"Porto." interviewed Neill Lochery about "Porto: Gateway to the World"

  • Dulce Pereira Abrantes

  • Article


"Porto." interviewed Neill Lochery about "Porto: Gateway to the World". This interview was conducted at Casa do Roseiral, Mayor of Porto's Official residence. Rui Moreira welcomed Professor Neill Lochery and his wife/Agent Emma Lochery before the interview.

Neill Lochery agreed to discuss what inspired the book "Porto: Gateway to the World", his research and findings on Porto from a historian viewpoint, especially why does it speak of the importance of Porto in the Portuguese Empire till present day power structure in Portugal.

Neill Lochery (born 1965) is a Scottish author and leading historian on the Modern History of Europe and the Mediterranean Middle East. Lochery is Professor of Middle Eastern and Mediterranean Studies at University College London. He is a frequent contributor to newspapers and journal publications around the world. Neill is married and has two children. He divides his time between London, Portugal and the United States. He is an improving golfer, and enjoys a round of the great Scottish game.

His latest book is "Porto: Gateway to the World" (2020) has just been released.

"Porto is a great city, which is rich in History, it's a beautiful place in the present and in the future it has the potential to become even more important"

Neill Lochery

Porto.: Professor Lochery, you travel around the world and deliver lectures...

Lochery: Absolutely! Well, not at the moment (!), but usually I travel a lot to give talks to not only academics but public talks as well.

Porto.: One of the themes of your topic research is Cultural understanding. Does that help contextualise your writing?

Lochery: I think so, I don't think cultural understanding is by itself everything, but it is an important aspect of history; I mean, there are different aspects of history that you can look at, for example, in Porto, you can look at cultural history, you can look at economic history, political history; they're all interrelated, one doesn't exist without the other. But culturally, I am very interested in Porto because of its distinctiveness from Lisbon, and how very unique it is, I think. 

Porto.: Married, two children, lovely wife (and agent), improving golfe...

Lochery: I am a terrible golfer, if the truth be known; I have played since I was a boy; in Scotland, when you're a boy you have to play golf.

Porto.: Golf was actually invented in Scotland, right?

Lochery: Yes, it was invented in Scotland, and some of the most beautiful golf courses are in Scotland. To play golf in Portugal is very expensive, when in Scotland, most of the golf courses were owned by the state, so they were quite cheap to play. But I am a terrible golfer, I am still trying to learn. It's very good to be humbled by something that no matter how much you try you're not very good at it. My son is very good, which makes it even worse. We've played the Lochery Cup every year, which is just me and him. And he wins.

Porto.: Can you describe yourself briefly, by stating what immediately comes to mind regarding family background and also intellectually?

Lochery: My family background is very traditionally Scottish, which in some ways resembles parts of Portugal, a little bit; I come from a small town in Scotland, Dumfries, which is famous for Rabbie Burns (Robert Burns, 25 January 1759 - 21 July 1796), a famous Scottish poet and also, more recently an annoying DJ who my children listen to called Calvin Harris.

Why is it similar to Porto? I would say the importance of the river and the sea.

I came to Portugal in 1980's, and worked at the British Council, in Coimbra, doing cultural activities, it was a very interesting place back in 1986, only twelve years after the Revolution (Carnation Revolution). Being in Portugal at that time was very interesting, there was no motorway to Porto, the motorway stopped at Condeixa.

I came to Porto quite a lot, for a reason that was very different; I love jazz, I play trumpet, and I came to the jazz school here and had a trumpet teacher here in Porto, at the Jazz school. I came up from Coimbra every Thursday night and stayed in Porto Thursday night and went back to Coimbra after having some lessons on Friday; there was nothing in Coimbra for jazz, that's why I came here.

So I could see culturally Porto in the 1980's, which was very interesting, was very different to Lisbon, very different to Coimbra.

Porto.: It was your first connection to Porto, then...

Lochery: Yes, everyone wore black in Porto, and everyone in Lisbon was wearing Benetton jeans, and luminous orange shirts; but Porto was very different, there was a different cultural scene here, quite jazz centric, which I really liked, but even the pop music coming out of Porto at the time was very different. Jazz is a very important part of my life.

Porto. : So, intellectually, how would you describe yourself?

Lochery: That's a very good question (laughs). Intellectually, I always want to learn more. I've set my sights on learning as much as I can about Portugal, and different periods of Portuguese History. Portugal is a very small country, but its history is enormously rich, and has very distinct interesting phases, and so I'm very interested in learning more and more about Portuguese culture. This book (Porto: Gateway to the World) was commissioned by The Fladgate Partnership, who is doing World of Wine in Gaia. I'm interested in different time periods.

Porto.: On that note, of different time periods, what are you views, as an historian, on this time period, namely the current pandemic and how do you view the post-pandemic world?

Lochery: I think the current pandemic is going to have, obviously, enormous impact on not only individuals but also on society, it's going to have enormous impact in places like Porto in terms of Tourism, and also in terms of financial questions, in terms on how it is going to change things.

I think to a large degree that depends on we have a second wave, a third wave; when you look back at history, the closest thing that we could see to this is the Spanish Flu. In 1917-1918, which was enormously significant; to some extent, it helped determine the outcome of World War I, but I do think it is very early to draw lessons or to say where we're likely to go.

My own personal opinion is it can go two different ways; it could encourage so-called intractable conflicts to enter into negotiations, for example, let's take Israel and the Palestinians, perhaps it can indicate the interdependence of the co-existence of these two people, who are both facing a similar threat and maybe that will lead to the negotiations, and in other areas of conflict, or it can go the opposite direction, and what you can see happening is essentially a decline in economic resources that leads to greater economic competition and therefore more conflict; conflict for the economic resources and this might lead to an increase in wars in Europe and across the globe as well.

