There has always been something about Lisbon, which gives me a certain "frisson". Whenever I find myself driving across the Ponte Vasco da Gama, I feel it. It is as if the previous centuries of this river's life, hang over it like a spectre, never to be banished. Even as I write, I find the feeling difficult to articulate. All cities are special, some more than others, and every city is special in its own way, by being different. But the specialness that is Lisbon's, comes not from its uniqueness, but from its own experience, and how it arrived at that point of development.
Its history is almost palpable. It takes very little suspension of disbelief, on an early morning crossing of the Tagus, to look towards Belem, and imagine a ship setting sail, on a route never before put to the test.
I put this flight of the imagination down to fancy, until I found myself reading an excellent book by Martin Page called, 'The first global village How Portugal changed the world'. In its pages, I found that I had not been wrong to attribute to this city, the ability to transmit its history in the here and now. It is all around, in the people, the culture, the traditions. Today we feel ourselves liberally-minded to talk about racial integration and tolerance of other nationalities, cultures and religions. For a large number of Lisbonites, they are the result of this excercise. And unlike those people I have seen in the West Indies for example, do not feel their mix to be denigrating to their origins in any way, since the Portuguese, when they colonised, did so with a free and open spirit, and, quite literally, took their hosts into their hearts!
So what is it about the wide mouth of this river, that conveys an eerie spell over me when I get close to it. The bridge Ponte Vasco da Gama is the longest one in Europe, and seems to go on for ever when one drives it. It has a serene quietness about it, and one can almost feel not on land but at sea. The lure of this vast expanse with a glimpse of distant shore tempts the voyager nearer and onwards. You know that there is something out there, but you just can't see it YET. Was that what inspired them to do it? Go on a journey, when they did not know what lay at the end of it, or what would happen on the way.