Running From Demons — PART III

Final Chapter

Greg dug into his pocket to see how much he had left to his name; his new name. He was relieved he’d had the foresight to grab a couple of thousand from his stash before he left his room. It would have been easy to blame himself for this mess, but that would be a waste of time and time was not on his side. His choices were limited. He had a new name, a new passport and so little money.  Greg didn’t like the name Joseph. He didn’t even like Joe; it reminded him of his high school football coach, Joe Ballard. Coach Ballard was an asshole. He wanted to be a Carl or a Matt; he’d have to live with Joe. He’d think about it on the way to the airport, maybe he’d go with José or use a nickname.

When Greg got to the airport in Lisbon, he looked on the board to see if there were any flights going direct to Morocco. He wanted to minimize the number of airports he had to pass through. A flight to Marrakesh at 3:00 p.m. would work. He would have a few hours at the airport, but he’d have to wait and it would give him time to think. He knew he would have to avoid the bars; he needed a clear head and his funds would soon run out.

After buying his plane ticket, he was left with a little over $1800 dollars. He’d exchange the dollars for Moroccan dirham at a bank away from the airport where the exchange rate would be better. Greg had to give his passport to the ticket agent and that went well. The big hurdle would be in Marrakesh where he has to go through passport control. He knows that if he worries about it, it won’t make things easier, so he pushes the thought from his mind and he considers next steps. He figures the only work he’ll be able to find in Marrakesh is waiting tables. Perhaps he’ll find something at a nice American hotel. He’ll have to lie about his past, but he knows that server jobs are fairly easy to find.

Sitting at the gate he cannot help but notice the faces around him; so many smiles and so much pain. Empathy is so foreign to Greg he has to think about what he’s feeling in order to process it. At first he dismisses it as a sign of weakness and moments later he embraces it — he even likes it. He sits up and throws back his shoulders. He can feel the air filling his empty lungs. There’s an announcement about boarding. He figures he has time; in fact he has nothing but time.

When it’s time to board, he approaches the gate with a feeling of hope. He sees his plane on the other side of the glass, but the sun is almost blinding. A hand lands on his forearm and startles him.

“Por favor, venha conosco.”

“What?”

“Please come with us.”

Greg notices there are two uniformed men on either side of him. He wants to resist; he wants to run; he cannot move.

“Sir, you need to come with us now.”

After passing the security checkpoint, Greg enters a small room. A desk, a file cabinet, and security cameras fill the room. He knows what’s happening and he’s not afraid. The men take his passport and tell him to wait. He waits and thinks about Sarah and how much he loves her. He wonders why he hurt her and how he can become the man he saw on the sidewalk in Lisbon, in the market stall, in the coffee shop, and at the gate. His heart is full and he feels lighter; almost like he’s floating.

Later, Greg is staring out the airplane window. This time he is on a flight to JFK. He is handcuffed to a stranger to his right; his future is unclear. Hours pass as clouds break below; he is not sad, he is not angry. The wheels touch the ground and he is aware of the present. Escorted by security, he exits the plane. He sees Sarah standing in the distance and he knows he’s left Joseph Campos behind and Morocco was never meant to be.

 

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A moment of contemplation on Desert Island

 

“You may have a fresh start any moment you choose, for this thing that we call ‘failure’ is not the falling down, but the staying down.” —Mary Pickford

 

Running From Demons — Part I

Unlike any of my previous blogs, this is a work of fiction.

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He gazed out the window of the 757 and could think of nothing save what he was leaving behind. He pondered how many people he had hurt and how much of his life he had squandered. Greg had never been one for remorse. He plowed through life showing little or no concern for anyone but himself. The world was fucked up and until now, he was going to grab his piece of the pie in whatever way he could get it.

Having angered and alienated everyone who ever cared about him, he needed to escape to a place where no one knew him; Portugal seemed like a good place to start over. He exited the plane with a carry-on and his American passport. Walking toward Customs he worked up a sweat. Concerned about calling attention to himself, he ducked into a restroom to splash cold water on his face. Greg had $30,000 U.S. dollars to his name and it was all in his carry-on. If he were to be stopped, he’d be screwed. He knew about the cash limit, but he needed to close his U.S. bank account before his business practices caught up with him. That cash was all he had to live on until he could figure something out. Having gambled away his 401K, the tax penalties alone would wipe out any real estate equity he had in New York. His plan was to never have to deal with the U.S. government again.

As he walked through Customs he smiled and avoided eye contact with the officers. To his surprise there were no documents and no papers to sign; he was going to like this country. He checked into a 50 Euro a night hotel in a questionable Lisbon neighborhood. He needed a secure place to hide his cash and a halfway decent bed. This was not the way he usually travelled; maxing out his credit cards was his usual MO and he couldn’t remember the last time he paid off any of his balances. Before long, the creditors would be after him too. He knew that he had no one to blame but himself. Still, a survivor survives and Greg was hell-bent on starting a new life.

He sat in the dark in his small hotel room. He could smell the past and he could see that this was a place no one cared about. Finding a place to hide the money wasn’t easy. He lifted the dresser and taped the bills to the bottom. Clearly, no one had moved the dresser in years. Greg had avoided the bathroom, knowing he’d eventually have to use it. He was a bit of a germophobe and he had not had time to buy some disinfectant to wipe it down. He’d grab something at the market down the street. The overhead lighting was way too bright and the lamp was too far from the only chair in the room. He did a bit of rearranging and decided this situation was short-term and he’d have to let it go. At least he had a decent mattress and his room faced a small courtyard; at least he would have to listen to street noise.

