I often think of that carnival game where you throw a hardball at these furry little pop-ups and hopefully, slam them down. Get ’em to stay down and you win a prize. At times, I feel as if those furry guys are a metaphor for my life. I imagine a place or a goal, and shit happens, giving it the big kibosh. COVID-19, climate change, politics, life; it can all leave you feeling completely defeated.
Human beings are resilient and born to persevere. Still, how many times can you be beaten down before you give up? It always looks easier for other people. And sometimes, you have the passion and wherewithal, but others are hell bent on convincing you that it ain’t gonna happen. How do you navigate all that?
When It Looks Easy It Probably Isn’t
Because we’re human, it would be difficult not to compare our own lives with others. Your neighbor tells you that he’s taking his family to their lake house and you think, why don’t I have a lake house?
I had a friend who was always boasting about what he could afford to buy. He had no problem spending $500 on a meal and he flew first class every time he travelled. I won’t lie, I was jealous. He crashed and burned; I learned that he was losing his home and his car because he was spending money he didn’t have. Things are not always as they seem, as they say.
What to Say to People WhoTry to Squash Your Dreams
I’m aware of all of the obstacles that could get in my way, however, I’m committed to giving it a try.
Will you help me make it happen?
I’m sorry it didn’t work out for you, but it’s important to me that I give it a go.
Fuck off why don’t you!
Put Your Dreams in Writing
I love the saying, “If you can see it, you can have it.” You can only manifest something if you truly want it and believe it’s possible. If you have a dream, and I hope you do, make it real by putting your words down on paper or . . . tell others about it — that makes it more real as well.
I’m going to practice what I preach by putting my own dreams in writing:
I want to wake up in a home that is mine, right on a river, a lake, or an ocean. I want to see nothing but water.
I want to pay for a child’s college education.
I would like to spend zero time thinking about what others think.
I would like to soon be what I think is my ideal healthy weight (about 180 pounds).
I would like to fall head over heels in love again.
I think my main point — sometimes it takes me awhile to get there, is that you cannot allow all the noise and naysayers to stop you from believing anything is possible.
Just finished the Naomi Osaka tennis player’s documentary (miniseries on Netflix). I cannot begin to imagine what this woman will accomplish in her lifetime. I’m blown away by her determination and grace.
Back to Vila Real de Santo Antonio tomorrow for a few days. This place may become my home away from home. The Pousada is exceptional and I need to return.
Stockholm is looking pretty solid for late August. Lyon in September, London in October, Asia in January, Cuba in February, Toulouse in April, and Basel Switzerland in June. There will be stops in between, however, the planning will cease until this virus calms down a bit. Many of these trips had been scheduled and were postponed.
Just a small town girl Livin’ in a lonely world She took the midnight train goin’ anywhere Just a city boy Born and raised in South Detroit He took the midnight train goin’ anywhereA singer in a smokey room The smell of wine and cheap perfume For a smile they can share the night It goes on and on, and on, and onStrangers, waitin’ Up and down the boulevard Their shadows Searchin’ in the night Streetlights, people Livin’ just to find emotion Hidin’ somewhere in the nightWorkin’ hard to get my fill Everybody wants a thrill Payin’ anything to roll the dice Just one more time Some will win Some will lose Some were born to sing the blues Oh, the movie never ends It goes on and on, and on, and onStrangers waitin’ Up and down the boulevard Their shadows Searchin’ in the night Streetlights, people Livin’ just to find emotion Hidin’ somewhere in the nightDon’t stop believin’ Hold on to that feelin’ Streetlight, people Don’t stop, believin’ Hold on Streetlights, peopleDon’t stop believin’ Hold on to that feelin’ Streetlight, people
I have to set the scene for you; although this happened 46 years ago, the experience is as fresh in my mind as it was the day it happened. I apology in advance for downplaying the fear I experienced then and continues to resonate. This is the first time I am retelling this story.
Like many teenagers in Brooklyn, I worked at a grocery store. It was a good job for a 16 year old; it taught me many lessons about life I might not have learned otherwise. Little did I know, that on one particular brutally hot summer day, I would learn a lesson of survival.
Delivering groceries to neighborhood people was hard work, but when I laid on the charm and kept my clients happy, I could do pretty well financially. My earnings paid for room and board, clothing, and my education — we paid our own way in my house as soon as we were able. I either hustled or listened to my mother piss and moan about poverty and what it was like to raise seven kids on her own. She had a point.
My siblings would argue this self-assessment, but I recollect that I was a fairly happy-go-lucky teenager — especially when I was flush with cash. Tips were a good way for me to make money because I could hide a lot of it from my mother. I figure she was a waitress and practiced similar deception. That late morning in August, I was rode my delivery bike about two streets east to an old building I had visited often; truth be told, every building was old in Ditmas Park. When you’re sixteen and you think you know it all, old and rundown is not cool. I took the elevator to the 8th floor and dropped off the groceries; after awhile, you spend your time thinking about everything else than what you’re actually doing; I believe she was a regular customer, a detail that’s fuzzy.
I recall it was so humid, my clothing was soaked through and I was lethargic from the heat. I entered the noisy old elevator; you know, the ones that go clunk, clunk, clunk when they move. I pressed the button for the first floor. The door slammed closed and the elevator descended a few feet and stopped abruptly. I did what any human would do, I pressed all the buttons, I pressed them over and over again, thinking somehow, my persistence would restart the lift. There was an alarm button, a rather loud alarm I might add, but it felt like I was screaming help in a padded prison cell and no one was listening.
Thinking, this can’t be happening, doesn’t make it go away — this was a living nightmare. I took a deep breath and felt like I might cry. Perhaps my brain knew that crying would use up too much of my water supply, instead I stomped my feet and banged the walls. Clearly, there was no one anywhere near this piece of shit machinery. I sat down on the dirty elevator floor hoping an escape plan would come. I’m pretty sure I was close to panicking by this point. I’ve never been fond of small spaces; this elevator was tiny. In addition to that foul odors easily make me nauseous. This particular building had a gag inducing stench. I screamed “help” as loud as I could. I screamed repeatedly hoping someone in the building would come to my rescue. Could it be possible that the entire building was empty? And where was the lady I just delivered groceries to? I had watched way too much Twilight Zone for my own good. In my mind one of two things was going to happen: the elevator was either going to crash to the ground or I would die of heat exhaustion; neither would be a good way to go.
