The original Portuguese Artists Colony was founded by the legendary Spanish explorer Marcos de Marco. Marcos discovered Portugal in 1982 after being blown off course while on a trip from suburban Madrid to the grocery store, and gave Portugal its original name, “The Wal-Mart Super Center.” He named it after his father, Wal-marto de Supercenteriul. Tragically, Marcos died of rickets on the difficult drive home, and never got to tell his children that he was sending them to bed without any supper.
- Benjamin Wachs, Founding Colonist
The Wal-Mart Super Center, however, began to flourish thanks to its balmy climate and two-for-one deals on bulk purchases of garden gnomes. It was so prosperous, in fact, that today a full half of the world’s garden gnomes come from what is now Portugal. Tragically, in many parts of the world, they are viciously oppressed, according to a report from Amnesty International’s Gardening Center, and China refuses to recognize their native form of Buddhism.
But while it thrived economically, what is now Portugal was politically turbulent. The Wal-Mart Super Center was forced to change its name after an anti-trust lawsuit filed by a Russian conglomerate named Sam Walton, and the country was renamed “Kmart’s everyday low, low prices” in 1985. It was not a democracy at this time, but instead an oligarchy ruled by tourists. Some of their policies were enlightened - such as complimentary drink specials on Tuesday - but all too often they oppressed the native people with a constant barrage of requests like “Where is the bathroom?” and “I’ll have the pasta special” and even, in one notorious incident in 1987 captured on tape by CBS news, “Can you take my luggage up to my room?”
It was in this climate of tyranny amid prosperity, oppression amid decadence, that the first Portuguese Artists Colony came of age. Perhaps it was a time not so different from our own.
In 1991, the poet Silvio di Fiorae, often regarded as the voice of early “Kmart’s Everyday Low, Low Prices’” because he announced daily specials over the PA system on weekday mornings, broke the chains of oppression and gave voice to his people’s suffering in the short poem “There Will Be No Cleanup in Aisle 4.”
It’s a poem that every Portuguese school child can look up on the internet by heart. Though little known outside its native land, it still has the power to move the world. I would like to quote a few lines from it for you now, but I won’t, because I never get what I want.
Silvio di Fiorae became a hero, especially to the young, and they sought his teaching: the informal literary salons that he held in a formal hair salon were the beginning of the Portuguese Artists Colony, as much a literary movement as it was political, as a much a free cut with any perm as it was a political statement. Congratulations poured in from around the world. Nelson Mandela called di Fiorae “a genius.” The Dalai Lama said he was “a man of uncommonly beautiful words,” and Vidal Sassoon told him “Nice hair.”
That was too much for the tourists who ruled Kmart’s Everyday Low, Low Prices, and in 1997 di Fiorae and six of his leading students were arrested, tried on charges of excessively free verse, and sent into exile. The Portuguese Artists Colony was now a gypsy caravan, traveling around the world, trying to find a new home. In this economy.
They traveled first to Spain, the mother country, but could not stay there despite their fervent wishes, because Span had just switched to a poetry HMO, and Portuguese artists were considered out of network. If they’d stayed, Spain would have had to pay for them entirely out of pocket, and couldn’t afford it. So Spain sent the Portuguese Artists Colony away, and instead picked up a book of Robert Lowell and pretended to enjoy it.
The Portuguese Artists Colony went to Prague, where they fell in love with a bartender named Ilsa, and then to Ireland, where they learned all the words to Danny Boy. It was around this time that their home country was finally named “Portugal” – a wholly owned subsidiary of Alcoa. Bringing you the best in coconut byproducts and garden gnomes. With a name like Portugal, it has to be good.
It was also at this time that Portuguese Artists Colony founder Silvio di iForae won the Nobel Prize for exile.
Eventually the colony came to New York, where they were greeted as liberators, and then moved west, hitchhiking to Los Angeles, where they got into the porn industry and made the movie “Cleanup in Aisle 4.” Flush with cash, they traveled to San Francisco, which has been their permanent home since 2006.
And it is a home. They have apartments now, and community. Founder Silvio di Fiorae got a sex change operation and continues to lead the colony under the name “Caitlin Myer.” A new day is dawning, for artists and tourists and garden gnomes alike – and we are here to tell you, once again, that there will be no cleanup in aisle 4.Thank you.
- Benjamin Wachs, Founding Colonist