Alive in Lisbon: Sounds of Alfama

IMG_4730The first day it was already night when I arrived at my apartment in Alfama, suitcase wheels attacking dark cobblestone alleys like unbalanced bombs. They wanted me to surrender, I had already given away too much. Why keep moving? Counterforce children are throwing their own, and my leg is hit by a water balloon explosion. My desire limps toward the home hidden in this neighborhood, through this period piece film set. Sidewalks too narrow for two to walk side by side. These streets are meant for one at a time, to be walked alone. Up and around and back down again, how will this be something that I know? Because every day, every one is someone else. Every place is somewhere else. A shift that occurs while we dream.

The rooms were lightly bathed in incense, innocent candles placed secretly here and there, polished tiles in the kitchen and bathroom dazzling. I was enclosed, a 12th century wall stood nearby while I slept in absolute darkness, absolute silence, a hotel room of a bedroom, the one I had claimed. No maid to come and make the bed here. No one to bring me bread and eggs and coffee. She said, the bakery is just around the corner. Very local. There is a bar below, might be nice if you want a drink. She was curly and documentary. Flying back to the city in the morning. Very busy, that’s her life. Activism, activity. Only books of war and change on the attractive bookshelf. But here I smell only new fresh peace. My peace. At long last.

I wake up and it’s still here, I am still here, it still exists. I run to the living room, the balcony is still attached. Laundry is hanging postcard style. Old men smoke and drink at ten in the morning, movie like. Tourists amble down the hill while I slip across my amber honey wooden floors. I sip water. I stare at the tv screen which I dont really want. Even the coffee table, which sits before the bright orange sofa that groans when I want to sit, even this simple table is not. Not with chocolate shiny blue white tiles, triangles, cut rectangles, pieces of gleaming stone art. Like the building all around, covered, like a wall of refrigerator magnets, secret kitchen glimpses in the bare air. How daring, in this wild ocean atmosphere, the air the children breathe so they never tire, so they run uphill, rocket down, yelling like parents at each other with smiles.

In the night I slip to the floor from my arabic leather cushion, she left it. Like the pillows, I hope you will enjoy them, my mother (the mother whose pumpkin jam is waiting in the fridge) bought them for me in Egypt. But see, the zippers have broken. Here is a seIMG_4980wing kit, can you fix them? I hope you will enjoy them.

The floor is vibrating from the french bar below. Downstairs and upstairs are other expats, many french, french-portuguese. Smoking, drinking every night and afternoon of the week. They play a french radio station from the internet, and the songs groove loud, their ceiling bumps my floor in discotheque fashion, again and again. I open my balcony window doors and there are children wailing short wails, deep male voices, old women smoker voices.

In the day, when the sun is still lazing over my floor, a boy shouts hard, he is selling something, over and over, to the residents and tourists, and the old walls shift to one side when he passes. Across my balcony, the building has been evacuated, she said, the residents were plucked out, the walls were falling. They have made special braces, like crutches holding up broken legs. So many broken legs. The top half is covered in blue tarp, like a dead body before being carted away by those forgettable workers.

I am lifted by the cracked fingers of noises that appear in my bathroom window as I shower, hard and fast dance music in the middle of the day. Plates are prepared, silverware fighting, windows dropped shut after stuttered raspy shrieks. Above my bed in the morning, french murmurs transform to piano playing silence. The wall is old and quiet, listening, still. No one can climb it, or maybe it will crumble like that building. What if mine is next, what will I grab onto? I have nothing to save but myself. My suitcase is a magician’s box, nothing remains. It has already left me once and now it is dissolving, escaped to my past and removing its reason one item at a time. There will be no security check for me, I move alone, why waste your time on me? I live in a noisy place, where the people dance in the day to electronic radio, stand and drink, drink and stand, and smoke, and I never know what they say.


It’s the first time I pass by the shops, on the street which is now mine. Even if I dont want it. Rusty laughs, climbing discussion voices falling down from smoky branches into piles of little beer bottles. Tourists having sun lunches, they are so happy to be among the locals are not so happy. Green wine and grilled fish, grilled by their feet, smoking sole, caught inside their cameras. This street is leaning up as the cathedral begins to bell, which one is it this time? She says, there are many cathedrals nearby, I dont know why, she laughs. They rise fat and white against the palm sticks and the salty blue vapors. I hear a moment of silence past the one two three four orange trees, blossoms that smell like jasmine, but I must not remember jasmine. The jasmine isn’t to be seen, only orange candy dots floating in dark green leaves, wide and thick, strong. They are small trees, but they are the only ones here. The bell returns and I look over the deep down hill from an iron gate lifted above all that falling space.

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