Why Portugal, Why the Algarve, & Why Faro

 

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Magnificent architecture in Faro:  Moorish, Roman & Gothic throughout the city.

When you make a big and unexpected decision in your life, people are curious about why you went in a particular direction; it’s a reasonable curiosity. I’ve spent a bit of time on why I moved to Portugal in previous blogs; however, I thought since I am frequently asked this question, I would answer it thoroughly.

One of the most important things I learned throughout my career is to question “why” before you do anything. You want to start a business? Why? You want to get married? Why? You want to move overseas? Why? Asking this important question and answering it thoroughly and honestly, will help to insure that you are doing whatever you are doing for the right reasons — well most of the time.

So when I started to feel that U.S. politics were the cause of a good deal of my anxiety, I asked myself why I was wallowing in pity rather than working to change my situation. I had done some letter writing and personal campaigning for Hilary and then of course, I blamed myself for not doing enough. After a lot of soul-searching, it occurred to me that it wasn’t just that Hilary lost the election, it is the direction politics in general is going in, in the States. I’m not going to do a deep dive into politics; however, the big issues for me are gun control, healthcare, taxation, greed in Washington, and the negative perception Americans have of democratic socialism, www.dsausa.org/what_is_democratic_socialism. The conclusion that I came to was that I had to move to a country where the values of the government and the people more closely matched my own. In other words, why stay in a country where values will not be changing anytime soon.

Some “Why” Questions:

  1. Why am I leaning in this direction?
  2. Why is now the right time?
  3. Why is my heart telling me to do this?
  4. Why am I struggling with this decision?
  5. Why not?
  6. Why am I questioning the status quo?

 

Why Overseas?

Politics in the U.S. has become more conservative over the past few years. Some say it happens whenever you have a power base in office that leans in a particular direction (surprise, I lean left), the majority will tend to swing in the opposite direction the next election — that certainly is what happened in November 2016. This is likely to occur in any democratic society; however, in many European countries liberal policies and attitudes have a strong foundation, therefore, the bar is set higher.

The other reason I decided to move overseas is that I have never resided outside of the United States. I tend to agree with those who believe that life is not a dress rehearsal; this was an opportunity I may not have had again.

 

Why Portugal?

I have considered many other countries over the past few years. At one point I was certain I’d end up in Concon, Chile. I had been there a couple of times and fell in love with the coast and the lifestyle. Well then they had a big earthquake and read that there would be others. Sure enough, a short time later they were hit with a second large earthquake. I thought I had tempted fate far too many times to buy a condo in a high-rise there. I’ve thought about Italy because it is my father’s birthplace. I love visiting Italy; however, the instability of Italy’s government and economy concerns me. The Caribbean is too humid and has those pesky, life-threatening hurricanes; Norway, Sweden, and Denmark make it very difficult to reside there; and frankly other places were too expensive or too risky.

I had read a good deal about Portugal and decided to check it out. I’ve been told that it is dangerous to decide on relocating to a place having only visited once. Knowing that some advice is sound advice, I decided to do my homework. I read articles about retiring in Portugal, I joined a couple of expat groups on Facebook, I had several conversations with individuals who have made the move, and I returned to spend more time here.

 

Why Faro?

Most expats who decide to live in the Algarve DO NOT choose Faro. I discovered on several trips prior to moving to Faro that there are expat communities in many towns all along the coast; however, most people see Faro as a place to land or switch trains. I do not mean this in a disparaging way, so I hope no one takes it that way:  I did not want to be in the center of a tourist destination. Don’t get me wrong, tourists visit Faro; however, compared to other towns in the Algarve, Faro is not overrun. In fact, there are very few Americans in Faro.

The following are some of the wonderful things that drew me to this beautiful city:

Culture — music (Fado), theatre, festivals, food, ceramic tiles, history and art.

Portuguese — A majority of the people living in Faro are Portuguese or immigrants from struggling countries. I recently learned that when the European Union decided how many migrants each country should take based on their population, Portugal said, “We’ll take double that number.”

Faro is not as much a tourist city as say Lisbon, Porto or other parts of the Algarve. I’m happy about that.

Restaurants — I can find traditional Portuguese, Japanese, Chinese, Italian, Turkish, Indian and several other ethnic foods and the quality and value is outstanding.

The Market (Mercado Municipal) — in a huge open space (indoor) close to my apartment, it is probably the gift I will never take for granted.

Walking city — I can walk to just about every place I need to go.

Access to everywhere else — Faro is the capital of the Algarve; therefore, the airport, trains, buses, and highways, can get you just about everywhere and quickly.

Architecture — Preserved, historic, eclectic, and beautiful. Everything is understated.

Government offices — all of the Portuguese government offices I need to deal with are here in Faro.

