I believe old demons have returned, but this time I’m more prepared
I’ve been struggling with a decision for a few months now and I’m hoping one of the following happens:
The answer suddenly comes to me with clarity and full resolve.
I decide to allow for an organic resolution; time sorts it out.
Something way bigger than me, decides.
This is one of those situations where anything is possible. I already went from A to B by running my situation by a friend. I carry shame with me on this one; not typical for me and very uncomfortable. I am usually quite clear in my thoughts when I have a personal dilemma. Not this time though, this time I haven’t a clue. In the past, my decisions may have been hasty; I cannot afford a hasty decision this time.
A recent example of hasty: I’m going to London at the end of the week and I have tickets for two plays — two plays that I know for certain I have not seen. I will only be in London for four days, therefore, my time there is precious and limited. I don’t get to see much theatre these days and the idea of getting a ticket for the third day seemed like a good one. I looked at all of the plays currently on the West End and didn’t see any that were appealing. Much like Broadway, unfortunately, the West End has become another home for flashy Disney productions, not my cup o’ tea. But two days ago I received an offer for Indecent, a Paula Vogel play. I got all excited because I’ve admired her work for thirty years. I purchased a ticket using a mobile phone app. I smiled all the way home thinking I’d scored something good . . . not. I got home and read about Indecent and realized I’d seen it in New York. If it was the best thing I’d ever seen I would have remained excited; however, if I recall correctly, it didn’t thrill me. Maybe I’ll be pleasantly surprised and this performance will blow me away. I’ve also decided that if I have a lot going on, I’ll just skip the performance and accept the financial loss. Had I done a bit of research first, I wouldn’t be in this position.
I should state upfront that this issue I am grappling with is not a bad problem to have. I should also share that when I have been in a similar situation in the past, the direction I chose ended up coming out well for me. Unfortunately, every situation is different; therefore, what might have worked in the past may not work now.
I need to come clean with you: I wrote several paragraphs about my situation, went to bed and slept on it. When I woke up this morning, I walked Paco, brewed some coffee, opened my laptop and erased what I had written. For the first time since I started blogging almost four years ago, I decided that what I was sharing was too personal (if you’re curious, contact me privately).
The Real Issue
The problem, as I see it, is that I am often not happy with accepting the status quo. Things can be going well for me and for whatever reason, I seem to have this strange need to shake things up. I know that I can overanalyze, over simplify, and take far too many things for granted. What I have found helpful over the last few years, is patience is a good alternative. Sit tight for a while and whatever it is that is making me crazy, will sort itself out — of course this is only 95% true.
In the spirit of making life easier on myself, I am going to stop here. Rather then bore you with details and make myself cuckoo, I will leave it at this:
My goal this week is to leave this decision up to the universe. With enough time and patience, it will sort itself out. In the end I will be fine; no doubt I will also be better off financially and happier for having not rushed to a hasty decision.
Bond, James Bond
Yesterday I saw, No Time to Die, the new James Bond Film. I’m usually not a big fan, but I caved to peer pressure. It’s fabulous: the acting, the music, and the cinematography — all incredible. The bonus was that I had just firmed up my trip to Cuba in February and about 20 minutes of the film takes place in Havana. That made me feel so good about this long awaited adventure. I wish I was flying there today.
I recently read an interview with Gabriel Tallent who wrote, My Absolute Darling (an incredible must-read novel). He shares that a friend gave him the advice to write with unimpeachable integrity. I love this advice and will from this day forward try my best to write with unimpeachable integrity.
An Aging Man’s Rant
I hate that it’s so hard to pee in the middle of the night. I hate waking up at 2:00 a.m. and feeling wide awake. I hate the achiness I feel most of the time. I hate the that the indentation under my eyes is more pronounced than it was two weeks ago. I hate that when my cell phone rings, I wonder if someone died. I detest strong odors and people who create them. I’m tired of listening to everyone’s opinions about everything. I deplore my own reflection. I abhor people who use Christianity as a rationale for hate and lies. I long for intimacy without feeling self-conscious. I want to live in a world where people care more about the planet than their miles per gallon. I want to hear more talk of love, cooperation, and the power of education. I want to see and feel compassion and care. I want women to feel safe. I want women to be equal. I want women to feel that they can choose what they do with their bodies. I want women to enter a true partnership with men and for men to see women. I need to celebrate and be celebrated. I admire and respect the young and I want the young to admire and respect me. I don’t want to be blamed for the mistakes others made or make. I want to be visible. I want to be seen as authentic, not congratulated for it. I want to shower without fear of breaking a hip. I want to eat without worrying about gas or obesity and the toxins added to my food. I want to be seen as sensitive and empathetic, not weak and pathetic. I want someone to listen to my words and respond to them with their truth. I need to choose my leaders wisely and I need for them to lead with strength, truth, and grace. I want to know that death with dignity is an option I can call upon if I need to do so. I want to dance in the rain and not be judged. I want to laugh more, cry more, and embrace the man I face in the mirror each day. I want to want.
It’s not a lot to ask of myself or others. I posted this on Facebook yesterday and got a ton of sympathy.
Have you ever heard anything that even remotely resembleds the following?
You’re as old as you feel?
You certainly don’t look your age.
Age is a state of mind.
Aging means the loss of a number of skills over time. Julie Bishop
Aging is an extraordinary process where you become the person you always should have been.
We age not by years, but by stories.
Aging has a wonderful beauty and we should have respect for that. Ertha Kitt
Aging is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.
Young at heart, slightly older in other places.
Aging is not lost youth but a new stage of opportunity and strength. Betty Friedan
You can’t help getting older, but you don’t have to get old. George Burns
I don’t know about you, but to me, this is all wordsmithing, mumbo jumbo bullshit meant to inspire you or make you feel better. I am somewhat cynical, it’s true; however, I also know enough people who are struggling with aches and pains, loss of flexibility, invisibility, and the wretched indecency of misplaced judgment. And of course, one or two of these quotes makes sense to me as well.
They Say Accepting Getting Older is a Process
I accept this as truth and I’m sure that at some point I will accept old age, but what happens in the meantime? Is this emotional and psychological pain really good for me in the long run?
I will continue to explore these questions as I grow older. I’m certain that I will have good days and bad days. I know that the good days make it worthwhile. I believe there is a reason we start out young, knowing little to nothing. I also believe that wisdom brings freedom and revelations. There are people around me who have found peace in their situation. They sort of glide through life with ease and grace. I want to be there, but I want to get there with little effort or pain — that isn’t likely.
I recently did some damage to the top of my head; as usual, I wasn’t paying attention. It made me think it was time to revisit some thoughts concerning the distractions of the mind.
Here’s how the conversation in my head might go on any given day:
5:15 a.m.: Good morning! Where’s Paco (my dog)? Paco! Paco(out loud)! Come and say good morning because I have to get up to pee. Did I set up the coffee last night? You need to brush your teeth. Hey Paco, good morning, what a good boy, yes, yes, yes, yes (out loud). No tongue, I told you no tongue (out loud). Okay let’s get up. What are you going to do today? I need to blog. It’s Monday, I need to start my blog, but what the fuck do I write about (I have a potty mouth when I talk to myself)? Call Angie to wish her a happy birthday. Oh shit, my back hurts. Stretch stupid, stretch! Paco are you hungry? Shit, I forgot to set up the coffee maker.
Later the same morning. Observations as I look back: I don’t stop. I move around a lot. Sometimes I think I’ve done a lot and other times I’m pretty sure that I’ve done nothing.
6:00 p.m.: You didn’t get everything you wanted to get done, done, but it’s 6:00 p.m. and time for a cocktail. The good stuff? Cheap stuff? Oh what the hell, go for the good stuff. Self-denial of indulgences is not one of my issues.
9:30 p.m.: Did you floss? I don’t remember flossing? I should floss. I should go to bed. Come on Paco, let’s go to bed.
2:00 a.m.: get up to pee and try not to wake up. Crap you’re up. Careful not to hit the bowl; aim Chris, aim.
[Talking to your pet is more like talking to yourself and that’s a good thing. This is my way of justifying odd behavior.]
“We actually talk to ourselves silently all the time. I don’t just mean the odd “where are my keys?” comment – we actually often engage in deep, transcendental conversations at 3am with nobody else but our own thoughts to answer back. This inner talk is very healthy indeed, having a special role in keeping our minds fit. It helps us organise our thoughts, plan actions, consolidate memory and modulate emotions.” (The Conversation, May 3, 2017)
It’s not like people have not written about this topic before, it’s just that it’s very personal and I want to add my two cents. We all process these kinds of things differently. Some people have always talked to themselves and couldn’t imagine any other way of life. The other end of the spectrum is those who believe you have to be clinically insane to carry on a conversation with yourself. Like most things, most of us are somewhere in the middle. In order to prepare yourself for this behavior, you have to be:
willing to accept that it’s okay; normal even.
open to whatever comes to mind and pour out of your mouth.
prepared to answer back.
present (I added this one because I’ve noticed that when you’re present, you’re also listening).
Give it a try, what have you got to lose.
Out Loud Conversations
There was a time when I would not have considered having an out loud conversation with myself. I would have been way too self-conscious and afraid that I might do it in public. Now, I couldn’t care less. I’m fairly certain that at this stage in my life I’m not going to humiliate myself. But if I’m in a car and I’m by myself, I’ll probably have a little talk. Things like, be careful, don’t go too fast, what are you forgetting — you see where this is going.
When you live with other people and you’re unsure about something, you can just casually mention stuff in passing. When you live alone there is no one around to run things by. So why not ask yourself? The answer is more than likely inside that brain somewhere. When you’re bold enough to practice this behavior, you’ll notice a higher level of self-esteem and a certain pride in your own independence.
Trusting yourself is important for this practice. Do you believe your own words? Do you practice what you preach? Do you follow your own advice?
Singing to yourself can be very calming. I had a boss who sang gospel songs to herself all day long and she was very centered. So much so that I resented it. I honestly didn’t realize she was doing something healthy for herself. Don’t be your own worst critic — this isn’t a live concert with a sophisticated sound system, belt it out.
