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.

Tips From A Seasoned Traveller — Part I

Tip #1:  If you can fly non-stop and it doesn’t cost you an arm and a leg, do it.

These days connections are killers. A delay in your first flight can mean hours of stressful time spent in an airport; sometimes even overnight or if you’re lucky, in an airport hotel. Keep in mind that the airline will not put you up overnight if the travel issue is beyond their control and just about everything is beyond their control.

 

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I recently acquired this Pan American Airlines  (iconic airline that went under in 1991) travel guide published in 1970 (7th ed.). Fun reading.

 

It’s good to be home after several weeks away. I had a five city, three country holiday and it was exhilarating and exhausting. French air traffic controllers and French metro workers managed to mess up my travel on two separate occasions; not in a minor way. These days travel can take its toll on the body and mind; add disgruntled workers to the mix and you’re in for some major stress.

How airlines, hotels and Uber, handle these delays and glitches is key to how well we cope. I thought I might share some stories:  how I reacted to people along the way and how they responded to me. I’m going to name names because I think you should know how some businesses handle customer service. In a couple of cases I believe my reaction was justified and in other cases, I may have overreacted. I tend to judge myself harshly.

Tip #2 — You have to be your own advocate.

Being quiet and meek is not the way to go when you’re either on a schedule or you have been treated poorly. Many airlines or countries today have rules about delays and compensation. The airlines are responsible for providing “passenger rights” either in writing or on-line. It is well worth your time and energy to become familiar with these.

 

Prior to setting out for my long journey, I decided that I would not blog about the cities I visited — sometimes it’s more fun to just experience a vacation and keep the memories to yourself. I’m going to stick to this decision, however, there were some highlights that warrant mentioning. I also captured some moments on camera that I am pleased to share.

Tip #3 — When you travel by plane or train, always have your confirmation/reservation numbers handy. The same is sometimes true for hotel reservations.

If you need to rebook, revise, reschedule, or reference your booking, it’s a whole lot easier when you have this number handy.

 

My journey began in Lisbon with a text from British Airways sometime in the wee hours of the morning. I usually fly in and out of Lisbon because it is cheaper than flying from Faro; 3.5 hours away by train. The BA text let me know that I might have flight delays due to the French air traffic control strike. I was unaware of this strike because my news is all Trump, all the time.  Sleep was impossible after reading the message and so I decided to be proactive and call the airline. I was able to connect with a customer service representative fairly quickly due to the hour of the morning. I explained that I would like to be rerouted in order to avoid flying over France — it was after all east of Lisbon and I was headed west to Baltimore. The very cordial representative explained that she had limited options for me. She told me that the best she could do would be to put me on a later flight from London’s Gatwick airport. It would provide a cushion in case I missed my connection to Baltimore. She was fairly certain that I was not going to make the connection. I would have booked the later flight, however, that flight would take me to Dulles airport in Washington, DC; a minimum of 80 minutes by car to Baltimore. She informed me that I would have more options working with an agent at the airport. I thought there might be a more direct option. In fact, I knew there was, but would I get it.

Since sleep was elusive, first because of the possible delay and second, because I had discovered I had brought the wrong computer charger and I was wondering how I was going to be away for over two weeks without use of my laptop. I packed up and went to the airport, arriving at about 7:15 a.m. A very kind British Airways agent informed me that the agent I needed to speak with would be at the counter at 8:25 a.m. I took a deep breath and waited. At about 8:20 a.m. the original agent walked over to me with good news. He said the delay to Gatwick had been reduced from two hours to 45 minutes and that I should have no problem making my connection. He said that I would be landing in terminal 3 and I need to go to terminal 5, but I “should” have enough time. Minutes later the check-in desk opened and I handed a different agent my passport. She called her supervisor over and told her supervisor that she was concerned that I might miss my connection because I was landing at terminal 3, not 5, where my connection would be.

The supervisor said, “No, you will be landing at terminal 3 and your connection will be at terminal 3.”

I replied, “Are you sure because your agent (I pointed to him) told me my connection would be at terminal 5.”

She said, “He doesn’t know.”

I walked away confident that even with a delay, I would make my connection. You know what I’m going to tell you next, don’t you? The pilot came on the loudspeaker and greeted us warmly. He said that he was glad that we had received an opening to depart and that we would be leaving soon. An hour later he greeted us again, telling us that he was cleared and then uncleared, three times. I was concerned at this point, however, I chose to remain calm, knowing that being anxious wouldn’t get me there faster. The flight finally took off about an hour and 15 minutes after it was scheduled to leave. When the pilot spoke to us again, he told us that we were landing in terminal 3 (by this time I had learned that my connecting flight would be at terminal 5). The flight attendant calmed me and said that I needed an hour to make the connection and although it would be tight, if I was fast, I’d make my flight. For the next hour I took about a hundred deep breaths. Just before the plane landing the flight attendant came over to speak to me, informing me that the pilot had contacted the connection flight’s pilot and that the Baltimore bound pilot would wait for me. I was impressed with how I was being treated and sat back and relaxed. Planes that were landing in London were backed up and we were an additional 20 minutes late landing. At this point I had exactly one hour to make my flight. I hustled, followed the purple signs to “connecting flights,” and made it to terminal 5 in 30 minutes.

When I got to terminal 5 I had to use my ticket to gain entrance to the terminal’s check in area. I attempted to gain entry and was denied. The readout said that I needed to see an agent. Two minutes later I was speaking with a British Airways agent and I explained what just happened. She informed that I was re-booked on the Dulles flight. I pleaded with her to allow me to try to make it to the gate. No can do, there are rules you know. She told me that I needed at least 35 minutes at that point to make the flight and that I only had 30 minutes. I put on my best “you cannot do this to me face” and told her that I had to get to Baltimore in time for dinner. She handed me a meal voucher and apologized.

Curious to see whether or not I would have made it to the gate for the flight I was originally booked on, I headed that way. You guessed it, I made it to the gate with time to spare. I didn’t even approach the desk knowing that my luggage was on the plane going to Dulles. The gate was open for at least another 20 minutes. One more reason to do carry-on if you can. I’m not sure they would have reticketed me anyway.

I proceeded to head toward my new gate. I wanted to drink alcohol, but I thought it might prevent me from getting some much needed rest on the flight. The departure time was “on time” and so I waited at the gate. Just when they were about to board the computers went down and they were forced to board manually; more delays.

I landed in Dulles three hours later than I would have landed in Baltimore. The passport line was over an hour long and I knew a car was waiting for me on the other side — dollar signs flashing before my eyes, I was beyond exhausted. My friend Adam had said he’d pick me up, but he wisely sent a car instead; he had three days of his daughter Emma’s Bat Mitzvah festivities ahead of him.  I stupidly totalled the hours I had spent getting to Baltimore and it was just under 24 hours. I cursed the French, British Airways and my anal retentive personality. I walked into the arrival area searching for my name on a big card. The area was swarming with people waiting for their loved ones and there were many men holding up cards with last names on them . . . none of them mine. I was about to contact the car service, but decided if I didn’t pee first, I would wet my pants. Standing by the bathroom was a massive human with my name across his tiny iphone — I should add that my name was spelled correctly for a change.

I said, “Hi, I’m the guy you’re waiting for.”

His reply, “I’m Nick, can you wait right here while I go pee. I’ve been standing here a long time.”

Of course I let him go first. You know when you’re weary and angry and blurry eyed and you just want to go to bed; decisions are never easy — we could have peed at the same time. The 90 minute trip to Baltimore is just a blur. It was 4:00 a.m. back home and I couldn’t keep my eyes open in the car.

