Transits

material culture, migration and everyday life

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Notes from the field – Berlin #2, Sardinhada in Berlin

Last weekend I attended the baby shower of one of our participating families in Berlin. There, I learned that the following weekend there would be a Portuguese party at Monbijou Park in central Berlin. No more information was given to me at the time, but a quick google search guided me to the facebook event.  The event was in effect a sardinhada (sardine barbecue), which is a very seasonal event particular to this time of the year. The sardine fishing season started just a couple of weeks ago and June is the month in which  street festivities are held in honour of Saint Anthony, Saint John or Saint Peter (popular saints or santos populares) in many locations across the country.The festivities include bonfires being held and barbecued sardines on bread sold in crowded streets to the sound of loudly playing pimba music

A view of the picnic at Monbijou park, with the grilling station at the back.

But the sardinhada in Monbijou didn’t seem to want to mimic the saints’ festivities from back home. For one thing, there was no loud music. The event looked more like a big picnic, the barbecue station selling the food and beverages and the partygoers  sitting in groups on the blankets they brought from home. Barbecues are permitted in most parks in Berlin, with special signs indicating the areas where they are permitted. This is one of the many uses of parks amongst Berliners. Other uses include sunbathing (often in swimwear), sitting on their own folding chairs and having drinks, hanging their own hammocks in trees, play ball games, etc. The parks seem to define Berlin public life and its inhabitants’ lifestyles, and if this is true, then it couldn’t be truer than in this very hot month of June.

As I park my bike and walk through the crowd, Portuguese, German, Italian and Spanish can be heard. There are people of all ages. I enter the line to buy food. Behind me, two middle-aged women speak Brazilian Portuguese, ahead of me in line, two women in their 20s use youtube on their smartphones to show an English speaking friend, what pimba music sounds like. 

Sardines and German sausages. Portuguese rock salt.

Beer ans soft drinks on ice.

Apron.

From the grilling stand, not only the usual sardines and bifanas (grilled pork steak sandwich) were sold, but here we could also find sausages, which are not traditionally found in sardinhadas I know from home. Is this another Berliner adaptation? I order two sardines on wheat bread, although cornbread is also available. I also order a pineapple Sumol from the ice-bucket holding Portuguese brand beers and soft drinks. Red and white Portuguese whine is also available.

The lady who was slicing the bread stops her task to greet a friend who hands out to her an appron which reads Portugal. This provokes a reaction from her colleagues: they jokingly demand one too.  The drinks and food are provided by a Portuguese supermarket in Berlin, and the bread by a Portuguese-Greek bakery, both publicized. I am told that pastel de nata was available in previous edition, but to my disappointment they are not being sold this year.

The organizers are holding constant 10 minute workshops of bass drums, so soon there is a soundtrack to the event! Later, the rancho (folklore dance) also performs at a near tarmac crossing inside the park. The members of the rancho seem to be all Portuguese or Portuguese descent, and ages seem to go from twenty to sixty-something. Two small girls who look under five, also participate at times, guided by the older performers. The performers are not wearing performing clothes, but their own summer clothes. A gentleman dancer, is wearing a Cristiano Ronaldo Portuguese national football jersey. A lady dancer wears filigree heart earrings from the north of Portugal.

It is seven o’clock but the sun is still shining and the threat of drizzle was just a threat and didn’t spoil the picnic. The sardines seem to be over as only steaks and sausages can be seen in the grill. The last loaves of bread are being sold to the public. I get mine before I leave!

Bass drums workshop.

Notes from the Field: Lisbon #2, Observing meals

It’s always a bit strange to ask someone about their eating habits and then requesting them to let you observe them. Sometimes it feels a bit cheeky as you would eventually be invited to eat; if you’ve warned them in advance, you’re potentially going to be in for an elaborately prepared treat! Alongside this is the more spontaneous, honest, everyday cooking. That isn’t to deny the honesty and normality of elaborate cooking. Wanting to prepare a whole meal is also very much an everyday practice. However, catching someone off guard offers a different side to this.