The first order of business was to get a new passport. They’d be able to trace him to Lisbon, but with a new name and a Portuguese passport, he could hide out in a small seaside town. The money would run out quickly, so he had to work fast. Finding someone who could give him a new identity wouldn’t be easy. He knew he’d have to part with some cash and make several changes to his appearance. Shedding some of that excess weight would help; he’d cut out the alcohol and the junk food he often ate on the run. He told himself that the new Greg would be healthy and more conscientious about his spending. He also knew he had to stick to his plan or he’d end up behind bars; an option he couldn’t fathom.

Although he had never had to consider changing his identity, he recalled from movies that pawn shops were a good place to start. There happen to be one fairly close to his hotel and he didn’t want to carry cash further than he had to. Two thoughts dogged him as he circled the shop; would the language thing be an issue and how would he know who to trust. He knew how to read a poker face from his past and money talks, so he walked in and looked for someone to proposition. A short, seedy looking character wearing far too much cologne, came out of what appeared to be a back room.

“I’m Greg, do you speak any English.”

“A little.”

“Are you the owner?”

“What do you need.”

“I need to speak to someone who can help me with some papers.”

“What kinda of papers?”

Greg was wondering if this was a mistake. He hated himself for not having a contact in Lisbon. He couldn’t risk sharing his plan with anyone in New York; he had too many enemies. He changed his tactic.

“I’m Canadian and I lost my passport. I have time to wait for one from the Canadian Embassy and I was hoping you might be able to help.”

Pawn shop guy gives him a half-smile and says, “Give me a minute.”

The shop is a mess and he hasn’t seen another customer since he walked in. Soccer is playing on a big screen above the register and a mix of tobacco and cologne is making him sick to his stomach. He pretends to look around the shop, but he’s feeling anxious knows that he’s taking a big risk. Without an alternative plan, he waits.

He hears the pawn guy on the phone and five minutes later, he steps back into the front of the shop.

“Cinco minutos.” He walks over to chair, pats it and motions for Greg to sit.

Greg’s thinking, I either bolt or I wait. He says, “That’s okay, I’ll stand.”

Pawn guy shrugs and watches the game. Greg waits a good 45 minutes and in walks a very tall, very confident, very non-Portuguese fella. Greg thinks he might be a Swede, but he’s not certain. The guy walks right up to him, says nothing about being late, and asks:

“Miguel tells me that you need something?”

“I’m looking for a passport.”

“A passport for you or a friend?”

“A friend,” I say, thinking this is code.

“Portuguese?”

“American.”

“I mean the passport.”

“Whatever works.”

“Good because I don’t think you speak Portuguese so it would be a little strange, yes?”

“Yes,” I say, “I mean no, I don’t speak Portuguese.”

“Ten thousand Euros cash and you can have it tomorrow.”

That’s a lot more than I expected to pay; although it seems like a small price for freedom.

“How do I know it’s authentic?”

“Oh you want a guarantee too. That will cost you extra.”

Slim smirks as he walks toward Greg. Greg backs up and reaches out with his six-foot long arms to grab his shoulder.

“Look, I think I would have been out of business a long time ago if I couldn’t make this work. You either trust me or you take your business elsewhere.”

Greg had done some shady things in his life, but none were as risky as this. He thought they might follow him and find out where he was staying. Well he could easily fix that by moving to a new hotel; an out-of-the-way hotel. He thought he might get scammed; could he trust a thief? He was confused and conflicted and what he really wanted was a drink. He was ten feet away from a bar and a scotch on the rocks; he’d have to ignore the temptation.

His mind wandered to a situation ten years ago in Istanbul. He had hired an escort for what he thought would be a quick release. He ended up being chased through the streets and had to give up a gold watch and all of his cash. At the time he swore to himself that he’d stay away from the dark side. He’s broken that promise a number of times and he knew, he was about to break it again.

“When do you want the money?”

“When do you want your ticket to freedom?”

“Give me an hour,” Greg needed a little time to think.

To be continued . . .

 

Fear Can Hold You Back . . . And a Bit of Lagos, Portugal

 

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

I know fear is normal. We all fear many things and fear keeps us alive. At this time of self-reflection, I think it’s important to address some of my fears and question why I do not possess some of the fears I see in others.

What I am hoping this process will accomplish:

  • Self-awareness
  • Coming to terms with what is real and what is irrational
  • Celebrating fears I have conquered and learning more about how I did it
  • Addressing the fears I avoid and learning more about why I avoid them
  • Developing a process for overcoming fears
  • Learning more about the connection between fear and human nature

 

 

My fears seem to be deeply rooted in my childhood experiences. Without getting too analytical, many of my fears are connected to my mother and how I was raised. My mother had seven children before she was thirty. Her own complicated parenting made it difficult for her to show love and properly nurture her children; therefore, we were all shortchanged in one way or another. As a result, what I fear most is rejection. This is a common fear; however, it does unfortunately interfere with healthy relationship building. I find myself apologizing for just about everything; more often than not, for things that are either beyond my control or unworthy of an apology. What this self-flagellation does is create doubt in people’s minds. This behavior is misinterpreted as a lack of self-confidence and strength. Being aware of how this fear impacts my everyday life is helpful, but it is an uphill climb; fifty years of apologizing is a tough habit to break.

Another big fear is also a fairly common one, the fear of failure. You might say that no one wants to fail and that would be true. However, all fears are attached to levels of intensity; how deep and strong is this fear. For me, the fear of failure has prevented me from interviewing for positions I was interested in, playing sports I enjoyed, taking courses I wished to take, pursuing romantic relationships, and the list goes on. When I did put aside my fear, I gained much from the experience. For example, when I completed my master’s degree, I hoped to further my studies. I dreamed of becoming a Dean of Students as a result of exceptional mentors in college; deans I admired and revered. I was in a fairly secure and comfortable position at Hofstra University and heard about an opportunity at New York University. The desire to live and work in Manhattan was so strong, I decided to pursue the NYU position and the university’s Ph.D. in Higher Education program, throwing caution to the wind. At that time, failure to acquire this dream was stronger than the possibility of failure to obtain the NYU position. Looking back, I recall many sleepless nights of self-doubt and fear. The outcome was a job at NYU and completion of my Ph.D.