We arrived at the hotel and I asked Nick if I was supposed to tip him. He smiled and said it was all included. I didn’t want to think about what “all” meant. I dragged my bag and backpack to the hotel door and the door was locked. I looked for another entrance and that one was locked as well. I stood in the cold — a lot colder than what I am used to — and started thinking about how I might contact the hotel desk. I had no phone service in the States and I didn’t know if I’d find an internet supplier out on the street. Defeated and at a loss for solutions, I was about to sit on the curb when a gentlemen opened the doors and invited me in. They could have stuck me in a closet or office and I would not have noticed. Fortunately, it was Hotel Revival (a Hyatt property) and the room was very nice.

The next day I wrote to British Airways needing to share my story. It was a two paragraph complaint and I included every reservation number, flight number, times, details, the size of my underwear; hoping for some compassion. The reply was laughable, but expected. “You’re flight delay was due a problem with the handicap ramp.”  What? I wrote back and asked if they had even bothered to read my email. The second reply was a bit more thorough, basically informing me of time restrictions and airport travel time, yada, yada, yada. I wrote a third email and finally got somewhere. Even though “it was beyond our control” they were willing to reimburse me for the car service to Baltimore. I did not know that an airline can redirect you up to, I believe, two hours from your destination airport without being responsible for getting you to your original destination.

I got the receipt for the car service from Adam and I discovered why Nick did not expect a tip:  $211 for my ride to Baltimore. The receipt has been submitted and a reimbursement is in the works . . . pending any unforeseen delays.

None of this was made up. Well maybe the underwear comment.

Tip #4 — Unless you want the added expense of a rental car or lots of taxis/Ubers, choose a hotel in the centre of town. If you can avoid a main street or bar/restaurant street, you’ll have a quieter night.

Walking around a city or town is the best way to get to know the landscape. I use Hotels.com and they do a good job of sharing which sights they are close to and how far they are away from the airport and other forms of transportation.

Tip #5 — It seems as if delays are inevitable these days. If you are checking your bags, make sure you have a carry-on bag which will have your necessities:  water, snack, phone charger, laptop charger, lip balm, travel itinerary, passport, make-up, reading glasses, a good book, a small pillow (there are some nice inflatable pillows on the market), etc.

Purchasing some of these items can be expensive (an Apple laptop charger can cost you up to $80). The more you have at the ready, the more comfortable you’ll be.

 

Baltimore was my first stop. Emma’s Bat Mitzvah, good eating, time with friends and family, two very nice hotels, a bit of gambling, and my delay a distant memory; all made for a very pleasant first five days in the States.

Next week:  London, Bath, Paris and Bordeaux. Stories to share from the same holiday.

 

Sharing:

I am not opposed to sharing recommendations for hotels, Airbnbs, airlines, restaurants; however, I prefer you send me a message with any specific requests. I did not keep copious notes this time, but I’m happy to rely on memory and an internet search or two. As always, I must mention that these are only recommendations and my needs may differ from yours.

My Head Still Hurts

 

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In my sister AnnMarie’s Port St. Lucy home, April 2019. Kat in the middle and AnnMarie on the right.

Image may contain: 2 people, including Christopher Papagni, people sitting and indoor

This is my older sister Kat (short for Kathy, which she doesn’t like to be called). I love writing or calling her ‘my older sister.’ No matter how old we get, Kat will be my older sister. I know when she reads this she’ll say, “You fucker.” I’m going to tell you a story about Kat and me. What I am going to tell you took place 54 years ago, so I can’t swear by some of the details. What I can promise is that it happened and for some reason unbeknownst to me, the incident has come back into my consciousness dozens of times since.

 

A Hard Hit on the Head

I was not a well-behaved child.  Two of my older sisters, AnnMarie seven years older and Kat, six years, pretty much took care of me throughout my youth. My sister Marguerite is older, but she did not live with us; her presence in my life has been significant as she is my Godmother and we share the same father. When I was a small child, my mother didn’t have the time or patience to be a mom. AnnMarie was stern and Kat was happy-go-lucky. They took turns babysitting for me and my younger siblings. I had a lot of energy and I rebelled against authority, I still do — rebel against authority. My sisters knew how to handle me. AnnMarie only had to look at me a certain way and Kat would sweet talk and bribe me. They never had to play good cop, bad cop; as rambunctious as I was, I respected them. I also knew at an early age, that it wasn’t fair that I was dumped in their laps.

Early on, I was their play toy. They diapered me, dressed me up, paraded me around in a baby carriage, and smooched me until I screamed for them to stop.

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I was two years old and it’s a 58 year old photo.

I got older and a bit harder to handle. This particular memory is vivid and somewhat painful and bittersweet. I was about six years old and it was Kat’s turn to babysit. I must have been wired-up and not listening very well because I remember my sister was not her usual cheerful self — keep in mind that if I was six, Kat was 12. Considering all that she was responsible for, a fairly mature 12 year old I’d say. I recall an ultimatum:

Probably something like, “Stop horsing around or I’ll go get AnnMarie.”

I continued to act out and Kat grabbed a glass platter (Kat says it may have been plastic, but I honestly believe it was glass) and broke it over my head. The platter broke into many pieces and I stumbled, a bit stunned, and a little dizzy. Kat must have regretted doing what she did, but I didn’t notice any remorse at the time.

She said, “That shut you up.”

Admittedly it did, but only for a minute and then I got up and said something I have regretted ever since.

“I hope you die in your sleep tonight.” Or something like that.

She told me to go to bed and to close my bedroom door. I’m going to say it was about 6:00 p.m. We were normally sent to bed at about 7:00 p.m.; which I still think was too early. I got under the covers and wept; I wept for a long time. Kat didn’t come in to check on me. I’m sure it was one of those tough love moments I remember so well.

The guilt I felt about what I’d said to my sister tormented me. What if she’d died in the middle of the night? I couldn’t imagine what that would have been like. I actually believed that I had the power to make her die just by saying the words out loud. I knew that the only way to prevent her death would be to apologize to her.

Sometime later that night, I left my bed to see if she was breathing. I tiptoed into her bedroom and saw that she was. Relieved, I shook her shoulder and whispered her name. At that time it was okay to call her Kathy.

“Kathy, I have to tell you something.”

She opened her eyes and said, “What’s up Chris?”

“I’m sorry I told you that I hoped you would die. I love you.”

Tears streamed down my cheeks as I imagined what could have happened had I not gotten to her in time. My sister smiled and lifted the covers, motioning me to climb into bed. I sniffled and wiped the snot from my face with my pajama sleeve and crawled under her blanket. I don’t recall ever sleeping with Kathy before or after, come to think of it.

She pulled me close and said, “I love you too, now go to sleep.”

It was at that moment that I learned about forgiveness and the importance of my words. I don’t believe I have ever uttered anything that hateful again in my 60 years of living. Of course I have been angry and I have said things I regret, but I have never wished death on anyone — well maybe one person, but since millions feel the same way, it doesn’t count. I feel like I was given a pass that night. Either somebody wasn’t listening or some angel from above gave me a reprieve — whatever it was, my sister was spared and I am forever grateful.

As time progressed, Kat was my confidant. When I was bullied at school, it was my sister I cried to; when I thought something bad was happening inside my body, it was Kat whom I told; and when I was ready to tell someone that I was gay, Kat was the first person I shared it with. On Kat’s wedding day, there were three men who could have given her away (her father and two step-fathers), but it was I she asked to escort her down the aisle. When my sister’s only child had a full body cast removed when she was two years old, it was me my sister wanted by her and my niece’s side, at hospital. When my sister was arrested for carrying a gun without a permit, I was her one call from the police station. In my late teens I left home and needed a place to live and my sister took me in; I should also note that I had my Great Dane, Dana with me. I never told my sister that I was in a very bad place back then and that her love and generosity saved my life. She probably knew.

