What is Love?

Better yet . . . what is love to me?

“He that falls in love with himself will have no rivals.” -Benjamin Franklin

 

 

 

I’ve blogged about friendship, fear, loss, sexuality and so on, and so I thought that it is time for love. Must be all this talk of Valentine’s Day, although it’s not quite as commercial here in Portugal. Maybe it is and I’m just not aware of it.

Who am I to speak of love? I ask myself this question because I have had several failed relationships over the past 40 years. Perhaps that makes me as qualified as anyone else to pontificate on love. It is essential to question and examine; searching for answers that will help us to better understand ourselves and the world we live in.

 

How do I know that I am capable of loving?

This may seem like an odd question, but it’s important for me to begin by acknowledging (to myself) that I am certain that I have loved and that I continue to love deeply. My earliest memory of a love that was extremely intense and painful, was a childhood memory. I was in first grade, so I believe I was seven years old. My father was taking a month-long trip to Italy, his birthplace, to see his family living in Bisceglie. He had never travelled overseas and he had never been away overnight.

Bisceglie, Puglia

 

In my mind, Bisceglie was far, far away, and dad was going on an airplane and he’d probably never come back. Where these thoughts came from, I haven’t a clue. I vividly remember missing him badly and praying for his safe return. This felt very much like love. It was a love so strong it remains with me today and probably will until the day I die — I think of my father daily. Admittedly, I never felt this same love for my mother. I did love my mother, however, not with the same intensity.

I use that experience as my “love barometer” and I can say honestly that I only feel that kind of love for a handful of people and Giorgio, my pet whom I lost a few months ago.

About Bisceglie:  I’ve never been. I want to go, but I have always said that I would experience my father’s birthplace with the person I intend to spend my life with. I think it’s time to let go of that notion and just go. I believe it will be an important journey.

 

When was the first time I felt love?

I was four years old and I remember my sister AnnMarie crawling into my twin bed. She was 11 years old at the time. She whispered “I love you” in my ear and I purred like a kitten; a feeling of love washed over me and I said, I love you too.

I believe I remember this particular moment because AnnMarie was a substitute mother to me when I was a child; she took very good care of me; I was her doll. Perhaps I am mistaking nurturing for love? Something tells me the two go hand-in-hand.

 

Can you teach people how to love?

I imagine this question has been asked since humankind recognized love and gave it a name. Love seems to be one of the characteristics we share with the rest of the animal kingdom. I’ve witnessed it in so many different ways in many different species. The love for a parent, a sibling, a friend and for others of our own species. We express this love in many ways and we do things, good and bad things, as a result of feeling love.

It appears that forces exist that attempt, successfully or unsuccessfully, to destroy our ability to love. I would say that we are all born with that innate ability; however, human beings sometimes, for whatever reason, attempt to destroy another human being’s ability or desire to love — it is the root of so many of our problems.

I have also observed that some individuals seem to be born with the great gift of a heart that is so full they inspire others to open up their own hearts. Love can grow larger just as easily as it can be extinguished. We can doubt, question, betray, harm, and walk away from love; this appears to be a trait that separates us from other animals.

 

The difference between loving someone and making love

I have never believed that sex and love are the same thing. Sex is an instinctual behavior. All animals have sex or seek sex with one another. I assume it all started as a way to procreate and then morphed into a pleasurable act. I won’t go into all that here; this is a blog about love. I do believe that sex is one way of expressing one’s love for another, but obviously love and sex are not mutually exclusive. I believe it’s dangerous to mix the two things up. Doing so has certainly created problems for me in the past.

 

How love changes as you age

Perhaps love doesn’t change as you age, but what does change is your understanding of love and your appreciation for love. I have become cautious and fearful. Opening myself up to love someone deeply:  something I’m working on; I have a long list.

 

The joy love brings

It was only a few months ago that I lost my dog Giorgio. When I think about unconditional love, it is Giorgio that comes to mind. I am skeptical when it comes to human beings loving one another unconditionally; I may have to be convinced. I’m fairly certain that no one has ever loved me the way Giorgio loved me. I was his human. I have come to realize that only those who have had a devoted pet truly understand the bond between an animal and a human. I know it’s not just because I fed him and took care of him. It’s unlike any other love that exists and I am forever grateful for having experienced that love at least three times in my life. I’m hoping I get to have it again someday.

 

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Giorgio posing for my friend Mauro Fermariello, an Italian Photographer. So grateful Mauro captured Giorgio for me — this was a beautiful gift I will always cherish.

Scientific proof (link)

 

The Ultimate Love

I’m not sure where I heard it first, but I think Ru Paul says it best,

“If you don’t love yourself, how in the hell you gonna love somebody else?”

When I first heard this notion of loving yourself I thought it was rubbish and I dismissed it without much thought for a long time. Then in my mid-thirties, I was sitting with my therapist and she said, “Do you love yourself?” My immediate thought was I need to find a new therapist and then I realized how much I liked her and I seriously considered her question.

In order to answer truthfully I had to spend the entire week prior to my next session pondering her question. I returned the following week and told her that I unfortunately did not like myself very much. I figured out that this is how therapists get you to stay in therapy longer — it was a hook. I jest, she convinced me to consider where this was coming from and why. I could easily blame it on my mother; she gave me permission to do so when I told her I was seeing a therapist. It would be too easy to do that so I decided to try to alter my thinking. My therapist told me that I should look in the mirror and say, I love you.” I laughed about that for weeks and then I tried it one day. It was admittedly one of the more difficult things I’ve ever done. Oh, I could say it easily, but not without laughing in my own face.

I made a conscious decision to say it to myself before falling asleep at night and to mention it in passing to myself at various times of the day — out loud by the way. After a while, like anything else, it got easier and I actually started believing it. I would buy myself flowers at the farmer’s market, put them in a vase and present them to myself with, “I love you Christopher.” Why is it so easy to do this for someone else, but so difficult for ourselves.