In the end, they have all had one commonality: they are ‘homely’. I could not find another way to describe it. As someone who has lived alone, I can relate to batch-cooking, making a quick soup or frying an egg as a meal. It is very familiar and no less ceremonial than the elaborate meals. Indeed, one seems more everyday than the other. Yet, the other also presents a type of ceremoniality (‘doing a ceremony’) and indeed becomes part of the everyday, routine nature of self-care and preservation through food.

On this note of the ceremony, I wish to present three instances in which food consumption was part of the meeting. Based on the variation in information provided, the nature of the meal changed, as one would expect. This variation in information provided related to the intended planning of the meetings. For example, in case 2 it was not intended that I observe meal preparation that day. Similarly, in case 3 shopping and preparation were not intended to be presented to me.

Participant No.

Shopping

Informed about need to observe a meal

Meal cooked by participant

Spontaneous?

1

Yes

Yes

Yes

Pre-meditated

2

Yes

No

Yes

Spontaneous, out of need

3

No

Yes

No

Part of weekly routine

In case 1, the meal was particularly prepared with me in mind, alongside an overlap of their own consumption practice. The shopping too was tailored to the meal. In the preceding meeting with the participant, when I asked what the individual was going to cook after our meeting, they said it was a dal (South Asian lentil dish). This was a practice picked up by the participant’s husband’s experience of living in South Asia. The Participant then offered to cook some for me as I said I had not had it in a long time. I am Luso-Indian/South Asian.

Image by author, Sinead D’Silva

In case 2, the meeting itself was organized around the need to observe the shopping process. As the participant must organize their shopping days carefully to incorporate personal mobility requirements, the shopping incorporated items needed on a longer-term basis. There was no list involved, and the individual had the types of food they wanted to buy in mind. This included staples (like pasta), snacks, and fruit and veg. One of the items purchased was because I expressed surprise when looking at the products on display – it was a different type of bread. When we got back, we continued to talk and eventually it was lunch time and we were both hungry, so we tried the bread with egg and a spread from their country of origin. 

Image by author, Sinead D’Silva

Finally, in case 3, I was invited to observe a meal-focused weekly practice in which the participant wished to present their everyday routine. It was also a revelation of the embeddedness of this participant in the local culture brought about in part by conjugal ties (the individual had married a Portuguese person). The food was therefore Portuguese, arroz do pato, as this included the participant’s extended family. It was not cooked by the participant. On a personal, regular basis, the participant cooks more simple food, with more vegetables. They also mentioned cooking curries often as their husband liked such food.

Image by author, Sinead D’Silva

The topic is the same: food consumption practice. They were all also women, accounting for gender. Yet, the ways in which individuals go about deliberating not just what to eat, but also what to present as their eating practices is telling of a social process of food involving a sense of symbolism as a medium of interaction.

Alongside these different ways in which individuals choose to present themselves or find themselves responding to a situation spontaneously, is a commonality in presenting the self and a sense of hospitality which cuts across cultures. As a result, I always left fed with food and stories.

Kathy Burrell at ICS this month

Letters from the field – Berlin, week 1

12 April 2019

It has become common place to say that the ethnographer’s self is very much a part of ethnography and ethnographic writing. I argue that this statement is truer for the ethnographer who has to move from her country into a new country and city in order to do research, here about migrants… specially if those migrants have moved from that same country and into that same new city, albeit for different reasons.
The ethnographer in question is me. I was born and raised in Portugal and moved to Berlin last week in order to do ethnography with Portuguese families living in Berlin. If we exclude the personal variables of motivations, objectives and, off course, length of stay, I, as an ethnographer am following the steps of the migrants who will participate in the research.
Furthermore, when your intention as an ethnographer is to understand material culture and consumption, a dimension of your subjects’ life which is probably present in a similar way in your own life, putting yourself in your subject’s shoes becomes a fairly easy exercise. Just like the migrants I am about to meet, I too had to pack; I had to select what I wanted to take and, upon my arrival I had to find the things that I cannot envisage myself living without on my everyday life.
Thus, for the purpose of this blog post, I am going to write about myself and the choices I have made regarding my traveling to and settling in Berlin.

