Fulbright in Portugal

Steve Doig in Lisbon August-December 2010

Lisbon skyline

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Muito obrigado

I have many people to thank for our wonderful four months here in Lisbon.

Thanks to the Fulbright Portugal Commission in general and in particular to directora Otília Macedo Reis; Paula Lemos, who arranged all my appearances around Lisbon and Portugal; and Carla Silva, who helped me navigate everything from opening a bank account to buying train tickets. I especially appreciate the opportunity they gave me to address the prestigious Fulbright Brainstorms Conference at the Gulbenkian Institute.

Thanks to my students at the Universidade Nova de Lisboa for their interest and enthusiasm, and for their willingness to be taught a strange subject in English by an American who is unable to speak more than a few words of Portuguese. I promise to them that one day I will successfully pronounce “freguesia”.

Thanks to Dean João Sáàgua and the faculty of Nova’s school of communication for inviting me to teach this semester and making me feel welcome. I was honored by their invitation to give the semester opening address to the new journalism students at Nova.

Thanks most especially to Prof. Antonio Granado, who turned his class over to me and who worked closely with me this semester. His enthusiasm for crowd-counting (see this and this was particularly helpful! My only regret is that we never made it to a Benfica game where I could wear my Benfica hat.

Thanks to the professors at other schools around Lisbon and Portugal who invited me to talk to their students and colleagues: Helder Bastos at the University of Porto; Anabela Sousa Lopes at Lisbon Polytechnic; Paula Cordeiro at the Technical University of Lisbon; Rita Figueiras at the Catholic University of Lisbon; Luis Bonixe at the Polytechnic Institute of Portalegre; and Joao Figueira at the University of Coimbra. I appreciated their help and hospitality, and the evident interest of their students.

Thanks to the staff of the United State Embassy of Lisbon. I very much enjoyed the hospitality of Ambassador Allan Katz and Nancy Cohn, his gracious wife. I appreciated the attention and interest I got from press officers Abby Dressell and MaryAnn McKay. And I really enjoyed my visit to the Azores, hosted by Gavin Sundwall, the American consul there. As a journalist and voter, I’m often critical of my government. But as an American citizen, I’m grateful that my tax dollars are being spent very well by members of the diplomatic corps such as these.

Thanks to the staff of Traveling to Lisbon, the apartment agency through which we rented the amazing apartment in which we lived. They handled cheerfully the occasional problems, right down to calling taxis for us when needed.

Thanks in general to the people of Portugal for their hospitality and patience with this language-crippled American. And thanks to the wonderful local residents that we got to know, like Maria down the escandinhas, or Asim and Mohammad and Ali at “Taste of Punjab” farther down the escandinhas.

Thanks to Dean Chris Callahan and my colleagues at the Cronkite School for their support of my selection to the Fulbright program. And thanks to Emeritus Prof. Phil Meyer, the godfather of precision journalism, and Knight Chair Rosental Alves, who first exposed me to Portuguese in Brazil, for their recommendations of my application to be a Fulbright scholar.

Finally, I gratefully thank my wonderful wife, Ellyn, for her willingness to go with me on adventures like this one. Her enthusiasm for everything from making best friends with people of all cultures to her happy eagerness to try whatever strange food is on the menu is what made this trip so special. Thanks to her, we will be back in Lisbon one day soon.

Good time to go

Not that I needed much encouragement, but last night Fate gave me another good reason to head to Portugal soon. Let me explain.

I live in a nice condo that overlooks what our city, Tempe, calls the Town Lake. Tempe Town LakeTempe Town Lake actually is a formerly dry riverbed that was turned into a lake 10 years ago thanks to a visionary idea by Arizona State University architecture students back in the 1960s. Their idea was to put dams across each end of the riverbed and then fill it with water to create a lake. After years of study and planning and finally construction, the lake was created in 1999. For a decade, it has been one of Arizona’s major attractions, the site of triathalons, boat races and many recreational  activities like fishing and sailing. In short, a huge success.

But the dams necessary to keep the water in had to be built to accommodate the occasional spring floods Phoenix gets when we have a particularly wet and snowy winter in the high country upstate. To do that, the two dams actually are built of rubber that is inflated to form the necessary barrier, but deflated if the upstream water flow needs to be released. For a decade, this has worked well. But Arizona’s sun is brutal, and there were signs that the rubber dam was beginning to deteriorate from sun damage. The city, in fact, had scheduled for replacement of the dams to begin today.

Too late! Last night as I was lying in bed just about to turn off the lights, a siren we had never heard before began to wail. If I had been in Kansas (tornado country) I would have rushed to the storm cellar. As we quickly learned thanks to Twitter and news flashes on tv, the downstream dam had suddently burst a few minutes earlier. The lake, filled about 16 feet (5 meters) deep with nearly a billion gallons (about 3.7 trillion liters) of water, began to rush downstream. The sirens, which had never been used, were warning anyone downstream — particularly transients who sometimes set up encampments in the riverbed — that a flash flood was coming.

By sunrise this morning, Tempe Town Lake was nothing but soggy swampland, a few puddles of standing water that soon will dry up in the Arizona heat. Tempe Town Puddle

The mayor conceded to reporters that all the decaying vegetation and dead fish would begin to smell pretty soon, and we all expect an influx of mosquitoes and flies and other aggravating bugs. Ugh.

So, it turns out that it’s now a great time to be leaving Tempe for a few months. City officials are confident that the dams will be replaced and the lake refilled with water by November 1. I feel bad for my friends and neighbors who will be dealing with the messy period before things get back to normal. But I’ll be glad to miss all those problems. Thanks, Fate. If the dam had to break, this was the right time to do it (at least for me!)

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