From Troubled Boy to Troubled Man

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Me when I was two years old (I know, I was adorable). That’s my baby sister Debbie on the right.

I am not writing this blog so that you will feel sorry for me. In fact, I am only able to write about this chapter of my life as a result of having learned lessons and having done the hard work of self-reflection; by all accounts an on-going process. One big lesson:  do not dwell on who is to blame for your misfortunes. It’s all about looking toward the future. I am happy, looking forward to new adventures, and a hot mess — yes, it’s possible to be all these things at the same time. My hope is that I might help those who feel psychotic, lonely and lost. There is of course the added bonus of empathy from those who know me well or are just getting to know me.

 

Looking Back

Do people tell you not to worry? “Oh you’re fine; you’ll be alright” I think I may hate that more than people telling me I’m too sensitive. We all know people say stupid things all the time and I’ve learned that, for the most part, they mean well. Self-reflection may be more productive then listening to the advice of people who do not know you. Reflecting on what I was like as a child has always helped me to appreciate where I am today.

As I boy witnessing chaos all around me, I was always certain that it was all happening because of something I had done. I’d like to say that I grew out of that way of thinking. I would like to tell you that my mother sat me down and told me that none of it was my fault or that an elementary school teacher gained some insight into my family life and whispered that I was not to blame. I’m afraid that didn’t happen. Deep down I knew that I was a horrible little boy whose sins were the cause of all the terrible things happening around me. Some kids believe this and they cut themselves; some kids start taking drugs when they are nine years old or drink booze till they’re inebriated at eleven. Some kids take their own lives. I retreated to dark places and hid my shame. I bargained with God so that it would stop.

God, if you make my mom love me, I’ll be good for the rest of my life.  If you’ll just make the noise stop, I’ll clean the whole house tomorrow. God, if you make me stop thinking about men, I’ll go to church. Growing up Catholic was confusing; I found myself wanting to repent.

The chaos continued and I continued to find reasons to blame myself and hate myself even more than I already did. This self-loathing went on throughout my childhood. I’ve shared an incident in a previous blog that I frequently recall just to remind myself how much better life is today. On my 10th birthday, before blowing out my candles, my wish was to die before my next birthday. I was too afraid to kill myself, but if I wished hard enough, I was certain I would die. I thought about death a lot when I was a child. In my mind, it was the only way out. I firmly believe that children should not be dwelling on death.

For the longest time I thought it had something to do with my sexuality; or at least that’s what I told my therapist. In retrospect, I think it had more to do with a need that was not being met. As a child, I needed to belong, to be accepted, and to be loved. I’m certain most children feel this way. What was different for me, and I’m sure others, was that since not all of my basic needs were being met, I carried that longing into adulthood and continued to search for belonging, acceptance and love. Often, I looked in the wrong places. There were times when I was so desperate for it, I put myself in a compromising position to have it. What followed was self-loathing and a lot of pain.

Escape came easy during the day; it was at night that the demons were harder to run away from. Looking back, I guess I had pretty good coping skills. I would always tell myself that if I did well in school, my life would improve and it did, by leaps and bounds. I also took myself out of that very negative environment as early on as I could. Being on my own at 16 years old wasn’t easy, but I was free and able to make my own decisions; good, bad or otherwise.

 

The Journey

Getting from point disaster to a better place isn’t easy and there is no formula for making it happen. It’s a combination of exercise (physical and mental), goals (long term and short term), meditation, therapy, gratitude, keeping your eyes on the prize, moderation in all things, forgiveness, listening, letting go, being true to yourself, loving yourself, and looking forward — not an exhaustive list. I’d throw a bit of luck in there too.

You put all that down on a list and it’s daunting to say the least. I also try to congratulate myself when I complete a goal and I start projects by taking baby step. If you try to do anything too quickly, you will either do a half-assed job or you will fail. Take it slowly, do the best you can and pay no attention to those who tell you it’s not possible.

 

Looking Forward

You can’t hear me, but I am sighing. I am constantly sighing. The various meanings are below, however, for me, it has been about relief. I am relieved that I no longer (for the most part) feel the weight of the world on my shoulders.  I intend to be easier on myself, to accept who I am, to be more forgiving of others, to be more grateful, to spend more time resting, to see more of the world and do it with intention, to care less about the things that do not concern me, and to smile/laugh more.

 

sigh

/sʌɪ/

verb
gerund or present participle: sighing
  1. emit a long, deep audible breath expressing sadness, relief, tiredness, or similar.
    “Harry sank into a chair and sighed with relief”
    synonyms: breathe out, exhaleMore

 

Troubled Boy to Troubled Man to Loving Myself

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Stepping out on a Friday night. I have to remind myself to look in the mirror and smile; keeping in mind that if you are the best version of yourself you can possibly be, well then, you’re okay. Not quite as adorable as the first photo when I was two years old, but none the worse for the wear.

