Time Out: Taking A Short Break

 

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

I just read a piece about blogging (click) entitled, “Why 99% of Blogs Will Fail in 2018.” Not very encouraging. If success is defined by earning money from one’s blog, then I’m not successful. If success is staying on schedule and publishing a blog each week, then I am highly successful. From the get go, I was aware of those in the blogosphere who write blogs in order to become famous or make a living out of it; this was never my intention. The decision to relocate to Portugal was one of the biggest decisions of my life and I know that others out there are struggling with whether or not to move overseas. I made a commitment to myself and others to document my move. In the process of sharing detailed logistics, I found myself dealing with personal feelings only peripherally to the move.

When you decide to leave your friends and family, part with 98% of your belongings, and be a part of a completely different culture, a lot of what you end up feeling are emotions you would have not anticipated. I’m not beating myself or complaining; for the most part, it was all good. Blogging provided a means and discipline for putting my thoughts and feelings in writing. I have kept a journal for many years, however, this is different in that you know that strangers and others close to you will be exposed to intimate thoughts you had not shared before. Loneliness and loss surfaced, along with parts of my life I had buried, and had not fully dealt with. Writing about these memories helped me to sort through the impact these experiences had on my life and how these experiences shaped my decision to live in Europe.

For example, the pain I felt as a child while witnessing physical and emotional abuse in my home, was a lonely and isolated pain. I could not share what I was seeing and feeling with others because these matters were shameful and personal; in truth I am still embarrassed by what I experienced. I kept most of it inside and made promises to myself about my life and my future. Today, I find myself fulfilling these childhood/young adult promises. I shield myself from hurt, I walk away from antagonistic conflict, I reel against physical abuse, and I isolate myself in order to protect myself from emotional pain. The ability to see and think about this in real-time has been helpful in my pursuit of emotional wellbeing. The writing has helped me immensely and I have been told that it has helped others.

Keeping it real and sometimes raw, has a downside. Alienating friends and family members who were a part of my past is a real danger. So far, I have received nothing but support. I have made a commitment to deal with personal conflict privately and I will hold to that commitment. It would be wrong for someone in my life to read about an unresolved conflict in one of my blogs — this should only apply to someone who is no longer with us; hence unresolved conflict. When you have not had an opportunity for closure, you subconsciously look for ways to resolve whatever is still hanging out there.

They say it’s all about the journey and with any luck, I have a long road ahead. I expect there is still much to learn. I working hard to embrace truth and a greater awareness of who I am and who I want to be. Thank you for coming along for the ride. Please continue to share your thoughts and personal experiences.

 

Last Blog Until Sometime in May

I am taking off for Lisbon today and the States tomorrow. Knowing that I will not be traveling to the U.S. very often, and because I may be getting a dog in January, I decided to make it a five-week trip home — the U.S. will always be home. I will be taking a Caribbean cruise with family for my 60th birthday and I will be visiting friends and family in different states. I’ll be traveling up the east coast, ending my trip in Boston. Until the next time . . .

 

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Photo by Mark Neal on Pexels.com

Nearly One Year Abroad

 

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Asilah, Morocco for the New Year 

 

I thought I’d share the highs and lows of relocating overseas. I’ll be in the States for my 60th at the one year mark, so I thought I’d blog about it now.

 

A Brief Overview

I have pondered living outside of the United States my entire adult life. Until a couple of years ago, the opportunity had not presented itself. I moved to Maine a few years ago, but it never felt like the right fit. When I’m unhappy I usually consider something I might do to change things up; leaving the country was my best option. I love America and will never give-up my citizenship. You just never know what the future has in store for you.

The Highs

I think the best part of leaving the States has been the ability to gain some perspective. A big move, such as the one I made, forces you to take inventory of your life. I left most of my material belongings behind. I didn’t put my things in storage, I got rid of them. I brought five suitcases full of memories I did not want to part with and clothing I hoped would fit for a long time. The purging of most of my material belongings was a good exercise for me. It made me realize that I can live without so much of what I have accumulated. It was also nice to start fresh.

The people in Portugal are gracious and welcoming. I have never felt like an outsider. I had dinner in a restaurant last week and when the owner learned that I was living in Faro, she gave me her cell number and said that I should call her if I ever needed anything. That’s just one example of the reception I have received.

I know this is odd, but I had no idea that I would be only a little over two hours away from Seville, Spain and that it was an easy bus ride away. It’s been a huge bonus to take two or three-day trips to one of my favorite cities. I love everything about Seville. Spanish culture is very different and there’s a whole lot to discover.

The weather in the Algarve is amazing all year-round. With an average 300 days of sunshine, no humidity most of the year and the temperature never dipping below 45 degrees, I have to say it’s hard to beat. There is often a beautiful breeze in Faro during the summer months because of where we are located on the south side of the Atlantic. The beautiful and diverse beaches here are also more than I could have hoped for.

Taxes on property are much lower in Portugal. Condo maintenance is one-fourth the cost in Maine and one-tenth of what I paid in New York. Groceries are about 30% less. Insurance costs are a lot lower. There are bargain airlines that allow you to fly for less than 30 euros each way (if you carry a small bag onto the plane — I’ve learned how to pack more efficiently). Sometimes I wonder why things cost so much more in the States.

The Little things that make a big difference:

  • Because there is very little humidity here, things like sponges and clothes never get that damp, musty odor.
  • No snow . . . ever! I loved snow until I couldn’t ski anymore (knee issues).
  • The Portuguese government has regulations prohibiting the use of pesticides in farming, no hormones, no food additives, etc. Eggs are bright orange and delicious and do not have to be labeled organic — all food is grown naturally.
  • Very little crime. I feel very safe.
  • Public transportation is cheap and efficient. City buses are less than a euro a ride and run frequently. Going outside the city is also easy and only a few euros. Buses and trains are never overcrowded. Not owning a car has been freeing and has saved me a good deal of money. My commitment to lessen my carbon footprint has been rewarding. It took me a while to figure out the system, but once I did, it was a right.
  • Because we have an abundance of sunshine and great weather, I can cycle all year-round.
  • I have discovered many European healthcare products that are inexpensive and work well (i.e., face cream, toothpaste, pimple cream). I have a French grocery store a few blocks away and a fresh food market right above it. The outdoor farmer’s market travels from town to town and it’s in Faro on Sunday.
  • Labor is inexpensive. I have been able to do some very nice renovations to my apartment that did not cost me a fortune (i.e., french doors in my kitchen, tile work, painting).
  • Furniture is well-made here.

