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I learnt everything, except science

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Poverty in rural Portugal
Paula Rego Artist
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The school books I had to read, first class, second class and fourth class, that’s what we had... I did my first three years in Portuguese. It had pictures of the happiness of Portuguese life, which was: A country house — a peasant’s house — okay, where the woman was... had an apron, very clean apron. There were roses hanging outside the window, the little boy would be writing at a table, his exercises, and the father would be coming in with a satch... or a kind of digging instrument on his back, and said is supper ready. And that was happiness and contentment for all in a rural scene, which of course it was not like this. It was utter and destitute poverty. And big families and... Enormous families because you couldn’t have abortion... You couldn’t... you had families, you know, never ending. And immense poverty and misery, drunk fathers, not fathers with things, you know. Because, you know, like somebody who da... who dug all day, it was paid like a little and part of the payment was five litres of red wine. So by the end of the day they’d be, you know, a little bit sloshed, but they were so used to it that it was nothing and they’d go on drinking. And violent if they needed to be to their wives or their children, yeah. They’d come home and, you know, they weren’t in a very good condition. There was not enough food; it was a misery. And I’d lived, I... because my grandparents had this... this quinta, which is a kind of country house farm, more like a farm because it had chickens and it had a pig and all that sort of thing, on the beach called Ericeira, a fishing beach, and there was utter poverty there because if the fishermen couldn’t get any fish, of course they didn’t have anything to sell. And during winter they wouldn’t go out fishing because it was very rough, the seas were immensely dangerous. And so there was the most immense misery you can imagine, terrible, terrible. And so it wasn’t at all like, oh, happy family, contented, etc. It was just a lie, complete lie. Children were taught all these lies right from the beginning; the whole thing was lies. And people learned how to tell lies very easily... it is easy to tell a lie, after all... and also to pretend and to be deceptive.

Portuguese painter Paula Rego, became part of the London Group in 1965, was shortlisted for the Turner Prize in 1989 and became the first Associate Artist of the National Gallery in London in 1990. Her work is strongly influenced by folk and fairy tales, especially those of her homeland.

Listeners: Catherine Lampert

Catherine Lampert is an independent curator, art historian and Visiting Professor at the University of the Arts. She was director of the Whitechapel Art Gallery (1988-2001) and has been a model for Frank Auerbach since 1978. Her recent projects include exhibitions of Rodin (Royal Academy 2006) and Lucian Freud (Dublin, Denmark and The Hague 2007-2008) as well as a book on Francis Alys (Turner Libros) and a catalogue raisonné of Euan Uglow's paintings (Yale University Press 2007).

Duration: 2 minutes, 27 seconds

Date story recorded: August 2007

Date story went live: 17 July 2008