Numerical Lisbon


Thankyou to E.A.S Demers for selecting me as the blogger this week and for her beautifully crafted blog.  The quotes were lovely and  I will repeat this idea to some extent. Thanks also to Varun for creating this project.

As an English Teacher, I have the privilege to move country at the end of every academic year. Different routines, architecture, foreign language patterns absorbed into English and  music have a strong influence on  my writing,. Last year, I began blogging when I was besotted, overwhelmed and awed by the fur lined, snow struck Russian Federation.  This year, I’ve flipped the coin on the side of the  sun and come to Lisbon or Lisboa as the Portuguese pronounce with a sumptious zh.  I’ll recount here each day a different aspect of  the life of a Lisboeta . Beginning with numbers.

Numerical Lisbon

I wear a number to the swimming pool

Sete Tres Seis seis  -that’s all;

Sibilant sheltered   shucking

Shsss soft and bucking.

Sign my number on the register

1416, a scrawled whirr

Numbers to evaluate

Two one four; 25613’s always late.

Another for the computer screen

Likewise I feed the cash machine.

The  poem above  is a comment on the numeric composition of a day in Lisbon. There are a lot of numbers involved. Sometimes I feel like  a citizen in a dystopian novel or film. My day used to begin with a trip to the municipal swimming pool where you must give in your four digit number and an ID card before entering. Now, I’ve found a private pool and only have to scan a card, already imbued with a user number and all the tax, passport and social security numbers that could be desired. The metro card also contains detailed information as it can’t be obtained without providing various proofs of identity.

At my language school,  I have a teacher number to sign alongside my name on every register. Then the students have their own longer number.  Whatsmore, the lesson times are slightly erractic, beginning at 35 past or 10 past, ending 75 minutes later and different times and breaks for Saturdays. Like in  boarding school, a bell rings on the hour and at 10 past the hour to add further complication to this maze of times. Even student reports function by numbers. Each teacher is issued with a book of codes. Each code corresponds to a comment in English and its’ Portuguese translation. For example: 257 Late arrival is affecting progress.

You see that Lisbon pays homage to ID numbers and red tape. Perhaps this is more than a simple heritage of a dictatorship? It may be an attempt to contain and add order to a with all the ingredients of a Paradise where food, wine and family life are privileged over efficiency? ‘My Portuguese colleagues take a coffee break every hour. Some of the women spent an hour on the phone to their family and always talked about the same things every day,’ said a fellow expat working in Portuguese company. Despite all these number, hours and minutes are less important. It’s perfectly acceptable to be twenty or thirty minutes late for a meeting and to excuse yourself by , ‘Sorry, I’m on Portuguese time.’ (An excuse used by a potential landlord and subsequently by me.). Doctors appointments are issued as a block, so that four patients may all arrive at 9’o’ Clock and await their turn. It can be terribly frustating until you learn to slow down. I’ve started stopping for a coffee even when I really should be hurrying some-where, stopping at the Miradouras, viewpoints, to contemplate the picaresque silken river below. Staying up half the night by which time there are no numbers involved.


This first entry has emerged so late – just before the cusp of midnight on GMT – because I’m running on Portuguese time. Besides that there have been multiple reasons for tardiness in my day and perhaps a quick summary would give a flavour of life here. I’ll use the past perfect, as I’ve been teaching today in school and its seeped into my conscienceness; I need to bleed it out.

After I’d dressed in psychadelic as a 60s chick for a  60s-80s party, I sipped some good Portuguese wine. After I’d been drinking and eating and dancing for a few hours, I danced on a stool. If I’d known I would’ve spraining my foot, I wouldn’t have done that. After I’d sprained my foot, I walked up the cobbled streets to the great Bairro Alto (High Hill), compendium of most nightlife. After I’d felt a pain in my foot, I continued to dance Latin dances until the pain became prohibitive to the point where I couldn’t walk. After I’d realised I couldn’t walk, I had to get back down and up the winding streets by a mixture of piggy backs and hopping. In conclusion, I was more or less confined to my roomm yesterday without however any ability to think and had to all the things I should’ve done yesterday today.