I like beauty, I suspect I appreciate it more than most. May have something to do with my endearing love for a restaurant that sits atop a hill in the Santos sector of Lisbon, Portugal.
I discovered Le Chat under the not most pleasant of circumstances. Early March 2012, I arrived in Lisbon shortly after midnight. Carla, a good soul I was encountering for the first time just finished showing me my apartment. The last task was to demonstrate the front door key worked. Sounds foolish reading but most people do this when renting an apartment. The problem arose when we got locked out. Why? Because Carla had left another set of keys lodged in the lock on the other side. I was dead tired and not in the best of moods. I was coming to Portugal after a month spent in Dnipropetrovsk, Ukraine (That time in itself is a compelling story to be told at a later date). My connection from Chisinau, Moldova was five hours and an infant decided to bust his lungs crying for four of them.
Carla was supremely embarrassed about locking us out. She could see my eyes were begging for sleep. I knew it was an honest mistake. I asked, “Is there a place around here that’s still open where I can get a drink?” “There’s a restaurant down through that park, Le Chat. They might still be open.” Thank Master Yoda Le Chat was serving. I had myself a glass of wine. 3.50 euro, can’t beat that! When I returned, Carla had the door open and I quickly went to bed.
I spent one month in Lisbon on that visit. Since 2012 I’ve returned a few times never staying for less than two months and always at Carla’s apartment. I’m a creature of habit. Once I meet someone I like or discover a place where I’m treated well, I normally stick with them. The park across the street is called Jardim 9 de Abril. I found myself returning there often. It’s peaceful, regularly frequented by locals who walk their dogs and the elderly sit out and enjoy the view. That view is that of a Marina. What a view! I’ve been a lot of places in the world. I’ve surely seen more beautiful, picturesque and captivating sights. Yet this one, which has sail boats, cranes and cargo boxes packed into a picture that also possesses serene shots of the sea and the Santos neighborhood down to Cais do Sodre is one that has captivated me from day one. Why? I’m not sure. I think somehow it transmits a sense of calm to a mind constantly analyzing.
The water always seems so blue and tranquil. Sunrises and sunsets are gorgeous. Sometimes, late at night I take a bottle of wine and travel down the stone staircase which has to be hundreds of years old, and I walk amongst the boats, thinking, pondering about my life and others. I allow my mind to roam and question the stories of the people who own these boats. Do they go out and fish? Sit amongst the blue and entertain friends with wine? Wealthy jet setters? Does a local footballer from Benfica or Sporting Lisbon own one? https://romanpaschal.wordpress.com/2016/06/28/everyone-has-a-story-whats-yours/
While I could speak on the beauty of the marina for hours, let’s get to Le Chat. An eye catching venue encased in glass with the best vantage point of…… you guessed it! That picture with cranes, blue at day and turquoise at night water and sail boats. Midday and afternoon hours you can normally catch a seat out on the balcony, but as the sun begins its descent, good luck! The balcony is usually reserved for dinner seating, you’re fine sitting inside, but trust me, the balcony is the real estate you desire.
Now’s the time for baring truths. Normally when you write something like this, the storyteller goes on and on about how amazing the food tastes. I’ve only eaten at Le Chat, maybe seven times in fifty visits. I never had a bad meal. I remember the salmon was good, tuna excellent and the squid yum yum. But I don’t come to Le Chat for the food, I come for the alcohol, Sangria to be specific. It is the finest, by far, of any establishment serving the combination of wine, fruit and brandy I’ve let slip between my lips. I’ve drank sangria in Madrid and Barcelona multiple times, rubbish. In the States, on a handful of occasions, equally rubbish. In Le Chat, exquisitely Jenga! There are three variations, red, white and sparkling wine. You have the one liter carafe at 14 euros and a two liter option for 20 euros. Nine times out of ten I get the big dog. People look at me funny sitting with this gigantic pitcher by myself, but hey, I’m a serial over indulger who’s slave to his passions.
I like the red, and the sparkling wine is tough to turn down but I order white eighty percent of the time. If David or Lues is behind the bar then you are in for a treat! Ask either to make the white sangria using passion fruit. I assure you. Outside of Alicia Keyes and Margot Robbie sunning on the beach with me, there are few pleasure I would choose over this one.
