, soon fell upon her. This military gallant had been sitting with four other officers and some girls, but he staggered across the room and asked the lady to dance. When she declined he seized her arm and began to pull her to her feet. As the men with her arose he thought better of it, and mumbling an apology, returned whence he had come. Presently there was a crash and the general's table went down, scattering bottles and glasses over the floor. Everyone looked up just in time to see one of the girls give him a sounding slap in the face. A second officer rushed at him and for a moment it looked like the makings of a duel; but the servants stepped between the excited men. In a minute there was a typical Latin ending to the scene. The late combatants threw their arms about each other, kissed cheeks and ordered fresh champagne.
The gossip of the place had it that the general was an important man in the army and that he had the chief part in suppressing the February revolution. If he had military skill proportioned to his temperament he must have been a great leader. When I last saw him he was on the dance floor with both arms encircling a pretty girl.
We looked in for a moment on the gaming room. There were the usual things—roulette and baccarat. The crowd was not yet large and the play was moderate. The croupier was not too blase to smile when " M," after losing her stack of chips, kept the last one as a souvenir. Gambling goes on quite openly for all that it is against the law. A little graft paid to the police works exactly as it does in more familiar places. Prostitution was conducted on the same basis. Recently the Government licensed it on the ground that it could not be stopped. I was told that the same course would soon be taken with regard to public gambling.
The last boat to the ship left at 2 A. M., and on the way down to the quay we hired one of Humberto's automobiles for the next day. Of course he didn't own one, but he was touting for a man who did, which was almost the same thing. I fear he has had sad experience with Americans, for after we had engaged his car he bound us with many oaths to keep the appointment, painting a dismal picture of his loss in case we failed him. We kept the faith and Humberto was waiting with a new Hudson car and a careful driver. Thus we saw Cidade Baixa, Lisboa Oriental, Lisboa Occidental and all the rest of the town. First we went down the long river streets to Belem, threading our way through the donkeys and barefoot fish women and at length drew up before the convent of Saint Jerome.
This is one of the famous churches of Lisbon and is called the best example of the " Emmanuel " style of architecture, which is a combination of Gothic, Moorish and Renaissance that is found nowhere but in Portugal.
The Convento dos Jeronymos owes its founding in 1499 to the voyages of the navigator, Vasco da Gama, which it was built to commemorate. The sculptured portal and the cloisters are its chief features, and the latter are the most admired in Europe. For a long time now the buildings have housed an orphanage and the merry little waifs filled the air of these sepulchral buildings with a cheerful din. I walked back into the open ground across the road to bring the church into range of my camera, and was immediately beset by five laborers who were digging a ditch. Dropping their shovels they shouted in chorus, " American Cigarette." Their smiles and bows as they lighted up gave me fresh respect for Fatimas.
The Museum of Coaches in the same road is more interesting than the collection at Versailles. There are thirty historic vehicles, the oldest and most curious of which is number i6. This was the state coach of Philip II, of Spain, and was brought to Lisbon by the Spanish Intrusos in 1582. The body is very gorgeous in gold, ivory and scarlet and is supported by straps, instead of springs. It was the touring car of its day, built for distance travel, as the caretaker explained as he immodestly raised the cushions and pointed out the toilet beneath. The coaches of the Pope Clement the Second are certainly the most elegant of the entire group.
Sight seeing in Lisbon consists largely of visiting churches and getting fine views, and at Estrella Church we did both. This is an imposing building of white marble, with three towers and a double dome. Its correct name—Basilica do Santissimo Coracao de Jesus—is in keeping with its magnificence. The spot on which it stands is one of the highest in Lisbon and it is customary to ascend to the cupola for the view. Three friends were with us. The first stopped at the roof. An old German couple followed us up the stairway that winds endlessly around between the two shells of the great dome. Half-way they gave it up, and before we reached the top I wondered whether I should not have done likewise. The final climb included two vertical iron ladders. But the view was worth all the effort it cost, for the whole of Lisbon lay before our eyes.
There is one sight that I had been cautioned to omit, on the ground that it is too unpleasant. East of the Castle of St. George, in the oldest part of Lisboa Oriental, there is an Augustinian monastery called Sao Vincente de Fora. Its cloisters are the Pantheon Real, the resting place of Kings. Here lie the bodies of royal persons from the time of the Braganzas down to the last reigning house. It is the custom to expose the bodies to public view. The older coffins were closed on this day, but on a lofty catafalque in the center of the room reposed the ghastly corpses of King Carlos and his eldest son, the Crown Prince Luiz Philippe. They were shot to death in their motor car in the northwest corner of the Praca do Commercio one evening in 1908. The family was returning from its country place across the Tagus when it was set upon by the members of some secret club. Carlos and Luiz fell at the first fire, but the Queen and Manoel escaped. The police shot down two of the plotters, but the remaining assassins were never found.
I hesitate to describe these mouldering forms. The pictures of the portly, high-living King that used often to be in the newspapers, came back to me; and here was the hideous debris, to be seen for a farthing by all who cared to come. Only the curled moustache remained unchanged. As we glanced at the body of the Crown Prince a gentleman who was with me remarked : " I once met this young man at a ball in Cairo. He was the gayest and most sought youth at the party. And here is all that is left. Truly all is vanity."
It was pleasant to come again into the sunlight and fresh air, so we took a long drive to the bull ring. The season did not open until Easter Sunday, but the ugly brick amphitheater is a civic monument and must be seen. The Portuguese take pride in the humanity of their sport, for they have no matadors and try to spare the bull. Whether it is more humane to half kill a bull eight or ten times or to slay him outright in a single combat is a question which the Portuguese and Spaniards may debate without an American referee.