Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Living la vida Lisbon

Lisbon is a nice but small city, and -- as I´m beginning to see -- its very poor. I´ve been told Portugal is one of the poorest countries in the E.U., but I never quite felt that until yesterday, when I decided to walk to the other side of the city, where a statue of Jesus overlooking the city (like the one in Rio) and a large red bridge (like the Golden Gate) stand.

On that walk, I saw how the buildings, even the historic European monuments, were in utter disrepair; the people in baggy and old clothes; the cars, each and every one of them, old beaters. The architecture is reminiscent of Spain but the maintenance .... well, even Nepal, of all places, does a better job of maintenance. One underemployed psychologist with whom I ate lunch today, Giselle, told me its common in Lisbon to see lawyers working as shoe store associates, journalists pouring coffee. There are no jobs here, she said; there haven´t been for six or seven years.

Maybe this explains why the people of Portugal seem so much friendlier than the people of Spain.

They also have a penchant, it seems, for staying out late .... Frederico keeps taking me out in the evenings to see the ´Lisbon lifestyle,` and it seems people here are 35 going on 19. Monday night was what Frederico called an `early night,` meaning we got home at 2 a.m. Tuesday night, I stayed out until 5 a.m. until I saw that no one else had any intention of leaving; at that point, I bade farewell to my newfound Portugese friends and walked home.

`You see, we enjoy life!` said John, a thirtysomething Portugese who came out with us both Monday and Tuesday. `Leave the hard work to the Germans!`

Its a different scene .... no one drinks very much, certainly not as much as Americans drink, but they stay out LATE, having conversations and listening to music and dancing. You wonder how they don´t get bored of it after decades upon decades of the same thing, but maybe there´s not much else to do. Or maybe it morphs into a passion. I don´t know.