Nov 14, 2012

Lisbon Stories (1)

Meet Pai Natal (literally 'Father Christmas,' Santa Claus). That’s how he’s known at Euclides’s Café Africano, a tavern in the old riverside quarter of Dafundo, Lisbon. Nobody really knows in which street of the neighborhood he lives or what his real name is. How appropriate for Santa, right? I soon became mesmerized by his figure. The long white beard, the thick reading glasses, the small, beaten leather suitcase, the bonnet, the blue tie with little golf players on it. He reminded me of Walt Whitman in his last pictures. Santa Claus looked absolutely inaccessible, focused in some arcane mystery which only the Initiated could read in between the lines of a daily newspaper.

I was thinking about a suitable approach when someone entered the room, sat in front of him and started jabbering. Euclides told me he was ‘um chato’ (a pain in the arse). Santa Claus didn’t even bother to look at him. He slowly got up and started putting his things – the reading glasses, a pen, a notebook – in his little suitcase. That was my moment. I told him he had the most astonishing beard and that I would like to take his picture. He smiled broadly and turned very cordial. I ended up snapping half a dozen pictures. I said I would leave a print with Euclides for him. He said he regretted not having been photographed with his glasses – a pair of turtle-framed, gigantic, orange-colored lenses that covered his cheeks and hid his eyes. I took a shot of him with the thing on, but told him I liked his face better without it. He replied as only an old philosopher would. He said he couldn’t see himself in the mirror without the glasses; ergo, without the glasses he didn’t exist.

Today Euclides told me he had given Santa Claus his picture, and that, in spite of the glasses issue, he was 'very pleased indeed.'

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