A good chunk of time passed before I starting screaming again. I was convinced my co-workers would miss me and someone was being sent to check what had happened. I would alternate between stomping and screaming and bargaining with God — whom I don’t believe exists by the way. Funny how that happens when you’re in a life threatening situation. You go through this, if you really do exist please help me— I’ll do anything, I promise, dialog in your head.
Dripping wet, long past the point of heat exhaustion, seeing double through pools of sweat, no voice, no help, and no hope; I recall at a certain point I began to enter the acceptance phase of my own impending death. At some point, I made the decision that being horizontal might save me some energy. The elevator floor was dirty and sticky, but I’m not sure it mattered much at that moment. Flat on the ground and feeling defeated, I believe I closed my eyes for a few minutes, the silence was deafening and my heartbeat was finally slowing a bit. I glanced at the ceiling and noticed an exhaust fan that wasn’t moving. Next to the fan was a panel. It was too high up for me, but offered new hope. I stood up in order to assess the situation and realized that I might be able to step onto the side rail and push on the panel. Desperation fuels hope — there were not many other options to choose from.
I jumped up with one foot on the rail and was able to touch the top of the elevator car. After a number of tries, I was dislodged the panel; quite relieved that it was not bolted down. I was able to eventually pop the panel off and push it over to the side, allowing me to see that I was only feet away from the elevator doors on the floor above the car.
It might have been more than an hour or perhaps only minutes; at this point I was pretty delirious. I faintly heard someone walking on the floor above and I shouted for help. The man walked up to the doors and called down to me.
“Is someone in there?”
I sunk down to the ground and responded with tremendous relief. Yes, I’m here, please help me get out.
“It’s the super, I’m going to shut the elevator down and start it back up.”
I don’t think I answered him. I may have thought it was in my head.
An eternity passed and the lift gave a jolt. It started moving but only about four feet. At this point the car was partially on the fifth floor.
“Give me a minute, I think I can pry the doors open.”
The super pushed the doors open and I could see him; I could breathe again. I expressed my gratitude and I told him I’d been there a long time. He apologized, his thick Spanish accent, more a part of my consciousness than earlier. He said something about being out of the building all morning. He asked for my hand, hauled me up, and I quickly crawled out onto the fifth floor. I don’t think either of us was thinking about the danger of what we were doing at the time. He could see I was dripping wet and he asked me if I wanted some water.
Please, I said and leaned my body against the wall.
He told me that his apartment was in the basement. He asked me if I could walk down the steps and I told him that I could. When we got down to the first floor he asked me to wait while he went to get some water. I thought he was kind. He returned with a tall glass and I drank the water in one gulp. I thanked him and left.
When I got back to the grocery store, I realized I had been gone three hours. None of my co-workers seemed to notice that I’d been missing. I walked over to Bob, the owner of the store, and found words almost impossible. He asked me where I’d been and I shared what had happened. He shrugged and told me he was glad I made it out of the lift. I thought he was matter-of-fact about the whole thing, but how could he know what I’d been through.
Years later I was watching the news and there was a story about a woman who was on an elevator in a Manhattan hi-rise. The elevator stopped a few feet below the floor she had entered on. The elevator door and the door to the floor opened, she panicked and hoisted herself up. As she was crawling out of the elevator, it started back up and cut her in half. When the door opened to some people who had called the lift, they saw the severed lower half of her body. The news only showed the bloody car, but it didn’t take much imagination to see the gruesome scene in your mind’s eye. Apparently, there was some sort of glitch in the system that caused the lift to malfunction. I believe they have put new measures in place to ensure an elevator car could never move if any of the floor doors are even partially opened.
I will never shake the image of that woman’s severed torso and what her final moments must have been like. I’ve also thought about my own situation and how I was fortunate to get out of the lift I was trapped in. I should have asked the super to call the fire department; I wasn’t thinking. The events that took place that day in my 16th year, taught me a great deal about who I am and how fortunate I have been. I treat elevators with great respect and carry water with me whenever possible; you never know when you might need it.
I still wonder where all the residents of that building were that day? Why didn’t the woman I had just delivered groceries to, hear me? And why didn’t my co-workers notice how long I’d been gone?
Hot dogs are one of my favorite foods and until recently I was convinced that a good, natural casing frankfurter, did not exist in Portugal. I was happily wrong — they sell them frozen at IKEA and I’m good now.
A gem on the southernmost border of Portugal and Spain
Please keep in mind, my travelogues are more about sharing highlights than telling you what not to do.
I have happily lived in the Algarve for 3 1/2 years now. I have only visited Vila Real de Santo António once and that was for a quick walk through the centre. I have passed through this little town several times on my way to Spain and I have spent time in neighboring towns. So why did I finally come to this town for an extended stay?
I had recently booked an Airbnb for three days and consequently had the opportunity to see the place I had booked. I don’t want to share specifics because it wouldn’t be fair to the owner of the Airbnb; he did not know I would be stopping by. I will only tell you two things: first I think the dude is a raging alcoholic, and second, he smoked like it was crack. There were ashtrays everywhere and the place reeked of smoke. I cancelled my reservation as soon as I got home. I also convinced Airbnb to refund the service fee — something they rarely do.
I opened Booking.com looking at the same dates and the Pousada Vila Real de Santo António popped up on my screen and so, I took a closer look. I viewed the photos and decided this place might be to my liking. Swimming pool on the first level and another on the roof.
Beautifully appointed, friendly, a great location and the price was right. I even received an email that I could upgrade to a bigger room for a reasonable fee. I have always wanted to stay in a Portuguese Pousada and this was my chance. I have two terraces and one of the best mattresses I have ever slept on. Breakfast is included and it’s excellent. I was able to get fresh coffee in the early morning hours; something I much appreciate. Fabulous property. I think I’ll join their Guest Club for offers and tempting benefits. I should note their website is very nicely done (not all hotels pay attention to their site).
