Nourishing the Mind & Body and How Faith Factors In

 

 

If you read my blog last week, you were probably thinking that I was as one reader put it, “In a funk.” In all honesty, you and she were probably right. One of the things I pride myself in is riding out those feelings and moving on. I find that if I face the fact that I am obsessing about silly things and I look those demons in their eyes and confront them, I will be that much healthier when I’m done dealing with them — them being the voices in your head that try to trick you into believing things about yourself that are just not true. This week I will focus on mind, body, and spirit. There is a reason these three are grouped together and I will explain why each is extremely important and how I attend to these aspects of self.

I realize that this particular blog will be all about me and I apologize in advance for that. The easiest way to write about this particular topic is to discuss how I apply the principles to my own life. Some of you will relate to my experience and others will not. Those who do not can either share what works for them with my readers or move on to other blogs. Hopefully, these folks will find my other topics more appealing. Oh and yes, I apologize way too often.

 

Mind

I have loved learning since as far back as I can remember. Fond of books, intellectual games, seminars, white papers, documentaries, and anything related to the mind and thinking. My Ph.D. is in education and although I am proud to have gone that far in my university studies, I do not believe it would be wise or satisfactory to stop now. Semi-retirement has provided a great deal more time for seeking the truth and exploring areas of thinking I have not yet explored. A few examples are:  language, world history, religion and culture. The ability to travel more has also been a useful tool for learning and it’s fun.

There are limitations that I have to contend with. I am not as bright as I wish I were; not fishing, I speak truth. When I was tested as I child, I was placed in average classrooms — thankfully, I do not believe this is practiced in elementary schools today. I’m afraid my turbulent home life and socio-economic status growing up lended itself to poor learning skills. I realized this was the case when applying to universities. I worked hard to break through my environmentally imposed limitations and excelled in my late teens and early 20s. The knowledge that a quieter home life, a proper diet, and sleep, could improve my study skills was a celebrated revelation.

I no longer view my brain power as an obstacle. Instead, I consider any amount of new knowledge as an achievement. As much as possible I nurture my mind and hope that it stays sharp until the day I die. I also believe that it’s possible to expand one’s mind at any age (even with limitations).

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“I’ve learned that I still have a lot to learn.”

— Maya Angelou

 

Body

Coming to terms with an aging body is a reality we all eventually have to face. I can tell you from experience, it ain’t easy.

Physical appearance is everything in modern society. We spend a lot of time primping and shopping to make ourselves attractive. Keeping yourself trim for the wrong reasons could lead to body image problems that end up doing long lasting damage. People who have come to learn that taking care of one’s body is more about quality of life and good health, are far more likely to accept their physical imperfections. Being comfortable in your own skin comes from knowing that are treating your body respectfully and not taking it for granted.

Your body is a vessel for living your life fully. You can either abuse it and have to deal with the consequences or you can treat it kindly and make the journey easier. I realize that some health issues are genetic and/or unavoidable. I am writing about the things that are within your control and attainable (e.g., diet, exercise, medical care).

Quick Observation — Not too long ago I was employed by a narcissist. This person, which shall remain nameless, spent a lot of time looking at a reflection of herself. I didn’t notice it at first because I was one of many who admired her. Clearly, we see what we want to see. After awhile, I noticed that whenever we sat down for a meeting or go to a restaurant, she would position herself across from a mirror or window. She would glance over at herself occasionally and give herself a discreet approving smile. Every so often, when she didn’t think anyone was watching, she would stare at herself. Along with this self-adoration came constant boasting and taking credit for other people’s accomplishments. This extreme example of narcissism is shameful.

I share this observation because I met someone this week whom I notice does the same kind of thing in public. I also notice it at the gym with bodybuilders. Of course, not all bodybuilders are narcissistic and like cake decorating, you can’t know how the cake is turning out without constantly examining it. It’s important to love yourself and I’m not advocating the alternative; however, when I see an extreme example of self-love, I wonder where it leads. If you love yourself that much (mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all) is there room to love anyone else? It goes back to balance which I will discuss in more detail later. It is probably healthier for the ego to love yourself, but to also be aware that you are not the most attractive person in the room and that attraction goes way beyond the physical. Who we are and whether we live our lives with integrity, what we stand for, the good deeds we do — these are the things that make us attractive . . . inside and out.

