In many ways, Lisbon is very much like New York City. In other ways, it is nothing like it. Our apartment sits on the outskirts of Bairro Alto, a historic district in Lisbon where the streets are narrow, steep, and mostly made of cobblestone. I would compare it to New York's SoHo at first glance but the hills... San Francisco natives would probably be better accustomed to them.
I've already learned a little bit of Portuguese. Cheese, for example, is quiejo. Came in handy when Cole and I landed in Lisbon on Sunday, starving and desperate for a good meal. The famous Portuguese egg custard tarts — which are delicious but nothing spectacular — are pastel de nata. Of course the most important — você fala inglês? Do you speak English? Many people here actually do which is wonderful because Portuguese... oof, Portuguese. This is not a language you can just pick up in an instant. I don't know why I ever thought it was similar to Spanish. Perhaps some words are the same. But for the most part, Portuguese is a wild mix of "sshhs" and "ois" that makes it sound almost Russian. Where am I??
Another bit of shock on our second day here: many tourist sites and museums stay closed on Mondays. Good thing it rained for most of the afternoon so we were forced to stay inside for much of the day. But it seems odd that, after a weekend of rest and rejuvenation, Lisbon's popular destinations would want to keep their doors shut on the first work day of the week. As someone who likes to explore off the beaten path, I don't necessarily mind. But today felt... sleepy. The streets were quiet. Our taxi driver into the city told us that Bairro Alto was a great walking neighborhood. I didn't see too many people walking around.
In this way, Lisbon is nothing like New York. In New York, life is constantly moving. There are places to go, errands to run, people to meet. The hustle and bustle of the city provides a unique type of rush you can't find anywhere else. The air swirls with inspiration, however polluted it may be. There is a can-do attitude about New York. Here in Lisbon, I don't feel it.
Is this the typical lament of the American tourist? I feel like I'm saying things that have been said by many tourists before me. I'm looking at Lisbon and comparing it to home when, in reality, nothing can ever compare to the place we call home.
We’re sitting at the dining table of our apartment and Cole just described Lisbon as “alright. It’s a poor man’s Spain, which is a poor man’s Italy.” I had to laugh. What is it about New York that makes us think it’s so superior? Is it the fact that people are constantly working? Is it the scent of anxiety and stress in the air that arouses us? In New York if you’re not doing something, if you don’t have a career, you might as well get out. Your work is your identity. There is just no time to lounge around and do nothing all day.
Ironic, then, that I should find New York superior when this trip across Europe is supposed to be an exploration of whether your occupation really does need to be your entire identity. Perhaps I’m going through withdrawal. It’s not easy to go cold turkey on the American way of living after only 48 hours in another city.
Or perhaps there is another conclusion that can be drawn from these feelings. No, your occupation should not be your entire identity. But internal motivation is not the same as external pressure. My entire life, I’ve been taught that if I want something, I should just go get it. As a teenager getting ready for college, New York was alluring because the constant movement felt to me as if people were constantly getting what they wanted. Never settling. Always working harder towards their dream. Artists and performers come to New York to become famous. The poor come here to become rich. The city’s skyscrapers are not just a physical representation of the things we can achieve, but also a metaphorical representation of the size of our hearts and minds.
How did a post about Lisbon turn into a love letter to New York? I have to get out more. So far, Lisbon is alright. It really is a poor man’s Spain.