Amsterdam has its red light district, Hamburg the Reeperbahn, London’s Soho has a few peepshows (along with the Chinese restaurants and theatres). But in most cities prostitutes are a lot harder to find – though of course they’re out there. They always are. Every city has room for the oldest profession in the world. But you won’t find any sex shows in Lisbon, no openly advertised sleaze, and a rather modest lingerie shop is the raunchiest thing you are likely to see on the streets.
Lisbon does have a few massage parlours, as these shops are called euphemistically. Lolo works in one of them.
‘I am a masseuse. Or actually I’m a student. I study communications.’
She is 23, a small, pretty girl from Cape Verde.
‘But you work 6 days a week.’
‘For now, yes, but when the semester starts again in September, I will quit this job.’
‘Really? Why?’ She told me she had been doing this for a year already, although the massage parlour’s website says that it is been at least three years.
‘Because I won’t have the time then. And my boyfriend doesn’t like my job.’
‘Does he know you offer more than massages?’
‘No, he doesn’t.’ Though surely he must have his suspicions. The photos on the website, with her face scrambled, leave little to the imagination. Lulu had told me she offers massages, normal ones (‘Swedish’), sensual ones and body-to-body. ‘And the shower-de-luxe is fantastic’. And yes, if she likes the customer, if she knows him a bit, she has sex with him.
‘He’s got to be clean.’
‘How can you tell?’
‘I can tell from his body, but also from the way he acts. If he has a wedding ring, or dresses nicely, I have more reason to trust him.’
Her English is really good, she has learnt it from listening to music and from school, where many classes are taught in English. ‘And I learnt from foreign customers.’
‘You talk with them a lot?’
‘Yes, some come just to talk, because they like me. They tell me I’m funny.’
She is good company, but 150 euros seems likes a lot to pay for amusing conversation.
‘Would you say you have more foreign customers than Portuguese?’ We’re having a cup of coffee around the corner from the parlour, which is tucked away on the 6th floor of a residential building a couple of kilometres outside of the city centre. When I picked her up, a customer had just walked out of one of the rooms: a fat American in his late forties, wearing a Jimi Hendrix T-shirt and a baseball hat. He was sweating profusely and did not smell very good. I hope he wasn’t Lulu’s last customer.
‘Most are foreign. From Germany, from England. Some work here, they have good jobs. Portuguese can’t afford our massages, because of the crisis.’
‘Is it affecting you?’
‘No, I make quite a lot of money. And I live with my parents. Yes, they also know what I’m do, I think my mom knows everything, but she doesn’t want to judge me.’
‘Are you interested in Europe?’
‘Sure, why not? I’m a normal person. I vote.’
‘What do you think of it?’
‘It was really good when they helped to finance a lot of public works, like roads or bridges. And I like the EU a lot because now it is really easy to travel. My cousin lives in Berlin; next week I will visit her again. Easy and not very expensive. But this past year I think the EU has not been so good. They are forcing us to accept their conditions for their loans, making us dependant. But it will be all right in the end. We Portuguese are strong and we work hard.’
‘Do you feel Portuguese? Or Cape-Verdean?’
‘Both. I am proud of both my countries.’
‘Are you treated the same as Portuguese people who have a Portuguese background?’
‘White people you mean?’ She laughs a bit, probably because of my indirect way of asking. ‘Portugal is mixed. We have people from all over the world, from Brazil, Mozambique, Angola, Cape Verde. It is normal. And the Portuguese Portuguese aren’t exactly white,’ she laughs, ‘Not like you, Dutchy.’
She has to go, a customer is waiting for her. A regular one.
‘Yes. And he always brings me presents. For my birthday, he says, every time. He’s funny. And after that I will go home, and go shopping with my mom.’