What more can I ask of a city?

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Catholic Cathedral in Old Town — a short walk from my apartment and where the outdoor market is on Sundays (stock photo)

 

I took these photos when I was walking to the ferry yesterday — beside Faro Castle. This is Old Town, Faro and it dates back centuries. It’s a 15 minute walk from my apartment. I come here often to read, walk and eat. Some of the remains are from the 9th century.

And by the way . . . that blue sky is real (no touching up or color added). There is no smog to speak of here.

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There are several islands off the coast of Faro that offer spectacular beaches.
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Farol Island’s lighthouse is just a ferry ride through the Ria Formosa. A 5 Euro round trip ferry ride is a great way to go to the beach.

 

 

 

 

 

 

What’s Next?

For the first time in my life, I am not thinking about what’s next. I’m going to enjoy the here and now and see where it takes me.

Às vezes não consigo deixar de pensar se escolhi Portugal ou Portugal me escolheu.

Translation:  Sometimes I can’t help wondering if I chose Portugal or Portugal chose me.

 

Coming to Terms With Aging

 

 

*See note below

 

You Can Run, But You Can’t Hide

When I made the decision to leave the States:  my friends, my family, and my home; I also made the decision to leave some baggage behind as well. I’m not ashamed to say I have baggage; I’m fairly certain that all adults have baggage and lots of it. Coming to terms with getting older and losing my youth, has been one of the most difficult challenges of my life. As with so many other things I write about, I know others, many others, share my angst.

I decided awhile back, that rather than ignore the inner turmoil about aging, I would face those feelings head on. I challenged myself to look in the mirror when I didn’t want to, to tug on that sagging skin under my chin, to grab and hold onto my growing love handles; by doing this, I am fully embracing every imperfection. In truth, they are only imperfections because I identify them as such. I am learning that it is much healthier to just accept my aging body. To admire every line and to see the aches and brown spots as a reminder that I am alive. Not so easy this. Often I take two steps forward and three steps back. I know that it’s a process and I am determined to conquer this challenge. I welcome your thoughts on the subject.

 

Men are from Mars . . .

I don’t think it is sexist or stereotyping to state that this aging gracefully challenge is greater for women and gay men. Western society places a great deal of pressure on these two groups to stay young; the goal is to remain desirable. You have an inner desire to walk into a room and be noticed. When this stops happening, and it stopped for me over 20 years ago, you begin to feel less than.

There are things I have done to convince myself that I am still young and vital. One of them is something many men do, gay or straight, and that is to buy a shiny new sports car. I’ve done this more than once and although it does actually help make you believe you are young and fetching, trust me, it doesn’t last. Another thing I have done is to shop and purchase clothing that is suited for a younger customer. I actually wore skinny jeans for a few months last year, a truth I am not proud to admit. Thank goodness I came to my senses by summer. Why didn’t anyone tell me that it was very wrong. I know that my friends and family members are reluctant to share their thoughts in fear of hurting my feelings or facing a defensive me — I assure you that I’d rather be gently slapped into a more appropriate conscious state.

 

When I Started Feeling the Effects of Aging

I’m getting very close to being 60, so it may be difficult to recall when I started to feel the effects of aging. I remember when my hair started thinning and receding in college, I became very concerned about baldness. Although, embracing baldness seems to more prevalent these days, clearly society and the media place a huge emphasis on a full head of hair. When a person is described as someone who is getting older and letting themselves go, “fat and bald” are usually adjectives used in that description. If you yourself are bald, that seems somewhat derogatory. Now I know there are women out there that will say that they find baldness in men attractive. I believe that to be true because woman are much less concerned with physical attractiveness and more concerned with character and other attributes — sorry for the generalization, but that’s been my experience (it’s what women tell me). And you gay men know what I’m talking about. Just go to a gay resort and you’ll see what I mean. Many men cover up their bald heads in shame or surround themselves with eye candy in order to feel better.

Then there is the “fat” part of that “fat and bald” description. We all know that it is more difficult to keep weight off when you’re older. You reach a point in your life when you could afford a nicer bottle of wine and a thick steak and then you find yourself having to cut back on these foods because they negatively affect your health; not just your appearance, but your overall health. I don’t have to tell you about heart attacks rates, stroke, diabetes and other weight related illnesses. At a certain age you begin to think about the future and your quality of life.

 

 

*See note below

 

Dating Sites

I hate dating sites and I refuse to revisit this painful way of meeting people. Not all, but many people on dating sites have no regard whatsoever for your feelings. They send you flattering emails and attractive photos with promises of meeting up for a cocktail and then, poof, they’re gone! You haven’t said or done anything at all to warrant such rude behavior and you’re left wondering if it was you. Why put yourself through that kind of torture. For those of you out there who have been successful . . . good on you!

