September 13, 2016
Spent most of my second day in Lisbon wandering the winding streets of Alfama, which resulted in my getting lost, both figuratively and literally, among its narrow streets and old-world homes and charm.
As the city’s historically Jewish and Muslim neighborhood, that Alfama has retained all three is not a coincidence. It is at least partially due to the fact that after the massive 1755 earthquake devastated the city, chief minister and master rebuilder Marquês de Pombal—while apparently holding quite tolerant views for the day, such as “You can’t kill that person just because he’s a Jew.”—chose not to implement his new formal (and “earthquake-proof”) grid style here.*
Alfama is full of little lanes and alleyways, steep hills and (when you’re lucky) stone stairs to help you scale them. And there are places within the district where you can stand and all you hear are the birds and the voices, laughter and music coming from the residents’ homes (or the streets, where they do much of their socializing and sometimes even their cooking, apparently). It was truly amazing to be in the middle of a city unable to hear any traffic sounds.*
At one point I turned onto a street so narrow that one man was sitting in his doorway chatting with his friend “across the street” as if he were across a dinner table. (Actually, I’m fairly sure my family dinner table growing up was wider than this street.) Which led to the highlight of my afternoon: petting the homeowner’s big, happy, lumbering mutt of a dog named Di (“Because it’s Di everything,” said his weathered owner. “Di Rosa, Di Silva . . . De Nero,” he grinned winningly at me, flashing his charmingly awful teeth.), who almost immediately got up, leaned heavily into my legs, then proceeded to heave his massive girth (He was almost as wide as the street. No exaggeration.) onto the cobblestones, rolling over to gleefully demand his belly-rub. As was his right.
*Shout-out to my Lisbon Chill-Out Free Tour guide, Pedro, who taught me everything I know about Lisbon (which, granted, still isn’t much, but it’s a hell of a lot more than it was yesterday).