“The Pousadas of Portugal Group is an exclusive chain of 34 historical hotels many of which are considered to be amongst the top hotels in Portugal and are the very embodiment of the best that Portugal has to offer. Many Pousada hotels were formerly monasteries, palaces, convents and castles and have been beautifully converted to offer luxurious, elegant hotel accommodation, often in superb locations. These unique hotels are located throughout mainland Portugal and the Azores in either historical cities such as Evora, a world heritage site, or in rural areas of outstanding natural beauty or interest such as Geres National Park.”
A fabulous eatery. I have to be honest, I chose this restaurant because I liked the owners reply to a reviewer. Among many excellent reviews, one diner was not a happy fella, but I liked the way the owner dealt with him. What I found was a quaint, authentic, executed with love, spot on the river with beautiful artwork and lovely jazz. The husband and wife team who own this gem have created a winning dining experience that will delight your senses.
I had an all shellfish night, clams and then shrimp. Fresh, simple and delicioso!
The Pousada had a beautiful restaurant with a mediterranean inspired menu. A wood fired oven (rare in Portugal), made choosing dinner at the Pousada a no brainer and I was not disappointed. There were lots of other offerings and a many cocktail and wine selections.
A beautiful and inviting bar with delicious eclectic bar food (including British fish & chips that I didn’t get to try — too full).
The entire centre of Vila Real is closed to traffic. There are many touristy shops you’ll want to pass up, but then every so often you’ll see a unique boutique shop worth visiting. There is also loads of shopping on the Spanish side (Ayamonte). I got this beautiful bowl for four euros (perfect for a small salad or ramen):
There is a casino just a couple of miles away in Monte Gordo. I did go once to make a small donation. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
There are two museums and I saw an ad for a show (in Portuguese) that was recently staged here. It was competing rap artists — I missed it by three days.
Just look across the river and you will see Spain. You can take an inexpensive ferry ride to Ayamonte or drive across the bridge that links the two countries. It’s a real treat. A one hour time difference (keep this in mind when you look at the ferry schedule) and paella. A completely different culture only minutes away.
Travel To and From
I took the train which was just over 10 Euros round trip from Faro. It’s an old rail system, but it works. You can, of course, also drive there. Another option is the bus from Faro which takes about 90 minutes; for me, not as comfortable as the train.
There was an evening market in the square in front of the hotel on my second night. I assume it’s a summertime, Tuesday evening thing. An exhibition on “sardine” artwork was delightful.
Let me end by saying that I could easily live here.
Stockholm coming up in a few weeks. They’ve got COVID-19 under control; looks promising. Lyon, France in September and London for theatre in October. I’m waiting to book November and December, but I’m looking at all of my options. I love these direct flights to different parts of Europe from Faro. I want to see what this virus will do to winter travel. I’ll be in five Asian countries in January ’22 and Cuba in February. Both of these trips were rescheduled due to COVID-19.
I was raised in a home where you said what you had to say; you got it off your chest and then you let it go. By the time I got to kindergarten, I learned that the rest of the world didn’t operate that way.
Along the way, I received lots of reactions to my “Brooklyn” bravado. I had to hide my sexuality, therefore, it was act tough and survive or whimper and be bullied. I developed a thick skin and a look that said, be real with me or get out of my face.
And then this happened . . .
I was a candidate for a really great position on campus at the University of South Carolina. It was my second year of a two-year Master’s degree program and I had spent the first year validating my candidacy for a coveted position. At the end of my second semester, I met with the director of the Living & Learning Program and discussed my future. I remember a smirk on his face I didn’t appreciate. He told me that there had been a couple of complaints about my direct nature — an interesting way to put it. He further went on to tell me he had observed it himself. What he said in not so many words:
I appreciate that you’re from New York and that New Yorkers are known for speaking their mind. It’s not how we conduct ourselves in the south. We tend to start with some small talk and then we sugar coat our words a bit. That’s how we succeed in getting what we want. You might want to consider changing your communication style while you’re in South Carolina; maybe tone it down a bit (source is now deceased, 1983). I guess I might have been reliving this horror in the middle of the night last night, because I also recalled that he said that I was a “primadonna.” At the time, I didn’t even know what that meant.
To say that I was devastated is a gross understatement. I spent the next two months questioning everything about the way in which I conducted myself. I cried a lot, I was angry, I hated that creep, and I went from deciding I would change everything about myself to being determined I would stay true to who I am.
At the end of a long and tortured summer, the director called me into his office; I almost refused to take the meeting, but I knew he had a lot of influence at the University. He asked me if I’d thought about what he’d said in May. I didn’t want to give him the satisfaction of knowing that I was tormented by his feedback. I responded:
I thought about what you said and I agree with some of it. I went on to tell him that I could be a bit less crass and a bit more tactful. I also stared him straight in his eyes and told him that I liked my own sincerity and direct approach; bullshit was not my style and being all nice nice without feeling it, wasn’t ever going to happen.
He listened with what seemed like an open mind. I asked him if there was anything else and he said,
“The position is yours if you want it. There are a lot of people on campus who are rooting for you, don’t let them down.”
He shared his own reservations and I sat there acting all smug and self-satisfied. I wanted that job more than anything and I was determined to prove him wrong.
So what is the point of my telling you this tale of woe? There are a few reasons actually:
His words stuck with me more than any others that I have heard in my life. I didn’t like him, but I respected him and I came to believe he was sincerely trying to teach me something.
In many ways he was right. I was overly confident and way too direct.
Had he not shared his observations with me, I may never have been told that I needed to lower the volume. I still resent his harsh and hurtful approach, however, he managed to get me thinking about how I communicate with people and that is never a bad thing.
I have mentored several young people throughout my career. I have been in the position to share my thoughts about character flaws I thought could be altered or corrected. I am thoughtful about the way in which I phrase my criticism or feedback. I can always tell when I may have pushed too hard or said too much. I recall how much I learned from my critic and I accept the anger directed toward me. My own saboteur reminds me that I am vulnerable and imperfect.
And Another Thing . . .
