Sunday, May 29, 2016

Lisboa y Sevilla

A love letter for Lisbon and Sevilla.


As I write this in Lisbon, an old man in the tiny restaurant next to the bigger, expensive restaurant, is gesturing with a cane behind my head. He's standing in the doorway, and there is a giant mesh bag of empty snail shells strung up above him. Out on the sidewalk on a wood and metal chair, a man he may or may not be talking to (he seems to be talking to anyone in particular) sleeps. Or tries to. The sidewalk is made of cut two inch square blocks of cream marble. The street itself is darker cut stone. The lines for crosswalks are made using the cream marble, lined up in rows. Women pass. They are beautiful. Then men who the old man calls to. I am drinking my second cup of red wine. It costs one euro each glass. I've just eaten a pescado dorado, a fried fish with a body about the size of my open hand. It was plump and white and crispy on the outside, its eye socket browned and the tail and bones intact. It came with plain potatoes and a tomato and onion salad and bread and a side plate of olives. Oil and vinegar are always on the table. Across from me, a funicular sits at rest, ready for its journey up to the top of the hill where Sheila lives. The hills are so steep here, throughout the city, that you climb them using stairs, also made of marble.

We stay here for three days, eating fish and Sheila working while I roam the old Arab quarter and keep my ration of egg tarts under three per day. On my birthday, we drive to King Ferdinand's expansive forest gardens, where Portuguese broom mixes with Australian tree ferns and rhododendron forests for the opening of an in-situ art installation. In an effort to make more people explore the gardens, twenty international and Portuguese artists have been invited to create works within the grounds. One is a giant cork, the size of a small bus. Another is a cleft in the earth with the same cream marble from the city streets inserted into its depths. At night, we drive back into Lisbon and find dinner with Mario, who owns Taverna, and who feeds us salted lamb and cheese and red wine and chocolate mousse. he gives me a tea light as a birthday candle. He tells us that most of the Portuguese have some quantity of Jewish blood.

Saturday and Sunday:

In a small single bed, with the tall doors of one of five balconies open to the night air, I go to sleep and wake up to bells from the nearby churches. The apartments opposite are five feet across the narrow pedestrian corridor. Swallows and swifts circle the rooftops and the voices of people below, coming back from tapas, echo up the alleys. It's 5am. We are just about to sleep. The apartment belongs to a Canadian/Spanish family with six children who have had it in the family for more than 100 years. The ceilings are 14 feet and the wooden slats of the tall shutters hang in the warm air. For dinner: queso, jamon, berenjena, tomate, pan, vino tinto y espinacas de garbanzas. Sheila and I walk around. There is a giant sculpture in the Plaza de Sevilla, shaped like a group of morel mushrooms that curves overhead and arches into the blue midnight sky. In the Hotel de los Juderias we stop for a glass of wine in a second floor piano bar. The carved stars of David and Islamic geometric designs soar in wood 30 feet above our heads. I am told, that night, that CBC has picked up my blog and read my letter from Warsaw out on North by Northwest. I have no idea if this is true. But it feels good to think of having readers.

The romance and music and brown bars of this region (what I call the traditional tapas and raciones places that string themselves through the old town of Sevilla) are healing me after a very different previous three weeks. I'm very tempted not to head home. I'm very tempted to start my life anew, in Spain, in a city I swore to return to nine years ago. I look up the aeroplan number. I look up apartment prices. And then I go back to eating snails and gaspacho, because immediate pleasure is too big a distraction. The waiter claps his hands. The dogs grin. Everyone in their Sunday best strolls the paseos and stops for another snack. Groups of four or five young men drift by with a couple of guitars, stopping to serenade the outdoor tables with flamenco tunes that they, and everyone else, knows the words to. A man leaning against the restaurant wall as the light falls puts his hand to his chest and his voice comes out gravelly and perfect. Next to him, a woman smiles and begins palmadas to accompany his song. There is a sense of a joy in life that I have not found in such constant and enduring and casual quantity in any other country in the world. Sevillanas, and those visiting from other parts of Spain, are too busy eating and drinking and talking to think of being anywhere else. I feel the same. How, how could I ever leave?