memoirs, art and fragments by Thomas Milner

Archive for October 12, 2011

My moment of Zen

My first day as Director of Studies of our school in Porto.

… By 6.00 o’clock I was feeling rather weary and the confident, alert but friendly expression I’d been wearing all day was beginning to slip out of place as though gravity was trying to pull it down.

I asked one of the secretaries where I could find somewhere nearby to get something to eat. She indicated a café a couple of streets away from the school and recommended a typical spicy sandwich called a francesinha. I made my way down to the Café Majestic and sat down at a table on a long leather bench. I relaxed and admired the 19th century ornate but faded décor.

(Over the years I was to spend a lot of time there, on that green leather bench under the speckled mirror).


A waiter came up and I ordered one of those francesinha things and a glass of beer. When the sandwich arrived I examined it dubiously; I couldn’t actually see the contents of the thing because it was covered in a small mountain of yellowish sauce; after prodding the liquid gingerly with my fork I discovered various bits of meat, sausage and whatever. I struggled with it manfully before giving up and pushing it aside. Beside me on the bench at the next table sat a small elderly lady, respectably (but oddly) dressed in a little brown suit trimmed with pieces of rabbit. This person had been watching me trying to eat the sticky sandwich and, when I moved it aside, she leaned forward and asked me if I had finished with it; on my dumbly nodding, she whipped out a napkin from her handbag and in one smooth practiced movement she scraped the ruins from my plate, wrapped it up in the napkin, popped it into the bag which she then clicked shut with a snap. Then the mad old bat got up and walked out into the street, leaving me open-mouthed.

I had arrived in a city of magic; it was my moment of Zen.

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