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Luso: Portuguese for Portugese

Inside the Saramago house. Photo by Bernie Deville.

By Bernie Deville, Bluegrass Writers Studio

     I've just gotten back from Summer Residency with Bluegrass Writers Studio, at The Disquiet International Literary Program in Lisbon, Portugal. Disquiet focuses on writers and readings, but they also introduced us to cultural institutions around the city. The Luso-American Society hosted two different talks, and I reserved precious baggage space for one of their magazines that talks about their aims and goals, as well as summer programs for students, which I might be able to spread around Lexington.

     The Geographic Society was not only an imposing structure, but the displays scattered around gave graphic representation of Portugal’s role in the colonization of many continents and their influence on world culture. I filled a couple of notebook pages on items the Geographic Society had on display from the era of Portuguese exploration and colonialism, such as Indian representations of Shiva, Kali and Ganesh, and a collection of musical instruments from Africa. The Shiva statuette was particularly impressive as she has just beheaded someone and was holding the head low in her left hand while a dog chewed on it and she had one raised foot on the neck of another man below her. I had not remembered until entering the building what an important role Geographic and Scientific societies played in pushing the progress of mankind outside of the formal academic environment during the eras of the Renaissance and Enlightenment.

     Disquiet’s readings held in Lisbon bookstores re-introduced us to the types of stores that have long since vanished from the hyper-competitive retail landscape of America, where experts ask probing questions and take pride in putting a book in your hands you couldn’t have named before, but needed. Particularly impressive was the Livraria Ferin, where the history of publishing in the forms of old typeset blocks and typewriters were enshrined in a basement filled with arches which remind the patron that Lisbon is a city of layers, and that another world exists beneath the cobbles.

     The most notable location however had to be the Jose Saramago house, the Casa dos Bicos (House of the Spikes), named for the unique pattern of metal protrusions on the front of the building.  Being in the same building with a Nobel Prize reminds us that with writing, all things are possible.

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Kristen Thompson

Published on July 28, 2014

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