Chelas skatepark - A short essay on a Glen Jones Photo

Chelas Skatepark, Lisboa, shot by Glen Jones. Authour Sebastião Belfort Cerqueira

I shouldn’t need to describe it, I mean, it’s right there, above these words, you can see it. But pointing at stuff and shouting, I was told, is not how essays are meant to go, so I’ll go ahead and describe it anyway.

It’s a sunny picture, with barely any hard shadows worth noticing, but the sun isn’t glaring at us. There’s a certain freshness about the scene. The skatepark is nestled snugly in a green valley. It’s true, there is one big, fuck-off building that takes up some space, but all the others seem relatively unthreatening, and there is a lot of sky to be seen. It feels like you can breathe here. The way it is shot from above, from the hilltop, makes us feel like we just got there. We’ve just climbed the hill and we’ve found it. Plus it’s empty. It’s all ours to skate. It’s like we’ve come to the end of our search, it’s the bloody enchanted valley, the promised land, heaven for a skateboarder. All those banks and transitions are inviting us to come down and roll forever.

Let’s focus on the buildings for a moment. It’s not easy, I mean, why should I give a shit? I just want to go skate. But just for the sake of the argument, let’s say the buildings in the background are important. It’s also relevant to know that the scene is set in Chelas. Chelas has been for many years Lisboa’s flagship ghetto.

About Glen Jones

Sort of like The Bronx in the 70s. Public housing with bad architecture, kind of cutt off from the rest of the city, and criss-crossed by speedways and overpasses. It’s probably the first place where the more affluent people in Lisboa will tell you not to go. And yet, for a skateboarder, none of this detracts from the idyll in the picture above. That’s why I think this photo is emblematic of our relation to skateparks, and also to street spots. The way Chelas Skatepark just gleams in the valley, calling to us, is exactly the way any good skatepark or skate spot would shine in our eyes, even if it was surrounded by rubble and garbage under an overcast sky. 

There is an internal logic to a skate spot that either draws us in or doesn’t. Once it does, whatever else is around just fades away. I mean, I’ve spent many hours in the Fernão Ferro skatepark. Fernão Ferro is not a charming place. I’m willing to bet lots of people would describe it as a shithole. I loved it. People would ask me “Why the hell would you go to Fernão Ferro?” just the way many people in Lisboa would ask you “Why the hell would you go to Chelas?” Then we’d pick up Glen Jones’ photo and be back to pointing and screaming: “Can’t you see why?” Of course the answer is they could, if they were skaters.

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