The Lows

Losing Giorgio to heart disease has been the worst thing that has happened in Portugal thus far. In truth, he would have had to be put down in the U.S. at some point; however, knowing that the climate change adversely affected his heart, made his death more difficult. The wide sidewalks were great because I could walk him without a leash. He loved our new home (parks and beaches) and that gives me great comfort.

I indeed miss my friends and family and that can be tough at times. I fortunately chose a place people want to visit and so, I’ve had more friends and family come to see me than I ever anticipated. It’s been quite a treat to show the people I love, my new home. My brother and his wife are with me now and we have been to places I had not discovered yet; I’ll make sure to explore the unexplored, in the future.

I’ve gained some weight and I’m not happy about that. Delicious pastries are everywhere and they’re so cheap. I think the novelty will soon wear off; either that or I’ll get tired of buying new pants. I’ve always had to work hard to keep the weight off, but aging makes this even more difficult.

Flying back to the States is expensive. Currently, airfare back to the U.S. is 900 euros during the high season, April to July. I won’t be returning very often. There are bargain fares; however, you have to accept long layovers and not great airlines. I like TAP — Air Portugal.

Did I Make the Right Choice?

There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that I chose the right country at the right time. Portugal is becoming more attractive to expats because real estate prices are reasonable; however, in the year since I purchased my condo, the value has risen by 20 percent. It will soon be just as expensive as everywhere else. I saw this happening with Spain 20 years ago. More importantly, I love it here. I love the people, I love the food, I love the weather, the quality of life, my location in Faro, my healthcare, and I love how it all makes me feel. I’ve mentioned this before, but I am 45 minutes to Spain by car and I can fly or take a train to several other European countries very easily. The time difference in other countries is only an hour or two and that’s manageable.

Access to Travel

Faro is not a very large city; however, it is the capital of the Algarve and the airport is a fairly large hub. Multiple airlines fly direct to many cities throughout Europe. The rail system in Europe is also quite extensive and efficient. I can see the world more easily from my new home. I know that as I get older I will want to stay closer to home where I get to enjoy all the creature comforts. I sleep better in my own bed than anywhere else. Still I know it’s best to travel as much as possible; while I still can.

 

Photos:  I took these photos in Sagres, Portugal a couple of days ago. Sagres is the furthest south and west you can go on the Iberian continent. It’s difficult to capture how truly peaceful and spectacular this part of the world is. It was an easy two and a half hour drive from my home.

Sagres Guide

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What Lies Ahead?

The best is yet to come . . .

I have decided to stop thinking long-term. I am open to possibilities I might not have ever considered before. I have two big trips coming up in 2019. After I return, perhaps a rescue dog? A pet would probably force me to stay put for a while, but that’s not a bad thing. I’m going to go the organic route on this decision and see where the future takes me. Getting older means aches and pains I did not anticipate and other small medical issues that I have to be dealt with. Staying on top of these things is important for long-term good health. When you get older, health becomes a priority.

“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”
― Soren Kierkegaard

“I have learned that if you must leave a place that you have lived in and loved and where all your yesteryears are buried deep, leave it any way except a slow way, leave it the fastest way you can. Never turn back and never believe that an hour you remember is a better hour because it is dead. Passed years seem safe ones, vanquished ones, while the future lives in a cloud, formidable from a distance.”
― Beryl Markham, West with the Night

“We don’t have to be defined by the things we did or didn’t do in our past. Some people allow themselves to be controlled by regret. Maybe it’s a regret, maybe it’s not. It’s merely something that happened. Get over it.”
― Pittacus Lore, I Am Number Four

Perspective

 

I like to think that I’m a big picture kinda guy, except that I’m not. I get pretty bogged down in minutia. Big picture would mean that I’d be considering how I fit into the scheme of things and how small I am compared to the universe. It’s time for me to start differently. Getting older and living overseas helps; however, I still think about what’s to come more than I should. I am constantly about living in the present, but the present just passed me by, in a big way. How about I try just living?

 

Who Am I?

You need to figure out who you are before you can consider how you fit in with the rest of the world.

It’s a big question, no? It would obviously take up a great deal of blog space to provide an answer and I’d end up boring you to death. Therefore, I’m going to attempt to answer this question in just a few short sentences. Hopefully some of what I have to say will resonate for you.

I am first a foremost a human being. The reason it is important to acknowledge this is simple:  human beings are flawed; accepting this is the key to accepting yourself. Next, my identity:   I am Christopher, a name given to me, that I have always liked. I am nearly 60 years old, caucasian, gay, and divorced (the order doesn’t matter). I am insecure, fairly healthy, happy, sad, and about 20 pounds overweight. I am sort of retired; however, I’m not sure I actually believe that. I am average looking (meaning I don’t believe that I am ugly), a bit taller than the average man, I still get pimples, I am bald, I am arthritic, I am quick to judge, I feel deeply and cry easily, I work hard on my friendships, I love most of my family, I have achieved some financial success, I am proud of my career, I am educated, I drink too much, and I can be lazy. Most of this stuff is easy for others to see and some of it may be a surprise — I like that the people around me don’t know everything about me. Yes, there is more to learn (for another time).

Let me stop now and conclude that in truth, I not fully aware of who I am. Lately, I have scratched the surface and thus far, I like most of what I see. Discovering who you are is a big part of life’s journey. That journey is far from over.

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I give myself a facial once every few weeks. I’m not sure it doesn’t anything for my skin, but it makes me feel better about myself; certainly I feel cleaner.

 

How Does Who I Am Fit Into the Rest of the World

It doesn’t hurt to be answering this question in my beautiful hotel room, with a magnificent view of Seville, Spain. Sometimes, in order to gain perspective, it helps to be out of your element.

As I begin to see myself as a very small part of the universe, it helps me to understand where and how I fit in. A tiny part of me is fully aware of the difference I make in other people’s lives. Would they survive without me? Absolutely. Would the world keep turning? Of course. I know in my heart that each of us, in a small way, can change the world. I also acknowledge that some of us have the ability to change it in a big way; I’m thinking:  Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Eleanor Roosevelt, Barack Obama, Gandhi, and people like that; people we should be grateful for and grateful to.