What helped me to conquer this fear, was an overwhelming desire to improve my station in life. Many of us are told that we will never be what we aspire to me. You know the verbiage, “You’re not smart enough; you don’t have the money to pay for that; they’ll never choose you.” People say these things to save you from pain and embarrassment. What is does is hold you back — it keeps you from pursuing your dreams and goals. At this point, your dreams have to be stronger than your fears. The only way to be successful is to concentrate on your dreams and push away your fears. There is a reason the old adage, one step at a time, holds up. Small successes lead to big ones. Land an interview and celebrate that success; it puts in the right frame of mind. Next, you get a second interview and finally you claim your prize. In may cases it’s a fight to overcome your fear of failure. I have played the worst case scenario game with myself throughout my life. I find that reminding myself that the worst thing that could happen, would not be the end of the world, made in easier to move forward. Sometimes, going forward rather than remaining stagnant is all that you can ask of yourself. We’re all dreamers; it’s more a question of how badly you want it and what you’re willing to do to get it. Remaining in your comfort zone is rarely the answer.

The last fear I will mention is the fear of being incapacitated. I never want anyone to have to take care of me on a long-term basis (more than a couple of days). This fear is linked to my inability to ask for help when I need it. Friends have forced me to be better about reaching out. Family and friends have shared that it makes them feel good to help and that I should be better about accepting their help. I’m doing everything — or almost everything, I can do to remain healthy, but life can throw you a curve ball and this fear is real. I am currently in the process of coming up with a game plan so that I can rely on a “facility” to care for me if this were to happen. Leaving it to chance is not in the cards. I cope with this fear by taking control of my options and the outcome.

 

Death

I don’t fear death; I never have. I have always felt that when it happens, it will probably be fast and painless. Rational or not, it’s how I feel. I was in a bad bicycle accident a couple of years ago and I’m certain that when my body hit the pavement, there must have been intense pain. I couldn’t tell you what that pain felt like because my brain has completely erased it. Studies show that our brain protects us from severe trauma — shock shuts down certain body functions and we are not fully aware of the pain we are experiencing. I know there are many ways in which one can die; however, I’m banking on a painless death. The fear of dying keeps people from pursuing many dreams in life. I’ve been fortunate not to possess this fear. As a result I have jumped out of a plane, gone hang gliding, done some rock climbing, worked as a bicycle messenger in New York City, experimented with psychedelic and other mind opening drugs, and so on. To be clear, this is not to say I welcome death.

 

What have I learned from this exercise?

Plainly speaking, it is clear that I have a fair number of fears. Some have been conquered, some I’m working on, and still others are an ongoing challenge. I am okay with accepting that some fears will never go away. I told myself I wouldn’t say or think never prior to relocating overseas. I am willing to accept that some of my fears may remain with me until I die.

I realize that I am revealing a good deal about myself in my blogs. Several individuals have written to me to tell me that it is helping them to be more honest with themselves. Seems like a win-win to me.

 

 

Lagos with Friends from Cape Elizabeth, Maine

 

Jim and Gillian Britt visiting from Maine. A beautiful November day at Ponta da Piedade. The sky really was THAT blue.

 

 

Difficult to capture the true beauty of the place.

 

 

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Tasca Jota— delicious suckling pig, Lagos

 

 

Purpose

What is purpose? Why I need a purpose? Will I find my purpose?

 

 

purpose
noun
a person’s sense of resolve or determination.
“there was a new sense of purpose in her step as she set off”
synonyms: determination, resoluteness, resolution,

resolve, firmness (of purpose), steadfastness, backbonedrivepushthrustenthusiasmambitioninitia-tiveenterprisemotivation, single-mindedness, commitmentconviction,

