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Porto, Portugal

Porto’s Paradox

One of the many YouTube channels I watch without quite knowing why is Drive + Protect with Larry Kosilla. It’s basically a guy detailing cars in order to flog cleaning products, but it’s weirdly captivating.

Each episode focuses on Larry cleaning a rust-strewn, grime-ridden car, one usually home to several organisms, living and or dead. In the most recent episode however, Larry is asked to detail an apparently pristine 1991 Mazda MX-5 Miata with only 1,500 miles on the clock. The previous owner looked after this car to the extent that he never retracted the roof and only changed the oil and filter.

This presented Larry with a very different challenge. It’s easy to make something covered in grease and dirt look 50% better he says, but it’s much, much harder to make an objectively clean car look even 10% better.

What has this got to do with Porto? Maybe nothing, but it got me thinking that Porto might be the world’s MX-5 with 1,500 miles on the clock. It’s impossibly beautiful but frustratingly difficult to capture why. No photograph can adequately illustrate the majesty and, worse still, with every perspective beyond picturesque, it’s hard to know what to take a photo of in the first place.

Unlike the MX-5 however, Porto’s charm is because much of it isn’t polished or pristine. There are buildings with little more than a single wall remaining, windows boarded up and covered in graffiti, with nearby cabling strung-up in a manner that can’t possibly be safe, yet it looks absolutely stunning. It makes no sense.

In fact, this city is the antithesis of everything I believe; there is no order, tidiness or organisation, few straight lines or hard edges.1

With the street layout dictated by a ferociously undulating topography, each parish is a maze, probably hiding a church with a stupendously gilded interior. São Bento station, with an interior containing large murals depicting important events in Portuguese history, is more art gallery than railway terminus. The signature bridge was designed by a disciple of Gustave Eiffel for heaven’s sake.2

I’m a staunch modernist, yet I find myself in love with the most romantically designed city in Europe. There’s barely a brutalist or mathematically calculated bit of concrete in sight — and I can’t get enough of it.

Perhaps that’s why here, especially, the iPhone’s camera isn’t up to the task. As per my regular complaint, its opinionated algorithms impose perfection, overly sharpening images and applying heavy contrast, particularly in bright sunlight. Thankfully I have my Fujifilm X100T with me and I think it deserves an outing. While its fixed lens may be too constraining for streets demanding a larger frame, it’ll be more sympathetic to this city’s rustic, irregular charm than whatever computational crap Cupertino’s camera churns out.

Anyway, here’s a photo I took of the Dom Luís I Bridge during golden hour earlier. Goddamnit, it was so much more awesome than this.

A small yellow boat sits below the Dom Luís I Bridge during golden hour.
Dom Luís I Bridge, Porto.

Footnotes

  1. The city’s brand on the other hand is applied diligently, consistently and thoughtfully. I’d write a separate post, but Gareth Strange said everything I’d ever want to say on the topic. ↩︎

  2. A bridge designed and engineered by Eiffel can be found a little further down the river. ↩︎

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