Remembering a Place That Will Soon Be Forgotten

Memories of a childhood road, and working through change

Paulo da Silva
Feb 26 · 11 min read
Gigantic wave crashing over person, black and white, nostalgic feel
Gigantic wave crashing over person, black and white, nostalgic feel
Licensed from Adobe Stock

I will forever associate the uphill, cobblestoned walk of the Rua dos Pescadores thoroughfare in Costa da Caparica, Portugal, with the rich scent of grilling chouriço, the fresh aroma of creamy Caldo Verde soup, and the whiff of the ocean waiting for me just over the hill’s summit.

Leather-skinned street vendors sit on embroidered blankets, staring at you with defiant glares, ready to strike a bargain with anyone willing to haggle. An Asian lady leans against the doorjamb of a tiny trinket store selling all manner of mementos of Lisbon to tourists. She also sells great scarves.

The rich scent of grilling chouriço, the fresh aroma of creamy Caldo Verde soup, and the whiff of the ocean waiting for me just over the hill’s summit.

There are at least two shoe stores there, if my memory serves me right. One is run by a Mozambican or an Angolan lady, judging by her accent. I bought a pair of leather shoes there for next-to-nothing. They lasted me for years.

The other store, much smaller, smells of fine leather. You have to climb down some stairs to get inside. It looks more like someone’s basement than a store. The shoes are a bargain at both places. They are the finest specimens of footwear I have ever seen in my life. My mom told me once, “When you buy here, you’ll never regret it.”

She was right.

There’s an ice-cream parlor there called “Gelados Pope,” which is a strange name, because “Pope” means nothing in Portuguese, and makes no orthographic sense in the language. Perhaps it is the owner’s name.

It’s curious that, in the hundred or more times I walked this street, I was never drawn to this place. It sells ice cream. I can find ice cream anywhere.

Then I took her to the “Merendeira” — and her whole world changed.

But my girlfriend (who is now my wife) was new to Portugal the first time I took her to the street in 2007, and she wanted ice cream. So we ate there. The ice cream was good.

But then I took her to the “Merendeira” — and her whole world changed.

Typical menu at Merendeira restaurant.
Typical menu at Merendeira restaurant.
Typical menu at Merendeira restaurant. Photo by DarwIn on Flickr . Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

I didn’t know what “Merendeira” meant back then. Although I grew up speaking Portuguese at home, it is really a second language for me. I grew up in an English-speaking area of South Africa.

But no name could be more apt: Merendeira means “A small bread for packed lunches” or “The box in which a small lunch is packed.”

When you walk into the Merendeira, you see six or eight men and women behind a counter, dressed in white, wearing chef’s toques, standing in front of several massive stone furnaces. The place is packed.

Inside the furnaces is homemade bread filled with slices of chouriço. The chouriço is baked inside the bread.

The smell, as you walk in, is divine.

They serve smallish meals — I suppose you could call them snacks — in earthenware bowls. They’re unbelievably filling. The prices are dirt-cheap. The food is mouthwatering, some of the best in all of Lisbon and its surrounds in my opinion.

It might even be the reason she married me.

After I introduced my wife-to-be to the Merendeira, she didn’t want anything to do with that ice cream parlor anymore

It might even be the reason she married me.

We shared a sangria there as well, paying practically nothing for a pitcher of it, filled with fresh fruits. The sun was hot, and we only realized we had, perhaps, had a bit too much when we stood up to walk to the beach.

Ah, the memories of youth.

View of the “Pope” ice cream parlor from the Merendeira restaurant.
View of the “Pope” ice cream parlor from the Merendeira restaurant.
View of the “Gelados Pope” ice cream parlor from the Merendeira restaurant, ca. 2007. Photo by the author.

There are two “malls” — if you can call them that — there. Both of them are mostly empty of stores these days. The inner guts of both malls looks like a ghost-town.

The signs that this street needs “modernization,” as the Portuguese call it, have asserted themselves for decades.

The first of the malls is called “O Pescador” — The Fisherman. The Costa da Caparica boasts a strong contingent of traditional fishermen — old, hardened men who ply the seas every morning and live mostly on sardines and red wine.

I don’t know the name of the second mall, but I do know that when I was a boy my mom would take me there to buy these tiny little “Pocket Calendar Movie Cards” which I used to collect. There was a photo of some superstar actor on the front of each, and a calendar on the back.

It was apparently a Portuguese thing.

