Oh Lisbon

Eight am of a lovely spring morning. I’m driving to work and I take the usual route. It’s barely 4 kilometres but almost every street, every corner and every building holds a souvenir of my life, of moments happy or sad, but still important all of them. And I suddenly realise – I who have always looked at Lisbon as the place I had to come to after leaving my native city in Mozambique – that I’m in love with this city, because it is such an important part of me.

Built on seven hills like Rome Lisbon is a very old city, existing long before the Romans named it Olisipo. Facing the wide Tagus river, Lisbon is a breathtaking view on a sunny day, and there is no view more beautiful than that you have from a plane as it’s approaching Lisbon airport, located inside the city: as you fly over the impressive bridge you can see the buildings coming down to the river, the huge Praça do Comércio, a huge 18th century square facing the river and, on the right side, the Castle of St. George conquered by the Portuguese with the support of some Crusaders who were on their way to the Holy Land and stopped by to help do battle with the moors who were holding the city.

Lisbon is full of history – in the Restauradores (Restoration) square we Portuguese love to recall how in 1640, after sixty years of Spanish domain, the revolution literally overthrew the invader, as a group of staunchly patriotic rebels stormed into the Palace of the Spanish representative, the Duchess of Mantua, and threw her Portuguese secretary, considered to be a traitor, out of the window and into the street outside. In the old quarter of Alfama we remember the story of one of the most famous “fado” singers, the Severa, a prostitute according to legend, whose voice was so strong that people stopped just to hear her sing that most Portuguese of songs, almost invariably a sad melody that tells of lost love and despair. But there are also some “fados” about history or the city of Lisbon, and these sound much happier, like the city on a bright day when the merry colours of the traditional buildings together with the shining sun contribute to give it its unique light.

Now that I am always in a hurry I don’t walk as much as I did when I was young and went everywhere on foot or by either tube or bus. I used to live in a new quarter, called the New Avenues, where it was fairly flat – even if the pavement is made of cobblestones and these are terrible for walking, especially with high or thin heels – so I walked back and forth and I knew so well every café, every shop, every corner…a succession of images come to my mind, as when I drive by and see the imposing gates of my old school, or when I go past my university, now comprising several buildings but that in my time was surrounded by green fields where shepherds tended to their sheep.

So many years have passed and this city holds my life within its walls – if only they existed, but Lisbon city has no walls, it’s open, spreading on one side to the Estoril coast and Cascais, on the other to the North and on yet another to the South through the bridge…this city that saw the fifteenth century ships leaving to discover new lands during the maritime discoveries, has also seen almost every moment of my life; this city has sheltered me and nurtured my dreams, been a witness of my joys and my sorrows, has given me my loves and my friends, and then my beloved children… Lisbon has welcomed me with open arms…for years I thought I was some sort of “lack land” person, but now I know I was wrong, so terribly wrong, as Lisbon has  adopted me, giving me the best it has to offer – a home, a place to live my life, no, rather a place to enjoy life to the full.

Oh Lisbon – now I realise how I love your streets, your trees, the Atlantic breeze, the large new avenues and the narrow streets of the old quarters, the delicious little cakes called “the pastéis de Belém”, the traditional cafés I’ve been to for so many years such as Versailles and Mexicana, eating grilled sardines in June at a small terrace restaurant near the church of St. Anthony, gazing at the breathtaking view over the city and river from the castle walls or simply walking down Avenida da Liberdade and enjoying the sun on my face while I look at the windows of the expensive designer shops full of African and Asian tourists…even if I always complain about the cobblestone pavement I suppose I would not have it any other way, as it is so typical of Lisbon the city would not be the same without it!

A few days ago I heard that Lisbon has been considered something like the coolest capital in Europe by Bloomberg. It has certainly become popular in the last few years, a favourite destination for many foreigners. I am of course proud of this fact and we Portuguese are very welcoming to those who visit us. Furthermore I believe Lisbon has many things to offer – all that I have mentioned and so much more: the weather, the unique light, the food, our history, the monuments, the people, the shops…but for me it’s so much more, I now realise, than just a nice city. For me it is the place where I have lived my life, so many wonderful, unforgettable moments, and so many stories closely linked to so many places in this city – Lisbon I now see as my own city. Like an adoptive mother it has held me in its arms and rocked me and slowly, slowly, it has made me understand that, however much I miss my native city in Mozambique, this is where I now belong, and I am happy, so happy for it, because, undoubtedly, this is the city I love and this is the place where I want to be. My dear, old, young, happy, occasionally sad, bright, colourful, sunny, sometimes rainy, surprising, hectic, serene, puzzling, bursting, crazy, original, welcoming, and so many other things…but above all my very own, city of Lisbon.