A Fictional Country?

Last week I was invited to be one of a few presenters in a curious book launch.

The book is named “A Rua da Estrada” –or “The Road Street”– an extraordinarily funny, but very real and official term, sometimes found in Portugal to designate road landscapes that from ancient rural thoroughfares slowly transformed into eccentric urban linear settlements.

The wonderful thing about Álvaro Domingues’ book is that, like any open work, instead of closing itself down into a final taxonomy, it just opens up a field of interpretation – as it was evident in the very diverse approaches to the volume.

I couldn’t but read the book as a weird tourist guide for a country that, while steadily sinking in the statistics of every possible economical indicator, can now rely in one and one only source of hope: tourism.

As many will know, tourism is already an important local resource, but before we soon reach the comical scenario described by Rui Zink in his delicious novel The Tourist Destination, there’s definitely one idea we must change about the potential of tourism in Portugal.

Given that the landscape has been proudly Balkanized much before the Balkan countries themselves discovered and exported the now fashionable concept, we have to fully embrace the notion of the exotic as a drive to bring more and more thrill-seeking tourists.

The idea had already occurred to me a few years ago, when I was driving to the Ellipse Foundation opening night. The way into the art space –portrayed in anarticle that the New York Times aptly baptized as “the suburbs turn up the chic”– resembled Mexico, but in an even more surrealist vein.

After all, this place was in the radius of a major Western European capital, and the superimposition of periods, styles, and functions in one relatively short stretch of road was truly unbelievable.

Logically, this corresponded  to the glorious historical period at which the still standing Portuguese Prime-Minister was – as I eventually commented in the Portuguese press at the time – discovered to be the author of some magnificent architectural pearls along the Portuguese roads.

As such, my argument last Friday night was that, rather than applying the cleansing recipe of someone like the smart –but ultimately traditionalist– Harvard landscape designer Carl Steinitz, we should put ourselves in the eyes of our visitors and revaluate the scrumptious exoticism of our landscapes.

Apart from all the students of the political and urban category of Balkanalogy also any scrutinizing art lover would, after all, surely indulge into the authentic leap into the void that a Yves Klein like the one pictured above may welcome.

And those educated movie-goers who are nostalgic for the situationist, yet popular iconoclasticism of Jacques Tati, may be fully enticed by a glimpse of a fantastic moment like the one portrayed by Domingues down here.

But the immense catalogue raisonné goes on. After all, it’s 230 pages of images scrupulously analyzed by the knowledgeable gaze of the Portuguese geographer.

Of course, all those who haven’t yet killed the modernist within –like FAT used to say– are also on to some undiscovered gems like this magnificent glass box of anonymous origin.

And those who are into ecologically driven green facades, another current and enticing fad, are naturally entitled to their own treats like this luscious little house, just about to bit the dust from a major national cross road.

And, finally, even the self-demanding architectural tourist will be able to discover, without too strenuous an effort, a true picnic by the roadside, like this genuine Pritzker prize watchfully guarded by a genuine marble lion – like if the ultimate reenactment of the Portuguese expression “um boi a olhar um palácio.”

This is why I couldn’t but recommend the book to everybody.

Every Portuguese should keep at least two or three copies: one for themselves and the others to be offered as an exquisite gift to the first friends that pop up to visit the country..

All images © Álvaro Domingues.

One response to “A Fictional Country?

  1. Pingback: [Bracket], Junk Jet et al. | Abitare

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