Falling in Love with Life in the Beco
Eleventh Week of a New Life
As time passes, I am falling in love with my Alfama neighborhood and all its residents. My sphere of cafe-hopping around Lisbon is shrinking and while I enjoy exploring other neighborhoods, I am spending more time at and near home. I truly enjoy life here on my little “beco”, or alley. I love my neighbors and long to speak their language so we can get to know each other better.
The Ladies of the Beco
One morning, I woke up and opened my two french doors to the sunshine warming our little square. I was greeted with what sounded like two ladies having a terrible argument! I was almost afraid to look out of the window as I considered locking the French doors to avoid becoming collateral damage.
After a few minutes, the dialog toned down and it was apparent from the few words I could understand, that these neighbors were just saying an animated good morning. Now I see them every day, talking on our little beco’s bench or sitting on the steps that lead up to the orange tree. I would just love to know the topics of conversation!
One afternoon as I was working, I heard one of the ladies on the square below. She was sitting on the bench, teaching her granddaughter to skip rope. The child was having a hard time learning. Finally, she took the jump rope from her granddaughter, pointed for her to sit on the bench, and went to work. She had that jump rope whipping around as she demonstrated how it’s done. I was able to snap a photo of that lovely moment without intruding.
The Gentleman of the Beco
My next-door neighbor is a little old man, who putters about our beco on a walking stick. He is always followed closely by his faithful companion and my favorite neighborhood dog. He greets me when he first comes out in the mornings, as I sit working with the French doors open. Next he makes a trip to the market to pick up a few things, followed by a rest in the afternoon on our bench along with his loyal canine companion.
He gets a big smile on his face when I share new Portuguese words or phrases I’ve learned. He loves to talk to me, or better yet “at” me, despite the fact I cannot understand Portuguese yet. I listen, smile and nod a lot. It seems to make him happy and definitely does the same for me.
One evening, I was hanging my laundry on the line while looking down on his apartment. I assumed he was tucked inside for the evening, making dinner and heading to bed soon. I miss seeing him in the evenings as I usually get home a bit later. Suddenly, his door opened and he strode out looking freshly showered, dressed in his best Armani t-shirt. This may be the first time I’ve seen him without his usual sidekick. He gave me a quick greeting, seemingly eager to get wherever it was he was going that evening.
Apparently, I have misjudged who in the beco has a social life.
The Ginja Seller of the Beco
If you’ve ever been to the Alfama, you have certainly been offered “ginja”. Ginja, short for ginjinha, a sour cherry brandy, is a local favorite. Many of the ladies in the neighborhood set up a table in their door or on the street, selling tastes of this local drink. You can get your ginja in a regular cup or add a chocolate cup for a small additional charge.
My introduction to our neighborhood was seeing a chain-smoking lady selling ginja at the end of our beco as I first arrived in the Alfama, looking for my new home. She sat there, yelling “Ginjinha!” loudly through a throaty sounding voice, wrecked from years of chain-smoking. As I pulled my bags up the steps one at a time, she would not even look at me.
Every time I pass her, I say the appropriate greeting for the time of day. She never acknowledges me, turning her back and pretending she does not hear me. I persist. One day I caught her off guard and said a hearty “Bom dia” to her. She turned around, smiling and returned my greeting with her own hearty “Bom dia”! She was not prepared to find me there. Let’s just say there was a bit of disappointment on her face.
Success! I finally got you, you bitter, chain-smoking woman! Since then, I have only succeeded at getting one very cold “Bom dia” from her but hey, it’s a start.
My Lisbon Tribe
I love my neighbors! Even the unfriendly, chain-smoking ginja seller. During my short time here, I already feel like a welcome part of the community. They have been very kind and friendly, making me feel like I have a safe space here in the larger city of Lisbon.
As I head home after exploring other neighborhoods, the further I go into the heart of the Alfama, the more I feel like I am home. While it takes a while to build your tribe in a new place, I believe I already have the beginnings of a great one here in our little beco.