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何飛 | 2020-01-20

The day before arrival.
Weeks before Christmas, the Iberian Peninsula was quite, if not dead, blue: heavy rain and strong wind was persistently affecting Portugal and some part of Spain. The day before I arrived in Lisbon, they thought my flight might have cancelled, and that I would end up spending Christmas in Istanbul. The rain was pouring down horrendously without mercy, just like the way water flowing through from the dam at the time when it collapsed; that night, some of the streets were flooded in Lisbon – a familiar scene we find in Jose Saramago’s novels. Despite the intensity of the pouring rain, some of my friends were still hanging out late that night. By the time they realized how bad the weather really was, their cars had already been soaked in water.

Funny though, I was actually not aware of it - there was no sign of hindrance whatsoever during my whole journey. All I knew was, the flight to Lisbon was very full and everybody was being in raptures over the idea of reaching home or the holiday destination in no time; instead of the image of heavy rain and colourless sky, it was very much a collage of optimistic thoughts in everyone’s minds - the sun, good food, an adventure, and a get-together.

This scenario, in-between veiling and unveiling the truth of a given situation, is something that would not surprise me at all when it comes to Portugal - a place which is magically capable of manifesting twists and turns. It is difficult to articulate how mysterious and dream-like things and events happen and unfold, and how marginally we are in between getting hold of and losing them -it is of an enigma but a kind of feeling that somewhat empathetic to a few, if not all, who had ever visited or lived in this country. It is a flair of effortlessness and grace in this art of living.

Wim Wenders, a film director who thinks life is film, seems to be the very first foreign-based movie director who grabs very well the essence of this place. Lisbon Story – the film he made in 1994, is a good example reflecting the flair and Portuguese sensibility. It is always exploratory, and car is, in fact, the extended home of every Portuguese family. Conceptually, car is something they just wish to roll themselves into from home. It is an important means of living nobody can live without. Being on the road, in a journey, for an adventure, no matter how far and unknown, is a concept that may be foreign to many but definitely not to the Portuguese.

Image description Sky turned into pink after the storm.

The day after arrival
The day after I arrived in Lisbon, the sky turned into Pink, but that colour of pink is more of celebrating Valentine’s Day than Christmas or New Year. The cityscape of Lisbon is full of viewpoints, space and perspectives where the river, the park, the castle and Ponte 25 de Abril never seem go out of our sights. The poetic city becomes even more rhythmic during this time: festival lights were all around for every kinds of loving photo taking, music band was playing jazz in the balcony of Fidelidade Arte in Chiado; Christmas markets and the Ferris wheel became some of the most visited spots. People gathered but the heightening charm of all was its quietness.

Image description Lisbon in festive lights.

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Less is More.
Instead of having all-day feast on the eve, we rolled into our extended home, and made a road trip away from the city. We were so ready to cruise towards the West End in the mild sunshine. In a festive season like Christmas and New Year, reaching the end of the Eurasia continent is quite symbolic in itself. We brought the food with us, planning for a picnic. On our way, we decided to stop by this discreet but beautiful seafood restaurant situated just right next to the cliff and in front of the sea somewhere in Sintra; there is a natural pool down below the main premise of the restaurant, where during summer time, is a popular place for swimming. On that day, we didn’t make advance reservation for our table, but luckily, we arrived at the restaurant a bit early, and the owner let us sit by the window, facing the vast expanses of sun and ocean-a charming scene where we could hear the sound of the big ocean waves breaking on the shore. The circumstance we were in had brought us to a point where time seems to standstill. At times, I was wondering whether we were actually having our meal in a sailing boat or out in open water, barely floating somewhere on the Atlantic Ocean, holding on, looking at each other while the waves smash the rocks and slosh up against the windows where we were sitting by. It was a state in between disquiet and quietness, a world of its own and at one with the world. It was theatrical.

Image description The discreet seafood restaurant by the cliff.

Reaching Cabo da Roca, first we saw that 19th century lighthouse sitting on top of the mountain from afar. Normally, the strong wind along this coastline discourages people from hanging out too long but that afternoon, it was sunny and calm to the point that, it provides the best moments for having a picnic and quality conversations.

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More or Less.
Road trip in Portugal is always a journey. We always find ourselves in unexpected situations no matter how familiar those routes seem to us: restless tides, deep ocean, ruthless wind, rich forests, wild animals, the thunder of the waterfall, liberating seagulls, the million-year-old trees, ocean creatures, sacred places, steep steps, sloppy terraces, contour of the coast, old stones, architectural masterpieces, heritage music, intriguing literature, hurricane, rainstorm, blazing sun, heavy fog, starry night, narrow alleys and hidden corners-a veil covers which that we are not able to fathom until the time comes, and the secret door is finally open.

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Now or Never.
Nature is an integral part of our lives –a reality and truth that we cannot get away with and live without-for better or worse. The ecosystem is very delicate. Unless we offer our affection by showing we really care, it can easily go off balance.

On Christmas Eve, I am not aware of anything and everything, but just don’t let the sun go down on us.

Text and photography by PFV