It’s been a long old winter. One positive discovery has been finding that even when everything is shut, this is a city made for walking – albeit with some effort required, since the hills are almost San Francisco-esque in their proportions and frequency.
For what else can you really do during a pretty hard lockdown, anyway? Walking – even without a dog – is a (wo)man’s best friend. That wanderer, that flâneuse or flâneur, who explores the city on her own time without seeming to have much purpose, to experience the movements of a crowd while always keeping a wry distance, is a gait I learned to inhabit while living in Paris. I hadn’t expected to find that Lisboa would conjure a similar feeling in me, yet its narrow streets with their “old world” charm, the leisurely pace at which many Lisboetas stroll along the pavement, and hills which rise at offensive gradients unfit for any kind of transport other than a sturdy pair of legs, certainly make travelling by foot a rewarding way to experience the city.
The artistic temperament of the flâneuse is also drawn out by Lisboa’s many bookshops (one of them, Bertrand, the oldest in the world having been in continuous operation since 1732), coloured houses, and panoramic vistas begging to be painted (or photographed).
During the lockdown which was in place between most of January and mid-April 2021, when strolling around just to get out of the house, I came across such delights as cobbled side streets, stunning viewpoints, and other surprises. There weren’t many crowds or opportunities for people watching, other than at the supermarkets – but I have still managed to feel a sense of blending in and observing, especially on a warm day where people have been in parks.
I also found that standing at scenic viewpoints (miradouros) was another way to gain some much needed perspective by literally elevating myself above the suffocation of lockdown, such as at the sweeping Miradouro de Santa Catarina in the old town, the Panorâmico de Monsanto, a massive graffitied building which was once a restaurant and now looks like an abandoned multistorey car park, in the huge Monsanto park in the city’s north, or the amazing views from above the Amoreiras shopping centre.
Another favourite is the cemetery in Campo de Ourique, whose far corner catches the last of the day’s sun and which offers a stunning view of the Ponte de 25 de Abril bridge (another way that Lisbon so mirrors San Francisco).
Once I began to look for the flâneuse, I spotted her everywhere. […] She is going somewhere or coming from somewhere; she is saturated with in-betweenness.Flâneuse by Lauren Elkin (2016)
There have also been the lovely parks like Parque de Estrela, which is full of twisting, exotic looking trees and is frequented by the neighbourhood peacocks. Another nice one to spend a long afternoon in – and which is often quiet – is the Parque de Necessidades, another which has peacocks and ducks.
Then there is the refreshing, only-ever-a-stroll-away sea, which presents itself as the solution to the anxious mind and soothes by its presence, whether stormy (like in the photo below), restless, or calm. This is perhaps the thing I love most about this city. The proximity to the waves is not only great for surfing, but for accessing a glimpse of rhythm without limit, a force that exceeds the self and the tribulations of human scale.