Yesterday we made our second less than successful excursion down to the Mercado da Ribeira. The first was the weekend before last, when we went to check out the collector’s faire, only to find a few guys packing up their coins and stamps. We got a late start again yesterday, and we didn’t make it down there until nearly 1:30 PM. By that point most of the food stalls had packed up, and the fish ladies were hosing down their counters and throwing out their ice.

Note to selves: go to the market in the morning.

But we found a few hardy souls still optimistically manning their vegetable stands, all of which offered some very impressive wares. There were pears the size of my two fists held together, perfectly shaped apples, massive orangey green ridged squash, and boxes of loose strawberries, perfectly red and shiny. I saw zucchini that were a foot long and as big around as my arm, and bunches of green onions, a rarity here, with dirt still clinging to their roots.

We settled on one promising stand, where the lady was clearly trying to get rid of some of her wares before closing down for the day. As we made our selections (carefully, since we’d be carrying them for a while), she pressed a ripe avocado on us — oh, twist my arm! — and couldn’t resist tucking a spray of mint and cilantro into our bag as we were paying. Two full bags of extremely fresh fruit and veggies for less than ten euros. Amazing.

At our request and gesticulations, she also cut a hunk off of a huge armful of what turned out to be a very bitter leafy green, which almost looked like mustard. We cooked it up for dinner last night, along with a chicken roasted by Gabe and some potatoes and parsnips that we also picked up at the market. It was a Sunday roast on Tuesday, but no less delicious for it.

Bootie in hand, we headed back towards the Elevador da Bica, as our trip to the market had largely been an excuse to ride it back up the hill. We had just missed one departure, but we weren’t in too big of a hurry, so we took our seats and waited amicably for the return journey.

The elevadors may save you wear and tear on your knees, but they certainly don’t save you time. On the way down, we’d asked the driver when the next trip down the hill would be, and without lifting his eyes from his paper or his cigar from his mouth, he gruffly replied, “Ten or fifteen minutes.” Despite his surliness, I turned around to say thank you, just so I could get another eyeful of his fine thick mustache, which curled up just slightly at the ends. I decided if I was an elevador driver, I would also grow such a mustache, and sit there smoking cigars between runs up and down the hill. That would be a fine life indeed.

To my great disappointment, our return conductor was not the mustachioed gentleman, who was perhaps too busy reapplying wax to his facial hair. Instead we were conducted up the hill by a much more pleasant lady, accompanied by an elderly Portuguese man with a curved scar on his forehead, who kept looking at his watch and blowing air through his mouth impatiently. I thought to myself, Fellow, if you’re in a hurry, you’re in the wrong place for it.

Much less hurried but no less intriguing were the two French tourists who rode up with us. One of them immediately jumped into the front, where she stood taking pictures the whole way up the hill. Her companion was decidedly unimpressed by the whole thing, and instead sat on the bench across from us, where she conducted a murmured, flirtatious conversation on her Blackberry. She only gave an occasional glance out the window of the elevador, which earned her quite a few glares from her more enthusiastic girlfriend. I would’ve been mad, too.

So we creaked our way to the top of the Bica hill, then went on to have lunch at one of our favorite cafes, which overlooks the entire river and the bridge. It is a painfully hip little place, perched on top of the Santa Catarina hill, but somehow they deigned to serve us a funky and very non-Portuguese lunch, with lots of feta cheese in the sandwiches and a few bits of chicken in my otherwise largely carbohydrized salad. (OK that last part is pretty Portuguese, as they do love their carbs here, but otherwise not so much.)

Our walk then continued on a roundabout way home, with of course another stop for coffee and a tiny bite-sized pasteis de nata, crunchy and custardy and oh so good. We compared different tile patterns, we stopped to buy milk at a small corner store, and we oohed over a tumbledown house near the cafe, dreaming about buying it and fixing it up, then opening a bookstore in the retail space underneath. The cherry blossoms were out, the sky was blue, and life was very, very good.

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