My neighbor has decided to make his condo an Airbnb; it’s his place, I guess it’s his business. Personally, I think it’s an ugly dump and I’m not sure why anyone would rent it. It’s probably cheap, so it’s attracting young party people.
Yesterday, my new, not-so-friendly Airbnb neighbors were getting on the elevator to go to the beach and I introduced myself:
“Hi, I’m Chris, if you need anything please knock.”
They looked at me like deer in headlights and I very gently said:
“Do me a favor, when you close your door, please do it slowly. When your door slams my apartment shakes.”
Seriously, it sounds like a bomb has hit the building when the wind is strong.
You would have thought I was asking them to go to bed earlier. The look I got was of utter disgust and resentment. I promise you, I was pleasant.
What I said to them was not even criticism mind you. Would a big ugly sign outside my door asking for consideration be better?
Things I Keep In Mind When Offering Criticism/Feedback
Will I ever see this person again?
Will my words make a difference?
How am I being impacted by their approach or style?
What words can I use to make a difference?
Am I being honest or mean?
Do I really know better?
Is my honesty a way to sabotage a relationship?
Will they hear me?
Are they open to feedback?
Why am I doing it?
I know that I don’t know anything about most things, but I sure do know a little about some things. Keeping my opinion to myself isn’t easy, so listen up:
Men of Portugal (you know who you are), stop dousing yourself with buckets of cheap cologne, you stink and you’re making me sick! People, when you’re in line at the supermarket you need to stay in line; continuing to shop and expecting to keep your place in line, isn’t cool. And to the young men who own motorbikes in my neighborhood: I know that having a small penis makes life difficult; however, taking your muffler off of your motorcycle or moped won’t make that little penis any larger. You’re just making people angry and the girls don’t think it’s cool. Spend more time on your hair, it’s quieter. And I’m sorry to judge, but young gay men are not driving their loud motorbikes all around Faro.
Note: I’m just guessing about penis size.
When people are not willing to speak out for fear of repercussion or alienation, they become angry, resentful, and complacent. Keep this in mind when someone around you is feeling stifled or worse, gagged.
Travel: Time on the Spanish/Portuguese border in a Pousada next week; they can’t cancel that on me. I’m pretty sure I’ll get to go on my trip to Stockholm in August. And maybe even a booked trip to Lyon, France in September. I don’t count on travel anymore, I just have to wait and see.
Castles, Palaces, Monasteries, Halls of kings and Rooms of Queens… The Pestana Pousadas de Portugal offers the ultimate immersive Portuguese experience in some of the country’s most historical and iconic properties.
Note: Check out Wanda Sykes who is hosting for Jimmy Kimmel this week. She’s doing some kick ass truth tellin’.
I’ve always despised angry old men; therefore, becoming one of them is not an option. I’ll start with something positive and then launch into my tirade:
I live in Portugal where they take recycling seriously. There are bins no more than 100 feet from nearly every residential building in my city. Organic trash for composting is stored beautifully underground in very convenient locations. Still, time and time again I see people dumping huge bags of plastic, glass bottles, and non-organic trash, in said compost bins. It makes me angry, it makes me sick, and it makes me sad. It makes me wonder about the integrity of human beings.
Many of my fellow humans don’t seem to care. It’s perplexing to say the least. How can you care about your children and grandchildren or just about anything, and not care about the environment? How can you fight for human rights, black lives, immigration rights, and/or equality, and not consider the threat to our planet?
These questions are confounding to me much of the time. It takes so little effort to sort out your trash, throw cigarette cartons in the wastebasket, clean up after your dog, but so many contribute to the problem rather than help solve it. My guess is that I have anywhere from 20 to 30 years left on this magnificent planet. Yes, it’s a reminder that the natural order of things dictates a life cycle and the planet is part of that cycle; however, we are hastening the death of planet earth by thousands of years.
While I’m pissing and moaning, I’d like to also mention the strain we humans are putting on our very expensive and extremely unstable healthcare system. I’m not saying that I have never put anything unnatural or life threatening in my body; I’m only human after all. But we all know that those with an apparent death wish are making it very difficult for the rest of us. Doctors and hospitals were under tremendous strain pre-COVID-19; if we keep it up, only the wealthy will get treatment (true in many countries). Cigarette smoking, excessive alcohol, pill popping to cover-up emotional and physical pain, etc. The rest of us will suffer from health issues and regret when we cannot afford to see a doctor; soulda, coulda, woulda will not offer any consolation.
Accountability is one of many annoyances that haunts me day and night. Why do white collar criminals get away with little or no jail time? How and why do the rich literally get away with murder?
This building collapse in Miami . . . who, if anyone, will pay the price of so many deaths?
I am dealing with a personal situation concerning accountability; it gets my goat more than just about anything.
Holding back on making a list here. Proving to you that I am growing up. Perspective is essential to success.
I know who I am. I know what I am. I know that I am a control freak (this took a while to own). I have come to terms with accepting the things I cannot change. They say some people become more accepting as they grow older, I may be an exception.
Travel has become close to impossible. I have a short trip planned for the Spanish border, 45 minutes away, and I’m not sure it will happen. Toulouse cancelled, Bristol cancelled, mediterranean cruise cancelled. Everytime I book a trip I brace myself for that almost certain email telling me that COVID-19 has prompted restrictions; home seems to be the only destination I can count on.
I’m scheduled to go to Stockholm next month. Since Sweden has never really closed, that may actually happen. Still, my guess is that Portugal will enforce a quarantine rule upon my return. I guess we’ll see.
I am resigned to any and all possibilities — I don’t consider complacency a good thing right now. The resistance to vaccinate is frustrating and puzzling. The same people who bellyache about restrictions, are the ones who refuse to be vaccinated. I want to shake some sense into these stubborn resisters.
The EU has agreed to a digital vaccine certificate for travel outside of one’s country and for use in order to go to certain concerts and/or sporting events. I have quite easily acquired my certificate and for that I am grateful.