Have you noticed that people on the street and in their cars all seem to be talking to themselves these days? Most of them are on their cell phones. Bluetooth devices have made it easy to speak hands free. Now it looks like we’re all talking to ourselves, making it easy to do so with judgment from most.
What People Might Think
We humans care way too much about what people think of us. It’s not an easy thing to dismiss or ignore. Have you noticed how many older folks just don’t care? It seems to be something we learn to do over time. When you’re working on providing for your family or building a career, it has to matter. Still, there are things you can do that make little difference to anyone else; talking to yourself might be one of those things. When you come to the realization that what others think no longer matters, it is extremely liberating. I’m getting there . . .
A good exercise might be to give it a try. Talk to yourself out loud for a solid week and see how it feels. Are you able to respond? Have you worked out any unresolved issues? Do you feel better? I’ve never been one to feel lonely, but my guess is that if you acknowledge what great company you’re in when you’re in your own company, you’ll feel better and make better decisions. Gaining more self-esteem and holding your head high only makes you more attractive to the world. Tell yourself, “Shoulders back, chest out, stand tall and be proud. Show the world who you are.”
When Something Good Becomes a Habit
Humans have a lot of bad habits; I won’t name mine here, but if you’re curious, most blog posts reveal a few. The thing is, we can have good habits too. Do it once and it’s just a one-off, do it twice and it’s a repeat, do it many times and it becomes a habit. Make talking to yourself a positive habit (like going to the gym, dressing up and eating superfoods).
A StoryAbout Mindfulness
I like trying out new ways of being; let’s call it experimenting with life.
I woke up in a loathsome mood not too long ago. It’s actually not my way; I’m usually cheerful in the morning. It might have been the number of flights and holidays that had been kiboshed that week — none of them my choice. I had one of those affirmation moments and I actually thought that perhaps my mindset could change the course of my day and thus, put me in a better frame of mind.
From this moment forward, all of your thoughts will be positive. I know it’s seems trite and ridiculous, but I actually looked at myself in the mirror and said it out loud. This is one of those new agie tricks that actually works. Tell yourself it’s going to be a good day and it will be a good day. Manifesting what you hope for and what you know is good for you, works more often than not.
I wore brighter, more vibrant colors, I held my head up, when asked about how I was, I was upbeat and positive. The decisions I made that day were made with a positive outcome in mind. I took care of myself, looked out for my own well-being. I treated myself the way I like to be treated.
I went on-line and booked a week overseas. I picked seats on the plane with more leg room. I chose hotels that were not three stars, but four. I made a couple of high-end dinner reservations. I felt great about what I had done for myself and I spent the next couple of weeks anticipating a luxury vacation. From start to finish, this was one of the best experiences I’ve had since the start of the pandemic. The moral of the story for me, was simply: no matter what your mood, if your mindful and good to yourself, things will turn out better for you. I can’t say it will work every time; however, I know from experience, my success rate is better than average — no harm done.
Is talking to yourself ever harmful?
Talking to yourself is often associated with mental illness, but that is rarely the reason for or cause of self-talk. However, there are some situations where self-talk may be an indication of a psychological problem.
When self-talk is accompanied by self-harm — for example, striking yourself or cutting — then it’s a sign of an emotional problem, Dabney said. As well, if you are engaging in self-talk that involves repetitive phrases, mantras or numbers, and this type of self-talk is disruptive to you or difficult to stop, that can also be an indicator of an emotional problem. In either case, speak to a qualified medical professional for a proper assessment. (Huffington Post, Is it Normal to Talk to Yourself, August 23, 2019
Finally made it to Lyon after three attempts — thank you COVID-19. EasyJet decided to change my return flight prior to leaving Faro, enabling me to extend my adventure several days and take a trip to Grenoble.
I’m going to mostly write in real time; it’s easier on the ol’ noggin and I can post it as soon as I edit and return. Tenses may vary due to blogging style.
Summer has not been easy on my psyche; COVID, Portuguese red tape, failed friendships; to name a few. This trip would hopefully be the start of some exciting, long overdue, travels.
Faro airport was a breeze. I printed out my boarding pass and I didn’t have to show my EU vaccination certificate until I reached the gate. The flight was uneventful, except that EasyJet tries to sell you everything including the airplane, making closing your eyes for a few minutes impossible. It was a fairly easy two hours; add 30 minutes on the return.
Upon landing, everyone, and I mean everyone, got up to grab their bags. I always choose an aisle seat, making it easy to pop-up when I need to. I was in aisle three; a fella in aisle one had to put his luggage in an overhead bin in the middle of the plane. There was no way this guy was going to wait until everyone deplaned, so he insisted on muscling his way to retrieve his bags — I was somewhat sympathetic. He stalled next to me and pinned me against another passenger and an aisle seat. I waited a minute thinking he’d move, but the passengers behind me were not going to allow him through. He even tried yelling to the back passengers to grab his bag; however, no cooperation. After being pinned for several minutes I asked him to please give me a bit of breathing room. He tried to justify staying put.
“Please give me a little space,” I said.
“Don’t you speak French,” was his reply.
I admittedly told him to shut up. Yes, it was late and I was travel weary, sweating, and fed up. The plane was completely full of vacationers returning to France, so my frustrated response didn’t land well. The seas parted and I moved away from him. It was over in a flash, but I’m certain my angry American persona was duly noted by my fellow travellers. Drama seems to follow me wherever I go . . . or perhaps, I create the drama?
I had researched getting to Lyon Centre where I had an Airbnb reserved. I had to take a train which was not right outside the terminal, but the signage to get there was good (about a six minute walk). I arrived at a massive train station where there were no people. It was like the twilight zone, except it was only 10:00 p.m. There were machines for tickets everywhere, but I had no idea which one to use. A stranger entered the vast rotunda; fortunately for me he refused to leave me until we found someone who could help. He looked around and located someone who was going my way, he was not only going to the same train, but he was from Grenoble where I was off to in a few days. He offered restaurant advice and told me about some hiking trails I will explore. There are no accidents.
Lyon is known for being the original culinary capital of the world. Many say haute cuisine started here. For this reason (and because I love food), I am going to mention eateries throughout this blog. As always I will only post names of restaurants or cafés if they are exceptional — why bother with mediocrity when you can have sublime.
When I arrived close to midnight, many restaurants were still open in Bellecour (my Airbnb neighborhood). I was tired and hungry, so I gave in to the hunger before bed. There was a sweet little French tapas restaurant at the base of my building. It was quiet, open to the outdoors and that was just about all I needed. I had a slice of country terrine that looked a lot like the one pictured here. Accompanied by a glass of French Bordeaux and some toast points, I was fairly satisfied.
A terrine, in traditional French cuisine, is a loaf of forcemeat or aspic, similar to a pâté, that is cooked in a covered pottery mold (also called a terrine) in a bain-marie. If I’m going to be honest, it reminds me too much of my French Culinary Institute days. It’s a lot of meat and it looks and tastes way too fatty for my liking. I do love pistachio nuts and this time, the combination of the fat and a bold French red was sublime.
Vieux Lyon sits on the River Saône quayside, overlooked by Renaissance-era mansions with hidden courtyards and terracotta-tiled roofs. The medieval Cathédrale Saint-Jean-Baptiste is noted for its ornate astronomical clock, while the Movies & Miniature Museum showcases scale models by miniaturist Dan Ohlmann. Hilly, medieval streets lead to fine-dining restaurants and stylish bars selling Beaujolais wines (Google).
I often choose the “Old Town” in European cities; it’s where you’ll experience the rich history and traditional foods of the region — Vieux Lyon was no exception.
As I said before, this trip has been rescheduled numerous times, but this AIrbnb is the one that I chose over a year ago. Delphine, my host has been patient and kind, as I shifted around dates and number of nights.
I’m providing the URL (see above) because I found this accomodation to be one of the best I’ve ever stayed in. Stylish, cozy, comfortable, quiet, and nicely situated in the very heart of the old town. I think if it was chilly outside and had a fireplace, I would have squatted (unlawfully occupying an uninhabited building or unused land).
The building is probably close to two hundred years old. The apartment is on the second floor facing a small courtyard. To say that it’s quiet is to understate the silence. I don’t remember the last time the only thing I could hear was the hum of the refrigerator. Between the peaceful quiet and the cave like atmosphere, I am sleeping soundly.
That machine pictured above is the smallest washing machine I have ever seen or used. It is perfect for three or four garments and since I pack light, I was happy to take advantage of it.
Honestly, you cannot find anything like this in a hotel. Delphine provided a Nespresso coffee maker with pods, a cabinet full of staples and she told me about a restaurant in the neighborhood that I will mention later. I am pleased to share that this gem was just over $130 per night. Anything close to this at a hotel would be four star and easily $500 a night. Airbnbs are not always the way to go, but this one was the right choice.
I asked the owner of the restaurant where I enjoyed my snack on my first night, where I should go for coffee in the morning; without hesitation, he pointed to Slake. Fortunately, it is very close to where I am staying. My apartment is surrounded by quaint cafés; no doubt they are all good (I got to try several).
Slake Coffee House is warm, inviting, and the coffee is powerful reminder of how a good cup of coffee should taste. I could have sat there all day with my laptop and this view.
Although I love Portuguese cafés, I have nothing even close to what you see here, in Faro. I paid three times what I usually pay for a cup of Joe back home, but hey, I’m on vacation and this is paradise. I didn’t try all the baked goods, however, what I did taste had me wanting more.
My First Lunch
Café Terroir, recommended by my Airbnb host, is steps away from my apartment. I had the menu of the day. I ate well and I did not blow away my budget. All fresh, all local, and all good. I provided the menu if you care to see what I devoured.
Philosophical Thoughts for the Day
My idea of a good day on holiday is good coffee in the morning, a walk around the city, trying out the local cuisine, and a restful night’s sleep. My first day in Lyon offered all of that and then some.
Skipping the gym and walking for hours instead, is a great way to burn off calories and discover or rediscover, a city.
I have friends who have travelled the world and offer great recommendations. I think it’s important to listen to the people you trust; however, doing your own research and making your own choices is essential for making a vacation your own. I’m trying to be diplomatic here.
