I arrived in Lisbon last night after a long hiatus. Over the years, I'd read about Lisbon's makeover for the World's Fair in 1998, and I also wondered how being part of the E.U. might have changed the country. I settled into my hotel, walked down to Rossio to eat my form of a madeleine (a pastel de bacalhau--a codfish/potato/parsley croquette), and wandered down to the the Praça de Comercio at the edge of the Rio Tejo. And this morning, I wandered all over the city--from one bairro/neighbhorhood to the next.
There's a lot here that seems very much the same. I've seen evidence of poor medical care and poverty. I've seen a city that can look old and dirty, if one prefers the pristine. And, yes, I saw a man urinating on the street this morning.
Even so, the Portuguese have such charm. I loved watching some women get a sidewalk cafe set up this morning, dragging out tents and laughing at someone's story even while they were doing quite physical labor. When the Portuguese work, they work hard, whether it's women scrubbing their front steps or men serving lunch in a hectic cafe. The waiter scurrying back and forth, on his tiptoes as he quickly grabs plates and turns to bring them to their tables. Yet still, they gab, they laugh, and their movements are so centered, so balanced, as if plates never drop and bodies never ache at the end of their day. We Americans (and by "we" I mean me) can be self-conscious to the point of awkwardness.
And this city, oh, this sun drenched, busy, lively city. The winding streets of Bairro Alto--I don't think I could intentionally find my way back to anywhere I went in that neighborhood today. The cobblestone sidewalks arranged with such attention to the decorative. The breathtaking views from the tops of Lisbon's seven hills. And the tile . . . everywhere the blue, the white, the yellow. Narrow slabs of buildings covered with tile, sometimes missing sections or fading from the sun, but still so beautiful.
I don't know yet how Portugal has changed in the last two decades. I don't even know if I love this city (after all, I didn't live in Lisbon . . . I actually lived mostly south of here in much smaller cities). But I do love being here: drinking in the sunlight, trying to speak my very rusty Portuguese, eating Portuguese food (soup with veggies and macaroni, bread, pork, french fried potatoes that looked like homemade potato chips, and pineapple--needless to say, Portugal didn't get the memo on the Atkins diet), and just being who I am and where I am right now.
So I end with a picture of where I had breakfast this morning. I bought a pastel de bacalhau and a pastry--and sat in a square close to my hotel. The Praça de Alegria. The square of happiness.