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PORTUGAL | Friday, 20 February 2015 | Views [191]

 

THE VIEW FROM MY BALCONY

at the top of Beco do Monte invites me to explore the seven hills of Lisbon. There’s theJardim de S. Pedro de Alcântara where Ricardo Reis thought about Lydia and Marcenda. There’s the Jardim do Torel where the bust of Viana da Mota stands sentry. If I squint, I can barely see the Praca do Marqués de Pombal at the end of the green carpet of trees lining the Avenida da Liberdade. I have to imagine the icy cold Tejo hidden from view; theLargo de Camões near the strange sculpture of Fernando Pessoa; the Praça do Comércio, crowded with World Cup spectators; the Miradouro de Santa Catarina where Adamastor, the Spirit of the Cape, scowls with shrunken, hollow eyes; and the Café no Chiado with its secret entrance to the Centro Nacional de Cultura. Tomorrow I’ll meet there to workshop writing and get inspired, but today is running day. Today I will head down the hill and get lost in the city that has welcomed me with wine, seafood, bread, and music.
A right here, a left there, up this hill, down that one, and I have no idea where I am. This isn’t exercise so much as exploration, so I don’t mind to stop and take pictures. Sheets dancing from third-story clotheslines. Click. A pedestrian crossing sign, the silhouetted man wearing a fedora. Click. An ancient window on a wind-washed building. Click. A tree blocking the entire sidewalk. Click. Graffiti: buoyant monikers, revolutionary calls to action, spray-painted portraits—Tupac Shakur, Marilyn Monroe, Fernando Pessoa, José Saramago—their eyes following me. Click. Click. Click.

I find myself, strangely, in the Alfama neighborhood even though I am sure I was headed in the opposite direction. Streamers and lights. Fado. Ginga. More fado. I pass the Museum of Fado offering a history of this sometimes-controversial national music. I imagine the fascist Salazar ordering his people to love football, Fatima, and fado, the three Fs symbols of Portuguese nationalism. If I’m in Alfama, I’m close to the Tejo, the Tagus River feeding into the Atlantic. The Avenida Infante Dom Henrique isn’t the most exciting place to run, but I can see that river, Cristo Rei with open arms on the other side, Ponte 25 de Abril spanning the water. That’s where I’m headed.

I find a path closer to the river, and as I pass the Praça do Comércio, I think back to a few nights ago when revelers at the Pride Festival drank Sagres and Superbock and moved as one to the music of George Michael. The drag queen on stilts, the masquerade mask that I found and gave away, the kissing couples, smell of hash, sweat and sand and sangria. This morning, sunbathers sleep by the concrete shoreline.

Ahead of me is Cais do Sodré where I caught the train to Cascais just yesterday (or was it the day before?). Where I took the bus to Belém two days ago (or was it three?). Could I make it the six miles to Belém on foot? Fuel up with a café and two pastels de nata? Unlikely if I want to run back. I could use my Via Viagem card to hop on the train to Cascais and stink up the car. I could kick off my shoes and dive into the water that I can’t believe doesn’t have ice cubes floating in it. I’d rent a chaise lounge and sip a beer as I eyed brown bodies seemingly impervious to the sun. Well-salinated from the sea and sweat, I could stop in at the Duche Bar overlooking the beach and chow down on a bifana. Maybe run out to Boca do Inferno, the Mouth of Hell, where Pessoa helped occultist Aleister Crowley fake his own death in 1930 by pretending to leap into the chasm.

But, no, Cascais is not part of today’s adventure. I want to cross that bridge.

That bridge, the one that looks so much like the Golden Gate, was once called Ponte Salazar. The 1974 Carnation Revolution gave the structure a new appellation to memorialize the day that Lisboans took to the streets with carnations to celebrate the nonviolent overthrow the corporatist Estado Novo regime. Just ten days after our tax day, the Portuguese celebrate Freedom Day. Today I want to celebrate by running across Ponte 25 de Abril to stand at the foot of Cristo Rei in Almada.

