Lagos (Portugal) abstract: beggars
I sit on a terrace’s bar, drinking a coffee and smoking a cigarette. A bit dirty, signs of an alcoholic life, sharp smart eyes, and a strange smile. He comes to me with a beer and the rest of a sandwich in the hand, pushing a baby carriage with a dog and few puppies in it. I look at the dog and then at the man. “That’s how I earn my life” he says. “People shoot pictures to the dog and give me money to feed them” he smiles: He is one of the local beggars.
He is on his forties. He asks me a cigarette and I give him tobacco. We start chatting. Half an hour later we are walking together. We get a square of the old city. There is a collection of beggars and addicts. Some weird but cleaner people sit between them. Colourful tourists walk around.
People call him El Montañes (Man of the mountain) because he comes from Picos de Europa, an impressive mountain range in the North of Spain. He pretends to be a sort of authority here but he isn’t. Only God knows why He introduces me as a friend, and shares with me what he thinks are informations of vital importance: where to get drugs, where to get free food, where to wash clothes, where to sleep, who are all the people around, how is the life in Lagos, who I have to be aware of.
I give him one more cigarette and he shares his beer. He never stops talking. He feels himself alone I think, He was a good traveller, I understand it from how he speaks about places that both us visited, and his clear vision of people, cultures, and society. But he lost the North at one point, and after a long parenthesis as a thief and few years in the jail, the street was his last election, the same one of many other dreamers and broken promises.
How many of them I met? How many stories I heard? Gouty joined the army in Israel and was a soldier for a long time. Then he gave it up. He bought a sailing boat with his saving and crossed 6 times the Atlantic Ocean, from Gibraltar to South America. Now the money are gone. The boat turned into a bicycle and he does not wash himself to improve is income.
He plays a 150 years old harmonica that belonged to his grandfather only when he feels, otherwise he stretches out a dirty hand waiting for a coin falling. His family has a 5 rooms house in Moreira he says, but he lives in the street because “ is when you are out that you see the stars. Houses are not for me”. He tells me of his adventures and the wonderful women he met. He is a drunk but his eyes turn so bright when he speaks about the dolphins painting lines of light in the Ocean, when the moon was full, and he was sailing to the new world. I do not know about the rest, but his harmonica is truly old.
Sicat is a smart man, born in England from an Indian family. He lives barefoot and without money, going in and out from the villages. He knows plants, mushrooms, tramp for little animals, fishing, and does not accept money. Would you help him? Give him food, a glass of wine, a cigarette. Offer him 1000 euros and he kindly declines.
How was the name of that French man who lived in a small cave between Bolonia and Tarifa? He made a tea for me. The tea smelled of the smoke of the eucalyptus he burnt to make a fire. He looks at me asking me why people live in the city? What is the meaning of loose the stars, the air, the touch of the earth? He was expecting a real answer from me.
Manolo was a stunning flamenco guitar player before he gets addicted to heroin. He loved my girlfriend. Sometimes He brought her flowers and sang her some good verses. One day he told me “She is a princess, she could be a good reason to keep myself clean and give up that shit”. Too late, heroine was quicker than him. Rest in Peace Manolo.
Ismael is old. He comes from Iran but he feels himself to belong to Spain. He went to Turkey to escaped the war, but He was arrested in Istanbul just to be released three days after. Ismael reached Sweden by miracle and after few years fled to the south to fall in love with Spain. He is different than other beggars: he relies on what people give him spontaneously, he never asks, he just waits. A sensation of peace flows from his words: “when you have a serious trouble don’t think too much but sleep, sleep long.”
I never belonged to their world but I constantly cross it because the way how I travel. Many of those beggars could be considered free people, who couldn’t or wanted accept what our society offered them, or simply they did not like the rule of our game. They didn’t have fortune, will, or tools enough to change the reality. In many areas, at least here in Europe, earn the life honestly is quite easy, but for many people what the society offers is not enough: I would embrace the beggars life if working in a factory, in a supermarket, or chained to a chair 40 hours a week, 11 months a year, would be my last chance to join the regular life.
The price to get a comfortable life often is the lost of freedom, the cage of the time schedule, the obligation of doing something I don’t want to do, the lost of the present, the automatism of the work, the emotions restrained because of a social compromise, the instinct buried down years of living according with the rules, the constant view of the clock with the feeling that the time runs too quick, that we are loosing our life. It is that strange life based on dreaming about the future to escape from the present.
There is a deep vitality in the street. Pain, fear, happiness, all is expressed without filters. Nobody here restrain him self, they let emotions flow, they care nothing about the rules, rules that are made by who leads, who needs servants, who needs pieces of a manufacturing process.
There is just present in the street, and truth because where the rules are natural and there is no punishment but the reaction of one to one, there is no reason to hide or lay. Obviously there is a kind of code of peaceful living, it naturally born in every human group, but it is less strong and most of all there is no legislative body, no elections, no government repressions. They lost, it is true, but they look to me more free than many of us.