Saying goodbye to all that and learning to walk in clown shoes.
“Do you have jobs lined up?” they asked as they tried to understand what could drive reasonable, normal people to abandon the New World for the Old. “Do you have a house there? Do you have family there? Do you speak the language? What will you do?”
It was well meant and considerate, but at times I felt as I imagine the Portuguese navigators felt when setting out on their famous voyages from Belem which is just down the coast from where I write. After all, we now know the world is reasonably round and the chances of falling off the edge are slim.
I was saying goodbye to Toronto, Canada—a place I had lived in for almost forty years—the place where I met my wife and raised my children. It was where I worked and played for two thirds of my life. It was the place where I finally shed some of my demons and a place that I will remember fondly, though not as fondly as Dublin because that place is, and always will be, in my blood.
But Canadians (not unlike others) tend to believe that they live in the best country in the world—something that is reinforced by every politician seeking public office—so the idea that we would voluntarily quit Utopia was a bit beyond the pale.
I can accept that as I grew up just outside the pale and have spent most of my existence there, one way or another. You see, I had grown tired of the climate in Canada. And I had grown tired of watching more and more of the things I liked being replaced by things I have little time for. I suppose, in part, that I am getting older and want to spend more time enjoying the things that I value in life.
And that led me back to Portugal, that odd little place on the edge of Europe. Renowned for its faded glory, its hours of sunshine, its beautiful food, Fado and the lumpy lugubriousness of its people, it is a place not unlike Ireland in some ways but with far better weather.
I had been here a few years ago and had decided then that this was the place for me. Since then, the grinding years of austerity had taken a heavy toll but that too will end. Downtown, where tourists sit sipping coffees in the sun there is a steady procession of the victims of economic turmoil seeking help. Some are local but many are the more professional Roma from the Balkans who have also branched out into selling knock-off sunglasses and drugs—which are decriminalized here. Sometimes they combine all three activities and can be very persistent. I did give in and bought a pair of clip-on shades but I was advised that the blocks of hash are most likely bouillon cubes coated with thin veneer of hash. Maybe some night when I am cooking something special . . .
The language is currently beyond me. My wife, who was born in the Azores, assures me it is phonetic but I can’t see that. I have tried adding ‘o’ and ‘a’ to the end of English words but that hasn’t worked. Here the ‘ush’ sound dominates and ‘c’ sound like ‘s’ and ‘x’ like ‘c’. I am not concerned. I have learned to say that I do not speak Portuguese and smile like a total idiot. It works for now while I try to learn new things to say.
I am being a touch facetious as I have already mastered ordering coffee, gassy water and, of course, small cigars. I can say “good day,” “good afternoon,” “good night,” and “thank you” and with the right smile, that’s enough to get me through most situations.
Oh, and I have learned to explain that my dog is a bitch, which is the question on every dog-walkers lips. Sometimes I explain it with such ease that I invite further conversation and that’s when my limitations get exposed. Oh well, maybe by next week I can learn to say that the dog has some highly contagious Canadian disease and everyone would be better staying away from us.
But that’s not what I signed up for. I will learn to speak and I will learn to write. After all I am walking the same streets as Pessoa, and glimpsing much of what had disquieted him.
Mostly the hills; Lisbon is also built on seven hills and walking in any direction requires a level of fitness and stamina not dissimilar to that found in Olympians – particularly the cross country skiers. After the first few days my feet were so sore that I could only wear my over- sized shoes—the ones I had bought to walk the dog through the snow and ice back in Toronto. They are not so much fashionable as practical but they do tend to flop around a bit—not unlike clown shoes.
Most of the time, I can keep them under control except on the walk back to our apartment.
In the length of a football field we climb the equivalent of five to six stories while twisting and turning like a dog’s hind leg. And that just gets us to the bottom of our street. Then we have to climb another two stories of steps to reach our front door. From there it is a simple matter of climbing the stairs to our apartment on the fifth floor! And all the time in clown shoes!
Naturally we are looking for a more permanent abode at a more suitable elevation and that is turning into an exciting venture of its own. I will tell you about that the next time.