As I near the bridge, I fear that it may be inaccessible by foot, and just like everything in Lisbon, there is no direct route to get there. I turn away from the river and up an uneven hill back into the city. The climb seems interminable, but if I can just cut over I could get closer to road leading to the bridge. It’s on my left, then it’s directly ahead, then it disappears behind office buildings that look like they would be more at home in communist Leningrad. I turn down what I hope will be a shortcut and end up in a dead-end alley where a mother cat lying near a festering pile of old spaghetti, feeds her feral kittens. This is a sign.

Ponte 25 de Abril is now to me a rainbow whose pot of gold I shall never discover. I check the GPS on my phone to find a route home. A blank grid. No service. Lost in Lisbon. Deflated.

Directionless, I scale another hill. Women in sun dresses sip wine and watch the American sweating profusely, the look of loss on his glistening mug drawing their sympathy. Then I see it: Aqueduto da Águas Livres. My faith in Cristo Rei dashed, I set my tired feet in the direction of the great aqueduct.
I pass the Cemitério dos Prazeres whose visitors’ sign tells tourists that the guided tours are “Trageted to interessent institutions and individuals, they pretend to be cultural tours through the alleys of the cemetery.” For a city whose residents speak English so well, someone should have consulted a translator.
A horse with blinders, I gallop towards my goal, disregarding architecture and art. I blend in, disappear.

I am a crumbling neighborhood. I’m a highway. I’m a park.

Some tattooed teens kick a deflated soccer ball back and forth. Collectively they eye me; who is this dripping red monster?
I pretend to ignore them as I make my way up yet another hill to the far end of the aqueduct. There I climb atop the over 250-year-old structure and look towards Lisbon. Dehydrated and delusional, I imagine myself as Diogo Alves, “The Assassin of Águas Livres Aqueduct.” It’s 1839, and I have just robbed a middle-aged woman of her escudos. Here atop the aqueduct, I will drag her to the middle of my perch over the Alcantara valley and push her to her death. They’ll call it a suicide, but I’ll know better.
I am not Diogo Alves though. I am just a writer, tired, thirsty, hungry, and in need of a shower. It is time to head back.
Every street I take ends at a fence or winds back in the direction of the park. Adventure is quickly turning to misadventure.
Why is there a horse chained in the middle of a field of dead grass? Another sign? Just as I am accepting that I will die panting on Rua Miguel Ângelo de Blasco, I see salvation: a bus stop.
The schedule at the bus stop assures me that this bus will take me back to the Praca do Marqués de Pombal where I watched Brazil take a German beating that left Lisboans in tears. As I wait for the bus, two elderly men take their seats besides me. My odor is pungent, and I am more aware than ever that when I stand up, I will leave a puddle.
The bus is early. The bus is crowded. The crowd is not as excited to see me as I am to be on that bus.
An Asian couple clings to one another, and when she kisses him, I shiver. Maybe it is the cool air on my hot skin.

At my stop, I remove my shirt as I step off the bus. I am still nearly three miles from home. Jogging unsteadily down Avenida da Liberdade, I pass the hotel that Denis Johnson and his wife made their home for two weeks. I think of him sitting at all of those readings and lectures, cane propped beside him, socked feet strapped into sandals. It took me days to work up the courage to approach him.

Down a side street that I hope will cut off some time, I pass a fruit stand with navel oranges the size of cabbages. I must. I do. Thank god I brought money. There I am standing shirtless in dripping short shorts, earphones dangling from my head, ripping into an orange like Mr. Peepers from Saturday Night Live. I want another and another, but I know what that will do to my already churning stomach. A quick “Obrigado” to the owner, and I am off again.

When I reach the foot of Beco do Monte, I stop my pedometer. Eleven miles, almost to the foot. The cat that I have dubbed Fernando Pessoa rubs against my sticky leg and licks me. “What a life, Fernando,” I tell him and walk towards a warm shower, a cold beer, and a nap.

Tags: lisbon, portugal, run

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