Fado in Lisbon



We were in Portugal last week. One night, Sharon asks the hotel guy “What about Fado?”

We knew it was their version of soul music and that it was only done in clubs in Lisbon, but that’s about it. He kindly offered to make a reservation for us at one of the clubs. We then found out that it was a dinner thing and that you would have to sit through a shitty meal to enjoy the music.

“Can we just listen to the music and drink” I asked.

He said he would find us a place and made a reservation for music only at one of the joints at the bottom of the hill. If you have never been to Lisbon, the first thing you notice is a lot of hills. The town is crawling with them. It makes San Francisco look like as flat as a bowling alley. So after having dinner and finishing a bottle of wine at another restaurant, we staggered off into the night looking for Fado.

The other thing about Lisbon is not only do they have a lot of hills but the streets (and sidewalks) are covered with these tiny glazed stones which make it very hard to walk— especially if you have been drinking.

After stumbling along these tiled uneven streets and getting lost in alleys and narrow streets with no names we somehow found the place and walked through the door. There was a foyer with a couple of women hanging around smoking cigarettes and drinking wine. One of them came up to us and we identified ourselves as the couple from the hotel who wanted to only drink some more and listen to music. We were led into a dinning area which was dim and empty except for a few groups just finishing their meals. There was absolutely nothing going on. We sat down and ordered a bottle of wine.

“You have had enough to drink already” Sharon said. “Don’t drink too much.”

“Of course not.” I lied.

We sat around for about half an hour and still nothing was going on. Finally one old guy from one of the tables finished off his glass of wine and went over to the small stage and sat down, picked up a guitar and started tuning it. Across from us at the other end of the room sat two guys and a woman who had been sitting there smoking cigarettes and drinking wine since we got there. One of the guys put out his cigarette and went over to the stage and adjusted one of the chairs as another guy entered the room from the kitchen with a cigarette in his mouth, sat down, picked up a guitar and started strumming it. The show was about to begin.

It ended as soon as it began. After singing two songs, the first guitarist went back to his friends at the table and started to drink some more wine. The singer returned to his table with the other guy and woman who had been smoking continuously and lit up another cigarette. The other guitarist went back into the kitchen. The lights came back on and we noticed that except for another couple, we were the only people left in the room. Sharon and I looked at each other, blankly like two lost schmucks.

“Is that it?” I asked.

Obviously it wasn’t because after about 20 minutes , the two guitarists appeared again and this time one of the other guys at the table across the room from us, put out his cigarette and went up to the stage. All he did was crack a joke to one of the guitarists who was tuning his instrument an then left the stage to go back to his table and light up another cigarette. The two guitarists began to play a little tune which lasted for about 2 or 3 minutes and the set was over. It began to dawn on us that drinking wine and chain-smoking were the inspirational tools for Fado singers.

We hung around for about half an hour longer with nothing happening and then said fuck-it and got up to leave. As we walked past the table with the three chain-smoking singers, one of them suddenly got up, butted out his smoke and blocked our exit.

” No, no, don’t go” he said in minimal English. “More to come be patient drink wine” and pointed us back to our seats..

As soon as we returned to our seats the young girl in the photo who we had not yet seen walked through a curtain from the kitchen, came on the stage and started singing. After three songs they took an other cigarette break and then the older woman from the photo came on stage and sang four songs and then the all returned to their places for another cigarette and then finally the guy on the right who never looks at the audience or camera came out and sang a few. By now it was about 2:00 AM and things were lowing down. Once they began to set the table for their meal, we decided it was time to leave, but not before taking a few pictures. I asked the guy at the table if I could take their photo and they all smiled and said yes. They all promptly butted their cigarettes in unison and came out into the foyer for their pictures.

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