Ah, Fado, I love you…how can I leave now that we’ve just met?

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After Jordan’s and my own less than graceful exit from the cable car (see previous post “Mists of Sintra”), we found the flea market on the backside of a very large church. In hindsight, I was pretty burnt out on churches by the time we reached Lisbon, so I ignored the open doors of this cathedral (it was the “National Pantheon” no less). Nor did I visit the cathedral just down the road from our apartment.

The Lisbon cathedral survived the Great Earthquake of Lisbon in 1755 which was a massive earthquake and tsunami destroying most of Lisbon and leaving 30,000-40,000 dead. Seismologists of today estimate the earthquake was probably an 8.5-9.0 magnitude. Even thousands of people across the sea in Morocco died. (It was this same quake and tsunami which killed the children memorialized in the Chapel of Bones photo, I took in Faro, in a previous posting.)

King Joseph-of-Sintra-fame was in power at the time and unfortunately had quite a catastrophe to manage as he was constructing his castle. However, he was an efficient manager as the City was able to clean up and start rebuilding within a year. (Having grown up in San Francisco and privy to many a quake, earthquakes scare the bejeezus out of me.) The Lisbon earthquake, tsunami, and ultimately horrendous fire, left a most tragic mark on Portugal’s history.

The Feira da Ladra “The Thieve’s Market” (named after a woman (who liked to shop?)) has been dutifully held twice a week since the 12th century. These time-honored events in Europe are remarkable for their stamina as generations carry on the traditions while still respecting their architecture and historical values. This is so unlike the build-them-up-and-tear-them-down-only-to-rebuild-them-up tradition in the United States.

Soon after entering the maze of the market, I bought a necklace chain to hold the little medallions I’ve collected on my travels since I broke the one I had in Granada. The chain was for a significantly lower price than what the merchant in Tangier was trying to sell me a few days prior. Here I paid €2 instead of €60 although I’m sure it’s not sterling. I bought it from an old Portuguese couple who did not speak English and who appeared sadly resigned selling their belongings in the market.

As Jordan and I wandered around looking at mostly local and non-commercial personal items of Lisbon’s residents, I thought how my experience would have been totally different if I lived here. Then I could have just bought and taken that awesome mirror I saw home.

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Eventually Jordan uttered those dreaded and all too familiar words, “I’m hungry” as we just so happened to round a corner leading us right up to the door of a small cafe. We went inside to order juice, a cappuccino, and luscious custard tarts. We managed to get a couple of barstools at a counter when I noticed the lovely handmade chocolates in the glass case nearby.

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After the cafe cleared out I started speaking with the woman behind the counter, who was the owner. She spoke great English and told me she made the chocolates and had graduated from a culinary school. From what I saw, her cafe was in a great location and a success. Most Importantly, she loved what she did.

Jordan and I went back outside where I stopped at a table to ask a colorful hippie chick if she knew where I could hear some fado. She was very helpful writing down (in my mol-skin booklet) the names and locations of both a restaurant she loved for their octopus, and a local bar with great fado if I came later in the evening. It would have been fun to sit with her and ask what it was like being a hippie in Lisbon and then I could tell her about my experience as a flower child in the 60’s living in San Francisco.

Jordan and I continued on to look for a gift to bring home for Gabriel, my 6 year old grandson. It was then that Jordan noticed a woman, about the time I did, who really made her nervous. It was odd for her to act fearful. But in this case, she hid behind me whenever the woman would move, and she wasn’t even that close by. Maybe it was the woman’s shock of fire-red hair and her height which scared my sweet 3 1/2 year old who was peeking out behind my legs.

We gravitated toward a large tent with beautiful colorful fabrics. There Jordan relaxed and helped me pick out a sari, which the Eastern Indian women said was an unusual print, particularly for a sari. Another of my weaknesses: fabric.

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I bought the sari, for their asking price. Once again I felt the sellers were not trying to gouge me, they were just people who could appreciate the money (and the women were very sweet with Jordan even giving her an “I Love Portugal” decal). We walked a little further and found a cork box (most of the cork in the world comes from the cork trees in Portugal) with hand painted dancing children on the top. This was a perfect gift for Gabriel. Then we found a couple of trinkets for Jordan, too. Bag in hand, she and I headed out of this wonderful market hopping right on a cable car as if it had been waiting for us.

Before leaving the United States, I told a friend that two goals of mine on this adventure was to see flamenco in Spain and hear Fado music in Portugal. Seeing flamenco happened in Sevilla but hearing fado hadn’t, and now only one night was left in Portugal since we were flying back home the next day. I was talking myself into just letting the wish go by the wayside and just be thankful for all the other amazing experiences during this 3 week journey.

