The Ups and Downs of My Relationship With Food

Who Am I Kidding, I Feel Fat

 

 

 

Eight weeks into quarantine and no surprise that my weight is weighing heavily on my mind. Apparently, one of the by-products of quarantine is a rollercoaster ride of emotions. Out of nowhere you can become all weepy or conversely, elated. This week I was sitting on my sofa and suddenly I was crying. I just let the tears flow and I felt better when it passed. I guess the absence of social human contact is taking its toll.

Eating dulls the ache. With food as a major focus, I have become hyper-aware of my weight. I refuse to get on a scale, however, I know from the tight fit of my pants, that I have gained weight. Yes, I have to wear pants when I walk Paco or go to the market.

I have one full length mirror in my apartment. When I walk past it, I look away. I’ve developed that “if you can’t see it, it doesn’t exist” attitude. I guess it’s a defense mechanism or perhaps complete denial?

I think quarantine is playing tricks on my mind:
Is “walked past” or walked passed” grammatically correct …
Passed” is a verb which is the past (heh) tense of “pass“. So you could say either “walked past” or “passed“, but not “walked passed“. … Walked is a verb. Past is an adverb (we walked past, she drove past).
 

Body Type

I have written about this before, so I apologize for repeating myself. Naturally human beings have different body types, the reality is that some of us will never be thin and some of us could never be fat. Unless I’m very ill, I will never be skinny. All my life I have dreamt of being skinny. I wish I knew why; I don’t necessarily like feeling this way, but it is what it is — the grass is always greener . . .

There have been a few times in my life where due to surgery or stress, I have dropped a good deal of weight. During those times, although psychologically I was happy to be thin, I looked terrible. My face is too long to be thin, my frame is too large and wide; therefore, without meat on my bones, I look sick. One would think that having this knowledge would be enough to settle my mind and I’d just be satisfied with a “healthy” look. One would think.

I have my father’s body and I seem to have a weight my body comfortably settles into. I know I have some control over how big I get, but I also know that my body type is genetic. So when will the mental agony end?

 

The Media

We all enjoy blaming the media for a lot of our issues. We have been looking at beautiful people in magazines and on screen for so long, the ideal body type is ingrained in our psyche. By now we all know that what the media might see as the “ideal” body type is not a representation of how most of us look.

Sit at an airport lounge when things get back to normal. You will see every type of shape imaginable. The vast majority of people in our world do not look like the people in magazines. There has been an effort in recent years to change that, however, it’s a slow process and we’re a long way off. It is a known fact that seeing a likeness of yourself depicted in the media, helps you feel more comfortable with your own body type.

A piece on body type worth looking at.

I loved it when I started seeing bald male models. Unfortunately, overweight middle aged male models are a long way off; probably not in my lifetime. When you do see it, it’s Joe Middle America in a sad sitcom or a reality crime show.

 

Health/Exercise

Good health is linked to good eating and exercise. I embraced this fact many years ago and I attribute my excellent health to living a lifestyle where nutritious fresh food is paired with daily exercise; providing for a better quality of life. However, because I am human and because I have weaknesses and character flaws, I often veer off course. This pandemic has been a good excuse to sit or lounge a lot more and therefore, gain weight from being sedentary. And then there is the baking . . . just because. I am exercising several times a week, but not moving nearly as much as I usually do. The age factors in and metabolism is the enemy. Cookies and cake and ice cream and rich savory dishes and trips to the grocery store as my only activity; all leading to weight gain. It’s a downhill spiral with no end in site.

People all over the world are experiencing the same problem, but that doesn’t make it any easier. Please allow my gym to reopen soon.

 

Letting it Go

Often, when you share these thoughts of being overweight or out-of-shape with friends or acquaintances, their first reaction is to say the following:

  • “You are not overweight.”
  • “You are the healthiest person I know.”
  • “Are you kidding me?”
  • “Are you fishing for a compliment?”
  • “You have nothing to worry about.”
  • “You should see a professional.”
  • “We all feel that way.”
  • “Have you looked around these days.”
  • “You know it’s not true.”
  • “You look great for your age.”
  • “This is a temporary situation.”
  • “Just buy new jeans.”

What people do not always understand, is that in no way do any of these statements make you feel better. You might be flattered for about three seconds, but the reality is, if you feel overweight, than nothing other than weight loss can make it go away.

 

Mind Games

Talking yourself into believing something, is common practice. I tell myself that everything in life is a trade-off. If I’m going to eat the things I love, I’m going to have to deal with a few extra pounds. I also tell myself that at my age, being slim and toned is not as important as it was in my 20s and 30s; after all, no matter what I do I will not have the body I once had. To be honest, I give up on dating at least 100 times a day.

