National Palace of Mafra

What can we do to entertain our friend, when he can hardly walk half a mile? We drove him about a bit, but sitting in the back I was completely bored. He did not seem much better. We parked by the Atlantic, and he said, “You get out, I will stay in the car”. “We could go to Mafra,” said the other, doubtfully, and I said,

“Why would we go to Mafra? What is there possibly to see in Mafra?”

So we went back to the villa. Such is the problem of not having the proper references to hand. I thought it would be a town with a caff and a few shops, rather than the site of the Baroque palace of João V. We went there on the last day. Unfortunately, our friend could not climb the steps, so had to sit in a caff while we went round the palace. In the ticket office, I met a couple I knew from Nupton Quaker meeting. I don’t like João V. His great palace had a monastery attached, as if that made it alright. We saw a bare cell with a desk, almost a reasonable size of bedroom, which I thought might be bearable for a moderately ascetic academic, but realised that was for the abbot when we saw the dormitory. Monks had a recess, but not a closed cell. How strange, to be immured and institutionalised here while the King enjoyed his hunting! You would be part of the Christian framework which made his every excess acceptable before God, in the convenient fiction everyone went along with.

I don’t like it, still, with this bird tethered. You can have your photo taken with it for a fee. It spreads its wings periodically, either nervously or because it cannot balance.

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A sign of the great piety is this bizarre sculpture. The bloody neck and fallen head shocked we Quakers.

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“Soft porn again,” I thought dismissively. Still, it’s all a matter of taste. I like the men grovelling before an enthroned woman, in my featured image, it’s far more my thing.

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Men on the murals are being tortured.

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-What do you think this is?
-An instrument of torture.

Well, it’s clearly a game. I wonder how it works.

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It’s a hunting lodge, and you might see this at Atholl Castle. I would hate those chairs. It delights in cruelty.

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It delights in cruelty, and the appearance of learning.

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The attached church has six separate organs, with six separate consoles, around the transept. They have recitals monthly.

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In the afternoon we went to Cascais, where I tripped off to the Paula Rego exhibition, tempted by “sexually vulnerable women and animals, and men dressed in women’s clothes or with the heads of fish”. I did not read the small print, that it is closed on Monday, so wandered round the park, where I found this folly.

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In the free Town Museum some of the English is translated picturesquely: they had an “Outbreak of tourists”.

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This Moorish fortress-town, still with Moorish street plan, is stunning. We picked it almost at random returning from Fatima- we had been advised to pop into somewhere as we drove back, but almost did not, lacking enthusiasm.

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The defensive structures are impressive. English and Welsh castles are all ruined because they could not cope with Civil War artillery yet were still used as fortresses in that war. I am glad that did not happen here. In 1580 a Spanish coup took over the country, but in 1640 Portugal achieved independence again- as a Scot, I am delighted by that, and their English alliance is a mirror image of our Auld alliance.

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These are the remains of the International Chocolate Festival, a delightful idea. The fifteenth is this year, 10 March to 2 April.

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We walked round the walls. I would not have enjoyed it with more tourists about: passing, with one pressed against the wall and the other close to the drop was mildly unpleasant. Would there be safety barriers if this were in England, or would walking be forbidden?

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We climbed that high turret. I did it just for the photo, and without a safety barrier felt a bit ill. A small girl blithely ran up the stairs, letting me take the wall-side. Later on I found a woman, clearly overcome by the experience, walking very slowly down two yard wide stairs to ground level. She leaned on the wall for support.

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Note how these graves are all lying on the surface. I wonder if they are on the bare stone, and the bodies lie just below those low sepulchre lids.

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We stopped off for a coffee, and I bought my only piece of tourist tat, of course a pendant.

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Lisbon Cathedral

I really want you to look at my header photo. I have not seen a beggar like that in Britain. At least the Cathedral chapter allow her to be there, unlike St Paul’s Cathedral.

There are more decorative churches in Lisbon than its cathedral. Its facade is almost bare, its columns unadorned.

lisbon-cathedrallisbon-cathedral-from-the-galleryThe guide book said it was not worth seeing, with just “a couple of tombs”, but it has grandeur. I was glad to be there, after the great difficulty we had getting there. With few tourists it has a more peaceful, even holy, atmosphere than Jheronymus.