The newly enlightened me does it all the time now. I take myself to dinner, buy myself plane tickets, shop for new clothes and each time, I remind myself that I am giving myself a gift and a big hug. It no longer feels awkward or weird; it feels natural. The added benefit is this:

When  you love someone you want all good things for them. You want them to be healthy and happy and to feel appreciated. When you love yourself, you want all of those things for yourself. You begin to live a healthier lifestyle for the sole purpose of feeling good for yourself. And people notice this about you. They smile and say things like, “It’s great to see you so happy,” or “You look terrific,” or even better, they stop expecting you to have another person to complete you. They actually recognize that you can be happy and single at the same time. I came to this realization not too long ago and it is hands down one of the greatest life lessons I have learned. There are many more lessons to learn; however, the ability to love myself and forgive myself, makes everything else just a little easier.

 

 

 

Growing Up in Brooklyn

 

“Apparently Brooklyn needn’t always push itself to be something else, something conscious and anxious, something pointed toward Manhattan…. Brooklyn might sometimes also be pleased, as here on Flatbush, to be its grubby, enduring self.”
― Jonathan Lethem, The Fortress of Solitude
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Taken in Brooklyn, New York in the 70s

Have you ever been in the audience at a concert or comedy club or anywhere and the person on stage mentions Brooklyn and there will almost always be someone or more than one person in the audience who screams and shouts (loudly)? People who were born in Brooklyn or live in Brooklyn are filled with pride; some say it borders on obnoxious behaviors. Actually, people who come from Brooklyn believe they have supernatural powers.

I would know, because I was born and raised in Brooklyn and I too have supernatural powers. My boyish charm and charisma are proof of my powers, no? Okay, okay, I digress. But honestly folks, there is something about Brooklyn that makes one believe he or she is really special. How else would you explain Barbra Streisand (click), Jay Z, Woody Allen, Joy Behar, and on and on (click for long list)?

 

The Brooklyn of My Youth

  • Coney Island — I was born in Coney Island. It was of course very different back then. There was Steeplechase Park (click), an amusement park that was probably responsible for putting Coney Island on the map. It closed when I was a little boy; however, I have fond memories of the fun houses and rides. There truly was nothing like it in the world. The Amusement Park that is still operating today took its place and although it is not Steeplechase, it’s a great place to bring the kids. My dad immigrated from Italy and moved to Coney Island as a young man. He was a member of a social club and he knew most of the ride owners. I would go straight from school to the amusement park and ride the Cyclone for hours without having to pay. My mother worked at the snack bar at Coney Island hospital where she gave birth to several of my siblings. For some reason, I was born at a different hospital — probably her doctor; I never asked. My mother’s mother was born in Russia — so you see where all my problems originated.
  • The Streets — the streets of Brooklyn were safe back then. Parents would not have thought twice about allowing their children to play stickball in the streets. I pretty certain this is a practice of the past.
  • Restaurants — Because Brooklyn had over 2.5 million residents from all over the world (see below), 50 years ago you could find really good Italian, Russian, Chinese and other ethnic foods. And then of course there was Nathans hot dogs — I still crave these crunchy dogs today. You can get them in many different places (franchise), but to get truly have the Nathan’s experience you have to go to Coney Island. The fries and the Little Neck clams were also memorable.
  • Confidence versus attitude (arrogance) — many people accuse Brooklynite’s of being over-confident. I would argue that a healthy self-esteem is a good thing. Perhaps there are Brooklynite’s with an attitude, but these kind of people live everywhere. The pride one feels about coming from Brooklyn has a great deal to do with the richness of the culture, the diversity, the many great things that have come out of Brooklyn and Brooklyn’s historical resistance to living in the shadow of Manhattan. Brooklyn has always had its own identity and boatloads of things to be proud of.
  • Welcome Back Kotter (click) — was a very successful television comedy series in the 70s. A photograph of my high school, New Utrecht High School, was shown at the beginning and the end of every episode. I didn’t especially appreciate the notion of Sweat Hogs (a whole class of not-very-bright teenagers), but I did relate to a good deal of the show.
  • The Brooklyn Museum, the Brooklyn Public Library, the Farmer’s Market, Prospect Park, the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens, the beaches — it took me so long to discover how rich in culture Brooklyn truly is. We took school trips to all of these magnificent places and I took it all for granted. I assume I absorbed some of it, but it was not until I moved to North Carolina that I realized what I had been exposed to as a child.

 

Brooklyn Public Library by DS.JPG

 

Central Branch
The Brooklyn Public Library

Ground was broken for a Brooklyn central library on Prospect Park Plaza (Grand Army Plaza) in 1912. The design of the original architect Raymond Almirall called for a domed, four-story Beaux Arts building, similar in style to the nearby Brooklyn Museum. Escalating costs and political in-fighting helped slow construction throughout the decade. World War I and the Great Depression ensured that Almirall’s building, whose Flatbush Avenue wing had been completed by 1929, would never be built. In the 1930s, the architects Githens and Keally were commissioned to redesign the building, eliminating all the expensive ornamentation and the entire fourth floor. After much public and critical praise for the comparatively inexpensive Art Deco structure, construction recommenced in 1938. Almirall’s building on Flatbush Avenue was largely demolished except for the frame. (Some of the original facade that faces in toward the library’s parking lot is still visible.) Completed by late 1940, the Central Library opened to the public on February 1, 1941. It is regarded today as one of America’s greatest Art Deco buildings (Wikipedia).

 

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The Brooklyn Museum houses over one million pieces of artwork. I had no idea how important the museum was when I was growing up.

 

Prospect Park

The 585-acre green heart of Brooklyn, is arguably the best park in New York City? Even its famed designers, Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert B.Vaux, considered it their masterpiece (more fun Wikipedia facts). But Central Park in Manhattan casts a very large shadow over Prospect Park; doesn’t matter it was my playground as a child. We lived only a few blocks away and the sleigh riding in winter was awesome.

The Framer’s Market

There is so much about Brooklyn that I can opine about and I would bore you and sound boastful, so I’ll only mention one more magical place:  there are many farmer’s markets in Brooklyn; however, none are quite as vast as the market at Grand Army Plaza, Prospect Park. From Grow NYC:

“Founded in 1989, Grand Army Plaza is Greenmarket’s flagship Brooklyn market, and the second largest market in the program, behind Union Square. Located at the northwest entrance to beautiful Prospect Park— and just steps from the Brooklyn Public Library, the Brooklyn Museum, and the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. This community destination brings together a mix of shoppers from the nearby neighborhoods of Park Slope, Prospect Heights, Crown Heights, and beyond. Runners, dog-walkers, families, singles and foodies all converge to buy from the huge array of farm fresh products, and to participate in the programming and cooking demonstrations that take place every Saturday all year-long.”

