August 1, 1990, Praca do Comercio Park, Lisboa, Portugal, from DODO: The European Notebooks July 1990-January 1991
It’s difficult to concentrate on reading Tristan, sitting in the park alongside Praca do Comercio. As I crossed over into the park, I passed a woman who was resting against the metal fence, smoking a cigarette. She looked out-of-place; well-dressed, alone like that. When I sat on the corner bench I realized she was trying to get my attention by hissing at me. I turned around and she said “Come here” in English and nodded. I shook my head no. When I turned around again a minute later, she was gone.
A plump woman comes up to me holding a young girl by the hand. She holds out her other hand and asks for money. The young girl smiles, shyly, and curtsies. I’ve already given away all the money I have to give today, so I shake my head no.“No problem.” Behind her I notice a grey-haired man watching us from a car parked on the corner I look off to my right and notice a not-very-attractive woman in tight red knit walking toward us. The mother/daughter team moves off. The woman in red knit says something to a guy sitting on another bench and keeps walking. When she gets to me she holds out her palm and says something that sounds like “Popcorn?” I shake my head “no.” She approaches a man standing on the corner and a moment later they walk past me, him slightly ahead of her, across the street. She walks like an animal on haunches — I can see the outline of her thong underwear as she follows him up the street. The man in the car gets out and stands by his open door. He has some kind of plastic nametag on his pocket, reversed, so all I can see is a white rectangle. I hear sirens up the street and a police car drives past, then two more — military green.
The woman and her daughter, who looks about 12 and homely –short-haired and a little plump — walk past with a stocky man. They exchange friendly but petulant Portuguese. The girl stays in the park, the woman walks up the street in the same direction as the woman on haunches. The grey-haired man on the corner gets back in the car, starts it up and drives off. Five minutes later the mother is back, exchanging words with an angry man who runs his hand nervously through thinning hair. She touches his arm. Every time he turns to walk away she follows, turning with him. Both look into the distance, side by side, talking. She walks around him, one leg extended, marvelling at its shape, then extending the other. He sits beside me on the bench; irritated, nervous. She laughs down at him and hands him a candy. He lights a cigarette, take a single drag, and throws it into the cement He spits at her feet. She walks off and he follows. A moment later he returns and sits beside me, the smoke from the cigarette on the ground near his feet curling up his pants leg. The young girl walks behind our bench and they exchange angry words. He gets up and trots across the street, enters the building. A brown van pulls up and honks. A mature man with grey hair gets out and walks in the direction of the older woman, who is standing on the opposite corner. The young girl walks past.
Two young women with identical short black skirts stand on the corner. One has a bare midriff wrap-around blouse — two straps of white crossing her breasts. A man crosses the street and talks to the young girl who stands in the doorway. The older woman joins them. She takes the man by the arm and leads him upstairs. The young girl follows.
A black woman comes out of the building and stops beside the two girls on the corner, then continues to a shady spot beside the park bridge. Two military men stare openly from across the street, then cross beside a man in a striped shirt. All three arrive together. The women laugh and one presses against the man in the striped shirt, the other grabs each soldier by an arm. The men stare menacingly at each other. Laughing, the women call across the street to the black woman. She joins them and they discuss business.
The angry man comes out of the building and sits next to me again. The young girl comes up, talking excitedly in Portuguese. He waves her off. A beautiful young black woman in tight bluejeans has followed him out of the building and comes up to me and says “Do you speak English?” I nod. “You can go across the street and make love, very clean, 3000″ — a little more than $20.00. I’m startled and smile nervously and shake my head. “No thanks, I’m good.” She smiles back sadly. She reaches out and gently touches my shoulder. “Okay.” The guy gets up and follows her across the street. The women in the black short skirts are gone and two new women, neither very attractive, have taken their place. A man in white linen sits beside me. I suddenly realize I’ve spent my first evening in Lisboa in the front parlor of a whorehouse and I’m taking notes. A woman comes up to the man in white linen and they exchange words. I get up and walk back to my hotel. The angry man is yelling at the young girl. Suddenly I notice there are men all over this park and servicemen in brown uniforms. Women lounge against iron railings smoking cigarettes. The sad one beneath the hydrangia in a white skirt and a red sweater is kind of cute. A homely woman in white which leaves nothing to the imagination — not even the baby in her belly — is drunk and a crowd gathers, taunting her. I notice a tallish, Swedish-looking tourist who has followed me through the park. She looks kind of lonely, a little awkward, sad. As we stand side-by-side at the crosswalk, I smile and say hello. Our eyes meet and she winks and nods her head. I know what to do; I just keep walking.