The moment that aircraft descended from the clouds, revealing a gleaming city below bedecked with terracotta roof tiles, a wide river opening to an ocean, a shimmering blue beyond the plane’s minuscule plexiglass window, the light dazzled like a revelation. For that’s what anyone would immediately observe upon landing on the Portuguese capital for the first time — the light.
Up above, a sky evened out in impossible azure. And down below, a light so bright as though someone turned up the luminosity dial, as I scrambled for my seldomly used pair of sunglasses, barely knowing that these shaded spectacles would be a constant in my life here in this peninsula. And then, for a shining moment, I saw everything so clearly. A light so pure it felt like my retinas were wiped clean, crystal clear.
I arrived in June, when the summer had just begun. Incidentally, it was also a new beginning. The Lisbon summer, I’ve soon learned, is defined by the Iberian heat that’s cooled by the Atlantic breeze, a Mediterranean-like season sublimated by the Portuguese atmosphere and soul. The air was crisp, electric, as the city celebrates its month-long festivities of patron saints and street parties and grilled sardines. And day after day, the light shone on, a relentless beam over the city, and those who walk over its pavements welcomed its warmth with full embrace.
A carpet of bright marble and limestone spread all over the city, from the streets to the walls, from pavements to cathedrals to museums and sculptures and monasteries, all emanating, radiating, reflecting light, catching the bedazzled faces of passersby. Houses and palaces daubed in bright pink, powder blue, mint green, sunshine yellow, vivid ochre and splashes of magenta, intensifying the prism of colours and bouncing sunshine wherever it can.
The light doesn’t stop there. The Tagus river takes on the shade of blue as the sky above, and at the same time reflecting light all day long, for most of the year, its silvery glow undulating towards Lisbon’s hills, which in return, gleams back towards the valley, its boulevards and avenues and passageways alit with marvellous incandescence. I’ve read that during spring and summer months, the winds from Northern Atlantic also performs it duty over Lisbon, blowing down and cleaning the air and carrying particles with them, letting the light shine even clearer, brighter, better.
Happiness has something to do with it, too. Or perhaps it’s the other way around. Light has the ability to enhance the state of our being. It makes a difference waking up with sunshine peeking through your curtain, waiting to get in. It makes a difference when after a day’s work, there’s still light, aglow and golden on the horizon. As you sit on the banks where the river greets the sea, with a good drink on hand, quenching the day’s thirst, you watch the light slowly burn down, a deep vermillion on the glassy surface, the sky announcing its darkening triumph, you know that the following dawn, the true champion shall return to seize the day.