Hungry For More | Traveling Lisbon

When I started the Cognitive Dissidents podcast, I committed a cardinal content-creation sin: I did not have my listener in mind.

Truth be told, I decided to launch the podcast for myself. I was having numerous interesting conversations with experts, colleagues, and friends and recording the conversations seemed a better way to internalize their insights than writing notes. (And who wants to converse with someone writing notes anyway?)

In August – which feels like an eon ago – I mentioned off-hand on the podcast that I was headed to Portugal to celebrate the wedding of my college roommate (John Minnich – himself a recent podcast guest and the most thoughtful U.S. expert on China I know). Much to my surprise, two podcast listeners wrote to me offering their hospitality in Lisbon.

Initially I was skeptical. My wife and I have a beautiful 1-year old baby and I am utterly consumed with love and admiration for her – but parenting is also hard, and this was going to be our first “just-us” vacation since Annie Love arrived. Did I really want to spend a precious evening in Portugal with some randos I’d never met before? Besides, I am an adept and frequent traveler – surely, I could swatch told Anthony Bourdain episodes on Portugal and otherwise rely on my savviness to find local flavor in a foreign land?

In the end, we decided to take up the listeners on their offers – and I am so glad we did. For the sake of their privacy, I will keep their identities anonymous, but I met the first listener and his sister for a promised architectural walking tour of the city. I did not tell the first listener that I had invited the second listener on the tour as well.

We had been in Lisbon for days already, but now we walked the streets through the eyes of locals, who told us about the 1755 Lisbon earthquake and how it impacts the city to this day; how Lisbon might be the city most like New Orleans, which I call home these days, in the world due to its complicated relationship with water; the legacy of the grim Salazar years and Portugal’s colonial wars; the depressing, drug-addicted 90s, when city apartments could be had for pennies on the euro; the building boom of the 2010s (and perhaps the seeds sown for future crisis); the Portuguese penchant for pessimism.

My two listeners also happened to be on opposing ends of the political spectrum – and yet their conversation was decorous – I couldn’t recall the last time I’d seen people with different views discuss them so respectfully and eloquently.

We ended the evening in a traditional Portuguese restaurant, where the conversation turned to what an old mentor of mine, Werner Dannhauser (z”l), used to joke all conversations ultimately boil down: god and love. I told them a bit about my past, and unveiled some of the political opinions I cannot discuss on the podcast or in writing because when inserted there, they drown out my analysis.


The spirit of Anthony Bourdain was with me the whole trip – in both Porto and Lisbon, I relied on his previous travels and experiences to guide our way. His picture seemed ubiquitous in both cities, no doubt because others like me were making similar pilgrimages to dampen his loss.

And yet here I was, our last night in Lisbon, with my wife, two friends from home also in town for the wedding, and two Portuguese podcast listeners, eating bitoque and discussing the meaning of life. It was as if, for a night, I got to walk in Anthony Bourdain’s shoes. We stepped out into the rain – I had even brought my fedora, and the rain trickle down the brim and I felt cool and warm and connected and hopeful about the human condition for a change.

It occurs to me I know exactly who my listener is – I have met him, sipped ginjinha with her, watched him roll a cigarette, seen a city through her eyes. It is too much to expect I’ll ever have an evening like that again – I should be thankful I had just the one, but as it turns out –


I’m hungry for more.

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