In short, I fit like a pair of mismatched shoes; the feet go in, but something doesn’t look quite right. You know what? That’s okay.

 

Who Do I Want to Be?

Most of us start thinking about this question early in our lives; I know I did. Funny thing is we don’t always come to a conclusion. I find myself reflecting on this question quite often. There are times when I’m sailing along and I’m thinking, I am an educator and I’ll just keep educating. And then there are times when I think, I haven’t amounted to much. The latter is of course, irrational thinking. It’s a trap we all fall into — the ol’ I’m not good enough trap. On good days I know that this is ridiculous. Still, coming to terms with the presence of demons is important for growth. These days, I acknowledge the demons and then I decide to deal with them. It’s okay not to know the complete answer to this difficult question. It’s okay to search. The implicit meaning of searching is to seek an answer; an action and therefore, not stagnation.

Dictionary result for search

verb
  1. 1.
    try to find something by looking or otherwise seeking carefully and thoroughly.
    synonyms: huntlookexploreforage, fish about/around, look high and low, cast about/around/round, ferret (about/around), root about/around, rummage about/around; More

noun
  1. 1.
    an act of searching for someone or something.
    “the police carried out a thorough search of the premises”

 

Reality Check

It is important for me to acknowledge that at 60 years old, I will probably not achieve a few of my goals. I can sit around and pout and beat myself for this or I can set realistic goals. That is not to say that I should abandon everything I’ve wished for. When I take inventory of what I have achieved, it makes me feel better about what I have not. I don’t reduce my list of goals, I adjust it. Knowing your limits is essential. Reaching beyond your limits is healthy and may surprise you. It’s all about balance and your personal threshold.

I’ve heard it said that when people are dying and they are asked if they have any regrets, there are a few common answers:

  1. I wish I had spent more time with the people I love.
  2. I wish I had worked less.
  3. I wish I had worried less.

There are more, but these are the ones I am paying the most attention to. It’s important for me to learn from the mistakes others have made and learn from the lessons others have taught me.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

An Organic Lifestyle

These days the word organic is overused and abused. I thought twice about using it today because it has been watered down of late. I am going to simply state that it is my goal to gain some perspective on my life by allowing it to unfold before me more organically/naturally. I’ve talked about this before, however, I think it’s worth repeating. When I have been able to move more fluidly through life without little planning, I have been pleasantly surprised. Amazing things happen when you open yourself up to possibilities. It seems so simple when I type the words. The truth is that for some, it is extremely difficult. I have been known to actually plan what time of the day I will plan — that’s right, I will make an entry on my calendar at the 9:15 a.m. slot, that states, “make a to do list for the next week.” It’s going a bit too far I’d say.

Perspective can be gained by allowing oneself to think freely and move through the day without directing every action. In other other words, allowing yourself to just be.

 

A Strange, but honest side note:  I just returned from Seville, Spain. Seville is a little over two hours from my home in Faro. When I decided to move to Portugal, I had no idea I was so close to Seville. I had been there about 15 years ago and I had a not-so-great experience; I won’t go into the details here. I had the occasion to return to Seville a few months ago and I fell in love with the city. It is rich in culture, authentic, rich in history, there are many modern restaurants worthy of trying, it is clean, friendly, fairly easy to navigate, and not at all pricey. Spain is a progressive country that embraces all people. Being gay in Spain is not at all an issue and that is not true of every city.

The reason I started this note by writing that this entry would be strange, is this:  I don’t want to blog about where I eat when I’m there (although I have made mention of a place in a previous blog), where I stay, the places I visit, etc. I do post on Instagram if you’re interested. I want Seville to be a quick getaway for me. It’s sort of my second home. I want to just enjoy all that it has to offer and I have decided to be selfish and keep most of it to myself. Feel free to contact me if you’re interested in going. I would be happy to share privately with those who are truly interested. I make no apologies for this.

 

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I met this wide-eyed little boy on a bus to Loulé last Friday. It occurred to me that all he wanted was to make a connection. Had I not been open to interaction with another human being, I would have missed out on the innocence of this beautiful child.

 

 

The Afternoon I Went to Bed Certain I Would Not Wake Up

Many have shared their personal drug experiences, however, mine is particular to me. This piece is not 100% inclusive. The two I haven chosen to share are my first and my worst experiences. My hope is that my readers will recognize and heed the dangers of certain types of drug use. You may have to stay with me a bit before I get to the lead; my apologies, I’ll get there eventually.

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Photo by Michael Fischer on Pexels.com

 

I was that rare college freshman that didn’t smoke cigarettes or pot, didn’t drink alcohol, and had never tried illegal substances. If someone had shown me marijuana, I’m not sure I could have identified what it was. It had nothing to do with religion or parenting, in truth, as a child, I had never been exposed to marijuana or any other non-prescription drug. I had no idea how sheltered from “real” life I had been and then I moved into a dormitory (residence hall is the proper nomenclature).

There was so much pot in my dorm, I’m certain that I must of had a residual high fairly often. I was somewhat idealistic back then; convinced that if I smoked pot on Friday night, I would be taking acid trips by Sunday. I chose to stay away from drugs altogether, that is until I met Kim and Nancy. Kim and Nancy were Nursing students in their senior year at UNCC. They had posted an ad looking for a third roommate and by my sophomore year, I hated living in a dorm. I liked Kim and Nancy and they were offering the largest of three bedrooms in an apartment complex that had an outdoor pool. Certain that I had struck gold, I moved in. I have very fond memories of sitting around in the evening in front of the television watching silly comedies; reliving Kim and Nancy’s dating stories and horrors. They often rolled a joint or two and I would always take a pass when they offered.

This went on for months, but I was a bit curious about what it might feel like to be high. You never forget the first time and the first time was quite the event. I was pretty sick with the flu one night during an evening in front of the television. Nancy was practicing her nursing skills on me and frankly, I was happy to give in to her mothering. I was curled up in a quilt feeling achy and coughing my brains out. Kim was not quite as maternal; however, she was famous for claiming that pot was the remedy for just about any illness. She must have offered to roll me a joint six or seven times that night, before I finally caved. I figured that I was mature enough not to allow a couple of tokes to lead to drug addiction. Minutes later I was hallucinating. I’m still not sure whether it was the high fever or the pot, but I imagined two guys living behind my eyeballs conversing with one another about what was happening in my brain. It was surreal, strange and scary; I didn’t go near that shit again for years.