dedication

Whenever I think of purpose, I am reminded of Steve Martin who plays Navin in The Jerk, where he goes on and on about his “special purpose.” The purpose I’ll be discussing is not quite the same; my purpose is less sexual in nature. I’m certain that’s a better way to go.
A person’s sense of resolve or determination; that’s seems essential to me. So I ask myself, do I have purpose? Considering that I am a planner and that I need to have future goals or plans to look forward to, I would say that I have purpose. However, now that I am no longer a pet owner — I hate the word owner when referring to a pet, it seems to me that a pet is a member of your family and ownership isn’t really the right word, so I’m going to change that to having a pet — that is a huge obligation that I longer need to consider. I don’t plan to acquire another pet anytime soon; losing Giorgio has provided an opportunity to explore the world without being tied down. This was Giorgio’s final gift to me. I miss the little guy.
Career
When you have a career, a sense of purpose comes easily.  For over 30 years I focused on education; first on my Ph.D. and then educating others. I truly felt that I was making a difference. Then I focused on creating a consulting business and when I achieved a certain amount of success (over 20 clients in two years) I decided consulting was not fulfilling and that I needed to move on. There were parts of consulting that I enjoyed immensely; however, convincing potential clients that they needed my help or any help, was tough on the ego. And that brings me to now . . .
Writing
I did some professional writing in Portland, Maine and discovered how much I enjoy it. The question I need to ask myself is do I want to take it further than a blog? I thought perhaps putting together a memoir (a collection of all of the personal stories from my blog) might be worth pursuing. I’m frankly concerned about those that might not like what they see in print and I’m not sure the purging is worth the pain. The other option might be an Expat How To book. Either of these two considerations would be fulfilling and perhaps helpful to others.
Daily Stuff
There are many things I do on a daily basis which provide purpose. For example, I am motivated to rise in the morning for two big reasons:  1) I love the quiet. It’s usually dark and the city is still sleeping. I make coffee and either work on my blog or read. Sometimes I watch the news, but with all the negative things going on in Trump world, I’ve been attempting to avoid this trap, and 2) I have always had more energy at the start of the day. That is after a good night’s sleep and sleep has been elusive lately.
Going to the gym is a big part of my physical drive. I enjoy the community I have at the gym and I like how it makes me feel. I usually do my market shopping after the gym. I’m freshly showered, shaved and raring to go.
I have always looked forward to lunch and dinner. I don’t think about breakfast much, but I do mix it up in the morning. I eat whatever I feel like that day (ex., eggs, toast, cereal, avocado, fresh juice, granola). I don’t eat all of those items on the same day. I start thinking about lunch at around 10:00 a.m. and I usually have a salad, sandwich, or leftovers by 12:30/1:00 p.m. I’m inspired by the food at the market and that’s when and where my dinner decision is made. The Algarve is a great place for fresh fish, beautiful vegetables, fruit (amazing oranges and melon), organic chicken and charcuterie. I like to make enough so that I have leftovers for the next day. In the summer, I freeze homemade tomato sauce and pesto (basil and parsley from my terrace garden) , so that I can have summer dishes during the winter. I’m no Martha Stewart, but using my freezer to store food is something I learned from my father.
I have a terrace garden (see as much as I could get in the two frames below). My terrace is very long and narrow and has lots of room for potted plants. I’m growing flowers, succulents and herbs. Tending to my garden brings me a great deal of pleasure and purpose. I am proud of what I grow and enjoy sitting out on the terrace, either by myself or with friends. It got started in June so I have aways to go.

 

Film
I’m a film buff, so I go to the cinema at least once a week. I prefer a matinée because I’m less likely to fall asleep. And for you snarky folks, it’s not because I’m getting old; movies are more likely to make me sleepy in the evening, probably because film allows me to take mind off of other things that may be troubling, thus I become more relaxed and sleepy. Theatre has the same effect on me, but alas, there is little or no theatre in English in Faro. We do have live ballet and opera at the cinema; a big plus.
architecture building business cinema
Photo by Nathan Engel on Pexels.com
Language
Now that I’m living in Portugal, I believe it would be in my best interest to learn to speak Portuguese. I started with an on-line tutor about four months prior to relocating. Frederico who lives in London, but he is from Lisbon, was a great help; however, I knew that what I was learning would “stick” once I moved to Portugal and started hearing the language daily. In theory, this is true. The problem lies in the number of Portuguese people who speak English. Anyone aged 40 or younger (older people as well) has a pretty good grasp on the English language. They learned English in school, they watch non-dubbed American film and television, and I believe they enjoy speaking English. Many Portuguese people need to know how to speak English for work. This can make an English-speaking person in Portugal very lazy. I’m dedicating time to learning the language, but not enough time. I’d like to be able to converse in Portuguese sometime in the next two years. I plan to take classes and spend more time practicing. This is a necessary goal and a great way to keep my aging brain active.
Driving
It is also important for me to practice my driving here. I’ve rented a car a couple of times and I feel a certain level of confidence; however, I want to improve. The roundabouts that are everywhere in Europe, are very efficient, but tricky and they’re so much better than traffic lights. European drivers tend to be faster, take more risk, and they are not very tolerant of beginners. I know this is a huge generalization, but even Europeans would agree with this assessment. I’ll have a car for a few days in November, so I plan to practice.
Friends/Socializing
A few weeks ago I was complaining (to myself) that many of my new friends here in Portugal live 45 to 90 minutes away. Then it occurred to me that when I lived in Brooklyn, many of my friends were either outside of Brooklyn or over an hour away by subway. So what am I complaining about? The only issue has been coordinating the train or bus schedule with visits outside of Faro. It’s a minor inconvenience, therefore, I’m going to heretofore just be grateful to have wonderful people in my life no matter where I live. I have more time in my schedule for socializing and that’s a good thing. I’m trying not to fill my dance card so that I can be more spontaneous. I know several of you who know me are reading this and laughing out loud. People can change you know.
Volunteer Work
I need to work with animals, it’s non-negotiable. I have discovered that there is a pet shelter in both Olhão and Loulé. Neither city is far away, so I will be looking into spending some time at one of these shelters. I have been volunteering since I was in my early twenties; few things in my life have been as satisfying. I cannot adopt or foster right now; therefore, this will be the next best thing.
Travel
I struggle with travel. I love routine, I love my own bed, and I love cooking my own food. When I travel, I sacrifice a great deal; poor me right?. Having stated this, I truly do want to see the world and I don’t mean by watching the travel channel. I now have the time to be more methodical and smarter about travel. I can take longer trips and combine multiple locations, thus making travel more economical and less of a hassle. The last thing I want is more time in airports and the shuffling of my luggage from one hotel to another. I want to spend more time in one place, I want to see people I care about who live in other countries; and I want to be able to boast about the deals I garner.
Possible Citizenship in Portugal
Keeping up with the red tape of full-time residency in a foreign country is a full-time job. I am obviously exaggerating, but seriously, there is a lot of paperwork. It seems at times that policy and law surrounding living in Portugal is intentionally ambiguous or confusing. I had some recent issues with attaining a Portuguese driver’s license. Several expats have warned me about the process. It was clear, that if I did not complete the process for acquiring a Portuguese driver’s license within the allotted 90 days from becoming a legal resident, I would have to go through the process as if I were attaining my very first driver’s license and I would have to take the written and physical driving test in Portuguese. Clearly, that was enough to motivate me to get this done ASAP. Except that there was a huge obstacle. Apparently I should have known that the Portuguese Consulate in Boston needed to verify my Maine driver’s license prior to relocating to Portugal. How could I have not known this? I won’t go into details about how I managed to get a temporary Portuguese driver’s license, however, what I will say is that I believe in my heart, it would have been easier to compete in Hawaii’s Iron Man competition and place.
After a few years of renewing my temporary residence, I will be eligible for dual citizenship (I will never give up my U.S. citizenship). This will not be an easy process, but if it mean shorter lines at passport control in airports all over the world, I am willing to at least try.
In Summary
I highly recommend the exercise of laying it all out. If like me, you are sitting around wondering what you are going to do with your life, it will certainly help you to see and realize, that you have a lot going on.
I won’t lie, I miss the feeling I got when considering that the school I worked for would shut down if I missed a day at the office. I miss the routine of Giorgio jumping into my bed in the morning for a one hour cuddle (that was always the best hour of my day), I miss my weekly poker game, I miss southern barbecue, I miss hopping into my car to see friends and family, I miss English being spoken all around me, I miss the thrill of anticipating my annual raise and bonus, and I miss using work as an excuse to decline social engagements. I can go on, but I ‘m afraid if I do, I will begin to regret early retirement. So where does this leave me when considering purpose?
What I have in my life today, is that opportunity to relax without guilt, take care of my spiritual, physical and mental health, and the ability to see the world. None of these are minor commitments. If I accomplish half of what I have planned for the next ten years, I will be successful, happy and satisfied or at the very least, I can tell myself that I am all of these things. I can also look forward to change. Change is a constant we can count on. Okay, I am motivated.