Moabit

Upon arrival at Tegel airport, I took the TXL bus. Direction: Alexander Platz. The destination: my neighborhood, Moabit. As I approached the end of my ride, the bus entered Turmstraße, a very densely commercial street, filled with burger, pizza and doner kebab restaurants, Turkish coffee shops, small supermarkets with fresh vegetable street stands. I could also spot some organic/natural/biologic trendy supermarkets.

Turmstraße, a main street in Moabit.

A quick online search had already taught me that Moabit is a neighborhood of Mitte, located in the west side of the central district, bordering Charlotteburg district, and was adjacent to the former Berlin Wall. For this reason, Moabit has always had a peripheral status, whether because it was where unified Central Berlin ends or West Berlin ended. The internet also told me that Moabit has historical working-class roots, which combined with its peripheral yet central location makes it affordable and attractive for newcomers. Statistically, Moabit is Berlin’s neighborhood with the largest first and second generation migrant population.
As I hopped off the bus and followed the path suggested to me by google maps to get to my new home, I entered an area in Moabit known as Westfälisches Viertel (or Westphalian district), a more bourgeois residential area, south of Turmstraße, bordering the Spree river and Tiergarten. Shops became more scarce and more expensive: bistros and bakeries mostly.

A view over the Spree river to Westfälisches Viertel in south Moabit.

I arrived at my destination and met my landlady in whose elegant house I will be renting a large and very comfortable bedroom for an affordable price. “I know how researchers struggle” my landlady points out. Indeed.

My things

In my bag, I had packed, of course, some clothes, shoes and personal hygiene and beauty products, but I decided to buy some hygiene and beauty products in Germany because I was told that they are cheaper here. For example, I had packed some rose water, which I can get for a cheap price at home and I wasn’t sure whether I was going to find some here. However, I discovered they are a very common item in Turkish shops. I also brought many packs of carob-porridge, which I was sure I wasn’t going to find here. Although this porridge is sold under an international brand, the production and selling are exclusive to Portugal. I also packed a bottle of wine to present to my landlady. With wine being a usually appreciated national product, I felt I couldn’t go wrong. I chose from my own collection of favorite wines a bottle from the region of Alentejo, a region known for its please-all wines. I didn’t pack olive oil, which I wanted to do but wasn’t sure about the correct way to store it to avoid spillage. I wish I had dedicated the time to find a way because olive oil (good quality like the one that is produced where I live) is much more expensive here!

Bags of carob porridge, rose water and a bottle of wine.

The day I arrived, my landlady was kind enough to take me around her favorite places to shop in Turmstraße. So on that first outing I bought the essential hygiene products I had purposely not brought: toothpaste, soap, shampoo, conditioner and night cream. I bought them in a DM shop, which is a chain with many shops across Berlim that sell hygiene and beauty products, household items, healthcare items, healthy food and so on… Then, in a Turkish shop which my landlady recommended for their fresh vegetables and fruit street stand, I shopped for food essentials: eggs, milk and flat bread. I also looked for instant coffee, which I later found out is as scarce product, specially in a Turkish shop, since Turkey is known for their particular method of coffee preparation. I instantly regretted not packing some instant coffee as well.

Fruit and vegetable street stand of a “turkish supermarket”.

Despite these minor glitches in my anticipation of the type of products available and their pricing, I was happy to be returning home from my first outing with enough products to have a shower and cook some eggs for breakfast on my first morning in Berlin.

A bar of soap, shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste and face cream.

Eggs and milk.

 

Mobility

My next priority for my days in Berlin: mobility. I had done some online scouting for information about public transport in Berlin and had been told about how efficient it was, with its integrated system of U-bahn, S-bahn, trams and buses. However I couldn’t help but notice the amount of bikes circulating at all times, as well as how cycling infrastructure seems to be a priority in the city. There are bike lanes and bike-parking places everywhere I look; my own building has a bike garage! Bikes are allowed inside public transport without charge, and meters away from my door are two shops that sell new and second hand bikes, and also do bike maintenance.

Bicycle parking.

A bicycle “garage” of an apartment building.