Attending to the physical aspect of my life is probably the most challenging for me. At sixty, there is not much I can do about my body. I have significant arthritis in two places and it’s not getting any better. Having had too many surgical procedures, I’m avoiding having to go through that again; I fear that soon, I will have no choice. Fortunately, I enjoy going to the gym and by nature, I prefer to keep moving. I often consider how fortunate I am and how much worse it could be.

 

Spirit

Let me be clear that when I address the third sector of my own personal wellness, spirit does not mean religion. As a devout atheist, I think about religion only in its historical context. However, this does not mean that I am not spiritual and that I do not have faith. In fact, if there were to be a god I might worship, I would have to say it would be Mother Nature. The wonders of the earth are tangible, genuine, and a gift given to us by nature.

“If you can’t be in awe of Mother Nature, there’s something wrong with you.”

— Alex Trebek

There was a time in my life when spiritual awareness was dormant and not on my radar. I had no time for seeking answers to life’s most difficult questions:  who am I, how do I fit into the grand scheme of things, who are my mentors and teachers, and why am I here? Buddhism can teach us a great deal about how to explore these questions. Although I am not Buddhist, I do believe in many of the religion’s principles.

I have come to realize that faith for me is believing in myself. Belief that living life to the fullest is one of humankind’s obligations; a way of returning the favor of being given life. The belief that you as an individual has a responsibility to the earth, your fellow human, and the rest of the animal kingdom, is faith in life itself. Birth provides life and the ability to love. I have great faith in love. I believe love is the foundation of most religions and it is faith in love that will keep humankind thriving. If we ever cease to exist, it will be because we lost faith in love.

My faith lies in my belief that humankind is good and loving. I use meditation and other forms of self-reflection to remain in touch with my spiritual consciousness.

 

Balance

Moving to Portugal has been a blessing in many ways. It is a wonderful place to live and host guests. Friends and family often ask how I spend my day. I answer that question with a bit of hesitation and resentment. Part of me feels very protective of how I spend my time. Another part of me wants to share what I consider to be my good fortune, without boasting or judgment. I still consider how I spend my time to be extremely personal.

If I have learned anything, it is that balance is key for anything even remotely akin to happiness. My answer to “how do you spend your time?” would be that I am working toward personal fulfillment, but that seems rather pretentious and evasive. Perhaps a better answer is that I am attempting to create balance in my life; a balance between the peaks and valleys, a balance between what is too much of a good thing and what is too painful to consider, a balance between the person I’d like to be and the person that I am. I would like to be at peace with who I am.

person standing at the entrance of the cave on shore
Photo by Marco Trinidad on Pexels.com

Toulouse and All of Her Charms

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.

 

Air Travel

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.

 

Ground Transportation

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.

 

Accomodations

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.

Nathalie also lists the apartment on her own:

http://tounis.jimdofree.com

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.

 

 

 

Le Colombier

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.

 

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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.

 

Sites

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.

Jessica Hammer on (TripAdvisor and Airbnb).

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.
  • Various charcuterie from le Cochon Regaleur
  • Xavier Fromagerie – MOF fromager/affineur. We tasted their:
    • 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.

Le Capitale — Hotel DeVille

 

 

 

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

Toulouse’s Best Museums

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/
  • I also wrote a blog post about the winners of the 2018-2019 Lucien Vanel restaurant awards in Toulouse:  https://www.tasteoftoulouse.com/the-best-restaurants-in-toulouse-prix-lucien-vanel-2018-2019/ Out of the ones I’ve already visited, my favorite meal this year was at Une Table a Deux. I also loved eating at Les Fortes Têtes, which has good vegetarian options and excellent service (one of those places where you can tell that everyone loves working there).
  • 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.

 

If it Were My Last 24 Hours on Earth

“No one here gets out alive.”

— Jim Morrison

 

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

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.DALAI-LAMA-answers-a-question

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):

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. I would want to be comfortable; the right temperature, the right place, and the right people around me.
  6. 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.

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Vanity at Any Age

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

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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:

  • You’re fat
  • You’re unattractive
  • 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.

 

 

Goals

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.

 

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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.

Why Eindhoven, Netherlands?

A trip to Holland Worth Sharing:

I am starting my blog with this travel story because it captures the essence of why seeing the world is so important to me. Sharing my experiences with you cements them into my conscious mind forever.