Catania, Sicilia . . . Finally!

 

Good stuff about Catania — click on anything underlined for more info

It’s pouring rain outside and I’m okay with that. After four or five months of nothing but sunshine, the rain is a welcome relief. Sunshine starting Friday (two days away).

I arrived to Catania on Monday evening and I’ll be here for a week. Flying through Milan was the least expensive way to go and I guess one layover was acceptable. I almost left Milan without my luggage, not knowing that I had to transfer my bag to my next flight. Usually, when I fly the same airline, they transfer my bag. Anyway, I had lots of time in Milan and I got it done and met a few nice airline people along the way.

Here are some of my first impressions:

  • It’s much more expensive than Portugal. Food, taxi, band aids, and buses.
  • The natives are friendly, but there’s a little edginess (not a word) — like living here isn’t easy.
  • The Old City is beautiful; very dark and very old (lava rock has been used for building).
  • The beef here is incredible.
  • So far, I haven’t had any bad food. Snacking on Parmigiano Reggiano, prosciutto, oil cured black olives and good Sicilian red wine (very robust and dark).
  • It’s easy to get lost, but people are helpful and it’s a way to discover your surroundings.
  • Sicilian food is not the same as Italian food.

I’m staying in an Airbnb apartment with two terraces; one off the bedroom and the other off the dining room. I have a view the Old City and the Port — both are magnificent. The trash collectors wake me up, but I’m an early riser anyway. The apartment is fully equipped save for an umbrella. I think I can live without it.

 

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No donuts in Portugal and I LOVE them!

 

 

Prestipino (Old City) is a bakery around the corner from my Airbnb. Claudio (my host) told me about it, along with many of his favorite eateries; one of the many things I love about Airbnb travel.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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There are bakeries on every corner and they are all awesome. I can’t stop eating.

Sailed on the mediterranean and this is what they served us with prosecco:

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Bad angle, sorry.

 

 

The roasted tomatoes were sublime and the melon was the best I’ve ever had (so orange). Combine the food, the prosecco with the salt air and it was heaven on earth.

I had dinner at Steak House (www.steakhousecatania.it) last night. They had different cuts of meat from all over the world. Having been taught to buy local in Maine, that’s what I did. I had an awesome T-bone with roasted potatoes. I brought home leftovers and I will be eating steak and eggs (from the market) for breakfast tomorrow.

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Steak House

 

I went to the open-air market today and did not take pictures because my phone was charging and it was cloudy. I’ll go back before I leave. I had fresh oysters, freshly made caponata Siciliana and a basket of fried fish. I ate well. All of the street food tours were close to 50 Euros or more and I enjoyed time with the merchants and spent maybe 15 Euros all in. And I have enough food at home for a couple of meals. Travel with me and you’ll save big bucks.

After having a candlelit dinner (abbondaza from the market:  mozzarella, pizza, mussels, semolina bread, etc.) out on the terrace, I noticed some big black clouds moving in from Mount Etna. Moments later the thunder started and I quickly decided that this was going to be a delicious evening of soft music, Sicilian red wine and a long-awaited thunder-storm; honestly it’s been many, many months and a good storm is on my top five favorite things list. What a glorious night in Catania. Unfortunately, there was massive flooding here and that made it it a disaster for some; not good.

I went on a bus tour to Noto, Ortigia Island, and Siracusa today (the third full day of my stay). Etnatribe deserves a plug; they were fantastic. Mother nature decided that a thunder-storm would keep us away from the archeological park in Siracusa. It was raining so hard after lunch that they closed the park.  I was disappointed; however, I have seen Greek and Roman ruins in other parts of the world and I was happy to be safe in the van while it was pouring. Most vehicles could not drive on the roads it was raining so hard, but alas, we were fine. The big bonus was that our guide Orazio, is also an Etna guide and spent an hour telling us all about the volcano — fascinating.

