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Sardine Smoke Gets In Your Eyes

PORTUGAL | Monday, 23 June 2008 | Views [907]

It has been a while since I got off on my own for more than a day. A month on a homestead, and another week with my parents. I can't convey how exciting it is to walk down a quiet hilly streamer-crossed Lisboa street not knowing if I'm going to go left or right at the end of the block. 

I wrote the other day in my little notebook, "Lisboa is is a small city, and a big city, it's a clean city, it's a dirty city, it's a colonial plaza, it's a sketchy park, it's a picturesque alleyway of balconies, it's a wall of graffiti." The quirky combination of character traits is wonderful. Quotes of its size that I read on the internet are all over the place; nobody seems to know how big or small it actually is. It's hilly, very hilly, so it feels larger and more maze-like. But none of the buildings are too tall, none of bars too contemporary, none of the sights too renowned. It's a little bit exotic, a little bit forgotten, Lisboa is. People seem pretty content with that though. "The people that come here, great, and the people that don't know how cool Portugal is, well, who needs 'em, because we know how cool we are." That's not a direct quote, that's how Portuguese porject themselves outwardly to me.

Talk about cool ethnic stews; Lisboa is populated by Afro-Brazilian-Moorish Europeans.  The language looks like Spanish but sounds like Russian. The nightlife is a hip jazzy dim-lit gathering spilling out onto the alleys of the Bairro Alto. Further alleys give hints to family life, front doorways opening straight into cramped kitchens, and hints of heritage, Portuguese flags hung everywhere to support the national team in the current European soccer tournament and Indian-prayer flag look-a-likes bridging the space above you to celebrate  their patron Sant Antoni this week.

One night my vetern Lisboan friends allowed me to follow them to the local social club for a blindingly smoky late night dinner. Obviously my eyes lit up at the mention of a traditional soup. It was caldo verde, a top-notch cabbage soup. We also got shrimp and potato croquettes, a plate of snails, thick chorizo, and some high-density bread. I had already satisfied the grilled sardines requirement earlier in my visit, though it was surely the most popular item on the menu, and the smoke from the grill, which was outside the front door on the actual street, wafted in in volumes.

I saw a Coca Cola commercial a couple days ago that proved the ubiquitousness of sardines in Portugal. The plot centered around three sardines fawning over a bottle of Coca Cola, fanning it down, offering it food, trying to get the best seat next to the bottle while in the jacuzzi.

Lest I surprise you, my trip is almost over. I only have one more stop: London, my home, my love.

Tags: food, independence, portugal

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