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September 2013: Despite the fringe of dryness in the deciduous trees, Lisbon remains steadfastly in late summer, and by mid-afternoon it's positively hot in the sun, which shines off the tiles of the pracas. Dakar is hot and rainy as we travel, we're told.

But despite the beauty and the old-world charm of Lisbon, I find myself feeling pity for it: Portugal's macro-economy is a mess, and the nation is in economic free fall. The whole capital looks and feels ragged: still charming and antiquated, but those two words are only a notch away from dilapidated and decrepit. What happened here?

I know the answer, sort of, thanks to a masters in development and a lot of coursework on public administration, macroeconomics, and the like. But Portugal is bearing the brunt of austerity measures, and nowhere is it more obvious than on main street, which is all but vacant with the exception of folks hawking souvenirs for tourists. There is no throbbing buzz of economic activity, and the rows of windows above the shop windows are mostly boarded up.

It was an illuminating and depressing experience to visit Lisbon directly from Berlin: the two antipodes of Europe's economy, Berlin and Germany thriving and even supporting other nations in the Eurozone, Portugal struggling and perhaps unsuccessfully at that. If I had more time to think and read about it, I'd have stronger opinions. Instead, I find myself back in Dakar within days, and instead of opinions for Lisbon I have only pity. I'll figure it out next time, for there will certainly be another time for this lovely place. And when I do return, I'll first set to thinking about the meaning of life in one of Lisbon's lovely sidewalk caf├ęs, and probably over a stiff shot of lovely ginginha. ginginha


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