From a visitor’s point of view Lisbon is an OK place. There are spectacular views from the Bridges, the Santorio Nacional de Cristo Rei and the Casteljo and of course there is the football, the occasional “show” and the odd triathlon on the water front. The walk around the lower city followed by an Elevador de Santa Justa ride up to the upper reaches of the old Lisbon, is also most memorable.
Very early on in my years of capital visits I learnt to abandon my car and take to the underground or a taxi. I could never come to terms with the crazy one way system maze, connecting dual carriageways with back alleys throughout the city. It was beyond my patience and my GPS. On our recent visit we chose a hotel just off the motorway which allowed us to use Shank’s Pony to arrive at the “Gulbenkian.”
We entered the first large glass door we saw and found ourselves in a large reception area. At the desk, the receptionist directed us towards the Museum which just happened to be some 50 odd meters away, perpendicular to the Foundation building in which we stood. Well you live and learn.
To my pleasant surprise I found entry to the Museum was free for Sunday afternoon visitors. This type of customer offering is so rare these days I was more than happy to avail myself of the opportunity. Further inspection of the pamphlet, handed to me by the steward, did however show that the “Contemporary Paths” section was actually free every day until the New Year, in celebration of the 60th anniversary of the Institution. So there.
The concrete bunker style of the both buildings was soon forgotten in spacious rooms offering everything from paintings by the Masters to gold trimmed furniture and jewellery bought from Catherine the Great, well the Hermitage, (the Russian Government were looking for cash).
Passing the many exotic pottery displays it suddenly dawned on me that the Dutch weren’t the leading innovators of this type of beautiful crockery. It was the Chinese, followed by the Turks and then probably a couple more before Delft opened its eyes to the wonders of painting and glazing clay.
The wife was in her element doing her thing at her own pace so we agreed to meet back at the entrance at around closing time. Her ladyship dawdled off to the “modern” rooms and I meandered through display cabinets full of jewellery and engraved silver and gold coins. Suddenly I found myself in the “Contemporary Paths” room among a miscellany of objects featuring small displays of nearly everything, from antique Chinese fabric and Japanese painted screens to modern day furniture. How did IKEA get in here?
I noticed that nearly all the folk leaving this section were heading through one particular door. Curiosity led me to follow and to my surprise I was soon in a half full “Grande Auditorio.” A steward again quickly offered me a small pamphlet describing the four o’clock show of the Gulbenkian Concert Orchestra. Well, I had time to spare, the wife would need another hour or so to complete her prowl, and there was space enough to relax so I took a seat. Joining 500 or so other music lovers already eager for the music.
We didn’t have long to wait. Within 10 minutes all the members of the orchestra were tuning up and tuning in their instruments. This was followed by the arrival of the first violinist, to loud applause, then the conductor and subsequently the featured cellist. All this was managed and presented to perfection.
We all settled to listen. The first 3 pieces were by Malo, a Portuguese composer from Maderia unknown to myself, featuring the ageing cellist. Well, there was nothing ageing in the dexterity of his left hand and arm or in the bow work of his right. He led and the members of the orchestra followed. Yes, they had practiced a lot. Not a hint of a wrong note or poor timing. In a word “exquisite.” It had been a long time since my last classical concert. I had forgotten just how brilliant some musicians are.
After his 3 pieces the cellist left to warm applause. Schubert followed. Here the mood was more melodic, less abrupt and easier on the ear. Schubert’s unfinished 8th concerto is definitely well worth a listen. Then just as forthrightly as the concert had begun it ended. We generously applauded and slowly began to leave the auditorium and then to exit the building.
I found a seat close to the book section in the entry hall and puzzled my way through the Foundation pamphlet. My darling failed to appear. However, the steady stream of folk crossing the foyer entertained me. I was attracted by the random nature of the crowd passing before my eyes. I soon learnt that violins were carried by their owners, encased and strapped to their backs. What about the drummer I thought? He must have his pick-up truck parked at the back exit. Well no. He appeared in jeans and a green pullover, carrying just his white shirt on a hanger. What a let down.
The violinists had however given me some clue as to how a cello would be transported. Of course it would be encased and strapped to the back. And yes my deductions were confirmed when our concert soloist appeared with a big white PVC case strapped to his torso. Well I hope he is not walking too far. The Metro is a no go and he would never get the cello on a bus. He just dawdled through the foyer shaking hands with everyone he passed.
Where is my “darling”? Nowhere to be found. Well only 30 minutes to go to closing time then we all would be thrown out. I settled in to watch more of the stragglers going home. The next 10 -15 minutes moved slowly. Still no sign of her ladyship. I circled the foyer and returned to my seat. The steward was beginning to show an interest in me. I watched as he strolled over to a second steward. This provoked a reaction. I walked across to speak to them both.
“Sir, how do you know that you have cleared the buildings of all visitors at closing time?”
“Well simply we have a procedure which we follow to clear every room.”
So there. I returned to my sedentary position. Well madam will soon be swept up in the final sweep. About time! The steward returned to the door and took to giving me even more glances. Wow what next? I relaxed for another long five minutes and then a light dawned.
“Sir, is there a second, another exit to the building?”
“Yes the exit from the Museum is just 50 meters away to the right.”
I was out of the door in a flash. And yes the boss was storming towards me. Crikey!
“Where have you been? I been waiting for 30 minutes for you. They have just thrown us out.” rasped her Highness.
“I have been here for the last 40 minutes waiting for you,” I replied meekly.
“You were in the wrong place. That is not the Museum entrance. That is the entrance to the Foundation.”
I took my punishment meekly like all good men should. An honest mistake -- the identical layout of the two entrances halls of the two buildings. Ultimately I managed to get out from under the storm by stopping for dinner at the Brazilian restaurant. Marvellous what a “Rodizio” can do for the soul.