Publishing when I finish a thought rather than waiting until Sunday. I hope that’s okay with my readers. Happy Gay Pride everyone; we’ve come a long way and have an even longer way to go.

Being Introverted

man sitting on green chair near trees and mountain under blue sky at daytime
Photo by anna-m. w. on Pexels.com

 

How do I know that I’m introverted? A few tell-tale signs:

  1. I took the Myers-Briggs test numerous times and I always come up introverted. (see below for explanation.
  2. I prefer being myself to being with people. That is not to say I don’t like people; I do like people very much.
  3. When I’m attending a social gathering, I have to go out of my way to be social
  4. I have many, many brothers and sisters. Doesn’t that explain why I’m introverted?

The trait of extraversion–introversion is a central dimension of human personality theories. The terms introversion and extraversion were popularized by Carl Jung,[1] although both the popular understanding and psychological usage differ from his original intent. Extraversion tends to be manifested in outgoing, talkative, energetic behavior, whereas introversion is manifested in more reserved and solitary behavior.

Extraversion and introversion are typically viewed as a single continuum, so to be high in one necessitates being low in the other. Carl Jung and the developers of the Myers–Briggs Type Indicator provide a different perspective and suggest that everyone has both an extraverted side and an introverted side, with one being more dominant than the other. Rather than focusing on interpersonal behavior, however, Jung defined introversion as an “attitude-type characterized by orientation in life through subjective psychic contents” (focus on one’s inner psychic activity) and extraversion as “an attitude type characterized by concentration of interest on the external object” (focus on the outside world).[3

There are times when I tell friends that I am an introvert and they challenge me. I’m often told that I am far too social to possibly be an introvert. Those who know me well, know that there are days when I just need to be by myself. One of the many reasons I moved overseas, was to spend more time alone. The older I get the more introverted I become. There is absolutely no danger in becoming a hermit, I like love my friends and family too much.

Just back of five weeks of visiting the U.S. to see friends and family, may of whom I have not seen in years. I truly enjoyed seeing and spending time with all of these folks, but honestly, being “on” for such a long period of time left me completely depleted of all of my energy. I got home to Portugal, closed my door and sat in the splendor of isolation . . . I sat for a long time.

I know people who can never be alone. My mother was such a person. She would call anyone or go anywhere so that she could have company. I guess that would be a case of extreme extroversion or perhaps it was fear; fear of having to be with oneself.  When I was kid, my mother would climb the attic stairs; my bedroom was in the attic, just to chide me about being in my room alone. She would practically force me to go outside to play. If you have children that tell you that they’d rather read or write or play games, for goodness sake, let them be.

 

A Quieter World

Noise as loud as jack hammers

I cover my ears

Piercing sirens and car horns

Muffle it or make it stop

 

Rock turned up six decibels

Slammed shut to block it out

Doors closed, pills popped, eyes squeezed closed

Two a.m. and I still hear it

 

Chatter, chatter, chatter

Barking, bells and horns in surround sound

Planes take off and circle overhead

Breaking in speeding traffic

 

I tell my brain to turn it down

Use reason to soothe the sound

White noise in the dark

Deafening silence as I sleep

 

[I haven’t written a poem in years; it’s a good sign.]

 

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A quiet place at the top of the world

 

 

The thing is, when you know who you are and what you like, you can just enjoy being.

 

Over ten million people have watched Brené Brown speak, but I had never heard her name until browsing through Netflix offerings last night. Not only does she know what she’s talking about, in fact, she is a pleasure to listen to. Take a listen:

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.

shallow focus photography of cannabis plant
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.

 

Image may contain: people sitting, dog and indoor
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.

 

Traveling as an American Expat: Morocco & Seville

My New Backyard (Europe and Africa)

 

 

Happy New Year! It’s nice to be back after a couple of weeks of celebrating and traveling.

If you prefer a travel blogger who provides the easiest way to get there and all the places to go, stay and eat; that’s not me. I’ll give you a glimpse of what I experienced and then some thoughts on culture, value, ease, etc. I may occasionally plug an exceptional restaurant and/or hotel. I want this to be fun and it won’t be if I have to chronicle my trips from start to finish.

