American author Philip Graham has written this post for GoLisbon, sharing his off-the-beaten-path discoveries in Chiado, one of Lisbon’s most visited neighborhoods. His book “The Moon Come to Earth: Dispatches from Lisbon” (a collection of essays narrating the year he lived in Lisbon with his family) is on sale now.
Lisbon, as Iâ€™ve said many times to friends and family, will surprise you. Perhaps the best example is that, even in Chiado, one of the most heavily touristed areas in the city, you can still take a short walk a bit off the beaten path that will be filled with pleasant surprises.
Yes, Chiadoâ€™s CafÃ© a Brasileira, with its outdoor stand of umbrella-ed tables where you can sip and be seen by passing fellow travelers, is a worthy stop. The high-end shops down Rua Garrett deserve windowâ€”as well as actual shopping. And thereâ€™s nearly always some unusual street performance underway at the PraÃ§a LuÃs de CamÃµes.
But if youâ€™re inclined to make a brief escape from the gravitational pull of the usual tourist attraction, simply walk south from the Largo do Chiado, down the Rua do Alecrim. Youâ€™re just a block away from the lovely Largo do BarÃ£o de Quintella, a tiny green park centered around the dark marble statue celebrating one of Portugalâ€™s greatest writers, the novelist EÃ§a de Queiroz. He stands (fully clothed) beside the figure of a half naked woman, her arms spread in supplication. Sheâ€™s meant to represent Truth, and at the base of this statue is a quote from Queiroz, the one that inspired the sculptor:
â€œSobre a nudez forte de verdade
A manto diaphano da fantasia,â€
which roughly translates into English as:
â€œOver the hard nakedness of truth
Lies a gauzy veil of fantasy.â€
Thatâ€™s as pithy a description of most peopleâ€™s daily reality as can be found in literature, and itâ€™s worth pausing to contemplate. You can continue your contemplations as you then make your way to the southeast corner of the park and walk across the street to Santâ€™anna (95-97 Rua do Alecrim), an excellent shop specializing in Portuguese azulejos. These are traditional colorful tiles, an art form that was originally influenced by the abstract patterned tiles of the Moors, who ruled over much of Portugal in the Middle Ages. The Portuguese versions, however, go much more for representation, the patterns featuring leaves, flowers, fruit, etc. You can also find pottery and dishes at the shop, though the tiles are the main attraction.
But be careful what you buy. Over ten years ago my wife and I purchased a couple boxes of azulejos from Santâ€™anna, and that initial purchase of about $150 turned into the basis of a very expensiveâ€”but satisfyingâ€”kitchen renovation.
Other azulejos tell a story, each square tile forming a small part of a larger illustrated drama: battle scenes, depictions of daily life from other centuries, religious miracles, all designed to be displayed in oneâ€™s home or on an exterior wall. One might say that Portuguese azulejos were one of the earliest forms of popular graphic art.
Once youâ€™ve explored enough in Santâ€™anna, simply walk one block east, along the southern edge of the Largo do BarÃ£o de Quintella, and youâ€™ll be in sight of BdMania (Rua das Flores, 71), a small shop where you can find another, more contemporary kind of graphic art; this place is stacked with all manner of graphic novels, comics, Japanese manga, you name it. Are you a fan of steam punk? This is the place for you. Each table is packed with an amazing range of merchandise. I once bought for my wife there a French graphic novel about a traveling band of klezmer musicians.
After your extended stint of exploring in these two shops, perhaps itâ€™s time to think about lunch. Keep walking south on the Rua das Flores, in the direction of the Tejo river. Youâ€™re looking for Restaurant a Carvoaria (Rua das Flores, 6), but donâ€™t look for a sign, there isnâ€™t one. There isnâ€™t a menu posted outside, either. Just look for the street numberâ€”6â€”and there you are, standing in front of what looks like a hole in the wall. Literally. Just a darkened open doorway beckons you to a not entirely welcoming darkened space. Have no fear, thoughâ€”take a few steps inside, let your eyes adjust, and then head for the stairs on your left. Youâ€™ll enter a much better lit but still cavernous space, chock-a-block with long tables filled with Portuguese business people and workers enjoying their mid-day meal in a restaurant that only serves lunch, within a two-hour window, from noon to a little after 2 oâ€™clock. The food in Carvoaria is simple but satisfying. Go for the seafood, though the chicken dishes are just as succulent. Yâ€™know, the rack of pork is fine too. The house red wine, served in ceramic jars, goes down smoothlyâ€”be careful, it will creep up on you. The entire atmosphere is of a happy, noisy family.
But donâ€™t order a dessert or coffee. Save that final course for your last stop on this little tour, the nearby pastelaria Quatro EstaÃ§Ãµes (PraÃ§a de SÃ£o Paulo 17). Simply continue walking south on Rua das Flores, make your first right, onto Rua de SÃ£o Paulo, and then take your first left. There youâ€™ll find Quatro EstaÃ§Ãµes, located in the middle of the block at the eastern end of the PraÃ§a de SÃ£o Paulo.
Make sure you grab a table near the window facing the praÃ§aâ€”from there youâ€™ll have a lovely view of the Church of SÃ£o Paulo on the other side of the praÃ§a. I suggest this pastelaria not because the offerings of dessert or caffeinated beverages or freshly squeezed orange juice is better than any other of the myriad such pastelerias in Lisbon (though they are quite good here); instead I recommend it because of the clientele. The owners are a Brazilian couple that has created in their establishment a welcoming air to all and sundry, and the place is often swinging with an unusual cast of characters. I relaxed there several times during a year I spent in Lisbon, and while lingering over an espresso or the spongy goodness of a bolo de arroz, I could take in the informal rotating house entertainment of a pair of gypsies reading patronsâ€™ palms for hints of the future, ancient veterans selling raffle tickets, and local characters whoâ€™d invented their own language or who imagined themselves powerful political figures. Strangers air-kiss other strangers, and for all the odd moments, the pastelaria maintains a mellow, happy mood. This is a real neighborhood gathering place, and as far from a den of tourists as you can get in downtown Lisbon.
Oh, right beside Quatros EstaÃ§Ãµes is a dental clinic, but I doubt youâ€™ll be eating that many sweets at the pastelaria.