Sunday, 23 July 2017
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MaudRussellThe opening sequence of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, the sixth film in the James Bond series, has Bond saving a glamorous woman from killing herself by drowning on a beach near Estoril at dawn. After some slightly improbable fighting with a couple of villains among fishing boats - one of the villains ends up trapped in fish netting - Bond returns to the Palacio Hotel. He parks his Aston Martin next to the car that belongs to Contessa Teresa ‘Tracy’ di Vicenzo, the woman he has just saved … the scene is set for the beginning of their romance.

During World War II, Portugal was a neutral state. Besides being the point of departure for Jews and others fleeing the Nazi madness to North America, Lisbon was equally an important espionage hub, with agents and double agents tailing each and sometimes meeting openly in the capital’s bars. One of these agents was the Serbian spy and British double agent Dusko Popov … a character who fascinated Ian Fleming when, in 1941, the two men met in Estoril.

albufeiraCrowdTourism is currently booming in Portugal – there have been 40% more American visitors in the last year, for instance. Most of these tourists come to Portugal to enjoy a holiday in a country that still retains an enormous amount of specific charm.

Within this small country there are zillions of things to do: bathing or surfing on incredible beaches, visiting beautiful towns, hill trecking, tasting world class Douro wines, and so on …

FireGoisAt last the high temperatures have dropped and, in some regions of Portugal, there has even been a sprinkling of rain. However, there has been nothing like enough rain to lessen the risk of wild fires breaking out such as the one which, beginning on 17 June, claimed the lives of 64 people in the central Portuguese region of Leiria. After a dry spring and the hottest start to summer in 40 years, Portugal remains an arid and vulnerable tinder box.

Probably caused by a dry thunderstorm, the fire then was fanned by strong winds and fueled by high temperatures. Within hours it had spread to a huge area around the village of Pedrogao Grande.

 

euAt last there has been a step in the right direction. At a European Council meeting in Brussels last night, the British Prime Minister announced to her colleagues that the 3 million European nationals residing in the United Kingdom would not be obliged to leave the country once Brexit has been enacted.

It would be premature for those 3 million European nationals to think of cracking open a bottle of prosecco, spumante, champagne, or whatever, but they should at least now be thinking of putting one in the fridge. Mrs May was coolly reminded by her colleagues that the European Council was not the appropriate forum for Brexit negotiations and that Michel Barnier, the European Union’s steely chief negotiator, was the only person with authority to respond to the British government’s proposal.

4801The Queen’s role is to be impartial and, so tight is the cordon of discretion surrounding her, very little actually seeps out about her personal political views. There is just a tiny possibility, however, that at yesterday’s state opening of parliament the Queen was having some fun and sending us a signal.

With the calling of the snap general election there was no time this year to rehearse the state opening of parliament, the time-honoured piece of British pageantry that can either give us a reassuring sense of continuity or appear hilariously over the top, depending upon how you view the institution of monarchy.

QueenofEnglandYesterday saw the Trooping of the Colour in London. The annual parade to celebrate the Queen’s birthday took place beneath a blazing sun and no less than five guardsmen fainted from the heat.

The Queen in fact has two birthdays. Her real one on 21st April – the monarch turned 91 this year – and her official one, which usually falls on the second Saturday in June, a time of the year when the dodgy English weather is supposed to be more indulgent to outdoor celebrations.

mattNot far from the Ponte 25 Abril, a glistening white object has landed on the banks of the Rio Tejo. Its sleek curves suggest a giant fish or a futuristic ship, but Lisbon’s latest museum has to be seen to be believed.

Porto had the excellent Fundação Serralves and Lisbon the distinguished Museu Calouste Gulbenkian - currently directed by a British art historian, Penelope Curtis - but Lisbon had always lacked a truly international class contemporary art museum but no longer!

4801Here we go again! Blimey, what a mess!

First of all there was the Brexit referendum. We were still reeling from that historic cock up when the next shock hit us with Donald Trump’s election as President of the United States. Trump is a teenage bully of quite staggering shallowness whose principal achievement since becoming President is to have caused offence to as many people as he can.