Love in the Time of Coronavirus, #5

Dalia and Fernanda at a table with wine in a Fado bar

What is love, anyway? That’s the question. And considering how badly my Friday the 13th started, it has a surprise ending.

This Friday the 13th was a surprise, indeed. The news that I’d been let go in a large-scale layoff at my work, classes almost grinding to a halt at the dance studio in Lisbon (which was the whole purpose of the trip) plus the fact that the person who had said he loves me doesn’t want me to come visit was just too much. My body is begging me to let it shut down. Hibernate.

Elias writes me only a message or two, although they are sweet and brimming with romantic language and his characteristic strength.

I cannot muster to reply with romantic words since my pride is hurt and who knows what he’s doing. He got a few calls while we were together and one of them was a friend who looks to him for advice, so maybe he’s a ladies man, knowing what to say at the right moment, but only stringing them along.

My feelings of love and vision of us together are so vivid that inside I hold onto a sliver of hope that he’s real and also strong enough to want to see this through.

With my winter coat on and fully dressed, I crawl into bed to rest.

But sleep was elusive. Fado. Fado. Fado. Whenever I travel I have a mental list of three things that I absolutely want to do. Anything else I leave to happy-go-lucky chance and for relaxation. The one thing I’d been longing to experience but hadn’t created the opportunity for was to hear Fado – live – in Lisbon.

The Portuguese government had already stated that bars were to close on Monday and my fear was that bars would preemptively close that evening, leaving me Fado-less.

Fado. Fado. Fado. My imagination spun off the word and created images of a rustic, European-style bar. The charming, emotive folk music interfered in my brain and comfort in that bed was unattainable. Fado wouldn’t let me sleep.

Giving in, I jump out of my bed “Now’s the moment. Tonight is the night for Fado.”

A Google search offers a plethora of Fado bars, so I ask Sheyla at reception. She gives me a name and mapping it I fly out of my bat cave. A woman on a mission.

Walking up the hill along a main street, I veer off onto a small, pedestrian street too narrow for a carriage to have ever passed through. You can imagine 17th century Europeans walking to their homes in long skirts and formal wool jackets through these same cobblestone ruas.

When I arrive, a soft-spoken gentleman gives me the restaurant schpiel, which I find annoying, but tolerate because he is respectfully nonintrusive. Looking at the name of the bar, however, I realize it isn’t the one that Sheyla had mentioned. Turning around, it was directly behind me.

From the outside it is unadorned. The space inside is even less adorned. Their interior designer calls this “minus, minus adorned.” The most prominent feature is the bar and a long bench table as soon as you enter on the right. The bench was shoulder-to-shoulder of typical, drunk ‘n’ rowdy college boys. A few more paces in and I realize this narrow space was all there is to the bar. Nothing more. Thankfully there were no tables available and my about-face didn’t seem as rude.

On the way out, I do have to share this with you: a couple of the college boys weren’t drunk and they breathed deeply, sighing, trying to maintain patience in the face of their mates’ idiocy.

Walking back out to the host for the restaurant I’d just left, he receives me kindly, sensing that the bare bones bar isn’t my scene. He apologizes and states, however, that there might be a wait for a table in his elegant restaurant, but that he could walk me to another Fado bar, from the same owners, close by.

With unusual acquiescence to this gentle suggestion, I feel like a docile horse being lead along. My pace is energetic, though, since I was looking forward to finally feeling the power of the reverberations off the walls from the Fado singer.

Instant Bond

Up just another block and to the right, the host leaves me in the hands of another hostess, who sat me immediately at the table at the entrance door. The small bar meets the expectations of my imagination. Small, dark, wooden chairs and tables. The colors are shades of browns, burnt oranges and rusty reds. The small bar has mostly wines scattered in corners, hanging, or on small shelves. The bar smells wonderfully of olive oil, cheeses and garlic. The only bright colors are on a small indent in the brick wall with a colorful statuette of a saint and a few gifts to the saint that I can’t identify, right behind where the artists are to perform.

There was an attractive young woman sitting at a four-seater bench table diagonal and behind me, closer to the bar. To my surprise, I hadn’t even warmed up the seat when the hostess asks me to sit with her.