My apartment was one block away (5 minute walk) from the market in North Park Slope. I would wake up at my usual 5:15 a.m. (except when I went clubbing), have my coffee on my terrace (which faced the park — couldn’t see the park through the trees) and then walk over to my market to buy greens for the week. I never bought bread because I got the most amazing bread free from The French Culinary Institute bread kitchen. Well, it wasn’t really free because I worked my tooshie off for it.

The Landscape (Demographics)

Map of Brooklyn

Population trend[1]
Year Inhabitants
1731 2,150
1756 2,707
1771 3,623
1786 3,966
1790 4,549
1800 5,740
1810 8,303
1820 11,187
1830 20,535
1840 47,613
1850 138,822
1860 279,122
1870 419,921
1880 599,495
Year Inhabitants
1890 838,547
1900 1,166,582
1910 1,634,351
1920 2,018,356
1930 2,560,401
1940 2,698,285
1950 2,738,175
1960 2,627,319
1970 2,602,012
1980 2,230,936
1990 2,300,664
2000 2,465,326
2010 2,504,710
2015 2,636,735

Neighborhoods

Brooklyn, like many other cities, is divided up into many neighborhoods. Each has its own identity and culture. I spent a lot of time exploring before purchasing my very first apartment. I didn’t have very much money at the time, but I begged, borrowed, and sold my life insurance policy for a $9,000 down payment. Park Slope was one of the most beautiful areas I had ever visited and prior to a colleague showing it to me, I had no idea it existed. I was very fortunate to find a tiny one bedroom with a fireplace and terrace just one block from Prospect Park and only a few blocks from the subway. It was a four floor walk-up in a beautiful 1880s brownstone. While I was living there the economy improved and Brooklyn as a brand, took off. I took advantage of the boom and sold my place to upgrade to a two bedroom in a dicey section of Fort Greene I knew would become more desirable; after all, Manhattan’s desirable housing inventory was expensive and not easy to come by. the downtown Brooklyn Fort Greene area was right next to the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges with amazing views of Manhattan and easy access to the city — it seemed like a good move. All of these real estate decisions were fairly impulsive. I keep telling myself that I must have been thinking about the economy and the times, but I can’t recall when that thinking might have taken place.  It was certainly not happening at work or at the clubs. Perhaps I just got lucky.

Brooklyn has been good to me my entire life and I consider it my home. I will return to my roots for the rest of my life and I will never take Brooklyn for granted.

 

Diversity

Without going into specifics about the enormous diversity that has always existed in Brooklyn, let’s just say that living side-by-side with individuals from all over the world teaches a child a great deal about similarities and differences among individuals. I recall racial tension in Brooklyn around the issue of busing kids from one neighborhood to the other. It wasn’t pretty; there were walkouts and boycotts and a lot of angry people, but in due time it was sorted out. After awhile, people learned how to be with one another. I am certain that racism and religious bias continues to exist in Brooklyn; however, I am also certain that there have always been progressive individuals who were and are willing to do the work that needs to be done. As a child, I lived on a street with Italians, Hasidic Jews, Reformed Jews, Chinese, Irish, Greeks, and I’m certain, other nationalities. We held an annual block party where nearly every family put out food and danced in the street; it was honestly an international festival.

I believe that people from all over the world are moving to Brooklyn partly because they know that they will be embraced and provided with opportunities to earn a living and live their dream. I know this sounds “pie in the sky,” but I truly believe my thoughts have merit.

 

Why Brooklyn is Celebrated Everywhere

When I travel and meet new people, the first question is always, “Where are you from?” I was always proud to say, Brooklyn, New York. The reaction I got 20 years ago, even ten years ago, is not the reaction I get today. Today, people say, “Really, I want to go there.” For a Brooklynite, this is music to my ears. Of course you want to go there, it’s like going to Venice, except that there are no canals (that’s not entirely true) and/or stunning architecture (of course some will dispute this as well).

 

Brooklyn Today

I have to be very careful here. If I say anything disparaging about Brooklyn, they’ll come to Portugal to hunt me down. It’s easy to look back at the past and say things like:  things were different back then; it was safer and it was a more innocent time. Every generation perceives their particular generation to be smarter, innocent, and more fortunate.

I left Brooklyn to Move to Manhattan because I took a position at NYU that included housing. When it was time for me to purchase an apartment, I realized I could get more for my money there and it was before it became trendy to own or live there. In Brooklyn I could own a car and park on the street, drive to restaurants, drive into Manhattan or the other boroughs and eat at ethnic restaurants offering world-class cuisine. Again, to be sure, I had no idea what I had when I had it. I will always be grateful for the Brooklyn of my youth.

 

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The Brooklyn Brige. Clearly one of the most magnificent bridges in the world (USA Today photo)

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The block I grew up on in Bensonhurst. I am in the back on the left; always photo shy. My friend Joey is the one holding the bat. He was the alpha male of 66th Street  ca. 1967

Traveling as an American Expat

My New Backyard (Europe and Africa)

 

 

Happy New Year! It’s nice to be back after a couple of weeks of celebrating and traveling.

If you prefer a travel blogger who provides the easiest way to get there and all the places to go, stay and eat; that’s not me. I’ll give you a glimpse of what I experienced and then some thoughts on culture, value, ease, etc. I may occasionally plug an exceptional restaurant and/or hotel. I want this to be fun and it won’t be if I have to chronicle my trips from start to finish.

I titled this piece “Traveling as an American Expat” because I noticed that each time I have left Portugal it has been very easy to exit and even easier to re-enter. I’m not stating that every American has the same experience that I have, but I have admittedly been pleasantly surprised. I have left Portugal a dozen times and I have only had to show my resident visa once and that was in Edinburgh and it took all of three seconds. I look around at border patrol/customs and I notice others do not have it as easy; this is especially true for middle easterners and that makes me sad. I won’t go into political implications and biases, but suffice it to say that I am ashamed of how many in this world are treated because of their residence or religion.

