Friday, August 05, 2005

When the camera is at home asleep

Last night, I went to dinner in a local chinese restaurant, having had about all the brasserie food that I could take for a day yesterday. As I read the descriptions in Portuguese of the meals that I would normally recognize, in walked a couple of German tourists and a few from Spain. I found it strange to enter into a Chinese world where all the customers spoke English with one another and no one knew what they were going to get for their entrées. The German tourists ordered something in a sizzling platter, but it arrived in foil pouches on a sizzling platter, a new sound effect having come to me that sounded a bit like a million energetic tiny crabs trying to jump up the sides of the foil to escape the heat.

My meal completed, I returned to my room and flipped on the television where the Portuguese version of "O Pr€Ço C€rto", complete with the same theme song, but a lot fewer theatrics than the American "Price is Right", was playing. It was filled with subtle and not so subtle reminders that the prices are now in euros. I watched as yet another contestant fell short of the limit imposed on her bid and failed to win the grand prize. Their host, a large, portulent man in a button-down shirt, with suspenders that frame his sizeable belly, seems to be quite the comedian, and reminds me not one bit of Bob Barker.

By the time this show ended, I figured that the temperature outside would have dropped somewhat and that a walk to the Baixo-Chaido would help me digest my food and then would also allow me to fraterinize a bit with my gay Portuguese brothers. I eventually found "Las Grandas Portas" and ordered, gasp!, a beer. Within minutes, there was a guy named Antonio, a handsome chap, who had come directly to me to ask me to buy him a beer. He was deeply philosophical, spoke multiple languages and had been an IV drug user for 20 years. As a consequence, he and I share being seropositive for HIV. Despite this, he described his open minded spirit, his love for his eight year old daughter, his stints in jail as a user and thief and how he became bisexual from those circumstances. It soon became obvious that he leans more toward a taste for women than for men, and I took my leave of him when he started talking with a pretty English tourist.

I next met a handsome Spanish oncologist and his Dutch ex-lover. We chatted for a good while about North Carolina and how the Dutchman once flew from JKF to Miami and didn't know that there was a stop in RDU. He left the flight and thought that Miami was quite over-rated, no doubt. About 1:30, I decided it was time to leave as the temperature was still in the upper 80s and there was a smog settling over the city along with the smell of burning wood. The combination made my eyes burn, and I decided to climb down the mountain side to find my hotel in the valley below. I didn't know it at the time, but a lot of Portugal was suffering under a severe drought and wild fires had grown out of control throughout the country. The smell of smoke was from the burning countryside.

I had cleared the corner well when I found myself walking straight into a troubled young man named Mario. He carried a folded sign that described in English his plight as a homeless man living on the streets of Lisbon with AIDS. I started to walk past him, but could not bring myself to leave without talking to him. I learned that he had been born in Angola, and that he had lived in Brasil before moving to Portugul. He pointed to the holes in his clothes, to the places on the street where he sleeps, to the sign that he carries with him and he told me of the death of his father and his mother's indifference for a son who is dying of shame.

It was a futile effort to try to give him hope, but I did my best. It soon became apparent, though, just how desperate his situation and how useless kind words can be. As we continued to talk, he remembered my name and my homeland and I realized that I had forgotten his name. I had to ask again and he reminded me, but the asking wiped away all my words of compassion about how we are not alone and that there are those who think of us. He told me he had to go and get back to begging or he would not eat today.

The walk home was particularly long last night, especially after I passed a store window with a Louis Vuitton bag that was priced at €1000. It made me question the value of human life. Today, having been checked from my hotel into the hot, dry day, I am going to seek out Mario and buy him lunch if I can find him.



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