Fall weather anywhere can be tricky. What I like about traveling in September and early October, is two things: 1) kids are back to school and not on holiday (sorry parents), and 2) it’s not as hot as summer can be. Lyon gets a lot of rain in the fall and I knew that I would experience rainy weather on this trip. Still, the temp is in the high 70s and thunderstorms are one of my favorite things — another thing I don’t get a lot of in Faro (300 sunny days a year). For the most part it’s been partly cloudy and pleasant. The weather, is what it will be, as they say.
The weather my second full day in Lyon is absolument parfait. I’m headed to the train station to get tickets for Grenoble (the French Alps), where I head tomorrow. How could I be only two hours away from the Alps and not take a trip? A train to the station and a bus back. Public transportation is amazing in Lyon; easy to navigate and it takes you very close to where you want to go. Ticketing on buses is sort of on the honor system.
So far I have covered about half the city on foot and by train and bus. I return in a few days, so I thought I’d see as much as possible and get an idea for where I want to return.
I have a friend in Portland, Maine that has lived all over the world, travelled extensively, and she knows good food. When she told me about this restaurant in Lyon, I made a reservation immediately. Fortunately, unlike a couple of others I also wanted to try, it remains open.
The food was delicious and the service was outstanding. I had dishes I don’t cook and cannot get cooked this way back home. Escargot and magret, cooked to perfection; just enough on the plate to satisfy. I’m no longer in the business, so describing each dish is not going to happen.
It’s a good thing I brought my EU vaccine certificate; I’ve had to show it just about everywhere in France.
The restaurant was about a 15 minute walk from my apartment — providing a bit of exercise to ward off the guilt.
I know, I know, don’t give me a hard time. When I travel and I have the time, I see a film on the big screen I’m not sure will come to Faro (one multiplex theatre, however, not every film I want to see is shown there and sometimes, it’s only showing for a few days).
Tonight, instead of a big meal, I’m going to the movies to see Dune. I love space films and the trailer on this one looks pretty good. There are some films that are just better when they are bigger and louder, especially when they’re intergalactic.
Dune review — I think this Vulture review sums it up well. I will say that I enjoyed the film, even though it was dark and confusing at times. You’re told that it was only Part I from the get go; it will be interesting to see how far they go with the Dune series. I know that I’m spoiled in Faro where the price of admission is five euros and change, 13.50 euros was steep, but I am on vacation.
Moments to Share
Don’t you hate it when you see something and you can’t have it. Here’s what happened:
I have never gone wild for mussels. I’m not sure why; I love shellfish, always have. On my way back from dinner a few nights ago I passed a mussel restaurant in Lyon’s Old Town. Can’t explain why, but I wanted those mussels. For whatever reason it just didn’t work out. A couple of days later I’m doing a 45 minute walk to the Part Dieu train station. I had purchased a ticket for after lunchtime so that I could eat before boarding. I also wanted to arrive in Grenoble close to 3:00 p.m. for my Airbnb check-in.
I found Hippopotamus Steak House near the train station. I think it’s a chain, but none of the other places I passed were appealing; this place had a nice vibe. I look at the menu and right there, three down in the fish column, chorizo mussels — voila! Waiter comes over and I point to it on the menu. He quickly shares that they do not have the mussels. I may have wept loudly, I don’t recall. Instead I chose the fish & chips. But suddenly, divine intervention:
“I’m sorry sir, I misunderstood, oui, we have les moules.”
Again, I may have wept. Perhaps it was the size of the mussels or maybe it was the circumstances, but I know now, without a doubt, that I love mussels when they are small and happen to be in Lyon on a perfect day.
The waiter felt so bad for telling me they did not have mussels, that he showered me with extra dishes. I was happy to accept what was offered.
First let me say that I’m glad I will be returning to Lyon on Monday. I held back a bit on the tourist stuff knowing I would be returning. There are several restaurants in Lyon I’d like to try and I will get to do just that. I’m also looking forward to a hotel I booked in a different part of Lyon.
Grenoble was planned because I love mountains and I have never been to the Alpes. I took a train through the Swiss Alps a number of years ago, but it was just a pass through. The Airbnb I choose is actually on the side of a mountain with a private terrace and a view (middle photo). I’m looking forward to a relaxing 90 minute train ride (I got a senior ticket, oy vey) and highly anticipated Grenoble. I should have plenty of time to take a walk and relax before dinner this evening. I made a reservation for dinner; if it’s good, you’ll hear more about it.
As I mentioned earlier, the airline changed my flight, I was able to add a few days to my trip, hence Grenoble. I honestly did not do a ton of research, but here I am. The weather forecast was for two days of rain and my expectations were low. I did make a restaurant reservation I was excited about (the one thing I did research). To my delight I exited the train and the sun was shining high in the clear blue sky and it was about 80 degrees; fortunately I had worn my shorts. I walked and hiked to my very secluded Airbnb, nestled into the Alpes (how the French spell it).
There were many people walking around visiting a multitude of art galleries and museums. I discovered that the Biennale Saint Laurent 2021 was in progress. These are the times when I remind myself just how fortunate I am.
I climbed the mountain (seriously) to my Airbnb, sat on my terrace (middle photo above), to marvel at my view and then I left to join the Biennale goers and find a bakery. I had a French press in my studio; morning coffee on the terrace would require the accompaniment of some French pastry (bread would be stale by morning). I visited a dozen galleries, saw some artwork I really liked, but not enough to schlep it home. I then walked into the centre of Grenoble where I found a marvelous bakery, a shoppers paradise (specialty foods, clothing, books, etc.), the Old Town. I wasn’t into shopping at that point and I had a bottle of French white chilling in my little refrigerator. My private terrace was calling my name and I was badly in need of a shower before dinner.
Chez Marius might have been my favorite meal on this trip to date. I had flank steak in a porcini mushroom sauce and traditional potatoes baked in a light cream sauce; accompanied by a beautiful salad (fresh greens with a vinaigrette). An excellent organic Cote du Rhone, a beautiful clear night, and a table on the edge of an open doorway. I was in the most Zen state I have been in, in a very long time.
The End of a Magnificent Day
A seven minute climb to my mountain retreat, a sweet night’s sleep; window open, a slight cool breeze and rainfall as I dreamt of what the next day in Grenoble might bring.
My Second Day In Grenoble
It’s day five of my trip and I can’t help missing Paco and my own bed. This happens everytime I go anywhere, but I push myself because I am compelled to see as much of our amazing planet before I die.
Side note: Celebrity just cancelled my cruise in Asia (five countries) scheduled in January ’22. I’m rescheduling it for January ’23 with a big cancellation credit. Plenty of time for COVID to play out and for a nice cabin selection. I’m learning patience — shhhhh!
The Esère River and the road I walked along side it:
A fabulous female vocal trio, Trio Nazani. They sang acapella — mostly chanting and chamber music, astoundingly beautiful.
Remember I told you about the guy who helped me find my way to Lyon from the airport. He was coincidentally from Grenoble. When I told him I was going, he shared this little gem. Grenoble is not far from Italy and there were many Italian restaurants. La Toscana was the real deal. I had orecchiette with eggplant, onions, and tomatoes and it was perfection. Good Italian wine from Abruzzo and the best Italian bread. I was so pleased.
Tonight a cocktail before dinner and then a local Thai restaurant. My Airbnb is so comfortable, I don’t want to leave. Since I have to hike up a mountain to get to it, I can’t drink too much or get home too late.
This is a good time to mention that although I love good company, I have been meeting many wonderful, interesting, kind, people all week. I bought a small piece of artwork today (see below) from the artist and truly enjoyed our conversation.
By the way the night did not go as played; see below:
The Sixth Day
This is when I start to wonder if I made my vacation a bit longer than I should have. I didn’t have much of a choice this time because EasyJet only flies in and out of Faro twice a week — four days or eight days, those were my choices. And so it goes, in a few hours I’ll get on a train for Lyon. The good news is that I have an upgraded room at a very nice centre city hotel and I get to see the Stanley Tucci and Colin Firth film that I missed in Faro (Supernova only played for two days).
A quick and cynical recap of my evening last night: I was getting ready to leave my studio tucked into the French Alpes and I hit the top of my head on a vaulted stairway ceiling — I’d been doing really well with that fucking ceiling till then. I waited for the bleeding to stop and it didn’t so I left with toilet paper stuck to my head. I hiked down the mountain and crossed the bridge to where the Thai restaurant supposedly was, but my Google Maps wasn’t googling properly and I ended up too far in the opposite direction. I murmured, fuck this, to myself and decided to go to this sandwich spot closer to where I was staying. I had seen pictures of the sandwiches before lunch, but I’d already decided on Italian and there was no turning back. I got to the sandwich spot and it was closed. I thought, fuck this shit, and I walked to this British ghetto where I intended to drown my sorrows in whiskey and fish & chips. If you’re thinking, “British ghetto in the French Alpes?” I promise you it’s true. There was this sprawling, out-of-the-way spot in Old Town Grenoble that was swarming with Brits and British pubs. No wonder the French kept it far from the rest of the village. I’m not sure why, but I’ve noticed when Brits travel, they like to go to British pubs; stick with what you know I guess. I picked the pub with the least number of humans, showed my vaccination certificate, and crawled into a corner seat where I intended to sulk and hide and sip my whiskey. American rap music was blasting into my ears and I thought, I gotta get the fuck out of here, but where the fuck will I go? I sat in suffering silence for what seemed like hours and no one came to take my order. I went to the bar where a lone service person tells me that I have to order drinks and food from her, there at the bar. I sigh, it was a big sigh with lots of drama attached, perhaps even Oscar worthy, I said, “I’ll have a dark & stormy and fish & chips,” she screamed over the rap, “I don’t know what a dark & stormy is and if I were you, I wouldn’t order the fish & chips.” It was a freakin’ British pub for Christ’s sake (she was British by the way). I thought, ain’t this the fucking worst night of my life? and said, “Have you got a bandaid, my head is bleeding.” I saw no sympathy in her judgmental eyes. She hollered, “I’ll go check.” My lady returned 10 minutes later sans bandaid. How is it possible that a commercial kitchen doesn’t have a bandaid? I ordered a rum & ginger ale and a medium rare burger, thinking I was already dead so what would it matter if I were to die again. She handed me one of those plastic disks that lights up like a spaceship and she told me to come back when it explodes. I ate that overcooked god-damned burger as fast as I could so that I could exit that rap den while I still had an ounce of dignity and or life left in me. I walked slowly dreading the mountain I still had to climb before I could crawl into my bed and sleep off the dread. I’m not proud of this, my blood stained pillow case and I have only ourselves to blame, but there is one thing I do know and that is that today will be better; I’ve set a low bar after all.