Allow me to come clean about a few things before I begin:

  1. I am extremely fussy. I like things a certain way and I’m rarely if ever completely satisfied; ask my friends.
  2. I often learn as I go. Because I sometimes make impulsive or rash decisions, I usually make a mistake and then try not to repeat it.
  3. I don’t take pictures of everything and I don’t go on social media every time I have an experience. I’m trying to be more present and that means less time on my cell phone.
  4. I don’t rely on TripAdvisor or sites where people share their opinions. I find that the average person’s standards are not up to snuff. I’m feeling somewhat hypocritical because I have been known to share my dining critiques on social media. Some people will write nice things because they can never say anything bad. Some people will always be nasty because they have no idea how else to be. Some people will write about food:  quality, taste, value, and so on and they know nothing about food.
  5. I truly love traveling off-season. The deals are hard to beat and there are so few tourists, you get a true sense of what it’s like for the locals. You may discover that some places are closed off-season or hours might be curtailed; a minor inconvenience I am willing to put up with. Be sure to research the weather if that is a factor for you. I prefer to travel to places where temperatures are mild in winter.

 

Asilah, Morocco

 

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I took this photograph from the living room  our Airbnb in Asilah

 

I took a day trip to Tangier over 15 years ago. I have always felt that since I had a guide and I only spent eight hours there, that it wasn’t fair to say much about Morocco. The last time I took a ferry from Tarifa, Spain and to be honest, it was more about stepping foot on the African continent. I wanted to travel to Morocco the same way this time; however, the ferry schedule off-season is sporadic and getting to and from Tarifa would have been no easy task. Instead, I took a comfortable and very affordable (34 Euros roundtrip) bus to Seville, Spain and then a flight on RyanAir (120 Euro round trip with checked bag). RyanAir is a no frills airline. Check-in is sometimes chaotic; however, the staff is efficient and travel is a bargain. I had a new airplane on my return flight which was very comfortable. Honestly, the flight is 30 minutes and the best part of that is that if you have to pee, you can hold it in. When you arrive in Tangier, you breeze through passport control because there are no other people at the airport. I don’t believe there are more than 10 flights going in and out of that airport in a 24 hour period; it’s almost eerie it’s so void of people.

My friend Patrick rented a car to get to Asilah and there were no other people at Avis so we got our car in five minutes. Again, we left the airport without seeing very many other people. Take note that if you decide to drive on Moroccan highways (toll roads) you need Dirham because they don’t accept anything else except Moroccan money at the toll booths. The roads are new and easy to drive on; except for the very strong winds that Patrick was forced to navigate.

When we arrived in Asilah we followed our GPS to the house, but it took us to a huge public outdoor bazaar. There were hundreds (maybe thousands) of Moroccans participating in an outdoor festival. When were a little lost looking for our Airbnb. The crowds were walking in the streets and the people did not really seem to notice our car, nor did they care to move for us. It was a strange experience. We had to crawl through the crowds of people. We eventually got hold of our host who told us that we could not park outside of the house which was located inside a walled city — the Medina (not the famous one). The Medina was filled with shops and homes and very narrow streets. We had to park in a paid lot in the middle of the festival and walk to our house. It was only meters away from the parking lot, but prior to setting out to find our place, we had no idea how far we’d have to lug our bags.

 

We found our house, which was not quite like the photos, but isn’t that usually the case. Still, it was a beautiful house with ocean and Medina views. We would all have been happier if it wasn’t so cold in the house. It took us 24 hours to figure out how to make it warm and we only had 48 hours. The best thing about the house was Fatima. Fatima and her husband are caretakers for the house and they truly did take good care of us. We had a terrific breakfast and they made us a fire. Fatima quietly disappeared and made-up my bed during breakfast. I’m nearly 60 years old and I’m not sure anyone has made-up my bed since I was five years old — that was a real treat.

The house was in the Medina (not the one in Saudi Arabia), a walled city in Asilah, (click for more from Lonely Planet).

We had a full day to explore the Medina and the surrounding area. Fortunately, we are all walkers and so we walked. The Medina had narrow streets and pathways and lots of artisan shops (see my big purchase below).

We decided to celebrate New Year’s Eve at a restaurant in Asilah and we stumbled upon:

Port IV (click) Restaurant

This is probably Asilah’s best place to eat right now and we enjoyed it immensely. The service was good and almost all of us were happy with our choices (no photos, sorry). Having a full bar was a bonus and the owner made me a very authentic gin martini. I was one happy fella. Although I was unable to stay up till midnight, I did enjoy being with friends and being in Morocco; it’s a night I won’t soon forget.

 

Tangiers (Tanger for the locals)

 

 

As I mentioned earlier, I visited Tangier years ago. I had only seen a small part of the city and from what I have heard, it has changed quite a bit. I stayed at the Movenpick Hotel and Casino for two reasons:  First I got a great off-season rate for this four star property and second, I was in the mood for some blackjack. Both paid off. My room was spacious and beautifully appointed (some really nice bathroom products as well) and the casino was pleasant and on the second day, I celebrated a small winning streak. I had a nice meal at Miami Restaurant which was nearby. Their French pastries were especially lovely. Most Moroccans speak French and there were French pastries at every turn (you see smatterings of French culture). There was a great deal to enjoy and celebrate. I went home a winner in every sense of the word.

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The two official languages are Modern Standard Arabic and Amazigh (Berber). Moroccan Arabic (known as Darija) is the spoken native vernacular. The languages of prestige in Morocco are Arabic in its Classical and Modern Standard Forms and French, the latter of which serves as a second language for many Moroccans.

Languages of Morocco – Wikipedia

 

 

Note:  I walked into the center of the city and if I’m going to be honest, although the city was clean and no one warned me to be careful, I did not feel safe. Beggars follow you and they do not take no for an answer; it can be off-putting and disturbing.

 

Seville, Spain

 

 

I am in love. Seville is a beautiful, culturally rich, culinary mecca, just three hours door-to-door from my place in Faro. I only just returned home, but I have already booked a hotel for the end of February. I now know that Seville will be my home away from home. I am delighted to have rediscovered this breathtaking city.

