Whoa. March. I’ve been looking forward to March for so long, for so many different reasons, and here it is. Truly hard to believe. We are officially at the halfway point of living in our flat: we moved in on October 1, five months ago, and will move out on August 1, five months from now. That still seems like a really long time, but I know it will go quickly, as we now have nothing but warm months ahead of us, full of travel and family. We’ve almost made it through the long, lonely winter — hooray!

You couldn’t tell by this weekend’s storm, however, of which I see that Gabe’s kite was not the only casualty. I’m sorry that it hit other places so badly, but at least in Lisbon, the rain wasn’t as bad as we’d expected. It did keep us from doing a day trip this weekend, but we still made it out yesterday for a highly cultured afternoon.

We had plans to meet up with our French friends to see the latest Coen brothers’ movie in the late afternoon, so we decided to make it a cultural overload by visiting the modern art museum nearby. This museum is part of the Gulbenkian, but was closed when we visited on our first weekend here back in September. Since most museums are free on Sundays, it was easy to remedy that loss with a quick afternoon visit yesterday. I’m not usually a fan of modern art, as it’s a little too esoteric for me, but the huge lofty building was itself worth a visit. And having a warm, dry place to wander around and look at art for free on a rainy Sunday afternoon is always a good thing.

So wander we did, admiring the odd statues and monotone paintings, skimming quickly over the more grotesque or violent images, and lingering over some giant photographs of old bunkers from World War II, which are now crumbling and tumbling down into the sea. The size of the prints made them look more like alien spaceships, plunked down to explore otherworldly coastlines, then neglected and forgotten. Very cool.

All that culture made us thirsty, but the line for the museum cafe looked to be about an hour long, so we headed elsewhere for refreshment. Gabe remembered that the place where I’d gotten lunch during his kidney stone incident looked promising (not that either of us were really focusing on it at the time), so we went back there.

It was indeed a nice place, very sleek, decorated in black and red, with TVs showing footage of models striding down a catwalk wearing the most absurd outfits and wigs. I admired their ability to keep a straight face while wearing a three-foot high bright red afro wig. Impressive. The coffee was also good, and Gabe ate a massive pillow-sized croissant — “It’s mostly air,” he says. Right.

Even after taking a snack break, we were still over an hour early to meet our friends, so we wandered around through the grounds of the Gulbenkian museum. There I spotted the first signs of spring: some of the trees were actually starting to leaf out, their tiny bright green fronds poking bravely into the still-cold afternoon, and the heavily pruned roses were showing their first leaves as well. I was overjoyed to see these impending signs of spring, which I’ve been watching for assiduously.

After we had killed enough time, we headed up to the theater for our rendezvous. Our friend had warned us that it was the place to be on a Sunday afternoon, so we should get there early. Sure enough, despite the fact that the shopping center itself was closed, there were three gigantic lines at the ticket desk, the likes of which we’d never seen at this theater before. It really was the place to be, apparently!

As for the movie itself, well… I didn’t expect much. I went for the company rather than the movie, as the Coen bros. movies I’ve seen in the past were kind of like the modern art we’d seen earlier: deep to the point of being obscure, bleak, and at times ugly or grotesque. I say this with full knowledge that it makes me a heathen, but I can’t help it. For me, the point of fiction is to transcend real life, not magnify its misery and shortcomings. I prefer heroes (however badly written) to anti-heroes, and badly written plots to no plot at all. I believe in escapism, whether it’s in the form of blowing things up and cars flying through the air, or cheesy lines and unrealistic endings.

This movie, however, had none of that. It was Jewish life in 1960s Minnesota, pure and simple, with all its manifest woes and ugliness magnified to the point of almost physical discomfort. The main character was so weak that I don’t think he finished a single sentence for the entire film, and instead spent his time squirming and equivocating while everyone walked all over him, from his children and brother on up to his boss, his students, and the man his wife is leaving him for. Jesus Christ man, I wanted to shout, get a backbone! I hoped that maybe in the end he would redeem himself by making a stand of some sort, or maybe just losing it and going crazy, but no. Nothing like that.

Instead he just flailed his way through the movie, with everyone taking advantage of him wherever possible, and nothing got resolved. Ever. Every single plot point was left hanging, and nothing. Was. Resolved. I get that it’s supposed to be a commentary on life, oh so cleverly tied in by the Uncertainty Principle that the guy explains in a dream, which states that we can never know how anything ends. To me, it was just lazy. I realize I am criticizing a movie that is nominated not only for a best movie but also best original screenplay at the Academy Awards, but hey, what can I say? Told you I was a heathen. Give me Bruce Willis blowing crap up any day, and I’ll be happy. Existential angst and societal commentary? No thanks.

Our friends really liked the movie though, so with a massive effort, I kept my opinions to myself and suggested instead that we go drink some alcohol. Stat. So we returned to the Chafariz do Vinho, the fountain of wine near our house, which we’d visited with them last month. This time I took pictures (see below) of the water coursing down from the cistern in the hill above us. Such a cool place.

The wine did help calm me down, and was a fitting end to a weekend full of high culture. Classical music, modern art, and Oscar-nominated cinema all in one weekend — wow! Think I need to go drink some cheap beer and watch rugby now, just to bring myself back down a few notches.

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