I posted this recap on Facebook and learned that my friends really do read my posts. The F-bombs were not said out loud by the way.
Easy train trip back to Lyon and a short walk to my hotel. My Google Maps is super wanky these days and it took me there in a roundabout way; I’m certain it knows I need the exercise — cheeky GPS. I settled into Greet Hotel, a recently opened, trendy hotel that was priced right. I had upgraded to a larger room on an upper floor. I asked not to be put in a room with a skylight because I wanted to have a view. But of course they put me in a room with a skylight. After a few apologies, I got my view and a very comfortable room for my last two nights in Lyon.
I walked over the bridge to Kenbo, an excellent Asian street food restaurant that was open (many restaurants are closed on Monday night). The restaurant was in a very funky, young neighborhood that had a good vibe. Not a bad day. Everything was smooth and easy and I finally got to eat the Asian food I was longing for. Almost forgot, my head feels a lot better, although it is still tender at the top.
I must admit I am ready to go home. I miss my dog, I miss my bed, I miss the gym, and I miss my normal life. I imagine most people feel this way after a week away.
Today I will do whatever I please (I know that’s what I do everyday), when I please. I did not pay for breakfast at the hotel because all I want is a coffee and a cookie. I have not stopped eating since I got off the plane in Lyon. Today will be a light food day and lots of walking. It will be partly cloudy and cool. Sunshine is forecasted for my day of departure and for several days after; isn’t that always the way? I can’t complain, I did have lots of cloudy sky and some rain, but I also so had some unexpectedly beautiful weather as well.
I went on-line and found this amazing street food court about 30 minutes walk from my hotel. It was in a part of Lyon I had not been to and I love street food. The internet had it opening at noon.
I happily strolled to the location and viola, no more Heat. This sort of this has happened to me before. The problem with the internet, is that it is often not updated. I had past an Italian restaurant along the way with what looked like amazing wood fired pizza. I went to A Tavola and had an outstanding pizza. I could have been upset about Heat, but getter older teaches you to breathe and let it go.
The southern part of the peninsula is being built out and renovated. I think if I lived in Lyon, this is where I’d want to be — in that area on the Saône (the lesser known river in Lyon).
Don’t miss Supernova (Tucci and Firth), it’s outstanding cinema.
Lyon is beautifully laid out; most of the city is a grid, making it easy to find your way. The rivers on either side of a center peninsula (where I stayed when I arrived and when I returned) help you navigate without too much effort or dread. I walked for hours and stopped in many galleries and food shops. I passed numerous churches and only went into one — I have strong feelings about the Catholic Church, I will not go into now. The people who live and work in Lyon and Grenoble are kind and helpful people; for that I am grateful. Many do not speak English, but thanks to Google translator, I got by. There were many museums I did not visit. I prefer the art being created now; especially by local artists. I’m not sure I will return to Lyon, there is so much more of the world to see.
The Rhône and Saône converge to the south of the historic city centre, forming a peninsula – the “Presqu’île” – bounded by two large hills to the west and north and a large plain eastward. Place Bellecour (my first location) is located on the Presqu’île between the two rivers and is the third-largest public square in France.
The Final Day
I happily leave this place later today. Not that I didn’t love it here; in fact, I’m thrilled to have finally made it to Lyon. I want my Paco and my Portugal. It’s nice to be going home to a pet and a place I love so much — a choice I have never regretted. I’ve come to a time in my life where a cup of coffee out on my terrace, watching the sun come up, is all the paradise I need.
It’s so easy to forget you’re human. I need to revisit this topic for my own sanity.
If you’re anything like me — and God help you if you are, you’re fairly hard on yourself. You can spend a lot of money trying to figure out why you’re like this, or you can just accept it as fact.
People who are hard on themselves usually spend a lot of time thinking about the way they did something or said something, presented themselves, worked on a project, planned a presentation; pretty much scrutinize every aspect of their lives. You go over it in your head a dozen times. This process, although it can keep you awake at night, is not necessarily a bad thing. It might be healthier to come up with an alternative that would be more productive the next time you do whatever it is that you’ve done.
For example: You decide to confront a friend who has been consistently late for a dinner date. Your friend gets to the restaurant 30 minutes after your scheduled meeting time and you’re angry. As they approach the table at the restaurant, you stand with your hands on your hips and you make certain to tense up your facial muscles and you stare her down.
She apologizes and you say, “I’m tired of your excuses; if you cared anything about me and my time, you wouldn’t do this to me.”
Your friend gets defensive, tells you that you have no idea what it’s like to be her and that she almost cancelled because she has so much going on. You both sit down angry, with no appetite, and no resolution. You both leave the restaurant wondering if your friendship can survive this confrontation.
You can stew on this forever or you can decide that there was a better way to approach the problem. This, of course, is only if you value your friendship; some friendships are more work than they should be. Writing down various solutions are “next steps” can help purge the problem and free-up your thinking.
You can try calling your friend and letting her know that she means a great deal to you and that you have come to realize that she deserved better. She now knows that you do not appreciate her tardiness and that you had gone past your level of tolerance. Remember, forgiveness and taking the high road are very freeing. You can try saying this:
Jane, I realize that you have a lot going on in your life these days and I really appreciate that you still make time for me. Perhaps in the future we can decide on a time to meet that is more practical for you. For example, if trying to have dinner at 7:00 p.m. is stressing you out, perhaps we can meet for a drink at 8:30 or 9:00 instead. Or maybe a weekend brunch would work better for us . . . or a morning walk.
Your letting Jane know that: 1) you understand and hear her, 2) you’re willing to work with her, and 3) you obviously want to see her. She’ll feel a whole lot less defensive and more understood. I’m pretty sure she’ll be on time in the future. And if that doesn’t last, you need to re-evaluate how important being on-time is for you.
Give Yourself a Break
I’m so much easier on others than I am on myself. Lately, I stop for a second after I disappoint myself and I say, how would you have treated your friend David if he had done the same thing? Nine times out of ten the answer would be that I would let it go. Often, it was an innocent mistake or there is a simple explanation and therefore, I can let it go. If I can treat a friend that way, I can do the same for myself. You’ll find that when you treat yourself fairly, you will performing an act of kindness and it feels just as good when you do it for yourself. In fact, it really needs to start with you; empathy comes easier when you know how it feels.
Worst Case Scenario
By now you know that this is my modus operandi. Consider the worst thing that could happen. You will normally discover two things: 1) the worst thing is not likely to happen, and 2) if it did, you would survive it.
For example: When I decided to move overseas I naturally experienced some anxiety. What if I hate Portugal? What if the people there don’t speak English? What if my money runs out in two years? And on and on.
A good friend realized that I was anxious over the “what ifs” and said, “Chris, why are you so worried? If it doesn’t workout come back to the States. You’ll always be an American citizen and you’ll always have a home here.”
Duh, permission granted to stop worrying.
Treat Yourself the Way you Like/Want to be Treated
Why is it so hard to treat ourselves with love and respect? I know it’s a loaded question and very difficult to answer; however, why not start today. Like any habit, it’s learned behavior — you have to do it and then repeat it over and over again; after awhile it will become a habit. You will see, you’ll do it without thinking about it. Try it one day soon: look at yourself in the mirror and tell yourself that you are not perfect and that’s okay. In fact, it’s even better than okay, it’s the preferred way to be. Perfection is hard to be around; it makes one feel inadequate and less than. You are enough . . . I am Enough.
A few years ago I was told that my laugh is a little loud. I became self-conscious about it and I stopped laughing. I stopped until a work friend told me how much he loved my laugh.
He said, “Chris when you laugh everyone hears you and we all laugh with you; your laugh is contagious.”
That person who told me that my laugh was loud, for whatever reason, could not handle joy. I can be sad about that, but it shouldn’t stop me from laughing. Think about how many times you were not your authentic self because someone else couldn’t handle it . . . well isn’t that just too bad for them.
Every time you take two steps back, remember that as long as you take three steps forward, you’re making progress.
morally right or justifiable. “feelings of righteous indignation about pay and conditions”
Just as soon as I read “feelings” in the definition, I thought, well, no one can argue with my feelings. But can they? Lately, I’m feeling an abundance of feelings about so many things. I feel like I’m in righteous overdrive. Is it the divided world we live in or am I an angry old man?
Things I Have Felt Righteous About (I typed a list yesterday and it disappeared. Now I’m forced to consider what counts):
Politics (lies and misinformation)
Dishonesty in relationships
Smoking around non-smokers without asking if it’s okay
Recycling (people who act like it’s way too difficult to separate their trash)
Climate change deniers
People who do not/will not listen
Friends, family, and/or strangers who take me for granted. The number of people who think they’re entitled to whatever is astounding. You forget to say thank you the first time you’re forgiven; after that, you’re on your own.
People who use religion to explain away their bias or hate
Laws or rules that make no sense or serve no purpose
People who fight socialism who do not even knowing the meaning of the concept
People who see others in pain and turn the other way
Abusers of all kinds
I’m going to stop there because I’m getting fired up.
Using That Energy
The simple truth is this: if you have anger, rage, resentment, fury, it has to go somewhere or it ends up sitting in your internal organs and festering. Should it go unchecked, it will fester to the point of severe damage. The best thing you can do for yourself is to channel that anger toward something positive. For me, writing is my outlet, my escape valve. When the pressure builds, I write. The other method is to exercise patience; patience takes a lot of energy. If your deliberate in your practice of patience, that energy will become something fruitful and thought provoking.