I tell myself that what matters now is that I remain healthy so that later in life, when my body continues to age, I will maintain a good quality of life. For example, if you exercise and stretch your muscles, they will continue to help you move without pain and discomfort. Healthy lungs, a healthy heart, a stimulated brain, and so on, will all insure ease of movement and a sharp mind later in life. I’m not in a hurry to experience this, however, it is a motivator.

When the elderly are asked what they would have done differently, they often say the following:

  1. They would have worried less
  2. They would have exercised more
  3. They would have taken better care of themselves

 

An expert speaks:

Older people who smoked, didn’t exercise or became obese were regretful about it, but the issue wasn’t only about dying.

“Many people will say to themselves, ‘I enjoy smoking’ or ‘I don’t like to exercise’ or ‘I just like to eat — who cares if I die a little sooner?’” Pillemer noted.

“The problem is in this day and age is you’re not going to die sooner; you’re going to be stuck with 10 or 20 years of chronic disease as modern medicine keeps you alive.”

Their advice: Pay attention to your health and change your lifestyle if it’s making you unwell, otherwise the incredible burden of chronic disease will make your life miserable.”

Follow A. Pawlowski on FacebookInstagram and Twitter.

I just keep telling myself that this will end soon and life will go back to normal. The truth is, because of my lifestyle and my love of rich foods, I will never be thin and that has to be okay. I’m grateful that I’m not diabetic, not obese, not addicted to sugar, not lazy, and not an alcoholic. I do consider that any of these issues could become an unwelcome reality.

 

Ina Garten is one of my favorite television personalities. She has been overweight since I started watching her cook. She wears clothes that are flattering, she never apologizes for her weight, she has a beautiful genuine and hearty laugh, and she seems to truly enjoy life. When she had the gourmet food store, The Barefoot Contessa, in the Hamptons, New York, I would marvel at her magnificent displays and incredible food. I always wanted to buy and eat everything. If I could spend a day with any celebrity, it would be Ina. She made a quarantini on social media recently, and it went viral — everybody loves Ina.

Growing Up With Broadway

Too shy to be on stage, but happy to watch and dream.

​​”I got a feeling there’s a miracle due gonna come true, coming to me. Could it be? Yes it could. Something’s coming. Something good, if I can wait.” – West Side Story

I was watching an interview with Dame Judi Dench, an actor for whom I have nothing but respect and admiration. She was asked about her favorite medium and she replied, “The stage.” When pressed for a reason, she explained that it meant a great deal to her that in order to see her perform on stage, people had to actually go out and purchase a ticket and then they have to actually go to the theatre. She wanted to perform her best for these people because they truly made an effort — makes a great deal of sense to me. Watch Dame Judi perform “Send in the Clowns,” and you’ll see and hear why she’s a national treasure.

60 principais fotografias e imagens de Judi Dench - Getty Images

 

The Impact Theatre Had on My Development

I grew up in Brooklyn, New York with Broadway as my playground. My father was an Italian immigrant with a blue collar job, but he loved the theatre. My mother, on the other hand, barely tolerated it. Her indifference made no difference to me.

There was a time when I would have chalked my infatuation with Broadway up to my sexuality — that was societal brainwashing. Obviously, people of all sexual orientations, ages, races, and cultures have an equal love of the theatre and for good reason.

My first Broadway show was The Wiz. It is an all black version of the Wizard of Oz. My father took me to see it for my ninth birthday. Stephanie Mills played the lead and she was brilliant — a performance I still consider to be one of the best I have ever seen. The show blew me away; over 50 years later and I still hear the songs in my head. I believe my life lessons mainly came from theatre. The visual spectacle helped me to escape the reality of my own unfortunate childhood.

The second play I went to see was A Chorus Line. There are a dozen themes in this play and each of them spoke to me. I may have been 12 years old when my father took me. I remember my father wiping tears from my eyes during the performance. He had huge, strong hands and I loved when he did that. “At the Ballet” hit me hard and I was never good at holding back my feelings. I wonder to this day if my dad realized I knew I was gay and how ashamed I had been; I hope he knew.

Dozens of shows seemed to have been written with me in mind; at least that what I thought. What it said to me was simply that there were more like me out there and for that I was and am, grateful. It was a lonely world, but at the theatre I felt safe and understood; I still do.

