“Tell me, dear heart, dear chilled heart, what would you say to going to live in Lisbon? It’s surely warm there and you’d revive like a lizard under the sun. The city’s at the water’s edge and they say it’s built of marble. You see it is a country after my own heart; a landscape made up of light and stone, and water to reflect them! And so you walk slowly through this marble city, between 18th-century buildings and arcades that witnessed the days of colonial trade, sailing ships, the bustle and the foggy dawns of anchors being weighted."
In the short-story “Time is very strange” from the collection “Little Misunderstandings of No Importance” by Antonio Tabucchi, Frances Frenaye (translator)
I am glad authors are challenging the homogenisation that is so demanded by many readers. Too much fiction does not reflect real dialogue; I know it can be harder to follow, but it is good that some writing is articulated in that way. Perhaps short-stories are best for this as readers might be able to tolerate for a shorter time than throughout a novel. However, online reviewing is effectively channelling so much writing into narrow parameters which squeeze out interesting and/or innovative approaches. I have also been pleased in recent years to see more short-story collections being physically published, even from obscure writers like Tabucchi (does anyone still read him in this and age?). Ironically short stories and episodic novels are ideal for reading the way most people use e-readers. Yet, the sense that they are an illegitimate form of writing with people saying they are waiting for the 'full' novel of the story or feeling that, as if by accident, the author has only published a 'fragment' of the 'proper' story, is too common. When you read a Tabucchi short-story you don’t have this feeling of incompleteness.
Last night, I read this book before going to sleep; not an e-book, but a real book. I enjoyed the feel of the pages as I turned them and their odour. I enjoyed the look of the text on the paper in contrast with straining ones eyes' to look at a back-lit computer screen. This morning, I wrote in my journal; handwriting, with a fountain pen, deriving pleasure from the simple feel of the nib as it glided over the paper. Then I did some Chinese brush painting, revelling in the physical acts of creating beauty with hand, brush and ink. Then I went for a ride on my bicycle, the repetitive movements of foot on pedal being almost meditative, the sight of the trees and the smell of the grass and flowers gladdening the heart. This evening, I will set my mind and body to working a wok, creating tasty dishes with my own hands. The mind and body of a human being working together. I have no need of other stuff and make sure that I work at things that this other stuff will not be able to do for me unless it surpasses what defines me as a human being; I need “tasks” that require the awareness of qualitative experience. That’s what Tabucchi does for me in the form of literature.
What about the Lisbon Tabucchi writes about? It's still here. The weather, the light, the people, and yes, the food. Let me write about eating in my beloved city (Tabucchi lived for many years here so he knew what I'm talking about).
Lisbon has for many years being a food lover's paradise. For 40 years I have frequented what I think is the finest chicken restaurant; it is called "Bon Jardin" and is just off Rossio Square; any local will direct you. Usually packed so be prepared to share a bench on a long table superb quality and inexpensive. "Jose Avillez's Minibar": Every course is an absolute delight. The "Mercado da Ribeira" is everything that capital cities should be doing to promote local cooking and produce, and I'm delighted to see it always packed with people, foreigners and locals.
I also love places like "Claras Em Castelo" and "Cafe Madragoa", full of warmth and comfort and sturdy home cooking. The "Bacalhau com Natas" at Claras and the chocolate cake from Madragoa would make up a large portion of my last meal on earth (if I had to choose).
Memories too of 1 euro shots of gingha, several bottle of Black Superbock (a local beer) and many double bicas (aka espressos) too. "Uma" at Rua Dos Sapateiros for rice and fish cooked by two doddery old brothers. More crab, langouistine, prawns and mussels than you can eat for 15 euros. They are a bit slow but it's worth it and gives you time to drink more vinho verde.
If you want to go to a long food fest in Lisbon the Cape Verde Association is not to be missed; very lo-chic, high-class in ambience, full of businessmen and well dressed pensioners! Communal tables fill the whole side of half the skyscraper floor,with your seats shown to you by a gentle giant of a Head Man amongst ten other women who all shared cooking, serving and washing up. You're probably going to be squeezed onto the end of a table of ten others, with people seemingly all from the same office. Ten minutes later you'll be getting desperate, having watched plates buzzing all around you; no worries. The Head Man will come over and offer you the choice of chicken or pork or fish, with beans or rice. With wine or water and you are off. If you're in luck, the usual lone guitarist away down the other end will struck up and mid-meal, businessmen and ladies and especially pensioners, will dash to a small dancefloor to dance cheek to cheek to the velvet Cape Verdean sounds (Cape Verde was a Portuguese African colony, like Angola, Mozambique, Guiné and a few others)). The music will continue for well over an hour before the guitarist takes a break. You'll see what it means to live in Lisbon when you see well dressed pensioner regulars come down to your end of the table to courteously ask the hand of willing business womenfolk, and men, to dance away the problems of the day.
What about the beaches in Lisbon. Yep, I know a few but I'm keeping schtum ...Mind you, the whole of Portugal's Atlantic coast is a best kept secret, just like Northumberland in the UK, with a slight temperature difference ... I say "Atlantic coast" to differentiates the "Atlantic" coast from Algarve's coast, which is geologically quite different indeed, the latter being almost "Mediterranean" (but then how often people won't mention Portugal itself as Mediterranean country instead of simply saying meridional). Also Algarve's coast is not really a kept secret and it's also not in Lisbon... When it comes to our beaches, there is absolutely nothing hidden about them. Not in high summer nor after or before. But that doesn't matter, of course. If you believe it, if you believe it would be amazing to be there, it works.
I bloody love my city. Tabucchi did too; he was an Italian converted to the delights of my city. And he also took the time to learn my language to better appreciate what it means to be an Alfacinha (nickname for a native Lisboner, meaning "little lettuces"; I'm one of them...).
The weather is so great, I'm hitting the beach again today!
NB: Stuff about Lisbon and our food. Malkovich also lives here...