What you want to do immediately after arriving in any cosmopolis is approach a man or a woman young enough to be hip, attractive enough to move in the right circles, and worn down enough that they don’t suggest somewhere too trendy. You approach them respectfully and directly, and ask them for the best place to go for coffee. You can ask them about food or clubs, too, but the first thing you need is coffee and that will be enough to get your mind whirring. And if you are in Lisbon when you query this young, attractive, emotionally threadbare man or woman, they will most likely direct you to A Brasileira. You will sit on the patio on a cobblestoned street and listen to instrumental Fada while you sip your $2.20eu cappuccino, which hardly seems like the tourist’s price. The music will tug at your soul. The only thing you would do differently next time is to pick a table upwind from your neighbour, who is smoking. After your mind has caught up to your physical location in the universe, you get up from your table and walk to the Alfama district where the streets are narrower so that sometimes cars can’t get down them, and impoverished women are leaning out of balconies so high up they look like stick figures. They are beating sheets and hanging them on lines over the streets like scenes from a movie, and you are certain Jason Bourne just leapt from one rooftop to another and will at any moment crash through the barely hinged balcony doors.
But down on street level you are in search of food. There is a Ben and Jerry’s sign out front of a café and it draws you in, and as soon as you walk through the doors you recognize the location from an article in the travel section of May’s New York Times. It takes you a minute to recalibrate yourself because you had imagined sitting at a specific table, and now four months later that table is full and you are walking to a lonely seat in the window, where you order a grotesquely good salad in the Mediterranean persuasion, with lightly smoked salmon on a bed of lettuce, dill, cucumbers and very fresh cheese. A second cappuccino.
By the time you have finished your meal you are bone weary despite the caffeine, and you make your way back to your residence where you are thankful for the blackout blinds. To the observer two hours disappear uneventfully, but to you the dreams are hot and intense and you wake up sweating and you flip your sheets back and throw open the blinds and all the windows.
It is time to eat again. You ask the man at the front desk for suggestions and he directs you to two small places nearby, in Bairro Alto, the vibrant center of Lisbon. It is dark now so you leave your camera at home and you leave most of your money at home. The first spot is full, and the second spot is so small you can’t find it, and in the process of looking for it up one dark street two burly men ask if you would like some marijuana, some hashish. Some cocaine. You are a foreigner and aren’t aware of the customs but you decline politely all the same.
The waiters are persuasive. They hand you a menu as you pass in the street, and they gently steer you toward one of their tables. Finally you relent and enter a restaurant that has distressingly few other patrons. After the meal you have learned that if someone tries hard to sell you on their restaurant it is because you don’t want what they are serving, and if the owner doesn’t care if you come in or not and he spends his time socializing with others who are already seated, that is where you should eat.
It is now late night if this hour was at home, but still early for you in your large European city. You weigh your fatigue on a balance scale against the remaining hours before the night truly begins. You add up on one hand how many hours of sleep you got over the past two days. You take a look at the calendar to be sure it’s a Tuesday and not a Friday or a Saturday, since time seems to have been upended. You head home for now, leaving the possibilities open.