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Published: July 17th 2010
Like traveling into the future.
If my father was alive, he would be sitting at his table right now, studying the tattered world map pinned to the wall. My habit of travel caused him worry as he got older. Ironically, his Mayan journeys were my inspiration. Still, he eagerly read my dispatches. If stylistic flaws follow, it's because my writing coach is no longer looking over my shoulder.
Lisbon has a tropical feel that reminds me of Colombo, capital of a former colony. There are palm trees and cooling breezes from the ocean. Men in suits wear no socks. Africans from Angola and Mozambique hawk beaded necklaces. The tiled sidewalks undulate sensuously calling to mind gently rolling seas.
The truth is, I hate being a tourist. Three hours is my limit for monuments and museums. I prefer sitting in a cafe, worrying my coffee with a spoon, watching the distracted faces around me. They belong to people preoccupied by their duties, while my own are half a world away.
In my disengaged state I can see the invisible world in front of their eyes. I can see the messages left by taggers, the accidental geometry in a pile of rubble, the
Palm trees lent a tropical feel to Lisbon
colorful laundry hanging from a window. I can follow a pigeon, sit on a park bench, hop on a trolley without knowing where it goes. For a few days I get to see the world the way an artist must see it, as if for the first time.
I went to a restaurant tonight to hear Portuguese Fado music. I made a reservation for 15 minutes before the show started so I would have enough time to order dinner. A Japanese couple at the table next to mine was sound asleep. I couldn't decide between sympathy and scorn. Jet-lag is a strange affliction. The night before, I went into a trance while sitting in a restaurant watching a soccer game on TV. A fantasy I was having about single-handedly defeating the Spanish World Cup team effortlessly slipped into a dream.
Fado is very sentimental music sung by people with strong operatic voices. Even though I couldn't understand the lyrics, images of my father kept popping into my head. By midnight I had heard enough. I paid my bill and stepped into the street. To my surprise it was crowded with cocktail wielding people and pulsing with
I took a series of photos of this jet-lagged couple sitting next to me in a restaurant.
techno music. Before I could decide which way to turn a Moroccan was offering to sell me cocaine. "You like cocaine, no?" I quickly lost him in the crowd.
Sing in front of an ESL school around the corner from my hotel:
Camone in and learn English
Years ago, when I first heard about Portuguese bull fighting—grupo de forcados
—I vowed that one day I would go to Lisbon to see it with my own eyes. Unlike Spanish bull fighting, there are no capes and swords. Instead, an eight-man team lines up in front of the bull. The bull charges and plows into the lead man's gut. The first guy slams into the second and so forth, like human dominoes. If the team manages to stop the bull's charge, one man slips around the back and grabs the bull's tail. The other men let the bull go and the first man "water skis" around the ring holding the bull's tail.
The main bull ring in Portugal is Campo Pequeno. Last spring I spent hours researching the schedule on their poorly designed, Portuguese-only web site. I deduced that there might be a grupo de forcado
on Thursday, July
The undulating sidewalks reminded me of a gently rolling sea.
15 and planned my itinerary around the date.
I was excited as I came up the stairs from the Campo Pequeno metro stop. I could hear horns and whistles blowing, drums beating, and people chanting. When I emerged I realized that the noise was coming from a group of animal rights activists. They were in a fenced area surrounded by police. Meanwhile, well heeled crowds waited under the gaudy spires of Campo Pequeno for the gates to open. I realized that I was there to feed some half-baked Picasso/Hemingway fantasy about myth, death, and courage. I thought of my daughter and Debra's daughter, both animal rights activists. I decided to abandon the bull fights and join the protesters. I slipped inside their enclosure and joined them chanting "Boor-Bar-Ish! Boor-Bar-Ish!"
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