I titled this piece “Traveling as an American Expat” because I noticed that each time I have left Portugal it has been very easy to exit and even easier to re-enter. I’m not stating that every American has the same experience that I have, but I have admittedly been pleasantly surprised. I have left Portugal a dozen times and I have only had to show my resident visa once and that was in Edinburgh and it took all of three seconds. I look around at border patrol/customs and I notice others do not have it as easy; this is especially true for middle easterners and that makes me sad. I won’t go into political implications and biases, but suffice it to say that I am ashamed of how many in this world are treated because of their residence or religion.

Allow me to come clean about a few things before I begin:

  1. I am extremely fussy. I like things a certain way and I’m rarely if ever completely satisfied; ask my friends.
  2. I often learn as I go. Because I sometimes make impulsive or rash decisions, I usually make a mistake and then try not to repeat it.
  3. I don’t take pictures of everything and I don’t go on social media every time I have an experience. I’m trying to be more present and that means less time on my cell phone.
  4. I don’t rely on TripAdvisor or sites where people share their opinions. I find that the average person’s standards are not up to snuff. I’m feeling somewhat hypocritical because I have been known to share my dining critiques on social media. Some people will write nice things because they can never say anything bad. Some people will always be nasty because they have no idea how else to be. Some people will write about food:  quality, taste, value, and so on and they know nothing about food.
  5. I truly love traveling off-season. The deals are hard to beat and there are so few tourists, you get a true sense of what it’s like for the locals. You may discover that some places are closed off-season or hours might be curtailed; a minor inconvenience I am willing to put up with. Be sure to research the weather if that is a factor for you. I prefer to travel to places where temperatures are mild in winter.

 

Asilah, Morocco

 

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I took this photograph from the living room  our Airbnb in Asilah

 

I took a day trip to Tangier over 15 years ago. I have always felt that since I had a guide and I only spent eight hours there, that it wasn’t fair to say much about Morocco. The last time I took a ferry from Tarifa, Spain and to be honest, it was more about stepping foot on the African continent. I wanted to travel to Morocco the same way this time; however, the ferry schedule off-season is sporadic and getting to and from Tarifa would have been no easy task. Instead, I took a comfortable and very affordable (34 Euros roundtrip) bus to Seville, Spain and then a flight on RyanAir (120 Euro round trip with checked bag). RyanAir is a no frills airline. Check-in is sometimes chaotic; however, the staff is efficient and travel is a bargain. I had a new airplane on my return flight which was very comfortable. Honestly, the flight is 30 minutes and the best part of that is that if you have to pee, you can hold it in. When you arrive in Tangier, you breeze through passport control because there are no other people at the airport. I don’t believe there are more than 10 flights going in and out of that airport in a 24 hour period; it’s almost eerie it’s so void of people.

My friend Patrick rented a car to get to Asilah and there were no other people at Avis so we got our car in five minutes. Again, we left the airport without seeing very many other people. Take note that if you decide to drive on Moroccan highways (toll roads) you need Dirham because they don’t accept anything else except Moroccan money at the toll booths. The roads are new and easy to drive on; except for the very strong winds that Patrick was forced to navigate.

When we arrived in Asilah we followed our GPS to the house, but it took us to a huge public outdoor bazaar. There were hundreds (maybe thousands) of Moroccans participating in an outdoor festival. When were a little lost looking for our Airbnb. The crowds were walking in the streets and the people did not really seem to notice our car, nor did they care to move for us. It was a strange experience. We had to crawl through the crowds of people. We eventually got hold of our host who told us that we could not park outside of the house which was located inside a walled city — the Medina (not the famous one). The Medina was filled with shops and homes and very narrow streets. We had to park in a paid lot in the middle of the festival and walk to our house. It was only meters away from the parking lot, but prior to setting out to find our place, we had no idea how far we’d have to lug our bags.

 

We found our house, which was not quite like the photos, but isn’t that usually the case. Still, it was a beautiful house with ocean and Medina views. We would all have been happier if it wasn’t so cold in the house. It took us 24 hours to figure out how to make it warm and we only had 48 hours. The best thing about the house was Fatima. Fatima and her husband are caretakers for the house and they truly did take good care of us. We had a terrific breakfast and they made us a fire. Fatima quietly disappeared and made-up my bed during breakfast. I’m nearly 60 years old and I’m not sure anyone has made-up my bed since I was five years old — that was a real treat.

The house was in the Medina (not the one in Saudi Arabia), a walled city in Asilah, (click for more from Lonely Planet).

We had a full day to explore the Medina and the surrounding area. Fortunately, we are all walkers and so we walked. The Medina had narrow streets and pathways and lots of artisan shops (see my big purchase below).