Like most close relationships, our has had its ups and downs. Blame and who has been right or wrong is not important. What matters is that we have a bond that comes from a life of sharing pain and joy. That bond should never be broken or taken for granted.

I have a special bond with each of my surviving siblings. I am closer to some than others; I imagine this is natural. Personalities, daily life, history, all play a part in the symbiosis of our relationships; however, what binds us is love and moments we have shared and will continue to share.

Kat never broke another plate over my head or put a hand on me after that incident. I can’t speak for my sister, but it’s my guess that we both learned a life lesson that day. We are fragile creatures and our time here is limited. I’m at a place in my life where I only want to celebrate our love.

AnnMarie, the stern one, a few years ago. My sister’s strength and steadiness is and always will be an inspiration to me. 

 

 

Nourishing the Mind & Body and How Faith Factors In

 

 

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

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

 

Mind

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

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

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

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

— Maya Angelou

 

Body

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Spirit

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

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

— Alex Trebek

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

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

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

 

Balance

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

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

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

What in the World?

How does one reconcile, in one’s mind, the hate and corruption one sees throughout the world?

The sad answer is that it’s almost impossible to make it right and all you can do is your best.

 

This past week was a difficult one for me. I wonder if I should even write while I’m feeling so much rage. I don’t consider myself any more virtuous or high minded than anyone else, but I do have a moral compass and it is definitely searching for my true north. I am aware that many people are sick and tired of hearing about corruption and don’t want anything to do with partisan politics. That’s not a good reason for me to shut-up about it. World leaders everywhere are making decisions that affect the lives of many in a truly destructive way. I’m not so naive to think that it is any better or worse than it has ever been, nonetheless, I am discouraged by what I see and hear.

Leaders have been corrupt for centuries; most likely since the very beginning. What I find difficult to swallow, is the absence of concern from the people who are affected by their decisions. We work hard, we take care of one another, and we attempt to create a future for ourselves and our families. However, what we are seeing more and more, is greed and dishonesty among the politicians we put our trust in.

 

What I see

  • I think that as long as these bad actors continue to get elected, apparently by whatever means it takes, this virus will grow bigger and will cause greater harm to the world.
  • Local grassroots leaders may also be corrupt, however, keeping a watchful eye on these politicians is somewhat easier when you can look them in the eye and hold them accountable.
  • We often use the “holidays” as an opportunity to tuck these issues away while we celebrate and escape the news. Taking a break from harsh reality is a good thing, however, politicians count on times like this, hoping we might forget our grievances. Our current administration uses news cycles to deflect from big issues, creating new fires and attempting to bury important stories.
  • The media has always manipulated the truth, spun lies, distorted facts, etc., but lately it seems more like a competition for who can do be better at this game.
  •  I recently decided to listen to those for whom I care a great deal, to hear their point of view and try to better understand their perspective. Their truth is just that and I find it difficult to argue with someone who firmly believes his or her truth.
  • When you feel marginalized, patronized, ignored, and lied to, it’s easy to understand why you might look to a different source for salvation.
  • There have been many studies done (WSJ piece) on the psychological toll the current environment is taking on our lives. The inability to do anything about the chaos and lies, leaves us feeling hopeless and lost (US News piece). Depression, a lack of sleep, anger, hopelessness; it all eventually catches up with you.
  • People have justifiably stopped watching the news or listening to the media. The average person doesn’t know what to believe anymore, and therefore, chooses not to believe anything.

Here is when you add what you see. This is the part that is most interesting. We all see something different because we have different perspectives and histories. Thinking your own perspective is the correct one, is dangerous. It will leave you feeling angry and frustrated. I feel this way almost every day and I have to remind myself to take a step back and breathe.

 

Where It’s All Going

  • Hate to say it, but I think it’s going to get worse before it gets better. The greedy, lying, SOBs, have far too much to lose and they won’t stop until they get want they want; often at our expense.
  • Authoritarian power mongers are winning elections in many countries; their collective power and clout is helping to put them in office and keep them there. Then of course there are the dictators who gain power by other means. I don’t necessarily see these men as more dangerous than those who are elected.
  • Some leaders use fear, lies and deceit, to get elected and stay in office. It appears that facts and truth is not enough to disprove their rhetoric.
  • There are movements all over the world to stop these hacks. There are also people and organizations putting millions of dollars into the hands of smart leaders who can, at the very least, slow down corruption.
  • Young people, in greater numbers, seem to be joining the conversation lately and that’s a good thing.
  • Sometimes we take three steps forward and six steps back.
  • I truly hate feeling this way, because it’s already pretty dire, but I believe the worst is coming. I don’t believe we are at our breaking point just yet. I don’t think we are capable of wrapping our heads around just how bad it can get. Our optimism can blind us.
  • I think climate change will be more catastrophic than we ever imagined. The rain forests, our oceans, oxygen levels, fossil fuels, dwindling natural resources, garbage, plastics, etc. — way too complicated for the average person to comprehend. We are at a point in mankind’s development where facing the reality of the damage we are causing to our fragile planet, is imperative. Denying, defraying, and hiding the truth, will only hasten our demise. I’m not so much worried for myself, but for our children and their children. Closing our eyes and ears is not the answer; the next generation will pay the price. In the past, the cost was not quite so clear. The world population is higher than it’s ever been and getting bigger.
  • Optimism is a good thing, but using it as a way to deny reality, is dangerous. It is human to be hopeful. It is human to see the good in people. It is human to protect and preserve one’s self, and it it also human to repeat history. We need to wake-up and consider the future.

Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday. Being in Portugal, where they naturally do not celebrate Thanksgiving, was not a good thing for me. Next year I need to either be with friends and family or create a Thanksgiving feast in Portugal. I find myself going down a rabbit hole of negativity and deep concern.

 

Sparing You and Me Both

I’m going to stop here and state, that I am aware that what I am writing about is fairly negative and seemingly fatalistic. I am normally upbeat, positive and hopeful. I hate that I don’t feel that way lately. I’m not depressed, unhealthy or lonely. I’m sensing a great deal of concern from average people who feel that their hands are tied behind their backs. So the big question is, what can you do to change the world so that it’s a better place for our children? I’m in awe of Jane Fonda who fights for all of us each day. At 82 years old, it would be easy for her to enjoy her wealth and abundance. She and others like her (i.e., Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter) inspire me and move me to action.

A friend of mine has being doing his part to lift the spirits of those around him by posting positive quotes on his Facebook page. I came across this one just the other day:

“The biggest obstacle to changing the world is the believe that we can’t.”

— Marianne Williamson

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Photo by Rebecca Zaal on Pexels.com

If it Were My Last 24 Hours on Earth

“No one here gets out alive.”

— Jim Morrison

 

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Not to worry, not checking out anytime soon, just reminding myself how fragile life can be. The last thing I want to do is hurt anyone; therefore, I think it’s best for me to respond in the abstract and not name names.

What if you knew that you were going to die and you had 24 hours or less left to live? Would you want to be surrounded by those you love? Would you run away and hide from everyone? Would you tell people you cared about? Would you share things you have been holding back? Would you look back at memories? Would you end your life sooner in order to control the situation?

These are the kinds of questions I ask myself when considering just how finite life is.  And by the way, the questions come up occasionally, not every day. There are statistics that guide us when we consider our lifespan. There are formulas based on how long your parents lived. Then there are calculations based on lifestyle. Genetics sometimes come into play. However, an accident may make all of those theories insignificant and irrelevant.

