Today began strangely: I’d managed an uninterrupted night’s sleep (my first) thanks to the success of the mosquito spray (mosquitoes are one of the downsides of living beside a river in a hot climate); and I wake to the mournful sound of a ship’s foghorn on the river, not the refuse collectors. Both were to prove portends of the day ahead.
Levante-me as sete horas (I get up at 7 o’clock) and look out the window at a thick névoa (fog) engulfing the surrounds of the Tejo river. Another climatic variance: humidity and the forecast of rain!
Though the trains are working I plump for the 15 tram. Unfortunately I fail to make the appropriate gesture so the 7.30am to Praça de Figueira glides by without stopping. Not a great start then! However the previous day I’d looked at the on line bus timetable and discovered that the 723 runs from ‘my’ stop to Marques de Pombal (the main roundabout in Lisboa) a short walk from the language school. Obligingly one appears.
Boarding, I notice a difference in the passengers. Dark colours predominate matching their demeanour and the weather. Most are gazing vacantly out the window; there is an absence of laughter and no one seems to be reading a newspaper despite TV fulminating daily on the vagaries of austerity. I feel (and probably look) out of place, a feeling exacerbated when Bus 723 turns sharply left and heads north into the hills, passing houses with shrines to the Virgin Mary built into their walls, rather than east tracking the course of the Tejo which is my usual route.
As we pass through the affluent embassy district a woman (looking like a combination of Victoria Beckham and Nancy Dell’Olio) wearing what appears to be haute couture clothing joins me in the ‘distinct’ passenger camp on the auto carro (bus). In black 6 inch heeled shoes, tanned, with long dark hair; discrete pieces of gold that set off an obscenely tight black dress and a Burberry handbag, she turns most heads as she stands next to me on the crowded bus. I could not have chosen a less effective way to merge into the background!
Minha Mulher Ana (my wife Ana) has warned me about the Brasileiras (Brasilians).They can be a source of discomfort to women here a situation not helped by tales of prominent Portuguese men going off with Brasilian woman young enough to be their daughters; I believe recently estranged single women in both UK and US also provoke a similar reaction often finding themselves omitted from mixed gatherings as a result.
Fortunately she makes no attempt to engage in conversation (perhaps noticing my sense of unease), sits when a seat becomes available nearby crossing her legs in a provocative manner and exposing more thigh than a plucked chicken. I’m sure at this point the male passengers feel like the Police guy in Basic Instinct when Sharon Stone did the infamous interview scene. I sit down and view the external scenery which is changing as we get higher into the hills and the fog thins; a cue for the next piece of essential fashion accessory to be produced – the designer sunglasses which adorn the head’s of most woman here irrespective of the climatic conditions.
After 35 minutes including a circumnavigation of Ajuda University campus, Bus 723 arrives at Marques de Pombal and I alight followed by my new ‘friend’. A nod of acknowledgment suffices as she turns into a smart looking office building and the mature student heads up the hill pondering:
- where she was from
- why she chose to position herself where she did and
- why she was on the bus rather than driving a Ferrari?
Normality returns as I reach the Pasteleria that has become my pequeno almoço (breakfast) venue. I seem to have ascended to the rank of a regular since my arrival is greeted with a bica (espresso) and a pastel de nata amid more head nodding. The TV is on and by way of a break from austerity features footage of a fatal crash in the Algarve – lots of tut tutting here about the standards of driving among the young. As always graphic images accompany the dialogue.
You can only have so much good news in one bulletin and on cue Finance Minister Vitor Gaspar is on screen conversing with fellow Euro Finance Ministers plus IMF chief Christine Lagarde. That he is smiling and they are laughing becomes a subject for animated conversation among the Diario De Noticias Portugal’s serious broadsheet) fraternity ‘enjoying’ their breakfasts.
Suitably fed, watered and calmed after my close encounter on the 723 I enter school for a conversation with Professor Orlando about his extra curricular activities as a maratonista (marathon runner). He is clutching a batch of printed papers which I see contain my blogs – he must be the only person to have downloaded them all – I feel quite flattered and buoyed up for the day ahead.