Trapped and Terrified in A Lift

What would you do?

Old Elevator Buttons Against Wooden Panels Inside A Vintage Elevator
This might be too modern a depiction of the elevator I was stuck in

I have to set the scene for you; although this happened 46 years ago, the experience is as fresh in my mind as it was the day it happened. I apology in advance for downplaying the fear I experienced then and continues to resonate. This is the first time I am retelling this story.

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Like many teenagers in Brooklyn, I worked at a grocery store. It was a good job for a 16 year old; it taught me many lessons about life I might not have learned otherwise. Little did I know, that on one particular brutally hot summer day, I would learn a lesson of survival.

Delivering groceries to neighborhood people was hard work, but when I laid on the charm and kept my clients happy, I could do pretty well financially. My earnings paid for room and board, clothing, and my education — we paid our own way in my house as soon as we were able. I either hustled or listened to my mother piss and moan about poverty and what it was like to raise seven kids on her own. She had a point.

My siblings would argue this self-assessment, but I recollect that I was a fairly happy-go-lucky teenager — especially when I was flush with cash. Tips were a good way for me to make money because I could hide a lot of it from my mother. I figure she was a waitress and practiced similar deception. That late morning in August, I was rode my delivery bike about two streets east to an old building I had visited often; truth be told, every building was old in Ditmas Park. When you’re sixteen and you think you know it all, old and rundown is not cool. I took the elevator to the 8th floor and dropped off the groceries; after awhile, you spend your time thinking about everything else than what you’re actually doing; I believe she was a regular customer, a detail that’s fuzzy.

I recall it was so humid, my clothing was soaked through and I was lethargic from the heat. I entered the noisy old elevator; you know, the ones that go clunk, clunk, clunk when they move. I pressed the button for the first floor. The door slammed closed and the elevator descended a few feet and stopped abruptly. I did what any human would do, I pressed all the buttons, I pressed them over and over again, thinking somehow, my persistence would restart the lift. There was an alarm button, a rather loud alarm I might add, but it felt like I was screaming help in a padded prison cell and no one was listening.

Thinking, this can’t be happening, doesn’t make it go away — this was a living nightmare. I took a deep breath and felt like I might cry. Perhaps my brain knew that crying would use up too much of my water supply, instead I stomped my feet and banged the walls. Clearly, there was no one anywhere near this piece of shit machinery. I sat down on the dirty elevator floor hoping an escape plan would come. I’m pretty sure I was close to panicking by this point. I’ve never been fond of small spaces; this elevator was tiny. In addition to that foul odors easily make me nauseous. This particular building had a gag inducing stench. I screamed “help” as loud as I could. I screamed repeatedly hoping someone in the building would come to my rescue. Could it be possible that the entire building was empty? And where was the lady I just delivered groceries to? I had watched way too much Twilight Zone for my own good. In my mind one of two things was going to happen: the elevator was either going to crash to the ground or I would die of heat exhaustion; neither would be a good way to go.

A good chunk of time passed before I starting screaming again. I was convinced my co-workers would miss me and someone was being sent to check what had happened. I would alternate between stomping and screaming and bargaining with God — whom I don’t believe exists by the way. Funny how that happens when you’re in a life threatening situation. You go through this, if you really do exist please help me — I’ll do anything, I promise, dialog in your head.

Dripping wet, long past the point of heat exhaustion, seeing double through pools of sweat, no voice, no help, and no hope; I recall at a certain point I began to enter the acceptance phase of my own impending death. At some point, I made the decision that being horizontal might save me some energy. The elevator floor was dirty and sticky, but I’m not sure it mattered much at that moment. Flat on the ground and feeling defeated, I believe I closed my eyes for a few minutes, the silence was deafening and my heartbeat was finally slowing a bit. I glanced at the ceiling and noticed an exhaust fan that wasn’t moving. Next to the fan was a panel. It was too high up for me, but offered new hope. I stood up in order to assess the situation and realized that I might be able to step onto the side rail and push on the panel. Desperation fuels hope — there were not many other options to choose from.

I jumped up with one foot on the rail and was able to touch the top of the elevator car. After a number of tries, I was dislodged the panel; quite relieved that it was not bolted down. I was able to eventually pop the panel off and push it over to the side, allowing me to see that I was only feet away from the elevator doors on the floor above the car.

