Remote Year, Month 4: Lisbon — The Land of Comfort And Hashish
10 seconds after arriving in Lisbon, I saw a black hoodie and heard a hiss.
Psssssssssssssssssssssssssssst … hashish?
No thanks. Dinner time.
My mother said not before dinner!
I laughed. Did I look like a dude who wanted hashish, cocaine, marijuana — in that order?
Turns out, psst, cocaine, hashish, marijuana, no thanks, was just Lisbon’s theme song.
Remote Year has to find apartments for ~70 people throughout a random European/South American/Asian/North African city. There’s a wide variety in accommodations.
They accommodate preferences well — internet, location, roommates, etc. — or if you’re like me I’ll live in a closet with Hitler if there’s A/C— but still, you never know what you’re gonna get, and a few people are gonna get (relatively) screwed each month.
We get our housing assignments early, so you see a random street name, and you get irrationally excited or sad based on your disposition.
Will it be a quiet month? Fun month? A month without a laundry machine, and you’re lazy, so it’s a smelly month?
I heard I’d be living on “Pink Street” with about 25 others, that it was Lisbon’s “party street,” and I chose to be optimistic. Fun month!
But I probably should have remembered that in traveling parlance, the words “party” and “fun” often mean “douchey tourists” and “filled with vomit.”
There was a lot of vomit on Pink Street.
Lisbon was almost everyone’s favorite city so far — how could it not be?
Gorgeous, serpentine, cobblestone streets. Trams and a bridge like San Francisco. Friendly, beautiful people, like to the point you couldn’t concentrate. Two euros for a good bottle of wine. Locals drinking in the streets til 2am in Bairro Alto — then a few plus hordes of foreigners staying out ’til 6 or 7 at Pink Street. And the food.
... the fucking food.
At any restaurant, you could get grilled fish for ~8 euros and it’d be a top-10 fish dish you’ve ever had.
Or you could pay 20% more for the touristy, gourmet food court, Time Out Market — the rare worthwhile tourist trap.
I went to Asia for six weeks, and everyone kept asking me, what are you gonna do? All I could think of was, eat, and that’s basically all I did. Zero regrets, infinite sensual memories— from dim sum to arak to korean barbeque to pho to anything at any street food place, pad thai to liver skewers.
While you overachievers are looking at Cathedral #72, I’m eating scorpion salad, cricket wok, tarantula donuts, and waterbug skewers at Bugs Cafe in Siem Reap, and having orgasm #443.
Fine, the waterbugs grossed me out.
I loved Lisbon. I could live there.
Seriously, every time I walked home from anywhere — typically after a productive day at our lovely workspace, Galerias São Bento — there’d be a line of people pssssssssssssssssting.
Not as smelly as pisssssssssing, but a similar sound.
Hashi — No!
Had a nice meal? Pssssssssssssssst. Just get back from a side trip? Pssssssssssssssst. Just get back from smoking hashish?Psssssssssssssssssssssssssst.
It pssssssssst me off.
My freshman year, random college roommates, who quickly became two of my best friends, visited me a few days into Lisbon.
We ate and drank and walked and talked and drank (and drank) nonstop for three days, and it was a blast. We sang inside jokes into Snapchats, and one of my friends commandeered a microphone from a Portuguese band to give us a “shoutout.” They were confused. We were amused.
As great as it is to start with a blank slate, it’s nice to be reminded that you have some slates at home and they’re nice too.
Two days after they left, my cousin arrived, and we did similar things. Also a blast.
But after back-to-back visits, I just wanted to read and work and sleep and be sober. I’d chill out the rest of the month, I swore.
… but then it was Startup Weekend! A 3-day marathon in which you’re supposed to fully build, and ideally sell, a product.
When my smart, ambitious friend said she wanted to “disrupt the airline industry,” I knew we’d have no shot in winning or following 12% of the rules, and I knew I had to join.
We spent three days researching airlines and airplane rentals and airport fees and arguing and we distilled “disrupt air travel” to “crowdfund an airline,” with realistic numbers, a solid message, and, of course, a last-place finish.
Another team, Carrot App, followed the rules and crushed it and won deservedly.
The weekend was a blast and stretched my brain.
OK, after Startup Weekend, I could finally chill out. Read, work, health!
But everyone said I had to go to Lagos.
