Lisboa: The Sleeping Beauty

Lisboa reminds me of Briar Rose, the sleeping beauty. She fell into sorcerous slumber some two hundred years ago. Her soul ages only in dreams. Dust collects in the corners, but her façades hold an enchanted youth, unfaded, still in the blush of their first springtime. She looks like a milk-skinned girl dressed up in great-grandmother’s frocks—all lace and frills and blue florals. But the prince will not mention fashion. He will tell her only that she is beautiful. After all, he might pluck a fortune out of the vintage goods—these tiles, with their indelible azure hue, mandalic designs, and an age double my granny’s, are pried off Lisboa’s walls at the thief’s midnight hour and sold to gold-fingered tourists.

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Yet time still ruffles the skirts of the somnolent princess. The alleys of the Mouraria neighborhood flutter with laundry and languages: saris and dashikis, Bengali and Vietnamese. Lisboa is a city of old tile and new blood.

At a small Asian frutaria I buy a single, cool nectarine for 38 cents. No confection I have ever made could compare to this nectar of the gods. The nectarine is all summer in a mouthful, morning dew, and the kiss of ocean mist.

I make a pilgrimage to the city’s many miradouros, belvederes. From the lookout point, the metropolis flounces out before me with the languid grace of watercolor silk: over the hills of Lisboa’s hips, thighs, knees, and ankles, all the way to where her toes dip into the Rio Tajo.

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Lisboa is Jordan Baker and Daisy Buchanan sprawled on white sofas in a room of French windows and dancing curtains. Their white summer slips beguile the light. Like bored glass prisms they scatter rainbows, colors hushed as mother of pearl.

The only completely stationary object in the room was an enormous couch on which two young women were buoyed up as though upon an anchored balloon. They were both in white, and their dresses were rippling and fluttering as if they had just been blown back in after a short flight around the house. I must have stood for a few moments listening to the whip and snap of the curtains and the groan of a picture on the wall. Then there was a boom as Tom Buchanan shut the rear windows and the caught wind died out about the room, and the curtains and the rugs and the two young women ballooned slowly to the floor.

—F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

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