Back to the apartment, Jordan and I crawled into my bed with my iPad to read her a story while she quickly fell into a deep sleep. I dozed a bit, then caught up with the international news online, and updated friends and family via email.

The Adult Kids came home an hour or so later. Jordan woke and we exchanged interesting stories from our day and all went to the downstairs restaurant (owned by our Lisbon landlords) to dinner. I decided to put some effort into dressing up just in case I decided to try getting over to a fado bar. A nice scarf and jewelry can do wonders when traveling when you need to dress up one of the 2 sets of clothes you have been wearing day-in-and-day-out. Dinner was ok, but not outstanding, but Jordan behaved well (unlike the night before), so the nap did wonders. She took photos with my camera to amuse herself, and so so did I.

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After dinner I bid my adieu and went up the street to a restaurant I noticed a few doors up. They had turned me away a couple of nights ago when I asked if I could listen to fado there. He had politely told me only if I ordered dinner. This time, I was dressed better, and I politely asked the server standing in the doorway if I could buy a drink and listen to the fado singer. Again, he very professionally told me I could only come in if I ordered dinner. So, I sweetly said, “What time can I come back to buy a glass of wine and just listen to fado?” I was firm but friendly. He gave me a funny little look, raised a finger, and said, “One moment please.” Two moments later he returned and bowed to me saying, “Please, this way.”

I entered the candlelit and crystal chandaliered dining room noticing the white tablecloths and only one couple sitting at a table in front of the windows. There was a small stage with a mic but no one was there. I asked the maitre ‘d where I should sit and again he bowed saying, “Anywhere you wish, madam.” I felt like I had walked into a dream. There was a table under a mirror on the far wall in direct view of the minuscule stage. My table was perfectly set as if I was going to order an entrée, and bread was put before me as my server told me I didn’t have to eat (many restaurants in Europe charge for items such as bread). I proceeded to order wine and settled in for what turned into an hour and a half of fado songs sung by a very soulful man strumming his guitar.

Another man, with a yellow scarf wrapped several times around his neck, and extraordinarily long shoes where toes couldn’t possibly fit, sat at a table in the front silently, and alone, for the entire time I was there. His table was elegantly set with a bowl of white sand holding 3 long white tapered candles in contrast to mine, which held only one. I knew he had to be the owner (and he was) since the wait staff were very gratuitous while deferring to him at every turn.

My server/maitre ‘d came over to me to chat during one brief intermission. I learned that the couple at the other table, around my age or a little younger, are in the midst of a journey bicycling from Holland. And they weren’t done yet. They were drinking and having a great time, with the guy being handed the fado singer’s guitar at one point so he could play some dramatic chords.

There was another older man in the shadows whom I hadn’t noticed before, who ended up being persuaded to sing a mournful fado tune quite beautifully. I was told he lived in the neighborhood and was known as the local fado singer. My buddy, the server, asked me questions about myself and thought it was hysterically funny that I came all the way from America to go to the Feria da Ladra where his father used to take him as a kid. The fact that I did something as normal as the locals seemed to please him.

Eventually I was the only customer left, other than the neighborhood fado singer and the owner. The scheduled performer sang in my direction quite a lot, but I was the only female in the place, so that was pretty much a given. He sang beautifully and the only time I understood any lyrics at all, was when he sang “Bridge Over Troubled Water” in his soulful melodic tones. People have said that fado is the Portuguese version of the blues. Frankly, I enjoy the blues much more, but that could have a lot to do with the language barrier. My server buddy told me the Portuguese language is very easy for artists to translate to poetry and musical lyrics, hence, Fado. It was very soothing music, for sure.

The night was waning and so was my 22 day sojourn in Spain, Gibraltar, Morocco, and Portugal. I stood up to leave and the fado singer pointedly thanked me. I replied with a thank-you in Portuguese, “Obrigada!” and they all clapped. I wafted out of the restaurant in some dreamlike state of mind while the owner thanked me, the well tipped server thanked me, and I thanking the shy old fado singer who was at the table closest to the door in the shadows. I was also given a business card by the owner with his email address and promised to send him photos of the evening. The Portuguese name of the restaurant meant “Seduction.” I think the owner is a gypsy. He had that mysterious mystical energy about him.

Floating outside into the street, I was at our apartment door within moments, and easily walked up the 5 flights of stairs still hearing the sweet soul of Portugal’s music in my mind. This was the perfect way to close a chapter on this amazing journey.

Obrigada…

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2 thoughts on “Ah, Fado, I love you…how can I leave now that we’ve just met?

  1. Aaahhh….what a great posting. I, too, love Fado and the Thieves Market. And again, thanks so much for your writing about what it is you are seeing and doing. Wonderful. Can’t wait to read the latest one.

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