She swapped Brussels for the Portuguese capital and has become a militant and passionate Lisboeta.
She grew up in a “small and lovely city which has proudly cultivated its rebellious, bon vivant and absurd nature since the Middle Ages”, she explains. In beautiful Gent, Belgium, she studied History and is interested in “human behaviour and its context”, but spent more time on the university newspaper and student radio that at lectures. She realised “how journalism can change lives” and ventured into reporting, visiting schools up and down the country for an education magazine and went with Greenpeace to Amazonia at the age of just 25: “Incredible!” She became an activist in her own city – “You can use it as a canvas” – and set up the Use It platform (website and app) about themes connected to Gent’s history and identity. It was a success and branched out into other European cities, including Porto, her first love in Portugal. Towards the end of the 90s, she bought a boat to live on and travel, “It’s cool, but it’s so easy for someone to untie the rope and make off”. Some neighbours set up Damn magazine, where Vos still writes about design, architecture and art. In her first text, she went to meet the families who are surrounded by walls in Palestine and what still remains of Banksy’s art on them.
Gent became too small and Vos moved onto Brussels. She wrote about the capital for The Bulletin magazine, portraying its different communities, which number 170: “there’s little information about the Portuguese because, unlike the others who make themselves heard, they’re discreet and integrated.” It was the starting point for Lusobelgae, a documentary and book she produced alongside photographer José Fernandes, which made her look at Portugal as “more than a holiday destination”.
Her trips became more regular and Lisbon joined Istanbul, São Paulo and Berlin as one of her favourite cities. The first book she bought here was Cozinha Tradicional Portuguesa by Maria de Lourdes Modesto, which “is an introduction to the Portuguese culture. The amount of history found inside an alheira sausage!” She moved, arriving in Lisbon in her old, fully-loaded Saab in February, 2012 and says the Alfama neighbourhood chose her. She lives in a home which opens up to the surrounding housing with the Tagus down below, but is considering moving because the neighbourhood is very crowded. Living in a country with so much history, “is like a bag of sweets for an historian!” she says. “Portugal is a kind of Wonderland: I open one door and there are crazy legends, beautiful nature and long-standing traditions; I open another and there’s a ruin from the Middle Ages or an incredible palace transformed into a hotel or a hidden piece of architecture created by a Pritzker prize-winner and another leads me to a spring or a flock of sheep following their shepherd.”
VAnd, of course, she rolled up her sleeves and organised a meeting of artists at a palace in Príncipe Real, and learnt an important Portuguese verb, “desenrascar” (roughly “to wing it”): “I thought: ‘OK, it’s a complete mess, we’re going to be late’ and then, as if by magic, everything fell into place and perfect”, she laughs. “It’s good to be a hybrid. What will save us in the future, with all that we’re seeing today, is being increasingly flexible, ready to change – and the Portuguese are good at that. Even in historical times, without anything, they picked up their bags and went. And when things aren’t going well, they move on again, they mix, everyone speaks to everyone, they try each other’s dishes and could never imagine that being considered strange” she laughs. Vos says there’s no lack of beautiful and sunny cities, but she fell in love with the Portuguese people: “They have a strong character and values, even in the villages, people who didn’t go to school share a humanism, kindness and profoundness. They don’t make small talk, or try to impose themselves or be the centre of attention (this is similar to the Belgians), they’re easygoing.” She remembers: “When I arrived in Portugal there was an economic crisis and I took part in the first big demonstration against the troika and austerity. I saw thousands of people across the country on a silent march. Incredible. Without understanding a word, I asked friends what were written on the banners: ‘Aaah, they’re poems’. Seriously? Wow! Outraged pacifists! It’s not that you’re happy with everything, you speak up, but you’ve got a different soul.” The only Belgian things she would “love to move in here are the croquettes aux crevettes grises à l’Ostendaise, a half-dozen bars and a decent shot of absurdity and rebellion to kick the soft customs.” That apart, “I think I got to the place where I always wanted to be.”
Vos already knows Portugal from top to bottom and has created a blog, lisboneye.eu, where she does her favourite sport: wandering aimlessly, sticking her nose in and sharing enthusiasm. Now she plans to become a “travel company”, ditching her computer and doing guided tours or workshops. She’s also turned her passion into a personal travel guide, which began as a joke between friends who took photographs of her sprawled across the floor, in a blue dress and high heels, in front of different landscapes, beaches and national monuments. They’re now taken by Yves Callewaert, another Lisbon-based Belgian and they’re about to turn them into a book and exhibition (todieforportugal.com). Catch a glimpse at todieforportugal.com. She sees this as an interesting time for the country, as it undergoes a transition process. “It has a great future. And the Portuguese are open and have their feet on the ground, they’re not afraid of the unknown. They’ve been specialists in slow living since long before the concept existed and became hip.
by Patrícia Barnabé /// photo Marisa Cardoso
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