Four Thousand Five Hundred Words and Counting

Joana Barrios came recommended. Twice. That was a good sign. (Because I know absolutely no one in Portugal, let alone vintage girls Lisbon.) At my friends’ request, I googled her and stalked her instagram account. She seemed like a goofy girl, with bold, mischievous eyes, a fortuitous boy’s hair cut and long, lanky legs. And I spotted a belly, about five months in I guessed. It suited her and didn’t seem to deter her kookiness. She was posting painted-on selfies with her handsome almost-husband, plates of pasta and random food compositions, for-sale signs and a whole raw chicken with eyeballs on its legs. I didn’t see pictures that appropriated her style per se, but I found out that she had worked in a vintage store in Barcelona for two years, and that she writes a blog and acts and just moved into a new place; the rarest of packages. And so it came about that on August 24th, at about 11 in the morning, I rang the doorbell at a wooden door on the Campo Mártires da Pátria in Lisbon, and a beautiful, pregnant girl in a featherlight, floral tent dress greeted me.

The apartment is sprawling, in a classic, old world kind of way: all the walls white, the furniture and floors wooden and the artful decorations antique or kitsch. She serves coffee in colorful cups her mom bought, walks around in Birkenstocks and shows me her favorite book. It’s pink, with a white mouse on the cover, and by an American author. She speaks perfect English, without hesitation, and talks about her past, present and future with so many words and so much fervor that I soon abandon the thought of speaking myself, except to ask if it’s OK to use the bathroom.

And apparently her writing is even better. Her blog is so good she got picked up by a national newspaper to write a weekly column, one of her many childhood dreams. “I wanted to be everything,” she remembers with a deep sigh. “There wasn’t enough time to become just one thing. But most of all, writer, actress, tour guide, interpreter and fashion designer. I always knew I loved to act and write. In class I’d write three texts instead of one and deliver them all to my teacher and would want to read them all out loud in front of the class.” Personally I got a taste of her literary obsession when I received her answers to my on-line interview: Nine pages long and a whopping four thousand five hundred words!

Joana doesn’t appear to have any problems getting dressed. Despite her protruding belly and proclaimed worries that none of her favorite pieces will fit anymore, she manages to produce a few amazing, quirky outfits. “My hips aren’t lying,” she laughs when we go through her closet, “they’re wider, and my waist is gone, so I have to stick to the funny looking loose dresses and to everything I always wore five sizes above mine. Basically the silhouette I’ve always enjoyed (50s bar) and thought favored me the most is temporarily out of order, so I go for the 80’s and 90’s trash, with all pleasure! I steal a lot of clothes from Carlos, but even that option is now unavailable! Oversized vintage is my game now!” And she’s acquired a pretty nice collection. “I go for shapes, not colors,” she says. “I like flashy shoes. I go for quality, classics and practical stuff. I can never leave the house with something uncomfortable because I never know where my day is leading me, so I feel like I want to be prepared for all occasions.” She’ll never wear vests, nor flip flops in the city, nor Lita boots by Jeffrey Campbell – “They’re just WRONG”. And she wishes “all way-too-revealing stuff would go away. I’ve seen so much skin I didn’t want to…!”

Carlos and Joana met at a club in Lisbon, called Lux. It’s a pricey place if you don’t have the right connections. Joana was covering the door the night Carlos threw a hissy fit. He got so mad for having to pay the entrance fee that he threw his ticket at her and nearly got kicked out. He was such an asshole that she didn’t even notice how good looking he was. “Even though he wasn’t a regular costumer, his face was familiar,” she recalls, “so I raided the internet to know who he was. His [bad] attitude had made me extremely curious.” She contacted him. Their talks turned into dinners that turned into friendship until one day they kissed. “We took things naturally slowly, but I’m sure Carlos’ frequent travels – [Carlos is a surf photographer] – got us closer and closer. Some months later we were so stoked to share everything that we decided to move in together. And now we’re having a baby and we couldn’t be more thrilled! I’m still waiting for a ring and a proposal though!”

Matriomonial issues aside, it’s a girl. And her looming little life is being prepared with much love. “The room will be just like our house: very simple, not too much information,” she observes, sitting on top of one of the unopened boxes. “The room should be like a white canvas for this little lady to enjoy and build as hers.” All the family members, his and hers, are contributing: Carlos’ mom saved all his 70s baby clothes, his sister surprised them with a Stokke crib, and her friends are all dying to throw the baby shower. It’s a happy household in the city that stole Joana’s heart. “Lisbon is a small town where you can live very amazingly,” she gushes. “Quality of life is evident everywhere you go. The bright sunlight. Beautiful things pop all over town, mixed with the trashiest details and the most ingenious fixes. Portuguese people are talented, gifted, amazing at improvising and managing to strive and fight back, but terribly lazy, envious and pretentious.” But she plans on teaching them. She plans on helping them unite and associate their powers. And I am positive she’ll have just the right amount of words to do so.

Joana’s recommendations in Lisbon:

– Nova Pombalina, in Rua do Comércio, where you can drink the best juices served by the best guys in town.

Lux, best club in town, set at the harbor, so stay until morning and watch the sun come up!

– Tartine, a patisserie in Chiado which is a family business where three sisters bake amazing cakes and are the best hosts in town.

Landeau for the best chocolate cake you’ll ever have melting in your mouth.

– TAO, the essential place to go for cleansing food, a natural restaurant with the best prices.

– If you want a cheap nice meal with an excellent view, for lunch, go to Cantina das Freiras, in Chiado.

– And one of the most amazing views over Lisboa is inside a store called Pollux.

September 9, 2014

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4 Responses to “Four Thousand Five Hundred Words and Counting”

  1. avatar
    Sofia Amaral Coelho - Reply

    Love, love her! So glad she was the one to ‘represent’ this beautiful city.

  2. avatar

    I feel like Joana invited me to her house… at least she gave me to know this blog! Great work both *

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