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A Delicious Restaurant Story

It was my last full day in Eindhoven. I had just seen an early showing of Downton Abbey. I had to pay twice the price I pay for a film as I pay in Faro, but no matter, it was Downton Abbey and it hadn’t arrived in Faro yet. The film was delightful and delivered on every level; I may have even been whistling when I left the theater. Whenever I feel really good or really bad, I want pasta. I typed “good Italian restaurant” into my browser and found Ristorante Sicilia nearby. I walked in and noticed no one in the restaurant. It was 12:30 p.m. on Monday in a touristy part of town. There were two people in aprons in the kitchen, so I waited by the bar. The chef spotted me and walked into the dining room. He said hello in Italian and I said, “Are you open for lunch?” He held up a finger and went back into the kitchen. He was speaking in a whisper to his colleague. A minute later he walked back into the dining room and said, “Please, take a seat wherever you like.”

What happened next almost seems like a fantasy out of a novel. This very good looking, authentic Sicilian chef, took my order, prepared my meal and served me. The entire time I sat there, no one else walked into the restaurant. As I type this I’m wondering if this really happened or did I dream it.

The chef came to my table by the window and showed me a menu. He spoke to me in Italian and that was fine; it might have been because I thanked him in Italian when he told me to sit anywhere. I ordered a vino rosso della casa and he brought me a full glass of  delicious red. There are times in life when you do not ask questions and this was one of those times. When he returned I ordered a Stracciatella and a tagliatelle arrabbiata with prosciutto, olives and onions. The chef asked me a question in Italian and I said, “Non capisco.” He replied in perfect English, “Do you like it spicy?” I said, “Si, si, si.”

I’m no longer in Holland at this point; I am in a hillside town somewhere in Italy and I am one happy fella. The soup is rich, tasty, and hot. It was every bit as good as my father’s Stracciatella and that’s saying a lot. My pasta was perfection; al dente, perfectly seasoned, full of ham and green olives and the right portion size. I asked the chef for some bread and he told me that the bread would be delivered later in the day; he looked sad. About 5 minutes later — and not too late — he brought me some homemade biscuits. I grabbed one and dipped it in my sauce while he was standing over me. He gave me a huge smile and went back to the kitchen. From the time I entered the restaurant until I paid the check, it was just me and the chef interacting. I told him that my father was an incredible cook, but that his food was outstanding and I would never forget the experience.

Looking back, I don’t think the restaurant was open for business. I think the chef was prepping for dinner and decided not to turn me away. It was an act of kindness I embrace with gratitude. There is something about cooks and feeding people that I find incredibly unselfish and heartwarming. I will of course review the restaurant on-line and pass along my five stars; however, this will be a small gesture compared to what was done for me that day.

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From the internet — I did not take a photo (in the moment)

 

 

The Joys of Travel

 

 

 

 

When I moved to Portugal I expected to see more of Europe, however, I did not expect to see so much of it, so soon. Since losing Giorgio, I have visited several countries and I have seen some breathtaking cities. I recently heard the news that RyanAir will no longer be flying in and out of Faro Airport as of January. Although I know that some of the other budget airlines will probably pick of most of their routes, I decided to take a final trip flying Ryan in and out of Faro.

I looked at the list of places Ryan flies to from Faro and realized that I have already been to many of these cities already. To be honest, there were some I had no interest in seeing — sometimes it just a gut feeling. I spotted a city on the list I had never heard of before, Eindhoven. I googled it and I liked what I saw. It’s still pretty hot in Faro (high 80s) and so I thought temperatures in the 60s would be a nice change. I didn’t realize that it rains a lot in the Netherlands in the fall, but that’s okay because we get so little rain in the Algarve.

 

Eindhoven 20th Century [Wikipedia historical info]

By 1920, the population was 47,946; by 1925 it was 63,870 and in 1935 that had ballooned to 103,030.[11] The explosive growth of industry in the region and the subsequent housing needs of workers called for radical changes in administration, as the City of Eindhoven was still confined to its medieval moat city limits. In 1920, the five neighboring municipalities of Woensel (to the north), Tongelre (northeast and east), Stratum (southeast), Gestel en Blaarthem (southwest) and Strijp (west), which already bore the brunt of the housing needs and related problems, were incorporated into the new Groot-Eindhoven (“Greater Eindhoven”) municipality. The prefix “Groot-” was later dropped.

People of Eindhoven (during World War II) watching Allied forces entering the city following its liberation from Axis forces on 19 September 1944.