We decided to celebrate New Year’s Eve at a restaurant in Asilah and we stumbled upon:

Port IV (click) Restaurant

This is probably Asilah’s best place to eat right now and we enjoyed it immensely. The service was good and almost all of us were happy with our choices (no photos, sorry). Having a full bar was a bonus and the owner made me a very authentic gin martini. I was one happy fella. Although I was unable to stay up till midnight, I did enjoy being with friends and being in Morocco; it’s a night I won’t soon forget.

 

Tangiers (Tanger for the locals)

 

 

As I mentioned earlier, I visited Tangier years ago. I had only seen a small part of the city and from what I have heard, it has changed quite a bit. I stayed at the Movenpick Hotel and Casino for two reasons:  First I got a great off-season rate for this four star property and second, I was in the mood for some blackjack. Both paid off. My room was spacious and beautifully appointed (some really nice bathroom products as well) and the casino was pleasant and on the second day, I celebrated a small winning streak. I had a nice meal at Miami Restaurant which was nearby. Their French pastries were especially lovely. Most Moroccans speak French and there were French pastries at every turn (you see smatterings of French culture). There was a great deal to enjoy and celebrate. I went home a winner in every sense of the word.

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The two official languages are Modern Standard Arabic and Amazigh (Berber). Moroccan Arabic (known as Darija) is the spoken native vernacular. The languages of prestige in Morocco are Arabic in its Classical and Modern Standard Forms and French, the latter of which serves as a second language for many Moroccans.

Languages of Morocco – Wikipedia

 

 

Note:  I walked into the center of the city and if I’m going to be honest, although the city was clean and no one warned me to be careful, I did not feel safe. Beggars follow you and they do not take no for an answer; it can be off-putting and disturbing.

 

Seville, Spain

 

 

I am in love. Seville is a beautiful, culturally rich, culinary mecca, just three hours door-to-door from my place in Faro. I only just returned home, but I have already booked a hotel for the end of February. I now know that Seville will be my home away from home. I am delighted to have rediscovered this breathtaking city.

You will enjoy these two pieces written by my food writer friend Joanna Pruess. She wrote about Seville for Specialty Food Magazine. Joanna primed me for my Seville adventure with her delicious point of view and fabulous recipes:

Tasty Bites of Seville (click for article)

Savoring Seville (click title)

The Seville bus station, train station, and airport are all linked by a four Euro bus that has many stops throughout the city and runs every 20 minutes or so. The bus and train stations are centrally located and easy enough to get to. These days Uber rides are very inexpensive and although I love to walk, you can’t beat a five Euro Uber ride across town. The drivers usually speak English and they are (for the most part) good drivers.

I stayed at very nice Airbnb for 65 Euros a night. It was a two bedroom apartment in a great area — 20 minutes by foot to just about everywhere.

Note:  I have mixed feelings about Airbnb (see one of my earlier blogs). Some hosts are gracious and generous and truly want you to have a great stay. Others, seem to only care about making a buck. Be sure to read reviews and check for amenities. After awhile, you become better at discerning the true intentions of the hosts. They also have a review policy I totally disagree with:  both parties have to complete a review in order for the review to be posted. If you write a warranted poor review and the host does not review you as a guest, the review will not be posted by Airbnb — it seems like a way to ensure only good reviews get posted. I’m not sure how Airbnb gets away with this.

The weather in Seville was great for walking around the city and spending time outdoors. I don’t believe it snows in Seville and when the sky is blue, it is an intense blue.

Shopping

I had one objective as I explored Seville. Paella is one of my favorite dishes to cook and I was determined to bring two ingredients back to Portugal:  Bomba (click) rice and saffron. I’ve tried many different kinds of cooking rice and Bomba is by far the best for paella (https://www.jamieoliver.com/recipes/rice-recipes/chicken-chorizo-paella/ Jamie Oliver’s recipe.

Also  . . . Spanish saffron which is less pricey in Spain. I paid 14 Euros for about an ounce of saffron — it’s fresh and beautiful and I can’t wait to cook with it. I use it when cooking rice with meat dishes as well. I also purchased hand sliced jamon (Spanish cured ham) and some homemade nougat. Purchasing food in other countries is one of the best things about travel and there are many items that you should only purchase in the country where it originated or was made. Note:  if its fresh food and you’re flying, be sure to have it vacuum sealed.

There are many shopping areas throughout the city; small boutique shops are my favorite. I was also impressed with the number of small art galleries. The artwork I looked at was quite beautiful and not outrageously expensive. A plug for El Cortes Inglese, a big chain store where I can spend hours just milling about. It’s like the Harrod’s of Spain. I’m praying one comes to Faro or the Algarve soon; hey we have an IKEA and Zara, so . . . what are you Spaniards waiting for

 

Don’t miss out on Contenedor if you visit Seville. It’s fresh, delicious, quaint, and well priced. Make a reservation (click for website).

