Along the shaded Avenida, yesterday’s seat is taken, so I take the next table, order café con leche, sprinkle on some sugar, drink the sweet stuff and watch the chickadees fluff and flutter as they pick at crumbs. They are more air than bone or feather; they parachute and scatter. I sit still and see how close they will come to me. They hop nearly to my feet as if I am invisible; I am a stranger on the Avenida, free. Today, I will walk the cobbled ways until I am lost, marvel at marbled-eyed eels hanging in the market windows, and eat leather-skinned grilled squid.
I read the Times Literary Supplement at a Brasiliere, write in my journal, and take a picture of the bronze figure of Fernando Pessoa; I am a tourist here, newly arrived. I came to Portugal to write because it seemed to be a writer’s country and Lisbon struck me as a writer’s city; it was Paris in the twenties to me. To get here, I quit my full-time job as a journalist and sold my house.
At night, charcoal fires and the smoke of grilled sardines rise beyond midnight and seem to mingle with the clouds while wide-eyed children peer from windows high above the polished white cobblestones. Like me, the children look to see all they can. In three months, when it is time for me to leave, I will have ridden the slow train from east to west across the Algarve and hiked the hills of Coimbra and Porto. I swear I will return, but it will be more than twenty years until I revisit Lisbon.
by Mark Pearson
Mark Pearson is the author of the short story collection Famous Last Lines. He first visited Portugal in the summer of 1990.