I’m sitting with friends having a light brunch and some bozo at the table says, “I’m not sure why Paul has to hide his sexuality, it’s so much easier to be out these days.” I sit on my hands and hold my tongue in a vice grip. People have this habit of wanting to brush over the truth to create their own sugar coated reality. The plain truth is that it is not so easy to be out of the closet in 2021. True there are pockets of the world where being gay is celebrated and respected; however, even in those places, it is complicated and uneven.
First, it’s important to note that being open about your homosexuality is against the law in certain parts of the world. You’d better hide it if you live in Brunei, Yemen, Somalia, or Iran. Death or imprisonment can be an almost certain deterrent. Come out to what I ask you? And if you don’t believe Americans are affected by what happens outside of the U.S. (and in some states), you are sadly mistaken.
“Same-sex sexual activity is a crime in 70 countries. Some of them, including six nations that are members of the United Nations, impose the death penalty. Another five make such punishment technically possible, even though it is rarely enforced. In 26 other countries, the maximum penalty is prison with terms varying anywhere from a few years to life imprisonment.” Hristina Byrnes | 24/7 Wall Street, 2021.
Hence, the reason I hold my tongue. It’s nice to know I can marry a man in Portugal, but the reality that my gay brothers and sisters in so many other places, cannot, makes it difficult for me to celebrate. That guy screaming at my at 7:00 a.m. after Biden was elected, doesn’t help either.
“Why the fuck do you people need a parade anyway? Nobody cares.”
This vengeful serpent has many heads. When I go to a family wedding and family members are whispering about my sexuality, I can be out, I can be proud, I can even be partnered, but there is no way that I can say that I am content — nobody wants to be judged . . . least of all by my Christian aunties. Has it made me stronger? No doubt, I love being different, defiant, and getting all the attention has its appeal; however, I’d choose blending in with the wallpaper any day of the week.
Having cousin Ann say, “Aren’t you sick of hearing about gay rights?” That will never be okay.
We freer gays stand on the shoulders of individuals who have fought for basic rights for decades. I applaud and appreciate their efforts, but it isn’t over; it isn’t over by a mile. It was only months ago that transgender individuals were being told they could no longer serve in the military. And just because we have a new president and human rights and freedoms are being restored, does not guarantee one’s ability to serve in the future.
[I stopped writing yesterday; the anger and frustration were palpable. I needed perspective. I’m afraid it didn’t come.]
I’ve come to terms with who I am. I don’t apologize to anyone for it. I am no longer lamenting about what could have been: children, grandchildren, a 50th wedding anniversary. Coming to terms with the kicking and screaming that went on in my brain for decades, feels good. But I can’t help thinking about the kids everywhere who are tormented by their own questioning demons; when will they be relieved of their pain. As long as there are teens offing themselves because their being “fill-in-the-blank” does not fit into the “right” box, I cannot sit at the table and agree that coming out is easier.
Let’s face it, we all have demons. Mine always choose the worst time to enter my consciousness: sometime around 2:00 to 4:00 a.m. Between having to get up to pee numerous times and these visitors, I get out of bed exhausted. These are people that were either a part of my past or live among the present. The frequent visitors are those I did not have closure with. Death, a major blow up, or fear that any sort of interaction would make things worse, keeps these demons around.
Whether in dreams, semi-consciousness, and/or periods of being fully awake, these wandering spirits, cause much consternation.
The Main Reasons These Nighttime Visits Occur
Therapists I have engaged throughout my life have told me that these visits are normal and a healthy way of coping. What they really mean to say is that approaching someone you’re angry with wielding a knife, is not good. Your mind is a complex organ where your thoughts are not always easily explained. Many of my conflicts play out in my dreams. Usually not a pleasant or productive dream, for the most part, it’s usually more of the same.
How These Conversations Usually Go
So you’re back?
I didn’t choose to be here.
Then why are you here?
You summoned me stupid.
Here’s the thing, I don’t remember asking you to be here and I’d rather you just disappear. I hate how you treated me all those years, but there is nothing I can do about it now.
Oh geez, let it go. I was an egotistical maniac and I treated everyone that way; you need to move on.
But you fucked-up my head. I have all sorts of anger bubbling up because of you. I alienate relationships, hide out for long periods of time, shut down, and sometimes blame others for my own bad behavior.
That’s not on me. Whatever I did, I did it because I thought it was right at the time. You can’t blame me because you kept it all in and never confronted me. And don’t make excuses like: “I couldn’t find the right time” or “You would never have listened,” it’s all nonsense. I’ve been your scapegoat for too many years. I’m tired of repeating myself — you are your own worst enemy.
That makes me feel so much better. Now get out and don’t come back.
[Cold sweats and a sleepless night are almost a certainty. Alcohol and other substances only makes things worse and pushes thoughts down temporarily.]
Recognize the endless loop of outrageous verbiage? It’s exhausting.
Getting Rid of the Demons for Good
As if getting rid of them is even remotely possible (the cynic in me).
I have found that there are very few ways to purge these demons.
Closure — confronting the individual and either receiving an apology (unlikely) or sorting it out.
Working it out in therapy. A good therapist will engage you in role play. Here you have an opportunity to say what is on your mind and purge your thoughts. You must be fully committed to the process.
Time — hopefully, a long period of time will help you to eventually let it go.
Holding on to resentment or anger is never good. It does awful damage to your psyche and your internal organs. The quicker you can work it out, the healthier you will be. I’ve been working on this for years and I can only report a slight improvement. It’s something to strive toward.
COVID-19 strikes again and Lyon and Bristol are not happening . . . now. Instead I am booking a shared cottage on the Island of Farol. I’ll get there by ferry from Faro in about 30 minutes. I booked it for July and I’m fairly certain it won’t be cancelled. This should be a unique experience that I will be excited to tell you about.
I am relieved to be home from a three week trip to the States. Ironically, I almost said, ” . . . three week trip home.” I did not go home, I am home, Portugal is home. We spend so much time making our homes comfortable and beautiful and then we travel someplace else.
In many ways returning to the United States during a pandemic was an insane proposition. My flight was cancelled, rebooked, cancelled, changed, changed again, and changed one final time. What should have been a seven hour direct flight turned into two stressful flights; the first in the wrong direction with a very tight connection — more like 17 hours. I had to be tested for COVID-19 prior to travelling, at my expense. It should be noted that the PCR test in the States was offered at no cost. COVID testing has become a big business with many charging as much $250; criminal.