Firstly, I couldn’t believe that such a pretty girl wouldn’t be there with a partner, and secondly, that there was another individual female there only for Fado, like me. That’s just unusual, right?

Anyone who sits in a Fado bar is only there for Fado. Not for a great time, not to get smashed, not to meet people, not even for food because after all, it’s still a bar. If you want great food you go to a full-on restaurant. If you’re at a Fado bar, you’re there for Fado!

Shy and friendly at the same time, we both are happy to have some company. It turns out she was also lead to this bar, that she’d also had Fado in her target. I understood most everything she said in Brazilian Portuguese and she claims to understand everything I say in my bad Portunhol.

“…and I’m working in a marketing firm in São Paulo,” she says, “but really I’m a journalist.”

The world stops for just a split second.

“Me, too!” I interrupt her.

Fernanda’s eyes pop open wide and she says in a high-pitch “Journalist!” with a big smile.

We reach our arms straight to each other across the table, and clutch each others’ forearms and shake a bit, laughing.

This joyous reaction is so involuntary and natural that it makes me think women have been reacting like this since berry-gathering ages.

At one point, however, the sadness from the job loss, lack of dance classes and from Elias chucking aside my invitation for me to visit him took over and I mentioned it to Fernanda. She tries to help me wipe it away

“Dahlia, we saved a lot of money to go on a vacation. He might have been writing you when you are gone, but very few men will value a woman when they are next to them. Don’t allow him to ruin your vacation. You’re here because of your hard-earned money.”

Her wise words helped, but more than that, a glass of wine (now we’re talking), good tapas, knowing that I’m in the right place at the right time, and with what turns out to be beyond excellent company turned it around for me.

and … Let the Party Continue

This chapter could have ended here, but I’m convinced Brazilians have solar-powered easily-accessible extra set of batteries. After the inspiring Fado she says “Let’s go somewhere for a drink around here!” with sparkles emanating from her smile and everywhere around her like a halo.

The sparkles worked. Meandering, we end up back at the original restaurant, where my mate, the host, was. He gives a word of caution because his cousin is a nurse and he states that some likely coronavirus cases are going unreported. He thinks things could get a bit worse, but there is no panic in his voice.

It doesn’t matter much to us anyway, because Fernanda and I are happy as pie. Only closed bars could change that. Tonight is another sign of the universe’s abundance and that we are exactly where we are supposed to be.

We say bye to our host and virtually skip along, considering stopping at a quiet bar, then a noisy one, but continue wandering and enjoying the freedom and the buzz of nightlife, even if it’s not nearly as busy in this bairro as usual. I almost pass by the door of one bar when I catch sight of a blurry sign that says “Cuba

…and … and… and… “Are myne ears deceiving me? Do I hear Bachata?”

Reaching out my hand toward Fernanda, who is a step or two ahead, she stops. I’m already taking the initiative to enter. In fact, she’s not given a choice, “Let’s check this out,” and we enter. We’re in tune, however, and it doesn’t take any convincing when we hear the Bachata. She seems to like the music, ambiance and, especially the fact that she can smoke inside.

To fully get a feel for the bar, we enter all the way to the end of the galley-style establishment, where there is a small dance floor. Not wasting even one song, as soon as we’ve removed our jackets, I take her into my frame to start dancing with her. The music charges my batteries and I’m ready to dance for hours.

I bust out the few basic moves that Ricky Torres taught me at his studio where I’m teaching beginners at in South Beach, Salsa Central: right girl’s turn (silly me! Why didn’t I do the right guys turn!?), the 180, step-touch, and some body movements.

This night calls for a drink. I order a red wine and a beer and we place it on the ledge drilled into the wall that’s just wide enough for a cup.

On my way back from the bar, a Hispanic asks me to dance and we dance a mix of Cuban and just regular Latin American style Salsa. It turns out he’s Venezuelan! I invite him to dance with me and Fernanda when the DJ changes the music up to something a bit more mainstream Latin, but the Venezuelan keeps talking loudly and I repeat three times, just as loudly, “hey, we just want to dance, not have conversations, just have fun!” I think he was hoping his drunk self would -somehow- be charming enough to get laid. He sloughs himself off back to his friends with a jolly, half-parted smile.

