We often make judgments based on something external, on the stimuli that we see, touch and feel in one way or another. We build our relationships with seemingly real things, places, people and events using familiar, understandable methods.
We say — I feel good here, but here I feel bad. I like this, but I don’t like that anymore. Yes or no. Sometimes, not so often, but still sometimes, we find ourselves somewhere in the middle, right on this line between here and here.
I first picked up a Joyce piece when I was just 21 years old. I read a lot those times, did it with such greed and zeal that I was amazed at myself. It was a quenching of the animal’s hunger for knowledge and, probably, a kind of escape from the outside world, which even then began to tire me a lot.
Everyone around was talking about Joyce. “The Exiles”. “Portrait of an Artist in his Youth”, “Finnigan’s Wake”. The first time I had the determination for “Ulysses”. Then I decided to share my intention to read this work with one of my acquaintances, a literary critic in St. Petersburg, although it was more of boasting than a sharing of the coming joy of reading a great work. Then, after a moment of complete silence, she looked at me with affection and declared that it was too early, too early for me and for “Ulysses”. She said that I will hardly understand this book at this stage of my life and that the time has not come yet. With a snort in response, that evening, with even greater motivation, I began to read.
A week later and about 200 pages of text, I came to a silent agreement with the opinion of my friend from St.Petersbourg. I failed to accept Joyce and his type of storytelling. I can’t say that it was difficult or required something special, rather the format of my inner world was not compatible with the world created by Joyce. At least at that stage of my life. I put the book aside and began rereading “the Bacchae” by Euripides.
This happens not only with books, we are often not ready to accept or realize a lot — people, events and places.
Lisbon for me is Joyce’s “Ulysses”. Extremely complex, difficult, full of its special storyline. An immensely beautiful and contradictory, strange, mysterious and at the same time very human city. The city that I rejected at first, but after three years, turned out to be his devoted son. Lisbon, this story is about you. For you.
A city or a human?
Beautiful Avenida, this is how the locals call it here, omitting the full name of Liberdade. It is said that along the lines where streams and small fountains are located today when in the 18th century there were earth cracks left after the great Lisbon earthquake. Small green cafes with cosy tables and subtle music inviting for a cup of morning coffee. Portuguese women in business suits with tightly tied tails, importantly tapping their heels on their way to office everyday life, Indians hurrying to open their shops located on a parallel street, tourists peering into the windows of expensive boutiques, pigeons with importance walking themselves along the snow-white Calzada and lonely policemen, for some reason, guarding especially important shops crammed with gaudy watches, jackets and bags.
Where there was reconciliation, Stephen said, there must first have been a break.
And this is undoubtedly true. Today’s peaceful, full of sunlight, infinitely beautiful Lisbon has not always been this way. Torn apart over the centuries, this city has seen a lot. Moors and Templars, earthquakes (yes, there were few more than one) and multiple protests and uprisings, blazing fires of the Inquisition and even a “shadow war” during World War II. Lisbon has seen everything. From beautiful Portuguese women, at one time deservedly considered the most elegant, well-groomed and wealthy women in Europe, to begging for coins, drunken, former engineers and servants of the Salazar regime. This is the charming strangeness of this city — its diversity and multiplicity of facets from which history is woven.
Lisbon, like a real hero, went through fire and water, like a phoenix, this shining city was reborn several times in the literal sense of the word from the ashes, reassembling itself, rebuilding a new one on the ruins of a distorted old one. The great Lisbon earthquake is a striking and indisputable example of this. Lisbon is unlike anything and at the same time has absorbed the features of the largest European cities. Lanterns from Paris, the main square from Venice, some details from Rome. Residents from all over the world.
Since the days when Portuguese women were the most richly dressed, deliciously smelling, indescribably beautiful, and the Portuguese man did not know infantilism and knew how to fight well both as partisans and on the frontline, much has changed since then. The richly dressed ceased to be fashionable and the Portuguese princesses changed into sneakers and jeans. Men began to increasingly take on feminine traits, and women hid behind the shield of feminism from inequality. Everything turned upside down, which, however, in my opinion, even more, adorned the already beautiful Alfazemas. Gave them a certain charm.