While other teens were saving their money for clothes, video or baseball games, I saved for the theatre. Back then TKTS was a real bargain. I recall seeing Broadway plays for less than $10. It’s unfortunate that young people today, for the most part, cannot afford Broadway theatre tickets. I know there are programs designed to expose young people to the theatre; however, like most things these days, theatre is big business and only the elite can afford it. Fortunately, there are regional theatres all over the States that are much more affordable than the Great White Way (Broadway).  —

In my early twenties I met a New York City couple who attended Broadway shows weekly. They were members of the Theatre Development Fund (TDF). As educators, Ann and Aaron were able to purchase a group of ten tickets at a large discount. Their circle of friends included dozens of people who would buy tickets from them on a first-come first-served basis. It took a lot of time and energy to organize the selling of these tickets and they did it without taking a dime for themselves. We had mutual friends who brought us together often and over the years we became very close. Aaron passed away at age 95 not too long ago. Ann has dementia, but we had a Skype call a few months ago and there were moments where she was her old self; funny and smart. My friendship with Ann and Aaron started at the theatre, however, it extended far beyond that for over 30 years. The common denominator was our love of the theatre; for a long time our lives revolved around shows and eating out. I’m fairly certain I would have only seen a fraction of the shows I saw had it not been for Ann and Aaron; two of the loveliest people I have ever known.

 

Times Square in the 70s and 80s

70s times square | Tumblr

The Theatre District (Times Square) in the 70s and 80s was a pretty scary place. In fact, when I was a teenager, a stranger pulled a knife on me only because I was walking in his path. There were sex shops everywhere and drugs sold on every corner. However, that’s where the Broadway theatres were and nothing could keep me away. I would get a ticket for a show and tell my mother I was going to a friend’s house for dinner. It was a secret world I was reluctant to share. I worked hard for spending money and I didn’t want my mother to know where my money was going; unfortunately, she often took money from me, charging me for room and board when I was a teen. I guess it taught me to be fiercely independent and for that I am grateful.

Times Square today is not what it once was, it has lost it’s grit and unique appeal. I’m afraid Disney has cleaned it up and made it shiney and safe for middle America. It’s probably for the better, but I can’t help being nostalgic. It’s become overcrowded and commercial and no longer appealing to me.

 

Meeting a Famous Composer

The following is a secret I’m not sure I have ever told. I haven’t shared this because I was closeted for many years and I was ashamed of the life I lived prior to coming out. Today, I am way past worrying about being judged.

When I was a young man I went out on several dates with a Catholic priest named Peter — I often wonder what became of Peter. I was a minor, but I knew exactly what I was doing at the time. There may have been an element of the forbidden fruit, but I’ll leave that for another blog. This priest led a double life in New York City and some of his friends were famous in the theatre world. Peter was young, attractive, and flirtatious. He knew how much I loved Broadway musicals and he surprised me by taking me to the home of a world-renowned, Greenwich Village composer. I remember walking down to this composer’s sub-street level apartment and shivering from head-to-toe. I knew at the time that this would be a memory I would hold onto for life. There is a part of me that would like to be more innocent and less jaded.

Peter knocked on the door and this larger than life man invited us in. I recall a large piano in the center of a small living room. There were Broadway show posters everywhere and most of them were his shows. I’ve had natural highs many times throughout my life, however this one, sent me soaring. I could not speak for fear of saying something stupid. I accepted a glass of wine and blushed over his shameless petting. Up to that evening I had never had a stranger show me that much attention, let alone someone famous. Peter knew it was harmless and he knew that he was the one who’d be taking me home.

 

And Then There Was This:

Stephen Sondheim

I had the great pleasure of meeting Stephen Sondheim when I was working in Student Affairs at Marymount Manhattan College in New York City. He is, hands down, my favorite composer. I cannot imagine what my life would have been like without his music and lyrics. This is not hyperbole, I mean every word of it, he is like no other songwriter alive or dead. The MMC theatre department brought him in for a Master Class. I normally do not approach celebrities because I know that no matter what I say, I’m going to sound stupid and behave badly. But in Sondheim’s case I made an exception because of the direct impact he had had on my life.

I asked one of our professor’s to introduce me and she said she’d be delighted. I shook his hand and I said, “Thank you for the many times your music has spoken to me and brought me joy.” Sondheim held my gaze for a moment and said, “It’s been my pleasure.” If there is a God, he resides inside the heart of that man.

Many songs featured in musicals were moving and played a role in my life; however, none as much as “Being Alive.” Raul Esparza played the role of Bobby and sang it in the 2007 Broadway production of Company. These are the lyrics:

Being Alive
Someone to hold me too close.
Someone to hurt me too deep.
Someone to sit in my chair,
And ruin my sleep,
And make me aware,
Of being alive.
Being alive.
Somebody need me too much.
Somebody know me too well.
Somebody pull me up short,
And put me through hell,
And give me support,
For being alive.
Make me alive.
Make me alive.
Make me confused.
Mock me with praise.
Let me be used.
Vary my days.
But alone,
Is alone,
Not alive.…

Coincidentally, a 90th birthday tribute to Stephen Sondheim aired a couple of days ago. What a gift to all of us; you can watch it on Youtube:  #Sondheim90Concert 

 

Theatre’s Impact on Me Today

Broadway and the West End, by way of musicals and dramatic productions, will a destination for me for as long as I can travel. It’s like a dangling carrot I can never imagine going away. These plays speak to me in ways no one can. It’s as if the writers are inside my head and my heart. Whether it is a time of happiness or sadness, I turn to lyrics and dialogue for hope and consolation. It seems unfair that there are many people in the world who will never experience Broadway the way I have. I have to assume that people in other parts of the world have their own Broadway; it is in that truth, I find pleasure.

www.astep.org — A not-for-profit organization designed to introduce and connect underserved children to the arts.

