When you go down the streets of Alfama, through the long staircase that starts from Largo das Portas do Sol, the one in which the remains of the old wall take you back to distant times, Dora, a classic Portuguese mother, welcomes you in the portico of a house.
A loving mother who doesn’t forget to kiss or caress her children.
And Lisbon guides cannot fail to get to know her, because when you pass through Alfama, her kind look and cheerful greeting are inevitable.
And that’s how I met her, because as I passed by that street, her smile and her kindness always impressed me. And when she didn’t see me pass by for a few days, she asked everyone who knew me about my news. And since then, she adopted me, since then I’m “her daughter” and when I need a hug from Mom, Dora’s never fails.
Dora sells ginjinha on the street, the traditional cherry liqueur, enriched with sugar, cinnamon and brandy, which, according to tradition, was already sold in the 19th century as a remedy for sore throats.
In Lisbon it’s a tradition, a little glass of ginjinha can’t be missed. And whoever comes to Lisbon as a tourist can’t fail to try the ginjinha and usually do so in one of the city’s bars.
But Dora sells the ginjinha on the street, like in the old days. The municipality of Lisbon allows it, in the old area of Alfama, in exchange for a monthly fee.
And before this pandemic, during the popular festivals in June, Dora also prepared the traditional rice pudding with her special recipe (Delicious!)
Dora is a woman from Alfama, it’s her neighborhood and she’s proud of it. It was here that she was born, in her grandparents’ house, a few streets from where she now lives. This is where she has always lived, on the same street where she was born, in a house nearby.
It was in Alfama that Dora met João. A love that was born when she was 13 and he was 18, crowned by marriage three years later. A great love embellished by three children. A love that cannot be forgotten. And the emotion starts to be felt, because João, her João, passed away few months ago. A void, the one he left in Dora’s life, that cannot be filled.
But she doesn’t want to make us sad and she doesn’t want to be sad, so she changes the subject.
She talks about her family, the children she loves, her grandson Dinis, born three years ago. And then Dora’s eyes shine again, the proud grandmother can’t resist showing us the last pictures of “the love of her life”.
So I ask her why this choice, why sell ginjinha on the street.
And Dora says that she has always worked, especially in restaurants, but a fractured leg in 1995 forced her to wear prostheses for four years and then to a pain that no longer allowed her to continue with her previous work.
And then she starts to get lost in the history of the past, she tells us about the first days after the wedding, the house they lived in, the in-laws’ house, always in Alfama of course, and that they had to leave years ago, following the laws that in Portugal, had allowed many evictions. So Dora and her family lost their home, the one where they were building their future, and moved to the one where Dora lives today.
“It was my great-grandmother’s house”, she tells us, then it was her mother’s and finally hers.
And many times Dora is there, at the window on the first floor, and all you have to do is call her down and ask a glass of ginjinha.
Dora’s story continues to go back in time and the portrait that emerges is that of a tireless and adventurous woman. Pregnant with her second child, and well into her pregnancy, she traveled between Spain and Portugal to work. And one day, in her eighth month of pregnancy, her second child was almost born during a trip.
Tireless, even with the baby’s belly, because she had to work, for the family.
The work never scared her.
And three years ago, a new idea, a new challenge. One day her son came home and said: “Mother, I know a lady who makes ginjinha at home. Why don’t you sell it? ”
Dora had decided to accept her son’s proposal, “she needed to work”, she says. But she was embarrassed.
And the first day she ended up with no customers. She wanted to give up. It was the perfect reason to do this, the excuse she needed for her son. But she didn’t. She decided to try again.
And today she continues, not only to earn something, but especially “because she doesn’t want to be alone at home”
She has no fixed hours; if she is not there, she tells us, just call her.
She positions herself there, under the door of her house, around 11am and then again some in the afternoon. It depends on the time, it depends on people’s passage.
But for Dora, this work hides a value far more important than money: people. The passage of people through the streets of Alfama, exchanging a smile with her, wishing her a good day, makes her feel good, doesn’t give her time to feel alone.
And Dora needs to surround herself with people, she who is so happy, sociable, smiling. It doesn’t take much. Sometimes her affectionate cry “Daughter!” it reaches me from far away on the street in Alfama, all you have to do is send her a kiss from afar or shout “how are you?” to see the smile in her eyes.
The pandemic was a heavy blow for Dora, and not only because the tourists disappeared and with them much of her work, but because fewer and fewer people passed through the streets of Alfama for many months. And those comings and goings that so fill Dora’s heart with joy no longer exist.
And then she anxiously waits for this period to end, for people to laugh again in the streets and hug each other without fear, come back to keep company, chatting and drinking a ginjinha.
That’s what Dora is. Chilly and covered in more coats in winter, with a classic dress in summer, but always her, and always there, under the door of her house, with her bottle of homemade ginjinha.
One euro for Dora’s ginjinha – says the sign hanging next to the banquet – one euro for the glass of liqueur, but above all for a smile, for her affection and for her incredible humanity.