You will enjoy these two pieces written by my food writer friend Joanna Pruess. She wrote about Seville for Specialty Food Magazine. Joanna primed me for my Seville adventure with her delicious point of view and fabulous recipes:

Tasty Bites of Seville (click for article)

Savoring Seville (click title)

The Seville bus station, train station, and airport are all linked by a four Euro bus that has many stops throughout the city and runs every 20 minutes or so. The bus and train stations are centrally located and easy enough to get to. These days Uber rides are very inexpensive and although I love to walk, you can’t beat a five Euro Uber ride across town. The drivers usually speak English and they are (for the most part) good drivers.

I stayed at very nice Airbnb for 65 Euros a night. It was a two bedroom apartment in a great area — 20 minutes by foot to just about everywhere.

Note:  I have mixed feelings about Airbnb (see one of my earlier blogs). Some hosts are gracious and generous and truly want you to have a great stay. Others, seem to only care about making a buck. Be sure to read reviews and check for amenities. After awhile, you become better at discerning the true intentions of the hosts. They also have a review policy I totally disagree with:  both parties have to complete a review in order for the review to be posted. If you write a warranted poor review and the host does not review you as a guest, the review will not be posted by Airbnb — it seems like a way to ensure only good reviews get posted. I’m not sure how Airbnb gets away with this.

The weather in Seville was great for walking around the city and spending time outdoors. I don’t believe it snows in Seville and when the sky is blue, it is an intense blue.

Shopping

I had one objective as I explored Seville. Paella is one of my favorite dishes to cook and I was determined to bring two ingredients back to Portugal:  Bomba (click) rice and saffron. I’ve tried many different kinds of cooking rice and Bomba is by far the best for paella (https://www.jamieoliver.com/recipes/rice-recipes/chicken-chorizo-paella/ Jamie Oliver’s recipe.

Also  . . . Spanish saffron which is less pricey in Spain. I paid 14 Euros for about an ounce of saffron — it’s fresh and beautiful and I can’t wait to cook with it. I use it when cooking rice with meat dishes as well. I also purchased hand sliced jamon (Spanish cured ham) and some homemade nougat. Purchasing food in other countries is one of the best things about travel and there are many items that you should only purchase in the country where it originated or was made. Note:  if its fresh food and you’re flying, be sure to have it vacuum sealed.

There are many shopping areas throughout the city; small boutique shops are my favorite. I was also impressed with the number of small art galleries. The artwork I looked at was quite beautiful and not outrageously expensive. A plug for El Cortes Inglese, a big chain store where I can spend hours just milling about. It’s like the Harrod’s of Spain. I’m praying one comes to Faro or the Algarve soon; hey we have an IKEA and Zara, so . . . what are you Spaniards waiting for

 

Don’t miss out on Contenedor if you visit Seville. It’s fresh, delicious, quaint, and well priced. Make a reservation (click for website).

I have already booked a hotel for a few days at the end of February and beginning of March. I did not book an Airbnb because I do not plan on cooking and I’d prefer amenities like a gym and indoor pool when I’m doing a quick culinary exploration trip. Yes, I’m spoiled, but after 40 years of busting my ass, I deserve it. I will write more about Seville after that trip.

My big purchase in Morocco:

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I purchased this hand-woven Moroccan runner in Assilah. The merchant said, “I don’t haggle,” but I got the rug for about 80 Euro less than ask. He didn’t know what he was in for when I walked into his shop. I have all the information about where the rug was made and how it was made.

 

Observation

Last post of the year. Reiterating an important message:

One of the many advantages of being present is the ability to take in what is all around us. Observation is a privilege very few people take advantage of. It’s way too easy to get so caught up in your own small world that you fail to see the many wonders around you. I have been keenly aware of my surroundings the last few months and the following are just a few of my observations:

  • I have never seen as many elderly people out and about as I see here in Portugal. It probably has a lot to do with the weather in the Algarve, but I also believe it is the culture. What I am seeing is that seniors are respected and not ignored, I have been observing their daily routines and I am loving what I see. The patience they show with their pets is admirable. I see healthy people in their 80’s and 90’s; although some are using canes and walkers and moving slowly, they are outdoors and they are enjoying themselves. I am observing lots of smiles and warm greetings. I am also constantly seeing people ask the elderly if they need assistance. On the bus, in the streets, on the sidewalks; everywhere. A couple of reasons I’m liking what I see:  for one, I’m approaching 60; therefore, I’m closer to be a senior than I ever was before, and two, I have always enjoyed being around the elderly and this makes me feel really good. Note:  I live on a street with an uphill climb. People that are up there in years are climbing this hill daily and many are doing it without assistance. It just seems like a good thing.

Side note:  I have a friend here who is in her 70’s. Yesterday, she looked me right in the eyes and said, “You just need to slow down a little.” I was struck by her honesty and directness; the truth is she’s right.

  • Young people are engaging in conversation (not always on their cell phones). I live next door to a high school and I see young people outside of the school almost daily. It is refreshing to see that many of these young people are talking to and laughing with one another. I was honestly under the impression that this practice of communicating in person, was a dying art. It seems to me that it is as much a part of life for our youth as it’s ever been.
  • The streets of Faro are filled with cafés. Due to the mild weather here, these cafés are overflowing with people enjoying one another’s company and drinking espresso. If you listen closely to the chatter it has a wonderful rhythm. The best part is that an espresso is still under a Euro here. A café com leite (coffee with steamed milk; a latte) is often one Euro.
  • Bicycle riding is often quiet and graceful. I love watching people dart around on them or peddle slowly through neighborhoods; taking in the local scenery. I try to do it myself at least once a week — it’s a nice break from the day-to-day.
  • Foliage:  the shedding of leaves, the receding of plant life, the changing fauna and flora; are all amazing to observe. If you pay attention to the foliage on a daily basis, you will notice the subtle changes. The changing seasons are another gift our planet gives us. Life is a precious thing to behold.
  • The sounds of  the city:  dogs, children, people chatting, traffic; are delightful — a city symphony if you will.
  • Sit on a bench and just watch humankind. You’ll see snippets of stories, anguish, real life playing out, right under your nose and you’ll know you’re not alone.

 

The Noise in Your Head

I have a noisy brain. Constant static and colliding thoughts. Switching from listening to that brain chatter, to taking in the world around you, can be calming and hypnotic. In fact, it can be a whole lot more pleasant than what might be going on in your head.

