Lisbon day 5: Let’s Go to Alfama

Apoorva said the streets of Alfama reminded him of Ajmer back in the day. I could see this, the curling narrow roads akin to gullies, windows that face each other making room for glances or chats, blinking cats that seemed to be in a languid trance, and Tram 28 meandering through like a boa who ate too much for lunch and needs a rest.

The oldest district of Lisbon – Alfama is a time capsule, not only are the streets reminiscent of times before, but also the architecture, and surprisingly even the people, not that they are in costume or play-acting, but they seem unaware that the world has moved on. They appear content. In their rustic environs they seem preserved, insulated from the vagaries of today’s human pace.

I was intrigued to learn that the word Alfama has an Arabic link, related to Al-Hamma, or the baths; hammam is another word one is familiar with. This sort of interexchange of words, etymological roots, or routes, would have made my Nanaji happy. He would remind me that the word “ainak” spectacles in Hindi comes from the Arabic word “ain” which means eyes. We never stopped with just that one word, a mind map formed and somehow the whole world, wide and large, became one integrated network, of course (for him) primarily based out of Indian culture Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, the whole world is one big fat Hindu family. Anyhow!

Intriguing was the Fado music that leaked out from the corners of Alfama. Fado is similar to the ghazal in many ways, the traditional structure, oral history, musicality, and the element of unrequited love and melancholy. I am convinced it must have a co-relation to the ghazal in Arab Andalusian history. The geometric patterns of the azulejos make the Islamic ink visually very evident. With Fado there must be an aural and poetic link as well. There is a Fado museum in Alfama, which also houses the archives, a future research project perhaps, you never know where academic work lands you.

Back in Alfama the smell of chicken cutlets being fried filled the air and we gobbled the hot goodies down on the go, walking, pausing, taking pictures, eating, pausing, walking…the day became a meditation on tiles, brick work, mortar, human need, human greed, and old trees that protectively sheltered without discrimination. Alfama is about the ambience, the air, the atmosphere; you have to be there to realize just how beautiful simplicity can be.

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