One of the things you really notice when you arrive in Lisbon (and I’ve mentioned this before), is just how friendly the locals are to outsiders. Whether this is a result of their own past as explorers or something entirely different, is difficult to say. Last week, I had a really poignant reminder of this.
While taking a walk in the heart of the city, I veered off the main thoroughfare of Avenida de Liberdade and up the hill to Principe Real. This is a really thriving neighbourhood at the moment, full of niche boutiques, appetising cafés and restaurants and, sadly, spiralling rental costs. As I arrived, it was a Saturday, and the local market was in full swing, with a flea market, selling all kinds of bits and pieces along one street and a fruit, vegetable, meat and fish market along the perpendicular. I took a walk around and looked at the wares, before deciding to make my way past the stalls, into the park itself.
Wandering past the antique sellers and their myriad broken typewriters and cigar tins, I saw in front of me a very odd looking tree, which seemed to be hugging a metal frame, all around it.
As a curious kind of fellow, I walked around it. I walked under it. And I walked back out again, then just stood looking. At that moment, I noticed an old lady just staring at me, with a huge grin on her face. I turned around, to check it was definitely me she was smiling at, but sure enough, I was more or less alone there. “Bom dia,” I ventured, knowing my Portuguese is, frankly, awful. Then she started talking and waving at the tree. I managed to tell her that I was English and, despite her English being pretty shaky, she started to tell me about the tree. It was a cedar, and more than 200 years old. The whole park had been falling into disrepair until about 3 years earlier, when it had been renovated and this tree was made a centre piece. She beckoned me under the tree, so I walked back under the canopy of it’s branches and she gestured for me to breathe in. As I did, there was a really pleasant citrus fragrance. Then we went to look at the trunk and branches, to see the state of a 200 year-old living thing.
Finally, she told me that, during the poetry festival in the city each year, small extracts from poems are hung from the branches all around the tree and you can walk underneath and read them; the tree becoming a living part of the art.
After I told her that I was in fact living in Lisbon and not a tourist, she wished me really heartfelt success in my work and life here and I left with a real boost for the rest of my day. I suspect these kinds of encounters may not be too uncommon, as I endeavour to take in my new landscape. I certainly hope not.