Portugal and Superintimacy

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A wise sage once spoke, “Always stay a tourist” — for no one is more adept at analysis and explanation than the occasional and casual traveler. Just recently, I spent a half-fortnight in the Atlantic nation of Portugal, and this brief experience has given me an unquestionable authority on the subject. I find it almost comical to believe that my total lack of Portuguese language ability, ignorance about Portuguese history, and stubborn refusal to read academic works on Portuguese society somehow put me at a disadvantage in serving up sharp commentary upon this wonderful land. Conversely, all that knowledge and understanding would only cloud my general perceptions. Who needs to know what someone is saying, when you can feel out their motives and orientations through the power of imagination!

My travels took me first to the capitol of Lisbon — an adorable “big city” overflowing with ancient neighborhoods and beautiful tile work. I would almost go as far to say that Lisbon feels safer than Tokyo: Besides the occasional hash dealer in Rossio, there were few people who even looked suspicious.

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No matter how urban the area, communality takes a central position in daily lives. The Portuguese possess something I call superintimacy (short-lived Wikipedia entry coming soon): Despite Portugal’s rapid economic progress in recent years, its citizens have managed to keep their traditional social networks firmly intact. Whether they walk around the block or take the #33 bus up to the castle, they greet and chat with their neighbors both known and unknown, as if nothing has changed in 1000 years.

How is this possible in the 21st century? The Portuguese are guided by an ancient religious tradition called Catholicism, which dates all the way back to directly after the death of Christ. Unlike the ideological bickering of Protestantism, Catholics value stability, family, order, and ritual. And now with their growing economy standing firmly upon this spiritual base, the Portuguese enjoy something like a socialist capitalism where everyone instinctively helps out everyone else. Furthermore, inter-generational conflict is relatively marginal, thanks to the Catholic rituals of “baptism” and “confirmation” that turn young people into valid members of the community at a relatively early age. And in the spirit of the Eucharist tradition, large families dine together every night — something unthinkable in economically-obsessed nations like Japan.

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As we traveled from Lisbon to the walled village of Marvão to the stunningly-preserved Évora, we couldn’t help but think that Portugal has handled modernity far better than its neighbors: McDonalds are rare, and other chain restaurants barely exist. The Portuguese have limited the existence of crass global commercialism to the Algarve beach area — outlet mall hells brought forth by the pasty-white Brits and Krauts living there in retirement. Portugal shames the U.S. and Japan through its careful protection of local culture and traditional architecture. Only the occasional earthquake is allowed to erase the past.

Portugal does not just provide an alternate take on the process of modernization — a brisk stroll into the future while maintaining the “slow life” of the past — but the one-and-only correct take on modernism. With a history of pacifism and a monolinguistic multi-racial harmony, Portugal may just be the most progressive country on the planet.

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We Protestant individuals may scorn the communalist Catholic way of life, but Portugal’s existence shames all of us from the Post-Industrial countries. As the inheritors of the Earth, we are failures, and we must embrace the progressive Catholic post-modernism before it is too late.

W. David MARX (Marxy)
March 19, 2006

Marxy wrote a lot of essays back on his old site Néomarxisme. This is one of them.

21 Responses

  1. graham Says:

    never knew the preemptive strike had entered the marxy-momus strategic environment. way to nip that in the bud.

  2. porandojin Says:

    nice pics … did you try portugese candies? they are famous for their candies.

  3. Red Stater Says:

    Is it possible, then, that the US is not Post-American, but Pre-Portugese?

  4. guest Says:

    Well, on the “communalist Catholic” tip, Ivan Illich was pretty popular in certain circles in Japan. I believe the word ジェンダー entered the Japanese lexicon through his writing.

  5. H. Says:

    There’s only one problem with this preemptive strike against Momus. As a frequent visitor to Portugal and one with middling ability in the Portuguese language, I say that you are essentially right about Portugal.

  6. marxy Says:

    No, I am not being particularly sarcastic in my observations, just my explanations. I really enjoyed Portugal and highly recommend it as a tourist destination. People are very friendly, and things are neat and tidy, despite the fact that they are not primarily tourist-driven.

  7. check Says:

    可笑しい。

  8. Momus Says:

    This whole entry is a shocking act of plagiarism, ripping off more or less word-for-word my recent essay on Little Italy.

    Marxy, do you come from a shame culture, or a guilt one? Depending on your answer, you should howl either with shame, or guilt. Your underhand act is yet another example of how American competitive individualism is so often a mere smokescreen for a devious and sinister cookie-cutter conformity. Even your boldest “maverick” gestures turn out to be copies, cribs and unacknowledged teamwork.

