Entry 1: A tale of two cities

I arrived in Porto on Tuesday morning after unremarkable flights from Pittsburgh, DC, and Frankfort.  After some initial culture shock and jet-lag I’ve settled into my B&B.  It is in Paranhos, a municipality of Porto about 2.5 miles from the University of Porto https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paranhos_(Porto), or 2 metro stops.  I’m the oldest “student” here in the flat, and the lone North American as everyone is from Brazil. The good news is that Brazilian Portuguese is what I was taught and is easier to understand, but the bad news is that I am not going to shake my Brazilian/Pittsburgh accent living with Brazilians.  For the most part I am doing OK with the language although I am at a toddler level with verbs and I have become adept at pantomime.  I try to channel Luana, my Portuguese I teacher in Hispanic Languages at the University of Pittsburgh who was great at using her body in communicating meaning.

I’ve been running and walking and learning the neighborhood and practicing my terrible Portuguese on the patient shop keepers of Paranhos. I’ve tried to master the art of getting a coffee WITH milk.  I’ve even managed to conquer the skeleton key and the six deadbolts on the flat door—keys and doors in Portugal require a YouTube video.   I have had some marvelous dinners with my friends Ana, Diogo and their family and went to a fantastic art show on the Foz do Duro https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Foz_do_Douro (where the Duro river meets the Atlantic Ocean) which was held in a fort.  I’ve eaten three kinds of new fish, all of which still had the heads on.  I attended a conference with Rachel Fusco who was presenting and greatly enjoyed meeting Domestic Violence researchers from all over the world (note to self for the future—when sitting at dinner with the Irish, don’t let them keep filling your glass).

True to my “mission” of the Porto listening project, I’ve tried to listen and observe.  It’s been more than a decade since my last trip to Porto and it has changed in some dramatic ways.  Like Spain and Greece, Portugal experienced a fiscal crisis during the economic recession and it has taken some time to recover.  Part of the recovery has been the tourism industry:  Porto has a UNESCO site https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ribeira_Square and is one of the loveliest cities in the Iberian Peninsula.  It is also quite reasonable in cost for a European city, with lower risk of terrorism, making it a popular destination.  I was amazed at the number of tourists when I visited the Centro this past week.  German, French and a lot of Brazilian Portuguese could be overheard and the streets and the riverfront was packed. There are boat cruises and helicopter rides and a ski lift thing that goes over the Duro River.  This was very different from what I remembered.  Porto was “a working city” e.g. Porto works, Lisbon plays and Braga prays was a common saying.  But now the work seems to be centering around tourism.  The Porto natives have an ambivalence about the changes.  It was important for the economic recovery but the city doesn’t feel the same to them, and the housing prices have been driven up due to apartments and rentals for tourism which has become a critical part of their economy.  People speak of the “real Porto” and there is still much to be seen, but the sentiment by some is that it is changing and that may not be such a good thing. It has made me think of Pittsburgh and our own recovery from steel to “eds and meds” and now technology.  Although tourism is not a major economic driver, Pittsburgh being identified on some of the “best places to live” lists has certainly led to changes in neighborhoods and gentrification with some questioning about the stratification of the city and surrounding neighborhoods.

I’ve attached some photos of the ribeira and the foz .

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