A Charmed Day in Setúbal
Some days are better than others. Some are perfect and some are just shit. Then there’s yesterday. The washing machine suddenly decided to no longer function, so all the laundry had to be handwashed. All our normal everyday chores ended with freak slippages, droppages, etc. …how did that get in there? Everything about our normal routine just got more difficult than it should be. I had a wave of anxiety about how to handle the washer problem here in the country where people speak Portuguese. Wayne and I got in such a funk we finally just went and took a nap (a measure I heartily recommend). A little reminder to enjoy the present moment for what it is.
We had planned on attending an outdoor jazz event at a nearby Largo (plaza) at 5pm. Overall, we’re pretty good at wrangling funky moods, so Wayne suggested we leave early and just take a walk. We get outside, we get some exercise, and we’re at the event by 5 p.m. – Poifect! We took our 25 minute jaunt to the river and sat on our favorite river-viewing bench. Once there, we simply watched life go on around us. The weather was its typical divine self. Two boys were swimming in the river using heroic dives, then climbing the slippery weathered stone steps back up. A man was fishing off the edge of the dock, caught a respectable cuttlefish (octopus family), then packed up and went home with his dinner. A spunky dog decided to leap into the river for no apparent reason, was unpleasantly surprised by what he’d gotten himself into. With some effort, he courageously swam himself back to the dock and climbed those same stone steps. And then it was time to go to the jazz concert.
Largo da Ribeira Velha is a cozy niche carved into a side street off the main Avenida Luisa Todi. One entrance is through an ancient tunnel in an old but recently renovated apartment building. A large sprawling tree is the center, with a small stage built around it. A few cafés and restaurants define it as a popular spot. Strings of paper decorations stretch from the branches of the tree to the upper floors of the surrounding buildings. A gentle, cool breeze is passing through the dappled shadows. People gradually gather to listen to the music. It’s the first jazz I’ve heard here that was completely instrumental – a nice change. In keeping with the laid back mentality of Portugal, shop owners don’t care how long you hog up a table. We bought wine from one café and sat at a different one’s table because none were available at the first one. Another couple later joined us after doing the same thing. No one cares. You can buy as little as a water or a cracker and sit at that table for hours. The concert was exactly one hour. I’ve also noticed that jazz seems to be the only thing here that starts and ends on time 😉.
On our way to the river, we had noticed a huge stage being set up in one of our favorite hangouts, Praça du Bocage. This busy, expansive square enjoys cafés, shops, the city hall and a historic church around its edges. In the center is an impressive statue of Manuel Maria Barbosa du Bocage. The man was French but the Portuguese revere him as one of their own beloved poets. As it happens, this weekend was a holiday celebrating said gentleman.
After the jazz, we passed back through to see what all the fuss was about. A popular, long-famous Portuguese band, Ala dos Namorados, was to be performing there that night at 10pm (too late for us), but they were doing a warmup and sound check. The lead singer is spectacular. The band is tight, rhythmic and emits a big sound. We received a surprise free concert on our timetable. The Praça was teeming with energy. It was invigorating to soak it all in. In the azure sky, birds were soaring overhead and a plane flying by above them. On the ground were tots and dogs running and teasing with each other, exploding with joy. Scattered everywhere, on anything that could be a seat, were the people of our town, relaxed, happy, glowing with well-being. Even the memory of the collective energy is exciting.
Sound check over, time to move on. We head toward home by one of our favorite restaurants, Confraria do Bonfim, in the lush Parque do Bonfim, a few minutes from our apartment. The park is laced with little streams that converge into a pond with fountains. Ducks are the pond’s main tenants, who are overseen by one magnificent swan.
We enjoy our dinner al fresco with the soothing splash of the fountains next to us. Since we overordered on the wine, it was dusk by the time we finished.
We arrive home just about 9 PM and collapse in a happy heap. What’s that we hear? Down at the café at the side of our building, there’s a female jazz singer on guitar accompanied by bass, trumpet and drums. From our ninth-floor veranda, we look up at the night sky and survey our domain. The woman is singing the English lyrics to “Smile” and her voice is velvety smooth. We listen dreamily until Wayne decides to go to bed. I want to hear more, but, I’m so wine tired I can’t sit up in the chair. I place a pillow on a little end table, put my head down like a first grader, close my eyes and just listen.
Who’s to say how any given day will unfold? If you stop to listen, there’s probably music. A nap doesn’t hurt either.