It might have been more than an hour or perhaps only minutes; at this point I was pretty delirious. I faintly heard someone walking on the floor above and I shouted for help. The man walked up to the doors and called down to me.

“Is someone in there?”

I sunk down to the ground and responded with tremendous relief. Yes, I’m here, please help me get out.

“It’s the super, I’m going to shut the elevator down and start it back up.”

I don’t think I answered him. I may have thought it was in my head.

An eternity passed and the lift gave a jolt. It started moving but only about four feet. At this point the car was partially on the fifth floor.

“Give me a minute, I think I can pry the doors open.”

The super pushed the doors open and I could see him; I could breathe again. I expressed my gratitude and I told him I’d been there a long time. He apologized, his thick Spanish accent, more a part of my consciousness than earlier. He said something about being out of the building all morning. He asked for my hand, hauled me up, and I quickly crawled out onto the fifth floor. I don’t think either of us was thinking about the danger of what we were doing at the time. He could see I was dripping wet and he asked me if I wanted some water.

Please, I said and leaned my body against the wall.

He told me that his apartment was in the basement. He asked me if I could walk down the steps and I told him that I could. When we got down to the first floor he asked me to wait while he went to get some water. I thought he was kind. He returned with a tall glass and I drank the water in one gulp. I thanked him and left.

When I got back to the grocery store, I realized I had been gone three hours. None of my co-workers seemed to notice that I’d been missing. I walked over to Bob, the owner of the store, and found words almost impossible. He asked me where I’d been and I shared what had happened. He shrugged and told me he was glad I made it out of the lift. I thought he was matter-of-fact about the whole thing, but how could he know what I’d been through.

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Years later I was watching the news and there was a story about a woman who was on an elevator in a Manhattan hi-rise. The elevator stopped a few feet below the floor she had entered on. The elevator door and the door to the floor opened, she panicked and hoisted herself up. As she was crawling out of the elevator, it started back up and cut her in half. When the door opened to some people who had called the lift, they saw the severed lower half of her body. The news only showed the bloody car, but it didn’t take much imagination to see the gruesome scene in your mind’s eye. Apparently, there was some sort of glitch in the system that caused the lift to malfunction. I believe they have put new measures in place to ensure an elevator car could never move if any of the floor doors are even partially opened.

I will never shake the image of that woman’s severed torso and what her final moments must have been like. I’ve also thought about my own situation and how I was fortunate to get out of the lift I was trapped in. I should have asked the super to call the fire department; I wasn’t thinking. The events that took place that day in my 16th year, taught me a great deal about who I am and how fortunate I have been. I treat elevators with great respect and carry water with me whenever possible; you never know when you might need it.

I still wonder where all the residents of that building were that day? Why didn’t the woman I had just delivered groceries to, hear me? And why didn’t my co-workers notice how long I’d been gone?

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Hot dogs are one of my favorite foods and until recently I was convinced that a good, natural casing frankfurter, did not exist in Portugal. I was happily wrong — they sell them frozen at IKEA and I’m good now.

Smile Blog Revisited

Coping With Lockdown

The Western Algarve Coast

This blog is more for me than for you. I recently learned that the Portuguese government will extend lockdown until early April. On top of that, my vaccine is months away and the two jabs could get in the way of travel. It’s been a difficult year, however, I have come to realize that there are several things that I now do and can do, to make lockdown more tolerable. I made a list which I believe is best left in my journal.

When you put it all down on paper, it’s a full life. Last year I read interviews that were done with elderly people close to the end of their lives: when asked, “Is there anything you would have done differently?”, they overwhelmingly responded that they would have worked less and spent more time doing the things they enjoyed. For the most part, I’m doing the things I enjoy, in and out of lockdown. Excellent life lesson, especially for someone who believes that we get one shot at making it count.

I should add that I am acutely aware of those all over the world who are far less fortunate; gratitude helps keep things in perspective. I must admit this all seems a bit trite considering the current condition of humanity.

Spring has arrived here in the Algarve; it’s warmer, greener, and hope is in the air. That makes me smile.

“ALWAYS WEAR A SMILE BECAUSE YOU NEVER KNOW WHO IS WATCHING.”

