“I can´t believe that you are from Lisbon and have decided to live elsewhere.” – I hear this sentence often and I have already learned to answer with a smile.
I never felt that Lisbon was my home, even though I was born and raised there and take pride in saying that I know it almost as well as I know myself.
From Lisbon, I keep glimpses of places that no longer exist and pictures that feel now so unfamiliar. My Lisbon is a patchwork of foggy memories like those kept as only remains of a relationship that never made sense, that definitely lasted longer than it should, but which also had its nice moments.
And once, I thought I loved Lisbon. Now I know that I loved it with that kind of resigned tenderness that arises from conformity and feeds on the impossibility to avoid something. Therefore, in order to make it more bearable, one decides to focus on beauty rather than on everything that causes disgust.
Last time I went to Lisbon, I couldn’t find Lisbon anywhere. The ten million tourists – as many as the whole population of Portugal – that pass by Lisbon every year have managed to transform a shy and melancholic town pushed against the ocean into a chaotic theme park. The few old time cinemas that still existed were replaced by department stores, belvederes were privatised, markets from the XIX century were rebaptised by media brands. From the old “tascas” and “pensões” – which have become “gourmet wine bars”, “hostels” and “hotel-boutiques” – only the façades remain and the narrow and winding roads of the capital were flooded by “tuk tuks” which make the attempt of driving in Lisbon a Bangkok-like experience.
Every nook and cranny was overcrowded and everywhere, the prices matched the European average but not the Portuguese 900 euros average salary earned in Lisbon, the highest in the whole country. The stereotypes about Portugal have become brands and they are sold, shamelessly, as “authenticity”, the concept in every tourist’s mouth. The vintage is fake, the traditions are a pastiche ready to trade and the rule is the folklorization of us according to the projections of the others.
The real estate speculation and tension created by the local accommodation concept push the Lisboners outside Lisbon and the irresponsibility with which the local authorities handle the environmental impact of tourism massification in such a small city made it completely unrecognizable.
But somehow, some things hadn’t changed.
I confirmed the sociological assumption that cultural behaviours take much longer to change than the topography of a city.
I recognized the same long faces and half-depressed expressions on the metro and the schizophrenic attitude that inspires both a servil demeanour towards the foreigner and an extreme rudeness towards the fellow citizen. The general lack of respect for others and the constant absence of sense of responsability for a common well-being, which tends to characterize so many of people’s behaviours, remained untouched. Lisboners still hadn’t learned to give way to ambulances while on the road nor to smile at strangers for a matter of social politeness. But all that is invisible to the eye of the new Lisbon tourist. A tourist inspired by Lonely Planet guides, who flies Ryanair and hopes to know Lisbon in a couple of days, will be happy enough to discover that, after all, the whole of Lisbon can be contained in an Airbnb experience interesting enough to tell everybody back home.
Fernando Pessoa, Cristiano Ronaldo, Discoveries, fado, sardinhas e pastéis de nata are all part of the same package and in it there’s no place for anything that goes beyond the most superficial impression. There’s no time for more either.
“We’ll all get high and walk off
Into the country, ridiculous country
Where the blue sky will smother us” plays in my head and I can now make sense out of these lines.
Last time I went to Lisbon, I knew I wouldn´t ever go back.
Lisbon keeps remembering me why i left. We were once too irrationally close to be friends now. And Lisbon, you know you were never the one.