Day 1

Saturday 24 July, 2010
Middle of the day, sunny, 35ºC.

My first expedition along the 1.5 km Avenida da Liberdade. The intention is to go down one side and up the other (it’s 1oo m across, with six lanes of traffic in the middle and a one-way lane on either side, with pedestrian pavements in between and along the sides). But I manage, because of the wealth of found material, to only go down the western side – from the roundabout called Marquês de Pombal at the top, to the square, Restauradores, at the bottom.

A rich day!

– I emerge from the Metro at Marquês de Pombal into scorching sun – surely the hottest day of the year so far … 

 … and it’s the first time I’ve actually stood next to the Marquês de Pombal monument in 20 years.

It’s difficult to get to, with no regular pedestrian access, but I want to get a shot of the mouth of the Avenida, sloping down towards the Baixa (centre) with the River Tagus beyond.

– I begin my exploration of the Avenida da Liberdade.

People/ Vignettes
– Sitting on a bench in the shade, a tramp who I’ve seen on the Avenida since I arrived, 20 years ago: long, tangled hair and beard, dark, ragged clothes.

– Taxi drivers, with no fares, standing outside their cars in the shade, chatting.
– Two young men and a girl, the men talking to each other, but having to shout, through the perspex of a bus shelter.
– A window dresser re-positioning dummies. She sees me watching and gives me a suspicious look.
– A tall black man and his blonde companion, half his size. His is a booming voice, although he’s walking next to her.
– A group of four or five waitresses gathered round the counter in a café that’s just closing up, beaming, joking and laughing; free for the day.
– A man in a baseball cap and a security guard enter an office building, laughing.
– A woman, possibly Romanian, sits begging in the street, next to a revolving ad for beauty products.

– A deaf couple in a café. They’re using sign language. They have to be a metre or more apart to be able to do it. No whispered sweet nothings if you’re deaf. [NB Further down the Avenida are the headquarters of the Portuguese Association for Deaf People.]
– In a café: seven waiters, four cooks, two bosses and a cleaner … and about the same number of customers.

– Lively activity on a building site … all the workers of African origin.

I’m mindful that I should open up all my senses, and so I try to listen as much as I can.
– The Marquês de Pombal roundabout and the Avenida da Liberdade are major thoroughfares in Lisbon, and the traffic is heavy. Not surprisingly, then, the overriding sound is that of automobiles, and there is the constant drone of traffic as a backdrop to all the other sounds. If you listen hard, though, the closer traffic noise can be separated up: the sweep of cars speeding off the roundabout; cars accelerating away when they get a green light; smooth saloons; a throaty Porsche; a rumbly bus …
– The beep … beep … beep to warn pedestrians that the lights are changing.
– The excited, momentary chatter of a bird in a nearby tree.
– Later, the crystalline beauty of a solitary blackbird, and a small flock of sparrows and their chatter.
– The flippety-flop of a woman passing in her … flip-flops.
– The clinkety-clink of crockery being collected/ stacked as a café closes for the day.
– The mechanical grinding of an awning being stowed outside the café.
– A young man spitting ostentatiously onto the street.
– A generator humming outside a building being renovated.
– The mechanical clunking of a winch.
– The hissing and spitting of an electric saw or sandblaster (?).
– Conversations in the scaffolding, shouted to be heard above the other construction noises.

– Once grand …

… the Avenida da Liberdade went through a long spell of neglect, but is now being smartened up by the City Council. There still remain, however, many derelict buildings. They have qualities: mystery (Who owns this? Why did they let it get so run-down? Who used to live here?) and a strange beauty. And they evoke many sentiments: wonderment, sadness, frustration, anger (Who owns this? Why did they let it get so run-down? …).

Other buildings are being re-born, with subsidies from the city Council …

… and their ‘half-builtness’ can also be beautiful.

– Half a dozen or so brass plaques outside an office building, but none shiny – all matt, some stained. One says: “C Side Intelligent Solutions.” To life’s problems?
– The ubiquitous pigeons, pecking at the pavement and scurrying out of the way as people pass.
– At various points, collapsed cardboard boxes bundled up and left outside buildings. For the homeless?
– Lengths of discarded wood propped up against a wall, one with nails sticking out of it. Could be used as a weapon …
– Sitting on a bench for a rest, you can feel the vibration of the Metro passing below.
– In the centre of the Avenida, Neptune and a fountain: a cool oasis away from the blistering heat.

– An unpicked weed growing from the pavement – a sign of underlying neglect.

– In the dust on the window ledge of a deserted office building, two contrasting messages: “Caralho!” (= erect penis, but has the strength of ‘F*ck it!’) and “Antje I ♥ You”.
– Outside a deserted and dusty ground-floor office (in English): “You call this freedom? We want more!”

– On the side of a building: “They’ve got the numbers, we’ve got the guns!”

– On the fence of a building site: “Murderers! Casa Pia [a State-run orphanage] and the CPCJ [a city commission to protect young people]. They steal children to sell in Morocco, with the OK of the judge of the Minors’ Court. € 325 for each child. I have proof. It’s to get the children’s organs. Herrera – Spanish journalist. Has documents.” [NB There are hand-written notices pasted up further down the Avenida, giving more details of the same accusation].

– A large African man, with another man and his wife in the car, is leaving the 5-star Tivoli Hotel. Two porters are trying to get his luggage in the boot, but it won’t go. They try for ten minutes. The solution: to put it on the passenger seat. They drive off, the three portly passengers squeezed onto the back seat.

– In a café, two old ladies sit, one with a glass of water in front of her, the other with a bottle. There are some crutches leaning in a corner – which lady do they belong to? The first has her back to the second, but half turns occasionally to chat. The second lady spits on the floor to the side of the table. Apropos of nothing, she sighs deeply: “Ai, vida!” (‘Oh, life!’). A cheerful-looking, wiry man ties the lead of a wiry dog around a post outside and comes in. This is Senhor Manuel, and everyone greets him. The mood in the café lifts: this is a high point of the day. There’s a German couple, tourists. They speak to the waiter in English, and there’s confusion about whether they want hot or cold milk in their coffee. The waiter gets it wrong. The girl goes to the bathroom, and the boy jokingly tries to flirt with the old women across the room, using his girlfriend’s fan. They ignore him completely.

– A Spanish couple leaving a café say good bye to the waiter.
Man (in Spanish) “Adios – how do you say ‘adios’ in Portuguese?”
Waiter: “Adeus”.

– A short, cleanly-dressed man in his 50s approaches me. He’s gripping half a dozen pairs of sunglasses in his left hand.
Man: “Wanna buy some sunglasses.”
Me (pointing to my sunglasses): “I’ve already got some.”
Man: “Yes, but these are good ones. Ray Ban.”
Me: “No thanks.”
Man: “Try them on. It won’t cost you anything.”
Me: “No thanks.”
Man: “Go on!”
Me: “No thanks.”
Man: “Ok. Wanna buy a watch?”

– Lunch in a café halfway down the Avenida.
Me: “Steak in a roll, without garlic.”
Waiter: “Without the roll?”
Me: “No, without garlic.”
Waiter: “Just kidding.”

– He brings me a bottle of water.
Waiter: “Quer que abra?” (‘Do you want me to open it?’)
Me: “Ok.”
Waiter: “No. Quer que abra? – Quer cabra? (‘Do you want a goat?’) Geddit?”
[NB Loses a lot in translation …].

– A man (Senhor Manuel) ties up his dog and enters a café.
Old lady: “Does he bite.”
Cook: “No – it’s just him closing his mouth.”

The Avenida from the bottom (Restauradores).

(End of Day 1)


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