Fast forward to me in my early thirties. I was living in Manhattan, newly divorced from my wife, completely out of the closet, and fairly tired of my ho-hum existence. A new friend told me about a beach house rental share on Fire Island outside of New York City. I finally had some money in my pocket and the desire to live a little . . . perhaps live a lot. It was there that I made a friend whom I will not name. He was not like anyone I had ever met:  he was a little more than 10 years older than me, he was smart, creative, and we really hit it off.

Our friendship led me to one of the wildest nights of my life; hence the title of this piece (I told you I’d eventually get to it). We would sit around at the beach house talking about the old Saint parties in Manhattan’s disco heyday. I was living in North Carolina when these parties took place, but they were legendary. Apparently, there was lots of drugs and other illegal activities. I learned that although the Saint no longer existed, Saint-at-large parties were scheduled several times throughout the year. My interest in experiencing one of these parties peaked and this was the friend who would make it happen for me. I was assured that my drug intake would be minimal and that he would be by my side the entire evening and for the most part, he was. The plan was to get a good night sleep and go to Roseland — the club where the party happened — at 4:00 a.m.

I’m not sure I can convey my excitement. I didn’t eat for a month so that I would be lean, I visited the gym more often than usual, and I shopped for dancing clothes; tight jeans and a muscle-tee. By the time the party came around I was primed and ready for the night of my life. My newfound freedom and sense of adventure had me thinking that anything was possible. I remember trying to take a disco nap, but I was way too excited to sleep. I was showered shaved and dressed by 1:00 a.m. and I had to sit in my apartment on the upper East side and just wait for 3:30 a.m. to come. I took a taxi to the club because I wasn’t sure what the subways would be like at that hour. When I arrived, I saw my friend standing by the club entrance. We embraced and we verbally and physically expressed our anticipated wild night.

I recall a long line at the coat check counter. I believe most people were retrieving their coats, as opposed to checking them. While we were on the line, my friend whispered that he had lost the drugs which were stuffed in his socks. My heart skipped three beats. My dream of dancing the night away was about to be shattered. We retraced our steps in this large, very dark lobby and there they were, on the floor, in the middle of this massive open space. I still can’t believe they were just sitting there in a small see-through plastic bag, for all the world to see. My friend grabbed the bag, high-fived me and we joyfully checked our coats. The plan was to take a tour of the club, purchase some bottled water and take the first of the party drugs in our stash. I had always believed in the importance of having mentors; people in your life who hold your hand and show you the way. Early on, I was very naive and afraid of many things — mostly because I didn’t know much about this world others experienced while most of us slept.

We toured the club with wide eyes. There were multiple levels, several different types of party music, a VIP lounge you could only peek into, and lots of half-naked men. I can still recall a short blast of chilly air each time the front and back doors opened. It was as if I was having the most vivid dream of my life; it was surreal and sublime and scary, all at the same time and I was loving every minute of it. At some point toward the end of our walkabout, my friend turned to me, handed me water and a small white pill and said,

“Take this baby cakes, and drink. Remember to hydrate throughout the night.”

I know for some, this is sounding enticing, but trust me, the worst of it is still to come.

This next part is a bit blurry, but I’ll attempt to lay it out for you. The ecstasy I had taken kicked in at some point and I was feeling pretty happy.  While I was dancing, I saw someone I knew about 20 feet away on the dance floor. I told my friend that I’d be back and he said,

“I’m not leaving this spot. Come right back; I’ll be waiting.”

I found myself dancing with this friend and his friends and it was a blast. I noticed them passing a small vial and holding it up to their noses. One of them put it under my nose and motioned me to take it in; I was curious and stupid and did as I was told. I assumed it was coke, but at that point I was very high and didn’t care. Minutes later I found myself in the middle of this massive dance floor — honestly if was half a football field — and I did not recognize anyone around me. I asked someone where the restroom was and he pointed. Hoping to soon reunite with my friend, I joined a long line of men and several women, thinking that if I didn’t get to a urinal soon, I as going to wet my pants.

It took awhile, but I was finally standing in front of a urinal and to my surprise, it spoke to me. I can’t remember what the urinal said, but I can tell you it frightened me. It may sound funny, but trust me it was not. I later learned that I had done crystal meth, a very dangerous drug. It’s actually a tranquilizer used as a sedative for horses; strong to say the least. I glanced in the mirror on my way out of the restroom and my face looked distorted — I was paranoid and terrified. I went back to the dance floor to find my friend, but he was not to be found. It felt like I was going in circles; I kept seeing the same faces on the dance floor. I began to panic and moments later, my friend grabbed my arm and pulled me out onto the floor. He gave me water and rubbed my shoulders. He told me to keep moving. I quickly calmed down; I closed my eyes and just felt the music move through my body.

The club was dark and the music was extremely loud and time appeared to be at a standstill, except of course that it wasn’t. At some point I looked over and my friend was dancing by himself and the dance floor around him was empty. I walked over and asked where all the people had gone. He replied, “Dear one, it’s 11:00 a.m.; they’ve all gone home.” We decided not to close the club down and headed for the coat check. My legs felt like they were weighted down with dumbbells and my mouth was extremely dry. I purchased water on the way out and drank an entire bottle before we got to the exit. The doors opened and daylight flooded in. I’m not sure why, but I was shocked that morning had come; the bright sunlight hurt my eyes.

I was glad to find my sunglasses in my coat pocket and although it was very cold outside, I was warm and fairly alert. We headed toward the subway and parted at the station; I was headed to the upper east side and my friend lived on the upper west side. I could not remove my sunglasses on the subway because the light was too bright for my eyes and I did not want to be seen. I sat in the corner of the subway car, slouched and paranoid, vowing that I would never do this again.

