Day 10 - First Academic Day in Lisbon

Trip Start Sep 02, 2007
Trip End Dec 25, 2007

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Friday, September 14, 2007

It was an early morning regardless of how hard I'd slept and it was really hard to get up for breakfast before gathering for the first day of our Academic Field Program. I wasn't too happy to note that our leader would be my World Literature professor, but there are other cool people in our circle and the IRC (Intercultural Resident Councilor) that came with us is really great. Our Learning Circle is only 11 students - one other drama major (Briana), a film guy (Anthony), a law student (Gabriel), a math major (Geoffrey), a couple visual art people and some who are just interested in the arts I guess (Sascha, Vanessa, Heather, and Ashley). That doesn't make 11. That only makes 9. Well either I can't remember the other two or there aren't really 11 of us. Whatever. You know it's been a long couple days when you can't keep track of 11 people.

Anyway we spent the first half of the day at the University of Lisbon, which compared to the schools at home was not what I'd call beautiful as far as the campus was concerned. It was nice inside, though, and beautifully decorated with maritime themes (of course). We had a welcome ceremony that was difficult not to sleep through, and then split for some lectures, of all things. I'd forgotten about that. It felt strange to be in that kind of classroom setting. Even our classes on the ship are still, well, on a ship. Atlantic Ocean floating by outside and all that.

One of the lectures was on the development of the image of the earth (maps, basically) and its effects on exploration, and the other was about the negative consequences of colonization. Let's just say the first was much more interesting. There's not much to say about the lectures, really, except that I was glad when they were over. We were all pretty tired and anxious to get to the whole "experiential learning" thing they'd been advertising like crazy all week. Anthony slept in the back of the class the whole time, snoring part of it, and Gabriel doodled the whole time (and that entertained me too). I did manage to take a few notes during all of that though.

We ate lunch in the campus dining hall called the Canteen; it was nothing special but not bad either. After that we got picked up by our guide, Christina, and a bus to take a tour of the tile museum and a private house that had lots of tiles in it. It doesn't sound exciting now; believe me it didn't sound that exciting to me either but let me tell you it was amazing. We started with a little driving tour of the city, just a short one between the University and the museum. Then when we got to the museum the first thing we did was learn about how the tiles are made and painted and a little of the history of the tiles. Apparently tile painting is Portugal's most unique and famous art form. The evolution of the tiles is incredible, and the way you can see not only Portuguese but Indian, Japanese, and Dutch influences in the designs. Some of the tiles for a long period in the history of their making and development were heavily influenced by Middle Eastern designs, and these tiles could never depict the images of humans or animals because of the Muslim belief that a likeness of something (like a photograph) robs the being of its soul. The artists borrowed from each other, taking symbols and figures from each other's traditional artwork and incorporating it.

You have to see the pictures to understand how amazing this place was. There were rooms and rooms full of tiles and paintings on tiles and tile mosaics and designs made out of tiles. After about an hour of looking around and learning about the tiles, we sat down to make a tile of our own. The way they work is this: first, a design is drawn on some translucent but thick sort of paper (or, in my case, a design is chosen from their nice pile of samples). Then a needle is used to poke holes all around the outlines of the picture, creating a stippled effect. The paper is placed on top of a tile and a small cloth bag of charcoal powder is rubbed over it, leaving the stippled outlines on the tile in black dust, which disappears in the firing of the tile. There were six colors for us to use: orange, yellow, bright green, two shades of blue - a more sky blue and a cobalt blue - and what they called brown that I thought was more purple.

My design was a rose (what else?) and I did it in orange, since there was no pink. It turned out really well, and so did everyone else's. There was some beautiful tile art happening, let me tell you. That's what happens when you hang out with a bunch of art majors. Geez. Miriam (the IRC of the group) made a tile with the figures holding hands around in a circle with the Scholar Ship logo in the center. That I think was my favorite. Way cool. We told her she should take some pictures of it and pitch it to TSS for a T-shirt design.

After that we went to this private house, that we didn't find out until we got there was not really a house but a palace. It was absolutely incredible. I can't even tell you. I'm sorry. And they also didn't let us take pictures inside the house, but I have lots of pictures of the outside and the gardens especially. The gardens were amazing too: 365 geometric shapes, one for each day of the year, interspersed with statues and roses and of course lots of tiles. The inner walls of the garden were lined with tile depictions of the 12 months of the year and also the 12 zodiac signs. There were busts of Portuguese kings and explorers and some saints and even a couple Greek gods, I'm pretty sure.

One of my favorite parts was the tile representations of the arts - Geometry, Poetry, Astronomy, Music, etc etc. They were depicted according to the King's opinion of the arts: beautiful or horrible depending on how much the King liked or disliked each particular art. Clearly Poetry was the highest of the arts and the most well-loved by the King in that time: the depiction of Poetry was exceedingly beautiful and positioned right outside the door to the garden. The depiction of Geometry was not so beautiful - quite ugly, in fact. Apparently the King didn't like math much.

