It’s not quite 7:30 am and I wake up  hungry.  I’m hungry for breakfast and on my third morning back, hungry to quickly figure out how to hang onto Lisbon a little bit longer.

I plunged back into work on Tuesday morning after my Monday-evening arrival, diving into a sea of e-mails, program prep, and notes from my dedicated colleague who covered for me while I was gone.  I couldn’t have dreamt up a sweeter welcome, my bosses showering me with flowers and a welcome-home lunch. I felt missed, appreciated.

I make a cup of coffee in the Portuguese cup I brought back for myself- a semi-conscious decision to have a small daily reminder of Lisboa each time I grasp the cork bottom and sip from the ceramic cup.  Of course the coffee will almost always pale in comparison, but not all beans are roasted equal, hence giving one a reason to always go back.

Rainbow views from my window retreat in Camilla’s castle (distant rainbow-center photo)

Always is a strong word but with this trip, I discovered that I would love to always go back.  I relived the magic that I had always thought Lisbon to be, and confirmed that it is still there.  And that I am still there. My first steps on those cobblestone streets immediately put me back in that world, a world that perhaps I never left.  Breathing deep I collected all of those familiar smells, the roasted coffee beans of the morning, the smokey charcoal heating up to grill an afternoon fish, even the putrid urine that clings to dark street corners- a smell that reminds you of somewhere else, shadows of a developing world.

I smell the humidity of the staircase that winds me four flights up to Camilla’s apartment, and the floral-scented floor cleaner that everyone uses to clean their homes.   It’s the old world, its mom and pop shops, its tile-decorated cafés with mirrors and florescent lighting, the charm of years past and an aging population that wears tradition in the wrinkles on their forehead.

I dodge pigeons that fly low in the sky, I skim the shoulders of walkers who race across street crossings when the red traffic hand says no.  I sneak peaks of the blue Tejo river sliced in between the vertical frames of hilly, narrow streets with dangling cable wires that guide the electric wooden cars that scurry across the city.   I note that the abandoned buildings of the city’s main plazas-Praça de Figueira and Rossio- are still standing, yet still abandoned, save for the continued growth of weeds that sprout from cracks in the stucco and the nests that house the swallows and pigeons.  Surely there are secrets inside.

Graffiti is everywhere,  some provoking and artistically achieved, and the rest thoughtless and amateur.  I see new hotels have popped up, more wine bars, and cute design stores that feature local artisan craft and creative souvenirs.  The price of the iconic yellow cable car has risen, while the make-shift construction walls hiding development projects have fallen to reveal restored and refreshed old buildings that will once again have a chance for life.

Coffee dates with friends ensue and I hear about the current state of affairs: the IMF and proposed bail out, the grim outlook for the upcoming year, the struggle for many to find work and pay their bills, the upcoming election for prime minister and the political parodies circulating on YouTube.  All of that real world talk is counter-balanced with the joys of hearing about my friends’ lives: of Camilla’s art projects, Zé’s advertising business launch, Kattia’s video projects, Lina’s research on corporate sustainability, Mateo’s fixation with the neon plastic bracelets being traded in the 3rd grade and Mundo’s recent film projects.

I visit with Rute, the one friend thus far who knows the faces on both sides of my world; she has lived in my L.A. space as well as the Lisbon one.  We travel the country together-heading north to her hometown of Porto, and exploring further to a town neither of us had visited- Vila do Conde, where the great wooden ships were crafted during the age of the discoveries.  It is here I also visit with my dear friend of 10 years, Hector, whom, after we met in Guanajuato in 2001, have visited each other in our adopted lands: Paris and Lisbon.  He is now living in Porto and photographing, having won an artist residency and a studio space.  I make a new friend, his right hand lady Estefânia, who owns a contemporary jewelry gallery in Porto and gives me a glimpse of her exquisite taste and artistry.  We eat sardines in Porto and dance to the folkloric sounds of the accordion in an impromptu parking lot dance session on a Saturday night.   I visit with my dear friend and former Médicos do Mundo colleague, Sara.  We browse the famous “Feira da Ladra” flea market on a lazy Tuesday afternoon, jacarandas adorning our walk.  Her daughter Bibi shows me how time has passed; she is taller, beautiful, slowly becoming a pre-teen.  Sara updates me on Médicos do Mundo, the people, their dramas.  It’s all so familiar.  Thank God she has finally left.

My confidant at International House language school, Ana, bravely forges ahead with English language teaching as a tool to empower young people with confidence and hope.  She is inspired by the Soka Gakkai Buddhist practice, the one she explored deeply at their University in Malibu, California years ago.  I wander up my old street and stop in to share coffee with my friend Carla, owner of Purpurina clothing shop. Carla is a young, brave Portuguese entrepreneur, trying out a new career in tough economic times.  Her perspective and her shop always brought color to my daily ascent up Rua da Esperança.   In between coffees, I wander the streets with Camilla and her shaggy dog Don Quixote.  We make lunch on her terrace, castle walls framing our view in the background, river extended to the front.  Time has passed.  But  this city is still mine, I realize.  My ensuing trip was full of friends, of warm moments, of the experience that is unique to a former resident, a non-tourist, a lover of Lisbon, yesterday and today.  Miss Lisbon certainly remembered my name.

More stories to come.

Kattia and Jacinta talk politics on the terrace.  Castle São Jorge listens in the background.

Camilla’s city-sponsored pubic art project, featuring images of the local community printed directly onto wood, plaster, and the wall using her mobile dark room and creative genius.  More here.

Sunday afternoon fado performance with young musicians a a humble cafe in the Castle district of the city

Beach time with Rute in ‘Costa da Caparica’, the sandy stretch of beach on the south side of the Tejo river.  Took my first plunge of the year in the chilly Atlantic waters!

Old friend, new memories. Hector and crew in Porto, singing  folkloric songs in a parking lot, post-sardine dinner.  When the restaurant’s electricity died , we were forced to leave and find our dessert elsewhere.  Sweetness comes in spontaneous surprises.

This cityscape never tires, never ceases to inspire.


~ by maureenmoore on May 30, 2011.

4 Responses to “Return”

  1. This resonates deeply with my antique soul still interfacing with the people, food, shops and friends in Catalonia. Your relationship with Portugal and its relationship with you is a fado. Onward!

  2. Thank you for allowing me to feel all of these places, people and events of Lisboa as through you. I’m not at all surprised that she “certainly remembered your name.”

  3. I Love u Maureen! You are so inspiring!!!!

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