On my first days in Berlin, the weather was almost20ºC. There was an atmosphere of spring celebration in the air, the trees blooming in small pink and white cherry blossom flowers, kids playing in the parks and adults simply sitting down on benches or on the grass, enjoying the sun. I walked around my district, and went further to adjoining districts. When the time came to using public transport to reach more distant areas, I found myself wondering why so many people cycle in Berlin. I spoke with my landlady about it, and she said that using a bike is easy in Berlin, since the city is flat. Furthermore, I could observe that even on weekdays and peak hours, cars are at a minimum, which could only make cycling in Berlin safe. On considering that I would need to move around the city to get to know it and to meet participants in the research with more distant districts being at least a twenty-minute ride away, I decided to enter one of the shops near my house to investigate the price range for bikes. On my second visit, I was happy to leave the shop with a second-hand bike in mint condition for the price of 3 months of the BVG monthly pass. Hopefully the bike will make it easier to get to know this huge city.
Until next time,
Diana

Letters from the field: Lisbon #1, Cityscapes

Image of a stylised map of central Lisbon; Source unknown

In my previous 2 blog posts on Lisbon, I introduced migration in relation to tourism, and in relation to colonialism. In this post, I will introduce you to Lisbon as a city as I undertake the ethnographic fieldwork as part of this research project, TRANSITS. Being new to the city and indeed the country, having moved here late last year, I offer the personal impressions of a migrant.

Lisbon is the capital of Portugal, though perhaps not as busy as many capitals around the world. In fact, life here moves at a slow pace, a pace at which having a coffee is perhaps more important than being on time for a scheduled meeting. This can be beautiful, while simultaneously baffling for an outsider. One gets used to it, and learns to appreciate these mundane aspects of everyday life in this growing city.

The city itself is part of a broader region or district, and appears to grow out from a small ‘downtown’ area as the River Tagus kinks inward. This downtown area is replete with leg-aching slopes and beautiful views from which one can appreciate the cityscape. This area itself is hardly lived-in, save for the tourists replacing each other in drones, and the numerous new upmarket (‘hipster’) cafes and eateries. Here, there is much shopping to do, and many pictures to take.

  

Images by author (Sinead D’Silva)

Along the coast, inward, the officescapes of ‘Expo’, or Parque de Nações, reflects a different commercial area of Lisbon – it is not as dedicated to tourism, but reflects some amount of the hustle and bustle expected of a capital city. As the city sprawls outward to the Atlantic Ocean, residential buildings become more commonplace. A mix of purposeful houses built during the Estado Novo and new developments greet you, a shift from downtown’s quaint old iconic buildings.

Further out on the train within ‘Greater Lisbon’, residential landscapes become more visible, sometimes in need of upkeep; and the hustle and bustle of the city fades away. Further on still, you notice a change in landscape telling of class differences. If you go North from here you are greeted by quintas (farms) and mountains. You are in Sintra. If you continue along the coast, you find yourself in Cascais, a trendy seaside location. From my perspective, you also spot a hint more money in the air, sometimes observable through attire and accents. It is also interesting to note how ethnically diverse the city as a whole appears to be, which for European cities does seem surprising. Though when the city rests, the different places people call home hint at a class-race disparity.

Images by author (Sinead D’Silva)

This is the cityscape of Lisbon, and already I have found that others have navigated it differently.

Media, Context and the Shaping of Contemporary Movements across the Atlantic – Marta Vilar Rosales, University of Lisbon

This presentation explores the present-day circulations between Portugal and Brazil. Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork carried out over four years on both Atlantic coasts, the presentation examines a particular aspect of a broad and complex field of research in contemporary mobility studies – how and to what extent migrants interact with and make use of media contents to feed imaginaries and expectations, design positioning strategies, manage belonging and handle exclusion and inclusion in the different spatial, cultural and political contexts that comprise their migration experiences. The presentation examines print content published by the Portuguese media during the time frame of analysis (2011-15). The discussion will focus on three topics: Portugal as a hospitable and inclusive context to foreign middle classes; the attractiveness of diverse migration destinations to the Portuguese population; and the particular social, economic and political framework at play at the time, which promoted the simultaneous exploration of pull and push factors for migration in Portugal and Brazil, by the Portuguese media.