 

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Greek amphitheater at the Archeological Parc
We started our tour in Catania and made our way to Noto with clear skies and very few tourists (apparently most people go there in the afternoon). Noto is one of the most beautiful cities I have ever been to . . . anywhere.

 

The next stop was Ortigia Island. This historical island is the original Siracusa before they expanded many, many years ago.

 

A day in Catania (at the Fish Market, Bellini Gardens and walking around)

 

I was scheduled to go horseback riding at Mt. Etna tomorrow, but it just got cancelled due to the weather; bummer. The best part of growing older is that you learn acceptance.

Cooking class this evening at the home of a very special Sicilian cook; born and raised in Catania. 

I walked to a very nice neighborhood about 20 minutes from my Airbnb. Thankfully, by now I know the streets and it’s very easy to walk around the city. Deborah and her partner Fabio were waiting for me. I was the only person to sign up for a class last night (lucky me) and I was so pleased that Deborah did not cancel. Aside from teaching Sicilian cooking classes, Deborah is also an attorney and mother of three. She and Fabio had a beautiful and inviting home and I had four hours of Sicilian bliss.

 

That’s her son Giuseppe washing dishes (above). He took a break from studying to say hello and help his mom — a good Italian boy and very charming.

We prepared a pumpkin risotto with fresh pumpkin and Deborah’s ricotta cheese (she shared that she makes it almost everyday because her family eats so much of it), a meatball and pumpkin dish (pictured above) and a not-so-sweet typical cinnamon and pistachio Sicilian custard-like dessert. Deborah and her class the day before made a delicious caponata and so we ate that as well; lucky me. She also had leftover pistachio cake, which she generously shared. Deborah also baked brown bread and that too was delicious.

The names of Deborah’s traditional Sicilian dishes:

Risotto alla zucca con ricotta di pecora; polpette e zucca in agrodolce; and Gelo di cannella.

The Arab, Moroccan influence in Sicilian cooking makes it very unique and not very Italian (to this southern Italian boy). The seasonings and spices are much more middle Eastern than typical Italian. The meal was delicious, but even better than that was Deborah and Fabio’s delightful company. I believe I have made some new lifelong friends. The Sicilian red Nero d’Avola sealed the deal. What a magical experience offered by Airbnb. If you’re headed to a city for vacation, I highly recommend checking out what they have to offer. It’s usually local residents sharing their talents.

I booked a room at the airport hotel due to my early flight Monday morning; I figured it was best to plan a soft landing. Tomorrow morning I will leave my Airbnb and go to relax at the hotel’s pool, spa and bar. This trip has been a truly restorative and educational experience. Had I know Sicily was so incredibly beautiful and inviting, I would have come sooner. The good news is that there is so much more to explore. I will be back.

A Side Note: 

Before choosing Faro as my new home, I considered Italy along with a few other countries. After one week in Sicily I realized that if I had moved to Italy, I would become rather large. There is something about the soil, the climate, the history, the regulations, and my Italian background that would make it impossible to avoid eating and drinking everything in plain sight.

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A view from the Bell Tower in one of the many churches of Noto. My God did I see a lot of churches.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Most Frightening Experience of My Life

Our memory is a powerful tool that assists in our pursuit of happiness; preventing accidents, mistakes and reminding us daily, that we are human. Memory can also be a rehashing of the most horrendous experience of our lives, relentlessly replayed, over and over again.

It was 1:15 a.m. and I was standing at a bus stop in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn. I was 17 years old, naive and immature. I had just come from my first disco roller skating party.  Happy and dreaming about my future as I waited for the bus. I had been longing for freedom and finally had it. I was living on my own and earning money and I could do just about anything I wanted. I had signed a month-to-month lease in a single occupant border house near Brooklyn College and I was struggling through my first semester. That night, the disco party I attended was everything I hoped it would be.

Standing by myself, I reflected upon what I had experienced at the rink. I met new people — possibly new friends, and I skated, I laughed and I had a blast. Waiting for the bus was routine; I must have done it dozens, if not hundreds, of times before; however, never at that hour. So there I was waiting, and waiting, and waiting, and before I knew it, it was 2:15 a.m. I was aware that buses do not run as frequently in the late evening; however, I assumed they ran all night. I was beginning to think that I might have to walk home — I was about 3 miles away. It was right about that time that a car pulled up to the bus stop. A guy got out of the car and asked me if I was waiting for the bus. For a second I thought that it might have been someone I had met that evening and that perhaps he was going to offer me a ride. Unfortunately, that is how my mind works. As he moved closer to me, I told him that I had been waiting for the bus for a long time. Don’t ask me the color, make or model of the car, that I cannot tell you.

The next part happened very quickly and years later, the details are still fuzzy. The guy who had gotten out of the car, continued walking toward me.  I recall seeing two or three of them, all around 18 to 20 years old, getting out of the car as the first guy approached me. The guy almost in front of me, turned and yelled something to his buddies and I knew I was in trouble, in fact, I feared for my life; it was a feeling in my gut that I cannot explain. I turned and started running as fast I could. I looked back and noticed the guys started to disperse in different directions; I knew they would try to cut me off. I turned back around to see where I was going and I was met with a fist to my face. I started yelling, “Help, please help me.” One of the guys put his hand over my mouth and they all started grabbing my arms and legs. I thought that they were going to try to carry me to the car, so I began kicking and flailing my arms. I was somehow able to break free and I once again started running for my life. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a car coming down Coney Island Avenue; I ran out in front of the car waving it down. The car stopped and I had a brief moment of relief.

I shouted, “That group of guys is trying to kill me,” pointing behind me.

