Monday, March 27, 2006

Fado - the Portuguese operatic lament

While I've been down with this wrist injury, Mrs. Expat Teacher took the laptop and wrote an awesome e-mail about our experiences in Lisbon. Below is part of that e-mail already in progress...

She also recommended we go to a Fado bar. She said there are bars all over Lisbon where they sing romantic music. I hadn’t come across anything about this in our guidebooks, so I didn’t take much note of it, but then one of Expat Teacher’s colleagues mentioned it, declaring it to be the only thing he really felt strongly about experiencing during his limited time in Lisbon. Fado, it turned out, is a Portuguese tradition of singing traditional Portuguese songs to diners. This is either done in a professional show or by a sort of ‘Open Mike’ method, whereby anyone can get up and sing, whatever their talent. The professional shows were populated mostly by tourists; the 'Open Mike' bars by locals.

So, Saturday night, after a full day spent walking around Lisbon’s colourful neighbourhoods, we went to a Fado restaurant recommended by Rick. I think this qualifies as one of our most authentic foreign experiences. It was described as the ‘Open Mike’ version, but I think it was more of a mix of the two types. The restaurant was in an ‘L’ shape, with the kitchen in the lower corner of the ‘bend’. It seated about 60 diners. At the inner corner of the ‘bend’ stood the singer and sat two musicians. While the musicians strummed guitars, the singer serenaded the diners with traditional Portuguese songs –and expected us to join in at the chorus. All the Portuguese diners were happy to oblige. (That’s when we knew we had made a good choice of restaurant – when half the diners joined in singing in Portuguese.)

One older gentleman, who, with a twinkle in his eye, introduced himself as Luigi Pavarotti, was both singer and MC. His delivery was passionate. While singing, at times his eyes scanned his audience and then closed as he held a note, the effort producing a sheen on his forehead. He serenaded us with a set and then put on his MC hat and introduced the next singer, who promptly took off her apron and emerged from the kitchen, smoothing down her blue and white-striped dish-washer’s dress, and padded to the singer’s circle in her slippers. And out of that kitchen staff member’s mouth came a glorious voice. She sang a couple songs, engaging the audience at the chorus, and nodded modestly at the end of each song as we applauded.

There were a total of four singers, three ladies and ‘Luigi’, who serenaded us over the course of three hours. Luigi was the only one who didn’t appear to have any duties besides singing and announcing. They all sang beautifully. The Portuguese diners weren’t half-bad either. One man, who looked more than a little like Tony Soprano except with an additional chin, had no qualms about belting out the well-known choruses, or making cheeky comments between songs. He was obviously a regular and enjoyed banter with ‘Luigi.’ We had such fun enjoying the renditions and ‘fa-la-la’ing’ our way through the chorus. And the food was quite good, too. When we were just about ready to leave, three of the singers walked around the restaurant offering CDs with their own songs. We contemplated buying a CD instead of leaving a tip, but finally decided fado just wouldn’t be the same from the comfort of our own homes. Half of the experience was the diner participation and seeing how much the singers were enjoying themselves.

While I may specialize in quantity of writing, I think you'll have to agree with me that Mrs. Expat Teacher excels in quality.

If you haven't ever considered Portugal, it should immediately move to the top of your list. Fabulous place.

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