Of course there is always the meeting someone at a club option; however, in my world, you have to stay awake until 1:00 a.m. and that is no longer even a possibility.

 

Slowing Down or Halting the Process

There are a number of people in my life who believe they have discovered the formula for keeping aging at bay. They take 23 supplements at various times of the day, they eat only fresh vegetables they themselves witnessed being plucked from the ground, no bread, no carbs, no meat, no alcohol, no life! And then of course it is essential that they share their secret with you and convince you that they know better . . . well the experts said so. I have always said that if I learned today that I would live five years longer if I never ate bread again, I would eat bread and die a happier fella. True, I am only 59 years old, if you share the same truth when I’m 80, my answer may be different.

 

Golden Hawn said it best:

“What helps with aging is serious cognition – thinking and understanding. You have to truly grasp that everybody ages. Everybody dies. There is no turning back the clock. So the question in life becomes: What are you going to do while you’re here?”

 

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Pria de Faro this week. I wouldn’t use this photo for a dating site (if I were to ever go on one again). My big nose, double chin, big bald head; show prominently.
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But I might use this one. The graininess makes it even artsier (like a Renoir).

*stock photos

When in Portugal . . .

How a Change in Routine, Can Lead to Greater Self-awareness

Yesterday I misplaced my wallet and today I spilled a cup of coffee; careless and frustrating. These are the things that happen when your daily routine changes and you’re not paying attention. There is danger in trying to recreate your old life in a new environment. It’s like trying to put up a tent when the wind is blowing at 50 mph; it just doesn’t work.

Portugal is a beautiful country with wonderful people, but it is not the United States. It’s land boundaries have not changed since the 13th century (Portugal has a fascinating history); that’s a lot of time to establish yourself. Still, in many ways, it feels like a young country.  I’m sure that has a great deal to do with independence, the European Union, difficult economic times, sharing the Iberian Peninsula with Spain, its size, and a host of other considerations.  It is the country I chose to reside in and now it is time embrace its riches.

I have noticed some things about the Portuguese culture that I love and admire (these are generalizations I’m willing to defend):

  • People are extremely quiet in restaurants. A crowded restaurant in the States is loud; very loud. It almost appears as if people are trying to be louder than the next table. The Portuguese people are aware of the volume of their voices and they are very considerate. I’ve also noticed that background music is just that, it’s in the background. Eating in restaurants is very pleasant.
  • Your neighbors are very private and do not try to get in your business. This was something I loved about New York City; however, I did not find it to be true in Maine, North Carolina or South Carolina.
  • Public festivals are very calm, clean and the people are happy to be there.
  • I have been noticing that older people (70 and up) are out and about and that many of them are impeccably dressed. Women wearing skirts and jackets and men in sports coats and often wearing a tie. Lots of smart hats and interesting walking sticks. I guess that I’m paying more attention to the older population as I approach 60 (rapidly).
  • People still use cash!
  • Patience seems to run rampant here.
  • Items are well-priced. I have not seen any price gouging; I don’t think the Portuguese would tolerate it.
  • Whenever you ask, “Fala Inglês? the Portuguese reply, “A little bit,” and then they often speak beautiful English and they are extremely helpful. Very gracious people.
  • The streets are clean wherever I go.
  • I was never exposed to Portuguese olive oil in the States; there are many varieties and it is as good here as it is in Italy and Spain.

The point is, I am adjusting to my new surroundings and I am falling in love with Faro. I have had to abandon some of my old practices and ways of thinking. If you would have asked me a year ago, I would have told you that I was going to spend the rest of my life in Maine. Funny how life is, you never, ever know where it’s going to take you. Still, we live our lives as if we know what the future will bring — strange that. I have a better understanding of what was meant (click for more info) by the old adage, “When in Rome, do as the Roman’s do.”

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A food festival in Faro at a beautiful public park. I was struck by how calm it was despite the many people. The food was local, delicious and cheap! Note the tile on the ground — it’s everywhere!
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Beautiful architecture throughout Faro. I would have loved to have seen it in its heyday.

 

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Beautiful and quiet beach in Almancil. A bit of a walk to get there, but very much worth the effort. It’s a short bike and train ride away (20 minutes).

 

A day in the beautiful town of Loulé, where there is a whole lot more worth experiencing than IKEA and an outlet mall.

 

 

Papagni Pages Launch

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Expat Defined

I am most comfortable with the word “immigrant:  a person who comes to live permanently in a foreign country.” My father immigrated to the United States from Italy and now I have emigrated to Portugal. Why Portugal? Simple answer:  finances. There probably are parts of Italy where I could enjoy the same lifestyle, but there were quite a few boxes to check off and Portugal offered me the best value for my retirement dollars. Most of my ancestry are rooted in Europe; Western and Eastern Europe, so as long as I am in Europe, I am content.

