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#2 A blind date. Lisbon EP

Lisbon EP Cover art. Chapter 2

“Dear passengers, you can turn on your electronic devices and set the flight mode off. Welcome to Lisbon!”

Dear passenger, you have just landed at the point of no return. No matter whether you are giving yourself the right to fail, we both know in your universe, this is never an option. No matter you say life is a wonderful journey, we both know, on this adventure you have to fight, but at the moment you deny it.

[ “Quem me vai dizer no amor O que é bom ou ruim” Soothing Mayra’s Andrade voice, no clue what it means. Your ears hurt after the landing ]

After half an hour of guessing the metro exits, I’m finally meeting my host. She is tiny and she has black hair like all Latin people in my imagination. I’m very bad at geography, so don’t ask me where she is from. Although my temporary home is within a walkable distance from the station, her boyfriend is giving us a lift. They couldn’t imagine someone moving this light-handed.

Don’t expect cinematic details about the city at this point. It’s close to midnight, and it’s slightly raining. The subway looks like a subway; the night is dark. We are in the residential area with the neat block houses. Nothing shocking. Nothing fancy.

My new home smells like a floral air freshener from the department store. Somehow it’s very welcoming. Ana, that’s my new homie’s name, gives me instructions on how to use appliances. And at this point, I’m getting anxious. Because you have to worry about extremely neat people going to check everything after you. And you have to worry about messy people as their sacred chaos will affect your peace. And they still are checking how well you did the dishes, disregarding them constantly leaving breadcrumbs all around the table. Ana belongs to the type that will wipe the kitchen twice after her cooking and the third time after you cleaned after yourself. It doesn’t change she is super friendly.

Important note, to save on bills we are doing laundry on weekends. And since it’s too humid, she is going to show me the dryer at the laundry nearby.

Before I’m going to bed, Ana hands me a water bag. An important detail you should know about houses in Lisbon: there is no central heating. So for economy reasons, that’s how you heat your bed. But come on, just a few hours ago I watched snow-covered streets from the cab’s window and it was -15 C outside. I’m Ukrainian, I don’t freeze. Important notice about Lisbon houses, in winter you go outside to warm yourself up. I could never imagine wearing my lucky coat at home.

[Silence. But you don’t need any entertainment to fall into a deep sleep.]

I wake up at noon. It’s Sunday. That’s how my Lisbon extended play starts.

{- 200 EUR for 2 weeks rent + 200 EUR security deposit I have in cash.

{- 15 EUR for mobile card}

{- 5 EUR for breakfast}

Ana takes me to a pastry shop. They call them pastelarias, and it’s my first time making an order in Portuguese. Somehow I can understand a bit before even learning.

We are not in Paris, but I still go for coffee and croissant. In the film school, they teach you to design a visually expressive setup. Don’t expect anything posh in this area. But even this street view with blockhouses, and small groceries with boxes full of oranges and grapes at the entrance, makes me excited. And I realize I don’t know the most trees around. And some of the plants that grow in the square by the pastry shop they sell in pots in Ukraine. I also admit that they don’t know how to do a decent cappuccino.

Ana takes me downtown to show around. At the metro, I can’t stop staring at these African queens shamelessly exposing their curves. Burn in hell, guys who called me fat. I have never ever seen a woman so proud of her body like these girls. I start getting why they call each other queen. Because they are.

[Recalling lyrics on female rights]

And then I’m in a postcard. We all are: restaurant promoters, Tuk-Tuk drivers, souvenir sellers, locals going on their business, slightly pissed by tourists taking pictures at every corner.

We are at the Rua Agusta, probably the first street everyone goes to. As we walk past pastries and shops, I spot the picture, you would caption “Arc de Augusto against a vibrant city backdrop”. In the archway, I see this stunning airy view of the square with a monument to someone in the middle, and the river in the back. Quick research reveals that the arch used to serve as an entrance to the Roman city and was constructed during the 1st century BCE.

It gives me chills. This Arch served as a door for merchant, and sailors, and travellers for ages. And now it’s me entering the city.

The silhouette of a man playing an accordion in the archway adds a nostalgic touch.

[Accordion version of Waltz #2 by Shostakovich overlaps the street noise, and even if you don’t know what it is, it sounds like from the USSR era. And I wonder why here]

“Hash, coke, weed?” — whispers a chubby guy as he passes by. Ana explains there are a lot of them downtown. They sell fake, so the police can’t do pretty anything against them. In the film school, they call it setting the ambiance. Anyway, I’m saving.


I’m not doing anything big today, just checking another room since we agreed on a short-term with Ana. I might stay longer. The other option is cheaper, though. No deposit demanded. And I already don’t want to know my balance.

What would you take to a new life? And my 36 y.o self answers cash.

The room is not far from the bridge of April 25th. Ana told me they have the same in San Francisco, and that the Apple commercial was shot here. For economy reasons I guess. I’m walking by the river half an hour late, apologizing. At this point, I don’t know that the Portuguese minute lasts 120 seconds. That’s why nobody shows up when it’s set.

I walk by the riverfront. People are chilling in the sun. Some sit in groups drinking beers and chatting.

[Black guy in a funky shirt sings Brazilian song to guitar, but you are too excited to listen]

’m passing by houses painted yellow, pink, and blue. Some walls are decorated with tiles. They call them azulejo. The doors look impressive. There are no two that look alike. Some of them are massive, and to enter the others, an average adult would have to bend. It’s sunny, and I spot irises in the fool bloom. I’m wearing a vest, unbuttoned. That’s what you should know about January in Lisbon.

