I’m slowly getting the feel of this city. The first thing that strikes me is that it seems to be full of happy people, despite the recession. The women are all smart, intelligent, beautiful and wear little make-up; they don’t need to. The men seem to be sophisticated,well-dressed, well-educated and don’t exhibit that macho image that we see too much of in the Algarve. Conversations in the cafés and parks are subdued, laced with smiles and laughter. The language is spoken with care, precision and gentility. Although this is a capital city where everything happens, the overall atmosphere is one of a life that is worth living, a mixture of work and play; you never get the impression of a rat-race. It’s OK to sit in one of the thousands of street cafés and have a relaxed beer at lunchtime, and that can take up to two hours. There’s none of that feeding frenzy that I was used to in the north.
Although our apartment is in Anjos, to the northeast of the citycentre, we stayed in a small hotel in Bairro Alto,to the west of the centre. Bairro Alto is, I suppose, the latin quarter; in any other city, it would be called a slum, full of tall terraced houses that jostle up and down the hills, shoulder-to-shoulder, colourful, old, some run-down, some newly painted. Lisbon was never bombed, so this part of the city is probably as it was centuries ago, with ornate little churches, cafés and restaurants. It comes as a slight shock to the system to find out just how hilly Lisbon is. In parts, the streets are so steep that there are funicular railways for those who can’t be bothered to drag their tired bones to the top. From the summit of Bairro Alto, the views over the city are stunning.
As the sun goes down, the lights go up and the bars and clubs open their doors. Some drink inside but most are on the cobbled streets, sitting, chatting, laughing, smoking. Revellers mix with ladies of the night and the occasional drug dealer, but there is never that feeling of looming danger around the next street corner in a city that is so good-natured. At around 2am, the city sleeps again and in the morning, there’s no reminder if it except the fag ends of the evening and the echoes of a good time.
The city is full of parks with monumental trees and, in late spring, the Jacarandas are in full bloom, leaving a field of lilac snow at your feet. The sunlight dapples through leaves and branches and the old folks pass the time of day with each other while the yougsters drift past, hand-in-hand, their minds only on each other. Statues of forgotten heroes and faded Imperial buildings with grand façades look down on the same street theatre that they have been watching for a couple of hundred years. They will still be there when we’ve gone and new generations will repeat the experience of falling in love with a great city.
I think I’m falling in love again.