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Designing guided tours

When I was in Lisbon, I joined two ‘free’ walking tours by which a small group of people, less than 15 are taken by an English speaking guide to different view points and points of interest in Alfama and Chiado/Bairo Alto. The Alfama tour is themed ledgends and myths, the Bairo Alto/Chiado is about Lisbon’s history. I was particularly baffled by the first tour, taken around by the owner of the company, is pretty cool and insightful. The second group was larger than ten with three rather dominating personalities, asking lots of questions and creating most of the group dynamic. the details and historic information were exemplified and illustrated well, so that I even remember the key dates. (and I certainly do not have a memory for historical information). Anyway, of course as a by product I also used this experience as a research opportunity to exemplify some examples on how good guiding tours are planned and executed, primarily for the Veredas de Monchique.

So what makes a good guide and an enjoyable experience?

Firstly: the guide’s personality and preparation. The first guide we had, well educated in history and human rights, repackaged the information in jokes and narrations and used reoccurring descriptions like ‘coward kind’ to differentiate between King Jose and Marques de Pombal. He used lot’s of anecdotes, examples and leading questions to take the listener on his historic adventure unfolding few and steadily new packages of information. Unfortunately I did not make more detailed notes on this to draw on more specific examples, but I am sure reading into constructing a narratives and doing good presentation can teach some more specific examples:

Structure of information and narratives:

  • roll out historic facts in chunks that correspond to what is being visited
  • prepare listeners to and confirm – Next I will tell you about…. So,…
  •  embedding it into a story with indirect speech and jokes
Secondly: Sufficient time to explore and avoid confusion:
  • Complimentary drink included – no complication with money
  • Explain how it works with the ‘tipping’ in the right situation, leave it not right to the end, but rather explain how the company works and remains existing
  • Regulate group size
  • No stress for time, if a group takes longer than the 2.5 hours
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Portuguese theater

Last summer a group of actors and visual artists visited Monchique for 20 days to write a play about the convent of Monchique. This group is called the Karnart and does a variety of community theater – combining visual, animation, photography and sound. Often ‘community theater’ means that members of the community enact a role or themselves even in plays which address issues a community is experiencing. This play did not have anyone of the community enacting, but integrated video interviews and speech. The play, just over 60 minutes long, was split into four parts:

1. Setting the Scene (history of the convent and first impressions)

2. Describing the outsiders point of view (tourists, other community members)

3. Video and interviews describing the insiders view (footage showing the family living there and telling their story about the convent and what they would do with it if they had the money)

4. Future for Monchique and making the community realise that they have all the ‘good’ things just by their doorstep (organic farming, nature, springs etc)

As the play was in Portuguese it was rather difficult to understand the spoken parts of the play. We (the three of the group that went) were very lucky that the play integrated so many audio/ visual elements. It was a rather enjoyable play – some parts were abstracted with several layers of plot and expression (especially in the last bit), others were rather strict – three chairs with speakers against black. I think the main point of the play was to communicate perspectives. Perspectives of what should happen with the convent differ: business man want to transform it into a hotel, tourists want to visit it and learn more about it, the community does not want the ruin the fall to pieces, and the family wants to have a place to live and continue living there since the last 30 years. One of the last points (picture below) unbranded packaging ‘para usar no futura’ – which means ‘to use in future’ – and the flower objects made from cans, express that the opportunity of Monchique lies in a different approach, beyond the convent. It lies in rethinking and living the alternative ‘dream’ which respects limited resources and nature. However, the way this was communicated could be called plump.

Also from talking to friends later on, they said that the whole situation was rather unusual – rarely, this diverse mix of social groups (including the family who lives at the convent, who also went to Lisbon to see the play), are in one room or event together giving them both the opportunity to mingle and understand each other a bit more. The Portuguese somewhat reserved behaviour was rather apparent throughout the entire event. No one would be talking particularly load or stand out (apart from of course the producers of the play) and even when there was Monchique’s mel cake (honey), Melosa and Medronho, every one was rather calm and keeping to themselves.

Craft shops, Alfama Lisbon

In the process of completing all unfinished blog posts: I finally completed the Lisbon Craft Shop Map of the Alfama district. Especially the colourful, simple tiles of the Artesanatos de Portugal shop are worth a stop. Wish I had picked some up when I had the chance! This map is part of the gems of Lisbon Crafts blogpost.

Contemporary tiles

Piece by Ivan Chermanyeff, born 1932. Titled: Tiles from Oceanario de Lisboa, used at the Aquarium’s entrance.

Gems of Lisbon’s crafts

Having already described the products at Time 2 Give, I thought I’d also share the other craft objects I stumbled upon. Not all I captured by photo (shops certainly do not always appreciate taking pictures). Here is a map of the interesting crafts places in the Alfama district.

Lisbon & Portuguese Souvenirs

Whilst exploring Lisbon’s Alfama district Nic and I stumbled over Time 2 Give a design shop selling Portugal souvenirs with a twang. The owner, Luiz, we met again at the LX factory the day after and Julia, using her excellent meeting people skills got talking to him. Exploring the idea of having our own pop up shop for the event at the end of the project, we got lots and lots of helpful tips on nice design products and Portuguese designers and got to know what products sell best. So, here the most interesting products and where they are sourced from. It’s definitely worth a visit to browse and meet the rather welcoming owner Luiz!

For anyone wondering where Time2Give is situated: Calçada do Cascão, nº 6, Lisboa. Check out my Lisbon Crafts Shop Map.

Lisbonlovers – beautiful bags and objects

saragofamesfotografia – nice picture frame photographs

Artelusa cork bags and jewellery

Pelcor colourful cork bags

Soma ideas – beautiful graphical mugs and prints (flickr photostream to see products). I love their labels. With the mug I bought, it came with a nice alley way poem of Lisbon.

Touaqui.pt‘s nice postrcards in fish form (although a little impractical for postage).

Aluzejos de Portugal

Started with Patterns of Monchique and the many photos of tiled house façades, I continued my tile obsession in Lisbon, discovering little alley ways, cobbled roads, visiting the national tile museum and tile makers to understand their history, patterns and process.

So why are so many houses tiled in Portugal?

This question wasn’t directly answered by visiting the national museum of tiles, but luckily wikipedia has a rather excellent article on Aluzejas. The art was introduced to Portugal, via Spain, by the Moors. From the 15th century tiles, similar to intricate carved stone facades or marble works in main land Europe, were an expression of wealth and influence, and became available to a wider audience through mass production in the late 17th and early 18th century – the ‘Golden Age of the Azulejo’, the so-called Cycle of the Masters (Ciclo dos Mestres). This was exactly at the time when Lisbon was reconstructed after the Great Earthquake of 1755. Tiles were used in a more utilitarian role for decoration. This bare and functional style is known as the Pombaline style, named after the Marquis of Pombal, who was put in charge of rebuilding the country. Small devotional azulejo panels on buildings act as protection against future disasters. This makes Lisbon an excellent place to wonder and give the more reason to explore its small alley ways.