Here are the tombs. I love the dogs, and the thought of reading and contemplating while awaiting the Resurrection.

lisbon-cathedral-doglisbon-cathedral-readerThe West window is easily interpreted? Twelve apostles and Christ at the centre, smaller than they, for some reason.

lisbon-cathedral-west-window-1 lisbon-cathedral-west-windowI paid to go into the cloisters, which are being excavated. Some of the buildings uncovered are Roman, some Moorish, and there is a Roman sewer.

lisbon-cathedral-cloister-excavationsOutside, the trams shake and judder up the steep hill. They are a tourist attraction, he went to ride one while I was in Belem. Notice the English. I had not realised how quickly my camera battery would run down, and took the rest of my photographs on the phone.

lisbon-cathedral-tramThat beggar, again. Leaving, I handed her a 20c coin. She kissed it. I did not, as the Pope advises, look her in the eye and touch her hands, wishing her “Bom dia”- I looked away, embarrassed.

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The hilltop palace at Sintra

The undeserving rich, the moneyed elites of Portugal, looked at Brighton Pavilion with envious eyes, and built it on steroids.

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I love this place. I find it fabulously beautiful, and am delighted it exists; and appalled at the thought of living within miles, as it dominates the countryside. The king can get that thing built, even on that hill top, with all the labour involved, and just live there. Viva a revolução!

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All the tourists are about, and everyone is taking photographs. In the upper storey of the courtyard, below, I saw three together, all with cameras glued to faces, and they dispersed just before I could photograph them.

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The exterior is fabulous, the interior less so. When this was being furnished, sculpture had moved on from this cheap soft porn. The undeserving rich can have execrable taste.

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I find the chapel disturbing as well. The luxury-ascetic of it, such a rich depiction of death by torture. Christianity is full of paradox, the church saying the Magnificat- “He has cast down the mighty from their thrones”- while sucking up to the powerful, who pray in places of such adornment- how could anyone of any imagination get this place built then put a chapel in it? Serve God or self-indulgence, man- but you have to choose.

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Belem

To the cultural quarter. Tristão e Isolda is next week, alas. We miss it. The overcast sky is not ideal for photos, but the Centro Cultural is beautiful, clad in rose stone. I walk a wide stone passageway up to the Berardo Collection, alone in the off-season, and it feels empowering and liberating, not at all like the stark concrete ravine west of the National Theatre in London.

The Mosteiro dos Jeronimos is worth photographing in any light, even a phone snap which I cannot edit.

All the cloisters are intricately carved.

People are doing selfies, which I find difficult:

The refectory has stories in pictures, which I do not like.

The church from the gallery.

It is a tourist hubbub even now, so I say I want to pray, and go into a quieter side chapel. A woman presses her forehead to an altar below a statue of the Virgin.

There are so many artists in the Berardo overview of the twentieth century! I will not comment as I fear sounding Pooterish. Here is the church from the water garden.

Happy Christmas with the Holy Family

Merry Christmas. Here are the Holy Family, looking happy:

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I love the sweetness and unselfconsciousness of Joseph’s love here. He looks at his wife and child in delight. Mary has a small smile as if she has not a care in the world.

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The contrast here is not just the darkness of the background but the intensity of the look. Here are highly intelligent people, knowing and self-conscious. Initially I thought it a man, on the left, despite the head-covering. It is a strong-looking woman.

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Munch is always so disturbing. When is the picture, precisely? Mary is in ecstasy, possibly sexual, and the foetal Christ has anger or even resentment.

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At last, a baby, wrapped as he would be, in a Mediterranean winter. Joseph has a halo, but not the others.

Merry Christmas with the Holy Family

Merry Christmas. May God bless you and keep you;
May God make God’s face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you;
May God lift up God’s countenance upon you, and give you peace.

Here are some pictures of the Holy Family.

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Aguilera makes the baby look more like a baby than most- a happy baby, with a smile like a drunkard’s. This baby knows what babies know. His mother’s happiness is fragile, like a woman who knows everything that can go wrong; but it is alright, just for the moment. Joseph, of whom we know little from the Gospels, is barely visible in the darkness, a look of love at the child.

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Soubre by contrast has the baby like a miniature adult. The only baby-like thing here is the arms outstretched for a hug. Mary is a saint. She knows God’s Plan is going ahead well. Joseph is a huge, strong protective presence, a contrast before which the mother and child shine more brightly.

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In Luke’s gospel we hear the baby was presented in the Temple in Jerusalem- pretty dangerous, if the Wise Men were right and Herod wanted to kill all babies. There was a prophet, Anna, aged 84, who came praising God. Yet another woman who is the prophet of Christ. And Simeon, a righteous man, could die happy after seeing Jesus, and sang:

Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word.
For mine eyes have seen thy salvation;
Which thou hast prepared before the face of all people;
To be a light to lighten the Gentiles, and to be the glory of thy people Israel.