Case in point: I get angry with a sibling who calls me on a regular basis and talks and talks and talks, but doesn’t bother to ask how I’m doing. I let that steam build this week and I was going to let this family member have it. A piece of my mind was appropriate and there would be no holding back. (This individual does not read my blog, but I still feel compelled to keep his or her name to myself — family will know).
The phone rings and it’s the culprit. I listen. I seeth and I wait for the right moment to pounce.
I’m about to unleash the kraken and my sibling says, “What’s happening with you these days.”
If that lesson is not convincing enough to keep me from jumping the gun, coming out with my fists clenched and my chin out, I don’t know what is. Patience Christopher, patience.
Whether this individual listened to my reply . . . well, that’s a whole other matter. The other life lesson is this: we humans are only capable of so much change. The higher your expectations, the greater the likelihood of disappointment. Baby steps are all we can hope for.
What Do Others’ Think?
Like most, I pay way too much attention to social media. Whenever I’m feeling particularly righteous about something happening in the public arena (i.e., politics), I notice a post gets a lot less attention than say, a cute picture of my dog Paco. Or perhaps, people notice my outrage and agree with me; however, they made a vow to stay away from politics on social media and they’re sticking to it. That sort of gets under my skin. Waiting for a big election to come around is not the time to protest. Right now is the time to counter the false narrative.
The other side of it of course is that I am preaching to the choir: the people in my life who are my tribe . . . the people in my life that I respect and admire because they agree with me. In truth, there are a few people in my orbit who are on the fence; these people are not 100% one way or the other. These uncertain few are my audience when I go off on a rant. I know of two people in my close circle of friends who have come over to my side. It is for this reason that I will not stop putting the facts out there and presenting a raional, truthful, common sense perspective; in my opinion.
“There is only one way to avoid criticism: do nothing, say nothing, and be nothing.”
Toulouse is all too often overlooked, but it’s one of France’s most historic and fascinating cities. Known to locals as La Ville Rose (The Pink City) after the distinctive pink stone used to construct many of its buildings, Toulouse receives just a fraction of the tourists of Paris or Nice.
Lonely Planet text (I have been buying Lonely Planet travel guides for at least 30 years and swear by them)
It’s hard to believe that there was a time in recent history when people were afraid to travel to cities because of crime and grit (1970s and 1980s). These days you visit many cities all over the world and experience something totally different: they are clean, public transportation is efficient, you find many great restaurants and in some cases, the comforts of home in an Airbnb.
I chose Toulouse for several reasons: I had never been, it is a direct flight from Faro, the airfare this time of year is very reasonable, the weather is mild, and I liked what I saw on-line. This was probably my best travel decision of 2019. Toulouse is gorgeous and so easy to navigate — I love walkable cities. It is France, a country where cuisine has been a focus for centuries, so there are indoor and outdoor markets and good food everywhere. There are many sites to see and they’re not all churches. I was very fortunate to find an Airbnb right in the center of the city. It was next to the Garonne River and a five to twenty minute walk to all the places I wanted to visit.
I flew EasyJet (a bargain no-frills airline) and my roundtrip fare, with carry-on, was 101 Euros roundtrip. These people know what they’re doing and they make it easy to fly. I feel fortunate that Faro is one of their hubs. You get your boarding pass on-line and you don’t have to check in at a desk, which will save you boatloads of time.
One hour and 50 easy minutes (even shorter on return) later and I was on the ground. Toulouse has a modern airport and you won’t walk for twenty minutes. Off the plane and out the door quickly.
There is a tram right outside of the Toulouse terminal that will take you right to the center of Toulouse (and everywhere in between). It is 1.70 Euro and a ticket can be purchased at a multi-language machine right next to the tram. Purchase two tram tickets if you intend to return by tram. It’s a 30 minute ride and it leaves about every 15 minutes — very civilized. You can also take a taxi or an Uber for about 20 Euros.
I looked at hotels and the ones in the center of Toulouse were 125 to 400 Euros per night. I like using Airbnbs when I plan on buying food at the market and preparing it myself. It’s a great way to eat fresh, local products and save some money. I found an Airbnb right in the center of Toulouse next to the Garonne River. The three nights with fees and all was $269 (I pay Airbnb with U.S. dollars and it saves me a few quid). I don’t usually share my Airbnb link, because everyone is looking for something different and I don’t want to be accused of giving bad advice. I am making an exception, because Nathalie’s place was beautifully appointed, in a great location and at a great price. She even left me bread, cookies, milk, coffee, juice and delicious homemade apricot jam.
It’s a small studio with a sleeping alcove with a double bed and a good mattress. In addition, white cotton sheets and a down comforter made for cozy nights.
Dining & Food Markets
There are four indoor/outdoor markets in Toulouse that operate every day except Monday (you need to check the schedule for exact times). This link will provide some great information: market info. My apartment was just two blocks away from Carmes, so I went to the market several times.
There is a public garage above the market and if you go up to the roof, you will be treated to a spectacular panoramic view of Toulouse.
Listed on several sites as one of Toulouse’s finest traditional restaurants, I was compelled to give it a go. I learned from several on-line sources, that Le Colombier specializes in cassoulet. When I made my reservation for my first night in Toulouse, I intended to try the cassoulet, which was one of my favorite dishes when I was working at the French Culinary Institute. I had a nice leisurely walk to the restaurant, passing several historic sites along the way. Unfortunately, when I arrived I was not hungry enough for a hearty French stew. I ordered an aperitif thinking that might help my appetite, but alas, it did not.
The server pushed hard on the cassoulet and I nearly caved. Instead I ordered a pre fixe dinner where duck was one of the entree choices (I can’t recall the other option). I started with escargot; the snails were tender and very garlicky, just the way I like it. I also had some good dinner rolls to sop up the olive oil the snails were cooked in. The duck leg cooked very slowly in red wine sauce was probably the best duck (aside from Chinese Peking Duck which is one of my all time favorites) dishes I have ever eaten. The duck meat fell off the bone and the vegetables in the sauce were a perfect accompaniment. My savory taste buds were very satisfied. There were a few traditional dessert choices and I decided to go with the apple tart with whipped cream, real fresh whipped cream. I was pleased with all of my choices and walked back to my Airbnb with a full tummy and a happy heart. This is ultimately what I love most about France. The French know food and wine and rarely disappoint.
My second day I had dinner with a friend at a Thai restaurant, Baan Siam located in the Carmes neighborhood, near my Airbnb — I like to walk home and go straight to bed after a good meal. There were several Thai restaurants near me and I chose Baan because it was on a quiet street and it had great reviews. As I have stated in previous blogs, Faro, regrettably, does not have a Thai restaurant, therefore, I satisfy my Thai cravings when I travel. I ordered several very traditional Thai dishes and again, was happy with my choices. I won’t go so far as to say it was great Thai food, but I can say that it was very good and the service was excellent.
I had my final dinner at an Italian Café because I was craving pasta. The server told me that the tagliatelle in a ham and cream sauce was their specialty. I was not bowled over, so I won’t mention the name of the restaurant. I did have a beautiful red from Puglia and that saved the meal.
There are hundreds of restaurants to choose from in Toulouse and they range from inexpensive and trendy to high-end and classic; you will not run out of excellent options no matter how long your stay.
I usually try to do an organized food tour on my first full day so I can learn more what a city has to offer. Airbnb usually has several options depending on the city you are visiting. I signed up for a food and wine tour with Jessica. This time I was treated to a private tour; not good for the guide, but fortunate for me.
These are some of Jessica’s best spots. I don’t think it’s fair to Jessica to include them all; for more information and her excellent recommendations, I advise you to take her tour — at 80 Euros it was a bargain.
Maison Beauhaire – MOF (a big honor in France) boulanger. We tasted the chocolatine and the baguette de tradition. The baguette was excellent (even heated up the next day).
Papaix et Fils – farm to counter foie gras producer. We tasted their foie gras à la ancien (fatty duck liver cooked in duck fat – the ancient method), as well as their duck boudin, two types of magret de canard (dry-cured and slow-cooked), their white boudin with foie gras, and their duck saucisson. I purchased duck boudin to take home. As long as it is vacuum sealed, it is not a customs problem.
Crottin de Justine (raw goat milk cheese with a natural rind from the Lot, north of Toulouse)
Comté Réserve (the specialty of Xavier Fromagerie – a raw cow’s milk cheese, pressed and cooked, from the Jura, made only with summer milk from the cows when they graze in the mountains, aged at least 24 months)
Laruns (raw sheep milk cheese from the Hautes Pyrénées, southwest of Toulouse)
Bleu de Séverac (raw cow milk blue cheese from Aveyron, near where Roquefort is produced)
Criollo Chocolatier – various ganache and praliné chocolates (special tip: Criollo has another boutique in Toulouse on the Place St Etienne that also has a salon de thé/tea room where you can sit and have a cup of hot chocolate. I missed out on this treat, but I’ll be back.)
See other places to go for food in recommendations below.
There are numerous wine shops throughout the city. I went to several and found the sellers to be very helpful and friendly. You can expect to pay anywhere from six to 25 Euros for good French wine. I decided to stay away from wines from Bordeaux since I will be visiting there for Christmas.
Couvent des Jacobins — The Church of the Jacobins is a deconsecrated Roman Catholic church located in Toulouse, France. It is a large brick building whose construction started in 1230, and whose architecture influenced the development of the Gothique méridional style. The relics of Thomas Aquinas are housed there. Wikipedia
Honestly, there are many museums in Toulouse and I had little time to explore. I’m saving most of the suggested museums for my spring trip. The above link highlights several.
Toulouse has a large gay population; therefore, there are quite a few gay bars and several shows with drag queens and female impersonators — the French love theatre. I wish I could say that I took part in the late night festivities, but alas I’m getting older and my ability to stay up past midnight has diminished.
The French Language
People will tell you that when you are in France no one speaks English and that the French expect you to speak French. This may be the case for some travelers, however, this has not been my experience. It’s true that there are some French people who do not speak English, just as there are some American who do not speak French; take me for example. I would say that most merchants spoke enough English to communicate and when all else fails there is always Google translator. The French, in general, love when you make an effort and who can blame them.
