Scenes from a first visit to Lisbon
Notice how I've already labelled this my first visit? As much as I hate to make my syrupy Spanish guidebook right when it guaranteed me I'd leave Lisbon longing to return, I did.
How could I not love a city built on 7 hills?
Lisbon is a walking city. There's hardly a hill I climbed or a corner I turned that didn't leave me with a vertical slice of blue, a quick view of the river and the sea beyond. I loved Victorian houses as a child, for the same reason; I loved wondering what was around the next corner or at the end of the next long, dark hallway. In Lisbon, as in San Francisco, the city Lisbon most brought to my mind, what's around the next corner is often water.
The Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa called Lisbon a "confusion of houses" -- and it is! A lovely, lovely, higgedy piggedy confusion of houses. I think that's part of what reminds me of San Francisico: a city built on hills, a city on a bay, brightly colored cablecars running up and down unnavigable hills, sailboats making a quick escape to sea under the red Golden Gate-styled 25th April bridge....
I found Lisboetas open, down to earth, and slow-moving enough to look you in the eye and indulge in a few quiet moments of call-response (Portuguese to Spanish) about anything, or nothing.
The Spanish taxi gods chose to laugh at my hard-learned mistrust of early morning transport this trip. My taxi arrived 2 minutes after I called him Saturday, leaving me alone at the Salamanca train station at 415 am, a full 50 minutes before my train. The man in the station coffee shop was at his usual routine, dishing out "hard love" to the old men who spend every night with him while delivering my cafe con leche with the doting demeanor of a grandfather greeting me when I'd just woken up and crawled out to the family kitchen. As though he knows HE has to get up at this ungodly hour, but me, hija mía, let's take good care of me, forced to join him.
My travelling companions barrelled around the corner about 445. Once we got through the obligatory kissing, compared train snacks, and calculated actual hours slept the night before, we clambered aboard and found our seats.
-3-Never travel without merienda.
During our trip to Dublin, Nieves introduced me to homemade membrillo and cheese sandwiches. She didn't disappoint this trip, either. We feasted our way across Portugal with little sandwiches of her mother's fig preserves and dry sheep's cheese, sweet bollos which we promptly stuffed with white chocolate, pipas, oranges, dates,toasted maíz, and bocadillos of jamón with tomato for the main meal. The American college student in our train car contributed the best of American cuisine: cherry Bubbelicious. All you could chew.
-4-Rain expands my vocabulary
Our first day, Lisbon generously handed me the perfect opportunity to pull out some of my favorite Spanish expressions, and learn a new rain word. We arrived to soft drizzle (my chance to try out llovizna and chirimiri) that every now and then would spontaneously morph into chaparrones - fierce, pounding downpours that left us no choice but to duck into the nearest cafe for tea and pasteis de nata. No choice, I swear.
The champion chapparón hit while we were climbing through a residential neighborhood on our way to the Castelo de Sao Jorge, and gave me one of my favorite Lisbon memories: three traveling Salmantinas, hovering in a doorway for at least a half an hour, laughing, as the waters rise below us and two raging rivers roar down either side of the cobblestone street. Plenty of time to show off my lloviendo a mares (raining seas) and lloviendo a cantaros (raining jugs-full). And the Salmantinas? They picked up "raining cats and dogs".
Lisbon is a city of miradoures, landscaped lookouts where tourist snap photos, mothers gossip while their children play and old men play cards. It's a lived-in city, a city just the way I like them - not perfect, full of faded, gritty corners, but alive and spirited, and, again, lovely, right down to her sidewalks.
A short list of What I Brought Home from Lisbon:
A bottle of Espenheira ginghina, a tasty cherry liqour I watched Lisboetas drink from small plastic cups outside the tiny bar selling it.
A packet of Piripiri (little chili peppers)
A new respect for New York taxi drivers. We feasted our away across Portugal, then whiteknuckled our way around Lisbon in death defying taxi rides. Two, yes, two taxi drivers chose to approach our hotel careening through an emergency room parking lot at what felt like at least 60 mph.
A fado song, something about "Ayy, Maria", still echoing in my brain.
The word saudade.
A travelling companion who, having taken full advantage of her stay in a city that posts vital information in Portuguese and English, can now knock your socks off with her English elevator impression (her "going up" is particularly strong) and her dramatic recitation of the emergency instructions posted with the firehose in the hotel hallway ("To access firehose, break the glass...") I'm afraid to ask what new vocabulary she picked up during her middle of the night viewing of "The Tina Turner Story" on Portuguese TV, joyously undubbed.
Labels: wanders and travels