Spoilt for Choice in Cascais

There is an avenue on which the flat in Cascais is where I invited myself to stay, one sunny but still chilly June a few years ago, is. Straight ahead, the Praia dos Pescadores, the fishermen’s beach and then the crystal blue of the Oceano Atlântico, but don’t forget a stop by the fish market a few metres closer to us, and wonderful views throughout and many places to satisfy the appetite.

Late in the afternoon I would be the only one of the five (three girls, two guys and various visitors—of which I really am one, actually—between us, a japanese-american, an indonesian, a korean, an iranian, an american, three swedes, and the people that would stop by, some spaniards, os português–of course, south africans, brasilians,–our own version of the film L’Auberge Espagnole) of us sharing the place around. Everybody is working at the Ritz Carlton resort in the historic town of Sintra, but me? I am “on holiday”,–running away and meeting new people.

I am most likely at home having gone back from a day spent exploring, getting hopelessly lost in the streets of Lisboa or spending the midafternoon sunworshipping on one of the many beaches surrounding, with a book—The Aleph by Jorge Luis Borges and some Gotan Project in my ipod, before deciding—wisely—to move into the blessed shade of the apartment, and would be lying comatose on the Ikea sofabed in the living room, the windows wide open to breathe life into the stuffy little flat, the smell of the sea coming in with the still warm breeze, or maybe I am perched, legs up against the balcony, watching the people below—locals and tourists alike, smoking, wondering, Maybe A or someone will get home soon? Maybe they’ll have some vinho with them. But my thoughts are interrupted by—

Boa tarde, senhorinha! Eating here tonight?”

The waiters in the restaurants, like Dom Manolo’s, across from us who would yell. This would then be quickly, an audibly, challenged by another friendly, aging proprietor nearby, jokingly: “No! Here! yesterday you went there! so today we have fresh seabream we know you like! and the bolhas de bacalhau—”

Countered by those at Manolo’s, “It is obvious the Chinita”—that’s me—“is in the mood for frango with pirripirri and mussels that you like so much!”

And I do, I do love those mussels simmered in white wine, shallot, garlic and parsley, the sauce of which I mop up with cheap but delicious bread, dribbling down my chin and hands as I shuck and eat. Not the best in the land, but cheap and fresh enough for me. And the pirripirri sauce of the portuguese colonies, for an indonesian girl like me, is perfect with the roasted chicken. But… so is the fresh seabream, caught today, grilled simply with salt and pepper, served with fresh vegetables and potatoes, preceded by delicious croquettes, or bolhas, of bacalhau—salted cod, an ancient sea-faring nation’s tradition but still loved today—I am spoilt for choice. Sadly, I know my wallet cannot keep this up.

I shake my head, tell them I’m skint that day (ignoring the promises of special discounts), because I am already making fried rice—we have so much food and all of us are moving out within fifteen days—and they would tut, make me promise to come another day. Of course I would, with food too good to turn down!

Then it would cue the bartenders working for Chequers a little ways away before the post-dinner rush to take their turn; calling up across the street to inform me that we would go to Baluarte together after their shift was over at two in the morning so we can dance, but to go by for drinks first.

I call back, my tone more flirtatious—these were younger men requiring less politeness, “we’ll see!”

I was evasive, but we always went for awhile, at least—the bar was only twenty metres away from the house.

Sometimes our land-lord, a little man who owned the Luzmar restaurant—you can just see it, the red patio on the left—two floors below our place, will wave or nod as we pass by the restaurant windows, ask us when we would finally dine with them?

We never did; it was always across the street or down the road, or in Sintra or Lisboa for us for nourishment, as if had we not crossed the street we may as well have eaten at home, as if it were not a big enough adventure.

So, I do have to go back to Cascais.

“Tudo bém?” Someone calls, having walked up the three narrow flights of stairs from work.

Sim, tudo bém, indeed.

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