In the Mouraria district, one of the most authentic but also multicultural neighborhoods of Lisbon, right at the foot of the church of São Cristovão, the ancient Santa Maria de Alcami Mozarabic, we find a shop that makes Vintage a way of life. This is Paolo’s Tropical Bairro.
Italian, from Monza, born in 1979, in Lisbon since 2016. Paolo’s story with Lisbon is that of many foreigners who have ended up being adopted by the Lusitanian city. Arriving here on vacation, Paolo is struck by the city, its extraordinary light, and begins to think that perhaps Lisbon could be the beginning of a new project.
The vintage world has been part of Paolo’s life for many years. And, to be honest, with his story he opens up a world to me. He explains to me that in reality there is what is defined as a subculture that is linked to the vintage world, with gatherings, thematic parties, complete with dress code, and a whole world linked to collecting, music, objects. A world truly to be discovered. And Paul is there to project us into this universe.
Before arriving in Lisbon, he lived in Milan and was mostly dedicated to online sales and at some fair. But his idea had been for some time to create a place, in which to unite various aspects of this culture. Then the holiday in Lisbon and many evaluations: the place, the cost of living, the bureaucracy to follow to open a place there and so he begins to think about it seriously. And in the end, the big change. He arrives here and opens a first shop, in society, and in the meantime begins to integrate into the Italian community.
Among the first people he met was the writer Daniele Coltrinari (author of Lisbona é un’assurda speranza, editor’s note) and then the community of Italians in Lisbon. And so day by day Paolo takes his place in his new city. And he comes to live in Mouraria.
And the Mouraria will be the second big turning point. One day, the lady who owns this shop, which sold jewels, ceramics and local handicrafts, approaches Paolo and tells him that she had heard of his she was looking for a place all her own and proposes to rent him this shop. And Paolo accepts. And so Tropical Bairro was born.
But Paul’s life is much fuller and more complex than that. And then Alex and I follow him, to try to understand all the various facets of his “typical” day.
11:00 am: the shop is open and it’s time to start.
Paolo sets up the shop and puts on some good music. Oh yes, the music, which just cannot be missing. Because Tropical Bairro is not a normal shop, but more an expression of Paolo’s love for vintage culture.
In the shop we find clothing, vintage of course, and collectible records. Two different but complementary products, two expressions of the same culture.
Paolo arranges the clothes on the stands with care and great precision, and then, behind his counter, he devotes himself to music.
This is a passion that he carries with him as a kid. And Paolo is also a DJ.
But let’s not rush too much, let’s go in order. We had arrived at the shop.
There are more chaotic days, others calmer, some customers come in to take a look, someone buys. Others stop for a small talk. And Paolo continues to tell his story, while he polishes his beloved vinyls and plays some music.
The atmosphere here is obviously different from that of a classic shop. The background music, the relaxed atmosphere, make it an extremely pleasant environment, where people come in and feel at ease.
And I keep chatting with Paolo, who tells me about his past as a scenographic builder and his collaborations also with Italian TV, a job that accompanied him from his 19 to 27 years more or less.
And then the passion for music that has never been lacking.
What is most striking about being with Paolo at his shop is the comings and goings not only of the customers but also of the people of the neighborhood.
So I take the opportunity to ask him what it was like to be, as a foreigner, in such a popular neighborhood. But Paolo immediately tells me that he never had the feeling to be a foreigner in the Mouraria. The important thing, he explains to me, was to maintain a low profile, not to impose himself, but to respect the place where he is. Knowing how to integrate with the people who were already there. And today Paolo has integrated very well into that spirit, typical of Mouraria, which welcomes you into his “family” creating a bond between “neighbors” rather than between competing shops.
“And how do you manage the shop, the purchases, in particular of discs?” I ask him. And Paolo explains to me that that is the most complicated part because, if technology comes and help him for clothes, with online research and suppliers, for vinyls it is more complicated. Most come from private collections and the purchase is often the result of more elaborate work. Paolo must make an appointment, visit the collection, evaluate, and then deal with the aspect of the buying. And sometimes it’s also about making long enough trips to contact collectors.
Being able to manage everything on your own, therefore, can be really complicated at times.
But the working day is almost over, at least as far as the shop is concerned. And Paolo prepares to close.
But I take time out of one last question: “Why Tropical Bairro?” Paolo explains to me that the name comes from the link with music, the rhythms of the tropics that are so much part of his culture and his musical passion. And he wanted to pass it on in the name of his shop as well. At the same time he wanted a link with Lisbon and its Bairro (ed. District). And playing a little with Portuguese and English in the title, “Tropical Bairro” came out
19h: It’s really time to close. The sun has become less intense, a Pakistani child plays football, someone drinks a beer on the steps of São Cristovão, and the shutters of the Tropical Bairro are lowered.
But our story is not over!
As I told you, there is a passion that has always accompanied Paolo since he was a teenager, and that is music. And he has always dedicated himself to DJ’s job.
I ask him how this passion of his was born and he explains to me that it all began with films and soundtracks. When cinematic music struck him, he would go in search of the film’s soundtrack and from there to the song, then the artist and his music. A real research.
And this is how Paolo discovers Reggae music, the American one of the 1950s, and begins to discover the influences between Jamaican music and that of New Orleans. And then the Latin, Brazilian and above all African, in particular that of Cape Verde and Angola.
And it was precisely the music that welded the meeting between Paolo and our Alex, who knows Cape Verdean culture and music well, who worked in Angola. And it is from there, from the common passion for this music, that a meeting, “um dia de cada vez”, was transformed into a friendship.
And when the shop’s shutters are lowered, the curtain rises on Paolo DJ, on his ability to mix sounds from many countries.
After all, he confesses to me, one of the things that fascinated him about Lisbon was the musical culture that came from the former Portuguese colonies.
10pm: Time to start. The vinyls are ready, Paolo has prepared his selection.
And there he is, with his original headset in the shape of a telephone handset, in perfect vintage style of course, to slide the vinyls on the plates. And his music spreads.
“What do you feel when you play? Do you get lost a bit in your world and in your music? “, I ask him. And Paolo explains to me that it is precisely what he tries not to do, to isolate himself in his music. For him it is important to share, to be able to convey those same emotions to those who are listening to him, to observe those around him to also see his reaction to the music of that moment.
“It’s not always easy,” he explains to me. “You have to know how to adapt to the place and occasion in which you are”.
On some occasions Paolo’s music plays the background in a lounge bar, other times it animates parties and evenings in which the “must” is to dance.
And it is in his role as DJ that Paolo is probably more comfortable than him.
What is certain, whether when you enter the Tropical Bairro, or when the Tropical Bairro comes to you through his music, you cannot help but be carried away by this fascinating world about which Paolo still has a lot to tell.