It snowed in Lisbon in 1954, the year I was born in the British Hospital, then on Rua Saraiva de Carvalho in the Freguesia de Santa Isabel. I didn’t know! I didn’t see snow until years later, on the side of the road in the mountains somewhere up north of Viseu.
I was born with an odd eyebrow on the left, one that poked upwards at the far end. My mother said it was a little devil’s peak. By the time I understood how it looked, it felt more like a Mark of Cain that I would never be rid of. Even so, I plucked out the offending hairs when I was twelve, ending up with a forever shortened 'brow that required daily penciling to attain facial symmetry. I was petrified of the number 666 and looked for it everywhere, as if not finding it would allow me a bit longer to walk the earth without cosmic retribution.
But this is not the happiest of memories!
My happiest birthday memory is my seventh. We loaded up the Opel Kadett with cake and presents and my neighborhood friends and went to Água de Madeiros for the day, just down the coast from São Pedro de Moel. There was a tiny aldeia on one cliff. Up on the next cliff, across the beach where the fresh water stream came to rest, were three summer homes, two quite modern (at the time) and one we always called “the little green cabin.” Even after it was painted grey. It belonged to friends of my parents and all of its sinks and faucets were made out of real shells and conches. We sang, we played, ate chocolate cake, and tumbled down the sand hill to the beach. It remains lodged in my memory as the happiest of days.
My worst birthday was my thirty-second. I don’t remember exactly why, but I cried all day and felt old and unloved. But maybe it’s good that I got that out of the way, because getting older has not been a problem on any birthday since. I’m delighted to be walking the face of the planet still, okay, not with much agility anymore, my left side having succumbed to a rare and progressive form of MS that only appears after your 50s (which I’d never heard of), but all in all my decision at nineteen to “keep going for the duration” has given me a life full of the wildest reified dreams, above- and below-the-Equator travels, fabulous rounded conversations and cities peopled with the truest of friends…and especially my surprise baby daughter years after I was told that this brutalized post-attacked body would never have a child.
Today’s birthday began badly, with a sore knee still refusing to bear weight, a call from my neurologist’s nurse canceling today’s appointment, and a total dearth of ibuprofeno or Tylenol, here called paracetamol, anywhere in the house. Then my daughter called and my brother sent Amália Rodrigues singing the haunting Fado Português as if she were standing in a thin space between then and forever, and good friends from far away and close by reached into the enigmatic technology that delivered them suddenly into the quirky devices on my bed and reminded me of who they are and who I am. And instead of a hasty aspirin delivery from a friend, I got three dear friends with flowers and take-out and a birthday dessert gift from “my office” café across the street, o escritório de Jóia. As well as the extra'strength paracetamol. Plus we all got to sing along with “When I’m 64” ... and I still felt needed and I still got fed.
Best of all, I’m grateful to finally be back home where my life began. Planetary human thoughtlessness makes it highly improbable that the climate will shower snow on Lisbon again, but the city of my birth, now crowned with the Ponte 25 de Abril made by the Golden Gate engineer and the Cristo Rei stretching his arms out for all of us, lives on in the beautiful região de alface (making me an alfacinha as well as a Lisboeta) and in the fados that fill my soul with saudades, that lyrical aching longing for what has been and what, with grace, shall be once more.
10 SEPTEMBER 2O18