 

“So much of me Is made of what I learned from you. You’ll be with me Like a handprint on my heart.”  — Wicked

A Wicked Story

A number of years ago I was in a relationship with a Spaniard living in Zaragoza, Spain. Alejandro would travel to New York to see me as often as he could. Alex’s plan was to move to New York to be with me when he finished med school. We shared many things in common, however, one of the many things we joked about was his disdain for musical theatre. I would tell him that I was seeing a musical and he would just laugh and tell me to have fun. I have a good friend who invested in Wicked and she invited me to the opening on Broadway; certainly one of the most exciting nights of my life. We attended the after party at Tavern On The Green in Central Park and I got to sit alongside Sarah Jessica Parker, Carol Burnett, Michael Hall and many other big stars. I was euphoric, star struck, and in many ways it felt magical.

I called Alex to share the experience and he said, “Honey, if it’s that good, you have to take me.”

A couple of months later, Alex told me he’d be coming to New York for his birthday and to spend some time with me. I was able to get center orchestra seats for Wicked on his birthday. I made a reservation at a restaurant I knew he would enjoy and kept it from me until the day of the show.

When I told him over dinner, Alex was excited because he’d heard a lot about the show and he knew how much I had enjoyed it. I was fully conscious of his feelings about musicals, but in my heart-of-hearts, I knew this musical would bring him over to my side. Throughout the performance I would glance over and see Alex smiling from ear-to-ear and every so often he’d squeeze my hand or bump knee. His tears and laughter throughout made it even more special for me. During a long standing ovation, Alex whispered in my ear that this was the best birthday of his life. He grabbed my head, turned it with both hands and planted a big kiss on my lips. I was out of my mind elated.

As we continued to stand and applaud, a woman sitting behind me with her ten year old daughter, tapped me on the shoulder and screamed above the applause, “My daughter did not have to see that.”

Of course I knew she was referring to the kiss. Understandably curious, Alex asked me what she’d said. I told him and that’s when I saw his Latin temper unleashed. He held nothing back; letting this woman know what he thought of her and her biased, toxic rage over a kiss. I said nothing. I watched and listened to this man defend our love to this vile stranger. I knew that I loved Alex, but that moment, that night, that unbridled valour, sealed the deal forever.

 

Times Square Today

Feelings Reiterated

Reblog — difficult time to write and some things require reiteration

 

 

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.
abstract aluminum architectural architecture
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Living in a Material World

 

Self-Discovery

I’m not sure when it happened or why it happened, but at some point I decided to give up just about all of my earthly possessions. Have you ever wondered what you could live without? Two years ago I had the opportunity to answer that question. I either sold or gave away almost everything and now I know the answer. As evolved as I thought I had become, I still like things.  This is a list of what I cannot live without (not in order of importance):

  • a comfy mattress
  • good bedding (Portuguese cotton sheets, a down comforter, and 3 down pillows)
  • good pots & pans
  • well made kitchen tools
  • a high definition, smart TV
  • 100% cotton underwear
  • an iphone with a screen that isn’t cracked (it’s not about the label, it’s about quality and efficiency)
  • sunglasses that protect you from UV rays
  • a four wheel suitcase
  • a comfortable sofa
  • good martini glasses
  • silicone ice cube tray
  • a MacBook
  • an iphone (I have the 7S and it’s fine)
  • novels, lots of novels
  • a watch (I’m obsessed with time)
  • Alexa — I love answers to questions without any effort
  • a bicycle
  • a practical wardrobe (includes good shoes)

When I look at this list I feel pretty good. There are a few luxury items (i.e., Murano martini glasses, Apple products); however, I’m certain it could be a lot worse. No judgment if your list is longer; to each his own.

The flip side of this revelation is what I can live without and that list is unfortunately, much shorter:

  • cargo shorts
  • Nike sneakers
  • Cashmere
  • expensive artwork
  • expensive watches (I once owned over 50 watches)
  • fine silverware and wine glasses
  • a car
  • a KitchenAid mixer

Am I a better person for having learned these things about myself? No. What I am is more realistic and less bogged down. I now know that I can easily get rid of almost everything and start fresh. I can walk away from that ceramic bowl I thought I was in love with and never look back. I can give away that Burberry jacket and not shed a single tear. I can survive without a Bertazzoni stove (I do miss my stove).

