Nov 272015

Today the Casa dos Bicos is home of the José Saramago Foundation.

As I already said, I have not been in any museums in Lisbon. I just didn’t have the time, but when I think of it, I probably would have skipped this one anyway.

When Saramago got the Nobel Prize, I read his book “Blindness”, expecting something like Albert Camus’ “La peste”, and in a way this was not completely wrong.

Saramago is more absurd, more abstract, and there is less human warmth. When I read the book, I was tentatively inclined to read more, but although I bought “Seeing” a few years later, I never read it. Somehow “Blindness” had failed to deeply touch me.

Am I missing something?

Nov 262015

Lisbon’s Casa dos Bicos is a Renaissance building from 1523 with a peculiar facade.

Remember Ferrara and its Palazzo dei Diamanti? It’s the same kind of facade here, roughly from the same time, only it’s not diamonds, it’s beaks. OK, admitted, the “beaks” protrude even further, so maybe the naming makes sense :)

Nov 252015

For a change, here is a fairly recent image, taken with my new Mitakon Speedmaster 25/0.95. I finally got it. Manual focusing, yes, that’s tedious, but when you decicate one camera preset to manual focus, it is pretty easy.

My manual lens mode is configured as M-mode, automatic white balance, fixed ISO 200, one function button set to enter 14 x zoom in the viewfinder, half-press of the shutter button to exit zoom. Focus and clickless aperture are set on the lens, the rear wheel varies shutter speed. If I need exposure compensation (which is not available in the E-M1’s manual mode), I switch a lever and get ISO on the front wheel. I may play around a little more and find an even better configuration, but for now that is what I use.

Nov 242015

Canned sardines are specialty of Portugal. Here in Austria we love the brand “Nuri“, produced by “Pinhais” near Porto.

It’s the only widely available brand of Portuguese sardines in olive oil, with a slice of carrot, a slice of cucumber, a piece of laurel leaf, a pepper corn, and of course the obligatory piri-piri. Their product is made from freshly caught fish, it’s excellent, but at the moment due to fishing restrictions it is not available.

I probably should have bought some cans of different brands not available in Austria at the shop you see in today’s picture. They have a wide variety, and it is fascinating to see a whole shop dedicated to nothing but canned fish. In the end I didn’t and instead ate my sardinhas grilled at the restaurant. Bacalhau and sardinhas, you can’t and shouldn’t avoid them :)

Nov 232015

Lisbon has a set of old tramway lines that are a major tourist attraction. They cross the whole historical center, down one hill on steep slopes (the steepest for adhesive rails systems in the world), across flat Baixa, and then up the next steep hill. By tramway you can reach all of Lisbon’s major attractions, and while I wouldn’t use it all the time, one or two rides are mandatory. Here I was lucky to stand immediately behind the driver.

Nov 222015

We are still in the Mouraria, the traditionally poor quarter on the steep north-western slope of the castle hill.

I suppose for many elderly here, just getting a weekend supply into their apartment must be a challenge. Of course for a photographer this is one of the most interesting parts of the city, full of unexpected surprises and breathtaking perspectives.

Nov 212015

15 minutes after yesterday’s image, when the Baixa already lay in deep shadow, there was still a bit of sunshine to be seen from the bottom of the steep canyons that are the Mouraria, the poor quarter on the north-western side of the hill crowned by Castelo de São Jorge, an originally Moorish castle. There, in the labyrinths on the steep flank of the hill, the Moors had to live after the re-conquest.

It’s not a pretty place and still the poor people live here. Nevertheless, there are surprising gems to be seen.

Nov 192015

Some days ago I read an interview in one of Austria’s few better newspapers, “Der Standard”, where Johanna Mikl-Leitner, our current Minister of the Interior, abused the victims in Paris by one more time asking for fast-tracking the new “State Security Law”. That law was proposed by her “conservative” party and it includes about everything that totalitarian fanatics could ask for.

If you don’t know, small Austria is a federal republic consisting of nine provinces, one of them is the city of Vienna. Among the absurdities of the proposed law are the usual things like increased surveillance, the right for police and secret services to hack computers, the explicit absence of any kind of supervision by a court, strict secrecy, well, you know the catalog from wherever you live.

A charming and specifically Austrian addition to the bunch of measures that didn’t help the French (who already had them all), is the introduction of nine new secret services, one for each province, intended to protect the constitution, and thereby explicitly targeting Austrian citizens (and maybe the head of the provincial governemnt of the neighboring province, if that is ruled by another party).

I posted a comment to that interview, stating that we don’t need more secret services. What we need, I said, is more democratic control of the services that we have, more transparency.

When you think of it, transparency is a form of institutionalized distrust. I think that’s well deserved for our politicians. Anyone trusting in politicians and what we are told by governments has slept under a stone since before Snowdon, since before the banking crisis was “solved”, yes, since before the second Iraq war. Thus transparency and the strictest code of behavior for public fuctionaries seems to be a promising way to get out of the mess of corruption and to restore (or for the first time establish) a policy working in the interest of the people. Don’t ask me how to get there in a system where all decisions are made by politicians, but this big little detail is not our concern today.

And then, while I was pondering the concept of transparency for the next few days, I suddenly realized that maybe there be dragons.

It might not immediately be obvious, but in our history we have two examples of policies of institutionalized distrust. The first (and I admit I don’t know much about it) is the French Revolution. The early leaders all ended under the guillotine; as we say now, “Revolutions Devour Their Own Children”.

The second example, and that’s what I currently read a lot about, is the Soviet Union.

In the communist party we had the perfect example of total distrust of anyone against anyone else. Regardless of your achievements, one wrong word could bring you under scrutinity, most of the time followed by years in the Gulag, sometimes even by an execution.

In both situations the distrust was used by a strong leader to establish an effectively autocratic system.

Yes, Napoleon left us a number of important achievements like the Code Civil, the basis of all modern civil law, and I doubt that I would want to live in a world that had not gone through the French Revolution and Napoleon’s wars for dominance in Europe, but nevertheless, he was an insane dictator, although maybe without Hitler’s primitive bestiality.

Stalin is another, more complex case, and again I don’t know enough. We’ll get to the communists and Stalin in another post.

For now it’s important to point out that transparency can and always will be used as a way to attack political opponents. If you don’t trust anyone, everything about everyone will be collected, archived, and at one point in time it will be used.

At the moment we have a political system trying to establish maximum transparency in the most asymmetrical way: all has to be in the open about us, everything has to be secret about them. That’s clearly wrong, but even if we ever manage to reestablish a balance, the fact remains that transparency is a double-edged sword. It can enable democratic control, but it can also be abused as a terrible weapon in the hands of the unscrupulous.

I have no solution to this conundrum. Do you?

3317 – Casa Da Prosperidade

 Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO  Comments Off on 3317 – Casa Da Prosperidade
Nov 182015

Yes, the world is bad, but it can also be beautiful, can it? So can we please just stop for a moment, stop talking about terror and death, just stop and enjoy some beauty?

At your command, I say, here’s some beauty :)

It’s a few steps further from yesterday’s image, and now we look back and into the reflections of the sinking sun.