How to Stop Your Noisy Brain (click for article)

 

Meditation

There are many different ways to meditate; however, I have found that just being present — living in the moment — is a great way to meditate. Being acutely aware of what is around you is an eye opener. It sort of shocks your body and in turn, your entire being wakes up. If I had read this just a few years ago, I would have been a doubter; what a bunch of mumbo jumbo. However, practicing meditation — in its many forms — over and over again, will demonstrate the power of mindfulness.

Remember, this is all part of my journey. There have been some bumps in the road, people who are toxic, rules meant to be broken, checks that didn’t come, and so forth, but so far, I’m on the right track. Thank you for listening.

 

Happy holidays folks; until next year!

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There will be no blog post for the period between December 30 to January 6 (two weeks). The next blog post will be January 13 — Morocco. The Canary Islands

Feelings

 

 

 

Your State of Mind

One of the many things that happen when you grow older is coming to terms with your feelings (if you’re lucky). Coping with your feelings, identifying your feelings, sorting out your feelings, embracing your feelings, allowing yourself to feel, projecting feelings; you can see where I’m going with this.

Why Your Biology Runs on Feelings (click for more)

Feelings are complicated and so is being human; it comes with the territory. Some people are so wrapped up in themselves, they neglect to consider the feelings of others. Is it social media, the pressures of life, family, coping skills, socialization? What is it about the world around us that has made us less empathetic? Some would argue that humans have always been this way. I’m not sure about that. I recall a time when people had more time for one another and seemed to care more; I could be wrong.

I’m sure the news media has something to do with it. Around the clock news covering the world. It’s easy to become numb. The “this doesn’t affect me” attitude is also pervasive. I certainly do not have the answers; I only know how I feel.

Anger
I hate it when I get angry. Mostly because I feel that it could have been avoided. Harnessing my anger has been a long-term goal. When I’m well rested and relatively happy, any anger I feel is short-lived and can be sorted out. On the other hand, when I’m tired and things are falling apart around me, anger becomes a ball and chain around my ankle; impossible to get rid of. I can usually take a step back to process my anger and that seems to help; however, let’s be honest, sometimes the stepping back part just doesn’t happen. When I react based on emotion, it’s usually an outcome I regret.
Not long ago I was having lunch with a friend and she started spewing what I thought was bigoted hate speech. You’d recognize it in a minute; when the words come from privilege and a lack of empathy. No matter how hard I sit on my hands and push the anger down, I find myself gritting my teeth and becoming righteous. I don’t like it one bit. The person sitting across from you does not hear the words you are speaking, they only experience the anger. What it does do is justify their feelings. What they hear in their head is:  it doesn’t matter what we’re talking about, he always has to start an argument or why does he think he’s smarter or better than I am? None of this is productive; in fact, it is counter-productive. Now we’re both angry and not speaking to one another and we both feel justified in our feelings. I shouldn’t speak for this person, let me say, I feel justified.
We seek out like-minded individuals in order to avoid this kind of anger, but you have to ask yourself if avoidance is the right way to go. I’m not providing answers, I’m merely asking questions; processing for myself and hoping it helps others.
Tears
I am often moved to tears. I cry while watching movies, I weep while reading novels, I’ve been known to shed tears in the middle of a conversation with a friend, I cry in my dreams and at poetry readings, and I have cried myself to sleep a time or two. My father was a big man and he cried; he taught me that crying was okay and I am forever grateful to him for this. I feel sorry for people who cannot cry. I highly recommend it.
Loss of Control 
I have come to terms with being a control freak. I like to be in control. If something bad happens and it is beyond my control, I get angry. I have a difficult time processing:  how did this happen, why did it happen, who made it happen? I guess I believe that if I were in control, bad things wouldn’t happen. This is of course, untrue. Many bd things have happened while I was in control. The helpless feeling that I have when something is out of my control is unpleasant and frustrating. I am learning how to “let go” of situations, events, and reactions that are out of my control.
Pain
The hardest thing about pain, emotional, physical or psychological, is coping — not denying it, but feeling it. Let’s face it, pain in any manifestation sucks, but it’s unavoidable and must be felt. Make yourself as comfortable as possible and wait for it to pass. Unless we’re talking about a terminal illness, it will pass, and you will more than likely be stronger for having dealt with it.
Happiness
I hear about and read about happiness a lot lately. I was watching an old episode of the Good Wife last night and Stockard Channing (love her — did yoga with her in NYC once) was the guest star. Her character said this, “When you get older, the only thing that matters is your happiness.” I guess it struck me because I was in the middle of writing this blog. I don’t think it’s true. Life is so much more than my personal happiness. Yes, lots of things make me happy and I do often pursue my own happiness, but I also spend time thinking about the world, friends, family, cleaning my apartment, paying bills and none of that is necessarily about happiness. A good deal of the day is spent just doing what needs to get done. What makes me happy is just that, getting stuff done — it’s that sense of purpose I’ve discussed in earlier blogs.
Joy
I have to give myself permission to feel joy. I wish it wasn’t so, but it is what it is. After a while, if you’re watching, you get to know yourself and your limitations; your proclivities. I can hear this little voice in my head reminding me to smile and enjoy the moment. I have stopped questioning why this is so. As with any habit, good or bad, you do something often enough and it becomes part of your everyday life. It’s a good habit I am striving to teach myself . . . live a life filled with joy.
“Today I choose life. Every morning when I wake up I can choose joy, happiness, negativity, pain… To feel the freedom that comes from being able to continue to make mistakes and choices – today I choose to feel life, not to deny my humanity but embrace it.”
Kevyn Aucoin
Gratitude
Feeling grateful is powerful. Replacing feelings of pity, blame, resentment, anger, heartbreak, and regret, with gratitude can be more powerful than just about anything else. Sweeping feelings under the rug doesn’t work. Taking pills or drinking alcohol is temporary relief at best. Sitting quietly and thinking about or even writing about, what you are grateful for, helps you to feel more joyful.
Tools
Tools are helpful when feelings become difficult or painful. Some tools/coping skills have been discussed in this blog or past blogs. What I have learned is that tools are at our disposal and can and should be used as often as possible — not as a way of hiding or denying, but as a way to guide us, comfort us, and teach us.
What’s Next for me?
This is the six million dollar question I often ask myself. The answer is:  I have no idea. For the first time in my life, I am not thinking past the next few months and I have to say, I like it.
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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

 

Family

A thought I am stating up front:

Admittedly, this has been one of the more difficult blogs I have written thus far (I added this paragraph when I was nearly finished writing the blog). I have wanted to write about family from the day I started the blog, but I have often hesitated and abandoned the idea. There have been mentions of family; however, I have clearly danced around the topic on purpose. I have decided to go forward with it, play it safe and not name names. I am fairly certain family members know where they stand with me and I think it’s best not to air dirty laundry in a public forum.