So, from that perspective it is very difficult to see, at the moment, it's very early days and I think, as I said, an awful lot depends historically on how extended period of time this Covid-19 is. If it goes on till October or even next year, then I think we'll see substantial change, from an historic point of view.

But we say in English Cristal ball glazing, looking into the future and placing things in a historic perspective is very difficult if you don't know the end-result. Everything can change very quickly.

When it happened before, in 1918, we did not have this level of interconnectivity between countries. You were not able to get on a plane in Stansted Airport and fly to Porto in two hours, there wasn't the movement of people, not only for tourism, but for work, as well.

Porto.: What type of sources did you research to write the book?

Lochery: Archives, I went to the archives in America, in Spain, in England, in Portugal, ironically the archive of Porto is held is Lisbon, in Torre do Tombo.

Interesting story is that when I was looking at Porto, in the British National Archives, I actually felt unwell because the documents were covered with so much dust, no one had opened these documents, some of the documents from the seventh and the eighteenth century, from a very long time, it was almost the first time, and you take the ribbon off and then you have to clean the documents very carefully and all the dust was going in, days after day, it was very interesting. I don't think many people really looked at Porto, Lisbon, in turn, different people looked at Lisbon for different reasons I think, kings and queens, the capital city.

I always find interesting that people when they talk of the Portuguese Empire they always focus on Lisbon, because a lot of the research has been done by foreigners before, which some of it is very good. Porto is very important for the empire, as well.

A very interesting discovery when I was researching for my previous book on Lisbon, the Liberal period was extremely interesting.

I found, when I was researching in Lisbon, increasingly more and more that the political developments that had taken place in Portugal had their origins in Porto and that was a very interesting question. Why? Why that happened, this kind of evolution of politics, this division between absolutists and liberals, the siege here in Porto, the Constitution being declared in 1820. It is very interesting to sort of understand why these divisions happened, and some happened because of ideology, and some happened because of competition for power.

Porto.: Do you think that Porto works better collectively as a city than the country as a whole?

Lochery: It's a really good question, and we, historians, we call it the Barcelona question, because people in Catalunha ask us the same, you know. Why are we so much more successfully economically than the rest of Spain, possibly with the exception of the Basques.

An the question is basically why is the majority of economic wealth concentrated in Porto, the Northern area, and there is a short answer and a long answer.

The short answer is people in Porto and in the North work very hard, the ethos of work is very important here; I joked in the interview I gave last week (Notícias Magazine) that the rush hour starts earlier, when one of the first things I noticed when coming to Porto was rush hour into Lisbon starts about ten to ten, , because it's government work, they start at 10 o'clock, here in Porto when we first came I was like "wow" rush hour is much earlier here.

And people take less time for lunch here, as well; so that's the short answer: work, ethos, very strong.

The long answer is that Porto developed industrially very differently to Lisbon. The development of infrastructure in Porto was very different, the infrastructure of creating railroad lines, roads, etc., happened at different points to Lisbon, and in many ways Lisbon became over reliant on the Empire - the goodies, the gold and everything from the empire - and being the seat of the Monarchy, the seat of Government, it created a very different kind of environment.

Porto developed very differently in the nineteenth century in a way that was very different to Lisbon, and even when you look at more contemporary issues, like the last economic crisis - 2010/2011 - the response in Porto and in Lisbon was very different. 

Porto.: You have already explained why you titled this book "Porto: Gateway to the World" (using an expression by Kofi Annan when he visited Porto in 1994), but was this your first choice or was it a working title?

Lochery: Usually the answer to that question is that I have a working title, never gets published, but in this case it was a title, right from the start, I thought it was a nice phrase that expressed Porto's connection to the outside world, and how it's been a merchant city and how it's been linked historically, even before tourism, the last ten years, to the outside world. I think this is my book number twelve and this is the first time the working title has been the actual title. 

Porto.: How to you think local power will develop towards central power? We were seeing that trend a bit everywhere in Europe...

Lochery: You asked me a question that was about the historical impact of the pandemic, and one of the historical impacts might be to go absolutely against what you've just said. The trend was going absolutely in that direction, towards the evolution of more autonomy for the regions, mayors taking on more and more power. One of the impacts of the pandemic may be the reversal of that and the strengthening of central power. Because central government will say this is a national emergency and then you'll have a small elite controlling.

Porto.: You mention the importance of Porto Airport, Francisco Sá Carneiro Airport. How do you see that regarding Porto's role both at national and international level?

Lochery: Porto Airport must not become just an airport for tourists coming from Europe, it must become an international airport, it has to fly, as it did before the pandemic, to Emirates, which is the hub to Asia, and it need more flights there, it needs additional flights to Brazil, one or two flights a day is not enough and that is a job for a national airline, as TAP; it needs far more flights to New York. I mean, whenever I fly to New York from Porto I have to go through Madrid, which is not ideal, it takes a long time. It is important that when flight open people can get directly here.

Porto.: Why have you organised your book "First Part, first day, morning, and then afternoon...

Lochery: I wanted to make it like a tour, and that people had something achievable, and if I did not divide, for example, in day one and Day two, people might try to do it all in two hours. So I tried to say: "Look, take the morning and look at this or take the afternoon and go and do this", but I broke it out (the book) because I thought it would be nice to break it out; I have walked it, I've walked the whole thing, so I know what's achievable. You can read the book without doing the tour but I thought it would be nice.