Parallels in the city 2 – The experience of Tuan’s place in Santa Catarina

We walk through three parallel streets in the city of Porto: Bonjardim, Santa Catarina and Rua da Alegria. The three streets cross downtown, ending up close to Marquês. Parallel in the city is a wandering, necessarily attentive and emotional look at the urban space. Parallel 2 – Rua de Santa Catarina

I seized the street by the way of my childhood (Poveiros – Batalha), expecting the old confectioneries, the kiosk next to Santo Ildefonso, a certain smell of religious wax. But no. The city is no longer entirely this one, although it is not entirely another. Sews of wool continue to fill shop windows, together with buttons and others from the haberdashery that used to bore me with boredom, waiting. And the cries remain (“at 5 euros”) of the trinkets that are sold in Santa Catarina. The street, seen from above, makes sense because of the crowd that always huddles in the first meters, next to the commercial area. But the old lame blah “if you please leave me something” has disappeared a long time ago, as well as the delights of the Livraria Latina (now surrendered to the logic of the big publishers), which consoled me from a painful trip to the dentist. Here’s what’s happening every moment in the changing city: shops closed, tourists queuing up for the Majestic coffee-shop, successive building plans and “clean and safe” accommodation, right next to the rickety one-star hotel. Up there, you know, closer to the Marquês, the bustle diminishes considerably. And the cavities of the street become more visible. It won’t be good, but there is something aesthetic about the futuristic cleanliness of the new developments. Let’s move on, observing the state of the heritage.

I reread Tuan, looking for an explanation for this sense of place, almost metaphysical, in this street. A childhood place, which became embedded as experience, shaping the sense of space. Almost immediately, reverberations of these senses, to which the author alludes, in the apprehension of the body-city, come to mind. Yes, it is true that space is a place we can inhabit (Tuan, 1977). I inhabited, on Sunday afternoons, the almost empty street and the smell of waxed wood in Santo Ildefonso (I hated, not without Christian guilt, the evening mass in the dark church). I took it, as a physical object, and felt on my skin and with my hands, the volume of the crowded street, like an anthill, on shopping Saturdays. I anticipated the smell of stuffed tripe and chickens from the nearby Bolhão Market. And I experienced just now the sound as a space that incorporates and dramatizes the sense of place: the dispersed hum of the beginning of the street, in contrast to the width and quietness of the bourgeois Santa Catarina, near Marquês, Antas, the city of well-dressed people, that embarrasses suburbanites. Finally, I rediscovered, as something new and undemanding, the shops selling African products, the Indian outlets. Further up, the Casa de Saúde de Santa Catarina gives me back the uncertainties of childhood: it is there, it exists, I always associate it with a rice cake. I hesitate, but I don’t register it as a photographic image.

Text and images: Teresa Lima

Published on 21-03-2022


Tuan, Y.F. (1977). Space and place : the perspective of experience. University of Minnesota Press.



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