Looking back, the four airports I travelled through were extremely busy — a plug for Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport, which was by far the most efficient and user friendly.
I cannot help but wonder if I would have made this trip knowing what I know now. True, there are family and friends I wanted to see; I needed to see. It had been a long time and I lived in the U.S. for the first 59 years of my life. This trip took its toll on me mentally and physically like no other before it. I’m going to stop writing for afew days. My negative feelings about what I saw and experienced in the U.S. are skewed and time will help.
[An apology to friends and family: I imagine you grew tired of comparisons between Portugal and the U.S. For example, “I can get a latte and a pastry for two euros in Faro.” That must have sounded more like: wah, wah, wah and wah. My bad. Is it true people are no longer saying, “My bad.?”]
Some time has passed and I have gained some perspective.
One of positive things about travel was the renewed appreciation of my home. Whilst away, I thought a lot about Faro, Paco (my dog), and my apartment. After only a few days, I lamented about the rest I get in my own bed and the joy I get from hanging with Paco.
Of course I know that I think and say all of these things and by next week this time I will be thinking about my next trip and longing to be away again.
I didn’t take very many photos; living in the moment and creating living memories.No doubt, I am one lucky fella.Don’t be upset if you do not see yourself here, I chose these pics quickly — I blame jet lag.
Some of the highlights and pitfalls of my time in the States (not all fact, but a whole lot of opinion):
The non-U.S. passport line at JFK was a lot shorter; there is a first time for everything.
I oddly had little to no jet lag going west.
The old Penn Station was like entering hell without warning. I’m still suffering from PTSD — Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a psychiatric disorder that may occur in people who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event such as a natural disaster, a serious accident, a terrorist act, war/combat, or rape or who have been threatened with death, sexual violence or serious injury (Google).
New York City is not the same with Broadway gone dark and that’s just a fact.
People get angry with you when you’re nearby, but have no time to see them. Please don’t be mad at me.
The food in New York City is better than anywhere I have ever been (must be the competition).
Brooklyn Bridge Park is absolutely incredible and should not be missed — what a gift to the people of Brooklyn and the city of New York.
There is no bed like your own bed.
May is the best month of the year for good weather in the northeast (mostly not hot and humid).
I understand why they say you can never go home again.
No one gets you the way your siblings do.
Charlotte, North Carolina has exploded (I went to university there).
BBQ should only be eaten in the south.
Downtown Boston is not easy to navigate since the Big Dig. I almost missed my bus back to New York (plug for Flexi Bus; easy and inexpensive way to travel).
I’ve been writing this blog for three years and much to my chagrin, friends actually said this, ” . . . so what is your blog about?”
Not everyone is happy that I was able to get the J&J vaccine in Brooklyn. Doesn’t matter, I’m glad I did.
I spent way too much time throughout my travels, thinking about quarantine weight.
I refuse to travel back to the United States during this pandemic; I know we’re all hoping things will improve soon.
I thought turning your data off on your cell stopped you from roaming. A cell phone bill for hundreds of euros let me know that I was wrong. I’m certain cell carriers and cell phone manufacturers are in cahoots regarding this issue. My iphone has to be on airplane mode to avoid roaming charges. I can assure you that unless I have dementia (do I?), that will never happen again.
You know I have a lot more to say, note my restraint.
A Minha Casa
Now that I have been home for almost a week, I can sit back and reflect on the significance of this last visit to my place of birth. People I know and love have lots going on; they’re frenetic, preoccupied and manic. That doesn’t mean they love me or think of me any less. What it does mean, is that I need to be patient and understanding. All I ask in return, is the same consideration
I painted stenciled blue birds on my solarium floor on my first full day home. No doubt I was seeking peace and tranquility. Hoping to squash that PTSD.
I cancelled my trip to Lyon scheduled for next week. Too much COVID-19 testing and complicated travel. Businesses blaming everything that goes wrong on this virus is getting old.
I have tickets to Bristol, UK in July — who knows if that will happen. It’s only been postponed four times. Stockholm in August, Toulouse in September, London and a European cruise in October, and a long awaited trip to five Asian countries in January 2022. Cuba moved to February and the planning continues. I keep telling myself it’s okay to plan, even though it’s a bit insane. Humans are strange after all.
April was a significant month for me, the United States government officially acknowledged my hard work and said, in not so many words, you can retire now and we’ll give you back a fraction of the money you paid in for all of those years — 43 years to be exact. For reasons I won’t go into here, I have decided to wait on those funds a bit longer.
Still, milestones are laden with questions and expectations: Am I retired? Have I achieved all that I desire? What is my ultimate purpose in life? What matters most? Are there more rats in the world than people? Who really cares?
When I started this blog three years ago, I was addressing three important personal concerns:
What will I do with all of my spare time now that I am no longer employed (my choice)?
Does anyone care about what I think? It’s all about feeling relevant.
Can I monetize blogging?
Time is a tricky reality. When you are happily doing what you want to do, it just sort of slips away. I have never truly felt “retired.” My days are filled with so many wonderful and interesting things to do and now that travel is back in the mix, I don’t think I’ll have much time to think about time.
Some people do seem to care about what I have to say; however, oddly, not my family. I don’t think any of them follow my blog. Perhaps if I ask them to read a particular piece, they might. At first I was hurt by this, but I have evolved and now I could care less. I do have several close friends who read my blog each week and some even comment. I convinced myself early on that I write for myself; so much of life is what you tell yourself.
I cannot monetize my blog because I refuse to make it about one thing. My topics are all over the place and that’s the way I want it. Money is important, but it’s not everything.
The bottom line is that I’m been fairly structured about publishing on a timeline/deadline. It’s been weekly from the start and that has worked fairly well for me. My schedule for 2021 has changed dramatically due to my travel plans. Most of my 2020 trips were moved to 2021, making it more difficult to stick with a weekly format. So basically, I will continue to write, but my posts will be more sporadic. This will provide more freedom, less structure, and perhaps my readers will enjoy the anticipation. I’ve been trying to be more loosey goosey for years; I’d like to think I’m coming around. Not easy when you’ve behaved a certain way your entire life. Other people do not impose expectations, it’s all me. Time to get away from that if I can, this is a start.