I had a pretty bad accident a couple of years ago that made me question life, death and how I feel about both. Up until the accident, I was fairly certain that I would grow old and cranky. If I’m going to be honest, I have to say I’m well on my way.

I attended a dinner party a few days ago and raised my blog topic for this week. It’s interesting to hear what people have to say in a relaxed social setting. I don’t usually share my own thoughts until after I’ve heard from others. As with any difficult subject, some people prefer to avoid the matter altogether and this time was no different. One of the things I love about people is how very unique we all are. It’s for this reason that I try my best not to judge. Our prospective can be polar opposite based on things like upbringing, religious beliefs, the truth we hold on to, and so forth. I would be untruthful if I didn’t admit to feeling strongly about my own beliefs; the power of personal conviction is essential for many reasons. Keeping that in mind, I don’t claim to be right, but I do think that what I am espousing is true for me; sometimes, that’s all that truly matters.

I posed the question to a small group of people sitting at the table after lunch:

If you knew you had 24 hours or less to live, what would you do? 

The answers I got were interesting and understandable:

“I wouldn’t change anything; I’d want it to be a normal day.”

“I wouldn’t tell anyone because all they would do is cry and pity me.”

“I would be with a very small group of people I love very much.”

“I wouldn’t do very much because I would want time to slow down. When you do a lot of things, time speeds up.”

“I might consider ending my life sooner — when I decided it should end.”

“I would have a couple of conversations I have been avoiding.”

“Why, do you know something I don’t know?”

The thing is, do we truly know how we would behave until we are actually in a particular life altering situation? I could easily say I wouldn’t tell anyone that I was going to die, but in truth, if I knew it was the end and I became extremely emotional or scared, I might need to tell or want to tell someone.

What follows are some thoughts on why we live our lives as if there is no expiration date:

I love this poignant comic included in Brian Lee’s piece on living life as if we’re never going to die at Lifehack. Check out www.zenpencils.com.DALAI-LAMA-answers-a-question

We are complex creatures with hopes, fears, frailties and misgivings. Our highly developed brains allow us to tuck away thoughts and focus on things that make us feel good; I should note that some of us are better at this than others. We often behave as if our daily actions do not have consequences for the future. Vices and health related toxins are often imbibed or eaten without concern for longevity. It’s a curious human occurrence considering that most of us would like to grow old. So what drives us to recklessness? It’s as if there is a little switch in our brains that we choose to turn off when desire overpowers restraint.

It is no accident that the precise timing of our death is unknown. Imagine the chaos and emotional instability that would ensue. I think that animals have a better sense of death and what it means than we do and, therefore, have better dying coping skills. I’ve been with several dogs at the end of their lives and the sense of peace and acceptance I felt from these animals was both life affirming and beautiful. We live and we die and that is the true miracle of life.

As I consider complicated mechanisms for denial and delusion, it once again brings me to how I might deal with knowing when my own demise is just around the corner. Here are some thoughts that come to mind (not necessarily in order of importance):

  1. There is no doubt in my mind that I would want to truly enjoy the wonders of the earth. The sunrise and sunset continue to amaze me and I take both in as often as possible. The smell of flowers and the feel of earth between my fingers, gives me great pleasure. I can only imagine that knowing these wonders would no longer be accessible would heighten my desire to experience them.
  2. The people in my life who have shown me love and devotion would be on my mind at the end; I would hope that these cherished few would be nearby. I would want to let them know how much I love and appreciate them. I still do not know that I would share the inevitability of my passing. We all know that we should be showing our love and appreciation often, not waiting until we are sick or dying.
  3. I have loved food since I could smell my dad’s pizza in the oven when I was a wee toddler. My relationship with good food has never waivered and I hope I remain true to my passion until the day I die. I have been reading research about taste buds and how our sense of taste diminishes with age. I refuse to believe that this applies to me. My father and aunts and uncles on my father’s side, all enjoyed savory dishes well into their 80s. If I knew that my death was near, I would want to devour my favorite foods:  shellfish, pasta and cake and a nice red of course. I know that knowing it was almost over would probably have an effect on my appetite; however, knowing how I sometimes eat and drink to feel better, I imagine I’d be hungry and thirsty. A very expensive armagnac would be a must have.
  4. Being present and cherishing every moment of what life I have left, would likely be my mode of thinking and feeling. I have never feared death, therefore, I’m fairly certain i would be at peace with it.
  5. I would want to be comfortable; the right temperature, the right place, and the right people around me.
  6. I would probably want to be on a good dose of xanax.

I have had many people in my life pass:  my grandparents (three before I was even born), my parents, several siblings, close friends, teachers, co-workers and acquaintances. My mother’s brother died of a massive heart attack in his 50’s; how could I not consider the possibility of dying at anytime? Personally, I don’t find this morbid or sad.

Long ago I decided that if I had a fatal illness, I would travel (if I could) to a place where you could choose to die with dignity. If this were to happen, I would have an opportunity to decide how I would spend my final hours; all of this provides great comfort. I am not obsessed with dying, I am focused on living and making sure my quality of life is the best it can be.

The purpose of this blog is twofold. First, it is my hope that it will get you thinking about how you live your daily life; what are your priorities and do you consider and cherish the people and things that bring you the greatest happiness. Second, it is my belief that we as individuals have the power to change the course and direction of our lives. I felt stuck, misguided and unhappy in Maine. It wasn’t so much the place or the people, but an environment that was too comfortable and unchallenging. I moved to Europe in order to reboot, recharge, and start afresh. It’s not right for everyone, but it has taught me more about myself than I anticipated. Self-discovery and change can be as exciting as a new relationship; driving gleefully into the future with renewed hopes and dreams. Fear is what usually holds us back. Fear of the unknown, fear of failure, fear of death. Put all of your fears aside and go for it. The unknown can be a wonderful and rewarding future. Focus on the image of a door opening to a paradise you never imagined existed; more often than not, we have the ability to manifest our dreams. I choose to manifest those dreams while I am still alive.

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Time & Patience Blog Updated

I’m spending this week in Eindhoven and Den Bosch, Holland and next week I’ll be writing a piece on what I experienced. I thought it might be interesting to update a blog I published shortly after arriving in Faro. I’ll note my changes or updates in red.

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The view from the Hotel Faro, my favorite watering hole — I’ve discovered that I prefer the rooftop bar at the Eva Hotel at the marina. It’s more casual and drinks are less expensive. You also get a great view of the marina.

 

Whoever said, “Don’t sweat the small stuff,” did not live in Portugal. I knew some things would be different and in fact, I looked forward to change. In truth, I haven’t even been here three weeks and I hesitate to start complaining, but heck, it’s my nature to piss and moan so why wait. I do complain quite a bit; mostly about:  smokers, too much cologne on men, the long lines everywhere, the absence of rain, too much paper, and add-on fees and charges. Sometimes you get charged extra for ketchup in a restaurant.

I purposely decided not to purchase a vehicle for several reasons:  1) I wanted to reduce my carbon footprint, 2) I was hoping I’d get more exercise by walking, and finally, 3) I figured I could save a little money (more in the bank for food). I’ve spent quite a bit of time studying the Faro bus schedule. It’s complicated, convoluted and I have no idea where buses end up in the city. There are at least 10 different bus lines very close to my building, but I can’t figure out how to get from A to B. So I decided to go to the mall Saturday. The schedule clearly said that the number 5 goes to Forum every 30 minutes on Saturday. I took my time and meandered over to the bus stop; there I sat for over an hour. You guessed it, no bus. The good news is that Uber is cheap and a car arrived in minutes to whisk me off to the mall. I still do not have a vehicle and I do not plan on getting one anytime soon. I have sort of figured out the bus system, but every so often I wait for buses that do not arrive. The problem is twofold:  first, there are many different schedules and many different routes, and second, the schedules change depending on the time of year — old schedules remain on-line and new schedules cannot be located. I try to go with the flow and I always carry a good book. Trains are much more reliable and they cost less and are more comfortable. If a guy is slathered in cheap cologne sits near me, I can usually get away from him on the train (it’s never woman by the way.)