A first air raid in World War II was flown by the RAF on 6 December 1942 targeting the Philips factory downtown. 148 civilians died, even though the attack was carried out on a Sunday by low-flying Mosquito bombers.[12][13] Large-scale air raids, including the bombing by the Luftwaffe on 18 September, 1944 during Operation Market Garden, destroyed large parts of the city. The reconstruction that followed left very little historical remains and the postwar reconstruction period saw drastic renovation plans in highrise style, some of which were implemented. At the time, there was little regard for historical heritage. During the 1960s, a new city hall was built and its neogothic predecessor (1867) demolished to make way for a planned arterial road that never materialized.

 

Anton Philips

Born to a Dutch family of Jewish heritage, Anton was the second son to Maria Heyligers (1836 – 1921) and Benjamin Frederik David Philips (1 December 1830 – 12 June 1900). His father was active in the tobacco business and a banker at Zaltbommel in the Netherlands (he was also a first cousin to Karl Marx). In May 1891 the father Frederik was the financier and, with his son Gerard Philips, co-founder of the Philips Company as a family business. In 1912 Anton joined the firm, which they renamed Philips Gloeilampenfabriek N.V. (Philips Lightbulbfactory NV) — wikipedia

Anton was a well known and highly respected resident of Eindhoven. The city erected a statue of him and you can see it in the city centre.

 

Van Abbe Museum

Fortunately for me, the Van Abbe Museum was very close to my Airbnb. I visited the museum my second day in Eindhoven and walked past it numerous times. It’s next door to a micro-brewery and some noteworthy bars and restaurants.

The museum exhibits modern and contemporary art on five floors. The exterior of the museum is architecturally stunning and you’ll find the temporary exhibits to be relevant and worth viewing. There were a good many interactive installations; my kind of artwork — you can touch it and sit on it. The permanent collection was a bit of a disappointment, yet still somewhat impressive. There were way too many copies exhibited. I always want to see the real thing.

 

Catharina Church and Square

St. Catherine ‘s Church is a Roman Catholic church in the inner city of the Dutch city of Eindhoven , dedicated to St. Catherine of Alexandria.

The church and square are magnificent and worth a visit if you happen to be in Eindhoven. Personally, as a fallen Catholic, I find these kinds of churches to be garish and full of excessive amounts of gold and shiny objects. I think a majority of the interior  should be sold off to feed starving children all over the world.

 

Synagogue

It was not allowed for Jews to settle in the city of Eindhoven until 1772, when Stadtholder Willem V summoned the city council to open its doors for Jews. Not until 1796 however were Jews totally free to settle in Eindhoven – between 1772 and 1796 the city council succeeded in summoning numerous orders to make Jewish settlement in the city incredibly difficult. Because of the prohibition for Jews to settle within the city, nearby villages contained fairly large numbers of Jews. However, from 1796 onward, the Jewish presence in Eindhoven started to grow considerably. Most of the Jews were immigrants from Germany, specifically from CologneKrefeld and Bad Kreuznach. They were all Ashkenazi. A synagogue was put into use. After another period of growth after 1850, the city became the seat of the chief rabbinate for the province of Noord-Brabant (wikipedia).

Eindhoven has a rich Jewish history and the Jewish Quarter commands your time and attention.

Prentbriefkaart van de synagoge in Eindhoven, ca. 1920

 

The Railway and Bus Station 

The station is in the center of the city. It’s a very attractive, with lots of space, shops, easy to read signage and it seems to run efficiently. There are several bicycle parking lots around the station. People love to cycle in Holland; therefore, auto traffic is light and the city is not noisy. You do have to watch out for cyclists, but for the most part they obey the traffic laws. I noticed they stop for lights and smile when you cross in front of them. And it’s great for the environment. When I use my bicycle in Faro, I pray to my higher power for safety.

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Places to Eat

Spice Up — excellent Thai food; unpretentious and delicious.

Street Food Eindhoven (a corner restaurant)– trendy, but a great spot for people watching and good chow.

Rodeo — great steak from Argentina. Recommended to me by my Airbnb hosts. This is a trendy, busy restaurant and I was glad I made a reservation. I was seated at the bar and loved the eye candy I enjoyed with my meal. My tenderloin steak was juicy and tender and cut like butta.

Noedobar — Asian Street food — good and reasonable. I ordered Thai coconut chicken soup (my favorite) and excellent pork dumplings. They also had a charger for my iphone — I love when that happens.

Arigato’s — Japanese — couldn’t get in; however, the restaurant was beautiful and they had great reviews; high-end dining.

Ristaurante Sicilia — see story at the top of blog

I found the food in Holland to be much better than expected. I have been to Amsterdam, The Hague, and Rotterdam, several times in the past and I have been disappointed. I was very pleased to see that the food scene has improved. I have to say that this has been my experience just about everywhere; even Salisbury, North Carolina, which I was certain was hopeless (to my family:  there is still room for growth).

