Dateline: Lisbon, Portugal
High thread count Egyptian cotton sheets, a great mattress and a quiet room on the 10th floor of the Lisbon Ritz, far above street noise meant a good night’s sleep and up for breakfast and more adventures this morning. The intrepid eleven were on the bus at 8 AM and headed into the old part of downtown for a brief orientation to the city, and then a drive out to the port district of Belem for a stop at the national maritime museum (much devotion to the 15th and early 16th century Portuguese voyages of exploration launched by Prince Henry the Navigator) complete with a collection of the Royal river barges. Then along to the Palace of Ajuda, the Lisbon home of the Braganza dynasty of Portugal during most of the 19th and early 20th centuries until they were shown the door in 1910.
The Ajuda palace is contemporaneous with Buckingham Palace and has the same general neoclassical proportions. The state rooms are lovely, the banquet hall impressive, and the wandering around between various suites through the servants corridors gave a feeling of Downton Abbey mixed with The Crown. The Portuguese abolished their monarchy a few years prior to World War I, a little earlier than most of the rest of Europe, had a republic for a while and then a dictatorship under Salazar paralleling that of Franco in Spain. In the 1970s, Spain restored the constitutional monarchy. Portugal did not. I looked up the heir apparent should that happen. He’s a descendant of some second cousin of the last king, there being no direct line left. I don’t see him being plucked from obscurity and installed as a monarch at any time in the near future.
After the Ajuda tour, we were turned loose to spend the rest of the day as we wished. I wandered through downtown Lisbon for a while. Not all that different from the downtown areas of any other major world city, and then headed into the old quarter to see the cathedral and to climb the hill to the castle of St. George on the summit, begun by the Moors, and chief defense of Lisbon against invasion by both land and sea for several centuries. The cathedral was unimpressive. A rather blocky Romanesque affair without much in the way of decoration. The original cathedral was destroyed in the great Lisbon earthquake of 1755 and the one that stands was painstakingly rebuilt shortly thereafter to the original plan using what could be salvaged of the original materials. The castle was more interesting with its original fortifications full of arrow slits and murder holes and the like. The view from the castle over the town and the Tagus river were such that it was immediately obvious why it was such a strategic location. Walking up the hill, I stumbled across some partially excavated Roman ruins, part of an ampitheatre and a building whose walls were originally constructed as a public bath. I imagine that if they dig under the castle, below Christian, Moorish, Roman, and Phoenician layers, they’ll probably find some ancient Celtic or Iberian settlement. It’s interesting to think of places being continually inhabited and built upon for thousands of years when in most places in the US, it’s rare to find anything much more than 200 years old. Then, a long walk back to the hotel for a nap and dinner.
The news in Portugal today was that they have successfully vaccinated more than 75% of their population and should be up to 85% in the next month. Cases are falling and the government is relaxing outdoor masking mandates (but keeping indoor ones) and is allowing more and more types of businesses to open up. (Nightclubs are next, expected in another two weeks). We could be there in the US but we’re not. Alabama’s vaccine rate remains stuck at around 40%. I feel a lot safer here with mask and common sense than I do at home. I’ve been watching the continued debate over vaccination in the American press. It looks like the general consensus is that the government blanket mandating of vaccination is not overly popular due to the various bodily autonomy/civil liberties arguments. The Biden administration appears to have threaded the needle. They’re not mandating vaccination of all adults, they’re mandating vaccination of those employed by the federal government and those that receive funding from the federal government through contracts and programs. And that’s likely within their purview, especially given years of supreme court precedent. They are also mandating that work places be safe under OSHA. Companies with more than 100 employees have the option of either vaccinating employees or testing them weekly to protect other employees with whom they may come into contact.
The other consensus that seems to be gelling is that mandating vaccines to access life’s necessaries (the grocery store) is not necessary but that it is perfectly OK to mandate vaccines for life’s little luxuries (air travel, sporting events, theaters etc.) I think we’re going to be in for a year or two of carefully danced compromises like this where those who willfully do not choose vaccination will be tolerated but will find their lives more and more circumscribed. Is this a proper strategy? Only time will tell. It is likely to be accelerated by commercial health insurances demanding vaccination for access to their products. The thing that gets left out of this strategy is what to do about that small portion of the population that cannot be vaccinated for significant medical or other reasons. If we all stepped up and got our shots and had a 75 or 85% vaccination rate, then herd immunity would start to kick in and they would be protected without vaccination. With a 60% unvaccinated rate, this just isn’t possible.
Tonight. I’ll celebrate with the Portuguese at achieving their 75% milestone. But I’ve still got my mask, keep my hands washed, keep my distance, and had my vaccines.