Often when I travel, I end up at the spots where a hundred or so other foreigners have congregated also — in fact, this seems nearly impossible to avoid, unless you stick to the ugly parts of town. So I end up trying to find the beauty in the tourists themselves, in the postcards, in the photos that have been taken several million times already.
FX Factory, a former factory space near the Alcântara tram stop in the south of Lisbon, has been turned into an interesting hipster-esque scene with an industrial street-art feel. I say “hipster-esque,” because although I did spot some hipsters there, flannel and everything, and although the entire city of Lisbon seems like something hipsters would swoon over, it didn’t have the pretentious vibe I associate with hipsters. In fact, it seems not many people even know about this place yet. I arrived on a crowded evening, an “open” day, when the bars and the street markets were open until midnight, and it was pleasantly full but not crazy. It was one of the coolest places I’ve ever been. The next day I went back with my camera and it was relatively abandoned, possibly due to the rain.
The gem of LX Factory is Ler Devagar (meaning “read slowly” in Portuguese), a print shop-turned-bookstore and cafe sporting giant walls of books and mechanical biker cutouts pulled along on strings.
My first few days in Lisbon, I stayed in Cruz Quebrada because my CouchSurfing host lived there. Formerly a home to heroin addicts, it now primarily provides residential housing for mainstreamers. The tram station is directly next to the water — not the ocean, but still technically the Tagus River. The ocean is a couple of tram stops down.
I’m in downtown Lisbon, wandering with my camera, taking photos in Restauradores and Rossio, the beautiful light and the perfect cobblestones in contrasting colors. I’m starting to get hungry, and I spot some roasted chestnuts and slow down to get some. A wizened man with two missing front teeth falls into step with me and shows me cellophane-wrapped weed flourettes behind his hand. “Marijuana?” he asks “good price, good price.”
“No,” I say, waving it away, but I stop because I want the chestnuts.
“It’s legal, ten grams,” the man tells me eagerly.
“No, no,” I say, still shooing at him.
“You want cocaine?” he queries. I bust out laughing at this: I’ve literally never been offered cocaine before. “It’s legal in Portugal,” he tells me, encouraged. I pause: this is actually true; sort of, or at least you won’t get in trouble if you’re caught with a small amount of it. According to the locals, Portugal significantly cut down on its junkie population by decriminalizing drugs and treating junkies like they were sick.
“No,” I say, shaking my head.
“You have five euros for me?” he asks.
“No, no, I don’t want it,” I persist. But he corrects me: he’s not asking me to buy anything, he just wants me to give him money.
“No,” I tell him. I’m beginning to feel like a broken record. Then he says something that contains both Portuguese and English. I make a face and say I don’t understand.
He leans towards my ear. “Sssssssexxxxx?” he enunciates in question form. I stare at him, his gap-toothed grin, his dirty gray stubble, his upraised hand still flaunting the weed, trying to figure out if he’s offering his services for purchase or for free, and either way I shoo at him again, “no, no,” laughing a bit and rolling my eyes because I’m not sure what else to do. Then I have the great idea of pulling out my camera, and he disappears.
I think of better comebacks, comebacks designed to let him know how creepy he is. I remember that only yesterday, I was researching the philosophy of pick-up artist Julien Blanc, where Blanc claimed that when he said something outrageous to women he didn’t know, none of them were offended. He said on the contrary, many of them would bust out laughing at what he’d say. And I realized those women were probably actually highly offended and uncomfortable, and were just reacting in the safest way possible: by laughing it off, by making a joke out of it.
Pick-up artists of the world, take note. Even toothless drug dealer-beggars have the guts to ask strange women outrageous questions. And even in those circumstances, the women laugh. It’s not intended as encouragement, and it’s certainly not intended as a compliment.
It’s intended to let you know how absurd you are, camouflaged so you don’t get too mad and start breaking things.