Place and non-place, regarding Rua de Costa Cabral

I begin my last essay of the year 2023 by closing in the same way as I did at Passeio: recalling Tuan (1977) and his concept of place. The city has been an escape and that hurts. But suddenly, it’s almost late afternoon, nothing seems to be going right and I’m guided to Rua de Costa Cabral. It’s the longest street in the city of Porto and it’s home to many places – personal experiences. I still avoid Conde de Ferreira. The crossroads of Costa Cabral lead to the intimidating and appealing luxury of Antas. Sunday strolls, with soccer blaring in Praça Velasquez. Praça do Marquês, with the church nearby, where I sometimes seek peace from the hustle and bustle of the streets. In the middle of Costa Cabral, there’s a school that used to be a child’s free-wheeling routine and, in the background, at the very end, Areosa, the border of the suburb I live in. Being such a regular presence, both temporally and emotionally, I’ve never paid special attention to this street, as happens with the neighbors we greet ceremonially. Until today.

So it has happened that Porto has cyclically become a non-place (Augé, 1992, cited by Schneider, 2015), with all the characteristics of the hyper-realism theorized by Baudrillard (1981). A simulacrum of oneself. This saddens and scares me away. I often meet people who have been driven out of Baixa by the voracious crowd that leaves no room for the place. The Bugatti, in Rua da Constituição, right next to Costa Cabral, is one of the shelters for the fugitives. And it’s worth noting that there are a lot of immigrants there, as well as locals who come down to the street for a bite to eat. Inclusion in its purest form. There are no flags to show it, it simply exists.

I often think about the possible selfishness of my assessment. Is it a serendipitous emotion? Walking towards the Trindade, on Sunday matinees that repeat the routes of my childhood, I look for a return in the smells of the renovated cinema (in the carpets that exude boyhood) that is updated with each new visit, because there is nothing crystallized there. The truth is that it’s not about going to the nostalgia session. I’ll rephrase my regrets. There is something deeply distorted about this city, which is combed and made up to create a character that is almost no longer there. Even in the renovated businesses, so perfect in the anachronism they plastically manufacture.

I spent part of the Christmas season scandalized by this evidence and running in the opposite direction. From one moment to the next, Costa Cabral, without warning. Just the first few meters, next to the Marquês. I’ll have to walk it all one day. There’s a butcher’s, the smell of meat, nothing packaged. Then there’s the fine grocery store, salted cod in the air (of course), nuts, spices, a yellowish light. Everything the others have, without pretentiousness or tourist photos. Speaking of photos, there was even a photographer with brides in the photo booth, I remember now. Back to the tourists. I swear it happened: a guide with a horde of followers invaded my purchase of hibiscus tea and Elvas plums in Rua do Bonjardim. The waiter didn’t even question it. He shrugged his shoulders and waited for the gale to pass. I saw that same waiter looking forward to a Francesinha at Bugatti the other day.

But good. Costa Cabral. Nothing is perfect here and everything is balanced in its immense, somewhat decadent mess. Christmas baubles from yesteryear adorn ready-to-wear windows that (amazingly) only have two or three pieces of each model, everything is impeccable, and the service seems to be able to guess your wishes. The herbalist jostles with the post-modern barber, there’s a grocery store with bananas at the door. A rush you can’t swallow. Sensory balm. Possible geographies.

Text and images: Teresa Lima

Published on: 22/12/23

References

Augé, M. (1992). Non-lieux. Verso.

Baudrillard, J. (1981).  Simulacres et simulations. Paris: Galilée.

Schneider, L. C. (2015). Lugar e não-lugar: espaços da complexidade. Ágora17(1), 65-74.

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

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LOCAL: Porto

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