The Great Plotnik

Saturday, November 03, 2012

11-3 Lisbon

Lisbon is just plain, flat-out beautiful. It is supposed to remind people of San Francisco, in that it is hilly, is on the west coast of its country, suffered a catastrophic earthquake that required the city to be completely rebuilt (1755 versus 1906), is diverse and romantic, has old fashioned trolleys that look like cable cars, loves its poets and musicians and artists, and just happens to have a Golden Gate Bridge (built in 1962).

It also reminds Plotnik a lot of Valparaiso, Chile. Both Valpo and Lisbon have impossibly windy, cobblestoned lanes and stairways masquerading as streets, snaking up hills, shops and restaurants and bars tucked into the corners, and old fishermen and dockworkers still hanging around the taverns. All three cities were the most important ports for thousands of miles in their heydays and got filthy rich. All three looked west across what was once endless ocean. Now, everybody is fishing for tourists.

You see homeless people sleeping in the huge plazas in Lisbon. You don't see that in Spain. You see black and brown faces in Lisbon. You don't see that in Spain either.

We walk and walk, up those stairways, around those hills. We cram onto the trolleys, feel limited in Portuguese but joyous to run into Spanish speakers. We speak as little English as possible in public, but certain things come out automatically, like when you bump into someone: "Sorry! Excuse me!"

Our hotel has a kitchen! So we found a local supermarket, bought cereal, fruit, milk. Now, finally, we can eat breakfast in the room, to go with the Martha Brothers Coffee we've been schlepping around for weeks without ever being able to find hot water to brew it.

Our hotel, also, maybe, possibly, has bed bugs. We changed rooms just now. Fingers crossed.

Fado, the Portuguese blues, is everywhere, but it's not exciting flamenco or kickass American rock and roll. Rock and roll is about stickin' it to the man, and flamenco is about that handsome gypsy boy I loved and now he's gone and will he ever see the baby?

Fado is the melancholiest, mournfulest, bittersweetest music on God's green earth. Fado says I miss my homeland. I miss my village. Everything was green but now it Is beige. The things I cherish are gone and will never return. I am a prisoner of love. I will emphasize this by singing in a minor key in a female alto rich like butterscotch that makes everyone in the bar weep with understanding.

There is a fado museum. An hour in there, listening to recordings of Portugal's most renowned fado-istas, and you need to go out and take a train somewhere fast.

We took the train to the Pena Palace in Sintra today. Like San Francisco, the place was completely socked in with fog. The audio guide said "see the brilliant blue Atlantic in the distance and the radiant shimmer of the nearby offshore islands."

It should have said "See the hand in front of your face. No?"

Plotnik has many unanswered questions about Portugal. But they probably come down to language. If you can't communicate, you can't absorb anything important.

Like Lisbon's churches. There's the one-towered church. The second tower kept falling down and killing worshipers. So they decided to make do with one.

There's the baroque church where a golden Mary seems to be hawking a golden t-shirt with Jesus's face on it.

There's a church whose roof fell in in the 1755 quake. The church is still there, with no roof. People rent it out ( on sunny days) for weddings.

There's another church on a square where they murdered 5,000 Jews in 1506. Centuries later the church caught on fire and the inside was burned. But the people remembered what had happened in that square hundreds of years before, so they left the church black and twisted inside, as a sign of respect. They still use it, every day. There is something redeeming about all of this.

It''s time to come home, you know? One more full day.


At 3:53 PM, Blogger Karen said...

pls don't bring any bedbugs into my apt!

At 10:55 AM, Blogger mary ann said...

SF has lots of bedbugs, we don't need the Portuguese variety. Loved this post and we both knew you'd be enthralled with Lisbon and Sintra.
OK, come home for some real coffee.

At 10:13 AM, Anonymous Cousin Seattle said...

oftoThe church you mentioned reminds me of the (former) dome at Missin San Juan Capistrano. More parallels!


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