domingo, 1 de abril de 2007

Ginjal, The other view

From Ginjal you get the best view of Lisbon. The rows of warehouses on the south bank of the Tejo have seen better days, but they have retained their morbid fascination.

The voices of the fishermen have fallen silent, as have the sounds of the workers in the dark, 300-year-old warehouses that used to reek of wine and sardines. The washer-women on the sandy shores of the Tejo have also disappeared, and the few beaches of old have given themselves up to the river. Not even the fado singers visit any more. Gone are the days when they would come here in search of easy women and other amorous encounters. But Ginjal lives on.

The strip along the riverfront extends for about a kilometre and is part of the Cacilhas district. On sunny days the place comes alive with stressed-out city people - Lisbonites and tourists - who make a pilgrimage here in search of rest and recreation and to savour the luminous view. They like to come on long summer days, days that seem to promise eyerything in life. They come to eat at one of the two fish restaurants that remain here. And they listen to the musicians who play here, sometimes seemingly by chance...

On this winter's morning, the old fisherman in a thick coat throws the bait into the river. He is in his seventies and spent more than 40 years working in one of the warehouses. Today he only comes back here with his son for a spot of fishing, usually on a weekday. He talks about the past, about life on the riverbank. Life returns to these shores again and again, with each ray of sunshine.

The librarian at the nearby maritime museum says the grey winter days are sad here. But the sunny days are all the more cheerful, with all the mums, dads and babies, all the friends who rediscover each other over beer and conversation. "It's mainly young people who come here, and they're always in a good mood" she says.

You get to Ginjal by ferry (as well as by car across the 25 de Abril bridge). The ferry service runs at short, regular intervals. Especially during the Lisbon rush hour, one boat after the other sets off from the Cais do Sodré in the middle of the capital. The Lisbonites call the ferries "cacilheiros". Some of them are more than 40 years old, which makes the crossing an uncomfortable undertaking, particularly for those who have to use the ferry every day. Tourists, on the other hand, never fail to be inspired by these ancient craft.The crossing takes all of ten minutes before the warehouses appear along the quayside. And there it is, the most beautiful view in all Lisbon!

It was in the mid-1990s that artists discovered Ginjal. One of them was the actor João Garcia Miguel, artistic director of the Teatro Olho. Between 1995 and 2002 he and his theatre troupe settled into one of the old wine warehouses which had at some stage been used as a store for bacalhau - the local dried cod. There was a stage and two rehearsal rooms."It was like being in paradise.The connection of this place to Lisbon is simply unique." The physical decay was evident for all to see, but it suited the organisers behind the Teatro Olho down to the ground. Their initiatives, including an annual theatre festival, were lent a certain mystique, people claimed. DJ Major Eléctrico, actress Mónica Calle, dancer Peter Michael Dietz and other avant-garde artists have all appeared here in Ginjal at the festival staged by the Teatro Olho. "It was a very attractive place, not just for its location but also on account of the architecture," recalls João Garcia Miguel.

A young woman has returned from shopping and in cheerful mood. She herself, her sister and their grandfather were born in Ginjal, she says.They wouldn't leave this place for anything in the world.Then she talks about the artists who used to come here but no longer do. And about those who are still here: sculptors, stencil sprayers. Suddenly they turn up, at the first light of day, repopulating Ginjal.

na revista Mini International nº23, Março 07