Wednesday 3 July 2013
Sometimes when you’re travelling, things don’t always go according to plan. Today was one of those days. Furthermore, Susie’s resilience was reduced by a headache that had begun two mornings ago in Porto, and which she was unable to shake. This was one of the unfortunate side-effects of sinusitis, and in her case it sparked a migraine that kept rebounding. And so the scene is set for her dia horrible in Lisbon…
Our friends Sue, Jim and Carlos had been to the Palàcio Nacional da Ajuda the previous day, and they were raving about an exhibition of art by Joana Vasconcelos that was on there. We decided that this sounded like a good gig, so we planned to visit the Palacio in the morning. We did not get out of the apartment until 12 noon, however. We caught the light rail back to Belém, where we stopped for lunch in the same restaurant that Carlos had taken us to the day before. I ordered a plate of sardinhas, but unfortunately my sense of taste was still disabled by the sinusitis—which in Portugal is a cruel irony indeed. Susan ordered the Açorda de Marisco.
After lunch we caught a bus up the hill from Belém to the Palacio, only to find that the exhibition was closed on Wednesday. So we traipsed back down the hill in the scorching heat and retreated to the Cultural Centre, where we browsed the Berardo collection of modern art in air-conditioned comfort. In my case, ‘browsed’ is a euphemism for ‘walked behind Susie like a zombie’.
It was a shame we had to view the collection while we were in such pitiful physical condition, but we did particularly enjoy the commercial art, to which an entire gallery had been dedicated. This appealed to our penchant for popular poster art. The depictions of masculine beauty struck me as particularly poignant. What counts as ‘handsome’ has been transformed so completely in the last fifty to seventy years that the suave, pipe-smoking gentleman of the 1950s today provokes an odd mixture of nostalgia and hilarity.
After the exertion of walking around in an air-conditioned art gallery, I had to lie under a tree for half an hour to recuperate (I kid you not—this virus was utterly debilitating). After this, we took a lift to the top of a monument on the riverbank that was dedicated to Portugal’s great explorers. This afforded lovely views up and down the Rio Tejo, and over Belém and the districts beyond. Susan wasn’t in the mood for monuments with brass statues of overbearing men wearing their underpants on the outside, however. So we caught a tram back to Figueres in the hope of finding the Number 28 Tram, which is an icon of the Alfama that rattles its way through the narrow streets up to a wonderful lookout over the city.
We located the Number 28 tram, but the driver would not let us on board. He said something brusque in Portuguese (we get a fair bit of that), shut the doors and left us on the side of the track wondering what the problem was. We walked some distance along the tram tracks to Sé, where we waited much longer than one would expect to wait for a number 28 tram. At length, the same driver trundled past our stop without stopping. By this stage, Susie’s mood was hitting the Dark Zone.
At length we boarded another 28 Tram and trundled up the hill as we had intended to, but when we arrived at the top there was no mirador in sight. Instead of doing the sensible thing and asking someone where it was, I suggested we board the Tram that was just about to return back down the hill, as was not sure I would survive another 20-minute wait. When we alighted at the lookout near our apartment, Susie was questioning the meaning of life. In situations like these, there is only one genuine solution. We had to find a Margarita.
A Margarita was waiting in a bar at the back of the restaurant near our apartment. It was not a good Margarita, but it gave rise to an impromptu plan to find a better Margarita. A logical place to start looking was a Jazz club that our host, André, had recommended.
When we walked into the jazz club, we were the only people there. There was no band. No jazz. There was no bread so the barman could not make us any tapas. There was no God. But there was another Margarita. And the barman gave us some crunchy corn things that Susie found edible.
At length, other people drifted in, and three musicians materialised on a stage at the far end of the bar. We migrated to a table nearby. The club gradually filled up with excellent jazz led by a talented pianist, a double bass player and a drummer. And then it gradually filled up with an appreciative audience. The Margarita slowly worked its magic, and the shadows that the Margarita could not banish were finally tinselled over by bar light glinting on a glass of incredibly posh port.
Some days don’t always go according to plan. But sometimes they end well anyway.