Although born and raised in Porto, when I knew I had to write this essay, I decided to take the metro in Póvoa de Varzim, my grandmother’s hometown, and travel to the second city in the country, the first for me, so I could look at it from the outside in, since it is known that the inhabitants of a place are the ones who don’t know everything about it. It turned out to be the best decision, because, to the opinions I already had about some aspects to be improved in my city, I discovered others, but this subject will be dealt with in a little while.
I got out at Trindade and went down to Avenida da Liberdade. I was downtown, which has grown significantly in the last 10 years. When it comes to tourism, and to represent it, were blond, red-haired, short, shaved, long, multicoloured hairs, white, brown, sun-red and freckled skins, shorts, sandals and trainers, guidebooks under the arm and heavy backpacks, always clogged telephones and foreign conversations, which made me realize that my city is already cosmopolitan, and that pleased me. What tourists don’t know is that besides being beautiful and accessible for quality tourism, this city is also ideal to live and work in. I cannot leave unnoticed the variety of bed and breakfasts scattered around this area, besides the restaurants and picturesque little taverns at every other door, and the still locked doors of bars and clubs that at night fill with impatient queues and lots of music, and the joy stamped on the faces of those who visit us, all this to say that we are not behind the busy night of Bairro Alto in Lisbon or the enviable Madrid.
I sat in the sun at the «Leões» square, with the beautiful Rectory’s building behind, from where I could see a slice of the sober and granite façade of the neoclassical style Hospital de Santo António and lose myself in the immense blue of the tiles of the Church of Carmo. I wondered if I wouldn’t prefer the shade of João Chagas garden, in the company of those sculpted gentlemen who live there. I didn’t go. Further down, I visited the most beautiful and oldest bookshop in Oporto, and those who go there understand why. Monument of Public Interest, and there the cliché fits here again – I’d never been inside Lello. I looked at the exterior of the baroque Clérigos tower, which doesn’t even need the 300 m of that other famous one in Paris, and before going down to the riverside area, I strolled around Santa Catarina, paused for a very expensive coffee in the centenary «Majestic», and went up to Batalha, where I watch a good play from time to time in the old and exquisite «Real Teatro de S. João». I missed going up to the Cathedral, a medieval-style church crowning the top of the city, and where the upper deck of one of Porto’s seven bridges, the Luiz I bridge, ends and finally I went down to Ribeira. Before, I passed in front of São Bento station, which always takes me back to the literature of the time, when everyone used to travel by train and used to have another charm. I never get tired of doing any of those steep alleys that lead to the river, and whose appearance always surprises me like the first time. Above, the church of São Francisco is an invitation to discover the baroque magic of its interior. Past 7 pm, I hesitated between the 500 bus and the tram, but I couldn’t resist the old vehicle, yellow and airy, from Line 1, which took me to Foz, on a short trip with views of the river, which a Dutch historian and geographer, whose name I can’t remember, once classified as «the most beautiful estuary in Europe». At the most photographed pergola I know, there at the seafront, I stopped to enjoy the sunset, never forgetting that I am a citizen of the world privileged to live in a city facing the Atlantic. Very close by, given the late hour, it was no longer possible to visit the international Serralves Museum, designed by our Siza Vieira.
Pleasant walk! I cannot talk about Porto without mentioning Casa da Música, which was missing in my itinerary… that imposing, contemporary building, where I have heard a lot of good music and where young people perform eye-popping acrobatics on their skateboards!
During my city tour, I concluded that, even though it’s unique and beautiful, some aspects can still be improved. Accessibility is still not full, only satisfactory, since it is still complicated to make a so-called normal life, without barriers, for people with reduced mobility or height, for whatever reason. Most shops, a few banks, and a few post offices, among others, are not prepared with ramps for wheelchairs. And that’s not all. Porto’s steep gradient makes daily life challenging for those who walk through it.
Mobility, when the focus is «There’s no planet B», is still far from being ideal, although we already have a public transport network that serves the city and its outskirts, improved with respect for punctuality (at least we no longer suffer from the scandalous delays of a few years ago), and well organized, there are still many residents using motorized vehicles to get around. I noticed, along my trip to Foz, some electric scooters, fallen by the pavements, which suggests that something is not fully working (already discounting the lack of civility, of course!). Then I also noticed that there are already some cycle paths, but very concentrated in the Western part of the city, in Foz. Perhaps it was important to cultivate the use of the bicycle. While I was soaking in the beauty of the city, I remembered London, where, the few times I went there, I always rode my bicycle, because it isn’t expensive and there are structures to store them, every few meters. I thought: why not cycle in Oporto? Far from being a flat city, the truth is that the new generations have healthy habits and cultivate fitness…why not?
Most of the city’s attractive sectors, such as nightlife, are concentrated in the city centre, in the downtown area. Decentralizing and relieving that pressure might be a good idea. Currently, in Foz, there is little more than the iconic Irish bar Bonaparte, apart from the pleasant terraces on the sand. Back home, my parents and friends recall memorable nights spent at Twin’s, in D. Urraca, and in Industria, all in Foz, or the disco Swing, at Rotunda da Boavista. These are just examples, let’s revive animation in other areas! For a city to be inviting and attract inhabitants, it’s not enough to be beautiful, the housing rents must be affordable. I know that there is still a lot to do in this matter, and I understand that it is not simple, but it’s urgent, at least, to think seriously about this problem. I already work, I don’t earn much, but it is an acceptable salary, and still not enough to leave my parents’ house, as it would be natural.
Moving on to culture! The city of Porto has a rich list of museums and cultural establishments, from Serralves, to Casa da Música, to the Soares dos Reis National Museum, Alfândega, several House-Museums, Rivoli, Coliseu, Teatro Nacional de S. João, Teatro Carlos Alberto, Teatro do Campo Alegre… But, we can’t go to the opera, theatre or attend a ballet, for example. I know of much smaller and poorer European cities where this happens regularly. It has already been improving, but we rarely receive cultural events that attract a significant amount of people, perhaps also due to the lack of interest of some younger people, who prefer going to the cinema instead of a live music or comedy show. But this can also be changed, it doesn’t have to be taken as a “lost cause”.
Finally, let’s think about heritage and urban regeneration. During my walk, I noticed, with my nose turned upwards, old buildings of an unequalled architectural wealth, where granite reigns and gives the city that «brownish timbre» that Rui Veloso used to sing about. Although I have seen part of our houses remarkably recovered, there are still countless buildings unoccupied and with an air of abandonment, that deserve intervention, which I am sure will be carried out. If we want Porto at a European and international scale, and we do, worthy of the World Heritage classification, it’s crucial to preserve our historic monuments and apply the policies of urban rehabilitation, without forgetting the importance of green spaces, taking the moment to recognize the environmental and cultural value of our City Park!
Pride of any “portuense”, this Atlantic city is poetic, of simple and hospitable people, it is of the FCP, and of Guilhermina Suggia, of Siza Vieira, of Távora, of Pádua and Souto Moura, of Rui Veloso and Pedro Abrunhosa, of Eugénio de Andrade and Manoel de Oliveira. It belongs to all of us. Let’s work together to make it the best version possible. The crucial thing is to have initiative and will, and of that i know there is no lack of!
Rita Baltazar Ramos