When I arrived home to my apartment I realized that my heart was beating rapidly and my mind was racing. I had an overwhelming feeling that I was going to die. I had never felt this way before and I was pretty sure I was overdosing. I was resigned to my fate. I started to clean the apartment so that when I was found, my apartment would be spotless. It’s difficult to understand why cleanliness mattered, but in fact, it was my reality at the time. I must have cleaned for several hours, thinking that at some point I would just collapse. I looked at the clock and it was 4:00 p.m. and it had been over 30 hours since I had any sleep. I showered, put on a tee-shirt and my underwear and crawled into bed. Before closing my eyes my last thought was this:  my life has been full and I have been fortunate. I will not wake from this sleep, but that’s okay, I have lived a good life — I swear this is true.

I did not die that day. I did, however, learn a valuable life lesson about the taking of unknown drugs. I was one of the lucky ones. Many, many have been in a similar situation and perished. I don’t believe I am being overly dramatic. I knowingly took a drug without knowing what it was. The friend I bumped into on the dance floor must have thought I knew what I was doing; he was not to blame.

Something like this never happened again and I plan to keep it that way.

 

 

 

 

What is Love?

Better yet . . . what is love to me?

“He that falls in love with himself will have no rivals.” -Benjamin Franklin

 

 

 

I’ve blogged about friendship, fear, loss, sexuality and so on, and so I thought that it is time for love. Must be all this talk of Valentine’s Day, although it’s not quite as commercial here in Portugal. Maybe it is and I’m just not aware of it.

Who am I to speak of love? I ask myself this question because I have had several failed relationships over the past 40 years. Perhaps that makes me as qualified as anyone else to pontificate on love. It is essential to question and examine; searching for answers that will help us to better understand ourselves and the world we live in.

 

How do I know that I am capable of loving?

This may seem like an odd question, but it’s important for me to begin by acknowledging (to myself) that I am certain that I have loved and that I continue to love deeply. My earliest memory of a love that was extremely intense and painful, was a childhood memory. I was in first grade, so I believe I was seven years old. My father was taking a month-long trip to Italy, his birthplace, to see his family living in Bisceglie. He had never travelled overseas and he had never been away overnight.

Bisceglie, Puglia

 

In my mind, Bisceglie was far, far away, and dad was going on an airplane and he’d probably never come back. Where these thoughts came from, I haven’t a clue. I vividly remember missing him badly and praying for his safe return. This felt very much like love. It was a love so strong it remains with me today and probably will until the day I die — I think of my father daily. Admittedly, I never felt this same love for my mother. I did love my mother, however, not with the same intensity.

I use that experience as my “love barometer” and I can say honestly that I only feel that kind of love for a handful of people and Giorgio, my pet whom I lost a few months ago.

About Bisceglie:  I’ve never been. I want to go, but I have always said that I would experience my father’s birthplace with the person I intend to spend my life with. I think it’s time to let go of that notion and just go. I believe it will be an important journey.

 

When was the first time I felt love?

I was four years old and I remember my sister AnnMarie crawling into my twin bed. She was 11 years old at the time. She whispered “I love you” in my ear and I purred like a kitten; a feeling of love washed over me and I said, I love you too.

I believe I remember this particular moment because AnnMarie was a substitute mother to me when I was a child; she took very good care of me; I was her doll. Perhaps I am mistaking nurturing for love? Something tells me the two go hand-in-hand.

 

Can you teach people how to love?

I imagine this question has been asked since humankind recognized love and gave it a name. Love seems to be one of the characteristics we share with the rest of the animal kingdom. I’ve witnessed it in so many different ways in many different species. The love for a parent, a sibling, a friend and for others of our own species. We express this love in many ways and we do things, good and bad things, as a result of feeling love.

It appears that forces exist that attempt, successfully or unsuccessfully, to destroy our ability to love. I would say that we are all born with that innate ability; however, human beings sometimes, for whatever reason, attempt to destroy another human being’s ability or desire to love — it is the root of so many of our problems.

I have also observed that some individuals seem to be born with the great gift of a heart that is so full they inspire others to open up their own hearts. Love can grow larger just as easily as it can be extinguished. We can doubt, question, betray, harm, and walk away from love; this appears to be a trait that separates us from other animals.

 

The difference between loving someone and making love

I have never believed that sex and love are the same thing. Sex is an instinctual behavior. All animals have sex or seek sex with one another. I assume it all started as a way to procreate and then morphed into a pleasurable act. I won’t go into all that here; this is a blog about love. I do believe that sex is one way of expressing one’s love for another, but obviously love and sex are not mutually exclusive. I believe it’s dangerous to mix the two things up. Doing so has certainly created problems for me in the past.

 

How love changes as you age

Perhaps love doesn’t change as you age, but what does change is your understanding of love and your appreciation for love. I have become cautious and fearful. Opening myself up to love someone deeply:  something I’m working on; I have a long list.

 

The joy love brings

It was only a few months ago that I lost my dog Giorgio. When I think about unconditional love, it is Giorgio that comes to mind. I am skeptical when it comes to human beings loving one another unconditionally; I may have to be convinced. I’m fairly certain that no one has ever loved me the way Giorgio loved me. I was his human. I have come to realize that only those who have had a devoted pet truly understand the bond between an animal and a human. I know it’s not just because I fed him and took care of him. It’s unlike any other love that exists and I am forever grateful for having experienced that love at least three times in my life. I’m hoping I get to have it again someday.

 

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Giorgio posing for my friend Mauro Fermariello, an Italian Photographer. So grateful Mauro captured Giorgio for me — this was a beautiful gift I will always cherish.

Scientific proof (link)

 

The Ultimate Love

I’m not sure where I heard it first, but I think Ru Paul says it best,

“If you don’t love yourself, how in the hell you gonna love somebody else?”

When I first heard this notion of loving yourself I thought it was rubbish and I dismissed it without much thought for a long time. Then in my mid-thirties, I was sitting with my therapist and she said, “Do you love yourself?” My immediate thought was I need to find a new therapist and then I realized how much I liked her and I seriously considered her question.

In order to answer truthfully I had to spend the entire week prior to my next session pondering her question. I returned the following week and told her that I unfortunately did not like myself very much. I figured out that this is how therapists get you to stay in therapy longer — it was a hook. I jest, she convinced me to consider where this was coming from and why. I could easily blame it on my mother; she gave me permission to do so when I told her I was seeing a therapist. It would be too easy to do that so I decided to try to alter my thinking. My therapist told me that I should look in the mirror and say, I love you.” I laughed about that for weeks and then I tried it one day. It was admittedly one of the more difficult things I’ve ever done. Oh, I could say it easily, but not without laughing in my own face.

