The lane was narrow. So narrow that two people could not walk it side-by-side. I turned my shoulder to make room for the elderly lady walking past… and she did likewise. “Al Farma Linde” (Al Farma is beautiful) I called out to her. Her impassive face creased into a thousand wrinkles as she beamed. Next followed a round of rapid fire Portuguese as she tried to strike a conversation- I helplessly shrugged “No Portuguese” I said as she smiled, nodded and walked on. I was at the ancient neighbourhood of Al Farma, Lisbon’s best kept secret.
The buildings towered over me; the street was perhaps about a meter in width with rows upon rows of doors and windows. It was a maze so complex that only the locals knew their way around. Me, I had given up long back- in fact within minutes of entering the maze. I was happily lost among the babble of foreign tongue, casual greetings and friendly invitations as we meandered through the alleys. Somewhere above I heard voices and pleasant chuckle- overhead, a pot of cooked food was being passed by a stick to the opposite neighbour across the street. As I jostled past the friendly folks taking in the smells of fresh laundry mixed with barbecue smoke, I found myself wondering how the Arabs who created this settlement would have lived and walked these very streets almost 1000 years ago. The Portuguese love their friends, they love their wine and meat, but most importantly, they love to share: and a walk within the settlement of Al Farma in the neighbourhood of Lisboa proves it to you.
Sip the ZingZinga, their home brewed sour cherry wine, holler out “Anosa” (Portuguese for cheers) grab your mouthful of sardines, and listen to their national passion- Fado… and you are on your way to understand the Portuguese people. They are spirited, they are emotional and they are tolerant- not just to strangers but also to their own diversity. Lisboa, the city of seven hills has an energy that is infectious. This explodes in the night at the ‘pink’street which hosts over 300 bars and where the party continues till 5am and ends with breakfast. Portugal is also a melting pot of various civilizations- and it is impressive in the way they attempt to preserve their heritage.
We have walked the streets- from Alentijo and Lisboa to Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia… we have been embraced by local friends… and we have realized what the Portuguese know: that other continents and cultures are not just distant tales of drunken sailors- they are very much a part of the Portuguese heritage.
PS: My note about Portugal cannot be complete without mention of Fatima Rebello who shared her precious time and closest friends with us, of Thelma Fiuza Filipe who introduced us to Portuguese fine dining in Lisboa and of Raphael Barreiros our host in Lisbon. Our Porto experience could only happen due to Ivo Cruz who opened his home and his heart to us and Daniel Ramalhao for amazing times and intoxicating conversations- and Hugo Mota for introducing us to the secrets of his beloved Porto. Our wheels will roll out of this beautiful land tomorrow, but the new friends and shared moments will tempt us to return back. Obrigado amigos…