Saturday, December 31, 2005


I say Lisbon
When I arrive from the south and cross the river
And the city opens up as if born from its name
It opens and rises in its nocturnal vastness
In its long shimmering of blue and of river
In its rugged body of hills
Lisbon, with its name of being and nonbeing
With its meanders of astonshment, insomnia, and shacks
And its secret theatre sparkle
Its masklike smile of intrigue and complicity
While the wide sea stretches westward
Lisbon swaying like a sailing ship
Lisbon, cruelly built next to its own absence
- Sophie de Mello Bremner

I took this photo in Lisbon (in Portugese, it`s spelled Lisboa and pronounced more like LEASH-boa, but don`t take it from me - my Portguese is somewhere between nonexistent and horrendous.)

I spent last New Year's in Lisbon. The old ladies running our pensão (i.e. pension) in the Alfama exhorted us in sign language to, apparently, wear skimpy clothing and go out and shake our booties. My Portugese is awful, but I'm not half bad at charades. Around 11 pm, we bundled up and headed down to the Praça do Comercio - Lisbon's big square on the water.

They had been building a huge stage in the square for a few days, and mounting enough lights and pyrotechnics for a Pink Floyd show. When we arrived in the square, some Portugese group was totally rocking out. Clearly, the audience knew and loved them. I was amazed by the audience: there were infants in strollers, kids running around, parents, and grandparents. We walked around, weaving between the families and young couples velcroed together (if you didn't know, Europe is the Land of PDA.)

Shortly before midnight, we headed up to the Barrio Alto, on one of Lisbon's seven hills, to a little spot we had found the night before overlooking the square. We played a little elbow hockey along the railing with other people who had had the same idea, and then watched the fireworks in amicable silence. Having been raised in D.C., I wasn't transfixed by the fireworks - but how can I complain? I was in Lisbon!

The Barrio Alto has a thriving bar scene, and we definitely took part. The area is full of narrow, hilly streets, and after midnight - they were thronging with revelers. In one bar, I saw the fado student we'd watched sing in a hole-in-the-wall two nights before. I kept running into the same couple and, after hearing me speak English, they introduced themselves. (They turned out to be an English couple working in Portugal.) We chatted with some guy from Cape Verde who had lots of questions about how Americans see Portugal. (I used to get the analagous quesiton a lot when I lived in Canada.)

Our walk "home" was punctuated by shouts of "Bom Ano!" and we replied with the same.

Bom Ano, y'all!


The photo is a view of the Discoverers` Monument, which is designed to look like a sailing shop from the so-called "Age of Discovery." In the background, you can see the suspension bridge that brought us into and out of Lisbon. The little teeny looking tower next to the bird is actually "Cristo Rei" - the statute of Christ with his arms outstretched (a larger version stands in Rio de Janeiro.)

There was one "Portugese in translation" phrase that I *LOVED*. In our pensão, there was a sign that reminded us that, "Please, you must pay in the moment." When we went for Goan food, the waiter told us the vegetable curry was taking longer because it was "being made in the moment." "In the moment" - how very zen.


Roonie said...

Um, how did you know I was just yearning for Portugal today? I really was. I know I've said I'm done with Europe before, but not without Lisboa (!) and Turkey and Prague out there.

You make me want to yearn in languages I don't even know! Ah. Travel. The fountain of youth.

Roonie said...

P.S. That is my new desktop background, if you don't mind. For inspiration of a good year to come, if you will ;)

Chick Pea said...

ahh.. was in lisbon in may..what a country....


resipsacrap said...

Surfed onto your page some time back following a link from CM. The photo is beuatiful! Portugal is one of my favoured travel spots; your post just made me want to go over spring break!