A Few Recommendations
If you are inclined to book a tour of any kind, do it the first or second day so that you can get the lay of the land and recommendations from your guide.
Whether you choose a hotel or an Airbnb, try to stay close to the city center if you enjoy walking. You might get a good deal outside the city, but then end up spending more than you’re saving in transportation expenses.
You can rent a city bike in Toulouse for a nominal 30 minute rate. As long as you dock it at any of the many docks throughout the city, every thirty minutes, you only pay the initial fee. Everybody does it and I believe the city likes it that way.
There are traditional French restaurants that offer classic dishes and then contemporary restaurants that are a bit more creative; both are very good, you just have to know what you want. The ethnic restaurants and street food options are outstanding.
Bring an umbrella if you’re traveling in the fall. The good news is that it doesn’t rain all day, everyday; however, the rain can be heavy at times in November.
As with any old cities, the sidewalks in the oldest part of town can be narrow.
Sundays in Toulouse are much quieter than the rest of the week.
Jessica’s notes to me: If you have the opportunity to return to the Marché Victor Hugo for lunch at one of the restaurants, my recommendations are Le Louchebem (where my old-school French friends go for magret de canard, steak frites, and other meat-centric dishes) and Au Bon Graillou (for really good grilled fish – based on the recommendations of others, as I’m not a big seafood eater myself).
If you’re looking for other restaurant recommendations, my good friend Cat, who is a writer and food blogger, has written a great article on her 30 favorite restaurants in Toulouse, with short and sweet descriptions of each. It’s a fabulous resource if you’re looking for a good place to eat (all different kinds of food at different price ranges). https://catskitchenfrance.com/toulouses-top-30-eateries/
If you want really typical cooking from southwest France, with impeccable local sourcing, I highly recommend le J’Go.
If you’re in the mood for exploring, I’d recommend checking out the Saint Cyprien neighborhood, on the other side of the Garonne river.
The Boulangerie Cyprien in Saint Cyprien is another one of my favorite bakeries, especially for their chocolatines which have THREE bars of chocolate, instead of the regular two. They also do a really cool baguette de charbon (charcoal).
Another of my other favorite chocolatiers in Toulouse is Cacaofages, also in Saint Cyprien, and they specialize in chocolate sculptures, so their shop looks like a sculpture gallery (except it’s all CHOCOLATE!) and they also have a salon de thé with fantastic hot chocolate.
Back to Me:
When I fall in love with a city, I always leave behind a reason or two to return.
Side Note: I shouldn’t write this: when I visited Vienna a few months ago, although beautiful, it felt severe, angry and cold (not temperature, it was May), however, as soon as I got off the plane in Toulouse I felt warmth, joy and comfort. Is it the people? The history? My mood? Probably all of the above. Something to keep in mind when people write about travel, their accumulated baggage may help form their opinion.
I have guests in Faro from the States, therefore, there will be no blog next week. See you all soon and thank you again for your interest in my adventures.
Not to worry, not checking out anytime soon, just reminding myself how fragile life can be. The last thing I want to do is hurt anyone; therefore, I think it’s best for me to respond in the abstract and not name names.
What if you knew that you were going to die and you had 24 hours or less left to live? Would you want to be surrounded by those you love? Would you run away and hide from everyone? Would you tell people you cared about? Would you share things you have been holding back? Would you look back at memories? Would you end your life sooner in order to control the situation?
These are the kinds of questions I ask myself when considering just how finite life is. And by the way, the questions come up occasionally, not every day. There are statistics that guide us when we consider our lifespan. There are formulas based on how long your parents lived. Then there are calculations based on lifestyle. Genetics sometimes come into play. However, an accident may make all of those theories insignificant and irrelevant.
I had a pretty bad accident a couple of years ago that made me question life, death and how I feel about both. Up until the accident, I was fairly certain that I would grow old and cranky. If I’m going to be honest, I have to say I’m well on my way.
I attended a dinner party a few days ago and raised my blog topic for this week. It’s interesting to hear what people have to say in a relaxed social setting. I don’t usually share my own thoughts until after I’ve heard from others. As with any difficult subject, some people prefer to avoid the matter altogether and this time was no different. One of the things I love about people is how very unique we all are. It’s for this reason that I try my best not to judge. Our prospective can be polar opposite based on things like upbringing, religious beliefs, the truth we hold on to, and so forth. I would be untruthful if I didn’t admit to feeling strongly about my own beliefs; the power of personal conviction is essential for many reasons. Keeping that in mind, I don’t claim to be right, but I do think that what I am espousing is true for me; sometimes, that’s all that truly matters.
I posed the question to a small group of people sitting at the table after lunch:
If you knew you had 24 hours or less to live, what would you do?
The answers I got were interesting and understandable:
“I wouldn’t change anything; I’d want it to be a normal day.”
“I wouldn’t tell anyone because all they would do is cry and pity me.”
“I would be with a very small group of people I love very much.”
“I wouldn’t do very much because I would want time to slow down. When you do a lot of things, time speeds up.”
“I might consider ending my life sooner — when I decided it should end.”
“I would have a couple of conversations I have been avoiding.”
“Why, do you know something I don’t know?”
The thing is, do we truly know how we would behave until we are actually in a particular life altering situation? I could easily say I wouldn’t tell anyone that I was going to die, but in truth, if I knew it was the end and I became extremely emotional or scared, I might need to tell or want to tell someone.
What follows are some thoughts on why we live our lives as if there is no expiration date:
I love this poignant comic included in Brian Lee’s piece on living life as if we’re never going to die at Lifehack. Check out www.zenpencils.com.
We are complex creatures with hopes, fears, frailties and misgivings. Our highly developed brains allow us to tuck away thoughts and focus on things that make us feel good; I should note that some of us are better at this than others. We often behave as if our daily actions do not have consequences for the future. Vices and health related toxins are often imbibed or eaten without concern for longevity. It’s a curious human occurrence considering that most of us would like to grow old. So what drives us to recklessness? It’s as if there is a little switch in our brains that we choose to turn off when desire overpowers restraint.
It is no accident that the precise timing of our death is unknown. Imagine the chaos and emotional instability that would ensue. I think that animals have a better sense of death and what it means than we do and, therefore, have better dying coping skills. I’ve been with several dogs at the end of their lives and the sense of peace and acceptance I felt from these animals was both life affirming and beautiful. We live and we die and that is the true miracle of life.
As I consider complicated mechanisms for denial and delusion, it once again brings me to how I might deal with knowing when my own demise is just around the corner. Here are some thoughts that come to mind (not necessarily in order of importance):
There is no doubt in my mind that I would want to truly enjoy the wonders of the earth. The sunrise and sunset continue to amaze me and I take both in as often as possible. The smell of flowers and the feel of earth between my fingers, gives me great pleasure. I can only imagine that knowing these wonders would no longer be accessible would heighten my desire to experience them.
The people in my life who have shown me love and devotion would be on my mind at the end; I would hope that these cherished few would be nearby. I would want to let them know how much I love and appreciate them. I still do not know that I would share the inevitability of my passing. We all know that we should be showing our love and appreciation often, not waiting until we are sick or dying.
I have loved food since I could smell my dad’s pizza in the oven when I was a wee toddler. My relationship with good food has never waivered and I hope I remain true to my passion until the day I die. I have been reading research about taste buds and how our sense of taste diminishes with age. I refuse to believe that this applies to me. My father and aunts and uncles on my father’s side, all enjoyed savory dishes well into their 80s. If I knew that my death was near, I would want to devour my favorite foods: shellfish, pasta and cake and a nice red of course. I know that knowing it was almost over would probably have an effect on my appetite; however, knowing how I sometimes eat and drink to feel better, I imagine I’d be hungry and thirsty. A very expensive armagnac would be a must have.
Being present and cherishing every moment of what life I have left, would likely be my mode of thinking and feeling. I have never feared death, therefore, I’m fairly certain i would be at peace with it.
I would want to be comfortable; the right temperature, the right place, and the right people around me.
I would probably want to be on a good dose of xanax.
I have had many people in my life pass: my grandparents (three before I was even born), my parents, several siblings, close friends, teachers, co-workers and acquaintances. My mother’s brother died of a massive heart attack in his 50’s; how could I not consider the possibility of dying at anytime? Personally, I don’t find this morbid or sad.
Long ago I decided that if I had a fatal illness, I would travel (if I could) to a place where you could choose to die with dignity. If this were to happen, I would have an opportunity to decide how I would spend my final hours; all of this provides great comfort. I am not obsessed with dying, I am focused on living and making sure my quality of life is the best it can be.
The purpose of this blog is twofold. First, it is my hope that it will get you thinking about how you live your daily life; what are your priorities and do you consider and cherish the people and things that bring you the greatest happiness. Second, it is my belief that we as individuals have the power to change the course and direction of our lives. I felt stuck, misguided and unhappy in Maine. It wasn’t so much the place or the people, but an environment that was too comfortable and unchallenging. I moved to Europe in order to reboot, recharge, and start afresh. It’s not right for everyone, but it has taught me more about myself than I anticipated. Self-discovery and change can be as exciting as a new relationship; driving gleefully into the future with renewed hopes and dreams. Fear is what usually holds us back. Fear of the unknown, fear of failure, fear of death. Put all of your fears aside and go for it. The unknown can be a wonderful and rewarding future. Focus on the image of a door opening to a paradise you never imagined existed; more often than not, we have the ability to manifest our dreams. I choose to manifest those dreams while I am still alive.
Before I even type the first word I realize that if I’m going to write about vanity, I’ll have to reveal thoughts I usually reserve for my journal and trusted friends. I will try my best not to rant or overshare.
“The surest cure for vanity is loneliness.” Tom Wolfe
I’m about 20 pounds overweight and I hate it. What I hate even more, is that I care about it so much. I go back and forth between loving food and wanting to be slender. My weight is about the only thing about my body that I can control and I, like so many others, have very little control. My face is my face and I can’t/won’t change it. I do the best that I can with skincare — meaning that I keep my pores clean and I moisturize. This part all makes sense to me for a number of reasons. First, the minute I let myself go, that’s when it all goes south; drinking too much, spending too much, watching too much television; it’s a slippery slope. It all goes back to moderation; doing most things to excess, is not positive or healthy.