Intervalo is intermission in Portuguese and if you love film, be prepared. I recall now that this same thing did happen to me in Spain a number of years ago, but frankly, I wasn’t expecting it and I was startled. I was watching a dumb American film at the mall last week and the film stopped mid-scene for an “interval.” Although it is clearly a minor issue, I have several problems with it:

  1. If you’re going to have an intermission, why do it in the middle of a scene?
  2. Part of the excitement of a film is anticipating what is coming next and I’d rather not have interruptions. Holding it in because the film is that good, is a good thing. It’s two hours and easy to prepare for, no?
  3. Because I had time to kill, I felt compelled to purchase a snack and although candy at the movies is a lot less expensive in Portugal (1.25 Euros or $1.55 for a pack of M & Ms), I don’t need the calories.
  4. I’d rather not be thinking, “I like the way we do it in the States better.”

I guess I needed the comfort of an American film as part of my adjustment to a new home abroad. It worked, I felt better, and I don’t see it happening again anytime soon.

In truth, I have come to appreciate the break during the film. It’s an opportunity to use the restroom and stretch. My sister was here this week and we went to see Joker. When the film stopped and the theater lights came on, I told her what it was. We laughed about it for hours. Kathy said, “They had an intermission at the movies when we were kids.” Not sure why they discontinued this practice in the States; I’m sure it had something to do with cost.

The good people of Portugal do not pick up their dog’s poop! I’m serious, I have to look down everywhere I go. After living in Maine where you rarely see poop on the ground, this has been difficult to deal with. Poop bags are on every other lamp-post and they still don’t pick it up. What makes this insane is that the Portuguese recycle everything. There is a bin for just about every kind of trash and people are psychotic about sorting it, but they leave the dog shit right there on the sidewalk. If it kills me I’m going to be THAT guy that calls out every pet owner in Faro who doesn’t pick up their dog’s poop. I recently scolded a young man who just left his dog’s poop on a beautiful grassy area in front of my building. He got really angry and basically told me to fuck-off. He said something about there being street cleaning people who would pick it up. I see him every so often and sneer at him. My only hope is that he steps in a big pile of shit while he’s out on a date with a girl he’s trying to impress. I have a difficult time understanding why anyone would choose to leave the shit on the sidewalk. If this starts keeping me up at night I’ll have to move to the country where there are no dog walkers — or Vilamoura (nearby) where the police will fine you; perhaps they fine people in Faro, I’m not sure.

Gyms don’t open until 9:00 a.m. and they’re closed on weekends; now how silly is that? People here do not workout before work. Back home, gyms were full by 6:00 a.m., and how can they be closed on weekends? Isn’t that when you catch up on workouts you may have missed during the week? Perhaps it’s when you extend your workout a bit? I’m a big believer is providing employees a good quality of life, but as far as I’m concerned, if choose to be employed in a gym, you should expect to work weekends; sort of like restaurants and grocery stores. Good news:  I joined a new gym that opens at 7:00 a.m. everyday except Sunday. I paid the same annual fee, but alas, this gym has a lot of great equipment and they’re open on holidays. I have to bring my own soap, but it’s a small price to pay. The receptionist is a sweetheart and she’s helping me with my bad Portuguese. If it wasn’t for the gym I’d weigh 500 pounds — Portuguese pastries are really good.

Shocked, stunned, bewildered, and frustrated, that I have not received a single piece of Portuguese mail in my mailbox. I’m getting packages from Amazon and even a couple of forwarded pieces of mail from the U.S.; however, no Portuguese mail. Perhaps the post office knows I can’t read the mail anyway. My bank here will not allow me to change my U.S. address until I show them an official piece of mail with my new Portugal address. Considering I have owned my condo for over four months, it doesn’t seem likely to happen anytime soon. I never thought I’d say this, but I miss my AARP junk mail. And by the way, I don’t have a U.S. address Mr. Banker.

So what I am about to share is very embarrassing:  my attorney contacted me and said, “Have you checked your mailbox?”

I was extremely insulted and fired back, “Yes I checked my mailbox.”

I was shown my mailbox on move-in day and used my key and the mailbox opened. I thought, “Good the key works,” and I have been checking the mailbox everyday since; as I shared earlier, no mail. Last night I met the head of the condo association in the lobby.

She said, “I  will put all this in your mailbox,” and looked to her right. I thought that was odd because my mailbox was on the left. Well, today I went to the mailbox she sort of turned to and alas, it was my mailbox. I have been checking the wrong mailbox for three weeks. How my key worked on another person’s mailbox, I haven’t a clue. Further, how is it that my neighbor has not gotten any mail? So now you know what it might be like living overseas. News flash:  the Portuguese do not use the postal system for marketing as much as we do in the States, so I get very little junk mail. There is no mail on Saturdays and the mail person does not have a key to my building; hence, if no one buzzes her in, our mail is not delivered. I love the mail person; she’s funny and when she rings my bell to be let in, she says, “I have a letter for you (in broken English) or bom dia.” There is no other way to deal with this except to laugh. 

My quest to find San Marzano tomatoes has begun. I started cooking with these delicious Italian canned tomatoes over 25 years ago after taking a cooking class with Grace Balducci in New York City. They’ve been readily available to me throughout the years — that is until I moved to Portugal. It doesn’t make sense being that I am so much closer to Italy than I have ever been. I’m sure it has something to do with Italian migration to the United States and other countries. I know that I am fussy about ingredients, but if I have to take a train to Italy to find my tomatoes, then that’s what I’ll do. If you’re reading this and you know a place in or around Faro (75 kilometer radius) that sells these tomatoes, I’d be happy to end my search. Better yet, it’s a good excuse to travel to Italy soon. I have found fresh tomatoes in my French owned supermarket that are almost identical to San Marzano tomatoes. They are incredibly delicious and not terribly expensive, so I cook them down for a sauce. I have some canned whole tomatoes in my pantry that I have not yet opened, so stay tuned for the verdict. I know it’s crazy for me to spend so much time on this stuff, but I do. Spain is so close, I visit Seville on a regular basis and I have been known to carry back half a suitcase of groceries:  Bomba rice, liquid chicken stock (only cubes or powder in Faro). The point here is that if you really want something, you can find it somewhere.

There are no Walmart stores in Portugal, however, we do have Chinese discount stores. You can expect to find just about anything other than food (save for American candy) at these stores and they are everywhere — like Rite Aid in the U.S.. You have to be a discerning shopper, because no doubt, some products will fall apart before you take them out of your shopping bag. If I’m going to be honest, most products I have purchased at these stores are a great value. For example aluminum foil:  most of it is crap no matter where you buy it — the brand I always purchased in the States is not available here — our local grocery store has a decent size roll for a little over four euros. Four euros is a lot of cash for foil and that’s why a one euro roll of foil at the Chinese dime store works for me. I double it up and still save money. And this is how I spend my time. I buy a lot of home supplies at the Chinese bargain shops, but I have learned to buy some products elsewhere (e.g., batteries, dish soap, umbrellas).