When I look at the list of things I cannot live without, it seems longer than I thought it would be, but in reality, it’s not that long. There are a few items on the list that I certainly could live without, however, I choose not to. I have come to learn that I love and want certain creature comforts. What I found interesting was the process of acquiring new things. When I arrived to Portugal, my mindset was somewhat unrealistic. I thought that I could wear what I brought with me and only buy new clothing when it was absolutely necessary — holes in my socks sort of thing. I had always cared a great deal about quality clothing; this new business of a minimal lifestyle was foreign to me. I learned over time that it was unrealistic to stay away from shops. I need to feel good about myself and part of that is to wear nice clothes and present myself in a positive way. I’m sixty years old now (61 in a few weeks) and I don’t have the physique I once had; therefore, what I desire these days is a comfortable, practical, classic wardrobe. I occasionally purchase a colorful hat or watch, just to brighten things up. It’s more for my own psyche than to impress someone else.

In a very healthy way, I have come to accept what I look like. I am hoping I care about my appearance until I die. I think it’s important to love and accept yourself physically, spiritually and mentally. When you stop caring, you begin to decline in every way. I have observed that older women in Europe (mostly the cities) seem to embrace this philosophy. I see so many women in their 70s and 80s wearing beautiful clothing and owning their look — unfortunately, men that age do not seem to care. I’m afraid tobacco and alcohol have done some major irreparable damage. There are exceptions of course.

Apropos of nothing, I was talking to my niece Nicole this week and she brought up the scaling down process in her own life. She’s raising twins on her own and she’s figuring out a way to financially make it work.

I told her that I was writing this piece and she said, “You only need one coat, so long as it’s a good coat.”

I laughed because she and I are spiritually connected and that philosophy is exactly where my head has been lately. I have only one coat in Portugal, but it’s a good coat.

 

My Home

My nest is probably in the top three most important parts of my life. It has to be clean, contemporary, and warm. It does not have to be super expensive and posh. Before I moved to Portugal and decided to purchase in Faro, I looked for an apartment with clean lines. I wanted a place I could keep clean with minimal effort. Faro doesn’t have dust build-up the likes of which I experienced in New York and Maine. I assume it’s because there are fewer automobiles and a constant breeze off of the Ria Formosa. It’s nice not to have to dust daily. I mention this because keeping the things I enjoy out in the open gives me pleasure. So even though I have fewer “things” sitting around on shelves, I don’t have to work very hard to keep them looking nice. Sticking to my decision to remain minimal has been easier than I thought. I guess once you go through the process of shedding everything, you never want to accumulate that much stuff again. If I decide to move, I won’t have quite as much stuff to cart around.

 

What is all Means

I can never help stepping back and analyzing what it all means for me and my life. I think that is what I love most about writing; put it down on paper or type it into your computer and it becomes reality. Sometimes you like what you read and other times you are appalled. You can make a conscious decision to change what you don’t like. I have found that if I start with awareness and then gradually make small changes, after awhile, I come to realize that whatever it was, is no longer present.

The car is a good example. I sold my car in Maine a couple of months before I moved to Portugal. I wanted to test life without a vehicle. I’ve had a car my entire adult life, so I knew it wouldn’t be easy. I even owned a car when I lived in Manhattan. I recall getting up to move it every morning. I found it damaged numerous times; often, I had to park it a mile or more away from my apartment, but that didn’t deter me because I couldn’t imagine life without wheels. This test would not be easy, but it’s the challenges we face that make us stronger and more determined. Cycling and walking have always been favorite pastimes for me, even more so now.

By the way, when people ask about my desire to reduce my carbon footprint, some of them raise the issue of the number of flights I take (and then they laugh). To this I say:  I take a train or a bus whenever I possible and I only fly when I absolutely have to. Sometimes I think doing the best you can do, has to be good enough. On a recent trip I took Amtrak from North Carolina to Boston stopping at various locations along the way. It was a great way to get from point A to point B.

 

A Recent Comment

I love honest conversations and I had one at the gym today. Someone I have known for a few months told me that my blog reads like a diary. He was not being critical, he was sharing his perception. I could hardly argue with his assessment. I do share a great deal of what I’m feeling at any given moment, with my readers.  I actually do keep a journal; I have for almost forty years. What I write in my journal is just as honest and straightforward, but much of what I write privately, is never meant to be shared. I write about perceptions of individuals, fears, hopes; all very personal. I imagine you might be questioning what could possibly be more personal than what I include in my blog . . . I guess you’ll just have to trust me; we all have demons and dark thoughts.

 

The Coronavirus (COVID-19)

It was very difficult to concentrate on anything other than COVID-19 this week. So many things are up in the air and the news changes by the minute. The entire country of Italy on lockdown and Spain is not far behind (they’re only 40 minutes away); it’s difficult to imagine. And then there is the choosing who to save thing.