Gracie Gold

I want to smile more. I do. One would think that this would be an easy goal, but trust me, if you’re not inclined to smile, deciding to do so, just like that, is a difficult objective. I was born cynical, but coming up in my world, how could I not be. I also believe this is one of those nature/nurture arguments. Was I cynical because of my genetic makeup or did growing up in a tortured household make me cynical. For the purpose of this piece, let’s call it a draw and say that both factors are the cause. The point is, I have to work at smiling and how do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice.

“Love yourself for who you are, and trust me, if you are happy from within, you are the most beautiful person, and your smile is your best asset.”

Ileana D’Cruz

Some Ways/Places to Practice Smiling

  • Tell yourself to smile every morning. You can do it when you’re brushing your teeth. It won’t take any more time out of your busy day. Soon it will be as routine as brushing; you won’t even think about it.
  • Add a little caveat to practicing your smile:  make it so that you cannot smile unless you add something you’re grateful for. For example:  this morning, before I brushed my teeth, I thought about how grateful I was that I slept well and then I smiled.
  • Practice while you’re doing something mundane — like when you’re on the treadmill at the gym or while you’re riding in a bus or on the subway.
  •  Look straight into a mirror and keep smiling.
  • Practice with a friend or family member. Let them tell you what they think of your smile and accept the feedback. Is it genuine? Too broad? Too big?

Be Your Own Motivator

I have a friend whom I met at a gym in Portland, Maine. He was struggling on an abdominal machine near where I was working out. He saw me watching him and asked me if I knew how to use the machine. I hopped on and did a few reps (gym lingo for repetitions just to show you how cool I can be). Chomba is from Zambia, he studied in Europe, he’s in his 20s and he’s quite a specimen; naturally I was pleased to show him how to use the machine correctly. Like any normal man, I preened and walked away triumphant. A few days later I saw him using the same machine and he was smiling ear-to-ear. Honestly, Chomba has the most genuine and beautiful smile I have ever seen. I noticed him using the very same machine on a regular basis. I finally approached him and asked him if he used any other equipment at the gym. He shared a big laugh and thanked me for showing him how to use the machine. I said, “Chomba, because I always see you on this ab machine, I am naming it the Chomba Machine.” From then on I when I would see him I would ask if he had done his ab reps on the Chomba machine that day.

Weeks went by of just saying hello in the gym and I thought it was time to become friends outside of Planet Fitness. I approached him and invited him over to my place for dinner. I was having a dinner party and I thought he’d be a great addition to my guest list. Chomba was delighted and came to my place with a nice bottle of wine. Everyone at party fell in love with him. He’s the kind of person who lights up the room and makes everyone feel special. That night I learned that he was a motivator working out of Boston. His firm was hired by companies to motivate their staff (Chomba if I’m getting this all wrong I apologize). What I loved more than anything is that he did not boast about his work or his life. We had to poke and pry before he came clean. Chomba is a modest fella. By the way, Chomba models now (lives in Portland, OR — fairly new) and always stays in touch. I’m grateful for his candor, his loyalty and his beautiful smile.

What Chomba has taught me is invaluable. Essentially, you can be your own motivator. You can do what he does, but in your own head. You can get yourself charged-up and energized whenever you feel yourself needing a little boost.

Experiment

Having been a sociology student in college, I often love to go back to my roots and do human interaction (behavior) experiments. I occasionally spend the day smiling all day just to see how people respond to it. I also enjoy seeing if it affects my mood.

I have to say that I get pretty amazing results:

  • People almost always smile back.
  • It sometimes feels like you’re waking someone up and suddenly they seem to come alive.
  • It makes me feel lighter.
  • The results make me want to do it more often.
  • Sometimes it makes strangers laugh; especially when I smile really big. I’m thinking, they must think I’m crazy, but who cares.
  • There is a reason for the saying “A smile goes a long way.”
  • I am in the middle of a very frustrating experience with an upgrade to my apartment. The person responsible for getting the work done has been slacking off and it’s sort of driving me crazy. The project began 14 months ago. I decided to give him an ultimatum knowing that he might walk away from the job. Instead, when I saw him I smiled. It appears that is not what he expected and I believe he may be close to finishing the job. Yesterday, I received a call from a man who will hopefully complete the job this week.