Martinis are hands down my favorite cocktail. It’s the combination of the amount of alcohol, the three olive garnish (considered a snack), and the classic martini glass it’s served in. I’ve been ordering martinis since it was legal for me to imbibe. Well, it’s a bit of a problem in my new home country. The Portuguese drink an aperitif bottled by Martini, Martini is a brand of Italian vermouth, named after the Martini & Rossi Distilleria Nazionale di Spirito di Vino, in Turin.  I ordered a Martini straight up on two occasions and I was served this vermouth chilled — not what I wanted. I have found a couple of places that serve it just the way I like it; however, I’m still looking for a bar with the glassware I prefer. These are the things in life that truly matter and I am not above bringing my own glass to a bar. Alas, there are a few places in the Algarve that both have vermouth and the correct martini glasses; however, I have to say I have frustrated many a bartender in Faro; these folks do not appreciate one of our favorite cocktails. I now have vermouth at home and my martini glasses were released from Customs — you think it’s easy don’t you?

 

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Pictured: the perfect martini!

Finally, life in Portugal has far exceeded all of my expectations. I will probably mention this often, but the people are welcoming and wonderful, the weather would be hard to beat and the food is in some ways, almost too good. I love knowing the differences one experiences when living somewhere abroad; hence my reason for sharing. Update:  I love Faro even more today than when I wrote this blog. I love how easy it is to navigate the city, I love how close I am to the airport and how easy and inexpensive it is to fly direct to so many other European countries and cities; I love how helpful the Portuguese people are; I love how far my money goes; I love that I’m getting a dog soon and so many people here will help make it happen; I love how fair most things are here; I love that Portugal practices social democracy and that most people like it; I love my phone, cable, wifi company; I love that I now possess a Portuguese drivers license; I like my neighbors; I love the food and the what is happening with the food scene; I love how cheap and good Portuguese wine is; and I love that I love that I made the right decision to come here. What I don’t like seems mostly petty and ridiculous. I want to just embrace it all.

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The shrimp here are really THAT BIG

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Photos:

  1. Sitting on the roof deck of Hotel Faro in the marina (Old Town). It has become my favorite watering hole.
  2.  The view from the bus stop outside my apartment — Avenida 5 de Outubro. Strangely there is a good deal of exotic vegetation on this avenue, but you don’t see any of it in this photo. Palm trees, succulents, etc.
  3. The back of a ceramic tile shop in Olhao. I met the ceramic artist after purchasing a tile wall piece I’m excited to have plastered to one of my walls. I’ll post a photo when it’s done.
  4. Shrimp and octopus right out of the Algarve Atlantic (click for Chefe Branco). Dinner with Brenda Athanus; I need to go back soon
  5. Caprese salad at L’Osteria, an Italian restaurant way too close to home.
  6. The foliage outside my building that I referred to in #2.

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

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Doing the Right Thing

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I’m not sure when it was that I started feeling the pressure of doing the right thing. I do know two things:

  1. I spend way too much time thinking about this. The right thing for me or for others; I think about both.
  2. When I do the so called “right thing,” I sometimes spend time wondering if the right thing was the best thing.

Breaking down the issue, I think I can safely assume that #1 will never go away. There comes a time when you just have to accept who you are and what you can or cannot change. I live with a lot of guilt:  gay guilt because I was closeted for the first 28 years of my life and I lied to a lot of people; Catholic guilt, having been raised Catholic and forced to spend too much time with authorities from the church; sibling guilt, being in the middle of 10 whole, half and step siblings; and DNA guilt — I am certain that I got the guilt gene, perhaps more than one.

When you put it into words, no wonder you find it overwhelming. Fortunately, I have found a way to tuck most of it away in little boxes that I can set aside and keep closed.

 

Gay Guilt

If you truly believe that people no longer care if you’re gay or straight or transgender or how you define your sexuality, do not read any further or even better, read with an open mind [There are actually people who have said to me, “Things are different now, nobody cares anymore. Right.]:

I count myself as one of the lucky ones because I came out at 28. I know gay men well into their seventies who are still closeted. I cannot imagine that kind of pain. So when I talk about doing the “right thing,” I mean what is right for you, not what others think is right for you.

I continue to feel that people look at me differently because I am gay. I know that I have family members who have very little to do with me because of my sexuality. Anyone who says they don’t care is lying to themselves and others. Yes it makes me stronger and more determined to be my true self, but it can also sometimes make you feel as if you’re living on an island. The messages on television and magazines have changed, however, we continue to live in a heterosexual world and I cannot imagine that changing anytime soon. Navigating that world can be exhausting and troublesome.

What does doing the right thing look like for you straight or closeted folks?

  1. Show some interest, ask questions.
  2. Ask to be a part of someone else’s world. My brother asked me to take him to a gay bar about 10 years ago and I was pleased and excited to show him a part of my life.
  3. Read articles and books on the subject matter.
  4. Be an ally whenever possible, it truly matters. It’s the reason we have come so far.
  5. Just be with someone who needs you, often that’s all they need.

 

Catholic Guilt

If you were raised catholic (I cannot speak for other  religions) there were clear messages about the sins of the world. I went to Catholic Catechism and was basically taught that it wasn’t evil to think about someone of the same sex sexually; however, it was a sin to act on those thoughts — how’s that for a scary and confusing message. Too many mortal sins to worry about when you’re Catholic. A clear way to push someone into swearing off (sorry) one’s religion.

 

Sibling Guilt

I have a number of half brothers and sisters and I have a step brother. I have a good deal of guilt about being a brother and not having a closer relationship with several of my siblings. We tend to want to spend time with people we connect with and we don’t always connect with our siblings. In some cases, it might be their spouses or partners that are problematic. Nobody wants to be put in the middle, therefore, I personally do not confront siblings about their problematic partners. Then there are partners that are more pleasant to be with than your siblings, best to stay away from that one. It’s difficult not to feel alienated and judged when you receive feedback about something said about you by a family member. The right thing for me is usually distance; stay clear of conflict, it’s painful and impossible to mitigate. Is this the right thing to do or is it the smart path? I admit there are times that I choose the easy way out.

 

Baby I was Born This Way

This is not just about sexuality . . . telling someone that you were born this way is often an excuse for explaining away a personality flaw. For example, I have a relative who is a compulsive gambler. He claims that he was born with a gene that makes it impossible for him to stay away from gambling. I can’t argue whether or not there is such a gene, however, I do know that when someone has a gambling problem, there is a way to get help and overcome the addiction. In some cases you have a choice about whether or not you care to address the problem. I am sympathetic about addiction (I have my own), but I also know that if you care about yourself and the people around you, you can seek help. For me, admitting that you need help and getting help can be the definition of doing the right thing.

 

Miscellaneous Guilt

The guilt one feels which cannot be named. This kind of guilt causes self-doubt, anger, pain, loss, poor decision-making, unhappiness, regret, and so on. You have to ask yourself difficult questions about why you feel guilty. Guilt is often an indication of a problem you may be having around a moral dilemma; did I do something wrong? How do I make it right? If you are the kind of person who lives life without guilt, well then, you needn’t concern yourself with it’s symptoms. Unfortunately, I am not one of those people.

 

What is the Right Thing?

The “right thing” is different for each of us. We each have our own moral compass, our own values, and our own personality. Most of us know the difference between right and wrong; that might lead one to believe that doing the right thing would be easy, but we know it’s not always easy. When making big decisions, consequences are usually at play. Dealing with those consequences, is usually a better alternative than doing something that might not be right, which usually comes back to bite you in the ass.