Lisbon stands apart from all cities in Portugal. She occupies a special position available to her alone. The position of power, strength, regalia, a position due to many factors, from historical to cultural.
This city opens itself up gradually, not immediately and not to everyone. In order to recognize Lisbon, you need to smell her, see many of her outfits, look at those parts that are hidden from prying eyes. Only this way is the way. Lisbon keeps many secrets, these fragments of past years are hidden everywhere, in narrow alleys, in the reflection of tiles, in the smell of stagnant water in the reservoir of an old fountain, in the eyes of a Portuguese woman raised on seven hills, in the hands of an old man trembling with constant tension, the owner of a shoe workshop on Chiado … The main thing is to be attentive and look deeply, as if through the present. This will help.
River Tagus. River ocean. The river in whose power were the lives of the inhabitants of Lisbon in the 18th century. And in all other centuries, too. The river that sent its sons on endlessly dangerous journeys, to meet the unknown, hidden by the boundless space of Mother Earth.
The twenty-first century is now and I already know how to switch songs on my phone, turn up the volume when I don’t want to hear the world around me. I stand at the very edge of the river, staring at the passing ships, hiding from the sun disc behind bright red shipping containers scattered neatly along the unloading area. I look into the distance, to where this beautiful city ends and “He” begins. King Ocean, ruler of all living things, keeper of secrets. There is a horizon of unknown. I close my eyes for a moment and imagine the ships, impressive in their power and scale, sailing off to meet adventures, going in search of new lands, treasures and wonders. I imagine a string of people seeing off their loved ones and tears of black-haired Portuguese women who have no idea about the future but live in the hope of the return of their beloved. As if I am there and here at the same time, I levitate in the space-time continuum, getting high from these sensations and intolerably wish to share them with someone. I catch a glance at the leisurely walking couple. Can I share my continuum with them? Give them at least a short stare at Lisbon before the earthquake, so the girl can try on a floor-length dress and shoes trimmed with jewels, and her boyfriend, to him I can give a real naval officer’s sabre with a blade of 800 mm? I am inspired. I catch their suspicious looks on me at the same time letting go of the desire that warmed me up. They won’t understand. And they don’t need it. I sigh. I’m leaving.
Hope is perhaps the main quality of the Portuguese nation that made me fall in love with them. Endless, limitless hope. This applies to absolutely everything. Hope for victory, for a bright future, for love, hope for the grace of the Lord. And where there is hope, there is childish naivety. And where there is childish naivety, there is love. And with these three factors, I usually describe the Portuguese. Hope, naivety and love.
Lisbon does not create a sense of belonging to anyone, any nation or country. To be honest, Lisbon seems to exist on its own, regardless of anything, it simply is, and its nobility and generosity allows us to stay within its walls as if to be on its territory. Of course, this is an absolutely sacred, special land that is of great importance not only for the Portuguese but for all of humanity. And the seven hills are here for a reason. Seven. This is a magic number. Angelic sign. Mystical seven. We perceive this world through seven openings in our bodies, commit seven earthly sins, cognize seven divine secrets, carry seven energy disks or chakras in ourselves. Calypso. This nymph held Odysseus, the father of Lisbon, in captivity for exactly seven years. Seven days of the week, seven basic notes in music, seven colours of the rainbow, seven types of living cells. Seven Hills of Lisbon. This magical city is nothing more than a part of the divine plan enclosed in the number seven. No more and no less. A natural, integral part of the Earth. And we are only guests here.
Well, since we are only guests and everything is temporary, material and has its expiration date, then why be afraid then? Certainly not of “Ulysses”. Take the damn book and read it! Without even understanding a word, absorb the beautiful syllable of Joyce. Then it will come back to haunt you down, years later, at the moment when a casual acquaintance calls you an erudite.
So it is with Lisbon. Do not be afraid. Feel free to open the first pages and do not be afraid to read it to the end.
Each life is many days, one after the other. We wander through ourselves, meeting robbers, ghosts, giants, old people, youths, wives, widows, brothers in spirit, but each time we meet ourselves.