After what seemed as long as forever, but now, feels as short as a blink of an eye, five weeks of traveling in and out of 6 different countries, I am now, finally, back home.
It is difficult, if not impossible, to sum up a journey as long as this one in one post. It began in Hong Kong, then Taipei then back to Hong Kong, then it departed towards London, then Madrid, and Lisbon, then finally, passing by Germany, back to Hong Kong, then back to Beijing. It was a zig-zaging montage of cityscapes, sounds, smells, flavours, stimulations… but also disorientations, sense of aimless drifts, dubbed by a relentless seasonal flu somewhere at end. How do I tell such a story I have no clue. I suspect I would be inadequate but I shall try.
I shall try, starting with Lisbon.
Why Lisbon? I don’t know. I guess there are moments in life that didn’t feel particularly monumental at the times, but somehow, years and years later, they stay with you whenever you feel like looking back. Lisbon, in the best sense, felt as such. There are cities where we go to feel the future. New York, London, places that strut at the tip of our times, erecting glories built in glasses and steels, forward. Lisbon, as rare as it is precious, is not that kind of city. Lisbon, to me at least, comes into the scene as an ageing beauty. Her allures permeates in a lingering perfume of melancholy, on the surface of every faded tiles, behind every half-closed wooden windows, cut deep into every folds of her stone-paved labyrinth. She is old. She is complicated. There are a lot of bygone glories, loss and pain in her untold stories, some remembered only objects that cannot speak. I found myself striken by a sense of wounded dignity at her unguarded moments. In fact, sometimes her unpolished cheeks marked with spray paints and the crumbling of her once beautifully tiled facades, like a ripped silk dress, made me feel impolite to stare. But, I guess, that’s why Lisbon felt so unique. Holding her own, almost carefully, with a flustered sense of self-esteem… she sits quietly, a city by the sea.
A place like her leaves an impression. She made me wonder about the life she’s had. She made me want to dig deeper. She made me wanna do things that I’ve never done to any other places, beyond the politeness of walking through her streets and allies, beyond gorging the foods that she cooked. I wanted to get more intimate. Closer. I wanted to hear her sing. And if there’s one thing that I think you should do in Lisbon, however cheesy it may be, you should hear Lisbon sing.
And she sings Fado.
OF COURSE, WE HAD TO FINISH THE MEAL WITH A SANDWICH. WE JUST HAD TO. THAT’S HOW IT’S DONE.
BUT THIS TIME, WE WEREN’T SORRY THAT WE DID
First of all, it might help to mention that I am not a music person. I have almost zero song downloaded to my smartphone, and in the 7 years I’ve dwelled in New York, a trip to New Orleans, I have never stepped a foot inside a jazz bar. Curried goat, yes, but Bob Marley who?
So no, I don’t usually do this.
But to come to Lisbon without listening to a bit of fado, a music as burnt into the soul of this country as anything can hurt, is a regret that I wasn’t planning to walk away with. However, before I go on, I warn you, that a fado experience in Lisbon can prove to be borderline awkward if you have some kind of personal distance-issues. Chances are, as we were, you’d be seated on a stool tucked in between the elbows and knees of total strangers, so crowded it’d be difficult to reach down to your phones to take a selfie. Chances are you’d be forced to share foods, and drinks, too, oh hell, conversations even. If you got problems with any of those things as I almost do – oh fuck did I mention that they smoke indoors, too – chances are, it would be uncomfortable.
But again, chances are, you would regret it if you didn’t.
A young woman in her 20’s came into the tiny spot reserved for performers, professionals and amateurs alike. Carried only by a couple of guitarists sitting a feet away, she started singing… no, more like… pouring her heart out on the floor. There was so much passions, longings and losses that I felt through a song that I didn’t understand. Her body moved like a stringed puppet, cringed, shaken, pulled by the very own emotions in the melody that she sang. Her voice, at times almost inaudible, at times piercingly loud, communicated words without any translations. It felt… brave, almost, bleeding this much feelings to a wall of strangers staring within an arm’s length. Just when I thought I got a sense of what fado was, after her, came an old man in his 80’s. He was more talking then singing, waving and pointing his hands in every possible gestures, sometime as if in an argument, sometime as if in mourning. It was comical but not funny. It was crude but endearing. I can’t say I know fado, but if you ask me, the beauty of it is not in the perfection of vocal skills, but in the generosity of common strangers, singing their hearts to you on a sleeve.
We left the bar a bit in awe, with a couple of new German friends who were forced to share their chorizos with us. Walking home on her crooked slopes echoing her voice in heart-strung melodies, Lisbon felt more mysteriously beautiful than before I got to know her.