The next part was truly frightening and I still feel the intense fear I felt over 40 years ago. The car doors opened, another group of guys got out of the car and then they were all chasing me. It only took seconds for them to catch me and what I felt and heard is as clear today as if I’d heard it yesterday.

“Fucking faggot.”

“Grab his watch.”

“Make him bleed.”

“Mess him up and teach him a lesson.”

Other instructions and comments were shouted out and I’m not sure how much time went by, but sometime later . . .

“Okay, okay, I think that’s enough, leave him alone.”

I didn’t see the guy who said it, but I was grateful that one of these barbarians had an ounce of compassion.

In a second they were gone and the quiet on the streets of Brooklyn was deafening. I recall the concrete under my face being warm, the street lights were blinding, and I had no idea where I was. I put my hand in my back pocket and my wallet was still there; I remember thinking that was odd. I could also feel my gold cross was still around my neck. Blood was dripping from my forehead and every part of me ached. All I wanted to do was sleep. I’m not sure how long I lied on the curb before hearing a voice and feeling a hand grab my arm.

“Are you okay?” It was a foreigners voice; Syrian or Pakistani, definitely Middle Eastern.

I told the stranger that I was badly hurt and needed to get home. The exchange we had is not completely clear in my memory, but I do recall that he insisted that I go to a hospital. He said that we were not far from Coney Island Hospital and that he would take me. I told him that I was beaten and robbed and that they’d probably taken my cash (I’ve never kept my cash in my wallet). He didn’t seem to care about money. To this day I am not sure if he was a car service driver or a citizen who was driving by, saw me lying on the curb, and pulled over. The irony still haunts me; horrific violence and extreme kindness, minutes apart.

I’m not a religious person, but I recall making a deal with God that night as this stranger drove me to hospital, if I made it out, I would never put myself in a dangerous situation again. The man who drove me said very little. At one point he hit a pothole and apologized several times; such compassion.

We were met at the emergency room entrance by an orderly. The driver quickly shared how he’d found me, then he put his hand on my shoulder and said, “I hope you’ll be okay.” A gurney was wheeled outside and I was helped onto it. I was in a lot of pain and bleeding and I just wanted to sleep. I’m pretty certain that I was left in a hallway in the triage area. There was a lot of screaming and crying and I faded in and out of sleep. Occasionally, a nurse would come by to take my vitals and to ask me how I was doing. Time passed very slowly. I remember thinking that I probably wasn’t dying — I assumed they would have taken care of me right away if I was; at least that is what I had seen in the movies. It must have been six or seven in the morning before I finally saw a doctor. He said that I was badly bruised and that the cut on my head was superficial. He told me to put ice on my head and ribs and he gave me some Tylenol to take. Our interaction was brief. It occurred to me that I never spoke to the police that night. An orderly asked me if I wanted to call someone to come and get me.

I remember thinking, who do I want to see right now. It was my mom of course. When a child gets into trouble, who does he usually turn to. I was in trouble and naturally I was blaming myself — and I was my mother’s child. Why was I out in the wee hours of the morning? Wasn’t I putting myself in Danger? Didn’t I know better? Was I asking for it? I knew my mom wouldn’t blame me; she’d hold me and let me cry. But alas, she was living in North Carolina with my stepfather and several of my siblings. I had no choice but to call my father. My dad did not usually go to bed until after midnight because he worked late. I knew I was going to have to wake him and I knew he wouldn’t be happy with me. My dad viewed any kind of illness or pain as a weakness; a character flaw. He expected his kids to be strong; the boys didn’t cry and the girls did not whine. I was not a tough teenager, but in front of my father I always appeared confident; a mask I wore for him for many years. I called his home number and he picked up on the third ring.

“What,” is how he answered the phone.

I said, “Dad, it’s Chris.”

“Chris, is everything all right?”

I told him what happened to me, showing no emotion, as if reading from an encyclopedia. He almost let me finish, but he couldn’t help himself and said,

“What the hell were you doing out at 2:30 in the morning?”

I asked my dad if he’d come to get me and he said he’d be there as soon as he could. We both hung up and I sobbed until he got to hospital. The reality of what could have happened on the streets of Brooklyn hit me hard that morning. Had that one guy (probably the leader) not told them to stop beating me, I probably would have been bashed to death.

Two things that stand out for me about that horrible experience:  First, when my dad arrived and saw how badly I had been beaten, he held me while and cried, and second, I’m was not certain of the boys’ motive for beating me and I was left with many questions:  Were they a gang and I just happened to be a warm body they could victimize? Were they out looking for gays to bash and was I hiding my sexuality well enough? Was this an idea one of the boys had and the rest played along with it? Was it just a random act? What came over the one boy who asked the rest to leave me alone?

The biggest question that I have asked myself far too many times, is how has this impacted my life? Have I been blaming myself for this act of violence my entire life and what does this say about my own self-esteem? I’m a fairly guarded individual, is this the reason why? Is this the reason I am against violence of any kind? What kind of adult might I have been had this not happened to me? I’ve also been trying to pay my debt to the stranger who stopped, my entire adult life (no regrets).

The mysteries of this memory will never leave me and what lingers is this:  there is very little in this world I fear and I refuse to spend my life looking over my shoulder.

My heart and respect goes out to Christine Blasey Ford. Your bravery and duty to country, fucking blew me away.

 

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Photo by Michael Foster on Pexels.com

Love & Devotion

Giorgio’s nicknames:  G, Mr. G., Duka Do, Dukkas and Georgie.