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Rafael Flores shows an older Jesus, prefiguring the Cross. Mary may have been scared, but her face is watchful, still loving, not showing fear or resistance to what must be; and no denial, either.

Hope IV

Eliminate false hope- yet hope has value. Here she is.

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Pierre-Cécile Puvis de Chavannes, who discovered his particule in adult life, painted her the year after the Franco-Prussian War. She sits on the ground- a burial mound, I read- in front of ruins. Yet new growth comes already, in the oak sapling before her sheet. She is calm, open, receptive. The catastrophe has not crushed her. Christophe André, in whose book I found her, calls her visage “triumphant”, though I do not think that is quite it, merely confident. Would that I could enlarge the face, but that is the largest net reproduction I can find.

Most net reproductions are of the alternative.

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I loathe this. The burial mound becomes a wall, the sheet a dress: bowdlerisation is boring, but the nudity was not particularly erotic. Those who would demand she be clothed would not have understood “erotic” in art, only be applying rules. Her bare toes are peeking out- “looked on as something shocking,” but not breaking the rules. I find her face revolting. She is a lady, her face composed to receive visitors, her hair done. She is putting on an act. Her right wrist seems much stronger than the other’s, for she is striking a pose. The other has, in the moment, found the olive branch, peace, and holds it up for us to see. She is present in the moment, unselfconscious, ready.

Though it could be fashion. The ruins are less impressionistic, and I know impressionism is better.

Hope is openness to all that is good, all that is possible. Hope is false if delusion. The first message of Christ that I find in his own words is, face reality. Accept reality. There is so much more, but that is the urgency of it. Even “Love one another” comes from Reality.

Here’s a study for the painting. Of course she was intended to be nude.

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Gauguin loved the painting.

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I note she turns away. We see her profile- perhaps if we saw her face, her face would be all his painting. And the plants are emphasised- perhaps his flowers are that hope, full grown.

Allies III

Oh, those poor LGBT! They have such a hard time, you know.

Well, we do, I suppose. I am left handed, and things are often designed for right-handed use. People assume Straightness, even I do, and many feel uncomfortable with queers. Yet, basically, Brexit that. Let us enjoy our triumphs, not dwell on difficulties.

This has been an arty week. I saw Francis Bacon on Tuesday and was irritated by the phrase “anxiety and hopelessness”, and then on Friday I saw the Bhupen Khakhar exhibition, whose paintings are beautiful, and loathed the patronising git who wrote on the wall, When Khakhar developed cataracts in the early 1990s he adopted a looser, blurry style of brushwork which allowed him to depict suggestive scenes of same-sex encounters. Well, gay lovemaking remains a crime in India, yet Khakhar’s oeuvre expresses his sexuality from the beginning. Here is “Man Leaving” from 1970. It looks like a wedding, no?

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Possibly those who hate queers would not consider that possibility, so think the title “Going abroad” indicated a parting; but perhaps they would be hyper-sensitised to suggestions of gayness, so be wound up by it.

Here the many colours on the apron suggest oil paints, and how could that hose be anything but a penis?

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It’s just funny. I love the smile on his face.

And finally Yayati from 1987, from a myth in which a young man gave his youthful vigour to his father, but the father wandered the world and found no need for youth. I love the colour, and the fire of the wings.

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I sit before this, entranced. I also loved “At the end of the day iron ingots came out”, where Khakhar depicts himself on the lavatory during his cancer, and the ingots look like a continuation of his depicted bowel. It is agonising. It hangs behind a picture of him having an enema, and the result in me is a powerful sympathy and love of his humanity. I feel some of his pain. It is raw, honest, truthful, which is what I strive for here.

And there is no apology for sexuality. He may be exploring just how much he can portray, but the portrayal is clear. Surely the curator can see that! Surely the curator needs sympathy with the artist! What?

I wanted a post-card of it, so asked a delightfully camp young man at the shop. There is to be an LGBT artists’ exhibition next year, their first. I look forward to that. He loves the window cleaner too, and the beauty of the colours. That green is so cool and restful. I agree it is such a joyous exhibition. And yes. That is definitely a penis.

I want his sexuality to be seen as completely normal, and that means allowing people to see it or not, as they can, in his paintings. “Ooh, look, that’s a gay bit” is not supportive, really, it maintains us as the exotic other. If someone is expressing derision or disrespect for the quality of gayness please do correct them, but don’t-

oh, I don’t know. Work it out for yourself. What would you want?

That’s it. Don’t look after us. We don’t need looking after generally, just defending occasionally. It’s like benevolent sexism- you mean well, but you hold us down.