In 2012, Desenho Cru was created as a one-night monthly gathering of artists and performers, in the unusual stage of a gay bar in the heart of Lisboa. It was actually named after the bar. The drill is simple: the performers perform, and the artists sketch them. Creative spirits in both sides of the (imaginary) fence are free to deliver their own art in whatever form they feel is best.
Now, the Desenho Cru sessions are held in a small studio in Martim Moniz, another heart of Lisboa – the multi-hearted city. I attended my first Desenho cru in the beginning of february, weeks after coming back to Lisboa. It’s a fantastic group experience, where concentration levels are high, but everything feels somewhat different from a regular sketch meeting.
The intimacy of the moment is enhanced firstly by the narrowness of the space, where fifteen to twenty people elbowed each other for some arm movement space. If more were to come, they would have to sit on the floor.
Secondly by the unusual nature of the performances – and those are entirely dependent on the performers themselves – it’s an artistic lottery. You get what they bring for you. First-time performer Veronique, tense at first, on account of the thirty-something eyeballs on her, finally let herself and some garments go, and played around with postures and the mirror she had leaned up against the wall. I’d say she managed quite well.
The andalucian José Gomez brought his guitar and some electronic equipment that, for some reason, started to fail him right in the middle of his act. The gadget recorded a sample that he would play, and then it would playback on a loop, while he added some more samples to the texture of the song. A one man band, fretted unfortunately by faulty equipment.
Taking advantage of this very intimate hours of these youngsters feels very weird at first – like an invasion of a private moment and space. But soon after the concentration levels are high, everyone just minds their own business and focus on what they love best – the students, the sketchers, the dance teacher, even the pianist who’s setting the tune for the whole act.
It’s an extraordinary weekly opportunity for sketchers to grasp the shape and movement of bodies in their finest moment. Although it is very challenging at first, the exercise pays off in the end. It’s also an excellent visual memory stimulant, to save in the mind’s eye a single pose, or a single movement in the myriad of elegant steps and twirls these students undertake for the three hours of the duration of the class.
Elvas, the archetypal Portuguese border town, was the stage of an Urban Sketchers Portugal meeting in the spring of 2013. Soon after, it became a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Although, a very important city and military outpost in days long gone, and despite the recent UNESCO status attribution, Elvas is still subject to the desertification process that haunts the country’s inland regions. As such, lots of stores are closed, abandoned, covered up in newspaper, waiting for better times.
AIAR is a regional Association that confronts these challenges head-on, using the rich local culture and capitalizing on the UNESCO status. They had a simple but effective and innovative idea: to use the hundreds of sketches produced by the dozens of sketchers in those busy days of the meeting, to decorate the streets of Elvas, using the windows of the closed down shops as frames. The widened sketches now give a purpose to the deserted façades, and convey a sense of hope in that the less sketches there are on the streets, the more lively commerce will be.
I didn’t attend the meeting in 2013, but I had the opportunity to contribute to the street exhibition with a sketch made this summer. Christmas in Elvas became a little sketchier thanks to AIAR.
In Portugal, the winter has been mild. Sunny afternoons with a touch of chill in the evening. It’s a food-galore period! Lunches and dinners go on for hours, and there are very short periods in-between them. Different parts of the family meet up and go about in a very organic schedule, everything flows in a chaotic order, as in the traffic of an Indian road junction.
The gastronomical selection is ample, but follows a strict years-old rehearsed order. Dinner on the 24th is boiled cod-fish (bacalhau cozido) sided with potatoes, green cabbage, eggs and chickpeas, and lots of olive oil. Lunch on the 25th is farrapo velho (old rags), a recycling of the previous night’s recipe, shredded down to a rugged-looking mixture of whites, greens and pastel yellows – add olive oil for bright colours. In the evening comes the roasted turkey with potatoes and chestnuts, swimming in – you guessed it – olive oil.
This year, we had a bonus meal on the 23rd – a delicious roasted duck with rice in a country house on a top of a hill in the great Algarvian outback (insert banjo riff).
Desserts are also a highlight of the season. Bolo-rei, fritos, aletria, mexidos, queijo da serra, the regional D. Rodrigos and doces finos algarvios. But the star product is the Rabanadas – bread slices wrapped in egg, sugar and cinnamon. I used to eat tens of these in my childhood! Nowadays I can only manage one or two, tops. Still, it’s my favourite feature of these evenings. Here’s a proper recipe from a foodie friend of mine.
The most awesome thing about christmas this year was the newest addition to the family: a one-month old dachshund, sister of the four year old one, who goes by the name of Viviane, although I was rooting for another name.
Four years ago, in my architecture office in Lisboa, we started to work on a restoration project of a historical building in the northern section of the city. The Bensaúde manor was built during the final years of the 19th century, surrounded by an estate in Paço do Lumiar, an old hamlet that was absorbed by the growth of the city. The manor has had a series of eminent proprietors and was designed and altered by some of the most notorious Portuguese architects of the 20th century.
It is presumed to have been designed initially by Ventura Terra, one of the most renown architects of the turn of the century. Then, in the twenties, Raul Lino intervened, expanding the house and laying out plans for great decorations on several rooms of the manor. Mural painings, painted ceilings, boiseries (panelling), azulejos (tile works), decorated fireplaces and wrought iron designs were added all over the manor. In the sixties, França Ribeiro designed the expansion of a façade, to make room for an extra compartment and a terrace.
In the more recent years, the manor has been under the guise of public institutions, presently IAPMEI, who mobilized efforts to see this built heritage renewed and used again. A great part of the preservation work is to keep a building occupied. The vigilance gained from having people daily interacting with a historical building is what can save it from deterioration.
The preservation of Raul Lino’s paintings and tiling was a complex task of the project, and was assigned to a specialist crew who had to delicately redo some of the paintings, based on the ones that were intact, clean and refit the wall tiles, preserve the wrought iron works and repaint and polish the fireplaces.