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On a Long Story, Short

May 11, 2017

A little wedding present for you, S. and F., though it cannot do your own beautiful story justice.


I wish you both love, always.





It is just past four pm in Lisbon, in the Praça de San Luís. Peak pigeon and gelato hour; tourist season has just begun. The square is overrun with them. I should really say: with us. Underneath our feet, it is difficult to see the black and white Manueline mosaics. But we are not looking down anyway; the view overhead is sublime. Against the sharp blue sky the praça is lined with lilac-flushed jacaranda trees.


We eavesdrop on a guide addressing a group of sunglass, khaki wearing Anglophones. Long story short, he begins. We giggle. In Portugal, there is no such thing. In this country, stories, days are long. Sardines are rich. Wine is deep. Time is meant to be wasted. Time wasted is not lost, if wasted in good company.


Well we have time, each other’s company, and mild weather to enjoy. Too early for sardines and wine; we discreetly join the tour.


As the guide was saying, long story short, the Phoenicians first gave Lisboa its name : a ‘Pleasant Haven’ or ‘Safe Harbor’ in which to rest along their way. The Portuguese would later explore and expand their own long and vast trading routes, to America, Brazil, to India, East Timor, Macau, around the African horn. They would find a way to circumvent the Silk Road, turn kitchen tiles into art, elude Napoleon by moving to Rio, bring a fascist dictator down. The guide keeps talking as we make our own way down the hill to the Praça de Commerce.


To the old Customs building, to the left of the harbor, where there used to be a market place. Long story short, here they sold the metals, ceramics, tomatoes, garlic, onions, rice, spices, herbs that they had found when they crossed the oceans and reached the shores of the New World.


You take my hand. Our own long story, short, is not too different. We had crossed the ocean from different worlds too to meet in Montreal. We had sought education, opportunity, adventure, found those and one another as well. Some would say it was fate; the Portuguese call it fado. Speaking of which,


we follow the guide to the old Moorish, Jewish quarter of the city. Alfama, where the soulful melody they call fado pours out of cafés into the street. The traditional music, he explains, lives here, was born here, like the generations that have filled these homes for centuries. We lose ourselves willingly in the labyrinth of pedestrian streets crisscrossed with winding stairs. Time, and the 1755 earthquake never quite made it here. Ageless women sit on ageless doorsteps. Olá, bom dia. We walk by.


One lady holds out a bottle of homemade Ginjinha. An old family recipe, the guide explains: sour Morello cherries infused in alcohol and sugar, fermented, traditionally, for months. It smells and looks divine. For a euro, you and I share a thimble of the liquor. The luscious, carnation red liquid coats our tongues and goes straight to our hungry heads.


We follow the sound of fado up the rua São Pedro, and the smell of melting cheese, meat, fish, bread. In a small enclosure, under an orange tree – Portokali, in Greek – a small group of neighbors has gathered over a large pot of soup and rusty charcoal grill.


Long story short, it is a Portuguese tradition to gather, mingle, eat, drink, share. Sardines y bacalhau are laid on the grill to sizzle next to slabs of smoked presunto. Ladles of thick, creamy vegetable soup are poured, bread ripped and passed around to sop it up. No one goes hungry, no one eats alone. Not even foreigners; they give us a bowl.


We share it, as we do everything, you and I. Neither of us ever eats alone either. We have never been lonely since we met. Montreal is not as cold.


Obrigado, obrigada. The last of the sparse Portuguese words we know. They will not take our coins so we offer the fruits in our backpacks in thanks. Apples and pears, and sweet oranges that, long story short, centuries ago, the Portuguese brought back from a trip to India and planted in Europe.


These particular oranges we had picked yesterday, in the orchard where we had stopped for a little shade and rest on our journey to Lisbon in a rented Volkswagen Up. To make a long story short, there, in a patch of moist and fragrant grass, I had promised to love you, to love life, in sickness and in health. You had promised to love me and life, you had kissed me. Just like that, we had become husband and wife.


Now it is nine pm in Lisbon, dusk has just set, and the tour is coming to an end. The evening, and our story, are just starting, however. The city has just begun to light up. We steal away from the group of sunglass, khaki wearing tourists and their guide, and walk toward whatever will come our way next tonight.


Tonight we will dance, sing, eat, drink, walk through this city’s cold stone walls, through uncertainty and poverty and whatever else fado will bring us. I will ride the tram up with you to Graça for the view, and with you, also ride it down. And when we hit the bottom we will share a pastel de Nata; a cinnamon sprinkled custard tart.


We will be in love and content with where and who we are. We will waste time, drink café, waste time and drink café some more, till it is four twenty in the morning and we are back in the Praça de San Luís.


The square with the lilac trees will be empty and quiet at the end of the long story and night. We will look down and see the mosaics of ships and mermaids and seafarers’ family crests. Perhaps there will be another couple there, like us, but they will not be older than eighteen. He will be holding her hand, walking her along and around the fountain ledge. Perhaps we will look at them, them at us, from opposite sides of the fountain, square, lilac, stars.


Who knows? We are not there yet. This story is, beautifully, still long.


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