For me, vanity means giving too much thought to physical appearance. I want to care, but I’d like for it to be a healthy amount of caring. For example, I don’t want to be fat, but if I want a slice of cake, I’d like to eat it without feeling guilty about it. A good part of this is looking good for dating. I know how much emphasis I put on potential partners taking care of themselves and I know that others will judge me the same way. Unfortunately, this is how we’re wired.
What I Have Done to Look Good/Better
Denying myself — At various times in the recent past, I have denied myself something I really wanted (e.g., dining out, another piece of cake, buying ice cream at the supermarket). I do it all day, everyday. Monitoring your own behavior and actions is not a bad thing; what is bad, however, is when you impose your own restrictions on others and when you deny yourself happiness.
Plastic surgery — I had a nasty scar on my face (under my mouth) that I had cleaned up. I don’t compare this to plastic surgery to rid oneself of sagging eyelids or an extra chin — not judging here, I just haven’t done it and I do not intend to.
Laser work — I have had small oily glands zapped on my face over the past thirty or so years. This is a genetic issue I’ve always hated. I’m usually left with a tiny scar and if I cannot see it, I assume others cannot either.
Facials — I’ve been getting facials since I was 20 years old. I do them myself now. I once purchased placenta to smear all over my face for deep cleansing (I still have some); it wasn’t cheap. Every once in awhile, an extravagant present to yourself can be a healthy thing.
Improving my daily routine — I wish I’d known about toner was I was a teenager. I use face toner everyday and it does close your pores. It also makes your face feel cleaner.
Go to the gym five or six times a week — I’ve been going to a gym since graduate school. As an undergrad in North Carolina I mostly ran around the track to keep my weight down, and at that point in my life I was shy about my body. This was when I started running; can’t do that anymore because of a bad knee. When I could no longer run marathons, I lamented running for two years. Running was my emotional therapy and I still miss it a great deal. Yes there are other physical activities that can take the place of running, but a runner’s high is like no other.
Had some work done on my front teeth — I was born with a minor birth defect: my two upper front incisors never grew out. I had caps made to fill in the gaps. Until I could afford to have this done, I could not smile with my teeth showing. I also had surgery at 21 to push back my lower jaw. I had a horrible underbite (lower jaw stuck out further than my upper jaw — I believe Michelle Obama has the same affliction). I saved up to have it corrected. I blame it all on my mother’s smoking while she was pregnant to me. I know that most of what I am describing was cosmetic, but imagine at age 20 looking in the mirror and seeing all of these flaws. I couldn’t do anything about losing my hair, however, I could fix my teeth and improve my skin. I’ve become much more relaxed about my face. At this point in my life, the best I can do is take good care of what I have.
Removed a large mirror from my bathroom — I had a floor-to-ceiling mirror that I hated. It took 16 months to have it removed because I couldn’t justify the expense. In its place is a beautiful piece of marble and I love it. Do whatever you have to do to feel better about yourself.
What have you done?
What I Tell Myself
Like most people, I have these little conversations with myself that sound something like this: You need to eat less because if you gain too much weight you’re going to have problems with diabetes or other health related issues. Also, your clothes won’t fit. Okay, go ahead and have that piece of cake, but no other desserts today. Don’t look in the mirror, it will make you feel bad about yourself. You look pretty good for a 60 year old man. It doesn’t really matter because at this age nobody wants to be with you anyway.
People will read my thoughts and say, “Nonsense, you’re an attractive guy and you have a lot to offer.” That’s all well and good, but the truth of the matter is, we feel what we feel and the human condition is unique for each of us.
I keep telling myself it’s all about balance and moderation — the yin and the yang, the highs and the lows, the peaks and the valleys, and the do and the don’ts. Sometimes I feel that I have grown tremendously and at other times I feel that I’ve regressed.
Some of the other things I say to myself — you may or may not relate to this:
Nobody wants to be with you
You have a double chin
Your back looks terrible
There is more, but I can’t bring myself to type it
All of these awful thoughts undermine good mental health. If anyone else said any of these things to me, I’d be furious with them, but I take it to heart when it comes from my own thoughts; the dark side of vanity. There is hope for me yet; there are times when I actually feel good about myself.
We’re Not Alone
Societal pressure — We feel pressure from all around us; however, pressure from society as a whole is difficult to combat. The pressure to be young, look young, and think like the young, is strong. Many of my friends laugh at me for going to bed at 9:30 p.m. “You act like an old man.” Good night is my reply.
The Media — People in magazines and on television look so freakin’ good. It’s difficult not to compare yourself, but obviously, it’s better if I don’t. A few years ago I started to see bald men modeling. I was pleasantly surprised by this since “fat and bald” are two descriptors that usually go together. I’m hopeful that the media is giving thought to doing the right thing.
How we’re raised — My mother had a horrible obsession with weight. My sisters all had some form of an eating disorder and I think her sons had unhealthy issues with weight as well. Imprinting is difficult to overcome.
Culture — Some pressure to look good is probably a good thing — sort of a way to keep ourselves in check. Unfortunately, some cultures take it too far. I’m not talking about plastic surgery. Although I wouldn’t spend money on major work to my own face or body, I do not judge people who do. What I am referring to is professions where the way you look determines whether or not you are promoted or able to keep your job. The damage this can do to an individual is impossible to measure and sad to think about.
How I Can Help Others
Disclaimer: I cannot and do not speak for everyone. When I share my thoughts, I never claim to be an expert. I write about men as a man; I write about women as the brother of five sisters, as a son and as a friend of many women; I write about gay men as a gay man; and I write about the human condition as a human being. What I write about is also based on what I have read. All of it is either firsthand experience or conjecture; please do not read more into it.
Gay men — It is difficult not to generalize a bit: gay men are a lot like women when it comes to body image. Could be a feminine thing for some; could be who we identify with? Part of it is the gay culture in the States; gay men tend to want to be with younger men — youth is revered. There are only so many younger men who want to be with older men, so this is an obvious supply and demand problem. You have a good many older gay men trying to look younger and they’ll do whatever it takes to be “young.” This part of the gay culture worries me. People sometimes take these things to the extreme and the results can be pretty scary. One of the many reasons I love RuPaul, is that he does not take himself too seriously. Vanity is not a bad thing in and of itself; however, issues arise when one’s thoughts concerning body image are imposed on others.
Older men — There are a good many men out there, gay and straight, who struggle with body image issues and the challenges of being seen. We get older and become invisible. Invisibility is tough on the psyche. Self-worth does just disappear when you hit 50; we need to feel good about ourselves until we no longer can feel anything.
Women — Women (from what I have been lead to believe) are expected to do whatever it takes to look good. Look good to whom? To their husbands, their bosses, their fellow passengers on the train, to the person in the mirror? I have seen that kind of fierce pressure make a person do horrible things; hurtful things to one’s body and damage that is irreversible. I know that this is a problem that has existed for centuries, but I still have hope that woman will take control of their own lives and do what is best for themselves. I admire woman who are strong and determined, despite the men in their lives who believe that they are second class citizens. Sure there has been progress in progressive societies, but as long as one culture on earth minimizes the equality of women, all women are adversely affected. The same is true of humankind in general.
Weight — A constant struggle because I love food; sometimes rich food, sometimes sweets, and pasta. I’d like to lose a few pounds. I don’t believe my current weight poses a health risk; however, losing some weight would satisfy the vanity box. I haven’t been able to check that box for 20 years.
Diet — Always trying to eat more fruit. Otherwise I eat fish, lean meat, vegetables, whole grains, maybe two beers a week, a glass and a half of wine in the evening, and too much hard alcohol. I currently average about six cocktails a week and I’d like to cut back to three.
Sleep — When I sleep well, I look better and when I look better, I feel better. There are things that I do that make for a poor night’s sleep (e.g., alcohol, staying up late, worry). My memory is short when it comes to vices.
Disposition — When I’m upset about something or worrying, I look awful. I’m often upset about the smallest, stupidest, silliest things. I want to have a sunnier disposition.
Open mind — An open mind and an open heart, is so important for how you look and feel. I want to be less judgmental.
Writing — Writing about superficial matters (i.e., being bald), helps me keep my life in perspective. I need to keep writing.
Be Present — I’ve written about this several times. Let me just say that when I practice mindfulness, I am a much happier person.
I had this tattoo done this week. I associate tattoos with youthfulness, so I guess it’s making me feel younger. I now have two tattoos and I intend to stop there.
There is a tiny thread hanging off of my sock (see photo above). You have no idea how much that loose thread bothers me. That pretty much sums up my life.
I’m spending this week in Eindhoven and Den Bosch, Holland and next week I’ll be writing a piece on what I experienced. I thought it might be interesting to update a blog I published shortly after arriving in Faro. I’ll note my changes or updates in red.
The view from the Hotel Faro, my favorite watering hole — I’ve discovered that I prefer the rooftop bar at the Eva Hotel at the marina. It’s more casual and drinks are less expensive. You also get a great view of the marina.
Whoever said, “Don’t sweat the small stuff,” did not live in Portugal. I knew some things would be different and in fact, I looked forward to change. In truth, I haven’t even been here three weeks and I hesitate to start complaining, but heck, it’s my nature to piss and moan so why wait. I do complain quite a bit; mostly about: smokers, too much cologne on men, the long lines everywhere, the absence of rain, too much paper, and add-on fees and charges. Sometimes you get charged extra for ketchup in a restaurant.