Date and Time

Fri., 5 April 2019

3:00 pm – 4:30 pm

Location

MECO Seminar Room, S226, John Woolley Building A20, University of Sydney

https://www.eventbrite.com.au/e/media-context-and-the-shaping-of-contemporary-movements-across-the-atlantic-marta-vilar-rosales-tickets-57953475405

Migration and migrants in the media

The farewell of Portuguese migrants (DN); Protests in favor of refugees in Germany (Reuters/Fabrizio Bensch); Immigrant detention center in the Manus Island, Australia (Reuters)

The analysis of the media is a contextualization task, the objective of which is to help us understand the prevalent representations of migrants and migration issues, as well as the prevalent representations of the contexts covered by our project (Portugal, Angola, Australia and Germany).

Written press sources from each of the countries were selected according to their representativeness in terms of circulation, influence on public opinion and tendency to reproduce the content of other national publications. The news pieces were collected via the newspapers’ websites. The period covered is January 2017 to June 2018.

The task is ongoing, however, we have finalized the collection and preliminary analysis of the Portuguese newspapers Público e Diário de Notícias, from which a total of 818 journalistic pieces have been collected.

Relating to migration, the themes most covered by these two newspapers were, firstly, the restrictive migratory policies in countries like the USA,  Italy and Hungary; followed by the Mediterranean migratory flow. In terms of national themes, those most written about were  Golden Visas and the naturalisation of migrants. Within emigration, the bulk of the focus was about demography and specific professions.

Australia appears mainly in pieces about terrorism and pedophilia. Migration here appears in relation to the illegal detention of refugeesThe news about Portuguese in Australia are overwhelmingly concerning surf events. There are no pieces about Australians in Portugal.

The pieces concerning Angola report mainly the economic crisisthe power transition between presidents Santos and Lourenço and operation Fizz. As for migration, the news reports on migratory policies. News about Portuguese-Angolan relations focuses on diplomatic and economic relations. The news coverage about Angolans in Portugal is very small, with a focus on the number of Angolans who live in Portugal, and Angolan students’ difficulties in receiving money from Angola.

Germany is portrayed as a  strong economy that influences Europe and Portugal. News about migration focus on crimes against immigrants and immigration advocatesmigration policies and refugees. Portuguese migrants appear in news about nurses and Portuguese companies in trade fairs.  News about Germans in Portugal focus on German companies.

We will continue to share our findings as they emerge.

Migration to Portugal: A very brief story of colonialism

In the first blog post about migration to Portugal, we attempted to trace the recent trends in migration with tourism as a route facilitating the same. The aim was to highlight the ways in which the idea of an idyllic, relaxed, cheap, yet budding economy has resulted in people being attracted to the geography. However, this has not been the only cause, and migration is not new to Portugal. Since the 1400s, Portugal was a coloniser country and remained so until the end of the 1900s. It was only in 1974 that decolonisation as a process was initiated by the country following the overthrow of the near-50-year-long dictatorship through what came to be called the Carnation Revolution. Portuguese Colonisation saw the movement of people and things between colonies and to the coloniser.

Fuelled by wealth from the Catholic Church and the nobility, Portuguese ships set sail from the ports of the country and its neighbouring Spain, starting first with the African continent. The main agendas were therefore conversion (to Catholicism) and trade. Thus, there was a systematic flow of people in the direction of the colonies for purposes of ruling and extracting resources. However, another aspect was important to trade, that of the ‘trade’ of labour, i.e. humans, particularly from the African continent, called the Slave Trade. Lisbon saw the first ‘consignment’ of slaves arrive from the so-called ‘discoveries’ in the African continent in 1441. The slave trade was nothing more than an assertion of power to help construct nations on the basis of racist white supremacy, and Portugal has recorded the highest number of people trafficked through this.

Over the years, and under the belief that Portugal did not have ‘colonies’ but rather extensions of the Portuguese world, there has been significant movements of people, largely from Europe to the colonies but also vice versa. The objective of Portuguese colonialism was to build a Portuguese culture across geography, done by replacing local culture and language. However, this subsequently presented the opportunity for Portuguese speaking countries to maintain some ties amongst themselves.

