Sim/Não: Lisboa, Portugal

Every city I’ve been to thus far I have built some resentment for. One, bits and pieces of me wish I could stay longer and experience more. The second reason is that after leaving, or sometimes mid-visit, I feel used. I see all the other tourists there, snapping away, and realize that I will have spent all this time and money to amass the same photo album as every Tom, Dick, and Harry. I always wanted to use that phrase.

Of course, experiences occur in 4-D and are not necessarily flattened to 2 just because you have a duplicate photograph. There is an amount of scavenger huntism to tourism, though, and as much as we’d all like to think otherwise, we’ve most likely fallen for the city’s curated checklist sans poverty and issues affecting the people. Eiffel Tower? Check. Mona Lisa. Check. Gaudi. Check. Tapas. Check. Etcetera, etcetera, etc.

I also realize that it is a symbiotic relationship whereby I go into a foreign land, start yapping away in English and acting a fool in general, and expect to get a bit of a free pass.

You have the sights, I have the money: Let’s make a deal.

There have been times in the past month where I have stopped feeling like a tourist and become a visitor. As huge as Las Fallas is, there are relatively few English speakers wandering the streets. While I was instantly recognized as a tourist and offered whatever schlock they might be selling, I still felt like a visitor in Tangier because the place is so wholly foreign to me; not just in language.

But as far as Western Europe goes, I have felt like less of tourist in Portugal (save for Lagos) than anywhere else. I’m no student of Portuguese history and don’t really know much about its true history, but it feels like it has been bypassed for the last 4 or so centuries. Portugal, and specificially, Lisboa, also appear to be a prescient example to nations as to what may happen if you make a few missteps in world politics.

Because at one time Portugal was one of just a few super powers when things were built to last, a walk through the city can resemble a time capsule. Ornate marble fountains, hulking statues, and buildings that were old when the constitution was being signed line most streets, but they are no longer to their full splendor: windows are blown out and boarded up, fountains dry, monuments and walls sprayed with aerosols.

From the little bit I did read, I guess Portugal never regained its full swagger after Spain gave it back its sovereignity. Culturally, the nation retarded and/or was stuck. All this makes it sound negative, but as a visitor it is fascinating. Old women still carry cargo on their head. I saw a horse milling about in city limits. It’s what I imagine the rest of the region was like pre-war. In parts, at least.

In others it shows itself to be thoroughly modern. The night club scene is infamous. John Malkovich co-owns a club! Ritzy fashion designers have set up shop on the main avenues. These parts make it even more intriguing. It is one thing for rich and poor to live next door to one another but quite another for two (or three, or four) different centuries to do the same.


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