A homage to Alfama
This morning I decamped from the oldest area of Lisbon. Its’ impossible and impractical streets were left intact from the great earthquake in an illogical mish-mash of stairs and archways and twists and side-streets. It is also the Fado district, although the songs that seem to come from every restaurant between 8pm and 11pm are not as powerful as the Fado that emerges after midnight , 1am , 2am in the great closed doors of community centres; shut out against distractions or any-one who dares not to concentrate on the melancholy sentiments of the Fado.
I have only moved a few hundred metres up the road. The streets remain beautifully cobbled, although they are wider and I am only the other side of a cathedral. However, this new street in wider and straighter. There’s no Fado drifting through my window, no old ladies half leaning out of doors, no seats under leafy arbours. No crumbling buildings amongst beautiful antiques of edifices. It is easy to not get lost. Walking from it, and not too it, I feel as if I’ve been severed from the bubble of Alfama, a village within a city.
This short story is a homage to the confusion and mystery of Alfama:
It was in the Beco d’Imaginacao that he saw her, as he followed the tram line sweating out from the pavement. The blue silk dress falling from her was a shimmer of the Tejo below. He recognised her immediately but why?
‘The way please to the Miradoura do Portas do Sol?’
He only nodded in resigned assent.
‘Up there. Follow the tram line.’ Her arm stretched out shimmering in a golden halo as if it was gilt. It belonged to the sun as the bright arms of an impressionist dancer may share their pigments with the sun.
He followed the tram lines sweating out from the pavement and reached a sombre narrow street. It was in the Rua da Morte that he saw her, leaning out from the window, a blue apron stretched around her like a glimmer through the window of the Tejo below and her tongue lunging out from her mouth.
‘The way please to Miradoura do Portas do Sol?’
‘That’s trash. There is no sun, not no more not ever!’
She pulled the shutters closed violently.‘How can I find the sun, if it’s gone?’ he asked.
He walked along the lines, following details in windows – a huge cat stretched on a sill, a ficker of a tv, an obese white lamp spewing clay – and the patterns of shadows cast by meagre streetlight.
The tram line was gone when he looked down. Deviated from wandering without looking and now the streets were narrow and winding and had the occasional commerce,
There was only the occasional shop, boxes of fruits, flies fluttering around bruised apples and behind an array of sweets and pastries wrapped in polystyrene. Then small cafes with working men huddled by but they didn’t acknowledge him. The street twisted down a stairs and around again.
It was in the Miradoura that he saw her, leaning on the rails to look at the houses and not the lovely view below; not a glimpse at the cruise boats or silken sea. The sun had almost disappeared.’Excuse me madame, Portas do Sol.’ ‘Portas? There aren’t any Portas. They’re all as closed and stationary as the wall around them.’
If neither the doors nor the Sun existed, where was he to find The Portas do Sol?
Find out in the next installment of ‘Portas do Sol.’