I made a conscious decision to say it to myself before falling asleep at night and to mention it in passing to myself at various times of the day — out loud by the way. After a while, like anything else, it got easier and I actually started believing it. I would buy myself flowers at the farmer’s market, put them in a vase and present them to myself with, “I love you Christopher.” Why is it so easy to do this for someone else, but so difficult for ourselves.

The newly enlightened me does it all the time now. I take myself to dinner, buy myself plane tickets, shop for new clothes and each time, I remind myself that I am giving myself a gift and a big hug. It no longer feels awkward or weird; it feels natural. The added benefit is this:

When  you love someone you want all good things for them. You want them to be healthy and happy and to feel appreciated. When you love yourself, you want all of those things for yourself. You begin to live a healthier lifestyle for the sole purpose of feeling good for yourself. And people notice this about you. They smile and say things like, “It’s great to see you so happy,” or “You look terrific,” or even better, they stop expecting you to have another person to complete you. They actually recognize that you can be happy and single at the same time. I came to this realization not too long ago and it is hands down one of the greatest life lessons I have learned. There are many more lessons to learn; however, the ability to love myself and forgive myself, makes everything else just a little easier.

 

 

 

What Does Happy Look Like?

[I’m traveling tomorrow, so I decided to publish this week’s blog early. Sunday, February 3rd’s blog will be all about the Canary Islands.]

 

 

 

Thoughts about happiness has been occupying a great deal of my time lately. I’ve been taking stock of my life and wondering the following:

  1. Am I happy?
  2. What makes me happy?
  3. What do I need to do to be happier?
  4. Is it okay to settle for happy moments versus overall happiness?
  5. Are my expectations reasonable? Why or why not?
  6. How do I assess my own happiness?
  7. Do others interfere with my happiness?
  8. Do I make myself unhappy?
  9. What does being happy feel like?
  10. What were the happiest times of my life?
  11. Who makes me happy?
  12. Why does being happy matter?

I’m not going to go through these questions and answer them one by one. I am instead demonstrating where my head is at this stage of my life and how might create my own present and future. I’ll be sixty in a few months and whether I like it or not, age factors into my happiness. It’s a milestone that forces you to take inventory and consider your future.

There are ways to address this milestone that may be helpful. The following topics will be tackled in order of importance in my life at this time in my life:

Health

Health is a difficult reality. On one hand I want to life as healthy a life as possible so that I can enjoy a good quality of life; on the other hand there are many choices that I make that bring me joy, however, these choices have a negative impact on my health. For example, my daily 5:00 p.m. cocktail. I usually only have one and I know that by itself, that is not a bad thing, but there are a couple of other considerations:  1) the cocktail contains empty calories with no nutritional value, 2) when I’m with friends, I will give myself permission to have more than one, and 3) I also have a glass (or two) of wine with dinner. I am not an alcoholic and I don’t drink to get drunk. Still, I know that I would probably drop a few pounds if I stopped drinking. Truth is I enjoy that time of day when I relax and have a drink and I enjoy the taste of the cocktail or wine. I have made the conscious decision to continue drinking and monitor my intake; try my best to keep it at two or three portions a night. I have a very similar relationship with food, which also brings provides for a good deal of my happiness. Most of what I eat is fresh, healthy and delicious; however, there is that ten percent of my diet that I know is unhealthy. Again, one has to know oneself and choose wisely. And get a regular check-up to be certain that your body can tolerate certain things.

Note:  It doesn’t help that two of my dearest married friends had cocktails at 5:00 p.m. and ate what ever they wanted and had/have very healthy and long lives. One of them just recently passed away at age 95 and the other is alive and healthy at 90. Of course I know that everyone has a different genetic make-up and many, many other factors contribute to a long and healthy life.

I have always said that I’d rather live to be 80 and enjoy the bounty of life, then live to be 90 and deny myself much of what I truly love. This lifestyle choice doesn’t work for everyone. I am happy to say that I am almost 60 years old and medication free. I workout five days a week and only suffer the normal aches and pains that come with aging.

It’s odd how little we talk about our own path. We usually talk about other people and their habits or we generalize about society as a whole. It seems that people are either ashamed of their choices or choose to hide them. I wrote about my drinking habits this week in hopes of getting feedback from my readers. Am I kidding myself? Do my habits seem healthy? Unhealthy?

Home

The first view is the backside of my apartment and it represents my morning view. This morning, I watched the lunar eclipse. I have a clear view of Faro, the mountains and the morning moon. This view inspires me and reminds me that I am alive and that each day is a new and different day. The morning light is filled with color and most of the year I can watch the sunrise from my terrace. I also have a magnificent view of the Ria Formosa. The Ria is every changing and dynamic.

The second view is just after the sun has set in the evening. This view is facing southwest from the front of my apartment. This view represents the quiet of the evening — soft, diffused light

 

 

 

Front views at different times of the day:

 

There is a spot in my dining room where I can see both views. Depending on the time of day, every view is different and new. It’s like slowly moving still photographs marking time. I stand in this spot at least once a day to marvel at the light and color.

Family

Family can complicate happiness. I love my family dearly and my happiness is all wrapped up in their happiness. I constantly consider the amount of control or the lack of control I possess related to their happiness. I can make my sister laugh or buy my brother a nice present; I can spend hours on the phone with my niece listening to her talk about esoteric adventures; I can daydream about how my mom would take us shopping as children, pass an underwear bin, grab a pair and put it over her head; and I spend a day remembering my three siblings who have left us, whose memories lift me up almost daily. What it all adds up to is how my family takes my happiness to a higher level. Without them I would be happy; however, not nearly as happy.

Friends

Good, good friends know when you are unhappy; they know it before you do. My friends question my emotional state of mind on a regular basis. My mind is always churning and when that’s happening I don’t always smile. When I’m not smiling, my friends get concerned and I have to reassure them that everything is okay. There are times when I am not happy — for my good friends, that’s okay.

I consider my good friends, my family. No doubt my good friends make me happy. Sometimes they make me sad, but I realize that peaks and valleys are a normal part of life.

Plans:  Travel, Entertainment, Dining and Adventure

Making plans and executing them is all about creating memories. I read an anonymous quote many years ago that went something like this:

“We don’t remember days, we remember moments.”