I purposely decided not to purchase a vehicle for several reasons: 1) I wanted to reduce my carbon footprint, 2) I was hoping I’d get more exercise by walking, and finally, 3) I figured I could save a little money (more in the bank for food). I’ve spent quite a bit of time studying the Faro bus schedule. It’s complicated, convoluted and I have no idea where buses end up in the city. There are at least 10 different bus lines very close to my building, but I can’t figure out how to get from A to B. So I decided to go to the mall Saturday. The schedule clearly said that the number 5 goes to Forum every 30 minutes on Saturday. I took my time and meandered over to the bus stop; there I sat for over an hour. You guessed it, no bus. The good news is that Uber is cheap and a car arrived in minutes to whisk me off to the mall. I still do not have a vehicle and I do not plan on getting one anytime soon. I have sort of figured out the bus system, but every so often I wait for buses that do not arrive. The problem is twofold: first, there are many different schedules and many different routes, and second, the schedules change depending on the time of year — old schedules remain on-line and new schedules cannot be located. I try to go with the flow and I always carry a good book. Trains are much more reliable and they cost less and are more comfortable. If a guy is slathered in cheap cologne sits near me, I can usually get away from him on the train (it’s never woman by the way.)
Intervalo is intermission in Portuguese and if you love film, be prepared. I recall now that this same thing did happen to me in Spain a number of years ago, but frankly, I wasn’t expecting it and I was startled. I was watching a dumb American film at the mall last week and the film stopped mid-scene for an “interval.” Although it is clearly a minor issue, I have several problems with it:
If you’re going to have an intermission, why do it in the middle of a scene?
Part of the excitement of a film is anticipating what is coming next and I’d rather not have interruptions. Holding it in because the film is that good, is a good thing. It’s two hours and easy to prepare for, no?
Because I had time to kill, I felt compelled to purchase a snack and although candy at the movies is a lot less expensive in Portugal (1.25 Euros or $1.55 for a pack of M & Ms), I don’t need the calories.
I’d rather not be thinking, “I like the way we do it in the States better.”
I guess I needed the comfort of an American film as part of my adjustment to a new home abroad. It worked, I felt better, and I don’t see it happening again anytime soon.
In truth, I have come to appreciate the break during the film. It’s an opportunity to use the restroom and stretch. My sister was here this week and we went to see Joker. When the film stopped and the theater lights came on, I told her what it was. We laughed about it for hours. Kathy said, “They had an intermission at the movies when we were kids.” Not sure why they discontinued this practice in the States; I’m sure it had something to do with cost.
The good people of Portugal do not pick up their dog’s poop! I’m serious, I have to look down everywhere I go. After living in Maine where you rarely see poop on the ground, this has been difficult to deal with. Poop bags are on every other lamp-post and they still don’t pick it up. What makes this insane is that the Portuguese recycle everything. There is a bin for just about every kind of trash and people are psychotic about sorting it, but they leave the dog shit right there on the sidewalk. If it kills me I’m going to be THAT guy that calls out every pet owner in Faro who doesn’t pick up their dog’s poop. I recently scolded a young man who just left his dog’s poop on a beautiful grassy area in front of my building. He got really angry and basically told me to fuck-off. He said something about there being street cleaning people who would pick it up. I see him every so often and sneer at him. My only hope is that he steps in a big pile of shit while he’s out on a date with a girl he’s trying to impress. I have a difficult time understanding why anyone would choose to leave the shit on the sidewalk. If this starts keeping me up at night I’ll have to move to the country where there are no dog walkers — or Vilamoura (nearby) where the police will fine you; perhaps they fine people in Faro, I’m not sure.
Gyms don’t open until 9:00 a.m. and they’re closed on weekends; now how silly is that? People here do not workout before work. Back home, gyms were full by 6:00 a.m., and how can they be closed on weekends? Isn’t that when you catch up on workouts you may have missed during the week? Perhaps it’s when you extend your workout a bit? I’m a big believer is providing employees a good quality of life, but as far as I’m concerned, if choose to be employed in a gym, you should expect to work weekends; sort of like restaurants and grocery stores. Good news: I joined a new gym that opens at 7:00 a.m. everyday except Sunday. I paid the same annual fee, but alas, this gym has a lot of great equipment and they’re open on holidays. I have to bring my own soap, but it’s a small price to pay. The receptionist is a sweetheart and she’s helping me with my bad Portuguese. If it wasn’t for the gym I’d weigh 500 pounds — Portuguese pastries are really good.
Shocked, stunned, bewildered, and frustrated, that I have not received a single piece of Portuguese mail in my mailbox. I’m getting packages from Amazon and even a couple of forwarded pieces of mail from the U.S.; however, no Portuguese mail. Perhaps the post office knows I can’t read the mail anyway. My bank here will not allow me to change my U.S. address until I show them an official piece of mail with my new Portugal address. Considering I have owned my condo for over four months, it doesn’t seem likely to happen anytime soon. I never thought I’d say this, but I miss my AARP junk mail. And by the way, I don’t have a U.S. address Mr. Banker.
So what I am about to share is very embarrassing: my attorney contacted me and said, “Have you checked your mailbox?”
I was extremely insulted and fired back, “Yes I checked my mailbox.”
I was shown my mailbox on move-in day and used my key and the mailbox opened. I thought, “Good the key works,” and I have been checking the mailbox everyday since; as I shared earlier, no mail. Last night I met the head of the condo association in the lobby.
She said, “I will put all this in your mailbox,” and looked to her right. I thought that was odd because my mailbox was on the left. Well, today I went to the mailbox she sort of turned to and alas, it was my mailbox. I have been checking the wrong mailbox for three weeks. How my key worked on another person’s mailbox, I haven’t a clue. Further, how is it that my neighbor has not gotten any mail? So now you know what it might be like living overseas. News flash: the Portuguese do not use the postal system for marketing as much as we do in the States, so I get very little junk mail. There is no mail on Saturdays and the mail person does not have a key to my building; hence, if no one buzzes her in, our mail is not delivered. I love the mail person; she’s funny and when she rings my bell to be let in, she says, “I have a letter for you (in broken English) or bom dia.” There is no other way to deal with this except to laugh.
My quest to find San Marzanotomatoes has begun. I started cooking with these delicious Italian canned tomatoes over 25 years ago after taking a cooking class with Grace Balducci in New York City. They’ve been readily available to me throughout the years — that is until I moved to Portugal. It doesn’t make sense being that I am so much closer to Italy than I have ever been. I’m sure it has something to do with Italian migration to the United States and other countries. I know that I am fussy about ingredients, but if I have to take a train to Italy to find my tomatoes, then that’s what I’ll do. If you’re reading this and you know a place in or around Faro (75 kilometer radius) that sells these tomatoes, I’d be happy to end my search. Better yet, it’s a good excuse to travel to Italy soon. I have found fresh tomatoes in my French owned supermarket that are almost identical to San Marzano tomatoes. They are incredibly delicious and not terribly expensive, so I cook them down for a sauce. I have some canned whole tomatoes in my pantry that I have not yet opened, so stay tuned for the verdict. I know it’s crazy for me to spend so much time on this stuff, but I do. Spain is so close, I visit Seville on a regular basis and I have been known to carry back half a suitcase of groceries: Bomba rice, liquid chicken stock (only cubes or powder in Faro). The point here is that if you really want something, you can find it somewhere.
There are no Walmart stores in Portugal, however, we do have Chinese discount stores. You can expect to find just about anything other than food (save for American candy) at these stores and they are everywhere — like Rite Aid in the U.S.. You have to be a discerning shopper, because no doubt, some products will fall apart before you take them out of your shopping bag. If I’m going to be honest, most products I have purchased at these stores are a great value. For example aluminum foil: most of it is crap no matter where you buy it — the brand I always purchased in the States is not available here — our local grocery store has a decent size roll for a little over four euros. Four euros is a lot of cash for foil and that’s why a one euro roll of foil at the Chinese dime store works for me. I double it up and still save money. And this is how I spend my time. I buy a lot of home supplies at the Chinese bargain shops, but I have learned to buy some products elsewhere (e.g., batteries, dish soap, umbrellas).
Martinis are hands down my favorite cocktail. It’s the combination of the amount of alcohol, the three olive garnish (considered a snack), and the classic martini glass it’s served in. I’ve been ordering martinis since it was legal for me to imbibe. Well, it’s a bit of a problem in my new home country. The Portuguese drink an aperitif bottled by Martini,Martini is a brand of Italian vermouth, named after the Martini & Rossi Distilleria Nazionale di Spirito di Vino, in Turin. I ordered a Martini straight up on two occasions and I was served this vermouth chilled — not what I wanted. I have found a couple of places that serve it just the way I like it; however, I’m still looking for a bar with the glassware I prefer. These are the things in life that truly matter and I am not above bringing my own glass to a bar. Alas, there are a few places in the Algarve that both have vermouth and the correct martini glasses; however, I have to say I have frustrated many a bartender in Faro; these folks do not appreciate one of our favorite cocktails. I now have vermouth at home and my martini glasses were released from Customs — you think it’s easy don’t you?
Pictured: the perfect martini!
Finally, life in Portugal has far exceeded all of my expectations. I will probably mention this often, but the people are welcoming and wonderful, the weather would be hard to beat and the food is in some ways, almost too good. I love knowing the differences one experiences when living somewhere abroad; hence my reason for sharing. Update: I love Faro even more today than when I wrote this blog. I love how easy it is to navigate the city, I love how close I am to the airport and how easy and inexpensive it is to fly direct to so many other European countries and cities; I love how helpful the Portuguese people are; I love how far my money goes; I love that I’m getting a dog soon and so many people here will help make it happen; I love how fair most things are here; I love that Portugal practices social democracy and that most people like it; I love my phone, cable, wifi company; I love that I now possess a Portuguese drivers license; I like my neighbors; I love the food and the what is happening with the food scene; I love how cheap and good Portuguese wine is; and I love that I love that I made the right decision to come here. What I don’t like seems mostly petty and ridiculous. I want to just embrace it all.
The shrimp here are really THAT BIG
Sitting on the roof deck of Hotel Faro in the marina (Old Town). It has become my favorite watering hole.
The view from the bus stop outside my apartment — Avenida 5 de Outubro. Strangely there is a good deal of exotic vegetation on this avenue, but you don’t see any of it in this photo. Palm trees, succulents, etc.
The back of a ceramic tile shop in Olhao. I met the ceramic artist after purchasing a tile wall piece I’m excited to have plastered to one of my walls. I’ll post a photo when it’s done.