The Laundry Man

We traveled to Sintra, a quaint Portuguese town full of palaces, lush grounds, and Romantic architecture. It was foggy and drizzling all day, which made for poor photos but wonderfully moody views. Our tour guide drove us all the way out to Cabo de Roca, the most westerly point of continental Europe. The fog was so thick that we couldn't even see the lighthouse looming overhead. Squinting, I caught the barest hint of waves crashing below us, etched faintly in gray. Soundless in the mist.

So we stood at the edge of the land and peered into the impenetrable. Then I went into the gift shop and bought two postcards to see what it was supposed to look like. I loved it. How sweetly absurd to be standing with a bunch of tourists staring in a fog bank, cheerfully looking at nothing. From there, we drove along the coast, near Cascais, and saw waves hitting the rocky beach, sending spray thirty feet in the air. Fisherman looked tiny standing next to their poles, the slender shapes as tall as sailboat masts.

Next was a catch up day. We spent a few hours in a cramped laundrymat, ably assisted by an elderly man who was there washing sheets with a friend. He struck me as one of those mythical figures that shows up to give advice to lost wanderers: The Laundry Man. The laundry man spoke Portuguese, Italian, English. He scolded the two young guys who hopped the line to use the dryer. He patiently coaxed my ten euro bill into the finicky machine for me. The laundry man was generous with advice, showing tourists how to choose the correct settings, ushering people toward a machine when their turn came up. He said to me, “This place is not mine, but I come here every day.” With his somber iron gray mustache and merry eyes, he was the patron saint of the Lavandaria and I will never forget him.

I leave Lisbon behind with appreciation and relief. Appreciation for what I saw and learned, relief because the city has been so pummeled by overtourism that anything but a brief visit feels impolite. I have dozens of photos of tile work on my phone. Beauty everywhere, patterns upon patterns. Within the hour, our train will arrive, and we'll head north, to see what there is to see.

My writing deadlines are screeching at me like hungry seagulls. Beating their wings. Flapping closer and closer I'm glad I packed my fountain pen. While we're on the train, I'll draft out a chapter or two. Sometimes I suspect the computer is best saved for second drafts. The hand knows things the fingertips do not.

Farewell, Lisboa!