Those words stuck with me and I have always tried to create moments or cement moments into my memory. Like the time I was mountain biking through a dense wooded area in Mexico. For a few moments I felt as free as a bird and more alive than I had ever felt in my life. It was exhilarating, I remember this happy moment as if it happened yesterday. I have many moments like this one and I recall these moments frequently.

Since arriving in Portugal, I have been creating these moments on an almost daily basis.

The Future:  Goals and Aspirations

I have come to realize that no matter how hard I try, there are certain “life concerns” that occupy my mind. When I’m in total control, rested, and have plans for the near future, I can keep these concerns in check and focus on my positive future plans. I also know that there are times when no amount of positive thinking or intervention by friends or family, can help put me in a happy place. When this happens I make myself as comfortable as possible and allow my thoughts to organically flow. The unhappy stuff usually passes pretty quickly when I allow myself to just feel or think whatever it is I’m feeling or thinking. I’ve learned that fighting my natural inclinations only makes me more anxious — know thyself.

I have fewer aspirations today then I had when I was younger. I can live with that.

 

A Funny thing happened on the way home:

My friend Susan is visiting from Maine for a few days. Unlike most of my friends, she reads my blog (as Bianca del Rio would say, “I ain’t mad”). So we were on a train to Tavira and I was talking about what I needed to include in this week’s “happiness” blog.

“I need to remember to make a note about how happiness directly correlates with being grateful, in my blog.”

We talked about how fortunate I am to be living this abundant life in Portugal. Not long after this conversation, we were sitting in the backseat of an Uber and the driver took us through a section of Faro I had never seen. The driver was surprised to learn that I live in Faro. She looked back at us in the review mirror and said,

“Faro is a happy place.”

What more can I say.

 

Growing Up in Brooklyn

 

“Apparently Brooklyn needn’t always push itself to be something else, something conscious and anxious, something pointed toward Manhattan…. Brooklyn might sometimes also be pleased, as here on Flatbush, to be its grubby, enduring self.”
― Jonathan Lethem, The Fortress of Solitude
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Taken in Brooklyn, New York in the 70s

Have you ever been in the audience at a concert or comedy club or anywhere and the person on stage mentions Brooklyn and there will almost always be someone or more than one person in the audience who screams and shouts (loudly)? People who were born in Brooklyn or live in Brooklyn are filled with pride; some say it borders on obnoxious behaviors. Actually, people who come from Brooklyn believe they have supernatural powers.

I would know, because I was born and raised in Brooklyn and I too have supernatural powers. My boyish charm and charisma are proof of my powers, no? Okay, okay, I digress. But honestly folks, there is something about Brooklyn that makes one believe he or she is really special. How else would you explain Barbra Streisand (click), Jay Z, Woody Allen, Joy Behar, and on and on (click for long list)?

 

The Brooklyn of My Youth

  • Coney Island — I was born in Coney Island. It was of course very different back then. There was Steeplechase Park (click), an amusement park that was probably responsible for putting Coney Island on the map. It closed when I was a little boy; however, I have fond memories of the fun houses and rides. There truly was nothing like it in the world. The Amusement Park that is still operating today took its place and although it is not Steeplechase, it’s a great place to bring the kids. My dad immigrated from Italy and moved to Coney Island as a young man. He was a member of a social club and he knew most of the ride owners. I would go straight from school to the amusement park and ride the Cyclone for hours without having to pay. My mother worked at the snack bar at Coney Island hospital where she gave birth to several of my siblings. For some reason, I was born at a different hospital — probably her doctor; I never asked. My mother’s mother was born in Russia — so you see where all my problems originated.
  • The Streets — the streets of Brooklyn were safe back then. Parents would not have thought twice about allowing their children to play stickball in the streets. I pretty certain this is a practice of the past.
  • Restaurants — Because Brooklyn had over 2.5 million residents from all over the world (see below), 50 years ago you could find really good Italian, Russian, Chinese and other ethnic foods. And then of course there was Nathans hot dogs — I still crave these crunchy dogs today. You can get them in many different places (franchise), but to get truly have the Nathan’s experience you have to go to Coney Island. The fries and the Little Neck clams were also memorable.
  • Confidence versus attitude (arrogance) — many people accuse Brooklynite’s of being over-confident. I would argue that a healthy self-esteem is a good thing. Perhaps there are Brooklynite’s with an attitude, but these kind of people live everywhere. The pride one feels about coming from Brooklyn has a great deal to do with the richness of the culture, the diversity, the many great things that have come out of Brooklyn and Brooklyn’s historical resistance to living in the shadow of Manhattan. Brooklyn has always had its own identity and boatloads of things to be proud of.
  • Welcome Back Kotter (click) — was a very successful television comedy series in the 70s. A photograph of my high school, New Utrecht High School, was shown at the beginning and the end of every episode. I didn’t especially appreciate the notion of Sweat Hogs (a whole class of not-very-bright teenagers), but I did relate to a good deal of the show.
  • The Brooklyn Museum, the Brooklyn Public Library, the Farmer’s Market, Prospect Park, the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens, the beaches — it took me so long to discover how rich in culture Brooklyn truly is. We took school trips to all of these magnificent places and I took it all for granted. I assume I absorbed some of it, but it was not until I moved to North Carolina that I realized what I had been exposed to as a child.

 

Brooklyn Public Library by DS.JPG

 

Central Branch
The Brooklyn Public Library

Ground was broken for a Brooklyn central library on Prospect Park Plaza (Grand Army Plaza) in 1912. The design of the original architect Raymond Almirall called for a domed, four-story Beaux Arts building, similar in style to the nearby Brooklyn Museum. Escalating costs and political in-fighting helped slow construction throughout the decade. World War I and the Great Depression ensured that Almirall’s building, whose Flatbush Avenue wing had been completed by 1929, would never be built. In the 1930s, the architects Githens and Keally were commissioned to redesign the building, eliminating all the expensive ornamentation and the entire fourth floor. After much public and critical praise for the comparatively inexpensive Art Deco structure, construction recommenced in 1938. Almirall’s building on Flatbush Avenue was largely demolished except for the frame. (Some of the original facade that faces in toward the library’s parking lot is still visible.) Completed by late 1940, the Central Library opened to the public on February 1, 1941. It is regarded today as one of America’s greatest Art Deco buildings (Wikipedia).

