My Heart, an Open Door

Trav­el­ling opens aside to you that we l comes ev­ery new ex­pe­ri­ence. Writer, He­len Martin shares her mem­o­ries of a par­tic­u­larly pleas­ing Por­tuguese trip.

Project Calm - - Contents -

Fresh or­anges piled up and wait­ing, dark green leaves plucked be­fore they’re squeezed, their bright sticky nec­tar poured swiftly into round glass tum­blers, f lesh tossed aside. Noisy and nat­u­rally flam­boy­ant, ev­ery­thing about this small Por­tuguese cafe pours out onto the street like danc­ing ten­ta­cles. En­tirely un­in­hib­ited and un­self­con­scious, it ar­rests the senses.

We stum­bled upon the cafe, found it sit­u­ated down one of many nar­row wind­ing streets that seem to be made up of a suc­ces­sion of faded and di­vided man­sions. Burnt orange in colour, once dark and now light, the char­ac­ter and soul of the build­ing feels heav­ily weighted to street level, to this vi­brant lit­tle oc­to­pus. It’s only the top floor that also shows life, its bal­cony shut­ters wide open, f lo­ral sheets pegged up like sails. Look­ing down the oc­cu­pant of the top f loor would be able to see the enor­mous spray of fuch­sia pink blooms sur­round­ing the cafe’s heavy wooden dou­ble doors. See them come into bloom, open­ing like they’ve never been shut.

We sit out­side by the en­trance, bask­ing in the bright rays of the late sum­mer sun­shine and eat­ing cus­tard tarts still warm from the oven, pas­try crum­bling around our lips. We lick them and drink strong cof­fee from sturdy ce­ramic cups. Mu­sic comes in the form of gen­tle jazz, soft enough to evoke the re­laxed hazi­ness of sum­mer ease, time­less and com­fort­ing. There are plants in pots, sprays of flow­ers in vases, vi­brantly pat­terned tiles and light pink shabby flecked paint on the win­dow frames. In­side and out­side ev­ery chair around us is oc­cu­pied by lo­cals and trav­ellers, busily de­voted and un­masked to the mo­ment. It feels like we’re all in our el­e­ment some­how, lev­i­tat­ing, be­witched by the sun and this place. Loud and an­i­mated or brood­ing and static, there are drip­ping sauces, plates full of colour­ful fruit and siz­zling fish, cups of nuts and crisps.

Time is for­got­ten. With the sun still set on sum­mer and its end­less glis­ten­ing all- day pa­rade, it’s only when it fi­nally dips down as we are drink­ing the local wine with a wedge of bread and dip­ping oils, that we re­alise it must be late. We de­cide to me­an­der back, it’s not far and soon I’m zip­ping up our can­vas tent. The cafe’s abun­dant fall­ing petals caught in my hood, scat­ter on to the porch as I change. While the orange lamp il­lu­mi­nates our newly freck­led skin and jazz notes con­tinue to

play in my head as I close my eyes, ra ta ta. We are con­nected, he and I, in our fill of con­tent­ed­ness; one that comes from some sort of dis­cov­ery, a heart full of hon­esty and belly full of fried squid.

The night brings a chill. Wool blan­kets are scrab­bled for as the heat of the evening wears off and the in­sects’ chirp­ing drown out the sound of the now dis­tant jazz notes. In the morn­ing there’s a light dew on the grass as the sun comes up and I un­zip the tent and scam­per across the damp grass to the open bath­room hut. A long mir­ror runs from basin to basin, I see the flush on my skin, then sigh as I look down at my now wet socks. Back at the tent we open and peg back the porch as we make cof­fee on a stove be­side an old pine tree. Nei­ther of us can work out ex­actly where we were yes­ter­day, where was that cafe? We re­solve to lo­cate and re­turn to it, to live it again.

So that day we walk up and down the streets, past hun­dreds of door­ways painted in a rain­bow of pas­tel shades. We look for heav­ing flo­ral ex­trav­a­gan­zas like we re­mem­ber, but to no avail. We lis­ten out for mu­sic, ex­cited when we hear some, fol­low­ing the notes only to be­come dis­ap­pointed that their source is not the one we’re look­ing for. Fa­tigued and frus­trated, I sit down on the steps of the huge church that we keep find­ing our­selves at as we cir­cle round. Choir singing trick­les out the enor­mous in­tri­cately carved and arched en­trance­way. I be­gin to won­der if I imag­ined that sweet place where we spent most of a day.

Of course, that’s when just a minute later as we set on a new path, we dis­cover it. Only, it’s not the cafe. Its doors are firmly shut, there’s no mu­sic, peo­ple, plant pots, vases or even a sign. Even the fuch­sia flow­ers seem to have been hushed. We only know it’s the right place be­cause the top floor bal­cony has its flo­ral sheets out to dry, pegged ex­actly like yes­ter­day. This is all we can hear now, the slight flut­ter­ing of the sheets in the breeze and the soft singing of some­one be­hind those open top floor shut­ters. Free, but pri­vate. I no­tice the cafe’s ex­te­rior still looks beau­ti­ful. I sit down on a ledge for a mo­ment and find my own sanc­tu­ary and free­dom, the doors sim­ply wait­ing for me to thrust them open.

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