By Joey Bahlsen
Last Thursday I was walking down Avenida Liberdade and then through Chiado, usually flowing with tourists but almost vacant then. Only the ebb and flow of a couple handful of people as they walk by and take pictures. Down by the Praça do Comércio, a solitary man, shirtless, in full Native-American headdress, is a surreal throwback to busier days. Questions of cultural appropriations are a reminder of simpler times. Only a month ago Cais do Sodré was brimming with people celebrating the carnival, now half a dozen sit by the water. Queues have formed in front of supermarkets and pharmacies (plastered with signs that say “no masks, no disinfectant” in English and Portuguese).
At midnight that day the state of emergency in Portugal comes into effect. No one really knows what that means yet, but some sort of quarantine is almost certain. It’s also the last night before my flatmate leaves for home. We’re well-stocked with wine (the trick to buying wine in Portugal, or anywhere really, is not to go for the cheapest one but look for one of the few 6-euro wines bumped down to 2.50 or 3€. Really can’t go wrong there) and play cards while she frets whether her flight will be cancelled.
In the morning she sends me a picture of the massive crowd forming outside the airport. Not everyone can enter the airport though. Some have no permission to fly and, under protest, are cordoned off.
On Saturday, in the queue outside the Pingo Doce supermarket at Campo dos Mártires da Pátria, social distancing is taken rather lightly. There is man loudly playing Bollywood songs from his phone, which along with the heavy rain adds to a general sense of impatience. We’ve been waiting for about half an hour when a row breaks out. A couple teenagers want to skip in front of the queue. To no one’s surprise, it doesn’t go down well with the rest of the queue.
There are worse places though, to be stuck in during the corona crisis than Lisbon. I’ve a balcony, the sun usually shines, and I’ve just figured out the ideal self-isolation song (for anyone wondering it’s Ain’t got no, I got life by Nina Simone).
(March 23, 2020)