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.
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.