I woke up in the middle of the night concerned about Paco getting the virus. His immune system is currently compromised and I was acutely concerned. I got out of bed and grabbed my laptop and learned that dogs cannot contract this particular strain.  One less thing to worry about.

Expat Life in Portugal Two Years In

“It is wiser to find out than to suppose.”

— Mark Twain

 

 

 

It’s been close to two years since I acquired my residential visa and boarded a plane to Faro, Portugal. Three bags containing all that I chose to keep and my furball companion, Giorgio. I had no idea what awaited me, but what I did know is this:  I knew that life in Portugal would be extremely different in just about every way, I knew there would be challenges to overcome, I knew that it might at times be lonely, I knew that because I was too young to “officially” retire,  I would be living on savings for quite a while, I knew that good friends would come to visit, and I hoped that I would never experience another snowstorm or see my nextdoor neighbors in Portland — the ones I shared a condo wall with. There is nothing worse than bitter, unpleasant, holier than thou, neighbors.

What I didn’t know:

  • that the weather in the Algarve is near perfect.
  • that fish straight from the ocean could be that good and so affordable.
  • that Portuguese wine is delicious and a true value
  • I didn’t know what social democracy looked like.
  • that if you look hard enough you can find just about anything you “really” need.
  • that your neighbors could be so kind and caring.
  • that out of despair can come truth.
  • that people in your life who truly love you will be there for you no matter how far away you are.
  • that you can live on a whole lot less than you ever thought possible.
  • that there are toxic people who will make their way into your life no matter where you live or how hard you try to keep them away.
  • that you can do just about anything you put your mind to.
  • that forgiveness is the best medicine.
  • that it is okay to miss what you once had so long as you embrace what you currently have.

 

The Best Parts of Living in Portugal

One of the things I didn’t realize before I moved to Faro was how perfect the location is for travel. Portugal is your first stop in Europe and from here, you can travel to many different places. There are several budget airlines flying in and out of Faro to different parts of Europe. I hate connecting flights, so I try my best to visit places where I can take a direct flight. I’ve been to some beautiful cities in France, Great Britain, Germany, and the Netherlands. It’s quick and easy and my cell phone still works in all of these places. Apparently, there are some pluses to being a part of the European Union. I’ll be traveling to Manchester soon and I’m not quite sure if Brexit has spoiled my cell service there. I’m sad about Brexit for reasons I won’t go into here. I’ve enjoyed conversations about British and EU politics with my British expat friends in Faro. The United States is not the only place on earth — I wish I had been more aware of global politics in the past. Our influence is vast and more significant than I had ever realized.

I knew that the cost of living would less in Faro than it was in Maine; however, I was pleasantly surprised when I discovered that certain taxes were very reasonable. For example:  my property taxes on my 1100 square foot, two bedroom, three bathroom condo, are 350 Euros a year. I paid more than that per month in Maine and my apartment was smaller. I cannot help but wonder why that is. What does your money pay for in the U.S.? Taxes are automatically added in at the grocery store, restaurants, department stores, etc.; therefore, you don’t really feel it as much. Groceries are usually about a third lower than what I paid in the U.S. even with the added taxes and in some cases, food cost even less. Fresh fish is inexpensive; therefore, my diet is much healthier and tastier. Fresh vegetables are, for the most part, local and free of toxins. It’s great not having to break the bank on organic food. Laws prohibit antibiotics in animals raised for food and green growing methods produce grapes used for winemaking that is far better for you.

The weather in the Algarve is absolutely phenomenal; 300 days a year of sunshine phenomenal. Even when the weather is bad, it’s good. Summers are warm, but there is a wonderful breeze off of the Ria Formosa (the body of water near my home), with fall comes relief from the warm temperatures; a bit of rain; when it comes you want more, winter is cooler, but a sweater is more than enough to warm you, and spring (now) is glorious:  birds chirping, warm sunshine and a sense of renewal. When we do have humidity, it’s during the cooler months so you welcome and embrace it. I cannot overstress the power of all of this vitamin D and the joy of not having to shovel snow. No wonder Portugal has been the #1 place to retire for a few years running.

The warmth and sincerity of the people is not to be taken for granted. There is a reason there is so little crime and and virtually no homeless people in the Algarve:  people here take care of one another. I think that this pretty much sums-up social democracy:  people take care of people; they don’t gripe about it or show any signs of regret, they genuinely care about humanity. Sure doctors make less money and people in general pay more taxes, but the quality of life is so much better for a greater number of people. That is not to say that they don’t care about humanity elsewhere; I can only speak to what I have experienced here in Portugal.

