Lisbon in Us by António Valdemar Oliveira

Lisbon in Us by António Valdemar Oliveira surprised us with a touching Christmas story…
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We’ve invited Valdemar to, as he says, put together a few words about Lisbon. The idea was for him to share with us his experience as a ride-hailing driver and maybe a few curious stories that he usually tells us with enthusiasm and lots of humour. Always irreverent, in the text he wrote for Lisbon in Us by António Valdemar Oliveira, he surprised us with a touching Christmas story…

His publication this month couldn’t be more timely!

All the Lights of the World

When I was invited to stitch a few words about Lisbon, I felt scared. First, because stitching is a tailor’s thing, which I am not; second, because words are a writer’s thing, which I am even less.

Being a ride-hailing driver can be both a comforting and dramatic experience.

Somewhere around Christmas in 2017, maybe on the 22nd or 23rd, I received a request for a trip in one of those streets in the interior of Marvila. Around 10pm, pitch dark and with a drizzle of rain, the kind that doesn’t wet, but demoralises.

When I arrived at the scene, there was a lady with a girl in a wheelchair.

— Can she sit in the front? asked the older lady. I said yes and while the girl was being seated, I went to put the wheelchair in the trunk.

— What’s your destination? I asked, despite knowing that once I turned on the system, I’d know.

— Nowhere. I set the destination for Rossio, but what we wanted was to take a ride around Lisbon, to see the Christmas lights. We wanted to ride around downtown, is that fine?

I said yes while I sat behind the wheel. The young woman beside me already had her seatbelt on and seemed to have no disability from the waist up. About 30 years old, with short blond hair, she reminded me of Antonio Banderas’ girlfriend in “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown”.

— Is there a specific way you want to take?

The young woman looked at me and smiled, “No. We’ve set Rossio as our destination, but let’s go the way you want. It’s up to you and we’ll change the destination step by step. We want to see the downtown lights.”

— Very well. Let’s do it. — she looked back at me and smiled again. “Thanks”.

I went from Marvila to Olaias, went down to Alameda D. Afonso Henriques and Almirante Reis Avenue. Martim Moniz Square, Figueira Square and Rua dos Fanqueiros. I went up to Rua da Prata and turned towards Rossio. I turned off the trip and the system, so as not to be hired by another customer.

— I’ve turned the trip in the system off. — I told the lady in the back seat, looking in the rearview mirror.

— But we could have changed the destination.

— No. So we’re on our own, we can go wherever we want.

I looked to the side and the girl was wide-eyed looking in all directions through the car windows. “Rua Augusta is only for pedestrians, I don’t know if you want to go out and take a walk around the block, I can ask the policeman for me to wait here a bit.” She declined.

I went around Rossio, went down to Rua do Ouro and crossed Rua Augusta on Rua de S. Julião. I stopped and, as usual, we got some car honking in the back. I shrugged my shoulders and the young woman smiled at me as she laid down almost on top of me, to see the lights along the street beside me.

I took advantage of an opening between two cars and made a moving violation to return to Rua da Prata. A few more honking horns, but nobody inside the car noticed.

I returned to Rossio, Restauradores and we’re in Liberdade Avenue. Radiant, lit up all the way to Marquês de Pombal. I looked to the side and noticed that the young woman had tears in her eyes. I tried to unwind: “Do you remember any more streets you’d like to see?”

“It’s up to you”, they replied from the back, “we’ll go wherever you want”.

I went up Liberdade Avenue, went around Marquês de Pombal and went up to the top of Eduardo VII Park. I stopped the car, took the wheelchair out of the trunk and helped take the girl to see the view of Lisbon lit up. I noticed that she started to cry again. I did too but no one saw it. I wept for her, for the lady I reckon is the mother, and for Lisbon, open in front of us, bright and resplendent. I thought of a fado, which says that this city is a jealous lover.

I returned to Marvila. It had been about an hour and a half.

When the girl was out of the car and settled in the wheelchair, she said, “Can I tell you a secret?” The lady smiled and I leaned over the young woman to listen. She hugged me so hard that I still might have the marks on my neck today. She suddenly kissed me on my cheek. “Thanks!”

It was the best gift I had that Christmas.

Lisbon in Us by António Valdemar Oliveira
Mini introductionBorn in 1960, the year when The Beatles were formed. A decade of striking contradictions for the second half of the 20th century: the love of hippies and the assassination of Kennedy and Luther King Jr.; the first trip to the moon and the colonial war; May ’68 and Woodstock… The decade that closed with the so desired and, at the same time, so mourned death of the dictator Salazar.

Since he was little, he always thought he was destined to be a teacher, but fate decided he had to be an accountant, a profession he embraced with professionalism but without enthusiasm.

At 38, he decided he was fed up and started studying Philosophy at Nova University Lisboa, a study where he reached the last year, but which didn’t conclude. He gained, however, experience for a project especially dedicated to “Philosophy for children” which has been a very satisfactory success.

Divorced, he has a 21-year-old daughter, to whom he explains both Philosophy and hard rock, and with whom he discusses Plato or Heidegger and Justin Bieber or Slow J. He likes Beethoven and Tool, but he has yet to find out if he likes the get-togethers better or the good food that comes with them and he could kill for an Alentejo convent sweet. He loses himself in love with gin-tonic, red wine and old aguardente.

Professionally, he was everything along with being an accountant: clerk at the Cinemateca Portuguesa, journalist at a newspaper with a right-wing connection, cashier at a gas station, clerk at a diet shop and occasional translator of advertising leaflets about herbs and roots, librarian at a “philharmonic society” or checker of prescriptions in a pharmacy.
An inspiring placeGulbenkian Garden
An unmissable visitCold Greenhouse and the top of Eduardo VII Park
His mouth waters with…Encharcada alentejana, toucinho-do-céu, tomato soup, Bacalhau à Brás – less and less, because of the damn industrial potato chips!
A song…ONE song?!?!?!… 2nd movement of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, The Grudge by Tool, Primavera by Amália Rodrigues, Do You Love Me? by Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds… I’ll let you pick!
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