Thursday, November 2, 2017

Mediterranean 2017 - part six

In the spring of 1940, Germany invaded Denmark and Norway, then the Low Countries and France. As the British Army fell back and France collapsed, a world’s fair about to open. No, not the famous one in New York, which had begun in 1939 and continued a second year. This fair was in Lisbon and I’ll bet you’ve never heard of it.

The Exposição do Mundo Português - Exposition of the Portuguese World - was staged between the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos - Jerónimos Monastery - and Tagus River. 

An exposition guide shows the monastery (number 10) at the top. Clicking on the map brings up quite a lot of detail.

The 1501 building, where explorer Vasco de Gama is buried, was anchor for an exhibition highlighting the regime’s ideologies - empire, nationalism, service and, of course, obedience to the state. It harkened back to Portugal’s heyday in the 15th and 16th centuries, celebrated the country’s remaining overseas possessions and supposed progress at home and abroad under the Estado Novo. Brazil, a former colony, was the only other independent country represented.

If António Salazar (on the left), attending the opening, felt satisfied, who can blame him? Portugal was avoiding direct involvement in the war, but busy selling tungsten to Germany, critical in armaments production. His regime was in firm control with any opposition, if not eliminated, at least driven well underground by the secret police.

A pleasant stroll through the fairgrounds ...

... took visitors (some three million, mainly Portuguese) past ‘marine horses’ created by then well-known sculptor, António Duarte ...

... and to the river bank where was, and is, another exposition anchor, the 1521 Belém Tower. From here had departed the great sailors of Portugal’s ‘age of discovery’. 

The tower remains a popular sightseeing destination. 

What had been the Belém Gas Works was turned into a restful park ...

... palm trees symbol of distant lands claimed by the Portuguese. In 1940, this still included Macau on China’s coast, Goa in India, Angola, Cape Verde, Portuguese Guinea, Mozambique or Portuguese East Africa, the islands of São Tomé and Príncipe, and Portuguese Timor.

One of the exposition’s memorable sights was only temporary. Made of wood and plaster, the Padrão dos Descobrimentos - Monument to the Discoveries - was an instant hit.

In 1960, with the regime (and Salazar) still in power, the monument was rebuilt to last for more than just a season. It sits next to a marina also created for the exposition.

The monument is a splendid example of ‘fascist (certainly not socialist) realism’. The shape represents a ship’s bow and perhaps I let myself down by saying I quite like it.

Nearby was a splendid replica of an early Portuguese ship.

Some exposition buildings survive ...

... the Espaço Espelho D’ Água, was a restaurant and beer hall, and has been restored to its original modernist style. The restaurant is surrounded by water and its name roughly translates as ‘water mirror’.

Immediately opposite is what’s now the Museo de Arte Popular, the Secção da Vida Popular during the exposition. This had displays on traditional culture, folk art and handicrafts, and some boring videos can be found on YouTube. 

Stalwart and picturesque peasants exemplify the ‘family, home and church’ virtues so beloved of rightwing regimes. 

The Jardim Botânico Tropical - Botanical Gardens - near the monastery became the exposition’s colonial section.

An impressive, Chinese-style gateway in the Oriental Garden represented Macau.

And visitors could pose for a souvenir portrait in 'Chinese' dress.

At the Colonial Restaurant exposition-goers could cautiously sample fare from Africa and Asia made acceptable to the Portuguese palate. 

Dotted through the gardens are busts and quite wonderful tiles of ‘natives’, all suitably grateful for wise Portuguese governance. Other colonial powers had similar misconceptions about their subjects. 

This small pavilion, which I have to myself, concludes my visit to the 1940 Exposition of the Portuguese World. The idyllic tropical gardens are now part of the Universidade de Lisboa and one of my favorite places in the city. 

I particularly like the tiles with jolly lions and other curious animals. 

I sip an espresso, nibble a macaroon and consider a time many Portuguese would prefer to forget and of which the rest of us are largely ignorant. Still, there are those of a certain age who - perhaps understandably - look back across the decades and nostalgically remember visiting the exposition. They would have been children then and grateful to live in a country (however authoritarian) at peace when the rest of the world was tearing itself apart. 


As for my father, his time in Portugal was drawing to a close: “ ... one could buy excellent fruit in Lisbon quite cheaply and, of course, our families in England would be delighted to get fruit, which had been missing from the shops there for so long … (we) fairly loaded ourselves with pineapples, oranges, lemons, etc. (When) we got back to the hotel ... it was dinner time and, after a wash, we went down to the dining room.”

After eating, it was soon time to catch the plane to England: “When we arrived at the base, there was coffee waiting for us in the customs shed and we were each presented with a small bottle of Port wine, the gift of the Government of Portugal, a nice gesture.

This was the most thrilling take-off. As we taxied out into the river, we saw that the runway was illuminated by several searchlights directed along the surface of the water and that it was also lined off by green lights floating on the water. As we roared down the runway, the sheets of water rushing past the windows were lit up by the searchlights and the cabin was lit up by the reflection from the spray.

As soon as we were off the water, the steward came through the plane adjusting the black-out curtains and, as it was by now 2 A.M. … bed seemed to be indicated.”

The flying boat made a wide circle out into the Atlantic to avoid German aircraft and, next morning, Dad arrived home. 

And the eggs my mother had so carefully packed in Washington for the family in London? My father’s notes conclude: '… the eggs came through safely - not one broken, a great tribute to Patsie’s packing'.


For those interested in Fascist Portugal in World War Two, I can recommend two books: 

Lisbon - War in the Shadows of the City of Light, 1939-1945  Neill Lochery PublicAffairs  New York  2011

The Lisbon Route - Entry and Escape in Nazi Europe  Ronald Weber   Ivan R. Dee  Lanham, Maryland  2011


Next on my cruise, the Spanish coast, Barcelona and the Catalan independence crisis.