Portugal is not a wealthy country. There are pockets of wealth, but I chose to live in Faro, a working class, mostly Portuguese city. I have never for a second regretted this decision. When I want a bit of luxury:  Quinta do Lago, Vilamoura, Porto, I go to those towns. For the most part, it’s the gastronomy that might draw me to these places. This is not to say that Faro isn’t a beautiful city with great food; plainly speaking, it is special in its authenticity — there is no pretense or putting on of airs. There is history and culture in Faro and it is preserved, however, not widely promoted. The food is fresh and fairly priced, and as I mentioned earlier, the location is ideal for travel. In so many ways, that is just about all I need.

The morning has been glorious for me in Faro. Early morning has always been my favorite part of the day. I find it to be peaceful and hopeful. Every day is a new day after all. Aside from the ability to sit out on my terrace with a cup of Joe in the morning almost year-round, there is the fact that the United States is five hours behind and I rarely, if ever, hear from anyone from back home until noon at the earliest (except for my brother Leo who calls at any hour). It’s almost like being in a state of meditation; I can breathe, think, and enjoy the quiet with little interruption. I feel so much healthier not having frantic morning telephone calls due to work or family issues. Then there is the morning walk with Paco in the park across the street from my apartment; I rarely see another soul as the sky goes from fiery red to bright blue — it’s poetic and sublimely peaceful.

 

The Challenges

Language remains a bit of a challenge for me. I have learned a great deal from Memrise (a language app), a tutor at my home, and Portuguese subtitles, but I still have so much to learn. Although many people speak English well, I believe strongly, that if I am going to reside here, that I should speak the language as much as and as often as possible. I’m at a place where I get by with my limited Portuguese. I’d like to be able to watch the news in Portuguese and have a clearer picture of what is happening in Portugal. I’ll get there; however, getting over my shyness about pronunciation is essential. I need to realize that when I say something and someone laughs, they are not laughing at me; they are more than likely laughing at the meaning of the word I just uttered by mistake and there is a big difference. And if they are laughing at me, so what. My neighbors and friends are delighted that I have committed to learning Portuguese and most people are helpful.

I have to be careful about how I talk about middle aged men in the Algarve. Careful, because the last thing I want to do is offend the people I am living among. Generalizations can be unkind and unfair; therefore, I want to express my thoughts without prejudice. What I have noticed are merely my own observations — they should not be regarded as fact. Some men have a difficult time with me; questioning who I am and why I am here. I am careful in how I approach men I do not know. The gym has become the easiest place for me to learn more about the culture and why I am sometimes misunderstood.

Women here are very open, friendly and genuine. They have been gracious toward me and helpful in so many ways. Of course there have been exceptions. As a sociologist, what I have observed is mainly cultural. Men here seem to be very masculine and reserved; women seem to be more progressive and open to societal changes. I believe that behind the scenes they are quietly persuading men to be more tolerant and modern. By seeing it through this lens, it helps me to understand that when I sense a barrier or resistance, it is probably not due to anything I have said or done.

Older and younger men are similar in their dealings with me; however, I have less interaction with these two groups. I have often complained (when blogging) that young men smoke too much and overuse cologne and I stand by these thoughts. I live next to a high school where my sample group gathers daily.

[This is one of those times when I have to tell myself not to be judgmental.]

You know how much I love to complain about food; please, please, please bring more ethnic (world) cuisine to Faro. I just keep telling myself it will come. Too few countries are represented here. However, I have noticed things are changing in a more positive direction.

Pastry is sublime. It’s not quite as decadent as it is in France, but I love it just the same. What I like most is that a good deal of the baked goods here are not terribly sweet. It’s dangerous to be around so many bakeries. I have blogged about the bread so I won’t belabour the point. What I will mention is that I love French bread and it’s not that easy to come by in the Algarve. I have to go out-of-my-way to snag it and I do — in fact I’m going to Loulé today and I intend to pick up a baguette. This bread freezes well, which makes having it when I want it fairly easy. I’ll be in Toulouse in two weeks and I’ll load up on some good bread before I leave France. Portuguese people love their bread; I respect their opinion and I have found some Portuguese breads that I do like. This one will definitely get me in trouble.

Portuguese people are proud and stubborn and often refuse to admit that they might be wrong. I was at a self-checkout counter at the grocery store recently and the machine flashed a “printer not-working message.” I left the machine and walked to another. A staff member came over to me and said, “Please use the machine where you started.” I told her that the printer was not working and she said it was. Sure enough when it was time to get the receipt, which you have to show before you leave, the printer was not working. When I went over to her to inform her, she shrugged and went to the machine to fix the roll of paper for the printer; offering no apologies. I know this kind of thing happens everywhere, but I noticed it happens a lot in the Algarve. There is some expat resentment.

 

The Surprises

I had no idea that Portuguese cotton was so cool and soft. One of my three suitcases when I arrived had two sets of cotton sheets; one set for my bed and one set for my guest bed. I have been searching for the perfect set of sheets my entire adult life. Egyptian cotton is usually a good bet; however, this bedding can be very experience and sometimes a higher thread count doesn’t necessarily translate to comfort.

