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There is no Avenida de la Libertad in Lisbon, or in any other Portuguese city, despite what Frederick Seidel asserts in the first and seventh stanzas of his poem ‘Lisbon’, since Portuguese street names are always given in Portuguese (LRB, 26 February). It is especially unlikely that the name would ever have been given in Castilian Spanish, since the liberty the road’s name celebrates is, precisely, liberty from Spain. As the Portuguese proverb has it: ‘Da Espanha nem bom vento, nem bom casamento’ (‘from Spain neither a good wind nor a good marriage’). The road that it took Seidel all day to walk down (at a very slow speed, we surmise, since it is barely a mile long, but perhaps he walked not always in a straight line) is, instead, the once beautiful Avenida da Liberdade.
The Portuguese used to be proud of their country’s main artery, but its elegance has much diminished in recent decades, on account in particular of its commercialisation. The beautiful and stately old buildings have given way to nondescript office blocks, occupied mostly by the Portuguese branches of the Spanish firms (banks, insurance companies, shipping companies etc) that have installed themselves on the banks of the Tagus – part of the economic invasion favoured by the European Union, and much resented by the locals. Perhaps Seidel was right to translate the name of Lisbon’s main avenue into a foreign tongue after all.
Ana de Resende Waissbein
Frederick Seidel’s ‘Lisbon’ refers to ‘that long-ago Inauguration Day, 1960’. He surely meant 1961.