 

A short story:

Many of us can recall a situation at work where the environment became toxic and difficult to endure; this has been a lifelong issue for me. For reasons too complicated to outline here, I tend to link employment with self-esteem; specifically personal failure. Rather than admit the time had come to walk away, I stayed and endured a great deal of emotional instability and pain. In several cases, I stayed for years. What this does to one’s physical and psychological well-being cannot be measured; however, the damage was greater than I care to admit. Had I cleared my conscience and walked away sooner, I might have saved myself from having several surgeries and the work of repairing a lost sense of self.

I am aware that doing that repair work is part of life and growth; however, I also believe that we often do damage that is beyond repair (i.e, divorce, in my case). Another life can be greatly impacted by your deceit.

What I have learned is valuable for me:  think about possible outcomes before making a big decision; think about how it might impact others; think about the worst case scenario; and think about what is right. Some people just go with their gut feelings. That may work sometimes, but I have found that my gut is not always right. I may be so wrapped up in the desired outcome, that I’m not thinking about the process. The way we go about achieving a goal is as important as winning. You might not be happy with yourself if you got to goal by hurting people or being dishonest — we don’t always know the truth about ourselves and we have to face that truth.

“You know you have made the right decision when there is peace in your heart.”

— Unknown

 

 

Thank you Linda Halasa (a good friend) for proofreading this week. I will be reblogging next week due to family visiting Portugal. The following week will coverage of Eindhoven, Netherlands.

Letting Go Can Be Difficult

It’s been a difficult week of reflection. I imagine some might say that every week in one’s life is difficult; however, I would argue that there are times in one’s life when thoughts are more negative, more self-critical, and harder to sort out. Sometimes the yin & the yang seem out of balance and it has more to do with your brain doing a number on you than anything else. Rebooting only works some of the time. Sample thoughts like:  am I enough? What do I want for my future? What role am I playing in somehow making the world better for others? These are all normal thoughts for those who think and have a conscience. For me, at least at this point in my life, what I choose to let go of versus what I hang onto, is taking up more thinking time than usual.

 

 

I know that I write about “letting go” often. At different times in my life, letting go has been my biggest challenge. There are numerous reasons that this particular defense mechanism is important to me. When I have something weighing on my mind, it tends to be all consuming. I find it difficult to focus on other things in my life and it disrupts my sleep and interferes with my desire to be in the moment.

Getting older has been a gift in a way, in that maturity has helped me put many things into perspective. Things such as what is most important in life and why hanging on to things or people we cannot change, is destructive. When you have a fair amount of success “letting go” of a thing, an idea or a person, it helps you to see how freeing the process can be.

At one point in my life I was quite certain that I could never live outside of New York City. I could not imagine leaving the people and experiences I loved most. I forced myself to relocate by telling myself that I could always return to NYC if that’s what I truly wanted. Because most of us can adapt to almost anything, once I was in my new environment, I was able to see the benefits of being in that place. We tell ourselves that we’d miss certain “things” and that’s why we should remain. Then there is that other voice that tells you that if you leave, you are running away from something. In my case the theatre was keeping me in New York. I have always loved Broadway and could not imagine living far away from the Great White Way. In reality, even though I left New York almost seven years ago, I have returned to New York to attend the theatre every year. Now when I get tickets for a play, I am much more thoughtful about what I see and because I’m making a special trip, Broadway has become even more precious to me.

[I could go off here about how Disneyfied Broadway has become; however, I think it’s best that I spare you the rant. It only forces you to be more selective about what you choose to see. Most things can be traced back to the almighty dollar.]

Now that I am living much closer to London, I feel as if I get to enjoy a bit of both theatre meccas. The point is, when you care a great deal about something, it should not prevent you from letting go of something else; one does not preclude the other. There were of course factors tugging at me to remain in New York; I cannot same the same for Maine.

People are more complicated and that presents greater challenges. I met an older woman here in the Algarve who was originally from Ireland. She lives about 30 minutes west of Faro. She’s worldly, smart, loves food, and we got along fairly well. At one point in our friendship I realized that she was putting me down quite a bit. It was subtle, but she would often be condescending or passive aggressive. She a tiny woman, however, she’d raise her voice to speak over me or she’d tell me that something I felt or vocalized, was nonsense. I decided that I did not have to tolerate such behavior just because she’s older. I spent a good deal of time on a letter explaining how I felt. I thought a letter would be more effective because she could read it and consider my words (I know a lot of people prefer in-person conversations, but I believe that particular method is sometimes better as a second step). In the letter, I was careful not to generalize and I was clear and kind. I told her that I cared about our friendship and that I was hoping she would consider changing the way she sometimes treated me. One has to be very careful not to use absolutes in these situations. She responded fairly quickly, however, she did not acknowledge the contents of the letter. She basically told me that she was leaving town and that we would speak when she returned. I accepted her email as a positive sign. I thought this would give her time to consider my words. Obviously, it goes both ways and I was willing to listen and alter my behavior as well.

And then nothing happened.

It’s been eight months and I am not caving. This is the letting go moment when I say to myself is this woman worth my time and consideration? I tried and failed. There are times in your life when you just have to walk away and cut your losses — sound a little harsh? I think it’s a defense mechanism I have developed over time. The former me would get all worked up, make an angry phone call or send an angry email. I would beat myself up for saying anything at all in the first place. Then at some point I decided that if in fact I was going to be true to myself, I would have to come clean and say something. Keep in mind that when you are living in a foreign country, there are a limited number of people who speak your language and truly understand your culture. This sort of empathy is important for social interaction. I do enjoy having people around I can share experiences with.

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Journaling your feelings helps when putting situations and interactions into perspective. It provides the ability to step back and process.

One of the things that I have starting doing is to cultivate good relationships and show gratitude for those that are nurturing and positive. For example:  I have been in the process of getting a tooth implant for a year. There have been complications that are too boring and tedious to discuss here. Through it all, my dentist and her assistant, have been patient and supportive; I am beyond grateful that I found them. I’m a month away from getting the actual tooth, which I know will improve my life — chewing is essential. I have a visit today and I plan to bring flowers to both my dentist and her assistant. I’ve known them long enough now to know that they will not misinterpret this gesture. They will know that I am showing them my gratitude. Letting people know that they have had a positive impact on your life and that you do not take them for granted, is essential for building strong relationships. Replacing hurtful and toxic relationships with rich, fulfilling ones, helps in the letting go process. For some people it’s almost like getting over the loss of a pet, some people go right out and get another. It’s not something I personally can do, however, I do appreciate that for some people it is a way to let go.

By the way, I am not advocating for simply dismissing people in your life. Communicating, giving people a second chance, making sure you did not misinterpret someone’s behavior or words, and being aware of your own behavior, is very important. Letting go should happen when all else fails and the level of toxicity or pain is hard to bare or out of balance.

 

Practice, Practice, Practice

At times the thought of walking away from a relationship is much too difficult to even consider. It might be a parent, a sibling, your boss, a long-term friend; you get the point. In a case like this, you might have to let go slowly. Putting distance between yourself and another can be a good first step. If you normally speak to someone daily, you can try skipping a call here and there. If you go out every Friday night, you can suggest cutting back due to schedule conflicts. This is not dishonest. There is nothing wrong with protecting someone else’s feelings or being kind. Some people have no sense of self and others cannot see what is right in front of them.

