Last night, Anthony Bourdain of the Travel Channel series No Reservations visited Lisbon, the capital of Portugal, in the third installment of this season. For the uninitiated, No Reservations is a tour of various destinations across the world in which Bourdain eats and hangs out with locals. Bourdain is a Type-A personality who at times has a foul mouth, resulting in a few censor bleeps here and there in each episode.
While sitting with a Portuguese author and a few others, Bourdain began a discussion of politics and fado music. Portuguese Fado is comprised bittersweet songs, longing for past, better times. Portugal was once the most powerful colonizing power. The Portuguese, a sea-faring people sharing the Iberian Peninsula with Spain, began excursions into Africa and the Far East in the 15th Century, much earlier than other kingdoms. In 1500, Cabral, apparently trying to locate a route to India around West Africa employing the wind patterns off the coast, loses his direction and winds up in what became known as Brazil. Many, including myself, believe Cabral and the Portuguese knew there was something due west of Africa, as African tradition, which the always cosmopolitan Portuguese were well aware, had often spoke of these lands (which became known as the Americas). Moreover, six years prior (1494) to Cabral’s voyage the Portuguese negotiated with the Spanish and the Catholic Church for control over any land to the east of the lands previously “discovered” by the Spanish (Columbus 1492, etc.). This great mass of land is Brazil. Too much ‘luck’ for it to be a coincidence!
Anyway, being that the Portuguese began colonization so early their empire, of course, crumbled before others. Perhaps that is why the Portuguese always appear sad. Perhaps that explains why the former colonies of Portugal lack a certain respect for their former masters. For example, you rarely hear Brazilians speak of wanting to visit Portugal. You do hear Spanish-speaking inhabitants of Latin America speak highly of Spain, in contrast. Latin Americans may not perceive of their treatment under the empire as fair, but they do admire the strength, ingenuity, and culture of their colonizers. The same cannot be said of Portugal’s relationship with Brazil. In fact, Brazilians quite often poke fun at the seemingly hapless Portuguese.