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  • Writer's pictureRyder Lyne

2023-05-25 Standing in the Window

Standing in the Window

The disturbing racket of an argument on the street reached our third-floor hotel window late one night in Lisbon, Portugal. Mike rose from the chair to peer out. As an American, my first thought was: get away from the window, they might shoot you. Then I remembered, there are virtually no guns in Portugal. I scooted to the window to take stock. 

Several young men were holding back another young man volleying shouts with a shopkeeper. As the incident continued off and on for about an hour, I realized I was anticipating the sound of gunfire. The barrage of news of firearm deaths over the recent years had ingrained a fear in me. The police never came, and the streets went silent. Although I commiserated with the men, who were obviously distressed, it was reassuring that no firearms were available. 

The following day I witnessed an altercation between a man and a woman as they passed our table at an outdoor café. Evidently alerted earlier, five police officers arrived, spilling from a compact car and isolating the couple in a nearby building. The incident brought to mind the clown car of the circus when an inordinate number of clowns emerge from a mini-car. Within minutes, the cops returned to the car and drove away. At no time did anyone duck for cover.

There was a sense of safety in the Iberian peninsula that is missing from American streets. The primary risk was tripping over the slippery granite tiles paving the walkways. Then, of course, pickpockets in the cities. Despite apocryphal stories of thoughtful pickpockets who return passports and credit cards, keeping only the cash, I clutched my purse tightly. But I didn’t fear violence.

I confess: I worry about my grandchildren growing up in a society unable to resolve differences without violence. Strolling in the safety of Spain and Portugal, I was aware of the stress that I feel on the streets at home. I don’t know what happened to the shopkeeper and the belligerent young man or the unhappy couple. I know their disagreements didn’t end in death. Perhaps they reconciled the next day with coffee and Pastéis de Nata. Really, with all that good pastry, why waste life arguing? 

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