Current Mood

One of the interesting things about blogging is how your mood and thoughts change as you work through a particular thread of thoughts. I woke today in a non-smiling mood. You may relate to what I’m feeling, except that I don’t quite know what I am feeling. What I do know, is that I don’t feel like smiling. I had an interaction yesterday that was troubling and it’s still on my mind. I’m pissed to put it bluntly.

I am going to work through these feelings and thoughts by forcing a smile and see where it takes me.

The next day:  the left home for a bed & breakfast about 90 minutes away. Sometimes it helps to be away from your familiar environment. I found myself smiling just as soon as I boarded the train.

Smiling is one of those things you can do to brighten your day and/or someone else’s day, and it cost nothing! Nada! Zip! Zero cents! In fact, studies have shown that it’s good for you too.

Image result for is smiling good for your health
Why Smile?

http://www.waynedentalarts.com The act of smiling activates neural messaging that benefits your health and happiness. … The feel-good neurotransmitters — dopamine, endorphins and serotonin — are all released when a smile flashes across your face as well (4). This not only relaxes your body, but it can also lower your heart rate and blood pressure.Jun 25, 2012

There’s Magic in Your Smile | Psychology Today

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/cutting-edge…/there-s-magic-in-your-smile

There’s Magic in Your Smile

Surprising Health Benefits of Smiling

Two things that help me smile: Giving when I can and volunteering my time. Never underestimate the power of compassion and charity.

Question of the week:

What makes you smile?

Relocation To Portugal (Update on 2019 post)

Photos: the copper cataplana pot is my most recent purchase. I have wanted one since I relocated to Portugal. They’re fairly expensive. I bought this one used and cooked my first seafood stew with it a few days ago. You cook with it on your stove top and serve it in the same pot. The seafood simmers in its own savory juices, providing outstanding results. The marble tabletop was custom ordered a few months ago after being inspired by the Portuguese marble I saw in Alentejo in the middle of Portugal. My neighborhood Catholic church holding outdoor mass (I stumbled upon services while jogging). Paco looking healthy and happy. He’s been with me one year now. Jamie Oliver’s quick pizza recipe, I have come to love. The evening view of the Ria Formosa and Atlantic Ocean, from my terrace. Lastly, a seaside landscape I will never grow tired of (a weekend trip one hour from home, near Portimão).

I posted a blog at the one year overseas mark. It’s now been close to three years — time to post an update.

Before I begin the update, I want to share a thought:

Millions of people all over the world are dying and suffering from illness and loss due to COVID-19. Like most, I am consumed by this pandemic. My way of maintaining some normalcy is to continue to blog and carry on with the things that I can do to remain upbeat and optimistic. We all deal with difficulties in our own way.

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 prior to relocating to Portugal, 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 the United States and will not give-up my citizenship. You just never know what the future has in store for you.

Update: When I wrote this two years ago, I was reluctant to make political comments in my blog posts. There were times I didn’t hold back. When Donald Trump became the republican nominee in 2016, I told the people that I loved that I would leave the country if he won. Like many, I couldn’t imagine him leading my country. I have had a few people ask if I will return to the States now that he is no longer in office. My answer is I don’t know. I have decided to allow these kinds of life decisions to come organically. If I later decide that returning to the States is the right thing for me, then I will return. For now, I’m enjoying Portugal and enjoying stability. Stability has been elusive until now.

The Highs (Positives)

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.

Update: Admittedly, there are times when I wish I had brought a certain something with me. It’s usually a fleeting thought; I quickly remind myself that I have survived for quite awhile without that rug, toilet paper dispenser, or skillet.

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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.

Update: I haven’t recently been to Spain due to the pandemic, however, during the summer I was able to travel within the country and I was able to fly to Madeira and see other parts of Portugal I may not have visited otherwise. It’s a beautiful country no matter where you find yourself. If you come to Portugal, don’t just go to Lisbon and/or Porto. Wine country and the coast are absolute must sees.

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The weather in the Algarve is amazing all year-round. With an average 300 days of sunshine, very little 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 Iberian 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 City. 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 (that I know of).
  • 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 public transportation 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.