I’m in a children’s book. Those mystical creatures decorating facades only seem to freeze in stone. They are just chilling. After the sun goes down, they will continue their usual routine: rituals, spells, mystery. In the film school, they tell you to avoid fairytale elements in drama. But life doesn’t respect the genres.

According to the map, I’m almost there. As I turn from the main street, there is a view I would caption “desolation”.

Time and tropical sun washed away vivid colors, and I see dusty walls covered with crackles and mold. And then I hear someone calling my name. I turn to the voice and my gaze slides up the building enchained in the corset of scaffolds. I notice it’s pink and there are workers refreshing the paint. And then I see a woman on the balcony waving at me. And I’m wondering what they would say in the film school about this exposition.

Important note about old houses in Lisbon: they are not inclusive at all. I need to catch my breath after climbing 4 floors. Beatriz meets me at the door. She is my mother’s age, short, slim, slightly eccentric. It’s not the way she is dressed, it’s about the feel she gives as she’s speaking. Through tiny details in the decor, pictures on the walls, books, it shows she is creative. I’m wondering if she is an artist, but she is not. Her apartment is a mix of vintage and old. The first typical Portuguese house ever I see.

The room to rent is quite spacious. There is not much furniture. Just a single bed by the wall, an old chair that looks like from the 70s, a simple desk, a vintage wooden bureau, and a hanger from Ikea. And all over the place, there is a mess of clothes, and makeup, and other belongings of a girl who moves out. I don’t care much. I love this beautiful floor-to-ceiling glass door to a narrow balcony with succulents in pots all over. I bend over the banisters and look at the roof with a huge hole in it and the vacant lot behind the ruined house. But this is only when you look down. When you gaze up, you see a blue patch of the river blending with the sky and the bridge in the middle. In the film school, they warn you about choosing angles according to the mood of the story. Where my story goes?

Then a worker with buckets of paint shows up at the scaffold balcony. I say hello as he levels with me. And I tell to myself It’s so chaotic that it feels like home. No idea why.

She leads me to the kitchen through the long corridor. And it’s one of these Portuguese kitchens I would see a lot: a mix of wood and stone, Ikea and vintage. Beatriz looks like a person who wipes the table after dinner, but you have to wipe after yourself twice, and maybe once, before you start cooking. It doesn’t change, she is very sympathetic.

I notice children’s drawings pinned to the cupboard. And there is a big round table. And behind it sits a guy. Slim, dark brown skin, curly hair. He stands up to greet me.

Important notice, they give you two kisses regardless you are best friends or never saw each other before. He says “Hello, I’m Lenin”. I ask him to repeat it twice to make sure I didn’t overhear.

In the film school, they ask you to write daily notes. I think I have some material.

Beatriz explains it’s a popular name in Cape Verde, that’s where the father of her grandson is from. “His mother doesn’t know anything about the existence of Vladimir Lenin”, she admits quietly. And I tell to myself to check about this never heard before country later.

We chat for a bit. She tells me the rules of the house. Basic stuff, like “You can’t invite men overnight. Friends are welcome with notice. Clean the kitchen after yourself…” That’s what you should know about faking privacy in shared apartments. Beatriz asks if I like the room, and I say “Sure”. We agree to think and talk in a few days.

[Distant sound of Portuguese hip hop track your neighbor is listening to downstairs.]

“And where is love in the story?” — you ask. Later I will discover that the majority of people who knew me imagined I have moved for the call of love, and in their fantasy, some handsome guy couldn’t wait to take me to his strong braces. I like the idea I must confess.

In the film school, they teach you to deliver the expected outcome in an unexpected way. Here is my take on love stories. Not counting Lenin, who tried to invite me out, but I politely refused, I’m talking to some guys at the moment. Right after Beatriz, I’m having lunch with a local guy I matched on a dating app a week ago. He invited me to a vegan restaurant, telling they have an attractive pay-one-get-two lunch promotion. And splitting the bill will make it even more attractive. That’s what he told. They split in Europe, I heard before. I even had crashes from abroad, but restaurants were always their treat. Anyway. I accept it.

Jose meets me at the metro, and we walk through the park, which gives a touch of British gardens, but the gardener left for vacation. As for Jose, he is a typical Portuguese, at least in my idea. Beard, a haircut with a hint of style, but the barber left for vacation. He is shorter than me. But honestly, I don’t care. Frankly, I don’t have a type. I can fall for a random person for a random reason. Sometimes it’s a problem. In the film school, they don’t say anything on this subject. Considering gossips from the film sets those pieces of advice wouldn’t come in handy anyway.

“Have you already got a bicycle subscription?” — Jose asks.

“I haven’t heard of it yet” — I shrug

“It’s a year deal just for 20 euros.” — he says

Sounds attractive. The only notice, they call Lisbon a city on 7 hills for a reason. You either go up or down the hill here. At this point, I’m not sure I can take advantage of the deal.

We get to the restaurant. Although, a canteen opened by a bunch of hipsters would be a more accurate description. Jose chats with the waitress in Portuguese, and I can’t get any words except the greeting.

“This lunch deal starts in 30 minutes. Would you mind me showing you the area meantime?” — he asks. I don’t mind.

{- 10 eur for lunch}

Jose tells it’s not common to leave tips here.

[Trying to find a matching soundtrack for the occasion, but getting out of ideas]