It's our last full day in Portugal.

It's our last full day in Portugal. We will wake the next morning at an ungodly hour, stuff clothes and a few souvenirs into backpacks, gulp down espresso and pastries at the train station. We will take two subways, a bus, two airplanes, a shuttle, and a taxi to get home. We will go through security twice, the passport line, customs. We will drink Guinness at airport bars, we will distract ourselves with our airplane books. We will look on, worried, as a TSA agent in Newark throws our bags, which contain bottles of port and vinho verde snuggled inside of clothes, with much more gusto than necessary onto the conveyor belt. We will have delays and we will be exhausted and our feet will hurt. We will crack each other up with jokes that make no sense. We will nearly be swindled by an airport shuttle driver, but we won't allow this to happen. Voices will be raised and one of them will be mine.

This will all happen tomorrow, but for now, we're in Lisbon, our last day, and it's goddamn beautiful.

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The bright sun and the cheap beer we've been sipping out of plastic cups have dazed us. We take the trolley up steep winding streets to the Castelo de Sao Jorge and after touring the ruins we wander the neighborhood near the castle. We head to a bar on the same block as the Lisbon Circus headquarters, only to be told that before 8 pm the bar is only open to circus performers. A quick glance at the bar patrons, who are shooting us disapproving looks, and also wearing tights and full circus makeup, confirms this is indeed the case. We apologize and shuffle back to the street. We find another bar, and after double-checking that we're allowed in despite our lack of trapeze artist credentials, we wander upstairs to find a large rooftop patio, with people drowsily sipping beers and mojitos from beds and couches. We curl onto a large settee, beers in hand. Shielding our eyes from the hot sun, we look out over Lisbon, water-colored city by the sea.

After a few beers and a brief nap, we hit the cobblestone again and find ourselves lured into a small gallery and shop by the high-volume lounge music coming from inside. The shop owner introduces himself and we admire paintings that we can neither afford nor carry on the plane. The shop owner chats with us about art- he's French, maybe 40, has lived in Lisbon for 15 years- and then about many other things.

We ask him where we should go out in Lisbon our last night, and he recommends a few good and smoky little bars. We mention how a young drug dealer had attempted to sell us hash the night before, and that we'd declined in part because it looked, oddly enough, like dog food. Our new French friend says Ah, it probably was dog food. The police let them get away with it because there's no law here against selling bullshit to Americans.

How . . . perfect.

And then, abruptly, we're discussing drugs. The three of us all give variations of the same disclaimer: "Oh you know, only once in awhile. I don't seek it out, but it's nice to relax with a little marijuana now and then, and when I was younger, if someone put a line in front of me at a party, well . . ."

Our new friend tells us that he's tried heroin, once or twice, that it's the drug of desperation. We discuss how marijuana and ecstasy are drugs of good-will between friends, cocaine a drug of selfishness. I look into this man's face, his eyes a startling green-blue, his face tanned and a bit worn. He looks like a less refined version of Ralph Fiennes. I can see in his eyes that he's made big mistakes, that he's both sincere and wary.

We walk toward the front of the shop because J and I know we need to get going. I feel inclined to stay awhile.

The Frenchman gestures toward the sky, that intense, translucent blue sky unlike anything I've seen anywhere in my life.He says, You know, this may be a cliche, but the color of the sky here is purer, and more beautiful than anywhere on Earth. He smiles and adds with no small amount of pride, Well, except maybe the French Riviera. What I notice, but don't say out loud of course, is that his eyes are of the same color and quality as the Lisbon sky. I grin at him, lamely.

We start to make our goodbyes, tell him we'll stop in next time we're in Portugal, and we mean it. He makes one last remark about drugs, a seemingly casual, offhand comment.

He says You know, marijuana, alcohol, cocaine . . . these things can be great, yes? . . .

And I want to disagree but I know what he means. I know about that urgent need to feel something, anything different than what you're feeling . . . to have your thoughts come in an elevated rush, to suddenly feel at ease in a room of unfriendly strangers, or to feel like you're floating in a warm sea instead of sitting alone in a cold room. That third glass of wine, that second line of coke, that deeper than necessary inhale. The idea that whatever it is will make it better, will make you better. And sometimes it does, sometimes it sharpens your ideas, it causes walls to crumble down and your soul to grow to twice it's size.

I look up at him, this stranger, silent, expectant, needing him to finish his sentence.

He's looking at me when he says it, and he repeats it twice and what he's saying is exactly what I've been needing to hear.

It's all inside of you already. It's already there.

All the times I've looked for it, for that expansiveness, for that truth, out there. I've looked for it in the bottom of a whiskey glass, in an alley behind a dirty bar where I'd spent the night feeling out of place and uncool, in the reassurances of kind friends whom I would later discard. I've looked for it in a tiny baggy of white metallic powder that shot like electricity up my nose and straight to my brain. I've looked for it in sex. I've looked for it in church on Sunday night. I've looked for it in the ocean, right before a wall of saltwater crashed into me and knocked me over.

And maybe it's trite and maybe it's naive, and maybe it's only in my imagination that he meant it for me, but he repeats it, and I nod a little too hard, I say yes, yes, you are right, yes . J is smiling politely, about to whisk me away.

It's all inside of you already. Truly.

Baby, it's there. And god, it's been there all along.

We're back to our hotel before I realize we forgot to ask his name, or give ours. That we don't know the name of the shop, or the street it was on. And then, just like that, it's time to go home.

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Posted in Home Improvement Post Date 03/27/2020






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