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The Dangerous Business of Going Out Your Door I am often tired of myself and I have a notion that by travel I can add to my personality and so change myself a little. I do not bring back from the journey quite the same self that I took. - W. Somerset Maugham

Lisbon Impressions

PORTUGAL | Thursday, 21 January 2016 | Views [447]

Lisboa, Lisbon, Lissabon, Lisbonne

Quote from Fernando Pessoa (1888-1935), Portuguese poet, born in Lisbon:

"Over seven hills, which are as many points of observation whence the most magnificent panoramas may be enjoyed, the vast irregular and many-coloured mass of houses that constitute Lisbon is scattered. For the traveller who comes in from the sea, Lisbon, even from afar, rises like a fair vision in a dream, clear-cut against a bright blue sky which the sun gladdens with its gold. And the domes, the monuments, the old castles jut up above the mass of houses, like far-off heralds of this delightful seat, of this blessed region."


Arrival By Night in a Strange City

As I arrived by plane, the graceful curvature of Lisbon shone against the sea and the night sky. This place would be my first real test, the place where my sabbatical would begin, and the place where I would start to find out whether I was made of the right substance for this quest. I splurged on a taxi, being too timid to try the metro for the first time with luggage at night. Bless the dear driver, who put me at ease with his kind smile, his patience, and his effort to speak with and understand me. He spoke very little English and I spoke very little Portuguese, but we found we could converse best in broken Spanish. How easy it is to find common ground when both parties are willing! While we squeezed through the narrow streets, bolstered by magnificent architecture on either side, I caught glimpses of even more narrow lanes falling away precipitously, flowing toward the river. I was already captivated.

My hostel room was perfect, just as I had imagined, only better: A small, safe, clean, and quiet room with a small bed, small table, and chair, right in the heart of Lisbon, in Chiado, the district of poets, bookstores, and literary cafes. It even had a small private balcony on which I could perch to observe the city at night while listening to live music from the square around the corner. In my mind, there could certainly be no better place than this. 


Light and Shadow, Near and Far Compete for the Most Breathtaking Beauty

Wandering around Lisbon, it is hard to decide which view is best. Is it when the sun shines brightly and energizes the vibrant colors? Or is it under the clouds, when calm and melancholy dominate? Is it from the depths of the city, surrounded on all sides by cobblestone, fountains, Gothic gargoyles, and the ceramic azulejos tiles? Or is it from the heights, the lookout points called miradouros, from whence the clay roofs tumble carelessly in all directions? As soon as the best view is found, it is superseded by the next, because there can be no one best. The light is most beautiful only when juxtaposed with shadow, and the highest curve of the hill is only completed by the deep stone alley. Thus, you feel that you can wander Lisbon endlessly without tiring of it, constantly exploring, and approaching what you seek, but never entirely discovering it. 

From across the river, the Rio Tejo, the statue of Cristo Rei contemplates the city. It is a jumble of white mounds garnished with muted pink and yellow accents. Bits of green can be seen, but there is an overlay of light gray that keeps the vibrancy in check. The windows and doors are narrow and not very tall, but still inviting. You feel that if you are quiet and contemplative, you might be invited inside. If you were to get inside, you are sure that you would want to stay. 


Did They Get You to Trade?

Relaxing on my balcony after a day full of exploration, I could hear the live band around the corner covering "Wish You Were Here" by Pink Floyd. How often I had listened to these lyrics in the last couple of years, thinking that my answer was yes. Now the words drifted up to me from the Largo do Chiado, "Did they get you to trade your heroes for ghosts? Hot ashes for trees? Hot air for a cool breeze? Cold comfort for change? Did you exchange a walk on part in the war for a lead role in a cage?" and in that moment, I could finally answer no, at least for a little while.

Tags: lisbon, sabbatical, travel


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