I must’ve owned a hundred of them. I could only get them in Portugal. I have a scanned-in photo somewhere of me and my aunt and my sister, sitting with legs outstretched on a bed, me holding up a picture of a bloody Rocky Balboa to the camera, a huge grin on my face, so pleased that I had obtained this treasure.

Two decades later, my stepdad and I lingered outside a tiny restaurant where we had just eaten a glorious meal — sated and burping up the flavor of garlic tinged with red wine. Likely we were smoking a cigarette — we both smoked back then (and we’ve both since given it up).

There was a smashed window in the almost-empty mall next to us, the one I used to buy my pocket calendars in. The shattered window was held together with tape. It looked like it had been smashed some time ago.

It didn’t look like anyone was planning on fixing it.

Close-up of electric guitar
Close-up of electric guitar
Photo by Krys Amon on Unsplash

My grandparents, along with one of my aunts and two of my uncles, lived in the Costa da Caparica. (Note the use of “the” before the city’s name — this is the correct way to say it.) They stayed a block or two away from the Pescador mall. There was a Mozambican nightclub just outside their first-floor apartment. It played Afro-Portuguese music on weekends.

My parents were such a hit when they danced together. But they hardly ever did.

I loved hearing that music. It made me think of those rare nights when my mostly-reserved father would show his skillz on the dance floor, rocking a smoking rendition of the Angolan merengue dance with my mom.

My parents were such a hit when they danced together. But they hardly ever did.

Maybe the music brought my grandparents and uncles similar memories. They had all once lived in Angola.

One gray morning, my youngest uncle (who was not yet twenty at the time) walked with me through the gigantic parking lot serving their apartment block. Suddenly, like the dulcet voice of a golden angel, I heard the sweetest silver whine of an electric guitar reverberating down to the parking lot from some unknown, heavenly location. The sound was so loud it was like being at a rock concert at a stadium.

“Wow, what’s that?” I asked.

“Oh, it’s just a guy up there who plays his electric guitar. It’s really loud.”

“Electric guitar!” I said, awed. “That’s so awesome! I’ve never heard an electric guitar before!”

“It’s very loud,” he repeated. My uncle looked unimpressed.

Years later, I would own my own electric.

My eyes hunted the exterior of the apartment building, looking for this mythical musical creature pouring out that blessed tone into my ears.

Years later, I would own my own electric. When I played it, I would always think back to that mysterious being who jammed so loudly that morning and woke something up inside me.

“Come on,” my uncle said. “Do you want me to buy you a magazine?”

He took me to a news stand and asked me what I wanted to get. I told him I wanted Scrooge McDuck and Huey, Dewey and Louie. He said, “I was thinking of something more educational.”

“Oh,” I said, and chose a science magazine. It was my first science magazine ever. I didn’t even know there was such a thing as “an educational magazine.”

I came to love science after that.

Beach-goers and fishing boats, Costa da Caparica.
Beach-goers and fishing boats, Costa da Caparica.
Beach-goers and fishing boats, Costa da Caparica. Photo by the author.

The Rua dos Pescadores, which receives up to a million visitors on a busy weekend at peak season, is a main thoroughfare to the Costa da Caparica beaches. I’ve rarely been there when it’s so busy. It’s more charming when it’s empty.

The road is cramped. Washing hangs from balconies to dry, as it does everywhere in Portugal. Sometimes a car comes through and tries to nudge its way through the throng. Isn’t that a bit of fun.

The cobblestoned road rises then sinks. And, when it sinks, the beach comes into view.

That’s when you start to get an inkling that the Old Caparica is giving way to the New.

The beachfront has been completely renovated. A megabucks project was initiated over ten years ago, a new boardwalk built. New restaurants appeared, catering to every depth of pocket, and old restaurants were moved into structures that looked no different to any other structure.

Conformity.

Uniform style of restaurants at the Costa da Caparica beachfront after “modernization.”
Uniform style of restaurants at the Costa da Caparica beachfront after “modernization.”
Uniform style of restaurants at the Costa da Caparica beachfront after “modernization.” Photo by the author.

There are more places to eat there now. (And more places to drink.) It was high time the beach got a makeover. It looks good, all things considered.

I felt an immediate and acute sense of sorrow.

The Rua dos Pescadores has now also been approved for a €466,000 “modernization” project. Trees will be planted, structures added which “encourage commerce.” The old will give way to the new.

I felt an immediate and acute sense of sorrow knowing that this street of the chouriço and the Caldo Verde was about to get a full makeover.

This place, brimming with culture, with idiosyncratic color, will soon take on the face of every other tourist-laden place in Europe, I thought.

The Rua dos Pescadores is about to lose its personality.

