“Extraordinary things are happening in Portugal,” I wrote early one Monday evening a month ago. I was in Portugal for a few days at the start of August, already a world ago. Fate stepped in and delivered me something extraordinary each time that I thought I would succumb to the overrated torpor of hostelling. Portugal, while a beautifully exotic word and a name that I can hang my hat on, was not in-your-face, so unless I could find a person to show a piece of Portugal to me I wouldn’t be able to find it. In the end, two people did: Lauryn Hill and Kánanda Freitas. Neither of them were Portuguese.
Lauryn Hill re-wrote her story, even if one concert may blend in with another for her. On a plaza (public square) next to the ocean she came to me, even though I only arrived in Lisboa half an hour before the free concert was to begin. I stood waiting for her for hours in a crowd of mostly black Portuguese. I was surprised to learn that they too were a part of the Portuguese scene, meshing and joshing with each other in black-cool Portuguese language.
I’m going to interrupt the pure narrative of this one to state that me in Portugal ultimately was the story of re-found happiness that I had believed was gone, in two people. Lauryn Hill appeared genuinely grateful to be passing through her repertoire of musical truth there with us in Lisboa that night, even if that truth had come and gone more than ten years ago, since in the end we each have to prove ourselves today or else disappear into irrelevance. I was grateful for this moment in my life too, and at one point she saw me, I’m sure of it! I was making a heart shape with my fingers, as much a Portuguese theme as a love moment, and she acknowledged someone in the crowd in my direction, and for the sake of dreams I’m going to believe it was me. She had wound the clock back: she was very pretty and it seemed to me, very happy too, or at least happy to be committed to a moment in which she could momentarily give the best part of herself to people who appreciated her. She looked frail in a way, but her clothes were her-stylish and she thanked us for our patience at the end of the night. Her backing singers all hugged each other in joy after she left the stage: a job well done.
Two days later on Monday, August 2, I was next to the water with a 19 year-old Brazilian waitress who had only been living in Portugal for six months. Why do I directly relate my joy and esteem to whether an attractive woman is interested in me? I do, and that day when she kissed the back of my fingers I was overwhelmed; finally a woman saw me as a man and not as some sexless wraith, and I would not have to make the first move that I had never traditionally known how to make. Fernanda was a woman who had fallen out of the sky into my lap, surely a gift from the God I’m not sure if I believe in. She was brown-skinned and that day she wore a pink dress with sandals. When I felt her hair it was a little stiff, different but lovely, a black person’s hair I suppose. I rode Lisboa’s classy trains with her and after many minutes of simple caresses I finally gave her a kiss, already a foregone conclusion. Half an hour later we ended up in each other’s arms next to the river, with all Lisboa spread out on the other side. A perfect moment, and I had acknowledged to her that I was happy, but I didn’t add what a rare event that was. When the ferry left to take me back to the mainland at six o’clock that was it, another mood lost before it could flourish. Staring at the water while on the ferry, I felt the same feeling that I had when I had left Karina behind in Bolivia in 2006. Feelings can’t be stored or remembered; we only have a moment in which, when we feel them again, we surprise ourselves and say, “I remember this.”
Spain had everything a person could need to be happy but I didn’t take it; Portugal had considerably less, but somehow what I was looking for.