Michael Phoenix explores the City of Seven Hills through the words of the Lisbon’s laureate Fernando Pessoa
“All beginnings are involuntary.”
We took a bus south through the night and the deadlock Spanish heat. A whole days traveling behind us so sore shoulders there and then, medicine pushed to exhaustion against the rough and itchy padding of the seats. Cool humming saintly air conditioning breathed above and down. Neon signs lit the roads as the city receded until the last of them went by and out and Iberian deserts rolled past at our sides. We searched for sleep amongst it all with thrown off shoes and improvised arches, for sale all finding it eventually apart from the driver who last I remember was passing the journey with straightened back and chain drunk coffee and sly cigarettes out the window. We were on our way to Lisbon, sildenafil Portugal.
“The train slows down, it’s the Cais do Sodré. I arrived to Lisbon, but not to a conclusion.”
The suns growth on the horizon was blurred by strange low Atlantic Ocean clouds. Grabbed up backpacks shelled upon us, we walked out from the station mapless, and made towards the city – aiming at the sea. There was it seemed a long straight road but it disappeared or assimilated and so within ten minutes we were lost in the surrounding closeness of the Portuguese capital.
“Common man, no matter how hard life is to him, at least has the fortune of not thinking it.”
Two men stood silently in a doorway on the other side of the square letting us know that the city wasn’t dead, just sleeping. We crept forward with careful steps, swiveling heads cautiously. There was a mattness that pervaded the colours, a kind of morning coat. From what we saw it looked like the city might not have changed for 60 years. The cars matched the buildings and the buildings matched the cars and the men in the doorway matched each other and everything seemed to know its place like some unwritten ancient constitution was wound through the cobbles of the city streets. Everything matched but us, and so we crept. Tables stood in the middle of the square, under the glare of a shameless white statue. We laid our bags down and sat. One of the men approached and we spoke and he didn’t and instead just turned and disappeared and returned with coffee then left once more.
“Everything was asleep as if the universe was a mistake.”
We drank and waited for the city to wake up. First came the birds, hovering at a distance, one by one, then all together atop the buildings – stitched together by black metal wire balconies one step deep. The cracked white houses homes and shops, two stories tall, hid everything if we looked towards the sea, where the seven hills of the city ended. Behind us, those same hills stretched up and away into the hills.
“I don’t believe in the landscape.”
Lisbon was wiped out once. In 1755 the Great Lisbon Earthquake struck from the Atlantic and destroyed the city, as many as a third of its population were killed. We left the square and explored the rebuilt city. The sun now hung over the sea and shone upon the red tile roofs of the city whose people began to fill the streets and in all regards appeared differently from people found elsewhere. They moved calmly and contemplatively with the spaces of the city rather than through them. There were mustached men in worn down suits with wide wondering walks, and others with silent steps who glanced from under brimming hats seldom seen elsewhere. Children walked in close kept circles of whispering spies as well dressed women walked past with stern stares into the far away. We overcame the city slopes with fresh portuguese bread, crossing the careful bending waving streets in tram cars that heaved at the thick tangles of metal that overhung the first floors surrounding.
“In the doomed castle where life must be lived…”
As the day passed on and the heat of the sun began to bare upon us we walked languid amongst the districts of the ocean city. Through the glamour and wealth of Chiado, held out for all to see upon the window stages lining the shopping streets. The area was destroyed by a fire in 1988 but was rebuilt with its back straight and head held high and proud for the rich to breathe clearer again. We went on. Baxia, the downtown area of streaking mosaic underfoot arrived and stared at us from its central throne as underneath its straightened streets flattened and deceived and we let ourselves be carried in the strength of the warmth of the city.
“All is absurd.”
As dusk began to come over the city and lights in the windows gave out a full orange glow we reached bohemian Bairro Alto and came upon visions of the city through gaps in the walls of its fortified labyrinths that split into the city on hilltops and let the sea be seen and so reminded of where the city was and how it stretched on the edge of Europe’s horizon. The painted district walls adorned with images of Lisbon’s creative soul spread out as a living canvas upon which the dotted figures of Lisbon’s music and rhythm slowly spread as the slow build of the day grew towards its finale of night.
“I grow still at last.”
Lisbon is breathing. It is a heavy house wife rolling dough. It is a bus conductor demanding change. It is a fisherman suffering from stolen fish. It is mechanic and son trying to fix. It is a part romance and part growing up. It is a drop of ink and a thought of hope. It is a back ache walk up a holy hill. It is all that and more and it goes on and on – growing still.