My problem with routine is this: I think after a while anything can become boring. I realize there has to be some order in my life; Paco for example expects to go out certain times throughout the day. Sleep on a schedule is important; without sleep I’m useless. But so many other things can and will be more spontaneous. Here are just a few of my daily “must dos” that will hopefully become less structured:
coffee in the morning
Paco to the dog park
gym time (I prefer early morning when I have optimal energy)
watching the news
catching up with friends
trying out a new recipe(s)
tending to my terrace garden (plants and herbs)
Up to this point I actually noted many of these daily to dos on my daily calendar. I find way too much comfort in checking things off a list. Yesterday (Sunday 5/2) I went about my day with a blank calendar. By the end of the day I was amazed how much I got done just by doing things when I felt moved to do it. I planted on my terrace, grilled, and hung some photos; none of these things were planned.
Now you need to stop laughing; it’s just not right. I can do this. I can change. I will change. Now I’m laughing.
There is a part of the day that I have come to love and appreciate; I don’t believe that I should shake things up to much. After dinner I take Paco to the park across the street from my apartment. There are always people strolling, runners running, and other dog walkers — I don’t know most of them and I like it that way. It’s peaceful. It’s the start of the winding down process. Once we are inside and my teeth are brushed, there is no more eating; sometimes a snifter of brandy, sometimes not. I save my favorite series from Netflix or HBO for this time of day. If there is a new film out that I can subscribe to, I order it. My cell phone automatically goes on do not disturb and so does my brain. The light from the sun going down is magical in the late spring and summer. This two or three hour ritual prepares me for sleep. I have learned the hard way, one cannot go from 60 to five in 30 minutes. Why mess with a process that is almost guaranteed to make a restorative sleep possible.
I entitled this post “Going Forward,” in truth, this was a roundabout way of telling you that in the future, I will only be writing when I have something to say. If you’re a subscriber, they will be dropped into your email box whenever I complete an entry. Please continue to comment and provide feedback — it’s fuel.
I read The Midnight Library by Matt Haig this week. If you’re searching for meaning in your life, I highly recommend this wonderful, insightful, provocative, novel.
I’m getting a bit of flack for traveling during a pandemic, but there are some advantages and I believe in freedom to choose (if the law allows):
The airplanes I’ve travelled on have only been about a third full and studies have shown the air filtration systems are safer than if you go into a grocery store (for example). I usually pay for a comfort seat, ensuring more distance.
Plane tickets to European destinations have been greatly reduced.
Hotels that are open have been clean and fairly inexpensive (I stayed in a one bedroom apartment on the marina in São Miguel for a week, with breakfast, four star: 425 Euros).
The airlines and destinations require COVID-19 testing
You are helping the tourism industry. Frankly, without some influx of funds, many will go bust. This will create monopolies and greater costs to the customer in the long run.
A great way to visit places you’ve never travelled to.
A good cure for cabin fever.
Once crowded destinations are calm and peaceful.
Paco needed a break from being around his dad 24/7.
I’m not sure I can stop myself.
From Faro I always have the choice of getting to Lisbon three different ways: air, train, or bus. I usually choose first class on the train. It’s a little over three hours, no pre-boarding obstacles at the station, lots of space to move around, very inexpensive, clean, and relaxing. My roundtrip ticket was 35 euros, and I think, a good value.
There were a couple of airlines going to São Miguel, however, Sata Azores Airlines, was reasonable and the flight times in both directions were perfect. I could take the train from Faro in the morning with more than enough time to make a 1:35 p.m. flight. The flight time was about 2 hours 15 minutes. A great way to get there. You may have to wait for the train on return, but I made the best of it by dining out for lunch (see Choosing Where to Stay).
I believe Air Portugal also flies out of Lisbon to São Miguel. They have decent fares, but they also have a lot of add-on fees (seats, bags, etc.).
If you’re going to any of the other islands, I believe you have to take another flight or a boat. I honestly did not explore these options. What I did learn, was that São Miguel was the only island that imposed restrictions on restaurants.
The airline insisted on luggage check which actually worked out well because I was able to purchase several authentic liquid products that I have not seen in Faro.
Choosing Where to Stay
I checked out Booking.com, Hotels.com, and Airbnb and ultimately went with Booking.com because the rate was good and I get free upgrades due to my status with the site. I also like that you can cancel most reservations up to a couple of days prior and you usually do not have to pay until you check in. When I booked the trip two weeks ago, restaurants and museums were open. Since then there has been an increase in COVID-19 cases and until the end of April, the restaurants (just a few), are only able to do takeout. Having learned this at the airport in Lisbon, there was obviously no turning back. I figured I’d go with it and in all honesty, it wasn’t a big deal. Well, the casino closing was a big deal, but in the long run I probably saved boatloads of cash.
I decided that it would be crazy to be in a double room for a week, being that I had to sleep and eat in the same space — I’m not in college any more after all. I asked the desk staff what it would cost for a larger room on the marina and he told me it would be an additional 80 euros. I was pleasantly surprised, paid for the upgrade and headed to my room. I was elated when I got to the room and it was a large, fully equipped, one bedroom apartment. Considering the hotel is fairly full, I felt very fortunate. Not only could I eat in a dining area on a dining table, but I could also reheat leftovers. This made the week a whole lot nicer. Hotel Gaivota is a four star property in need of a little redecorating. All in all, I was pleased with the service, cleanliness, and breakfast was excellent; especially the freshly made cakes and breads.
I was walking distance to just about anywhere in town and there was a walking/bike path right on the edge of the marina that went for miles along a beautiful coastline. It was the perfect spot for a week of sun, storms (I love storms), and lots of wind.
Unfortunately, I did not get my 5:00 a.m. wake-up call. I’m an early riser so it was fine. I never sleep well the night before an early flight so I was up by 4:15 a.m. You can never rely on a hotel wake-up call. I had also set my cell phone alarm as a back-up. You can see how being obsessive-compulsive can help you get places . . . and ensure that you lose your mind.
