Friends and readers,
Greetings from Lisbon, Portugal, where I am writing you from my hotel room, laptop propped on my knees. 😎 Patrick and I are back on the road for a springtime adventure, mixing work and play, and I'm writing to share some book recommendations and a few of the interesting sights I've seen.
A typical small bookstore in hilly Lisbon
In preparation for this trip, I loaded up on novels with a connection to Portugal. I read an entertaining (but rather improbable) thriller, Two Nights in Lisbon, by Chris Pavone, and I dipped my toes into the multiple literary award winner, Night Train to Lisbon by Pascal Mercier. But my favorite of the bunch was The Colours of Death by Patricia Marques, a gritty police procedural with a paranormal tilt.
While not related to Portugal, I kept myself entertained on our long flight reading Death on Board by Anita Davison. Davison has a nice knack for description, and the story is set on a transatlantic voyage from New York to England in the early 1900s. The sleuth is a British governess.
During our brief time here, I learned of Luís de Camões, considered the “Portuguese Shakespeare,” whose influence was so profound that the Portuguese language is sometimes called “The Language of Camões.” I haven't explored his poems yet, but you can learn more about his interesting life here, including his adventures and misadventures at sea.
And imagine my delight when I learned that the world's oldest continually operating bookstore was a short walk from our hotel! The original Livreria Bertrand (now part of a chain) has been selling books since 1732. We went inside and found a surprisingly modern collection, well-organized and welcoming.
292 years of bookselling history, right here.
I'm unlikely to learn Portuguese anytime soon, so I picked up a charming copy of Alice in Wonderland. A grim-faced saleswoman at the desk applied an “official” Livreria Bertrand stamp to the book before glaring at me like she wished I'd die of a painful disease. Perhaps my tastes were too basic?
Visiting a country for the first time is indeed like visiting Wonderland. You're lost. You don't know how things work. Don't offend the queen of the bookstore, or she'll lop off your head! Ha.
With my head firmly attached to my neck, I headed back out into the rain. Rumor has it that our next stop, Porto, has one of the prettiest bookstores in the world. (Video Link)
Literacy as Resistance
ut when it comes to the power of words in Lisbon, what moved me the most was my visit to the Museu Do Aljube Resistência e Liberdade (The Aljube Museum of Resistance and Freedom). It's dedicated to the activists who struggled for decades to overthrow Portugal's former dictatorship, and many of the exhibits were about communication and literacy.
From the ways the authoritarian government strove to suppress literacy (because an uneducated populace is easier to control), to the explosion of underground magazines and hidden printing presses that kept pro-democracy movements alive, the museum was a powerful reminder of the importance of language and communication, not to mention the dangers of government control over books, media, and communication.
Antifascist activists used “muffled typewriters” like this one to avoid being hauled off to jail for sharing their ideas.
Portugal is a young democracy, compared to the United States. As one local told us, “Young people can be tempted to give up on our system, especially when life is difficult. It's important we show them our history, so they understand how dangerous authoritarianism is.”
Reading helps to build up our critical thinking skills while at the same time building empathy for others. My time in Lisbon reminded me that when it comes to literacy, there's far more at stake than entertainment. Words can bring us together, and from time to time, they have the power to change the world.
Until next time...
All my best,
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