 

‘s-Hertogenbosch — Den Bosch

Below are some of my memories of Den Bosch. I spent the day with my friend Annelies from Amsterdam; we haven’t seen one another for over seven years. I was there on Saturday and the outdoor market was in full swing. We hadn’t planned to be there for the market, but we happened to hit Den Bosch on the “right” day. The full name (above) of the city is difficult for foreigners, so the nickname Den Bosch was created for people like me. I’m told the locals prefer the “real” name. It’s a beautifully preserved city and very easy to navigate. Canals and cafés everywhere and smaller and less crowded than Amsterdam. I could see myself spending a week here.

STADSBISTRO CHRISTOFFEL — We had lunch at this restaurant in Den Bosch (translation Christopher, but we didn’t know it until we left the restaurant). The food was excellent and the service was even better. They took our order at the bar while we waited for our table. We were seated 15 minutes later and our food was delivered to us immediately — very civilized. The crispy chicken was sublime.

MonQui Koffiebar (see first pic) — was a delightful coffee shop near the train station. The coffee was exceptional and the decor a delight for the senses. Annelies and I loved it.

 

 

 

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This little guy was clearly the king of this beautiful carpet shop. 

 

An Easy Time Traveling (for a change)

Have you taken a trip by air where you thought:  Wow, that was seamless. These days that would be a rare thing indeed. This was one of those adventures for me. The flight check-in was quick and easy; right to the gate and all the lines were short in both directions. Buses and planes were on-time and reasonably priced, my Airbnb was in a great location and very comfortable, the weather cooperated, I won five Euros at the casino, and I felt well-rested when I got home. Can’t ask for more than that can you? You know there is little to complain about when the only thing you can piss and moan about is the fact that your Airbnb host did not supply soap for the shower.

Two disclaimers:  Once again, I did not mention a few restaurants that were not noteworthy and I did not take very many photographs. I have been working on enjoying and being in the moment and when you are truly taking in all of the sights and sounds around you, it is mental photographs and visual/audio recordings that are occupying your mind.

 

 

Time & Patience Blog Updated

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.

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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:

  1. If you’re going to have an intermission, why do it in the middle of a scene?
  2. 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?
  3. 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.
  4. 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 Marzano tomatoes 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?

 

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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.

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The shrimp here are really THAT BIG

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Photos:

  1. Sitting on the roof deck of Hotel Faro in the marina (Old Town). It has become my favorite watering hole.
  2.  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.
  3. 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.
  4. Shrimp and octopus right out of the Algarve Atlantic (click for Chefe Branco). Dinner with Brenda Athanus; I need to go back soon
  5. Caprese salad at L’Osteria, an Italian restaurant way too close to home.
  6. The foliage outside my building that I referred to in #2.

If there is something in particular you would like me to write about, please let me know. I’m happy to entertain any and all topics. Facebook has helped me to create a new Christopher emoji.

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Flashback Experience

 

“Existence is no more than the precarious attainment of relevance in an intensely mobile flux of past, present and future.”

 — Susan Sontag

 

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Mercedes Country House in Faro — where the tasting took place.

 

I need to feel relevant. Whether or not that will happen today, is yet to be seen.

Working at the French Culinary Institute in New York City occasionally afforded me the opportunity to taste and evaluate dishes prior to a restaurant opening or before a new seasonal menu was released. Last week I received a call from Miguel, the owner of Mercedes Country House, about a new restaurant opening in downtown Faro. The name of the restaurant is Shiraz.

Shiraz is owned by Mr. Thomas, born in Iran, lived in Germany for many years, and currently resides in Portugal. Mr. Thomas has a restaurant in Cascais and he recently purchased and remodeled a space in Faro. Miguel and Mr. Thomas are friends and Miguel suggested that the tasting take place at The Mercedes House where there are guests who know good food and there is plenty of parking. I’ve had Miguel’s cooking several times, Miguel knows food. Miguel insisted that I meet Mr. Thomas.

I was happy to meet him because Faro does not have very many non-Portuguese restaurants. There have been a couple of new and trendy restaurants recently; it is obvious the landscape is changing. I imagine it has something to do with an influx of tourists from all over the world. It is obvious that people visiting Portugal love Portuguese food, especially the fresh fish, but variety is essential for vacationers. Shiraz will be an Asian restaurant; that’s a really good thing.

