Saturday, July 1, 2017

Day 15: Last day in Lisbon; saying goodbye to Portugal

This morning, we woke later than we intended, yet nevertheless managed to pack our suitcases, shower, check-out, and eat breakfast, all before the free walking tour was scheduled to start.

Of course, everything is on Portugal time and we ended up waiting for half an hour, only to be told by the hostel staff that while we were waiting, the walking tour guide must have missed us and left without us just five minutes prior.  We were told that if we hurried we could still catch up with the group at a nearby subway station, so we dashed out of the hostel and quickly made our way to the meeting point.

Thankfully, we saw the tell-tale guides with their yellow shirts and ran up to the group, relieved we had not missed it after all.  Our guide was a young and energetic history and art major who has a clear passion for Lisbon and all of its intricate cultural and historical influences.  She took us on a tour of the Mouraria neighbourhood.

The streets of Mouraria neighbourhood
This is another of Lisbon's oldest neighbourhoods.  Historically, even before the earthquake, it was where all the "non-Christians" lived - the Jews, the heretics, the prostitutes.  To this day, it remains a vibrant multi-cultural hub for people from all over the world - India, Pakistan, China, Africa - and our guide excitedly described to us her favourite markets to go to, spots to hang out with friends and grab drinks, as well as pointed out all the interesting architecture, the unique and quirky features of the very small and narrow homes that have been standing for hundreds of years, showing us a hidden palace, and taking us to some of the area's most interesting street art along the way.

Something in her passion and excitement for this vibrant mosaic of cultures, peoples, and histories all layered over each other in beautiful and unpredictable ways gave me a fresh perspective on what it means to be a young person from Portugal today.  Like the woman in the bookstore in Porto who passionately took me around and showed me all her favourite writers, I felt another sort of connection to this girl who was our tour guide.  A reflection of myself, in a way, for I am just as passionate about all the neighbourhoods and layers of culture and history in Toronto as she clearly is about Lisbon.

For there are two Portugals for me - the one of my parents' youth, which they carry with them always and remains alive in their hearts, unchanged, despite the impossibility of them ever finding it again; and the current, modern Portugal, which neither my parents nor I really know.

This trip was a taste of it - I saw so many parts of the country I had never seen; that my parents, or even our passionate tourguide had never seen.  I flowed among the different places and peoples, never quite belonging as either a local or a foreigner.  One foot in each world, I still feel the internal struggle to understand myself as part of some larger whole of this culture, and figure out what it really means to me.

It's an on-going journey, and I know I'll be back many times still.  As our tour ends at one of our guide's favourite viewpoints over the whole city, with the castle clearly visible in front of us, I feel a deep sense of calm.  Usually when I leave a country it feels very bittersweet, for I never know if or when I'll return.  In the case of Portugal, it will forever belong to me in some way, and I know the ties I have will inevitably keep pulling me back over my lifetime.  It's a temporary farewell.

street art painted on ceiling of old archway
Portugal surprised me.  The variety of landscapes and expressions of humanity and the natural world packed into such a small country was fascinating - mountain ranges, wild horses, bustling cities, multi cultural neighbourhoods, people living in ancient stone houses, endless flat fields of olive and cork trees, ruins left by peoples who have spanned centuries, monuments, breathtaking limestone caves and beaches, wild waves, rugged coastlines, boulder-strewn hills, lush waterfalls, gut-wrenching performances of fado, decadent wines and cheeses and fruits, ancient libraries and universities, street festivals; old and new, wild and human, living side-by-side in an intricate balance... it was if I visited a thousand countries, a thousand peoples.

I'll end this final post with a poem I wrote three years ago, after the last time I went.  Even though I learned and saw and felt and experienced more about this country than I ever knew, the words still vividly capture the emotions I feel when I am here.

Adeus, Portugal.  Até a próxima.


Souvenirs from Portugal

You say you want to travel the world
but there are some places you cannot go even if you travel there.

Here I am, nestled in the small village of Tojal,

wondering what I can bring you, a piece of somewhere you’ve not yet been; a placeholder; a rain cheque;
something to keep the longing at bay.

If I could, I’d bring you the taste
of one of my late-grandfather’s sun-warmed oranges just picked,
or the subtle scent of pine and eucalyptus that permeates the hot air, or a bite of fresh bread from the baker down the road that appears as if by magic on our door handle every morning, or the sound of roosters singing not just in the morning but whenever they so please. 

I’d bring you the juice of my uncle’s sweet peaches dripping down your fingers.

I’d give you the feeling of rough bark under your feet to reach the ripest figs in the tree behind the house as you look down at stalls that used to hold chickens but now hold only memories of clucking

I’d give you thirst from the hot sun on your head as you walk dusty paths through vineyards until you finally reach the spring and cup your hands under the small stream and sip the water cool and clear as the day my grandfather first discovered it.

*    *    *    *    *    *    *

Then I’d take you down the roads and hills to Batalha and give you the sounds of gypsies shouting prices in the market, the taste of fresh goat cheese cool and soft, vibrant colours of scarves thimbles wooden spoons fish beach towels baby chicks plums lettuce more fish leather shoes cheese walnuts rabbits pears...

and the sight of the Mosteiro
full of history
ancient memories of kings    and queens      and battles

I’d give you the sound of your footsteps against smooth stone from centuries of footsteps I’d give you
the eerie feeling of walking amidst the past and the present at the same time

*    *    *    *    *    *    *

And then, Nazaré

Would that I could bring you the feeling of wildness
frigid waves crashing against your entire body

I’d lend you
my stirred soul
for just a minute
if there was a way to give you         memories of myself as a child being tumbled
          a small bundle of limbs salt water rough sand

but no fear.

I’d give you salt-coated fingers from thick pumpkin seeds eaten while seated on grainy sand
I’d give you salt-sprayed hair I’d give you salt-coated fish I’d give you salt-covered skin from white foam

I’d bring you
the crash of ocean echoing against cliffs

I’d give you
for a second,
the beating of my heart in perfect rhythm with these waves
and the ache of leaving them.

*    *    *    *    *    *    *

There’s no novelty mug
that could capture the feeling of watching my mother sift through
old boxes stuffed with letters in her own handwriting
addressed to people no longer here

no postcard I could send that would give you
the sense of saudade
that seeps from the unused tractor still sitting quietly in the shed
       the little windmill that no longer spins
       the fields of corn and grapes and olive trees now covered in weeds
       the attic full of broken furniture with locked drawers of old black and white photos
       the missing love letters from my grandfather that my grandmother burned after he died                    
no keychain I could bring you
that would tell you what it’s like to be a child of people that left this all behind but still search for a place that no longer exists and hold it in their hearts and tell stories of the way it used to be, freedom and poverty and hard work and forever roaming and stealing fruit and and drinking homemade wine and friends and family long passed away and hunger and meeting companions in the fields and making their fun out of sticks and grass and imagination and then growing up and longing for escape and a bigger world and taking a plane across an ocean to make a life somewhere else and have children in another land who would never really

belong here

and yet somehow still
belong here.

Saudade is a birthright. Inherited.

*    *    *    *    *    *    *

There’s no souvenir I could bring you
of a decades-lost Portugal
for there are some places you cannot go even if you travel there.

view of Lisbon and S. Jorge castle

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