Update: Adding shorter and less expensive flights to Asia, most citizens of Portugal embrace social democracy, and I believe there is a good deal more concern and respect for the environment (my perception). I’d like to also note that when I lived in the States I actually had to step over homeless people in NYC and Maine; I have lived in Faro for three years now and I have never seen a homeless person. When people are unable to take care of themselves, the country provides for them — their fellow citizens do so with pride and compassion.

The pace in Portugal is teaching me patience. Being born and raised in New York City and then spending most of my working life there, didn’t help. I wanted things done yesterday and efficiently; not the way of professionals in Faro — not a criticism mind you, more of an observation. Bottom line, if I want to live here, I have to slow down and accept the more relaxed pace. It’s no wonder the elderly take less medication and enjoy a healthier lifestyle.

The Lows (Negatives)

Losing Giorgio (my dog, brought from U.S., 11 years old) 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 good to have a guest room with an en suite). 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 yet discovered; 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.

Update: The novelty of Portuguese pastry has not worn off; I love the pastry as much today as I did back then. Even worse, I have found better bakeries. The good new is that my weight has remained about the same. As long as I exercise, I can keep it in check and hopefully, remain healthy. My prostate is giving me some problems, but that’s not surprising. It is looking more and more like surgery is in my future. Prostate surgery is a common procedure, however, COVID-19 will have me waiting for at least a year. In the meantime there is medication that keeps things under control. As the saying goes, “It’s better than the alternative.”

Learning Portuguese has not been easy, mainly because I don’t get enough practice outside of my lessons. The good news is that my vocabulary is more substantial and I can have a decent exchange, especially when push comes to shove. I’m enjoying the learning process and I need to be less shy. I now watch Portuguese cooking shows and read Portuguese subtitles when watching HBO films and series (HBO is only 5 Euros a month here). As I’ve said before, if it isn’t enjoyable than I don’t want to do it, learning a new language continues to be fulfilling for me. Patience.

Paco has helped me deal with the loss of Giorgio and now I find my memories of him comforting. Giorgio was there for me during many difficult situations. I am forever grateful to the animals that have been in my life.

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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 so great airlines. I like TAP — Air Portugal and I hate United (still true in 2021).

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 fairly 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 — I never did well with different time zones.

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? (previous blog)

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

Update: Time for a bit of truth telling — this virus and its many variants are becoming alarming. Some experts say that the vaccinations are not effective against the variants, some are saying they are. The numbers keep going up everywhere. Lockdown has been extended . . . again. Yesterday I ran into seven police officers checking for non-mask wearers and people who were not staying in their homes, where they were told to remain. It’s been a year! It’s confounding, scary and tiresome. Honestly, I’ve been pretty strong so far, but I’ve been feeling that I’m maxing out on patience.

There is so much more I could say about living abroad, but I fear boring you to death. I have zero regrets, I’m probably happier than I’ve ever been, and I look forward to what is to come. I can still see a possible move in the future and I embrace the mystery of where, when, how and why that might happen.

Cuba Update: I was scheduled to leave for Cuba this week, however, the government has extended the lockdown to March 1. The number of COVID-19 cases are down, but the hospitals continue to be overwhelmed with ICU cases. This new wave of cases was a result of carelessness over the holidays. It makes me angry because now we all suffer and the death toll continues to rise. It is astounding how negligent and ignorant human beings can be.

Question of the Week:

Have your feelings about the pandemic changed over time?

A Sea Change Is Here

Breathe . . .

A State of Mind

Feeling hope in lieu of despair
Watching as we repair 
Trust in truth again
Allowing a smile and a tear

Who are we . . . a quandary
Who do we want to be
What have we learned
Will we remember and mend

The heart feels
The mind knows
But doubt is persuasive
Listen carefully and learn

Then the waiting for change
The self-reflection
Outside Influences sting
Impaired vision blurs

Strength in fits and starts  
Conviction with patience
Honor without bravado
Justice and grace




Thank you so much to my brothers and sisters in the United States.

Expat Life in Portugal Two Years In

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

— Mark Twain

 

 

 

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

What I didn’t know:

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

 

The Best Parts of Living in Portugal

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Challenges

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Surprises

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

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

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

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

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

 

To Sum Up

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

 

What Happens When Your World Expands

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

 

 

 

 

Looking Ahead

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

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

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

 

Paco Update

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

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

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

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

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

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

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