I thought I would have an opportunity to interview Mr. Thomas, but he unfortunately did not get to sit down at the table until the end of the tasting and I did not think it would be fair or appropriate to monopolize his time. I’ll do a piece about him and the food at Shiraz after it opens.

 

The Tasting

Mr. Thomas’ curry is not a typical curry. Curry is usually thickened with cream, however, Mr. Thomas’ curry is thickened with onion. I’m pleased with any alternative to cream. His delicious curry is flavorful, but it does not overpower the fish. Mr. Thomas has not yet decided which fish he will feature with his famous curry sauce. By the way, I love that he prefers to be called Mr. Thomas.

There were at least ten tasters sitting at one large table. Fish is a tricky dish to evaluate due to different likes and dislikes when it comes to texture and taste. Individuals usually have very strong opinions about the fish the prefer or dislike. What I found most interesting about this particular tasting panel, was the diversity of the panel; visitors from several countries were asked to participate. Early on in my tenure at the French Culinary Institute I met Julian Alonso a graduate of the school. He was the Chef de Cuisine at The Sea Grill at Rockefeller Center. He taught me that the fish I disliked, I disliked because when I ordered that fish, it had not been prepared properly. I sampled five or six different types of fish that day that I would have never ordered from the menu. Chef Julian’s dishes were all exquisite. One dish after another changed my way of thinking about fish. I went into this tasting keeping Julian’s words in mind.

We started with mackerel and went on to taste, spider fish, sea bass, grouper and ended with prawns. All of the dishes were served with basmati rice and curry. The objective, with all things being equal, was which fish paired well with this particular curry sauce. It would be unfair to give away my favorite, however, one or two of the types of fish I sampled, did stand out.

We were each asked to complete an evaluation form, rating each dish on a scale from one to ten, ten being the highest score. I must admit that all of my scores were high, save for one — no matter what anyone does to mackerel, I cannot bring myself to enjoy it.

The dishes were paired with a delicious Portuguese Vinho Verde. The name Vinho Verde refers to the lush green landscape where the wine is produced.

 

Shiraz

We were not asked our opinion about the name of the restaurant, however, I will weigh in. What I like about the name is two things:  first, I love wine made from the Syrah grape (sometimes a blend), and second, the name conveys, albeit in a subtle way, that Iran was the inspiration for the restaurant. Having not spoken to Mr. Thomas about this matter, I should reveal that I am only speculating.

Map of Shiraz, Fars Province, Iran

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Legends of Syrah’s origins come from one of its homonyms, Shiraz. Because Shiraz, Capital of the Persian Empire (modern-day Iran), produced the well-known Shirazi wine, legends claim the Syrah grape originated in Shiraz and then was brought to Rhône (Wikipedia).

 

The menu is, of course, extremely important when designing a restaurant, however, the name of a restaurant is equally as important. Give a restaurant a name people do not understand or cannot pronounce, and they will not come.

 

Feeling Relevant

The School of Management, Hospitality and Tourism has an impressive campus located close to the Ria Formosa in Faro. One of the offerings at the school is a highly regarded culinary program. I attended a beautiful event at the school and I had an opportunity to taste the food prepared by the students. It was my understanding that school was not in session, however, several students volunteered to prepare the sit-down, multi-course dinner. The food was terrible. And I mean all of it. It’s been over a year so my memory is not 100%, but I believe dessert was edible. I thought that because of my work in the culinary industry, I could help. I didn’t think it was appropriate to bring this up on the night of the event, so I waited.

I wrote the the event organizer and shared my disappointment about the food. She informed me that she had already received numerous complaints. I asked her who I could speak to at the school about volunteering to help with the curriculum. She implied that I should contact the head of the program, but I probably would not get very far. Being bullheaded and persistent, I decided that I would give it a try. I wrote to the culinary department and after a long wait, I received a brief email telling me that the person I needed to speak to was on vacation and that my email would be forwarded to him. I was told that I would hear from him when he returned. Weeks went by and I heard nothing. I wrote several emails and no reply. I spoke to a couple of Portuguese residents of Faro about my frustration; they told me that they were not surprised. I was basically informed that people here were very proud and they do not welcome outside help. I believe there is an expat influence that is changing that. For now, I just have to accept that this school would rather not have me as a volunteer.

I will be showing up at the hospital sometime in the next few weeks. It is my hope that they will welcome me as a patient relations volunteer; if not, I’ll move on to the next thing . . . until I feel relevant.