Feb 10, 2013
(Dafundo quarter, Lisbon Coast) Many, if not most, of the ‘habitués’ of Euclides’s Café Africano are retired fishermen, unemployed workers, and homeless people. Unlike what would happen in any café of a more fortunate neighborhood, they aren’t required to consume. The sharing of space and time happens naturally.
The first to arrive sits at a table – most have preferred seats – and waits. It doesn’t take long before he is challenged. As the duel begins, other locals gather to witness the skill of the players and comment on the game. Quarrels are so rare an event that they become legend and are told in a murmur. The place has its doors always wide open, but not even the cold keeps the players at home: today, I’ve seen one of them appear with a pajama showing under his pants and sweater.
If for some reason there is no challenger, Euclides himself is happy to sit at the game table and be miserably beaten by the seasoned folk.
Feb 8, 2013
A few days ago I talked for a while with Costa, an old fisherman from the working-class neighborhood of Dafundo, on the Lisbon Coast. He had some stories to tell – mostly dealing with the life of the fishermen in the old days and the hard times that never really went away. Separated from the beach by the railway line and the coastal road connecting Lisbon to the exquisite village of Cascais, the few remaining fishermen prefer to take their chance and risk being run over by a car or the frequent trains than walking all the way to the closest pedestrian crossing.
I knew there had been accidents in the area, but had no idea if they were frequent. I asked Costa about it. He told me the story of Rui, ‘a son of the neighborhood.’ Rui is a machinist at CP, the company that explores and maintains the Portuguese railways, and works at the very same Lisbon-Cascais line his Dafundo friends cross all the time. ‘The first time he ran over someone,’ Costa said, ‘he couldn’t eat breakfast, lunch or dinner. The second time, he managed to eat dinner. The third time, he ate dinner and lunch.’ Costa became silent. There really was no need to go on.
Today, a train coming from Cascais had problems on one of its carriage’s wheels while passing in front of Dafundo. I’ve been told later by Euclides, whose father rans a tavern on the roadside, that the train passed by releasing sparks and smoke. The operator managed to reduce the train’s speed, but couldn’t avoid the derail of one of the carriages. The accident must have caused damage to a switch, for another train, though warned and following the first one at low speed, had half of its carriages sent to another line.
As I took some shots of the rescue team trying to remove the derailed carriage, I couldn’t help but thinking that at least today Rui would have all his meals.
The backstreets of the trendy 24 de Julho Avenue, in Lisbon, pay some of the price for the ‘movida’ that keeps the bright side alive all night – dawn included. I prefer to walk in there on Sundays by daybreak, when you can witness the slow death of the weekend nightlife, sometimes with the colors of agony, and the only dwellers are the homeless and a few early-rising locals. Once, I stopped in front of the pile of junk you can see in the photograph; I inspected it for a while; I took some pictures of it. Except for the mattress, it was business junk – most of it labeled with the TAP Air Portugal logo and mailing addresses.
A man appeared on the corner carrying a Bershka plastic bag. He gave a start when he saw me – apart from a flock of sorry-looking pigeons, we were the only non-crawling creatures in there – but he recovered when I uttered a cheerful ‘Good morning’. He answered back and went his way down the street. I started walking up towards the elegant, inaccessible villas that little by little took the place of the old working-class houses and shops. A mouth-watering smell denounced the existence of a bakery somewhere in the vicinity. I stopped to try to figure where it was coming from. Then the Bershka bag man made a reappearance. This time he didn’t see me. He probably backtracked to check if there was something in there worth salvaging. Or maybe he was just moved by curiosity – what could have I found in a pile of junk that made it worthwhile photographing?
Feb 1, 2013
(Belmonte, Northeastern Portugal.) The expression ‘cynic’ comes from the Greek and means something like ‘relative to the dog’. Oscar Wilde carved the word’s modern denotation in stone when he made one of his characters define a cynic as ‘a man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing’. In Classical Greece, however, Cynicism was a school of philosophical thought. Its better known proponent was Diogenes of Sinope, who famously lived inside a tub or a huge pot on the streets of Athens. He held in contempt all social conventions and did everything – from eating to defecating to masturbating – in public. Talk about practicing Philosophy. The general idea, which Diogenes took to an extreme, was to eschew all possessions and live ‘according to Nature.’ The philosopher himself used a bowl to drink water until the day he saw a little boy drinking from his hands. In shame, he immediately threw away the bowl.
You can easily guess what would happen to someone behaving this way in any modern city. Luckily for Diogenes, he lived in Classical Athens – like a dog, but you can't have everything.