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It’s ten in the morning and the cloudy weather makes the idea of a walk in the city even more attractive. Autumn suits Lisbon’s colours. I am staying at a hotel on Lisbon’s central avenue, Avenida de Liberdade (‘Lisbon’s Champs Elysees’ said the friendly taxi driver who picked me up from the airport; ‘mutatis mutandis’ I would say!) and I start walking down the big avenue with the garden-decorated pavements towards the city centre. As I pass by the windows of the few prestigious fashion boutiques I am surprised that I am not in the mood to take a look. I have this sense that Lisbon’s faded and kind of vintage beauty opposes contemporary luxurious aesthetics or I already feel the saudade, I feel like I am back in Athens missing this walk. As the first raindrops land on my head I reach the central square, Praça do Comércio, situated near Tagus river that spreads its aura over the city. It’s a time of the day when a silent vibrancy is evident in the city. It’s like I’m watching the city life on mute (or maybe I’m facing a hearing impairment from yesterday’s flight). I am observing Portuguese women and I am trying to recall Portuguese women I know. They are a few but they have something in common with regards to their appearances, especially their faces which I can’t quite define. I am heading right up on the hill, behind Baixa-Chiado station towards the famous ‘A brasileira’ café, where I meet the famous statue of the poet Fernando Pessoa welcoming visitors at the yard outside the café. I’m finding my place at one of the tables aligned along one side of the narrow aisle, next to a senior man who reads his paper and fortunately totally ignores me. I had in deed missed this sense of familiarity, complicity even, evident in this kind of places where I mingle with people with whom I just want to share my privacy. I open up my Moleskin and write down some thoughts trying to capture in words this bliss that has inhibited me and has cleared my mind. A few hours ago I was very stressed back in Athens involved in activities that viewed from a distanced seemed like a divergence from what I really wanted to do and who I really wanted to be. Ι make some plans that fill me with happiness and as I look around I realize that I need very few things in order to be happy. I swear to myself that I am going to be loyal to that manifest of personal happiness and in a renewed mood I leave the café and head to the famous district Bairro Alto, although I am aware that it looks abandoned during mornings. It’s exactly this silence that I enjoy the most in this fussy at nights district that used to host newspapers offices and hookers (please don’t make any correlations) and I keep wandering around among the remainings of a night.
As I have a few hours left I decide to pop in a tourist bus and have a city tour. Fortunately, the recorded tour does not only refer to the historic facts relating to the sights we pass by. This is my second trip to Lisbon (my first visit was a couple of years ago, I had flew to Lisbon for a concert -O.K I admit it was for a U2 concert- but I also did the basic sightseeing then, so this time I could just wander around, meaning really enjoy my very short stay). I hop off at Belém, an area at the western edge and head to the traditional pastry shop to taste the famous sweets (and to me getting to know a place means walk a lot, discoverin nice cafes and taste food). Passing through the interesting façade made of ‘azulejos’ (the traditional blue and white ceramic tiles) I take a seat in one of the shop rooms which is crowded. I realize that the usual order includes a small pastry and a small coffee so I take the same, I sprinkle with iced sugar and cinnamon and I taste this cream pie that reminds me of a mini round ‘bougatsa’ pie. I have two sips of my coffee, I order a small box of ‘pasteis’ pastry for ‘home’, I close my book (for some reason Le Clézio’s ‘Goldfish’ proved to be a rather successful book choice for this trip), I pay six euros fifty and head to the bus stop for the next city tour bus that takes me to the end of the tour back at the central square.
From there I head walking to the other side of the town, towards Alfama, the oldest town district, the district of the poor as they say but who gives a dam for fixed identities. What I see is a beautiful district with pedestrian alleys and pale painted houses where freshly washed linen is hung out from. And if you think that this is a film set I have to tell you that I could even listen to some lady rehearsing her arias, her voice flying in the quiet afternoon…So I am enchanted by the surroundings and I need a nice place to take a break and reflect on this beauty. It’s exactly then that I come across ‘café pois’ and I can’t help but think that God must be a bon viveur. I enter almost mesmerized. The coffee shop is a light-filled spacious place with mismatched comfortable furniture that creates a home atmosphere. There are two sofas and one is empty. Appreciating my good luck I take a seat on the empty one. I open my book and I order the sandwich of the day with ham, cheese, lettuce and apple. As we listen to Elvis I am being served by a guy who could be a Hollywood star due to the symmetry of his face and his well-shaped lips. Suddenly it occurred to me that Portuguese people have nice lips and before I censor my stereotypical conclusions I attempt a cultural approach: I’m thinking that Portuguese people have nice thick lips either because or in order to pronounce /s/ as /sh/ making every word that includes it sound erotic (try to pronounce every ‘s’ in the word ‘pasteis’ as /sh/…you see?). So, anyway, I feel so familiar with this place that I leave my things unattended and head to the ladies’ room. When I come back the man sitting across looks at me as if he’s asking for my consent, he leaves his things and heads to the gents’. I’m thinking that usually the wave of a positive idea, act, word is spread around. I have often noticed before that despite our initial hesitation when somebody initiates a good ‘something’ which we are reluctant about – a hug, a kiss, a compliment- many others follow and I can’t help but wonder who deprived us from trusting gentleness (quite a few possible explanations come to my mind but no…I’m enjoying my glass of white wine now). I finish my glass of wine and leave Alfama.
So, there I am heading to the city center to meet my darling. We are looking for a nice place to have a simple decent dinner but the restaurants at the city center are so touristic that we almost loose our appetite. This is when I had one of those epiphanies again and we decide to walk to Baixa-Ciado and see if I can find my way to that nice place I saw this morning walking around there and thought that it would be lovely to have dinner there. Suddenly we find ourselves in front of these steps that look familiar, I know that we are getting closer and I get the sense that if these steps could talk they would shout ‘hot’ and they actually lead as to ‘fabulous’, a house with rooms that looks as the communal areas of student residencies should: cosy, hospitable and sophisticated, where wine glasses are stemless but not shoddy, the hot water for the tea is served in a teapot and where you can have a simple dinner without having to forget that you actually do possess the sense of taste. A nice lady serves us and as I am looking at her I realize that what is common among Portuguese women are their natural eyebrows, thick and well-shaped!
Night has fallen and I can already sense tomorrow’s nostalgia when I will be back to everyday life in Athens. I recall the manifest of my personal happiness that I drafted this morning and as Ι share it with my man a positive thought crosses my mind: even if nothing from what I dreamt, planned and promised myself today comes real, at least I can rest assured that I can still make dreams. So in future hard times “I’ll always have Lisbon…”.