Deciding on a specific location requires a complicated answer. I will simplify my response by naming my top eleven criteria (it would have been ten, but Giorgio was a big part of my decision):

  1. The weather — at this point in my live being in a warmer, not-so-humid, environment was a must.
  2. Food — fresh seafood was a must. It was essential to be located in a place where local food is readily available and accessible.
  3. Water — My bucket list has long included seeing the ocean from my terrace. I was fortunate to look out over the East River in New York City for a short period of time. The Atlantic is right beyond the Ria Formosa (a river leading to the ocean) and I can see it clearly from my terrace.
  4. People — I want to be around progressive, liberal-minded people; who care about the planet, one another and preserving their culture.
  5. Accessibility — the ability to easily travel from my location without a vehicle is important to me. I have worked toward a smaller carbon footprint for a long time. There is no need to own a vehicle if you can easily get from point A to B.
  6. Affordability — I need to rely on my savings. That is not to say that I will not earn money while living overseas; however, depending on future income is an easy way to get into trouble. I am assuming nothing; Maine taught me that much.
  7. Healthcare — quality and affordability
  8. Safety — Crime stats and safe for older folks
  9. The Environment — where does the country stand on global warming, regulations, philosophical posturing, etc.
  10. The People and Culture — Are people friendly and welcoming? Do they like Americans or resent them? Do they hold onto and observe tradition? Are the arts celebrated?
  11. Taking a Pet — quarantine would be a deal breaker.

I would have to say that most, if not all, of the above were non-negotiable. I did not list them in order of importance, although some criteria are a bit more important to me. Several were easy to research and others required a visit and a gut feeling. I would imagine that everyone’s list is different and that is completely understandable. I was able to make this decision independently; add others to the mix and it becomes slightly more complicated.

Keeping in mind that few things in life are permanent helped me make the decision to leave the U.S. I have moved a dozen or more times, and therefore I know that moving once more would be manageable. Better to sort all of this out before I’m unable to. One of the many lessons I learned is the satisfaction one is provided when shedding material “things.” We accumulate so much that we do not need and it does nothing more than burden us; bog us down.

And then of course there is the great unknown:  What if I don’t make friends? What if the anticipated earthquake happens while I’m living in Portugal? What if my money runs out? And on and on . . . A have a wise friend, John Mclaughlin, who often says, “Palms up to the universe.” I have been far too concerned with every “what if” for far too long. Allowing life to be more organic and spontaneous is a lesson we can all learn.

It’s been two weeks today and I have made a couple of friends, the earthquake hasn’t happened, and most of my fears have remained silly notions. No doubt that I have a lot to discover and learn. But in the meantime, I’ve eaten well, enjoyed a jazz concert, started spinning (cycle exercise) again, sharpened up my awful Portuguese, had a visitor from Ireland (Alison), partly furnished my condo, helped Giorgio settle in, went to see an American film (not dubbed; they don’t do that here) and started a blog. Not a bad start to the next chapter.

Future blogs will be all about adventures, observations, strange but candid thoughts, and whatever you the reader might request. There may be big news coming. I won’t know for a week or so; therefore, you will have to wait.

Link to a piece I wrote about my dad a few years ago for The Phoenix in Portland, Maine is at the bottom of the page. Formatting will improve as I get better at this. It’s sort of like learning a new language — oy vey.

Is the red background with white text too difficult to read? Weigh in please. Other thoughts?

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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Pastel de nata
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The typical appearance of the pastel de nata, in this case, produced in Macau
Alternative names Pastel de Belém
Course Dessert
Place of origin Portugal
Region or state Santa Maria de BelémLisbon(originally); produced worldwide within the Lusosphere
Created by Religious of the Monastery of the Hieronymites
Serving temperature Fresh from oven, with cinnamon and icing sugar
Main ingredients Egg yolks
Variations Regional
Food energy
(per serving)
298 per 100 grams (3.5 oz) kcal
 Cookbook: Pastel de nata   Media: Pastel de nata

Pastel de nata (Portuguese pronunciation: [pɐʃˈtɛɫ dɨ ˈnatɐ]; plural: pastéis de nata), is a Portuguese egg tart pastry, originally from Portugal which can also be found in Brazil and other countries with significant Portuguese immigrant populations

Photos: 

1-Jazz on a Saturday night very close to home

2-A sample of the famous Portuguese tile work you see throughout the country

3-Pastel da nata–a delicious pastry/custard dessert you quickly learn you cannot live without

 

The Phoenix piece I wrote about my father: about