 

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Photo by Fox (free photo library)
Definition from Urban Dictionary and why it resonates:
A group of people, usually of the same blood (but do not have to be), who genuinely love, trust, care about, and look out for each other. Not to be mistaken with relatives sharing the same household who hate each other.
The words I love here are “genuine, trust, and look out for.” I am fortunate to have family members who check all the boxes. I also have friends whom I can say those things about; I consider them my extended or chosen family. None of my true family members are jealous of or would begrudge me of my chosen family. I believe those who love me for, and despite who I am, love me no matter what. I didn’t always realize how much love I had or have in my life; this came with maturity and experience.
I would have added pictures of family I am speaking of here; however, I am fearful that I will omit someone by accident and live to regret it. 

Not unlike anyone else alive and breathing, I have family issues. There are family members that are as much strangers as the individual walking down my street that I have never laid eyes on before today. It would be easy to beat myself up and blame myself for family “stuff.” They don’t like me because I’m fill in the blank. Since we’re all so different and complicated, trying to figure out why people behave a certain way toward you is bound to cause trouble (in your own head). Speculation is often dangerous and inaccurate; especially when it’s about family. Our expectations of family members is not the same as what we expect from friends or strangers. We’re often less forgiving when it comes to family.

This thinking that family should be held to higher standards sets us up for failure. In reality, we’re all human and therefore, we make mistakes, we say stupid things, we take others for granted. With a friend you might sit them down and ask them if everything is okay or if you can talk about it. For some reason with family (I suspect it has to do with deep emotional ties) we are quick to allow our anger and resentment to make us dismissive.

Some of the statements we might make to ourselves:

  • He/she should know better.
  • He/she never invites me to family functions.
  • They’ve turned their children against me.
  • He/she never calls me or I always have to be the one to call.
  • I’m so tired of being the one with all the answers.
  • Am I the only one who is taking care of mom/dad?
  • I wouldn’t be friends with this family member if I met him or her on the street, so why should I expect to like this person?

 

Immediate Family

I have created a life where my immediate family consists of me and me alone. I could easily share my thoughts on why this might be the case, but I think I’ll spare you the psycho-babble. I would imagine that the larger your immediate family is, the more complex your life might be. Growing up, there were nine or ten of us living in the house at any given time. Daily drama and breakdowns were a way of life. I choose isolation.

I am reading The Little Big Things by Henry Fraser. Fraser had a diving accident in Portugal a few years ago. He tells his tragic story with great hope, passion, and truth. His family’s role in his recovery is clear from the start. You’re reading about a healthy family that put one another before all others. Their bond is strong and everlasting. As I read Fraser’s story, I find myself questioning my own family ties. It is true that I have family that I am extremely close with; family I believe would be there for me in any situation, at great personal sacrifice. Conversely, I have family that would not show up for me at a time of need. I have already been there, therefore, I know this is true.

I think that most individuals could point to a time when family loyalty was tested. I believe it is during this time or these times, when we shape our opinions of family members and evaluate how deep we believe their love to be. Can one be wrong in their assessment? Absolutely. Judgment can easily be clouded by an argument, a particular incident, and/or a betrayal by a jealous family member(s).

 

Estranged Family

It seems like everyone I speak to have family members that they do not see or communicate with. The first thing I always think is:  how sad. Then I realize that there are family members I do not speak to and again I think, how sad. But as we all know we don’t get to choose family and we either accept them for who they are or we don’t. I once believed that all family deserved to be forgiven no matter the transgression, however, that is no longer how I feel. I now believe that there are people around us who are toxic. Keeping them around us is unhealthy and unwise. What I have learned over time, is that confronting certain people will only make the situation worse. It’s like the old saying about putting salt on a wound; best not to go there sometimes.

Can an old wound be healed? I think it’s possible to mend a relationship, but both parties have to want it. It is similar to divorce, in that, emotions are often strong and anger deeply rooted, finding middle ground is impossible. The older I get, the more inclined I am to walk away. It is important to consider regret and the outcome of your actions. You have to ask yourself several questions:

  • Did I do everything possible to reconnect with this family member?
  • How deep is the wound?
  • Do I even remember the cause of the disagreement?
  • Is pride getting in the way?
  • If I choose to forgive, can I forgive?
  • Can forgiveness pave the way for a healthier relationship?
  • Is making the first move possible?
  • Will my estrangement affect other family members?

Let me be clear that I am not pointing fingers. I did not have a family member in mind while writing this. I have made many mistakes. I have turned my back on family more than once. I have behaved immaturely and jumped to conclusions. I have avoided conflict and I have looked the other way. I have made excuses. I have placed blame. I have suffered in silence and I have made assumptions.

I am in the process of acknowledging my limitations and I am attempting to figure it all out. I imagine in that way, that I am much like everyone else.

I welcome your thoughts on this difficult subject.

“The bond that links your true family is not one of blood, but of respect and joy in each other’s life.”

Richard Bach
Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/topics/family

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Time

“It’s being here now that’s important. There’s no past and there’s no future. Time is a very misleading thing. All there is ever, is the now. We can gain experience from the past, but we can’t relive it; and we can hope for the future, but we don’t know if there is one.”
― George Harrison

 

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Photo by Carol Buenosia

 

I am convinced that I have spent the better part of my life creating stuff to do, experiences, lists, expectations, worries, and so on, in order to pass time. If I give myself enough to do, then I won’t have time to think about the “real” questions:

  • How can I make a difference?
  • Am I the best version of myself?
  • Am I happy with the choices I’ve made?
  • Do I spend time doing the things that matter to me?
  • What aspects of my life are a waste of my time?
  • What is stopping me from being impulsive?
  • Do I make too many lists?

