Essay about Porto

/This time, it’s a little bit different. Instead of writing a story, I wrote a short essay about Porto, where stories about struggle, adversity, hardship, but also about victory and perseverance, are waiting to be told./

Different day, different time, same coffee. Delta coffee.

Sun is shining. From behind the glass wall of beach cafeteria, one would think it is summer already. A year ago, it was still dirty, full of tree branches, garbage, dead fish and sea flowers. Stormy sea turned the whole place upside down and it looked as close to post-apocalypse as it could. Today though, it’s welcoming and peaceful. Under the façade however, lies a reservoir of melancholy and unrest. Porto, my beloved Porto, how can I be unfaithful to you? I walk the same streets as I did months ago, I see faces with one more line of pain written in their expressions, I see the same beggars begging in different places. A supermarket sprung-up over there, yet another building got abandoned over here. Faint smiles disappear the moment you notice them. Kids hang around the ‘hood, smoking, chatting, spitting around. I wonder what the future holds for them. They make themselves look tough, seasoned. Males & females – both. They are sixteen. Ladies with naked bellybuttons, fake gold chains round their necks and fellows looking sharp as a razor blade, fresh out of a package. Old lady’s chair on the front porch is empty, she is probably walking to a post office, to check if any letter arrived from her niece living abroad. Graffiti painted on the walls – zebras, aliens, abbreviations, calls to general strike. Real estate advertising: For sale, for rent, call me at +351… good prices guaranteed. Beggar says: Hey pal, got spare 50 cents for a burger. No? Shame, would you like some hashish? People try to be nice – simple phrase Olá, tudo bem? breaks the ice eight times out of ten. Just avoid the poor neighbourhoods and you’ll be okay. Vegetation retakes places formerly conquered by concrete army. And clothes, packed up in piles behind cardboard boxes, where homeless people sleep… The queue for free soup gets longer every time I pass by.

Yesterday in the evening, clouds rolled in and if the streets could talk, I bet they would sob their hearts out. Wind whistled in the avenues, whispered in the trees and rattled window shutters. Tension settled in. People shuffled in the dusk trying to lay low. Cones of light casted by passing cars glided over curbs, searching for a free parking spot. Everyone wants to get home, where it’s warm and cozy, before nightfall and wait out the incoming night. Now though the sun is high up in the sky, the bad dream has ended and it is nothing more than a distant bruise in a memory. New day, promising day, arrived. No one wants to face another night. But it will come. And it will be coming in regular intervals for the next few years and maybe even decades. Portugal is not Greece. And it neither is Germany. Young people want to move abroad and try their luck elsewhere. They send out tens and hundreds of bottles with short, heartfelt messages. And these bottles get carried around by ocean currents, some are taken overseas, some are discovered by prospective receivers, others end up in fishing nets and are later dutifully recycled. Broken bottles to the green bin, broken dreams to the pile in the backyard. And so it goes. Each day hope rises in the east and disappears in the west. Folks would like to pack their stuff and move to the next frontier, but there is no next frontier. The frontier is right here. And we, strange people, return here once in a while…

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About Petr Klíma