Our American readers are celebrating their Thanksgiving holiday today, and if I was still living in the United States, I’d probably also be sitting at a table with a turkey in front of me for most of the day today. It wouldn’t matter that I don’t eat turkey — tradition is tradition. And because there’s no harm in following most traditions, I will now list the things for which I am thankful for here in Lisbon. Thank you Lisbon for:
Thank you for NOT being thankful
A thanksgiving holiday would never work here in Lisbon. Its people are never thankful for anything. Sure they live in a paradise of a city, where the sun shines for 300 days out of the year and thermometers rarely go below 10 degrees (50F) during the day, in a peaceful city under no terrorism threat, with one of the lowest crime rates in Europe, providing a beautiful scenery to be admired over a drink at a café or restaurant, and where everything moves at a snail’s/human pace. But since nothing is perfect, the people of Lisbon live their lives complaining about everything. They’d complain about many of those same things in any other city, but good for you, Lisbon – there’s always room for improvement. And OK, the city does need a lot of improvement. So Lisbon, you’re almost perfect but continue to demand more. Demand that people appreciate you more.
Thank you for simply being Lisbon
Lisbon is like an old lady who is proud of her wrinkles and refuses any cosmetic surgery or Botox. Lisbon looks old, but she knows she’s lived quite a long, spectacular life and nothing shows that better than those wrinkles. Lisbon is comfortable with who she is and she knows she’s beautiful no matter what, especially to those who get to know her and look beyond the surface. Lisbon looks like she’s falling apart, yet she keeps a dignified air. She’s got a fantastic life story to tell. Thank you for not being an excessively sanitized city sacrificing your soul for a façade or financial gain. Thank you for not being Singapore, Zurich, or Vienna. Thank you for the uneven cobblestone pavements, the dogs you allow to walk freely through the streets, the amusing graffiti you don’t remove from your walls, the cracked tile panels and peeling colors of your façades… It is easy to criticize you for that. Those things could be improved or changed. But even if they’re not, it just makes you even more authentic, and whoever doesn’t appreciate that is not worthy of you. You’ve earned our respect no matter what you look like.
Thank you for the Tagus
The Seine, the Thames, or any other European city’s river can not compete with the Tagus. The Tagus is often confused for the Atlantic by many tourists. Their ignorance is completely understandble since it can look more like the ocean than a river when observed from the top of one of Lisbon’s hills. And even those who know that it is a river, also know that the Atlantic is in fact just around the corner, as are the sandy beaches that stand next to it. Then there are the waterfront cafes and restaurants where you sit and begin to understand why this river inspired the 15th century explorers to go on exploring the then-unknown seas.
Thank you for your characters
You ride the subway a couple of times and you begin to anticipate the moment when the blind beggar walks through asking/yelling for some change with every breath out of his lungs. You walk down Rua Augusta and you feel an absence when the gypsy boy is not sitting there with his accordion and the tiny Chihuahua on his shoulder holding a tiny bucket in its mouth. You’ve seen him a million times before, but you can’t help it but look again at the tumor-filled man standing in Rossio as if out of a freak show. You love it when the old man who stands almost every night in Saldanha waving at everyone passing by, also waves at you. You’re very open-minded, but you can’t help it but wonder how in hell did that goth, that punk, that freak or fashion victim of a kid thought s/he looked good wearing that when s/he looked at him/herself in the mirror, as s/he walks past you in Bairro Alto or Chiado. You walk up to Bairro Alto at night to take part in its weekend night street invasion, and can hear the short man singing Fado and playing a guitar almost as big as he is in Rua Garrett from miles away. Then there are the old ladies challenging their legs up the city’s hills, the old men who all look the same arguing about soccer and politics they can barely understand but always have an opinion about, the gypsies who approch you for “chocolate” as code for hashish when in reality it’s not even drugs at all… Thank you Lisbon for allowing these people to be part of our everyday lives. They add nothing to our lives, but this way we’re reassured that you’re never boring.
Thank you for not being touristy
Thank you for not being a tourists’ theme park like Prague or Venice. Thank you for not having an entire street or square bought by capitalism à la New York’s/Disney’s Times Square, or London’s Picadilly Circus, or all of Las Vegas. Thank you for limiting neon signs to Cais do Sodré’s whore houses. Thank you for not having a cheesy souvenir shop at every turn. Thank you for not having “Murder Mystery Dinners” or a “serial killer tour.” Thank you for making visitors come to see you and nothing else.