Fernanda and I eventually get surrounded by a group of guys who slowly but surely kept encroaching on our little space to get in on our action. They don’t realize that since they showed up we’ve been sulking on our barstools and feel too uncomfortable to dance. Try explaining to drunk guys that women don’t like being corralled by a bunch of drunk men. They’ve also just activated my protective instinct to full-throttle. I’ll be damned if anyone gets near Fernanda or me!

As the minutes wear on, the music changing, a two meter plus, tall Cuban with good moves starts dancing with us, breaking up the drunk-guy fence. There’s nothing like a tall latin man with rhythm to intimidate a roomful of white guys.

The scene then becomes dynamic, especially during the DJ’s reggaeton mix.

“¡Dame más gasolina!” they sang at the top of their lungs.

It’s amazing how reggaeton brings people together.

People are enjoying, smiling, dancing in a circle, including our Venezuelan friends.

Meh. Coronavirus Schmoronavirus.

When the music just gets too house-y, Fernanda and I decide it’s a good time to leave.

We part on a main thoroughfare, each on our way back to our hostels, she going up the hill, me going down.

Both of us walk with huge smiles back to our hostel and a little more love in our heart than we had earlier in the evening.

We both mentioned what a cool gift it was to have met each other.

Love comes in many forms and this Friday the 13th was a solid reminder.

With such an awesome Friday, who needs to go out on a Saturday?

Still tucked in my covers, the first thing I do is check if anyone has written. I’m still too sleepy to reply to anyone anyway, but seeing no message from Elias, I send him a voice message.

Fernanda and I made plans to go to a valley full of monuments and palaces called Sintra on Sunday, and considering Saturday was the first day I didn’t have an eight-hour work day, I slept in, missed the free breakfast. Why not? There’s a supermarket downstairs and it’s the weekend, after all.

When I go downstairs to the super market I can’t seem to find the entrance and all of the windows are covered, leading me to the conclusion that it’s closed. I alert the receptionist and a guest tells me he can show me the location of another nearby super market. I thought he was just going to point it out, but he takes the extra effort to walk me to the market. He leaves me to my shopping and I replenish my stock. They start putting controls at the doors, only allowing a few people in at a time.

Eerily, this super popular, well-rated hostel was starting to feel emptier.  Normally at 100% capacity, there was one night where I had the four-bunk room to myself.

The few people that do stay in my room are only there for a night to take a flight the next morning to go home.

We discover that Sintra might not be worthwhile because the monuments are closed, Fernanda suggests going to a beach area called Cascais and meet up with her friends instead on Sunday. I’m all for it.

On Saturday I write a blog post during the day, I socialize with the guests and hostel staff, I consider going to classes, but on Thursday the two classes I took were mostly “shines,” meaning no partner work. Just each person dancing individually. Friday I didn’t even bother to go to classes. Saturday’s lineup wasn’t very inspiring, although I should have probably gone to a class to move my body and get the good hormones flowing through my brain.

The highlight of my day was when I walked into my room at night, only to see a short Asian woman with a round, grumpy face sitting up in bed. Her features are very Chinese.

“Oh, shit. I’m done,” I think.

My mom asks me through chat how I’m doing.

I type my response: “I have a Chinese roommate” and three emoticons of the laughter with tears smiley face.

Mom: “Oh no.”

Doomsday Sunday

At around 1:30am I posted a blog and if it wasn’t that I’d agreed to meet Fernanda at 10:40am to go to Cascais, I would have still been sleeping.

Rushing myself to breakfast as fast as a sleepwalker can, my breakfast items in hand, I drag my feet into the dining room. One of the Canadian guests rushing past in the hallway spots me and half stopping says “Oh, what are you going to do?” When I don’t reply because I’m still groggy “There’s no travel from England now. Starting Monday. They just announced it.” Still groggy, I reply “as of this morning or last night? They left the UK open, it should be fine.”

Nothing he says registers and I have zero sense of humor at this time in the morning.

