Lisbon is an unpretentious city that is old and new, chic and trendy, stylishly Portuguese, spirited and humble, a city and people with soul. They love their hedonistic lifestyle, eating delectable seafood, drinking Super Bock beer and dining into the early morning only to be revived with strong espresso coffee and heavenly pastel de nata (custard tarts). The tarts are held in one hand and devoured in two bites while sitting at the café bar on chairs designed for a short stay as opposed to reclining for long periods of time. Locals move from café to café until their caffeine levels awaken them as they head to work. Lisbon surprises the visitor with its remarkable architecture, a mix of old and new.
The people are beautiful and trendy, with enviable smooth skin tones, slender bodies like models, dark hair and stylish clothes. Their jewelry reflects their flamboyant personalities as dangly filigree ear–rings accentuate their spirit and beauty. Lisbon is a museum with a long history, pathways with ornate patterns, statues of past custodians and cobblestones that continue on and on. I gaze upwards fully aware that pickpockets watch my every movement, prowling the streets ready to pounce on the unsuspecting tourist. I find the jewelery store where aristocracy and actors purchase their accessories to accentuate their beauty, allowing them to continue the facade of their presence and role whether real or contrived.
I walked the cobblestone streets which were rough and uneven, and wondered how the elderly coped with the surfaces when they got to an age where they needed to shuffle and steady themselves with canes and walkers.
Sitting at trendy cafes I spoke with colleagues about quantum physics, ideas and thoughts as you do when a bunch of academics get together. I grazed cafes and reveled in people watching. At times I felt like I was in a scene from the movie “Inception”, when time stood still while chairs and tables changed positions, leaping above and below me without contact. The 36 hours of travel and 36 hours of jetlag only accentuated my altered perception.
The night is the playground for the Portuguese, where restaurants do not get busy until 11pm and 4am is an early night, particularly around Barrio Alto. People socialize, drink beer, evade sleep and dance the night away. The lifestyle is hedonistic, focused on the instant as locals and visitors live for the moment. My senses were heightened as I sat at a café while interesting people walked by.
I catch up with people I have known for years, reconnecting as if we had only seen each other last week, continuing the conversation from Seattle, Montreal, Tampere, Denver, Honolulu, Lugano, Orlando, Toronto and now Lisbon. The people have aged but their passion is still there, hidden behind a few gray hairs. Ideas and thoughts flow as I multi-task during presentations finding a space to think, typing emails and writing stories to escape for a while.
I enter a café, order an expresso, pinch the tiny handle, scoff down a pastel de nata, pay the bill and look for the next fix along the rough textured cobblestone street. I could live here, writing, walking the streets, photographing the people, aligning my body clock with their nocturnal patterns of eating and socialising until the sun rises. Lisbon has a spirit and soul like no other…..