There were also depictions of daily activities with the humans drawn as cats and monkeys - the story behind this is that the people of the day admired cats and monkeys as having qualities humans should strive for: monkeys for their physical attributes, cats for their personality.

Inside the house there were tile sets painted by both artisans and artists educated in their particular profession. The difference in quality and style were clear, and both were beautiful. In some of the situations drawn by the artisans, the activities that were portrayed were designed to make everyone look more human: English soldiers fighting with the butts of their guns because their shot had run out and they still needed to defend themselves, a Portuguese general depicted on his horse without his pants because the camp was attacked and he didn't have time to put them on, and other situations that portrayed everyone in a more realistic, human way. The tile sets painted by the studied artists were something else entirely: stylized poses, beautiful faces and beautiful people and beautiful situations that only occur in art like this. All of them, of course, were beautiful.

We looked at one tile set that was patterned after an Indian tapestry, and then we got to see the tapestry that inspired the tile design and see the similar flower and border design in the tapestry. It was incredible. And besides all the tile, the house itself was just amazing. It had a library with some of the oldest books I've ever seen - books from like the 17th century to the present. There were about 300 books probably; not a huge collection but an amazing one. There were two globes in the room: one celestial, one terrestrial, and they were old enough that we could look at them and see what had changed in even the largest senses of the shape of continents and the location of islands. It was such a beautiful place.

My favorite story about the house was in the history of the mosaics in the walls and ceiling of the "refreshing house: - the bathhouse. The whole walls and ceiling were covered with brilliant mosaics of broken tile and ceramic and sea shells and small stones. The story goes that the King was having a huge dinner party of some sort and everyone had had a couple too many drinks by the latter half of the evening. As a rule, it was very important that no one ever eat off of the same service that the King ate from, and in order to make sure this custom was kept the King and the guests decided to break the service. In this process dishes and services from the Ming Dynasty in China, not to mention some very expensive and antique pieces of Portuguese art and others, were shattered. After all the festivities (and drinking) were over, the pieces of tile and ceramic were saved and used in the mosaics in the ceiling of the bathhouse. There was one bowl intact, placed in the center of a circular pattern in the mosaic, that the guide said was one of three of its kind ever in existence. To this, Goeff replied, "and they've got it stuck in the ceiling." And guide said, "Why not?"

We took some group pictures and wandered around in the Gift Shop for a few minutes; I had used the very last of my Euros to buy a metro ticket home the night before and couldn't afford so much as a postcard in local currency, but there was some amazing stuff there and several people bought things. Then we hit the bus for home. I'd been sitting with Gabriel and Vanessa all day on the bus, and between the last few stops Gabriel had been putting on his music and going to sleep, but this time we got on the topic of what music we liked and he started sharing his with me, one earphone each. So we spent the entire bus ride home listening to Disney and showtunes and the Spice Girls. He put on "Part of Your World" from The Little Mermaid and sang along to it in Spanish while I sang it in English. Then he played the song in Spanish too, and we both sang along to it. And I used to think singing in a three-part round was hard.

It was a great deal of fun, and it seems his musical tastes are much like mine: he loves classical music like Mozart and Beethoven and Tchaikovsky, and Disney and musicals and really bad Pop. His favorite Dolly Parton song is "I Will Always Love You" and we quoted The Lion King to each other most of the way back to the ship. So all in all it was a perfect day in more ways than one: I spent the day witnessing beautiful art and even making some of my own, I wound up a little sore and pleasantly exhausted, and I made some fantastic friends out of the deal too.

We made it back with about ten minutes left to catch dinner and went straight there. There wasn't much left by 7:30 but we were hungry and satisfied with anything by that point. Partway through, Vanessa came over and mentioned that she was trying to accost people to come out with her and was I accostable. I said sure and later we went out to a bar on the harbor with a bunch of other TSS people. I was out of money and way too tired to eat or drink or dance or anything, and most of us just sat around talking for a while. Vanessa really wanted to go dancing but I was afraid it would take us a long time to find some dancing and I was too tired to walk anywhere, let alone dance, so we all ended up going back. Vanessa is awesome; she's from Sydney and she's in my World Lit class and hates it as much as I do. The good news is she's got the book and she's letting me make copies out of it because the library's copy of this particular book hasn't made it to the ship yet. Anyway I promised we would go dancing sometime this week. She also knows how to Jive and Swing and we're going to try to find some other people and maybe put a class together if we can find someone to lead it. None of us quite have enough experience to actually teach a class.

We went back to the ship after that, and I don't know about everybody else but I was promptly showered and in bed asap. The next day's 8:15 meeting time was going to come early no matter what time I went to bed.
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randiandersen on

Re: Wow !
you're silly. I'm in the middle of the Atlantic several thousand miles away and you're still trying to set me up! I love you.
Stay tuned for tile pics.

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