I have already booked a hotel for a few days at the end of February and beginning of March. I did not book an Airbnb because I do not plan on cooking and I’d prefer amenities like a gym and indoor pool when I’m doing a quick culinary exploration trip. Yes, I’m spoiled, but after 40 years of busting my ass, I deserve it. I will write more about Seville after that trip.

My big purchase in Morocco:

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I purchased this hand-woven Moroccan runner in Assilah. The merchant said, “I don’t haggle,” but I got the rug for about 80 Euro less than ask. He didn’t know what he was in for when I walked into his shop. I have all the information about where the rug was made and how it was made.

 

Observation

Last post of the year. Reiterating an important message:

One of the many advantages of being present is the ability to take in what is all around us. Observation is a privilege very few people take advantage of. It’s way too easy to get so caught up in your own small world that you fail to see the many wonders around you. I have been keenly aware of my surroundings the last few months and the following are just a few of my observations:

  • I have never seen as many elderly people out and about as I see here in Portugal. It probably has a lot to do with the weather in the Algarve, but I also believe it is the culture. What I am seeing is that seniors are respected and not ignored, I have been observing their daily routines and I am loving what I see. The patience they show with their pets is admirable. I see healthy people in their 80’s and 90’s; although some are using canes and walkers and moving slowly, they are outdoors and they are enjoying themselves. I am observing lots of smiles and warm greetings. I am also constantly seeing people ask the elderly if they need assistance. On the bus, in the streets, on the sidewalks; everywhere. A couple of reasons I’m liking what I see:  for one, I’m approaching 60; therefore, I’m closer to be a senior than I ever was before, and two, I have always enjoyed being around the elderly and this makes me feel really good. Note:  I live on a street with an uphill climb. People that are up there in years are climbing this hill daily and many are doing it without assistance. It just seems like a good thing.

Side note:  I have a friend here who is in her 70’s. Yesterday, she looked me right in the eyes and said, “You just need to slow down a little.” I was struck by her honesty and directness; the truth is she’s right.

  • Young people are engaging in conversation (not always on their cell phones). I live next door to a high school and I see young people outside of the school almost daily. It is refreshing to see that many of these young people are talking to and laughing with one another. I was honestly under the impression that this practice of communicating in person, was a dying art. It seems to me that it is as much a part of life for our youth as it’s ever been.
  • The streets of Faro are filled with cafés. Due to the mild weather here, these cafés are overflowing with people enjoying one another’s company and drinking espresso. If you listen closely to the chatter it has a wonderful rhythm. The best part is that an espresso is still under a Euro here. A café com leite (coffee with steamed milk; a latte) is often one Euro.
  • Bicycle riding is often quiet and graceful. I love watching people dart around on them or peddle slowly through neighborhoods; taking in the local scenery. I try to do it myself at least once a week — it’s a nice break from the day-to-day.
  • Foliage:  the shedding of leaves, the receding of plant life, the changing fauna and flora; are all amazing to observe. If you pay attention to the foliage on a daily basis, you will notice the subtle changes. The changing seasons are another gift our planet gives us. Life is a precious thing to behold.
  • The sounds of  the city:  dogs, children, people chatting, traffic; are delightful — a city symphony if you will.
  • Sit on a bench and just watch humankind. You’ll see snippets of stories, anguish, real life playing out, right under your nose and you’ll know you’re not alone.

 

The Noise in Your Head

I have a noisy brain. Constant static and colliding thoughts. Switching from listening to that brain chatter, to taking in the world around you, can be calming and hypnotic. In fact, it can be a whole lot more pleasant than what might be going on in your head.

How to Stop Your Noisy Brain (click for article)

 

Meditation

There are many different ways to meditate; however, I have found that just being present — living in the moment — is a great way to meditate. Being acutely aware of what is around you is an eye opener. It sort of shocks your body and in turn, your entire being wakes up. If I had read this just a few years ago, I would have been a doubter; what a bunch of mumbo jumbo. However, practicing meditation — in its many forms — over and over again, will demonstrate the power of mindfulness.

Remember, this is all part of my journey. There have been some bumps in the road, people who are toxic, rules meant to be broken, checks that didn’t come, and so forth, but so far, I’m on the right track. Thank you for listening.

 

Happy holidays folks; until next year!

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There will be no blog post for the period between December 30 to January 6 (two weeks). The next blog post will be January 13 — Morocco. The Canary Islands