The Land of the Lotus Eaters

After being thoroughly hassled by the much too big for his own britches man at the Portugal customs (I honestly thought he was going to send us right on back to the States), Katie and I finally found ouriselves in Lisbon. We met up with the raddest of rad Professors, Ellen Wetmore, and quickly found ourselves in a quaint little Lisbon apartment owned by artist/our host, Marta de Menezes. Marta, who was supposed to be meeting us there, unfortunately could not make it (she injured her knee from dancing too hard at her birthday party a few days ago- I liked her already). No matter, we would be seeing her the very next day at her gorgeous farm/house down São Luis, which is where we will be spending most of our time and doing all of our artwork. Despite being in desperate need of a hot shower and a soft bed after such a long trip, we all decided that hunger and wanderlust far outweighed our not-so-primal need for comfort, and after a quick change and brushing of the teeth, we set off into the cool Lisbon night. Luckily, Ellen knew just where to go and we easily navigated our way through the city’s subway system and in just around fifteen minutes found ourselves on the coast in a section of Lisbon called Cais do Sodré. As beautiful as it all was, we only had one thing on our mind at the time- FOOD. Ellen led us through the streets to this place called the Time Out Eatery, and it was unlike anything I have ever experienced in my entire life, which honestly turned out to be the theme for the rest of the night (and I’m hoping the entire trip as well). I will attach a picture of Time Out to this post, but just for kicks I’ll try to literally explain it as well. Picture a huge, rectangular space. In the middle of this space, there are countless tables- high tops and low tops, and almost every single table is filled with people hanging out, eating, drinking, whatever gives them pleasure (and is allowed in public). Think school cafeteria/University dining hall, but with much more class and far better food. And all along the borders of this space, instead of walls there were these little mini kitchens with take-away counters. They had it all- pork, fish, pizza, sushi, authentic Portuguese cuisine, even dessert and yes, a very large bar. It was glorious, and I had absolutely no idea where to start or what to get. Ellen and Katie quickly decided to go for the fresh pork roast, and although it was incredibly tempting I held back and instead set off to explore my options (and find an ATM because I was fresh out of Euros). Desperate to start immediately immersing myself within the culture, I made a beeline for any place advertising “Authentic Portuguese food”. There were quite a few, and believe you me the decision was not an easy (or quick) one, but eventually I chose to get what I saw almost everyone around me eating- the “special of the day”, which was a seafood tomato risotto garnished with two full prawns (or “shrimpys with their heads still on”, a direct response from my dad after I sent him a picture of my first meal in Portugal). I patiently waited for the chef to make my meal and then happily carried it back to the bar to join Ellen and Katie. They had already finished their food, so I just plopped myself down at the bar and stuffed my face full of the delicious, mouthwatering risotto. Ever seen a girl peel and eat prawns at a bar? No? Don’t worry, I made it look hot. Since I was already sitting at the bar, I decided to help myself to some wine as well. Ellen recommended I try Vinho Verde (yes, that does in fact mean “green wine” for all you bilingual fellas out there). I was a little skeptical at first, since I generally do not enjoy chilled/clear wine, but this, folks, was a game changer. I downed it much quicker that I expected to and immediately ordered another. Kind of like champagne (but not as fizzy), Vinho Verde is native to Northern Portugal and apparently quite difficult to find in the US (and the ones that you do find, according to Ellen, are awful)… which means I will more than likely be bringing a few bottles home with me. After I finished my dinner (and we indulged in a few desserts), we once again took to the streets of Lisbon. Ellen led us through some back alleyway that opened up onto the “Pink Street” (yes, it was literally a pink street), which, she informed us, is Lisbon’s most prominent gay district. Very cool. There was a strip club immediately to our left and countless bars and restaurants lined the street, which was filled with people boasting some of the best style I had ever seen. I must have looked so tragically American, staring doe-eyed at everything and everyone with my head on a permanent swivel, but I just couldn’t help myself. The buildings in Lisbon are all very tall, and to our right there was one that had this incredible street art/sculpture running up the entirety of the wall that was so alluring it made us stop in our tracks to look, and what we came to notice was that at the bottom of this sculpture there was a door. This door was open, but inside it was very dark. We could see people going in, but nobody was coming out. Immediately, our curiosity was piqued. Ellen, Katie and I exchanged an excited glance and we made our way towards the door. Something was pulling us in, we just didn’t know what. As we climbed up the two flights of stairs, provocative artwork that was painted directly on the walls greeted us at every turn. With me in the lead, we finally reached the top of the stairs… and entered into the most psychedelic party/lounge/bar/gathering of people I have ever seen. I could feel Jim Morrison’s soul inside me screaming as we made our way through each room- I can’t explain the feeling, but it was almost as if I had been there before, or at least some place like it (which only reinforces my claim as the Lizard King reincarnated). It was dark and hazy with smoke, and the sound of music heavy with bass carefully intermingled with the different voices/accents that floated through the air. Each room was different- some were washed in a harsh red light, some in the bright purple glow of a black light. One room had walls made up entirely of books. There were all kinds of different couches and tables and chairs in every room, and almost every single one was occupied. Nobody seemed to give us a second glance, it was almost as if they didn’t even see us… Like they couldn’t see us, even if they wanted to. They all seemed to be completely immersed in this bizarre world, lounging around and smirking at us, like they knew some kind of secret that they promised to share with us if we just so happened to stick around long enough to become one of them. We had entered into the Land of the Lotus Eaters, of this I was sure. Pleasure mixed with a hint of danger and uncertainty danced around every alluring corner, but luckily Ellen had her wits about her and found the exit before we got the chance to consume the mythological flower be trapped there forever. I felt like I had just stepped out of a dream, one I have had many, many times before- and I had the strangest feeling that I would once again return to this place. Anyway, after we left (escaped), we once again took to the streets of Lisbon and eventually wandered into a massive pavilion where an orchestra just happened to be playing a public concert. The music was beautiful, Lisbon was beautiful- all my my expectations of this place had been both met and exceeded. We stayed for a few songs and then decided that it was high time we found our way back to the the subway and the apartment. It was a bit chilly, so we stopped along the way for something to warm us up (I got some Irish whiskey ‘to go’. Thats right, they literally put some whiskey in a paper cup and sent me on my way for only 4 euros. Fantastic service here, 10/10). Despite watching some girl crumple to the floor right next to us on the far too crowded subway car (don’t worry, she was fine, eventually), we got back to the apartment without a hitch and swan dove into our beds. Although we were leaving quite early the next morning, we would be back in Lisbon the following weekend (conveniently during the city’s annual festival), so I didn’t have to say goodbye just yet. Next stop, São Luis!