Since we were out of town last weekend, we decided to stay closer to home for this week’s exploration. In looking through the guidebook though, we discovered that our walkabout options are becoming increasingly limited — we have already covered a great deal of ground!

Luckily, a different map gave us our goal for the day: the house of Fernando Pessoa, the national poet of Portugal. I’ve been looking into this odd little bespectacled character lately, and wanted to see the house in which he and his many personalities had lived.

So we set out in that general direction, though as always we reached it by a very long and circuitous route — which of course necessitated a stop for refreshment at a nice little sidewalk cafe around the corner from our destination. It was warm enough for us to sit outside and consume our coffees and pastries, both sweet and savory, which we did with gusto.

As soon as we were ready to pay, Gabe once again disappeared from the waiter’s view, so it took us about as long to get and pay the check as it had to consume our snack. Luckily, we were in no hurry, content to wait and watch the world go by.

This place was quite the social center: people stopping on the street to say hello, customers greeting the waiter and teasing him as they would an old friend, kids running in and out, and people generally enjoying their Saturday afternoon. Now that I’m more familiar with both the language and the body language of the Portuguese people, I am noticing more and more how warm and friendly and downright sociable they all are. Everywhere I looked yesterday, it seemed like they were chatting it up on one corner or another. I still feel very much the outsider, but I enjoy even that role, as being outside allows me to look in.

Once we’d finally managed to wrest the bill from the waiter and pay it (Gabe eventually had to go inside, after asking for the check twice and getting nothing but a nod in return), we walked around the corner to Fernando Pessoa’s house. I was expecting some small, dark little monument to his life, carefully preserved with his writing desk and implements all dustily intact, which is what you typically find at this kind of place.

To our astonishment though, his house has been turned into a bright, airy, modern community center, with a library, a small bookstore, what looked like a children’s education center, and a room where they host all kinds of talks and readings. All the walls, including the exterior, are emblazoned with one of his poems written in various different fonts, which Gabe remarked made it look like a crazy person’s house. Well yes, it kind of was, but shh, don’t mention it to our host or his many different personas.

They did have two of Pessoa’s rooms preserved, with his writing desk and implements immaculately arranged on top of it, and tall windows open to admit bright sunlight onto an equally yellow bedspread. They even had a case displaying the haircutting tools used by Pessoa’s barber during the 15 years he lived in this house — always an important addition to the collection.

What’s more, all of this was free. It was a delightful and surprisingly innovative way of using the space, as it became much more than a relic of a life once great. Innovation in any form is startling here, where most organizations and individuals seem content to look backward at former glory rather than pushing forwards to find a new spot in the sun.

We left Pessoa’s house behind, and continued to the end of street we had been on before, which ended in a massive, marble-bound cemetery. Conveniently, that was also the end point for the 28 tram, that rickety relic of the early 20th century, which twists and turns up and through the castle district.

We hopped on and rode it all the way to the end, as it always provides excellent people watching: German tourists giving up their seats to little old ladies with shopping bags, kids sitting on grandmothers’ laps, teenagers listening to loud music or jabbering on their phones. Predictably, the tram empties out almost entirely when you reach the castle, and I laughed when the little old man sitting in front of us called out “Castelo!” at the relevant stop, knowing that this was where everyone wanted to get off. He was very helpful.

Despite its entertainment value, the tram isn’t exactly the fastest method of transportation, and it was nearing sunset by the time we reached the other end of the tram line. So we again ended our day by strolling home through the pink-lit cobblestone streets of our city, down what we call restaurant row, a long line of mainly touristy places that all look more or less identical. We thoroughly confused the restaurant touts, who spoke to us in English and were startled when we replied in Portuguese — they were sure that we looked like tourists!

After running the food gauntlet, we stopped to pet a 3 month old beagle puppy, who was busily playing with an equally adorable young girl in the middle of the street. We also bypassed a huge line outside the former Roman coliseum, which appropriately enough is now a concert venue. Judging by what the touts there were selling and the predominance of women and teenage girls in the line, it was some boy band performing last night. One lady tried to sell me a giant banner with his face and name on it, and in response, I could only throw up my hands and shrug — entirely lost on me lady, trust me.

Moral of the story is: even though we have covered a lot of ground on the map and in the guidebook, every time we set foot out of our door, a whole new set of experiences await us. No two blocks or even buildings are alike, and all of the myriad sidewalk cafes or corner bars are totally different. Every street might contain a new kind of tile we’ve never seen before, or a famous poet’s house, or cute puppy, or a new church we hadn’t spotted the other fifty times we’d walked by it. It’s kind of exhausting, but also wholly exhilarating.

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