Saturday 12 May 2012

Lisbon April 2010


We arrive in Lisbon from from Bucharest after six hours travelling. We go and have a meal in our street below our flat in the old town – cheaper than Bucharest. Excellent cheap dry white wine as we had hoped. We pick up the waiter who was called Jorje. He is 48 like me and I thought he might be 32. He took us to a place where we bought a decilitre each of port standing up in a shop and then somewhere else busy and outside where at Alexandra’s urging I shared two bottles of white wine before insisting at 2 = 4 Romanian time on coming home.


Woke at 7.15 after five hours’ sleep and walked around. Memories of Madrid in 1985 came back to me before life had begun and the unlived life oppressed me. For the first time in my life I discover my bourgeois self. I am afraid I envy Mark his beautiful flat in the centre well furnished and full of books.

The river vast taking up one quarter of a vast Palladian square. A certain sadness in Lisbon? Or is it me? It is Thursday bit the city feels quiet subdued the shops empty, the pulse weak. I look for signs of peeling paint but instead at first find elderly American tourists with inevitably childlike faces.

The late eighteenth century grid of streets the cafes used by tourists and by office workers in suits. Elderly American tourists with childish faces and children’s clothes. Many of the waiters are from the Sub-Continent and on enquiry are not from Goa. Will Portugal will be swept away by Asian waiters and African building workers if she does not look out or will they all become Portuguese?

They married and gave in marriage
And went to the County Ball,
 And some of them kept a carriage,
And the Flood Destroyed Them All.

 Alexandra surfaces from her dreams at midday and we climb at her insistence to the castle and the journey is more important than the destination. Alfama the old quarter that survived the earthquake. The tiles so Muslim and so beautiful. I didn’t know about them. A rustiness to the green and blues the incongruous feeling of a 19th century public baths. I realise that the moment of Portugal’s greatness was really very short – a century at most and then conquest by Philip II and an escape from Spain only as Spain entered her precipitate decline.

No edge. Unlike post-Communist places. But so nice to be away from the crookedness and dirt of Bucharest. As I decide to write about my love for Bucharest do I love it anymore?

The castle and the same old tourist industry. The world becomes more and more the same and the differences become heritage industry and the ideas of the past – Catholicism, imperialism, monarchy, patriotism, the ideals of Dr Salazar and the Marxists are replaced by shopping and cafes and laws protecting diversity and ending traditions.

Long, long sleep and then Alexandra deeply frightened and rattled by an Indian waiter whom she had stood drinks who had led her into an empty and dark street instead of towards me. Her faith in human nature shaken. That faith is sweet and un-Romanian. I want to buy her a drink but the city is closed at 3 except for some night clubs in the docks where I buy her some whisky. Then home with a taxi-driver who was either drunk or so tired as to be close to unconsciousness and then a walk around the streets near the river, arches and decrepit buildings and the feeling of the sea close at hand and melancholy and reserve and quietness. Then a little poor and unloved cafe which was in darkness but tables and chairs were being set out in the still dark street and customers standing in the dark ate pies with heavy pastry. Alexandra said the people look so poor and unhappy and I wonder why I had not noticed the importance of having a little money in order not to be unhappy.

Friday, 23 April 2010 Alexandra’s birthday, Shakespeare’s, St George’s Day

Sky promises rain. I screwed my eyes to read the Telegraph. All the three candidates in last night’s TV debate volunteered that they disagreed with the Pope on homosexuality. Messrs. Blair and Brown have created a new consensus of an active state and non-discrimination and high taxes and the present is a foreign country.

Alex finally wakes like the kraken from his ancient dreamless uninvaded sleep and we lunch downstairs in the white cold daylight. I drink wine with my cod fishcakes and risotto and am sleepy again and the bill comes to €42. Then Alex spends an hour or two in the internet cafe and then decides to see the ocean in Cascai. So we go to see the Atlantic and it is quiet, empty, without breakers. Despite the palm trees it has a slight flavour of how I imagine Scotland might be.

We have a very good early supper overlooking the placid waves of the ocean (how middle-class mere seas are), catch the suburban train back and ask the taxi driver for fado in Alfama. Fortunately the very grand place he takes us to is fully booked as is another well-known place nearby and instead we hear enchanting fado sung soulfully by a woman from an unlit house just up from the cathedral. And then discover a place which is having a fado evening admission free and we stay and Alex understands the words. As she translates them to me I feel these middle aged people older than me singing and listening have lived more than I. The melodies are haunting. 

Reminiscent of Cuba. Tom Gallagher, who tells me I am a reactionary, is wrong and Lisbon is not ruined. ‘Football, fado and Fatima’ with which Salazar kept the lower classes quiet. A flavour of the Lindisfarne Catholic Club in Valkyrie Rd, Westcliff-on-Sea in the early 70s full of Irish, where I went with my parents when Harold Wilson was Prime Minister the second time.

Saturday, April 24

Excellent goat with wonderful roast potatoes and rice downstairs and half a bottle. €17.
Art Gallery and Alex’s feet are tired.  Streets named after obscure heroes of obscure revolutions just like in Romania. A dim obscure country despite its years of fame and power long ago. Alex thinks I like poor countries because they make me feel important.
Drinks in a shabby bar overlooking the city from the top of a long flight of stone steps.  Six or eight  boys run off from the next table without paying and Alex wants to pay for them which is sweet. Then hours pass as they do waiting for her. Then a Cape Verdean restaurant– we could not book a table before 10 but at 10 only two other tables were occupied – with nice food: chicken in peanut sauce which I liked very much though I do not like peanuts. I had this in an African restaurant before – in Naples I think. And the most wonderful singing. Two black men both of whom had Portuguese blood – the man playing the instrument had a narrow very Portuguese face. The other fat, soft-faced, gentle, sang heavenly songs which sounded to me like a kind of fado. €40.

Then we had to wait outside and find a place in Baixa where people in their early 20s congregating the girls dressed more revealing than is usual in Romania but clearly nice girls pretty but sexless.

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Too hot underneath my duvet – hot weather at last.

The Sunday Times and Telegraph and cappuccinos outside a cafe and a general election. And the present is a very foreign country where everyone approves of regulations and the EU and high taxes and homosexuality and immigration.  

These milestones, 1906.....1945.....1979, 1983.....2010.

Mass at 11.30 in the church round the corner. Two babies are baptised. I suddenly see the terrible significance of the scandals with priests. A bishop just resigned protected by the statute of limitation from prosecution for interfering with a boy. The Pope will come here next month and who will listen to him talk about sexual morality? Well, no-one did before, but now he seems an absurd figure standing up against the spirit of the age which mocks rather than detests him.

Museum of modern art houses only Portuguese artists. The terrace where we drink and exchange confidences about our pasts as gifted children and traumas.  A beautiful place – after the Cap Verdean restaurant the second best moment of the holiday.

Portugal. I liked it today when I got away from the well-trodden centre. And possessed it, as dogs possess territory by peeing on it, sans British trippers. Very conservative and formal place unlike England. Quiet, low-key, more so than what I remember of Spain. Latins with Celtic souls? By which I mean depressive. Alex thinks unhappy because of their lost empire and present poverty. How unattractive and crooked and kitsch and gimcrack Romania looks from here. Here are nice, pretty, but not sexy, girls with their nice handsome shyish boyfriends. Unlike their Romanian equivalents they do not drive sports cars or look as if they do crooked deals.

Me pouring port: have a little more of this. You’ll feel better.
A: I feel fine.
Me: But you can always feel better.
A: Yes! Write that down.

No comments:

Post a Comment