As George Carlin once observed, it’s perfectly all right to prick your finger, but very bad form to finger your prick. What has that to do with a monastery, you ask?
Everything, I would have thought; the cloisters of Geronimos, jewel of the Manueline architectural style, must once have been full of cowled monks brandishing carnal thoughts, furiously imagining nuns between prayers for the king. Of course, they also lent spiritual succour to the navigators sailing from nearby Restelo to discover new worlds.
Anyway, a lovely little tram takes the tourist here – to Belem, Lisbon’s pleasant little suburb. Built in 1496, the Monastery of Geronimos houses the tomb of Vasco da Gama, the infamous navigator. In 1497-8 – and I’m sure you already know this – he established a sea link with India, granting Portuguese supremacy over the Indian Ocean for over a century.
Admittedly, he may not have moaned about air-conditioning. But he would have had a sea breeze, and he didn’t have to sleep in a black, breezeless tin can during the day. Don’t talk to me about trucks..
Queensland – The Best Job in the World
Before we explore Belem further, I thought I’d explain belatedly why I began blogging. It all started with a video application for “Best Job in the World”, a job involving six months of loafing in the Australian Whitsunday Islands with my shirt off. You remember it was advertised as a competition based on votes earlier this year? There were 34,000 entries; I didn’t get the job.
Advertised at beginning and end of the video was my old blog address; I thought it a good idea to immediately demonstrate reporting ‘on the ground’ as proof of job suitability. Thus I set about blogging the imminent Tina Turner Tour.
Unfortunately, in my zest to accurately portray touring life – and goaded ever onward by perverts – I leant rather heavily towards prostitution and fornication. This, indubitably, was outside Queensland Tourism’s criteria, but brings us neatly, if irreverently, back to the clergy.
Tower of Power
Just round the corner is the tourist icon of Portugal: the Belem Tower, built shortly after the monastery. In a nutshell, it protected Lisbon and the Tagus estuary. The tower’s decoration – elegant stone knots and armillary spheres (whatever they are) – includes a chipped stone rhinoceros, the first known example in Europe.
Hey, don’t bother trying to walk back to Lisbon along the river from here – the 7km bicycle/walking track is unfinished. I tried, and failed. However, the first section is a pleasant stroll.
There is a steel replica of the first seaplane to cross the South Atlantic; stuff about Henry the Navigator (died 1460 and made discovery of the Cape of Good Hope possible); and a large ground mosaic depicting early Portuguese trade routes worldwide.
Lisbon is perfect for a long weekend..