Giving up having a car in Portugal was a big, scary decision. It was the one thing I was truly concerned about. Using public transportation has been easier than expected. It’s certainly not perfect, but neither is being in a car. Reducing my contribution to the carbon crisis is rewarding and fiscally smarter; although Uber has benefited greatly. The walking and cycling are also beneficial to my overall wellbeing. There is a fairly long and steep incline when returning to my building from shopping or walking. I consider the health benefits as I climb; the sweets in my bag seem less threatening. Still, there will always be guilt.

I will not lie and say that I do not miss the city. Cluttered sidewalks, honking horns, packed public transportation, and the odors of an ethnically rich urban city, remains one of the great loves of my life. When I’m feeling the loss of grit and sirens, I board a train for Lisbon and I am at once returned to my city roots. I have learned how to mitigate any yearning that rears its head — feed the beast and it will simmer down.

Gay life has been a bit challenging, it gives me a reason to travel and I know that it will improve in time — Portuguese men in my part of Portugal are more closeted than what I’m used to.

There’s more . . . but there are some things that I prefer to keep to myself.

 

To Sum Up

I am hoping that I have conveyed that the pluses far outweigh the minuses. Living in Europe was a dream I never imagined possible. My friends and family often remind me that I took a risk and they are proud of me for it. When my visitors walk out onto my terrace and light up, I know that I made the right decision to be in Faro. I also know that I can leave whenever I choose to do so. On my walk with Paco this morning, I noticed how fresh and fragrant the air was. I took in the light, the sounds, and the scents and I embraced my good fortune. I’m not sure how long I will remain in Faro, but I know that for the first time in my life, I am at peace.

 

What Happens When Your World Expands

Travel to faraway places expands your mind; how could it not. You see and experience things that you might never have imagined possible. The impact this has on your thoughts and beliefs should not be underestimated. We are the sum total of our experiences. You can read it and hear about it your entire life, but until you see it up close and touch it, you cannot appreciate its effects.

 

 

 

 

Looking Ahead

I need a hobby. It used to be poker and now it’s not — and not because I don’t want to play either. I refuse to play online, I need to look into the eyes of my fellow players. Paco is helping to fill my day in wonderful ways:  walks, playtime, training. I’ve always been a voracious reader and the ability to sit with a good book for hours at a time has been a true gift. Then there’s the improving of my cooking skills:  24 Kitchen is a 24 hour cooking channel here in Portugal and I love it for so many reasons. I especially like the Portuguese shows, they don’t have all that yelling and screaming I used to experience. They’re quiet, instructional programs. It’s a great way to learn Portuguese because the chefs and home cooks speak slowly and it’s fairly easy to follow. When the say “faca,” they pick up a knife, so you learn that faca means knife.

A part of me believes I still have another big move left in me. I have dreamed of waking up to the sound of ocean waves and I believe I can make that dream come true. I guess I need to see how life plays out; so much can happen between now and whatever lies ahead.

A crazy world full of languages — “panda’s holiday” is a series of posts for when...

 

Paco Update

Paco has now had three visits to the Vet in less than two months. He is up to six pounds, but still way too thin. His immune system is so badly compromised, there is not much he tolerates.

The vet recently informed me that the Portuguese government has to be sure no one is looking for him before I can officially register him as mine. This angers me because he was clearly abused as a puppy. No dog who had love, kindness, food, disease prevention, etc. would have been found in his condition. I was told that if someone did come forward, I’d have to battle it out in court and I would.

Paco is one of the sweetest, most appreciative pets I’ve ever encountered. He wants to shower me with love and kisses whenever I allow it — his wet nose is very cold. He’s super smart:  he’ll learn a trick on the second try and repeat it the next day without review. He’s never once made a mistake in the house and he doesn’t mess with my things. He knows his toys and loves sunning on the terrace. I sense his loving gratitude. I know that he wants to stick around for awhile and he’s trying his best to recover . . . I’m convinced he will.

A good article on why yelling at your dog is a bad thing:

http://www.you.co.uk/never-shout-at-your-dog/

We’re in the training phase of our relationship. Paco was clearly traumatized early on in his young life. The best thing I can do is show him lots of love and patience. Gaining his trust is essential for good behavior. Learning tricks is good for dogs; they want. to please you and they love treats. He’s testing me right now — he’s exploring how far he can push me and how much he can manipulate me. When I show him that I make the rules, he becomes passive and loses his alpha male persona. In my world, there is no other way. Fortunately for Paco, he’s 100% on board.

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May 21:  Paco is fully recovered, weighs almost nine pounds, has been neutered, and he couldn’t be happier and of course, that makes me happy.