As the plane neared it’s landing in Lisbon, it occurred to me that I had spent so much time planning out Morocco and Croatia before I left, I hadn’t even considered really what I wanted to get from my time in Portugal. I had forgotten what I had even booked in terms of accommodation. I’ll just take a cab to the room and figure it all out , I thought.

Wrong. Taxis were on strike today. I’d have to haul the albatross through the veins of the metro which was even more congested than usual. I stood in line for a ticket, trying to figure out the routes..lucky for me a young polish girl asked if I needed help. “Why yes..yes I do”. She was going in a similar direction into lisbon so I followed her. We exited at the first stop, then climbed three landings of stairs then back down to the next terminal. At this point I was having to carry the albatross, along with two other hand bags. The polish girl,watching my struggle, threw her hands up and declared “much respect!!”. If only respect would lighten this load. On the metro a man passed by playing the accordion with a chihuahua on his shoulder carrying a cup for change. “odd. everything just feels odd”.

I exit the terminal and realize I am in a busy metropolis of hills and stone walkways. I had no wifi-and I am as useless as they get with a city map. A lady took pity on me. “You look lost” “why yes I most certainly am”. By this time I had hauled the albatross up four more sets of stone stairs. She let me use her phone to call the air b&b. He came to fetch me. “wow you really went the wrong way” “yes I’m aware of that”. We hauled the albatross up the steep roads until it came to a sudden jerking hault. The albatross lost a wheel. Man down. The albatross finally broke!!! We carried her to his apartment…and up four landings to his flat. He showed me to the room and left. I collapsed, cursed,  contemplated then finally got my ass up to figure out where I was. My door wouldn’t lock. I text him. “oh sorry, yes no, the lock doesn’t work anymore”. Right. Ok.

On I venture. It’s hot, it’s busy, i’m not happy. I walk down the hills towards the water. That didn’t help. Then I reminded myself that my general modus operandi for travelling has always been to first understand the vicinity I dwell in. So I walked back towards my district. Inner thoughts- “this sucks..dammit..maybe I should go to the coast..maybe I should get a new room..maybe it’s time to go home..i’m tired..i’m confused. I want wine. Maybe I don’t, i dont know what I want..god damn hills god damn broken suitcase..just..god dammit. Then I was immediately  flooded with guilt for indulging in such a pathetic display of self-pity. I need to get off the main road. Do I turn right or left. I turn right and start walking.

Then something happened. It was as though a door closed behind me and the buzz and clatter of the hub faded. Down converging cobblestone roads I strolled,  amongst the ecclectic  shops and cafes. I didn’t understand it but it captivated me.

I slip into a small cafe and order a wine tasting flight and ask the waiter to pair it with whatever authentic portugese tapas he suggests.

His name is Hugo. As i’m sipping my ‘green wine’ also known as young wine, Hugo chats a bit. I start to ask questions about  life here in Lisbon. Before you know it, i’m being briefed on the entire political history of portugal and one mans account of the after math. From being homeless for an entire month in the village he lived in-the economy was so poor -moving to lisbon-getting on socal assistance and lining up 10 interviews in one day-“that’s too many” they told him “you will never complete them” and he says, “I made everyone of them..and by foot” he says proudly. “Now I have two jobs and a home and a girlfriend-she yells and leaves sometimes but she comes back when she calms down” he laughs.

I note the similarities to Spain. He sends me a scornful look. “we don’t like the spanish much..they smile then stab you in back. We Portuguese,  we say what we mean. We don’t think too much we just do. We don’t have much money but we get out there we talk to one another, we drink together. The swiss?..they have fancy houses, good quality of life. I hear when it snows outside they wear t-shirts inside because their house is so warm. But then they don’t go out, they stay in their warm houses. We live. And the brazilians they come from us!” “They are like you?” I ask. “worse ‘cause there’s more of them haha”.
I ask where I can listen to live traditional Fado music.  He points up the road. “It’s  beautiful”,  he says. “what is it exactly?” I ask.  “Complaining”, he says. “We always are complaining…wife left is is hard..we complain about everything. We are sad. But we are happy. It is life”. Hugo is bouncing back and forth, it’s like I turned on the tap alowing all those pent up thoughts to spill on my table. I’m listening attentively while sipping wine and eating shrimp drenched in oil, slices of seared garlic and chilli..sopping up the sauce and his stories. He gives me a shot of ginja-traditional portuguese liquor-on the house.
Then it occurred to me. I’m sad! I’m complaining! Screw pollyanna and her glass half full perspective!  If ever there was a time and a place to complain it’s here right now in Lisbon! They will write a song about it and before you know it you are not sad anymore. I create a little forum in my head for all my complaints of the day..and guess what feels good. Trick is not to wallow. Complain and move on.
So on I move up the alley to the place where apparently the very best Fado singers have performed. I order wine. I sit beside a fellow Canadian solo traveler. We make exchanges and then a very large portugese women, dressed in black saunters in front of the guitarists and stand up baseman. She begins.
Her voice is profound-strong and melancholic. My canadian friend turns to me-“I want to cry” she says, “me too” I say. I order a small plate of Jamon Iberico. My chin is dripping with oil, my lips stained from wine and my heart bursting and celebrating all my complaints of the day. This is..this is fantastic.
The next singer emerges-his voice undulates and ripples between pitches-it is also sad and strong and incredibly romantic. My friend turns to me again “I think i’m in love” “me too” I say, while wiping the vibrant red oil of chorizo off my chin and take another slurp of wine.
What started as disasterous turned miraculous. I didn’t plan it, I didn’t prepare for it, I just took a right instead of a left. Life is magically serendipitous like that. I have a good feeling about Portugal…