Bom dia Lisboa

Today many of you will be reading this in Lisbon.

I was there last week for a few days, as you can gather I’m not always in charge of my schedule.

It is gorgeous city, but the real treasures of the place are the people.

The Portuguese are, quite simply, the nicest nation in Europe.

If you are into history as I am then Portugal’s capital is a real treat.

To wander around on the ancient cobbles of Bairro Alto is to step along the streets of Europe’s first global trading power.

The produce of the new world was landed in Praça do Comércio.

Although rebuilt after the 1755 earthquake you still get the sense of place, that here Europe first got the smell and taste of the New World as merchants hefted the clove and nutmeg.

The country itself is what it is.

Portugal has had settled borders for centuries.

There is no debatable land or unfortunate cartography, the country doesn’t contain any North Ossetias or South Armaghs.

Unlike their big neighbour Spain there is no Portuguese equivalent of Catalonia or the Basque Country.

Everyone speaks Portuguese and they’re ok with that.

My Portugal is north of the capital itself and up into Serra da Estrela.

In terms of full disclosure I have never been to the Algarve.

The idea that you should “never waste a disaster” could have been written for Lisbon.

After the earthquake of 1755 that was exactly the view of Sebastião José de Carvalho e Melo, 1st Marquis of Pombal.

History acknowledges him as the founding father of modern Portugal and I’m not going to argue with that.

Over the years I have dipped into this man’s story and my assessment of him ratchets up a notch every time.

Apart from the small matter of re-building a devastated city, his courage in taking on the Jesuits laid the foundations for a modern nation not shackled by superstition and fear.

The city has a great football rivalry between Celtic’s Champions League opponents tonight Benfica and the team in hoops.

Sporting are currently languishing in the lower reaches of the league, but at least they pay their taxes.

Unlike Glasgow this is a genuine sporting rivalry among decent people.

There is no equivalent of the Famine song choir, there are no bullets in the post nor is there a recent history a young a football manager attacked on a technical area while doing his job.

I have memories of Portugal that go back decades from when I first set foot in the country as a boy on a school trip.

It was very nice of them to lay on the revolution for us.

I came home  to Glasgow with a very special plastic flower.

Last week as I dined on coelho I was reminded that there is no such thing as a new old friend

I have friendships that I conduct in pidgin Portuguese that I hope I will always have.

I was there last week and as a plane is about to take me somewhere else,  I wish I was going back there.

Enjoy the game and I hope you have an extra day or so to enjoy a great city full of lovely people.

You lot are lucky…

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