 

 

I’m writing while in Lisbon with a friend, but to be honest, I’m having a very difficult time because Giorgio is at home and his little heart is failing him. A couple of months ago he developed a hacking cough and I learned his heart valve on the left side is almost completely blocked. Giorgio’s been with me for 11 wonderful years; he was flown in from Texas to LaGuardia Airport when he was eight weeks old. He has given me so much joy, it’s difficult to put into words, but I’m going to because I must. Anyone who has a pet or has lost a pet will know what I am feeling right now. I have a constant lump in my throat. I didn’t want to wait until he passes to express what he means to me.

His Current State

He’s on three different types of medication and for now he’s comfortable . . . I hope.  The blood that is backing up into his lungs is prompting an occasional cough. Sometimes I can hear the fluid in his breathing. It scares me, it hurts me, and it only makes me love him more. Although the medication is helping for the moment, I’m not sure and the vet is not sure, how long it will help. It feels like it won’t be long. I know I talked about being present last week and for me this is what is happening presently; I can’t escape from it and I don’t want to. I have made the decision to put him down at the first sign of distress. I cannot watch my dog suffer and I am certain that he will let me know when it’s time.

 

A few weeks ago, he had a very difficult night and I held him and wept. I was certain that it was the end; I should have known better. Giorgio has survived several near death experiences and he rallied once again. I think you’ll enjoy this story about Giorgio tying one on:

My Drunken Dog

Some of you have heard this story so I apologize in advance. Several of you were even in my life when it happened. It was almost 11 years ago, I had a rough day at work and after getting off of the disgusting New York City subway, I was ready for a cocktail. White Russians are a rare choice for me, but on that particular occasion, that’s what I craved and needed; I made a tall one. I placed it on my living room coffee table and went into the bedroom to shed my work clothes. When I returned to the living room, the glass was empty. I thought,

“I don’t recall drinking this drink, but I guess I did.”

You know how your mind works when you’re overworked and stressed. I made another White Russian and plopped myself down on my sofa. Two minutes later, Giorgio stumbled into the room and keeled over. He was six months old and weighed about four pounds. Until that moment, it had not occurred to me that he might have helped himself to my cocktail. There were no signs of anyone else having touched the glass. He had lapped it up skillfully and quietly, as is his way.

White Russian recipe — Jamie Oliver. Love this chef.

I rushed to get my phone and called Animal Poison Control. A kind person answered on the first ring and asked if he could help. This is a group of veterinarians volunteering their time for a public service — I am grateful for what they do. I stammered and shared what Giorgio had imbibed as tears of panic washed over my face.  He advised me to get Giorgio to an emergency animal hospital right away and made it clear that if I did not take his advice, Giorgio would probably die. My little guy drank about 8 ounces of alcohol; a larger dog would have been fine.

I had a car and I knew that his vet in Park Slope had a 24 hour animal hospital. I put Giorgio on the seat beside me and started driving. On the way to the hospital, I looked over and found him passed out. I stopped the car to shake him and I begged him not to die on me. I’m still not sure how I made it to the hospital without wrecking the car.

I double parked, ran him into the vet and the assistant who greeted me at the door asked me what happened.

“He’s drunk!”

The assistant took Giorgio from my arms and asked me to wait in the waiting room. I called two different friends who both had pets, knew Giorgio and whom I knew, could calm me down. I was feeling guilty, scared, fear and about 46 other emotions.

One hour and a stomach pump later, he was admitted. He had to be on an IV and observed for 24 hours; 24 of the longest hours of my life. He pulled through and hasn’t had a drink since.

Giorgio Has Nine Lives

There have been several close calls throughout Giorgio’s life, but none took the wind out of me more than the time he fell off of a deck 18 feet off the ground. It was the day after he had received all of his annual shots and I was told he might be a bit “out of it” that evening, but there was no mention of how it would affect him the next day. By the time we arrived at the home of friends on Shelter Island, I had completely forgotten about the vaccinations. Giorgio had been up on this deck a dozen times and never went anywhere near the edge. On this day he wasn’t himself and ended up falling off the deck. I watched him approach the edge and I called out his name. He never turned around; he just went straight over. I was in a state of shock and I could not get up off of the chair I was sitting in. Because I did not hear a sound when he hit the ground, I assumed the worst.

My friend Angelina looked over the edge of the deck and told me that Giorgio was not there. I ran down to look for him. When dogs are hurt, they hide and nurse their wounds. He was hiding under my car and would not come out. I sat and waited and he eventually crawled out from under my car. I don’t know how he survived that fall without breaking anything. He’s my little miracle.

One Happy Dog

I don’t believe there is a happier dog alive. He unmakes my bed every day just for shits and giggles. He grabs my shoes and shakes them with his teeth, before he goes out for a walk. He pees with his hind paws in the air so as not to get urine anywhere on his fur. He lets those he loves know how he feels by letting out tiny yelps. He performs tricks for biscuits I never taught him. Giorgio, when walking unleashed, will always walk several feet ahead of me. He looks back constantly to make sure that I am still there. He listens and stays clear of traffic. Sometimes when he is outside my building or in the woods or on the beach, he appears to be smiling — unbridled joy.

Giorgio has more friends than I could ever hope to have. His love is unconditional and pure.

As you can see I’m preparing myself. He’s lost several pounds and now all I can feel are his bones. He urinates in the house, something he never did. He sleeps most of the time and he’s not eating. He knows he’s not well and I believe he knows he’ll be leaving us soon. I like to think animals understand the life cycle and accept it. He’s showing me his love and gratitude with his eyes and for that I am grateful. He’s trying to make this easier for me. He’s always been there for me and I know that he will be my true companion until the end.

Mr. G at nine weeks

 

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Maggie & Giorgio — BFFs

 

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Mauro Fermariellio, a professional photographer, and friend, took this photograph of Giorgio about six years ago and sent it to me as a gift; a gift I will cherish.

 

That’s daddy’s boy. He always puts his paw on my face when I hold him.