I'm home from a fantastic trip. There's so much to say about the port-tasting, about how awesome JM's sister is, about the joys of European breakfasts and urban hiking, or even about how much I love the days and weeks following a return from the east, because I wake up so early without effort. But instead I want to ruminate a little on stuff related to what I write about professionally. I guess that's what I get for setting aside work for a couple of weeks.
On one of our hilly urban treks, I believe on our way up to what we thought was a convent with beautiful tile, KM and I cut through one of Porto's many lovely parks. Here we saw a series of sculptures of three men laughing.
They are perched on what looks like a steep set of bleachers, surrounded by the lush placidity of portuguese landscape. And they are laughing themselves silly--even to the point where one guy has fallen backwards. I write about this a little in Bodily Arts, but ancient greeks knew better than anyone how tough it is to make a sculpture appear to be in motion; movement, after all, is almost antithetical to the durable solidity of bronze and marble.
But they got better and better at it, and eventually they were able to lose the wings and other add-ons that were meant to symbolically indicate movement. Now, these are by no means high quality sculptures, and one might say that the guy falling backwards ought to be a little more concerned, or at least that his arms might have changed from the leg-slapping guffaw to an "oh-shit" self-catch. But there are other ways that the motion of laughter is captured quite nicely here. There are the curled feet of the guy to the left, especially visible in the picture on the right. There are the different bodily styles of laughter--one leans forward, reaching to slap the ground or swat the air, while another throws back his head, and the third his whole self. The thing I like most about this little sculpture set is how it goes against the staid solemnity of most sculptures. All over Dublin, for example, as in most cities, there were those erect statues of leaders and revolutionaries, their chests raised to the sky, looking out over the roundabout or the city, faces grim, sometimes with women and weapons swirling at their feet. But these guys in the park are nameless anybodies. They are bent and gasping for air. They are laughing their asses off.
Somewhat relatedly, because it also involves depicting movement, the thing I noticed in Dublin and Portugal (and also Lisbon) is the ever-so-slight variants in the lighted sign that indicates it's okay to walk across the street now. I don't have photos of these (though I wish I did). The U.S. has relatively bland walking men. In Dublin, though, the walking man is slightly hunched, and he appears to have his fists clenched (he is probably cold). In Portugal the chests of the walking men are puffed out. One in particular, by the river and near where all the wineries are, looks like he's been doing some serious weight training, and he holds his chin high. The faceless man in the sign walks with purpose. Both the hunched, clenched Dubliner and the proud Portuguese seem, in their own ways, to book.
And finally, the owners of a little glass restaurant where the ocean meets the river in Porto seem to know that the real thing that distinguishes men's from women's bathrooms is not so much what they wear, but how they get down to it.