So I went to Lagos and beached so hard and and sang along to a killer guitarist (thanks, Sean!) at the beach watching sunset, and kayaked and sat on a ledge watching waves alone, which changed my life, and went out too late … and on the way home, my friend and I were like, yeah that was great … but after a vacation with 10 people don’t you feel like you need a vacation?
We agreed. I didn’t talk to anyone for two days.
The night my cousin left, I went out and got too drunk and offended a lovely Croatian girl because I couldn’t see and therefore think straight.
The final night of Startup Weekend, I went out and got too drunk and almost lost my backpack, which contained my only valuable belonging (laptop).
After Lisbon was Rabat. I’ve had like three drinks in 20 days here and offended zero Croatians.
Remote Year is a sitting in the passenger’s seat of a Ferrari that’s flooring it, singing with the wind in your hair, then realizing, shit, there are spikes, and hitting the emergency break.
Then sitting patiently until you catch your breath, when the driver floors it again.
I’ve never understood “balance” anyway.
There are so many places I missed in Portugal. And the U.K. And Serbia. And Czech Republic. But what about the cities? I barely saw anything in Lisbon. And London. And Belgrade. And Prague!
I didn’t go out enough. I didn’t hang out enough one-on-one. I didn’t meet enough locals. Get more social, you lazy fuck!
But wait! I didn’t get enough work done. I wasn’t healthy enough. I feel like shit. Why didn’t I work out, play sports, read more?
I was never good at seesaws. I just wanted to interrupt and jump on someone’s back so everyone could laugh at the bedlam.
Balance is boring. Or maybe it really is healthy, and I’m just immature.
I think writers write because they want to make sense of life’s chaos and draw conclusions.
How does one find balance without squashing fun?
I don’t know!
Socrates knew one thing, that he knew nothing. I know one thing.
When life gives you poop, make poop jokes.
Hashish, cocaine, marijuana twice a day was annoying. So was our building’s ongoing construction and the noise outside ’til 6am.
But more importantly, they fueled our best jokes. The cocaine wasn’t really cocaine, and certainly looked like flour, and there weren’t many better Lisbon memories than our friend with celiac shouting “is it gluten free?” as they offered him fake cocaine for the 973rd time.
Flour, erasers, oregano would’ve been a more realistic theme song.
It irks me a little bit that we loved Lisbon so much. It was so … easy.
Almost none of us have Portuguese friends. I don’t. I know obrigado (thank you) and bacalhao (cod), and where to find drunk tourists (Pink Street, or Rua da Cavar-something).
We just get a taste of each city and culture. If we’re lucky, we get a bowl of soup in a five-course meal.
Going to Morocco, Mexico, Colombia, Peru and Argentina will be like going from a tempurpedic mattress to a quirky tent. Will everyone be happy when things are more interesting, but less comfortable?
I’d like to think so, but then why was Lisbon our runaway favorite?
Then again, I enjoyed Prague the most. Because I hung out and got to know everyone the most. The group — the potpourri of age, intellect, personality, quirks — is easily the number-one attraction.
Two days into Morocco, everyone was discussing shitting their brains out.
It was the first piece of smelly, uncomfortable evidence.
But there’s a long way to go, and there will surely be an adjustment period.
One day I was walking back from Galerias, and managed to avoid the hashish guys. I was zoned out a bit, comfortable. A normal-looking blonde woman, mid-50s-ish, locked eyes with me and smiled. I smiled and she said hi. British tourist, I guessed.
Where you from? I figured she wanted directions or something and wanted to see if I was local. New York, I said, smiling.
You like sex?
I snapped out of my daydream and realized, no, this woman isn’t a normal-looking tourist, she’s a weathered Pink Street Prostitute with Crazy Eyes.
I said no thank you and put my head down and shuffled to my apartment, but as I left, I received a large smack on my ass and a cackle that I’ll never forget.
But if I was looking for comfort, shouldn’t I have stayed at home?
Signing up for discomfort means you never know which brand you’ll get. Some days, the challenge will make you grow. Other days, you’ll be ass-slapped by a stealthy, haggard prostitute.
All you get is a scarred memory and a funny story.
But it’s better than sitting on my couch, even if it’s whore-free.
Even comfortable places gift weirdness. At every corner in Lisbon, there was graffiti about “Baco” the snitch.
We’re on safely to Morocco — I hope Baco has a fraction of our fortune.