So, another Lisbon dusk; another hillside mirador. It was Holy Saturday cued by a sign for an Easter egg hunt that seemed to have been postponed for a fat storm cell that ended up swinging wide. The sign was in Portuguese but heavily illustrated. When Carrie pointed it out to Vanessa and endeavored to provide an explanation, the child said, “On it!” and dashed off.
She darted past a group of toddlers crawling at a furious pace, ready to battle over any morsels they encountered. It brought me back to one of my first dates with Carrie where a gallery’s video installations entailed a fair amount of wandering in the darkness. Bill Viola’s Passage started as a narrow, six-meter corridor with a splash of vibrant color at the far end. Those braving the tight space ended up sharing a wide, standing-room-only enclosure with few other intrepid souls and a wall taken up by a 5×4 meter blow-up of a small child’s birthday party film slowed from 20 minutes to nearly seven hours.
For the duration of our viewing time, a two-year old, just learning to coordinate his limbs, very slowly tore into colorfully-wrapped presents like Godzilla prying Tokyo apart. Other partygoers clustered ferociously. The chatter at reduced speed was a menacing roar, making the spectacle of ripping into prey positively gruesome. Mildly stoned, we had lingered for a fair while.
By this stage of the reunion trip, Dave and Carole had no need to impress us with their mastery of the invisible parental leash. Vanessa’s head bobbed in the foreground as we drank in the cityscape along with Alentejo reds from the wine kiosk. From this vantage, a fat slice of central Lisbon was flickering like a body with MRI illumination firing up, car traffic featured in the role of bloodstream. Some of those zany mural-covered buildings pulsed in the headlights like tiny neon displays.
Close by, a kestrel falcon was perched on a spindly branch of a London plane tree. Not remotely concerned that it was so poorly-concealed, the raptor gave all sentient life a leisurely scope as if perusing a menu. A blue jay in a nearby magnolia tree was vividly set off against the violet blossoms and making way too much noise, more an agitated clapping of a dinner bell than bird song. It was, no doubt, doomed. The anticipation got sickening and we struggled to keep our conversation elsewhere. I doubt that anyone wasn’t checking on the status of Vanessa’s distraction at that point.
There was a great rustling sound and the falcon bulleted towards, then past us, just clearing a couple of low wrought iron fences. It boomeranged back to the open lawn area beneath its plane tree. Struggling with something in its claws, it fluttered its entire splendid wingspan while bouncing 6-12 inches repeatedly as if trying to subdue some feisty prey. Oddly, some of the bounces were diagonal. I caught myself mouthing “boing, boing” like a low-budget foley ensemble.
Carrie’s android had a zoom lens. Once it was focused, she passed it to me with a smirk. Springy gobs of vivid pink skeined with each lift-off, stretching taut and snapping back, the falcon seemingly stuck again each time it landed. Evidently, it had snatched one of the egg hunt remnants, a fat, wet gob of stickum resembling Bazooka Joe bubblegum, and was not trampolining but tethered. I got an inordinate kick out of this scenario, seeing the works gummed up for a predator and a few safe hours ahead for the local fauna. The blue bird hadn’t shut up yet.
I was having a real giddy moment and there was a notepad handy so I had to jot this down. While I was scribbling away, the falcons did another low run and landed behind the bench adjoining ours. People gathered excitedly at the spot, calling out fun observations like, “That damn squirrel’s still alive” and more in the same tone but thankfully beyond my grasp of Portuguese. Also groans and sobs and one “cool!”.
I worked faster on my whimsy about the falcon and its chewy treat as if it had incantatory power to come true. Didn’t do the squirrel a damn bit of good. It felt right for a moment though, a compelling alternative truth that maybe failed because I didn’t try hard enough. The squirrel, already half-gutted, broke free for just a few seconds before it was re-pinned. I sped up, probably no longer legible, as the falcon struck a majestic pose with a beak full of squirrel viscera.
He continued to dispatch the squirrel, periodically eliciting gasps with additional displays of full wing span as if modeling for a banner. Maybe enough focus, enough force of will could have saved it. Magic is not for the faint of heart. And the Bazooka Joe effect was just kneading pink innards, like a kitten playing with its fresh catch. A falcon’s got to eat.
Being Easter Eve did not tip the scale. If the resurrection had gone down this weekend a couple of millennia back as reported in the New Testament, you know there were worms in the crypt Sunday morning saying, “Jesus Christ, where’s our goddamn breakfast?”
Vanessa bounded back from a very thorough Easter Egg Hunt reporting, “Nothing here but a few dead mice, “she motioned to the falcon, “Looks like this guy is having a good Easter.”
Dave got it out first, “Dang, this child is growing up fast!” and the adults all nodded emphatically.
Vanessa had a wounded expression, “That’s not a problem, is it? You want me to watch and learn. You know the falcon is only eating Easter eggs in the land of make believe.”
“Sorry, dudette. Hard not to treat you like a kid sometimes.”
“You saying falcons can’t chew gum?”, I ventured.
The tyke packed a gentle wallop, gentler than I deserved.