As I consider these questions, I know that this is not a definitive list. Answers sometimes come easy enough; however, acceptance of the answer is often elusive. For example, if I break away from my normal routine and decide to do something unpredictable, what will happen? Other things come up for me:  Will I spend money I shouldn’t spend? Will I be neglecting my responsibilities? Will the lack of planning make for a less fruitful experience? The questions are endless; this is what gets in the way of spontaneity. When I have thrown caution to the wind, I have often been pleasantly surprised; the unexpected happens and I’m happy with the outcome. One would think that this alone would help push me past my comfort zone. But alas, I get in my own way and way too often I take the conservative route and remain at home.

I have asked friends to help and in some cases, they have. Letting go of control and allowing someone else to do the planning and decision-making, can be a wonderfully freeing feeling. It’s often a win-win. I wish it happened more often. I find myself in the position to just let go, now more than ever. I’m hopeful that more friends will trust my intentions and take me up on this offer. Everyone knows me as a detailed planner, making it difficult to convince certain individuals, that I would truly like to give up control. I’m screaming it from a mountaintop, I’m okay with you driving!

Allow me to ponder another of my annoying questions:  Am I happy with the choices I’ve made? Wow, this being honest with myself business isn’t easy. I’ve made so many bad choices; however, most of them were with good intention. I’m not talking about the nights that I stayed out dancing until noon the following day with the help of recreational drugs or deciding to play hooky from work so that I could see a matinée Broadway show. I’m talking about marrying a woman or deciding not to father children — big decisions which informed the better part of my life. To be angry at myself for making these decisions would be pointless and a waste of time. Having regrets doesn’t reverse the bad decisions or erase the memories. What I do hope is that I have made amends and learned from my mistakes. Reviewing your personal history can help you to know what not to do in the future. Dwelling on that history for a long time and lamenting about what could have been, is futile.

If you’ve been reading my blog, you know that I have been working on being present. Breaking old habits is difficult, however, what I am noticing is less worry and more overall happiness. Thoughts of being grateful have replaced regret and anger about the past. In truth, it’s easier when you are in a beautiful place with great weather and less chaos, but I remind myself that it was me who made the move; it was me who said to myself life can be better if you choose to make it so. And so, I am trying to just enjoy what I have created for myself.

There is a push and pull, the yin and the yang I guess. It’s called balance; the weighing out of the things I need to consider:  money, obligations, insurance, goals, language, and so on. I cannot just overlook or discard all of that. I need to stay focused and balance living in the moment with insuring that there are more moments in the future. Easily done? I’m not so sure. This exercise is a reminder to me that time is precious and cannot be wasted; every moment counts in so many ways, for so many reasons.

A friend of mine recently lost her husband unexpectedly; no warning, no preparation. When these things happen to people we know, it’s like the proverbial slap in the face or as Cher said in Moonstruck, “Snap out of it!” We cannot ignore the fact that at any given moment time might be swept out from under us. When I rest my head on my pillow at night before I close my eyes, I like to think about the day and what occurred. I no longer say accomplished because I no longer feel that everything I do has to be the fulfillment of a goal. There was a point when I was so driven I had to do lists that were broken down according to subject matters and often, I would lose track of where my lists were stored:  computer, journal, desktop notepad, under the refrigerator magnet?

Future Mother-in-law Story

It was New Year’s eve and my partner and I had just hosted a 90 person party in our Brooklyn apartment. It was 1:30 a.m., most of our guests had already said good-bye and the few guests that remained were lapping up the spoils. Most of them were unaware of a conversation taking place in our living room. My future mother-in-law had been staying with us for several weeks. She had travelled from Spain on an extended holiday; a bit longer than I would have preferred I’m afraid. She spoke no English so my partner had to interpret everything she said to me.

Let’s call her Sofia. Sofia looks over at me across the room and says, “Chris, si supieras que solo tienes 24 horas de vida, ¿cómo quieres pasar ese tiempo?”

I looked over at my partner who translated, “She wants to know how you would spend your last 24 hours on earth.”

I had just spent a week preparing for a huge party and I was about four cocktails in. I wasn’t sure why Sofia was asking this question, but I was always polite with her and decided to play along.

“I would want to spend it in your son’s arms,” I replied.

“Entonces, ¿por qué no te comportas como si fuera tu última noche en la tierra?”

My partner chuckled (he too was feeling pretty happy at this point) and said, “She wants to know why you don’t act like it’s your last night on earth.”

The lady could be intense, but this was way too heavy for this particular hour, on this particular night. I shrugged it off.

I awoke a few hours later troubled by this conversation. Why did Sofia say this to me? She obviously had an agenda. I didn’t want to ask her because I was certain it would open Pandora’s Box and I didn’t want to go there with her. We were approaching the end of her stay and I thought it best to say goodbye on good terms. I kept it to myself for the next 48 hours. We put Sofia on the plane and I brought up the conversation on the way home from the airport.

My partner rolled his eyes and said, “I was wondering when you were going to ask me about what my mother said.”

At this point in our relationship there was a good deal of tension between us and any little thing would create an argument. This disagreement was a doozy. He essentially told me that his mother felt that I was taking him for granted and that if I wasn’t careful I would end up with regret and loss. In other words, he would leave me. I, indeed, was guilty of taking him and time for granted. I was assuming that we would be together forever and that we had an endless amount of time left.

In fact, we only remained together for a month or so after the new Year. I was immature and unworthy of his love and affection and it ended. What I learned from my mother-in-law that was not to be so named, is that I went about living life as if my time on earth was endless. I needed to pay more attention to the gifts around me. I needed to be more aware of the finite amount of time I have. And, I needed to live life as if every moment might be my last.

Easier said than done as we all know. However, it is important to keep our mortality and the delicacy of life in our thoughts as we carelessly go about our lives.

 

“For what it’s worth: it’s never too late or, in my case, too early to be whoever you want to be. There’s no time limit, stop whenever you want. You can change or stay the same, there are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it. And I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people with a different point of view. I hope you live a life you’re proud of. If you find that you’re not, I hope you have the courage to start all over again.”
― Eric Roth, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button Screenplay