 

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The Brooklyn Museum houses over one million pieces of artwork. I had no idea how important the museum was when I was growing up.

 

Prospect Park

The 585-acre green heart of Brooklyn, is arguably the best park in New York City? Even its famed designers, Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert B.Vaux, considered it their masterpiece (more fun Wikipedia facts). But Central Park in Manhattan casts a very large shadow over Prospect Park; doesn’t matter it was my playground as a child. We lived only a few blocks away and the sleigh riding in winter was awesome.

The Framer’s Market

There is so much about Brooklyn that I can opine about and I would bore you and sound boastful, so I’ll only mention one more magical place:  there are many farmer’s markets in Brooklyn; however, none are quite as vast as the market at Grand Army Plaza, Prospect Park. From Grow NYC:

“Founded in 1989, Grand Army Plaza is Greenmarket’s flagship Brooklyn market, and the second largest market in the program, behind Union Square. Located at the northwest entrance to beautiful Prospect Park— and just steps from the Brooklyn Public Library, the Brooklyn Museum, and the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. This community destination brings together a mix of shoppers from the nearby neighborhoods of Park Slope, Prospect Heights, Crown Heights, and beyond. Runners, dog-walkers, families, singles and foodies all converge to buy from the huge array of farm fresh products, and to participate in the programming and cooking demonstrations that take place every Saturday all year-long.”

My apartment was one block away (5 minute walk) from the market in North Park Slope. I would wake up at my usual 5:15 a.m. (except when I went clubbing), have my coffee on my terrace (which faced the park — couldn’t see the park through the trees) and then walk over to my market to buy greens for the week. I never bought bread because I got the most amazing bread free from The French Culinary Institute bread kitchen. Well, it wasn’t really free because I worked my tooshie off for it.

The Landscape (Demographics)

Map of Brooklyn

Population trend[1]
Year Inhabitants
1731 2,150
1756 2,707
1771 3,623
1786 3,966
1790 4,549
1800 5,740
1810 8,303
1820 11,187
1830 20,535
1840 47,613
1850 138,822
1860 279,122
1870 419,921
1880 599,495
Year Inhabitants
1890 838,547
1900 1,166,582
1910 1,634,351
1920 2,018,356
1930 2,560,401
1940 2,698,285
1950 2,738,175
1960 2,627,319
1970 2,602,012
1980 2,230,936
1990 2,300,664
2000 2,465,326
2010 2,504,710
2015 2,636,735

Neighborhoods

Brooklyn, like many other cities, is divided up into many neighborhoods. Each has its own identity and culture. I spent a lot of time exploring before purchasing my very first apartment. I didn’t have very much money at the time, but I begged, borrowed, and sold my life insurance policy for a $9,000 down payment. Park Slope was one of the most beautiful areas I had ever visited and prior to a colleague showing it to me, I had no idea it existed. I was very fortunate to find a tiny one bedroom with a fireplace and terrace just one block from Prospect Park and only a few blocks from the subway. It was a four floor walk-up in a beautiful 1880s brownstone. While I was living there the economy improved and Brooklyn as a brand, took off. I took advantage of the boom and sold my place to upgrade to a two bedroom in a dicey section of Fort Greene I knew would become more desirable; after all, Manhattan’s desirable housing inventory was expensive and not easy to come by. the downtown Brooklyn Fort Greene area was right next to the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges with amazing views of Manhattan and easy access to the city — it seemed like a good move. All of these real estate decisions were fairly impulsive. I keep telling myself that I must have been thinking about the economy and the times, but I can’t recall when that thinking might have taken place.  It was certainly not happening at work or at the clubs. Perhaps I just got lucky.

Brooklyn has been good to me my entire life and I consider it my home. I will return to my roots for the rest of my life and I will never take Brooklyn for granted.

 

Diversity

Without going into specifics about the enormous diversity that has always existed in Brooklyn, let’s just say that living side-by-side with individuals from all over the world teaches a child a great deal about similarities and differences among individuals. I recall racial tension in Brooklyn around the issue of busing kids from one neighborhood to the other. It wasn’t pretty; there were walkouts and boycotts and a lot of angry people, but in due time it was sorted out. After awhile, people learned how to be with one another. I am certain that racism and religious bias continues to exist in Brooklyn; however, I am also certain that there have always been progressive individuals who were and are willing to do the work that needs to be done. As a child, I lived on a street with Italians, Hasidic Jews, Reformed Jews, Chinese, Irish, Greeks, and I’m certain, other nationalities. We held an annual block party where nearly every family put out food and danced in the street; it was honestly an international festival.

I believe that people from all over the world are moving to Brooklyn partly because they know that they will be embraced and provided with opportunities to earn a living and live their dream. I know this sounds “pie in the sky,” but I truly believe my thoughts have merit.

 

Why Brooklyn is Celebrated Everywhere

When I travel and meet new people, the first question is always, “Where are you from?” I was always proud to say, Brooklyn, New York. The reaction I got 20 years ago, even ten years ago, is not the reaction I get today. Today, people say, “Really, I want to go there.” For a Brooklynite, this is music to my ears. Of course you want to go there, it’s like going to Venice, except that there are no canals (that’s not entirely true) and/or stunning architecture (of course some will dispute this as well).

 

Brooklyn Today

I have to be very careful here. If I say anything disparaging about Brooklyn, they’ll come to Portugal to hunt me down. It’s easy to look back at the past and say things like:  things were different back then; it was safer and it was a more innocent time. Every generation perceives their particular generation to be smarter, innocent, and more fortunate.

I left Brooklyn to Move to Manhattan because I took a position at NYU that included housing. When it was time for me to purchase an apartment, I realized I could get more for my money there and it was before it became trendy to own or live there. In Brooklyn I could own a car and park on the street, drive to restaurants, drive into Manhattan or the other boroughs and eat at ethnic restaurants offering world-class cuisine. Again, to be sure, I had no idea what I had when I had it. I will always be grateful for the Brooklyn of my youth.

 

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The Brooklyn Brige. Clearly one of the most magnificent bridges in the world (USA Today photo)

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The block I grew up on in Bensonhurst. I am in the back on the left; always photo shy. My friend Joey is the one holding the bat. He was the alpha male of 66th Street  ca. 1967