Convento de Cristo


Yesterday I got up early (I just can’t help it, I am a morning person despite being in a night culture) and took an early morning walk through the empty streets of Lisboa, over to a breakfast place that was recommended on some internet site but turned out to be truly horrible. Still, it was a lovely walk into town and back. On my way around, I saw a little memorial marking a horrible massacre of Jews in 1506, and it got me wondering if there were any really old synagogues around to see. But after reading up on the history, you realize they were pretty well wiped out here, much as it was in Spain.

I got back to my apartment and started thinking about what to do with my day, when I came across a mention of the Convento de Cristo. It seemed kinda far away, but when I Google mapped the route there, it showed that if I left in a few minutes, there was a train leaving from a nearby station that I could catch, so on a whim I bolted out the door and to the train station. Catching the train was a breeze, and it was a direct (if longish at two hours) train ride there. While I was on the train I thought perhaps it was a bit silly of me to be spending more time traveling (at over four hours counting both ways) than I would actually be at my destination (about 3 hours), and wondered if I hadn’t been a bit rash.

Perish the thought. The convent was amazing, so fascinating and beautiful to walk around in. And there were hardly any people there, I felt I had the place to myself. The layers of architecture and history here are not to be missed, I absolutely loved it. Mere words can’t express how great this place is, check out the pics below. And don’t miss the town of Tomar down the hill from the place. I still had some time to kill before my train back to Lisbon, so I took a walk through the town, which is historic and beautiful in its own right. And right near the end of my trip, I stumbled by chance on something that neatly tied together my early day walk and questions about the Jewish presence here in Lisbon. There is an old synagogue building in Tomar. It is nothing much to look at architecturally, but has a fascinating history and the two women inside were very helpful and so happy to have someone to show it to. One of them, a quite old woman, told me that her family were marranos, crypto jews that had kept themselves hidden for centuries in the region of Belmonte.

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Drinking in a bit of gay history


I’ve never been to Fire Island or P-town, but at least I can check this off my list. Last night after dinner with friends in the Village, we stopped by the oldest running gay bar in New York, Julius. Although it has only been a gay bar since the mid 1960’s, it has been running apparently as a tavern/bar since 1867, and it would appear that the decor hasn’t changed much at all since then. It was the famous site of a 1966 “sip-in” by an early gay activist group known as the Mattachine Society, to protest rules preventing serving alcohol to homosexuals. It ended up resulting in a court case which overturned these rules, paving the way in part for the Stonewall riots and modern gay rights movement.

As I mentioned, the place looks like the interior hasn’t changed much since the 1800’s, with wagon wheel chandeliers and musty wood barrels and layers and years of accumulated funk. Think of a cross between a bowling alley, a barn, and a saloon and you are getting warm. It was the very soul of unpretentious and I quite liked it. I couldn’t say this would be any kind of place to meet your future husband (or one night stand either, for that matter), but it is a fine place for hanging out with old friends and reminiscing about the revolution.

Today’s Wikiadventure


It started innocently enough from a book review on Salon about the real history of the United States (as opposed to the propaganda they teach us in school). This led me (as it always does) to Wikipedia, and an article on Samoset, then Squanto, Smallpox Vaccine, Equus scotti, History of Native Americans, Cherokee (and the Cherokee Freedmen), John White, Teosinte, Amaranth, Pellagra, overnutrition (a quaint euphemism for obesity), the history of maize, and genetic diversity. Then (picking up other names from the original article) to Snorri Sturluson (by mistake!), The history of Iceland, Santo Domingo, Hispaniola, Amerigo Vespucci, Terra Incognita, Terra Australis, The Renaissance, polymath, Indian mathematics, the number zero, Lorenzo de Medici, Italy, History of Jews in Italy, Luigi Luzzati, Roman ghetto, Richard Amerike, and finally Manifest Destiny. Whew!

Monte Albán


Although not as impressive as Teotihuacan (to which it had cultural ties), Monte Albán is amazingly rich in history, and begs all kinds of questions when one visits the place. What did the original site and structures look like?  What were the daily lives of these people like?  What caused the rise and decline?  How are they related to other peoples in the area?

And then again, there are many moments when one is left without questions, just speechless and admiring and in awe of the place and its scope and layout.  It is especially interesting coming from the US, where the indigenous built record seems so sparse compared to Mexico.  What caused such a complex rise of civilizations and architecture in this part of the Americas, but not as much further north?