Lisbon as seen from Graça (ph: Ana Teresa Bernardo)

from Lisbon, with love

One of my favourite films of all time is Juno, the one about the teenage girl who’s a bit of an outcast, who likes slasher pictures and listens to Iggy & The Stooges and after a mishap and some very poor contraceptive-related choices ends up carrying a full-term pregnancy and gives the baby away to a wealthy, yuppie couple (sorry about the spoilers). There is one particular scene and quote that has stuck on my mind ever since I first watched that film at the cinema when I was 14 years-old:

“I never realize how much I miss home unless I’ve been somewhere really different for a while”

I can’t say my move from Lisbon happened a very long time ago – almost two weeks, only – but only just now (as I’m writing these words) did it really hit me. I have just moved to the other side of the Atlantic (and to the other side of the United States, if we’re being precise). On Sunday I found myself in my new house – this tiny, two-bedroom apartment on the 12th and last floor of a student housing complex in Stanford/Palo Alto, in California – , alone, over 9 thousand kilometres away from home. My Erasmus, 2.0. But this time not in Europe, but in America, at Stanford University, where I am about to embark on a 2-year-long journey undertaking a and MFA (Master of Fine Arts) in Documentary Film & Video Production.

It’s past 2 AM and I’m sitting here at my desk, right by a 12th-floor window that partially faces the main part of campus and I’m thinking about my last days in Lisbon. I was rushing around, trying to pack my whole life into one suitcase (lesson learnt: it’s just not humanly possible), saying goodbye to friends and wanting to be present and there for them while my mind was wandering towards all the things I still had to do. I exchanged quick hugs and kisses, I heard gentle words and people wishing me the best, I got pats on the back and a lot of “Congratulations!”. After a year and half of hard work, dwindling expectations, a lot of tears and thoughts of wanting to give up, I look around and I think “I did it. This is it. I’m here now. This is what I’ve fought for so hard. I won”

I put in a lot of effort but I have to be thankful. For my parents, whose neverending patience and support got me through the days with the certainty that they would always back me up no matter what. For my best friends, who have undergone this journey with me and with whom I have shared my fears and insecurities (which are plenty, I have enough of those to share). And in this moment, as I’m reaping the fruits of my endeavour, as I’m finally able to actually enjoy the thing I have been working so much for, I find myself thinking about “home”.

“Home”. I have yet to understand just what that means.

“Tornas-te leve. Dissolves-te na aragem destes últimos dias em Lisboa. E dizes: um dia, quando a paixão nos fugir, em que vazio sem imagens tuas poderei descansar? Como reconhecerei esse lugar onde o desejo corroeu as palavras e anunciou a traição?” (Al Berto)

Lisbon has been my home for the last ten years. I was not born there, no, but Lisbon has been perhaps the most significant place I have had the honour to live in. It is where I did my high school, it is where I went through those painful and anguish-filled years of adolescence, it is where I started university. It is where I have discovered most things about myself and where I have changed the most. It is where I have uncovered and built my current career and life aspirations, it is where I have pushed most of my boundaries. It is where I have started (and sometimes finished) most of my friendships and relationships. It is where I have been the happiest, but also the saddest. It is a place that is stuck in my mind and that I am unable to erase from my life.

…was?… is?…

…is this what home really feels like?

a twist on the cliché photo against colourful tiled Lisbon walls
ph: Ana Teresa Bernardo

A lot has been written about Lisbon. People seem to like doing that nowadays – it’s a hip place to be, it has been for a couple of years now. I do not wish to contest or fight that. It’s just that… Not much has been written about my Lisbon.

She’s beautiful, she is, that Lisbon of mine. In her own seedy, mistaken, treacherous ways. You can’t take her too much for granted – she’ll slip through your fingers in no time. And as I’m thinking about her, I’m remembering the things I love the most about her: the nighttime walks in Almirante Reis; the film sessions at Nimas, Monumental and Cinemateca, with its lovely café where I shared so many important conversations and the library where I got most of my university work done; the drinks I had at the bar of Teatro Taborda and that breathtaking view of the city; the late night hugs I shared at Avenida da Liberdade and waiting for friends at the entrance of São Jorge; the squandered guest houses and dark corners in Anjos, Intendente and Rossio. The neons of the city; the rhythm and breathing of the streets; the cool breeze on my cheeks in exceptionally cold December mornings; Rossio train station and the many quick goodbyes I shared at its entrance; the early morning light that casts itself over Bairro Alto and enters through a gap on my bedroom’s curtains. I see myself in Lisbon on those last few days, in a constant fight against a ticking clock. I see my friends. I see my parents. I look at Lisbon and I see myself. 

So, is Lisbon home? It must be home. Lisbon can be nothing but home – it can be nothing but love. The will to stay but the need to go. The leap into the nothingness. The risks taken. The tears shed. The smiles shared. The laughter. The people who have made it into my life to stay.

And like any place I will ever call my home, I miss it dearly. Already, you ask? Yes. Not in a desperate way, as I don’t wish to go back, but in the way that you miss the daily habits and routines you used to despise and take for granted. And for now, I am saying goodbye to Lisbon – even if only briefly – and moving into this new place that I am to call home eventually. Will it ever feel like home? Time will tell for sure.

in Voz do Operário
ph: Ana Teresa Bernardo

One special note: shoutout to my lovely friend Ana Teresa Bernardo for her lovely photos – without her, this post just wouldn’t be filled with this beautiful imagery. She is an amazing photographer with a lot of unfulfilled potential – here’s to her for actually making me look good and presentable in photos

(But then again, some credit has to be given to Lisbon – when you’re being photographed in such a lovely scenery, it’s hard not to look good!)

Lisbon as seen from Graça
(ph: Ana Teresa Bernardo)

And one final note: Italo Calvino is one of my favourite writers. In one of my favourite books of his, Le città invisibili (or Invisible Cities), he writes this:

“Arriving at each new city, the traveler finds again a past of his that he did not know he had: the foreignness of what you no longer are or no longer possess lies in wait for you in foreign, unpossessed places.”

I am yet to discover what I will become. I am yet to possess this new place, this new city, with a rhythm of its own that one can either love or hate, but it will continue to be so. All I know is this – I have two new homes now. One is Lisbon. The other? I do not know for sure. I will also figure that out, eventually. And this is going to be a great new journey.

– Inês.

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