Lisbon In Books: The Two Hotel Francforts

It was actually quite a coincidence that I picked up this book… Wandering into the lovely Daunt Bookstore in London, which orders books by the place they are set in, I stumbled across The Two Hotel Francforts. The cover was intriguing, as it showed a couple in the 1940s on Rossio Square – a time that I find quite fascinating for all sorts of reasons (including the fact that my mother happened to be living in Lisbon at that time). Not knowing too much of the book (and the cover not being much of an enlightenment), I decided to give it a read – originally thinking it would be some sort of detective story or spy story, which seemed quite appropriate given the time it is set in.

Well.. I was pretty wrong: what the cover doesn’t give away is that it is actually very much a gay story, albeit of two married men, set in Lisbon. This came as a bit of a surprise to me – although the author has previously written extensively about this (and maybe I should read a review next time before starting to read a book… or does that spoil the fun?).

The basic premise is that two American couples meet in Lisbon. They are refugees fleeing the Nazis via the last open port in Europe – and by coincidence end up in the same café, though living in two very different, but named the same, hotels in Lisbon (yes, there actually were two hotels Francfort in Lisbon – see here for more information and pictures [in Portuguese]).
Just when I wondered where the plot was heading (still expecting a few spies to pop up), on a “boys night out”, the two husband start an affair – all against the backdrop of both couples trying to secure passage out of Lisbon and to America with their wives – and not entirely happy to leave the old continent behind.

I’m not trying to give too much of the plot away, only to say, it does take a lot of unexpected turns. But it is not just the love (or sex?) story that is intriguing and well written… it is also the backdrop of 1940s Lisbon live among people trying to escape – and the description of the atmosphere surrounding this extraordinary situation and time in this city.

As you might expect, this book is not much about Portuguese – nor does it venture much beyond the refugee circles and their life, as none of the characters interacts with locals. Of course, this is very much the story line, and although this could be read as somewhat disappointing, it would only be so if you expect a character study of the Portuguese. Don’t expect much in terms of local habits or local psyche… even Salazar and his policies only appear in very small doses. If you see the book as an atmospheric description of life as (very wealthy) refugees in this strange neutral country – then you will love it… if you happen to read it in Lisbon, you’ll be even more intrigued as it talks about some of the places which are still here, taking into account how they were at that time. For example, there is a lot of talk about Pastelaria Suiça… the way the author talks about it is very much how my mother talked about it. If you look at what I’d call one of the worst tourist traps on Rossio square today, you wonder why anyone would want to be there – but those were different times, and the author does well in reviving them.

Overall, if you are interested in any of these:
– Lisbon in the 1940s
– wealthy people fleeing the Nazis
…or just want to read a gay (I’m not sure I’d call it love-)story…
this is your book. If all three interest you – you’ll have trouble putting the book down.
And although it had no murders and spies, as I originally thought, I definitely enjoyed reading it tremendously.

David Leavitt (2013), The Two Hotels Francfort, New York: Bloomsbury USA

A short history of Gay Portugal – From the Carnation Revolution until Today

IMG_7071The Carnation Revolution swept away the fascist regime of the Estado Novo on April 25, 1974. However, despite the return to democracy and fundamental changes in Portuguese society, advancement to become one of the most liberal countries worldwide in terms of gay rights was a slow progress.

First gay rights organisations emerged shortly after the Carnation Revolution.  Although homosexuality was still technically illegal, Lisbon started to have a more open gay scene. Although unofficially gay bars had existed in the Bairro Alto district, bars and clubs became more overt following the revolution: Lisbon’s oldest, still existing gay bar, Finalmente, opened its doors in 1976, presenting nightly drag shows until today. MHAR, Movimento Homossexual de Acção Revolucionária was the first official LGBTI+ organisation, established just one month after the April revolution.However, these organisations lacked support of both the government as well as a support base in the traditionally more progressive left-wing parties. Nevertheless, homosexuality was decriminalised, between consenting adults, in 1982.

avAs in other countries AIDS changed the face of gays in Portugal: National organizations such as the Comissão Nacional de Luta Contra a SIDA [National Commission for the Fight against AIDS] and the charity Abraço brought increased visibility to gay life. The death of António Variações, a high musician, as a result of AIDS, widely  shocked Portuguese society in 1984.

During the 1990s, gay life in Portugal underwent dramatic changes: The Partido Socialista Revolucionário (a predecessor of today’s Left Bloc Party) was the first political party to call for an end to machismo, homophobia and discrimination in 1991. Organisations, still active today were established: ILGA Portugal, established in 1995, and Opus Gay (1999) emerged, and Lisbon became home to the first Arraial Pride in 1997 – and the  Marcha Nacional do Orgulho LGBT. The LGBT Centre of Lisbon opened in 1997, and, also in 1997 the first film festival established in the Portuguese capital was the “Festival de Cinema Gay e Lésbico de Lisboa”,  known as QueerLisboa.

The new Millennium
If changes during the 1990s were seismic and dramatically changes in attitudes, the new millennium saw an increased focus on establishing equal rights, particularly in the eyes of the law: In 2001 civil partnerships between same-sex couples were introduced. In 2003, workplace discrimination was outlawed. In 2004, the original constitution of 1975 was amended to prohibit any form of discrimination based on sexual orientation, and in 2007 the Penal Code was amended to exclude all mentioning of homosexuality and amended to include specific laws criminalising  discrimination because of sexual orientation  and laws in relation to homophobic crimes.  From 2009 mandatory sex education in schools started to include LGBTI+-related topics, and in 2010 the blood donation ban for gay and bisexual men was lifted. Marriage equality was achieved in 2010, although this originally excluded the right to adopt children. This last restriction was lifted in 2015, and the right to adopt children was granted to same-sex couples. Finally, in 2016, assisted reproductive technology, such as invitro-fertilisation was allowed for lesbian couples (and single women).

Today, Portugal ranks as one of the most liberal countries in Europe according to the ILGA Rainbow Europe ranking. Jointly with Spain, it holds the 4th position in Europe with a human rights score of 70%, just behind Denmark, and ahead of countries like Sweden, Norway and the Netherlands.

Please bear in mind that I’m not a historian (nor Portuguese for that matter…), but just compiled this based on my reading. It would be great if you could add any omissions or corrections below! Thanks!… Of course, I also realise that I have mostly focused on gay items. I hope I can find out more about lesbian and trans history in the future and share it here!

A short history of Gay Portugal – Middle Ages to Estado Novo

IMG_7071Life under the Inquisition
There are many surviving documents about gay life under the Inquisition, most of it stored in the National Archives of Torre do Tombo.  Although the Inquisition tried hard to quell gay life and culture, there are references to transvestite shows to be found in the archives of the time, and references to men impersonating women as sex workers.

Living under the constant threat of being discovered, gays also started to adopt a specific language (much like the much later Polari found in the UK). Using terms not usually associated with sexual activity, such “hunting” to describe looking for sex or “being in the afternoon” to describe another gay person, prevented people ‘not in the know’ from understanding the verbal code used to communicate.

18/19th Century
The age of enlightenment brought an end to the rule of the Inquisition, and it slowly lost its grip on Portuguese society. However, while the enlightenment brought many advances, wider society was still influenced strongly by Catholic moral ideas and the influence of the Catholic church remained strong.

The reformed penal code of 1852 did not contain any references to homosexual acts, effectively legalising them. However, social morals still remained skewed against gays, although homosexual acts did not lead to the same scandalous consequences as in other countries at the time. This tolerance gave Portugal the status of a comparatively liberal country, at least when compared to countries such as Germany or the UK where gays were openly prosecuted by the police at the time and homosexuality was a crime (e.g. Germany recriminalised homosexual acts in 1871, in the UK, homosexual acts have been illeagal since 1533).

This relative liberal outlook lead to some pioneering works about homosexuality being published within the Portuguese Empire at the time. This included works such as A Inversão Sexual, by Adelino Silva, which, when published in 1895, was one of the first works to analyze ‘scientifically’ the topic of homosexuality (by comparison, Magnus Hirschfeld’s work “Die Homosexualität Des Mannes Und Des Weibes” was published almost twenty years later, in 1914). Despite of this, homosexuality was still often seen as a mental illness which needed to be treated. For example, Egas Moniz, the first Portuguese nobel laureate and inventor of the highly controversial lobotomy, classified homosexuality as a mental illness, and counseled that it should be cured like any other mental illness (which, in his case, presumably involved drilling holes into heads of patients).

The First Republic
The end of the monarchy in Portugal, and the establishment of the First Republic in 1910, didn’t change much in terms of societal attitudes towards gays and homosexuality. While homosexuality remained technically legal, interest in it came mainly from a medical perspective: Assuming that it was an illness and needed treatment. As such, books which appeared to condone homosexuality were often banned or seized. Much in contrast to the more liberal attitudes of the rest of Europe, Portuguese society in the 1920s became more conservative: In fact, Portugal was the only European country not to send any delegates to the World League for sexual Reform initiated by Magnus Hirschfeld in London in 1929.

The Estado Novo

Júlio Fogaça
Júlio Fogaça

After Salazar established the authoritarian regime of the Estado Novo in 1933, things took a predictable turn for the worse: Salazar advocated a return to Catholic doctrine and conservative values. Gender roles were reverted to become more traditional, and all expressions of sexuality outside of marriage were frowned upon. Sexual expression was seen as subversive and books, scripts or other artistic works advocating any form of sexual expression outside of marriage and as a means to reproduction were systematically censored, and artists, writers and advocates were criminalized.

In 1954, homosexuality was recriminalised, with people engaging in “crimes against nature” facing being being locked up in mental asylums or condemned to hard labour. The Portuguese secret state police PIDE systematically hunted homosexuals or spread rumors about opposition and resistance fighters, including famously the then president of the opposition Portuguese Communist Party Júlio Fogaça. Fogaça subsequently was expelled by the Communist Party, while serving a prison sentence, in 1961 under the pretext of homosexual conduct.

Please bear in mind that I’m not a historian (nor Portuguese for that matter…), but just compiled this based on my reading. It would be great if you could add any omissions or corrections below! Thanks!…Of course, I also realise that I have mostly focused on gay items. I hope I can find out more about lesbian and trans history in the future and share it here!
>> Next time… The Carnation Revolution to modern-day Portugal.

A short history of Gay Portugal – From Rome to the Inquisition

IMG_7071

The Romans

Much of the early history of homosexuality in Portugal is, of course, intertwined with it being part of the Roman Empire covering parts of the Roman Provinces of Lusitania, Gallaecia and Hispania. Thus, much of the early history of “gay” sexuality is likely to have been similar to that in other Roman provinces. Thus, a distinction was made between Roman citizens – and others. While Roman (male) citizens had the right to practice penetrative sex with other people as the active part, such as with both make and female slaves or prostitutes, Roman morality frowned upon Roman citizens being penetrated. Of course, how this might have been interpreted is subject to many history books, but simply put, homosexuality wasn’t really a sin – as long as the Roman citizen did the penetration. Continue reading “A short history of Gay Portugal – From Rome to the Inquisition”