Colonialism remains a contested part of Portuguese history. In Lisbon, recent proposals to build a museum of colonialism was a point of debate amongst scholars in the country, some of which wrote an open letter condemning such a move for its potential to glorify colonialism. Lisbon itself already venerates its colonial past through the rather blatantly titled Monument of Discoveries, and its maritime advances through the Maritime Museum in the capital and elsewhere throughout the country, not limited to the southern coast, Algarve. Earlier in 2018, a memorial monument for those who suffered under slavery too was contested with some suggesting that Portuguese colonialism was relatively timid. Pitted against Spanish colonialism which employed massacre as its modus operandi, Portugal used (cultural) assimilation to gain control of their colony. It does appear that Portugal is attempting to clear their name for the deeds by extending support to migrants arriving through what has recently been called the ‘Refugee Crisis’ in Europe. The long-term effects of this attempt to build up a recovering economy is yet to be seen.

The debate on migration in Portugal is therefore not new. There are multi-faceted ways in which Portugal portrays itself as a destination for migrants. It is against this backdrop that we must consider the movements of people, and understand who occupies which aspect of life in Portugal. The nationalities proposed for this study offer a unique diversity of typically richer economies. The rhetoric of migration is often focused on a South-North flow, with a notion of the poor from the South moving for economic or social reasons to the ‘rich’ North. Little attention is paid to movement of elites to the North, for example, and the complexities regarding who travels from where, and for what purpose.

Stories of migrants in Berlin – by Reuters

«More than 1 million people have come to Germany as migrants since 2015 under Chancellor Angela Merkel’s open door policy.»

However, Merkle’s policies and views on migration have made her unpopular amongst the most conservative and the increasingly powerful far right,  both in Germany and in the EU.

On the eve of the CDU voting on Angela Merkle successor for the 2021 Germany election,  Reuters published in its photojournalism website “The Wider Image”, a piece that tells the stories of three migrants in Berlin:  Ali Mohammad Rezaie from Afghanistan, Haidar Darwish from Syria and Joseph Saliba, from Syria.

They are stories about their own personal pathways to integration in the city of Berlin.

Read it here!

16 AUG 2018. BERLIN, GERMANY. REUTERS/FABRIZIO BENSCH

Migration to Portugal: The touristification of Lisbon

It has been 10 years since the European Financial Crisis of 2008. In 2011, Portugal’s request for financial assistance through loans worth €78 billion from the EU and IMF came with directives of the Troika to implement austerity measures in order to see to the funds being returned. Under the right-wing government, these policies were quickly implemented, despite the crippling effect it would have on the population. This also included cutting spending on public services including healthcare. The dissatisfaction with such policies which had a crippling effect on the lives of Portuguese people was particularly seen through protests in Lisbon.

The repercussions of the crisis often focus on austerity measures implemented in the country, displacing many in search of jobs elsewhere within the EU and indeed afar. However, following the election of a left-wing, socialist government, the shift away from austerity has said to have brought about a drastic improvement in the economy. By 2017, Portugal had repaid its bailout loans. Rejecting austerity and investment in social enterprise supported the situation. However, it was also the blossoming of another industry that supported this change, namely tourism. In 2017, Portugal recorded receiving 12.7 million international tourists, a third of which was to Lisbon. Lisbon, in particular, has become a hub of attraction not only for leisure seekers, but also those looking for employment in the sector. The relatively low cost of living, compared to the remainder of Western Europe, is another point of attraction. The capital Lisbon continues to attract young people en masse who choose to stay for prolonged periods of time owing to the allure of the location. Simultaneous to this, young Portuguese people have been leaving the country in search of better-paid employment even before the crisis. This decline in the country’s population has resulted in the Prime Minister, Antonio Costa, calling for a push in immigration to the country, particularly skilled labour.

Despite the positive implications of tourism which, it would appear, results in migration to the country for long durations, these changes to come with some warnings. As people migrate and visit the city, it raises questions about the sustainability of such an industry, including whether the country has considered problems of over-tourism. Nevertheless, Portugal has somewhat emerged from its cocoon of crisis. It is yet to be seen whether tourism carries the country into a utopia or dystopic Brave New World.

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