Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Lisbon: beautiful water-side city rolls out the red carpet

Lisbon, Portugal is a beautiful city. It ranges from winding, narrow, cobblestoned streets on steep hills, down to a flat area along the waterfront next to the Tagus River, which runs west to the Atlantic Ocean about six miles away.

Here's the basic stats:
Population: 681,063 (city); 2,000,000 (metropolitan area).
Ethnic mix: 70% Portuguese, 20% smaller minority communities from Macau, Brazil and other parts of Europe, 10% African.
Religion: Predominantly Roman Catholic.

Click here for cool Google satellite map of Lisbon, which is called Lisboa in Portuguese.

Immigration was a major theme in all of our city visits. I enjoyed the discussion and activities in Lisbon the best because, as in Copenhagen, we had a chance to talk directly with people affected by the process and policies. Portugal was a bit different though because, as you can see from the demographic info above, they have a relatively diverse population resulting from a long history of seafaring explorers and ties with several former colonies, including Brazil and Portuguese-speaking African Countries that includes Angola, Mozambique, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, São Tomé and Principe.

Portugal has been a member of the European Union since 1986. Although most EU members have been very cool to immigrants, Lisbon's political leaders have been relatively welcoming of them (within certain constraints).

An important fact to understand about Portugal's recent history is that it was a right wing dictatorship from 1926-74. Within my lifetime! A bloodless coup in '74 ended the dictatorship and led to a democratic government that set about correcting some of the problems of its past.

Given that history, the country's progress over the past 33 years is remarkable. They have strong democratic institutions, including the parliament that we had a chance to visit. Here are some pix.

Our Lisbon crew looking distinguished on the dais at the parliament.

The country's history of dictatorship would be referenced later when we had dinner with an Ambassador and several of his friends and the talk turned to the United States and its history of revolution.

One of the women there started talking reverentially about America's founding fathers and what they'd set in motion with the drafting of the constitution and the Federalist Papers. She was almost tearing up talking about democracy and, while moved almost to tears myself at her earnestness and regard for the institution of American values, to be honest, I was doing mental contortions trying to retrieve factoids from middle school history to dredge up the definition for the Federalist Papers. At the time, all I could remember were they were some sort of blueprint for how the country should be run.

To be more precise, thanks to Google, they were a series of 85 articles arguing for the ratification of the United States Constitution that were written by Alexander Hamilton (first Secretary of the Treasury), James Madison (4th President of U.S.), and John Jay (the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court). Read the whole shebang here for yourself and be moved too. To read them and what they proposed given Portugal's relatively recent history of dictatorship, I could understand the woman's fervor.

Setting aside for a moment my lingering consternation that women and people of color were not included in the Federalist Papers' original vision for the country, it's still a pretty amazing document, especially given how flexible it's been in the ensuing centuries to make up for its original deficits.

I left that dinner feeling more American than ever, and proud of it. Because that conversation and others during the trip underscored something many of us GMF fellows talked about when processing each city's adventures and activities. The people we were meeting, regardless of their feelings about the current U.S. administration (usually negative), admired America and Americans for our history, our approach, our propensity for action over discussion, our lack of angst over the past and historical lessons, and our work ethic, even as they talked derisively about us for some of those same traits.

They're like a guy sitting on the porch with a cool drink in hand surrounded by an overgrown lawn while pointing out the flaws in the techniques of a neighbor busy doing yardwork next door. "He's crazy to work in these temperatures," the man says aloud, while secretly wishing he too could pull himself out of the shade and into the heat of the day.

"But this is who we are," said the Federalist Papers-loving Portuguese woman at the dinner party. "We love to eat, to drink, to smoke, to make love. You may get more done, but we live a great life." Can't argue with that. :-)

Reminds me of the fable of the Mexican fisherman and the businessman. Click the previous link to read. I was reminded of this often during our trip as we had lively, lengthy dinners with people just enjoying us, each other and the sharing of time, with no thought to how late it was and what was to be gained from the interaction. I've vowed to try to bring some of that feeling home. I haven't yet succeeded in replicating it. :-)

More about the museum and settlement visits next.

1 comment:

  1. Great fable.

    I was just thinking that I should dedicate Fridays for posting, and by the time the Atlanta reunion happens, I should be done.