Sunday, June 27, 2010

Aeroporto de Lisboa

You are here ridiculously early. Some issue with the taxi company wanting to collect you earlier rather than later, and today is a public holiday about sardines.

But it means time for a leisurely breakfast before checking in. You order your coffee long and decide to risk two pasteis de nata, knowing full well that they are only good when made on the premises in a pastelaria. You choose a seat to people-watch from, near the top of the escalators.

A guy with a good, real, tan, and cut off jeans, faded t-shirt and a battered cap comes to a tentative halt near your table, looking at the escalators with concern. He has his bag on a trolley, and an enormous cardboard box – bigger than himself and originally for a flat screen TV? – which is flapping open at the top, full of holes, and badly held together with peeling gaffa tape. It has an address in New Zealand written on it in black marker pen. You do not feel optimistic for its contents.

The guy perches at the edge of the café seating and checks his laptop.

The pasteis are, surprisingly, fantastic – clearly freshly cooked on the premises. But the coffee is too long – although you must accept some share of the responsibility for that.

The guy from New Zealand puts away his laptop, and drifts off, away from the escalators, looking worried.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Pastelaria Orion II

A different seat this morning but, once again, the only free table. The waitress appears almost immediately. She’s still wearing the shades, even though today is overcast with drizzle.

“Bom dia,” she greets you.

You order your cafe abatanado, your sandes queijo, and, er, tres

“…pasteis de nata,” she finishes your order for you, smiling. Does she remember you from your single visit the other day, or is it just that that pasteis are the one thing that customers regularly have to think about exactly how many they want?

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Pastelaria Bernard

A confusing range of payment options. Outside, on the street it is table service, and there’s also a take-away window. Once inside, though, you are directed from the service counter to the pre-payment till opposite it. When you place your order there, the woman perched on the high stool asks if you want to sit at a table or stand at the counter. You say table and she indicates that you should just sit and someone will take your order at the table. The back of the room, it turns out, is Restaurant Bernard. Once seated you see that in the corner of the room there is a glass door leading to Restaurant Salandeclia.

You order your lunch, water, and a café cheio. You’d like the coffee now, before your food, yes, thanks, which is why you are ordering it now, and they (the waiter in particular, but the Portuguese in general) think this is weird. During this negotiation the waiter is of course talking to you in English, and around you you can hear English tourists who haven’t even bothered to learn obrigado/a or por favor. But you soldier on, using your minimal but well practiced café-ordering Portuguese.

So you order your café cheio for before your meal. And you will order another one after your meal, just to keep your waiter happy.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Pastelaria Orion

You have had to walk through Lisbon from your accommodation to find the end of the power cut that the room you are staying at has been caught in. You know from experience that you are not just looking for a café - a snack-bar - for breakfast, you are looking for a Pastelaria. You find Pastelaria Orion at the top of the hill, near the upper entrance to Elevador Bica, and at the edge of the power cut.

It is pleasingly familiar inside, even though you have never been in here before: a counter all along one wall, regularly laid out square tables filling the rest of the rectangular room, window seats to your left.

Your English uncertainty flickers briefly, but the waitress, despite her very dark sunglasses, has seen you arrive and is at your table to take your order almost instantly. You don’t have much Portuguese, but what you do have is well practiced: sandes queijo, dois pasteis de nata, café abatanado. Por favor. The waitress nods, and returns moments later with a laminated yellow card, bearing the number 150, which she leaves without explanation, and doesn't remove when she brings your order.

Initially you sit to look back out at the street, but a beer fridge blocks all of the nearest window, so you turn round to face the room. Most of the other customers have arrived alone. 5 or 6 have chosen a table like you, but a similar number are standing at the counter. Watching the room you realise that the yellow number card is your bill – to be taken to the counter when you are done. No need to mime writing on your hand, eyebrows raised, at the waitress when the time comes.

The waitress is, naturally, brilliant, despite the indoor shades. Busy but calm; cheerful and efficient. You think, as you have thought before, that going for a coffee in Portugal isn’t just a visit to a café, it’s actually a visit to quite a different lifestyle. Many of the customers seem to know both each other and the staff, just through being breakfast regulars. And even though it is normal to stand and eat at the counter, this isn’t a sign of hurry sickness – it’s a social thing.

You’ve been here about 30 minutes, and the clientele has changed completely, apart from you; but it’s just as busy, and with the same atmosphere. You’ll know you'll be back, but for now, it’s yellow ticket time.