The last thing I know from official communications is that the UK was ok to travel from and I am sticking with that. I’m weary of rumors. If it’s true that it’s next Monday, then my ticket should still be fine. I leave at the beginning of the following week.

Continue chewing. Canadian continues on his way. With blurry, half-shut eyes I read a chat message from Fernanda. She’s here. Shit. I’m late.

Rush, rush, rush. We are soon on a train to Cascais and catching up.

What did you do yesterday? Hung out a friend, getting to know Lisbon. Ah, you have a Chinese roommate, haha. Good luck. Yes, at least she didn’t cough even once. Did Elias write you? No. Oh, I have a job interview on Tuesday. I updated my CV. Let me check something, oh it’s true. The US is closing flights from the UK on Monday. Let me check what date my flight is. Tuesday! Holy! I will need to move my flight up one day when I return to the hostel…. blah blah blah

When we arrive in Cascais we catch up with her friends, a sweet, young couple. A Brazilian and a Brazilian-born Argentine. We walk quite a while from the train station to Boca del Inferno, which gives the neurons in my brain the oxygen to start making those very important c-o-n-n-e-c-t-i-o-n-s.

Today is Sunday. Which Monday could the US government be talking about? Surely not tomorrow…!? They can’t just give us one day to fix our travel plans. I start Googling on infuriatingly slow data connection. Voice messaging my mom, I ask if she can give me the date because journalists seem to have forgotten how to use numbers (annoyed!) and all of their articles simply say “Monday.”

“Is it Monday the 16th or the 23rd, mom?” She’s traveling in the car and can’t seem to find the exact date, either.

Out of curiosity, I check to see if any of my flights have been cancelled. One flight is from Porto, Portugal, to Gatwick on the 21st. And the other flight is from Gatwick to Miami a few days later.

The internet doesn’t seem to want to cooperate as my heart pounds as I search for answers so I can finally relax.

I desperately want to enjoy the beauty of the profound Atlantic waters and take carefree selfies with these nice people. My wonderful friend deserves me to be in my usual happy mood and I am uncharacteristically tense in front of this couple. I want to get to know them, enjoy their company, but I can’t with these doubts looming over me.

The world closes in on me as I finally am able to pull up the flight status of my EasyJet flight from Porto to Gatwick. Cancelled.

I don’t know how I could get to England except by swimming, or, ok, maybe a ferry. If there’s a will there’s a way, but now I have to check the status of my Gatwick >> Miami flight.

Cancelled. The sky zooms in around me, threatening to suffocate me and suddenly pops back into place.

Basic human rights should guarantee that a country cannot deny their citizens entry back into their own country, but doors are closing left and right.

If you know me, I’m that person who always sees a dozen options where others don’t.

Point in case: if my flight from Porto was cancelled, but my flight from Gatwick to Miami is still on, then I would have searched for ferries. I would totally take it like I was on another adventure.

Silently, I worry inside as the claustrophobia sets in as my options close. The four of us take photos and I’m trying to enjoy the moment. But I can’t. It isn’t fair to them to have someone next to them ruining the sunny day in tense preoccupation.

I voice my concerns about my flights and lament to them: “I’m sorry, but I think I should head back to the hostel, because if they are cancelling flights left and right, I just don’t want to be stuck with no job in Europe.”

Without protest, they gracefully sympathize with me and order me an Uber. I was shocked that they took the Uber with me. I stated “you should all enjoy today, it’s beautiful!” and they stayed when they dropped me off at the train station.

Now I’m almost out of choices and I have to try to beat the clock. I only hope I can find a flight out tonight.

The priority is to return to Miami, where I’ve paid rent. Not pay an additional “rent” out in Europe as I’m trying to conduct job interviews. It would be difficult, financially, to be stranded for a month until things (hopefully) calmed down. It would also be awful to get cornered and forced to buy a ridiculously cumbersome and pricey flight that could get cancelled anyway.

No Gran Canaria. No Elias. No dancing. No job. No fun. Oi vey.

Do I beat the clock? Can I get a flight out? Do I only have one shot, or could there be a plan B?

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *