Some of you already know that I have recently been on a trip to Lisbon, but not many people know exactly why and what I was doing.
This year's World Exposition is currently being held in Lisbon, Portugal. The last was in Seville and the next, in 2000, will be held in Hanover. The theme of this year's Expo is "Oceans. Our Heritage for the Future" and the Expo site is an impressive, newly-developed area including apartments, hotels, sports facilities, shops and, of course, the exhibition area. This area is massive, including the newly opened aquarium (the largest in the world, shown below), theme-related exhibition pavilions, and temporary structures housing exhibitions from more than 160 countries and international organisations from all over the world.
This is only the second time that South Africa has taken part in a World Exposition, so when I was asked, in January, to be involved in the preparation of the exhibition I was very aware of the opportunity this offered. The South African exhibition is made up of a number of sections, one of which deals with South African cultural heritage, organised into sub-sections on each of South Africa's nine provinces. This section became my responsibility. I had six weeks to liaise with provincial structures, collect objects (supplementing these with objects from our museum collection, where necessary), compile texts for each of the provinces and assist with the selection of images for the panels. It was a hectic period, aggravated by communication problems, bureaucracy and the near-impossible task of keeping everyone happy.
A period of relative inactivity (at least, in this project) followed. The objects were on their way to Lisbon and the panels were printed. Only a number of last minute smaller tasks still had to be completed.
After a tense couple of weeks before my departure on 16 May (my visa was issued on the day before we left, leaving a matter of hours to finalise arrangements for currency, etc.), two of us left for Lisbon to control the use of heritage objects, arrange objects in display cases for all sections of the exhibition, and generally assist where necessary.
The architecture....oh wow! There was one building, an annex to the Portuguese pavilion, which was open on two sides. The roof was made up of a vast suspended sheet of concrete, hanging .... it looked like textile.....The pics are up, but they don't do it justice. Absolutely incredible! I have never seen anything like it.
Surprises around every corner. The line of a chair, the graphic images on the walls of the Uruguay Pavilion, the moai replica which "suddenly appeared" one morning (a preview of Easter Island :)), the images reflected in a pool of water in the Iceland Pavilion.....
Being surrounded by hundreds of people from all over the world, most of them young, speaking every language, all working towards a single deadline. A very dynamic feeling and an almost palpable air of creativity (and tension, in the last days before opening).
The constantly amazing rate of development. One morning I left the apartment, and when I returned a couple of hours later to drop some groceries, I couldn't get in at first because a six foot fence had suddenly been erected. One would walk down an unpaved, gravel path at lunchtime, and find it lined with trees in the evening. A friend summed it up. One could walk past a dirt patch in the morning, find a smooth lawn in the same place that night, and walk past people mowing the grass the next day!
The incredible erupting fountains.
Our one day in Lisbon...walking through cobbled streets (which somehow, and in defiance to all the laws of nature, seemed to ALWAYS be uphill), looking at old tiled buildings, drinking tea in the park, browsing through tiny bookstores and antique shops.
My first experience of being in a real castle.
Three hours in Rome on the way home. Just enough time to visit St Peter's Basilica in the Vatican City, and throw coins in the very "touristy" Trevi fountain. And a drive past the Forum, Colosseum, Circus Maximus and ancient city walls.
The face of Mary in Michaelangelo's Pieta.
Lots of frustrations with logistical, practical and bureaucratic problems.
High Expo prices and generic souvenirs.
Sore knees during the long aeroplane trip....I'm getting old :(
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