Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

Two weeks ago, I had the privilege of both stepping back in time and getting a glimpse of the future

Published on: 15 Jun 2021

I returned to Lisbon, where Time Out opened its original Market to be on hand for its reopening. The city was so vibrant and it was a genuine thrill to be there to see it—all the more so because that vibrancy partly depends on tourism.

After nearly a year, it was wonderful to witness a confluence of foreign nationals, all in town to sample Lisbon’s unique offerings. Spanish, French, British and Portuguese were all out in force. Yet, I was also happy to see everyone observes Covid protocol: masking where necessary and limiting dining to six people per table. I spent the week eating at the Market, with so many great places to choose from, it almost felt like an extreme sport—if an insanely delicious one! My trophy at the finish line was a suitcase full of clothing that is a whole lot tighter—but who could resist those incredible pasteis de nata?

At the Time Out Market, our 50+ vendors were seemingly moved by the lines of tourists and locals queuing up to sample their food and their wares, almost conjured up like a dream from another time. It was a marvel to hear so many languages and to see so many people taking in one culture together, from various parts of the world, and enjoying their time in such a great location. We were beginning to feel normal again and you could see that on the faces of people, in their smiles and their complicit looks “we are in this together”

Unfortunately, it didn’t last. The week’s festivities, planned as a celebratory rollout, were abruptly cut short by the amber travel list’s reinstatement by the UK. It seemed to me that soon after the Champions League play had ended—two British teams, of course—the green status we had enjoyed was removed, despite the low case count. Britons felt they needed to return home to native soil before the new quarantine rules were imposed.

Having felt the rush of returning to a reopened country, I could not help but feel something a little like a hangover upon my return. I’d seen a responsible, civil shot at the future, only to be dragged back a few months in time. I also wondered when we will truly trust the vaccines as effective so we can get back to life and find a way forward. Perhaps there will be a vaccine passport soon?

After all, if one is fully vaccinated by an authorized vaccine, why should they be subject to quarantine? Shouldn’t those who have been vaccinated be given priority in matters of international travel—as opposed to those who refuse to get vaccinated but expect the same privileges with zero obligations?

We need to remember that what hangs in the balance is not merely the economy, but the health of our souls, of our minds, and of our ability to conceive of civic life as something vital. If we cannot come together soon and figure out how to do so sensibly, what else will we lose? Seeing a sliver of Lisbon in something like normalcy seemed like a dream—and it was one I am very sorry to have woken up from.

This summer, I truly hope that science and government can converge to find a way back to our lives that cross borders and cultures in ways that enrich us all.