  9. marxy Says:

    That was an unexpected tactical defense. Kind of a scorched earth move – sacrificing your own blog entry to make it a zero-sum game.

  10. Momus Says:

    Well, as the very first comment here points out, it was you who started this “scorched earth tactical defense” thing with “a preemptive strike”. Rather than give us a straightforward account of your holiday in Portugal, you made a parody of my “superficial” style of cultural observation. I’m flattered that you’d pay more attention to me than Portugal, but at the same time, as an “information boy” (and someone who, oddly enough, values anecdotes and impressions just as much as solid research and academic studies) I’m a bit disappointed that I didn’t get to hear much about your holiday, or your sense of what Portugal is all about.

    Of course, it may well be that you started to do that, then realised that your observations sounded a bit like my extensive coverage of Portugal (I’ve blogged and podcast quite a lot about it, and superficial as my reports have undoubtedly been, they’ve gone about ten layers deeper than your parody here does) and decided to make a parody instead. The trouble with that is that, as someone else here has commented, you’re “essentially right” about Portugal! So it’s not exactly a trenchant critique of my methods.

  11. jasong Says:

    This is some kind of turning point…

    Which one of you is Let It Be and which one is Let It Bleed?

  12. helen Says:

    Very funny! I think you annoyed the Momster though, judging by his defensive tone…

  13. channing Says:

    Is it possible, then, that Momus and Marxy are not Post-grad students, but Pre-dumbasses?

  14. L Says:

    This had better lead to some hot M-on-M make up/out action.

    ‘S probably the entire reason Marxy went to Portugal to begin with. He’s thinking of a different kind of superintimacy (one initiated with a conflict for passion +1, duh).

  15. Momus Says:

    Enough with the slash fiction already, blog-pickers!

  16. dzima Says:

    EXTRA EXTRA! Marxy broadens his horizons!

    Even though I had different experiences in Japan than you and Herr Momus, I can still find your essays on the place “entertaining” or “interesting” at times. But this very one I’m reading right now has just annoyed me to no end for reasons that are too many to list. It’s like you have just chosen to broaden your horizons by not broadening your horizons.

    (This is no personal nitpicking so there’s no need to get defensive. But I know you’ll say you’re not aiming to be accurate here so basically no one learns anything)

    Despite the fact that you got the cultural analysis wrong, I must congratulate you for being one of the first Anglo-Celtic(and Russian) people not to make snide comments about Latin/Continental/Mediterranean cultures I have ever heard.

  17. marxy Says:

    But this very one I’m reading right now has just annoyed me to no end for reasons that are too many to list.

    I am going to assume you figured out what is going on…

    I must congratulate you for being one of the first Anglo-Celtic(and Russian) people

    First of all, I’m not half-Russian, and second of all, I’m not sure my complex racial profile really has more meaning for my behavior than my nationality and parents’ social class.

    then realised that your observations sounded a bit like my extensive coverage of Portugal

    Your coverage of Portugal is really good, because you’re not projecting in a pseudo-Orientalist manner.

  18. JB Says:

    As a Portuguese myself, i would say you over romanticised a bit, I still remember the Portugal you described, and not long ago… just some 20 years! But it was nice to, for a moment, see from other person’s description some of the things i no longer notice!

    Anyway, have you tried Super-Bock? :P

  19. marxy Says:

    Super Bock was good. Sagres was also good. Both beers had a pretty unique flavor, at least compared to the Japanese and American beers I’m used to. I also liked ginjinja quite a bit. And all for so little money…

  20. JB Says:

    Well… with an average salary of 500€, beer can’t be too expensive. As it is, To only have 500 beers per month is kind of depressing.
    I allways had the idea Ginja (sour cherry) was a japanese fruit, maybe because the ginja tree at my old place was side-by-side with the persimmon tree :)

    Anyway kid’s *do* try this at home:

    1kg Ginja (sour cherry; morel?!?)
    400g Sugar (more if you want it sweeter)
    1l Aguardente (firewater; aquavitae; grape husk brandy)

    – Mix aguardente with sugar; (my mother slightly heated the mix to melt the sugar better.)
    – Fill bottles untill just short of half with ginja;
    complete bottles with mix; (mother used to add a cinnamon stick to every bottle.)
    – Cork bottles and save for 2 months, once in a while (once a week or what not) turn bottles upside down.
    – Drink with friends :)

  21. Rory P. Wavekrest Says:

    Awesome! Will try…