The destination is in the details. It wasn't obvious from the when I arrived, because with the all Lisbon, Portugal filling my small airplane window it was so easy to take the Portuguese capital generally. ‘Wow. What a beautiful city.’, or ‘Wow. What perfect weather.’, are the first thoughts that come to mind, but not matter how true they may be they do no justice to the adventure. Now, as I step through streets, up endless stairs and alleys adorned differently, I see generalizations are just that; general.
El Liot, my old French friend, turned Portuguese tour guide and barman, leads me through streets that even he has never seen. At first, I am a bit perplexed, because for a tour guide he sure isn't saying much. He just keeps snapping photos. Finally, I look to see what captures his attention. It’s Lisbon, and it’s telling its own story.
In the Graça neighborhood the story of Lisbon’s past, and its enduring future are everywhere. Young boys wearing their Portuguese national team jerseys scuttle aside, quickly picking up their soccer ball as a car zooms through the narrow pathway. The old men sit out in front of the convenient store sipping Superbock beer, competing with their cerveja bottles for which can sweat the most. El and I walk through any back alley with a seemingly interesting story tell. They’re endless. We marvel for several moments at street art dedicated to legendary Portuguese artists. The murals fill the wall with brilliant color and passionate history. We past several portraits of greats like the famous Carmen Miranda, and the not so famous, like Senor Antonio and Dona Betilia who simply used to live in this old neighborhood.
“We must keep going,” El says. “I have a place I want to take you.”
We ascend. The steps don’t seem to stop, as every plateau leads only to another alley, with another set of stairs to climb. Finally, jutting out just above a group of trees is The Keep, a bed and breakfast situated just near the Sao Jorge Castle. We enter and El explains that we’re not clients, but we'd like to buy some Superbocks and enjoy the view from the nest on the top floor. To our delight she says, 'yes', and we ascend the spiraling staircase into a small circular room. No walls. Just windows.
From here it would again seem like any other southern European city; absolutely beautiful. The pristine blues skies contrasts brilliantly with the typical Mediterranean rooftops, which stretch throughout the city and to the Tagus River. From here I can see all of Lisboa’s neighborhoods, from Baxia to Belem.
“Do you see it, man?” he asks.
“I can see everything.”
El has lived her for over a year now. It’s his job to show people what Lisboa is all about, and even he is overwhelmed by the stunning perspective. We sit in the two comfortable leather chairs with our feet kicked up.
“Tell me,” I begin. “After so much time here, do you still feel French?”
“No. Not so much. I feel like myself. I mean look at this,” he says. “I love my job, my life, and my girlfriend. I love this city What more could I need? .”
Everyone has their place. Everyone is another detail to this mural of a city. The photos tell the legends, and perhaps one of the boys will replace Cristiano Ronaldo as the national soccer hero. The old men and their beers, preserve the stories of the past, while El and his perfect Portuguese life are perfect homage to the present.
Perhaps, it will rain next week. The skies won’t be so blue, and the weather not so perfect. But the details will always remain.