The clouds over one of Lisbon’s seven hills pulse with orange as the sun sets beyond.
The marble dome of the basilica of Estrela in shadow. The sun sends its orange rays to fill the space inside, light suddenly framed by ancient stone.
From my patio, I count eleven cranes. The impossible present of building upon an inconceivable past. Lisbon, the city that rebuilds: Rome, the Moors, the earthquake, fires, neglect in the wake of a half century of dictatorship, and now, foreign investment. A city continuously reinventing itself while remaining utterly the same.
I am a man from another country sitting on a patio on this night watching the sun set upon the basilica the queen envisioned in a city she could never imagine. I’m not young—I’m in the middle somewhere—old age ahead. I dreamed my own life and will fall asleep into the future and dream again.
Estrela—star—conceived by Maria I to commemorate producing an heir with her uncle, her husband. Who stripped the Marquês de Pombal of his powers and exiled him to the countryside. Who, on her way to the quay in Belém as part of the royal escape to Brazil as Napoleon’s troops surrounded the city, and suffering from dimension and depression, said to her driver in a fit of clarity: “Don’t drive so fast. They’ll think we’re running away.”
A dog barks. A plane turns skyward overhead. The famous swallows dip and chirp, followed by a silence so calm you can grasp it.
My body will go into the ground, into a fire, into that light burning beyond, to the star, all the moments of a life forever burning upon themselves.
Even this glass of wine I drink — Soalheiro Alvarinho — consumed by my tongue, my body, becoming a part of me as it, too, disappears. Now, an empty glass before me.
Always another empty glass waiting to be filled by the next moment—and the profound silence, this endless presence.
Scott Laughlin is the Co-Founder and Associate Director of the DISQUIET Literary Program in Lisbon, Portugal. He's currently at work on a series of vignettes and essays about Portugal.