An old city, like 8th century BCE old, Lisbon blankets the coastal hills along the mouth of the Tagus River, pouring into the Atlantic Ocean like a song. As soon as your feet touch the ground, a palpable sense of history radiates from the cobblestone streets and ancient architecture of one of the greatest European kingdoms. The energy of thousands of years almost seems too strong to penetrate. Just the same, the smiles of passersby put you at ease, people barrel chested with a kindness so grand it swells their hearts.
Delirious from months of travel, hijinks, intense flings, and blurry evenings with dear friends met that same day, I found myself in a square surrounded by large Gothic buildings. As I stood there fatuously attempting to process my surroundings with a Lonely Planet guidebook, trying to mitigate my mood with my majestic view, a woman handed me a small plastic shot glass of some kind of sweet liqueur. Unquestioning, I slung it back and without hesitation melted into my surroundings.
For me Lisbon was oddly familiar, a sort of parallel universe where San Francisco lives in Europe. The steep hills, the old electric trams in the Chiado, the rust red-colored golden gate to the Atlantic: the 25 de Abril Bridge built by the American Bridge Company (who also constructed the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge), and the bohemian sort of assumption that we should be lazing around in vast parks, playing drums, dancing, and smoking joints. Nevertheless, Lisbon is not San Francisco, and for that I am grateful. Its mystique is its own, found in the smile of the woman behind a counter serving you a sizzling iron skillet of steak and eggs or in the crinkled lines embossing the face of a seasoned fisherman.
Meandering through the streets I encountered a Moroccan man. Hands dirty and face weathered, wearing oversized but clean clothes, he spoke to me first in Portuguese and then in French. I responded in French that I could not speak either of those languages, but I did speak English. He hastily but fluently offered to sell me some hashish, forcing a warm lump of the soft dark brown substance into my hand. I raised it to my nose and inhaled deeply, letting the scent of the drug fill my head. Things were coming together; I was in the right place. Not to worry. This ragged old man was in no danger. Drugs are decriminalized in Portugal, as they should be.