My first visit to the oldest City in Western Europe was in 2007, a City break for a few days. I don’t remember much of the trip, but this one feels like a completely new experience. I’m definitely falling in love with Lisbon! So far the weather, food, pace of life, street art, architecture, people and culture all have me smiling. There is a wonderful combination of old and new, and I love meandering around the streets in the suburbs, looking up at the old tiled facades filled with balconies decorated with flowers and plants, a sweet old lady looking down below at me from one of them every now and then. I wave and smile.
Portuguese and Estrela
I had a week of Portuguese language lessons with a group of recent creative graduates; 3 fine art students and a photographer. This was much fun and there are so many similarities between Portuguese and Spanish, that a lot of what I learned in 2009 whilst travelling in Latin America came back. Many people here speak English but it does help to know the basics as many people don’t speak English. Me and my new friends are living in Estrela, a leafy, cosy suburb in the south that is absolutely fabulous. There is a little friendly park two minutes walk from our apartment that is shared by the local community, with some participatory arts activities taking place, a small café that has been showing the football, and lots of lovely trees and plants that give it an inviting family feel. I love that we have a butchers and grocery shop nearby for fresh local produce, we really do feel extremely lucky to be living here-I’m pinching myself. This week I’ve eaten a couple of pastel de nata, local egg tart pastry that is absolutely delicious, I’m sure I’ll eat a small mountain of these before I leave.
It was great to watch the football in Praca do Comercio, The beautiful Palace Square for the Portugal V Ghana match, the sun beating down, a pint of Super Bock in my hand (Portuguese lager) and a great spirit in the air. One night after numerous glasses of local wine we hit the streets of Baixa Chado lined with bohemian bars and beautiful people. I love the ease of getting around, this City is big enough to feel exciting and vibrant, but small enough for a stress-free lifestyle, as the underground has 4 simple lines, and its relatively quick and easy to walk between places. A British friend I made in Bristol just happens to be passing through the City, and he lived in Lisbon for 9 years. We catch up over a beer in the sunshine and he gives me a few tips for my time in Lisbon, whilst we enjoy the view of the sea.
One Saturday me and my Cypriot housemate take a walk around Alfama, the oldest district in Lisbon spread along the slope between Sao Jorge Castle and the Tejo River. Our jaws drop and we can’t stop noticing pretty things to photograph in the winding streets. We stop at a vintage market and take our time looking at the items on display, they look like art installations. Numerous plastics dolls and toys, jewellery, old shoes and handbags, old radio and cassette players. We decide to take lunch al fresco style and can see the kitchen from where we are sitting, so we watch the cooks smiling and working away quickly. The smell of fresh fish fills the air and everyone around us eats and talks lazily on this lovely Saturday afternoon. We tire ourselves out and go home to shower and take a nap. In the evening we head to Largo Intendente as we have been told there is a free concert there tonight.
On arrival we learn that General D is headlining, the first Portuguese rapper to sign a record deal in Portugal, and pretty much the godfather of Portuguese Hip Hop; another pinching myself moment. General D was born in Mozambique, a former colony of Portugal, and immigrated as a child to Lisbon. He drew inspiration from Public Enemy and Ice Cube, but has a distinct African flavor in his music using many tribal percussion instruments. A range of dancers, vocalist and musicians are invited to take the stage, and it’s easy for me to enjoy them all up close in this warm friendly crowd that doesn’t mind me taking a place at the front. Everyone is so happy and I can’t believe what an excellent day it has been so far. I love African music so much I wrote my dissertation on it, and here I am listening to some brilliant live African music on my first Saturday night in Lisbon; result.
Sikh Punjabis in Lisbon
On Sunday I take the yellow train line from Rato to Odivelas, literally from one end to the other. Odivelas is in the north and Lisbon’s main Sikh temple, Gurwara Sikh Sangat Sahib is based here. Its pretty much standard procedure for me now to find out if there is a local Gurdwara in every place I visit for more than just a few days. I get so much out of this, beyond the lovely cooking from the free kitchen , a tradition in every Sikh temple world over. It’s nice to meet and see the Punjabi diaspora in different countries and learn about their lives and experiences. I notice a few Sikh families getting on my train, many of them are turbaned. I assume they are going where I am, and I’m right. At the station I approach a family and ask them in English where the temple is, and they look at me confused. I speak in Punjabi and then the conversation starts to flow. A man nods at his wife and she offers to accompany me there. We talk all the way there, and she informs me that many Punjabi’s are in the City, and that she is enjoying life there.
Many Indians began to arrive in Portugal following the collapse of the Portuguese empire and dictatorship in the 1970s, from Mozambique and Goa (Myrvold, 2012). Once Portugal joined the EU and then the Shenghen area in 1995, Portugal became a magnet for migrants. Many Sikhs began to arrive in the 1990s when the demand for unskilled labor following a construction boom emerged. Many of them were men, and I notice in the temple men definitely outnumber the women. It has been argues that immigration has allowed Sikhs to gain citizenship and employment that are key to the success of Portugal, as it has a decreasing growth rate in population and the immigrants are an inexpensive workforce much needed. There is much room for debate here as with immigration policies in EU countries. According to research and interviews with local Sikhs conducted by Kristina Myrvold from Lund University in Sweden, many Sikh migrants fall into a trap as they are unable to integrate into the local workforce, and therefore do not achieve similar income and living standards to the majority of the population.
I am pleased to see that the Gurdwara is lively and full, a real buzz in the air. I really could be in any country in the world right now. I say my prayers and join the congregation for a while. I chat with a woman in the langar hall (common free kitchen) and it turns out we are both originally from Jalandhar district in Punjab. She tells me that there is a shop within the building so I buy some jeera, masala and haldi there later. My new friend tells me that food is cooked and served here 7 days a week and this warms my heart. I enjoy some daal, rice pudding and chapatti before heading home. Its been a packed week, the next two months are going to be fabulous!