That’s how it felt to me, at least.

Costa da Caparica sunset. Photo by the author.

My reaction is completely illogical, of course. And perhaps it’s because I do not live there that I feel its impending loss so severely.

If only I had spent more time there, accrued more warm memories, eaten more bread with chouriço baked inside it.

Truth be told, the Rua dos Pescadores is also a bit of an eyesore, really. On that day I shared the sangria with my wife-to-be, we were approached twice by vagrants, directly at our table, begging some food or some money.

Seeing such things in the world is heartbreaking.

Those leather-faced street vendors look, to me, mostly hungry. And I can’t shake the feeling that the reason they haggle so hard is because they are so desperate.

Seeing such things in the world is heartbreaking.

I remember one of my uncles talking many years ago of how drugs were being sold “down the road at the Costa,” telling us it wasn’t safe to go there anymore. He was a man with severe mental health issues, and suffered from tremendous phobias of open spaces and crowds, so I took what he said with a pinch of salt.

But it stayed with me.

I remember feeling a similar sense of disappointment when I went to Greenwich Village for the first time in 2014. I honestly expected to see a neighborhood brimming with vibrant, bohemian, counterculture denizens.

And all those many, many empty storefront windows at the Pescador mall, that smashed window which hadn’t been repaired in who-knows-how-long.

On the stage of world commerce, my nostalgic memories have little financial value.

But to me they are priceless.

I remember feeling a similar sense of disappointment when I went to Greenwich Village for the first time in 2014. I honestly expected to see a neighborhood brimming with vibrant, bohemian, counterculture denizens who walked around in turtlenecks and berets, smoking a joint while holding up picket signs protesting any and every social disease.

Alas, by 2014, the Village had been thoroughly gentrified. The only things left which were even remotely like “the old days” (according to our excellent tour guide from New Jersey) were “Café Wha?” and The Stonewall Inn.

Exterior of “Café Wha?” with poster of Jimi Hendrix on the door.
Exterior of “Café Wha?” with poster of Jimi Hendrix on the door.
Photo by the author.
Exterior of Stonewall Inn, 2014.
Exterior of Stonewall Inn, 2014.
Photo by the author.

She told us that Bushwick, in Brooklyn, was probably more like the Village of back in the day.

So, I went to Bushwick.

I felt mostly like an outsider.

Graffiti in Bushwick.
Graffiti in Bushwick.
Graffiti in Bushwick. Photo by the author.

The world must change, it must improve. I generally welcome these changes.

So why do I feel this sense of regret at a microcosm level — a city street with which I have much less connection than the streets of my youth in South Africa? Why do I feel pangs of regret, knowing that I will not be able to walk that same street, as I remember it, with my daughter when she grows up?

When she sees it for the first time, she’ll see the new stores, the clean streets, the full shop windows in the busy malls.

Will the shoe stores be as good?

She’ll see the equivalent of a Greenwich Village in 2020, not the nostalgic Village of the seventies which we read about, teeming with rebellious artists, overflowing with nonconformist idealists.

All those memories: A delicious meal of buttered prawns and garlic. An electric guitar roaring across a quiet parking lot, lighting up some hidden fire. Choosing a science magazine instead of Scrooge McDuck, and coming to love science.

Seminal moments, all of them. Life-defining moments.

Costa da Caparica breaker.
Costa da Caparica breaker.
Costa da Caparica breaker. Photo by the author.

The place as it is now might be forgotten. But the stories won’t be. And I’ll tell my daughter these stories. So will her mom — like that day she and I drank too much sangria.

It is the stories, not the place, which abide in my heart.

Stories, stories, stories, just like the stories I heard of Greenwich Village which keep the seventies version of it more alive in my mind than what I saw when I visited it in 2014. I recall practically nothing of the Village which I saw with my own eyes, except for the face of Jimi Hendrix on a club door.

The stories had taken root in my mind long before I saw the actual place. And it is the stories, not the place, which abide in my heart.

Places disappear, but the stories, the memories, do not.

Well, the stories shouldn’t disappear. It is up to us writers to keep those stories alive, to immortalize those memories we once lived, and which hopefully others will continue to live after we are long gone.

One Table, One World

People coming from different cultural backgrounds sharing…

Paulo da Silva

Written by

Loving Dad. Mostly mediocre. Totally not famous. Writes for a living. https://uk.authorpaulo.com

One Table, One World

People coming from different cultural backgrounds sharing seats at the table to dine, to laugh, to cook, to heal and most of all to share the stories of their unique journeys all over the world.

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