I am writing about this weekend in Lisbon for a reason. In many ways, it was a turning point for my time in Europe. The depressing monotony of Arevalo that had engulfed me in the past months was replaced by a new world of alternative lifestyles. Small town life in Arevalo was boring, but I discovered that I could use CouchSurfing to meet interesting people like this virtually every weekend if I so desired.
I spent the next day walking around with new Peruvian friend, Shaman From the Jungle. He showed me a side of Lisbon I never would have seen on my own. We walked from neighborhood to neighborhood to drop in on his fellow South American friends. All of them had immigrated to Europe in search of a better life. Some owned Peruvian clothing stores, some sold goods in markets, while others eeked out a living from busking (playing music on the streets for money). We watched six of his friends play flutes and guitars on the main square while fully dressed in traditional Incan clothes. We walked to the second-hand market where Shaman From the Jungle sold his paintings. Many of his friends had no immigration papers. They were clandestinos, as the Manu Chao song calls them, and they showed me a glimpse of the daily life of illegal immigrants.
I gained a lot of insights that weekend. From the hitch-hiking German girls and the Anarchist, I got a few tips on hitchhiking and insight on the European punk movement. One night we went to a punk bar in a seedy part of Lisbon and their political beliefs almost got us into some trouble. According to The Anarchist, the bar was the ‘oldest punk rock bar in Europe.’ It was, as we later discovered, run by neo-Nazis. When the girls tried to enter the bar they were stopped by the bouncers, who asked them bluntly “What are you?” They labeled themselves as punks, and the bouncers pulled them closer and inspected all the pins and patches that covered their sweaters to determine their politics. The girls started freaking out and yelling at The Anarchist in English. He tried to tell them that the bouncers were idiots, that they weren’t Nazis, they were just racists against the Angolan immigrants.
The German girl was actually quite pretty despite her best efforts to hide behind piercings, patches and pins. I imaged what she would have looked like two hundred years ago in pre-industrial Germany. Some long-haired innocent farm girl. But in the aftermath of Germany’s industrialization and subsequent attempts to conquer Europe, she was now an Anti-Nazi German Punk being denied entrance into a Lisbon punk bar by Portuguese Neo-Nazi Skinheads. Ironic? Labels were flying around everywhere that weekend: anarchists, punks, neo-Nazis, communists, capitalists, liberals, conservatives, etc. Is there no room for someone to just be themselves, free of a label?
Labels aside, The Anarchist taught me a good deal. I considered his political views and enjoyed learning about his philosophy on alternative lifestyles. We talked about my ambitions to write a book and I told him I doubted that it could get published, but that I had to write it for personal reasons. He showed me a list of self-publishing websites and explained that I didn’t need a large publishing house if was just writing for my own personal satisfaction. I could do it myself.
I went out on the town with the Erasmus students on Saturday night. We took the metro downtown and emerged from the station in the midst of a swarming crowd of young people all moving in the same direction – towards Bairro Alto. We joined in the crowd and floated along with the crowd. We moved away from the station and up the hill to the bar area. The streets narrowed and the crowd thickened. Bars lined each side of the street but no one seemed to stay inside for more than enough time to buy a beer and take it back to the street. Thousands of Portuguese were gathered in circles drinking beer, smoking cigarettes and passing joints around.
Street after street was packed wall to wall. People hung off their first story balconies and flirted with passers-by on the street. Chupeterias sold 1€ shots to fuel the party and beers cost 2€ for a liter. Spanish was almost as common as Portuguese, and I had no trouble making myself understood.
We all exchanged past travel stories and planned adventures. I told the Frenchies that I wanted to learn their language. They said I could get a job picking grapes in the summer time, which would be a good opportunity to pick up some French. Or maybe I could move to Marseille and get a job in a tourist area for a the summer. Surely they would need someone fluent in English and Spanish to handle the hordes of tourists. The possibilities were endless.
Yes, the possibilities were endless indeed. That realization grew excessively painful near the end of the weekend as my train returned to Arevalo. I had spent the whole weekend surrounded by interesting people and enjoyed a taste of a new world that was opening up to me. That interesting world of adventure made my apartment in Arevalo seem hollow and dead. Back to work for a week. I realized the hardest part about living this double life would be giving up my adventures every Sunday.