Travel notes

Bacalhau à minhota is salt cod with an onion and tomato sauce, and the onion and the tomato seemed to belong together. The slab of fish came with a green salad dressed in plain olive oil, and the table wine was smooth and characterful. Some Lisbon regulars in the bar were having discussions which, while not heated, had a boisterous frankness that might seem alarming in England, but with an even keel of good-spiritedness. My skepticism about the rosy view outsiders have of foreign parts notwithstanding, I felt I had come home. I could not help myself. The locals were followed by a succession of tourists who may have had much the same sense of authentic experience, to which my own jaunty Brazilian panama and increasingly voluble chatter with the staff no doubt contributed a blue note. Two Germans asked for “vinho verde”, one glass only between the couple, and a bottle was opened for them without complaint or sour looks, though with some discreet bafflement. Such civility must go back to the Romans. The LCD TV had the sound turned off but there were subtitles, with sombre news of economic crisis and the French elections, in which Marine LePen had come a strongish third. On April 25th the overthrow of the Salazar dictatorship 38 years ago is celebrated, and the television made an implicit comparison with the current “troika” of technocrats overseeing Portugal’s austerity programme. The political anger reflected in numerous fresh graffiti and murals, together with the grey dusty look of some people on the street, mingling with us tourists, has the acrid smell of history in the making, whereas Brazil remains on the path of the previous decade.