Allow me to shift away from the talk of beauty and libations and inject a dose of race at a time when it seems to grow more relevant by the day. Someone recently suggested I add the perspective of color to my travels. A man of color himself, American by immigration, who feels you can’t call every eye pleasing locale home. Recently he related to me he was hesitant to move to Manhattan because, “I don’t think they like brown people there.” I wouldn’t know anything about that. The few times I visited Manhattan I had a stupendous time, probably aided by the fact I stayed at the Four Seasons. Race is never a variable when you’re a guest there.
But, if you have Americans believing such a statement, then what the hell do they think overseas? Because remember, most of what people abroad know about black Americans is what they learned from a young Ice Cube and Dr. Dre, the Wire, Tupac, Fifty Cent and Dave Chappelle. All men whose talent I adore, and a show I loved but all share the commonality of destroying a positive perception of black people overseas. Trust me.
In many of the restaurants I walk into while traveling Europe I am the only man of color. Two weeks ago, I sat on a packed beach, Carcavelos, a thirty-minute train ride from Lisbon’s city center. There had to be a thousand people in my general vicinity of sight. I saw three of color. I remember waiting for the train in Prague last summer. A man walked up to me. “Where are you from?” “I’m from Washington, DC.” He extended his hand and we shook. “Well welcome. We don’t get many of you here.” You had to be there. He was a good man, friendly and without a remotely rude or evil intention. I stayed in Prague for two weeks. Love the city! People were always nice. I rode the train every day. Only once did I see a black face. People cast an intrigued eye upon me often. I would joke with my friends. “They’re looking at me like, should we cook him?”
As a black man in Europe, eight times out of ten they won’t think you’re American. They will assume you’re African which often carries the negative connotation of being broke or an immigrant. Sounds harsh but I’m not going to sugar coat here. Because of my complexion, people think me more Latin American than African. Sometimes I get Algerian, Syrian, or Ethiopian. I can remember multiple times where initially my reception was not the best but once my American nationality was revealed I was received with a warm smile. Many people don’t like broke folks and if you’re American, they believe you have money to spend. The irony of that thought, your average American after paying rent and bills at the end of the month has less than a thousand dollars to their name and most Americans after vacation are FLAT BROKE! Remember, we’re baring truths here.
When I walk down the streets in various cities in Europe, do people clutch their bags in close proximity to me? Enough to make it annoying. But shit, I get that in the States too. I find it’s more disgusting at home because I am a native and think those “bag clutchers” should know better.
I’m a big believer in never judging a book by its cover and taking advantage of opportunities. Yesterday, I just finished up jogging 6 miles. My body was wrecked! I was shirtless and drenched in sweat. A woman, black, asked me in English, “How do I get to Santos station?” I told her it was close by and pointed her in the proper direction. Then I thought, Santos is a lone station without much around it. “Where are you trying to go?” She said something I didn’t understand. I responded, “Cais do Sodre?” “Kaiser Sose?” I looked at her like, “What the fuck?” She said, she was joking and admitted that is the destination she desired. “Then just head straight down the street, Cais do Sodre is a ten-minute walk past Santos. “Thanks.”
As she’d gotten a few feet away, my mind thought, who is this lady? What is her story? Black, I assumed American, in Portugal, hmmmmm…… interesting. I called out, “Where are you from?” She said “LA”. “I’m from DC.” She turned her back and walked away. To myself I thought, “Wow! You’re not remotely interested in knowing something of the story of another black man, fellow American, who seems to know his way about this beautiful city?” Was I trying to bed the woman? I assure you no. I am fascinated by stories. I was genuinely surprised another black person wasn’t intrigued by the encounter of a fellow race member, thousands of miles from their country of origin who seemed to know his way about. The fact Americans are not known for travel is true. The fact most black Americans outside of the military do not travel is equally true. Today on the beach I was speaking with a woman, super cool and very friendly. When I told her I was American, the first thing she asked, “You’re in the military?” I smiled and answered, “no.” Something black Americans do a horrific job at is connecting. Probably one of the worst races on the planet for this.
Am I happy to be American? Damn skippy! Do I have issues with my country of origin socially? Damn skippy! The beauty of America lies in the fact you can get honest pay for what you do. I knew a pit boss for the roulette tables in the best casino in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. She made $300 a month. In Vegas, that $300 would be minimum fifty thousand. I spent five weeks in Budapest in 2012. Your average person in Hungary makes less than one thousand American. You can make forty thousand in Washington, DC, Los Angeles, New York, Miami and Chicago, and many will consider you a broke loser. You make that in Barcelona, one of the most beautiful cities in the world and you’d be a Jedi Knight.
Something to think about and various perspectives to consider.
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