Not all cities are worth looking at the ground. The traveler is always terrified of finding a world made up of the debris from his passing: cigarette butts, gum and plastic shells with melted ice cream. They are fragments of our failure as Argonauts around the world. Perhaps what differentiates the tourist from the traveler. But in Porto the ground is the least earthly of all the events that come to life. I was thinking about it in the Praça Carlos Alberto. It is a soil made up of tiles. Immense and in black and white tones. One walks through the square, of normal dimensions, neither too big nor too small, and has the sensation of being inside a mosaic. The pavement is an enhanced reflection of the sky and in Porto the sky is always beautiful and clean.
Praça Carlos Alberto takes the pulse of the city daily. It is a square that smells of coffee and aristocracy. In the 1930s, Café Luso opened its doors to the best possible merchandise. Sacks of coffee brought from the African colonies landed at the port and accompanied the gatherings in the city. They drank coffee calmly, because the rush is inadvisable in a city that is a step away from New York by sea, as its inhabitants ironically. In the sixties, Café Luso became a haven for artists and filmmakers. Today it is better to taste black coffee on its terrace, persuaded by the sea breeze that welcomes the traveler from all sides, not forgetting that beyond the pavement there is the city with its buildings.
AND At one end of the square we find the church of Carmen. I promise that I have spent entire days examining every inch of heavenly architecture, whether in Rome, Florence, Paris … even in Calcutta. All temples praise the same god, but man does not know it. However, Porto’s Carmen church exceeds expectations. Her style is of a dying Baroque that is beginning to be Rococo. But what is striking is neither its facade nor its interior, which is already striking. On one side, the visitor finds that the stone has disappeared and has become a delicate ceramic. Meters and meters of tiles that tell a religious story, but actually narrate the arrival of the traveler in Porto, that same morning. The color combination is exquisite. It doesn’t take more than two to achieve beauty. Blue and black are combined with an original finish. Praça Carlos Alberto says goodbye in a big way. We stop looking at the ground out of pure need to reach the light. We have gone from quartering beauty to fractioning perfection.
Now we only need to get to the river, the Dauro that a few kilometers east was the Duero. River of gold, which will die to the ocean with a color of lead. On the left we get carried away by the marine fragrance, but a shop window with piled books intrudes. It is the Lello bookstore, a tourist attraction pole where the reader finds less and less space. People enter, marvel at its modernist staircase, walk through it putting their hands on the railing, place their index finger on the spines of books and after a jam of several languages they leave. In between, there are book buyers, as a bookstore should abound. I have a strange fetishistic taste in buying copies of great original-language writers. Pessoa is an intruder in this city because he always preferred to serve his sentences in Lisbon, but he decided to buy the Livro do desassossego. The cashier smiles at me as I leave and warns me that there are still more shocks to get to the river.
AND We enter the Riberia neighborhood, of narrow and medieval streets. There are clothes hanging on the balconies. The inhabitants of the city take advantage of the hours of sunshine, the truce of the rain, to dry the colors of their dresses. We reached the Clerigos Tower in just a few minutes. The building is so tall that a glance is not enough to cover it all. In a forest of stones we get lost. The sense of lack of orientation is total. The streets go up and down. On one side we find the viewpoint of La Victoria. The other side of the river is sensed. The ocean on the right. Is it the ocean or another tile? Before ending up at one of the terraces that mark the boundary between the riverbank and the city, we arrive at the cathedral. The name is as beautiful as its architecture: Sé do Porto. A medieval shell surrounded by shops, to remind the traveler that the city came before the fashions and has outlived them all.
The wind churns as we move along Rúa de dom Hugo. It seems that the city is eager for us to reach the river bank. We cannot be late. We accelerate our steps to be punctual for our appointment. We go down the streets as if we were part of the water until we reached the Luis I bridge. It flies over us. It widens the flow of the river.
There a ship awaits us that will take us to the Castelo do Queijo. Last stop to America. There are travelers who sharpen their eyes in case the coast is seen on the other side. I only see tiles. What a beautiful sadness this city of Porto has.