Wearing a mask from 6:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. wasn’t easy. I had lunch at PekingPeking in Lisbon and so, a short reprieve. The best Chinese food I have had in Portugal to date. Delicious buffet and a very pretty restaurant . . . and indoor dining on the mainland. Paco was in surgery to remove a tumor on his paw while I was dining; not a great situation, but by the time I finished lunch he was out of surgery and doing well. Five hours later he was cuddled up by my side. This fella is a trooper.
As I mentioned earlier, take-out or delivery was my only option and only a dozen or so non-chain restaurants were open.
I had take-out from Ramires twice and the food was excellent and travelled well. They’re well known for their piri piri chicken, however, I thought the ribs were even better. A full meal delivered to your door for 10 euros. They were on the marina and nearby.
These are the restaurants I heard and read were fantastic that I did not get to try because of the pandemic: A Tasca, Ōtaka, Balcony Restaurant, and Restaurant Mariserra. No doubt that I will return at a later date.
I discuss the famous cozido das Furnas stew later in this piece. You cannot visit the Azores without giving this dish a try.
There are several pineapple growers on the island. I learned that the São Miguel was once known for its oranges, but a plague wiped them out and the crops were replaced with hardier pineapple plants. Pineapples were not yet in season. I did eat pineapple, however, not certain of where it was grown. The pineapples from São Miguel are smaller and supposedly sweeter.
Mainland Portuguese people are extremely welcoming and helpful, but the people I encountered on São Miguel were far more open and very laid back — island life I guess.
The food is different; spicier and more flavorful. Perhaps it’s the influence of other cultures. It’s out in the middle of the Atlantic and the cuisine has its own distinct signature. I was pleasantly surprised, especially since restaurants were not permitted to serve, indoors or outdoors.
Considering it’s a tourist destination, everything was quite reasonable. I was surprised that mainland wine was the same price as you pay on the mainland. I tried a couple of wines from the Azores and decided to stick with wines from Alentejo and Douro.
Hiking is amazing on the islands. It’s peaceful and naturally stunning. If hiking is your thing, the Azores is a great destination for you.
If you’re looking for nightlife and partying, this is probably not the right place. I was told that even during non-pandemic times, the nightlife is fairly mellow. Don’t get me wrong, there are lots of bars and many public spaces for evening strolls. Definitely more my speed.
The natural thermal springs were my favorite part of this trip. There are several on the island and most were open.
My review for: São Miguel East Full Day Tour, Pure Azores (Miguel)
I had the great pleasure of spending the day with Filipe touring the eastern part of São Miguel. Despite the wind and the rain, I had a special tour in a naturally beautiful location. I was served an excellent lunch — a traditional Azores stew, cozido das Furnas, cooked in the ground. My first time experiencing food slow cooked this way and I enjoyed every bite. Four different kinds of meat, cabbage, greens, yams, and natural juices. If you can make the time for this island tour, you will be glad you did. Communication with Miguel was excellent. A five star experience.
My second tour (experience) was a gin tasting with Ali. I booked it through Airbnb. I have mostly found Airbnb experiences to be a great value, entertaining, easy to book, and memorable. Makes me wish that I owned stock in Airbnb. I don’t always use Airbnb for overnight stays because I enjoy staying in the center of the cities. You can get to key locations quickly and a car is unnecessary. I find center city flats to be more expensive than high quality hotels. I’ve grown very fond of the breakfast usually included in European hotel stays. Having said this, I have found beautiful apartments at a good value, especially when I book early. For example, I’m going to Lyon in June and I found a beautiful apartment in the center for less than 100 euros a night. It takes a bit of work and planning, but always worth the extra effort. Hotels are also competing with Airbnb these days by offering suites and apartments at decent rates. I’m sure Airbnb owners are not happy about this. I understand having a cleaning fee; however, I have found some Airbnb owners abuse this part of the cost.
Gin Tasting details: “We will conduct our gin masterclass in the Gin Library, located on the grounds of The Solar Branco 1885 Eco-Estate. Perfectly located less than 10 minutes from the main city of Ponta Delgada.The heritage house sits on top of a hill, surrounded by farmland, overlooking the quaint town of Livramento and the ocean beyond.”
Ali is a British expat living the dream. He is renovating ruins on his property and he was happy to show me around; a real treat. I’m always amazed at the commitment and perseverance it takes to restore a centuries old property in Europe. Ali and his wife have been getting approvals and restoring since early 2018 and they are close to completing their living quarters, just a small part of this ambitious project. It felt special to be in on the details of making this happen.
Ali shares some great tips about the Azores. The best was his taxi resource, Carlos. Carlos was a treat: good driver, nice car, and reliable (+351.962.374.849). He also told me about Joana who delivers sushi to your door. Couldn’t ask for better than that when dining out is not an option.
That’s Ali of course and Brooklyn Gin — which I didn’t try or purchase because I’ll be in Brooklyn in a few weeks and I thought it would be fun to try to find it. Ali assured me it was a fin gin.
On my final day, I did an all day tour of the western part of the island. This is when I went to Sete Cidades (seven lakes) and visited several beautiful sites and small towns. The pineapple plant was a highlight. Due to closures, this tour was good, but not great. Once again I had a private tour, this time with the tour owner’s son. If you would like to know the name of the tour company, please let me know. I don’t believe it’s fair to judge them due to pandemic conditions.
Photographs of the Island
It’s easy to take great photos in the Azores. Everything is lush and green (several shades) and the light is beautiful no matter what time of the day. The weather changes frequently, but that adds to the charm and mystery of the place. I’m excited to see some of the other islands; the locals say they’re all different and worth a visit. Several are a short boat ride away and others are quick plane trip. Pico Island is the one I’m most excited to visit in the future. I selected only a few photos to share; as you know I try to remain in the moment and minimize my picture taking:
New York, North Carolina, and Boston May 11 if all goes well. I have be tested within 72 hours of travel and that means weekend testing. This might not be so easy in the Algarve. Booked for Lyon, France June 9.
Question of the Week:
Have you been to the Azores? What was your experience?