 

What Happens When You Walk Away

A friend once told me that when you walk away from someone or something, the shadow (memory) of that person or thing is left behind. This will have a lasting impact. She used a wart as an example:  if you have a wart on your hand for 20 years and you have that wart removed, your memory of that wart will be so strong it will feel as if it’s still there. If you choose to let go of a relationship, you will occasionally think about that person; in this way, you’re not totally letting go, but is it possible to completely erase someone from your mind and would you want to. If you believe as I do, that all of our life experiences and relationships are necessary in order to grow, then embracing that they were a part of your history and therefore, a part of who you are at this moment. It’s better to be grateful that you one, have the ability to learn from a person or thing and move on, and two, that our past leads us to the present.

 

Grieving Loss

Sometimes letting go of a person might be the best recourse; however, be prepared to grieve the loss. Even if the relationship was highly toxic, if it’s been a big part of your life for a long time, you will miss aspects of it:  routine, company, validation; whatever it might have been, you will lament the loss. Allow yourself the time to grieve and know that when it’s over, you will be far better off. Congratulate yourself for taking care of yourself and for enriching your own life.

 

Side Bar:  I have been enjoying a new show on Netflix called Terrace House. It’s a reality show, however, what makes it different is that it takes place in Tokyo and you get a sense of Japanese youth and the culture. I find myself laughing a lot and wanting more. Check it out.

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt7776244/

 

A Kitchen Accident on Thursday

Thursday evening I decided to have a big salad for dinner. It was a beautiful night and I wanted to eat out on the terrace facing the water. I opened a local red wine I had not tried before and I noticed the bottle seemed heavier than usual. I thought that maybe it was larger than the normal 750 ml and I did not think about it again. I poured a glass and put the bottle in the refrigerator on the side door. During the warmer months I refrigerate red wine so that it will last longer. When I’m drinking it, I take it out about 30 minutes prior to pouring so that it’s just a little cooler than room temperature.

After dinner I decided to have another half glass instead of dessert. I opened the refrigerator to retrieve the bottle and the entire shelf went crashing down. There was wine everywhere; the walls, the cabinet doors, the refrigerator — everywhere. The cabinet doors had just been painted last week and I was concerned that the wine would stain the doors. I acted swiftly and cleaned the cabinets first. Next, when I started picking up the large pieces of glass I discovered that the bottle of wine was not larger, but thicker. This explained why it was so heavy. Two things happened to my new kitchen:  first, the bottle put a chip in the tile floor below the refrigerator and second, the refrigerator shelf cracked in six different places. The cleanup took me over an hour and I was sweating from head to toe. I walked into the living room, sat down and thought about the incident. It started with:  why did I have to put the bottle into the refrigerator? I was fully aware that this was about to become a “let’s beat the shit out of Chris” session. I decided to practice what I preach and to let it go. I showered, read a bit, and went to bed. I slept like a baby. My kitchen is no longer in pristine condition and that’s okay. It’s sort of like the first scratch on a new car; you just have to accept that it happened and move on.

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My new urbano azul cabinet doors; they survived the crash without red wine stains.

How My Childhood Experiences Shaped Who I am

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Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, where I grew up. That’s me top, far left. I tried to hide as much as I could.

 

Home Life

My earliest memories are of physical and emotional abuse, alcohol abuse, racial tension, divisive and foul language, death, family turmoil, drug abuse, illness, and poverty; all at extremely damaging proportions.

Conversely, I witnessed love, sexual freedom, a struggle to rise above socio-economic barriers, an acceptance of alternative sexual and gender orientation, and ethnic diversity.

I was profoundly affected by what I saw and heard, how could I not be? In what ways did it shape who I am, determine my values, inform my capacity to love and be loved, create a roadmap for what my life might be like, provide tools for survival, determine my biases, my political beliefs, my predilections, my sexual tendencies, my fancies, my relationships, and my truth.

Psychologists have researched and reported on how your childhood experiences shape and determine who you are as an adult for just about as long as the discipline has existed. About three months ago, Howard Stern interviewed Anderson Cooper (you can Youtube the entire interview; for some reason YouTube does not allow you to post the link). Among the many things they discussed was analysis and how it can help you alter who you are. At one point Anderson asks Howard a very direct question:

“Did therapy save your life.”

Howard quickly answers, “Yes.”

I would respond yes as well. Two of my siblings died as a result of mental dysfunction; one from an eating disorder and the other from an overdose. My deceased sister struggled with poor self-esteem her entire life; the eating disorder was just one manifestation of her numerous problems. My brother, who overdosed, turned to drugs as his only escape. Other siblings struggle with issues I am not at liberty to discuss. I am fairly certain that without therapy, I would have been fucked.

Howard and Anderson spoke about how childhood experiences affect you and how the damage (unless dealt with), remains with you your entire life. I knew early on that I was not in great shape emotionally and psychologically. Doubts about my sexuality and major sleep issues were the first couple of things to haunt me. My first thoughts of suicide were when I was ten years old and I hoped that I would die before my next birthday — I wrote about this in detail in an earlier blog. I did not share these destructive thoughts with anyone until I was well into my twenties. I was ashamed of my feelings/thoughts and did not want to burden anyone in my life.

When I look back on my childhood, I recall that teachers noticed that I was often melancholy and distant. I was frequently asked about how things were at home, how I felt, and did I need to talk about it. I would just brush it off and deny that anything was wrong. Teachers would ask to see my mother knowing she was a single mom with a house full of children. I’m not sure what was discussed, but my mother would just say to me, “Chris you need to smile more and try to have more fun in school; your teachers think I’m abusing you.” I assured my mother that I was well behaved in school (claiming to be happy would have been a stretch).

I loved school. It was the only time I could truly escape from the dysfunction that was taking place at home. I would always arrive early and stay late. After school theater activities were my early therapy. These days, school psychologists spend time with troubled kids; fifty years ago these professionals did not exist on school grounds (at least not in Brooklyn). My teachers coddled me — that only made it worse. The other children bullied me because I was perceived as the teacher’s pet and a “goody-goody.” Admittedly, I did seek the approval and praise of my teachers as a result of not getting it at home; it made me feel special, but I paid the price.

I’m sixty years old and I am who I am. I assure you that this is not a “poor me” moment in my life. I know that understanding where my issues originated helps me to understand and appreciate others. So much of life is about forgiveness; forgiving yourself for characteristics that were born out of adversity and forgiving others for their insecurities, mishaps and home environments.

I had friends here from New York over the last few days. My friend Julie is a very bright woman and we go back many years. She knew me when I had just completed my doctorate (we had this in common). I was passive aggressive, cocky and way too angry for a young man. Julie put up with a lot of nonsense from me back then. We talked about our history while she was visiting me here in Portugal. Julie helped me understand how she perceived my behavior and why she accepted it. I explained how I viewed the dynamic between us. It was interesting to discuss our thirty year friendship and share gratitude for what it is today. Clearly, we have both worked hard to examine who we are and who we’d like to be. This is one of the best things about a long term friendship, you experience life together and apart and revisit what attracted you to the other person to begin with. Too often in relationships, we forget where we came from.

Image may contain: Christopher Papagni and Julie Ratner, people smiling, sunglasses, plant and outdoor
Julie and I capturing a moment in our 30 year friendship. The similar sunglasses was a total accident, but I love it.

 

A Quick Story (over 50 years ago)

It was just an ordinary Saturday night and this happened:

We were sitting around our small television watching some banal comedy show on a very fuzzy screen when three woman strolled into our basement; nobody knocked when they came to our house. Today we call drag queens who dress in women’s clothes, women, because they prefer that we refer to them as woman; they use feminine pronouns. But back in Coney Island in the 60s, they were men dressed up as women and they were, for the most part, rejected by society.

These men in women’s clothing came by to see my mother before stepping out into the Manhattan club scene. These were my mother’s friends and they knew my mother (she was about 30 years old) couldn’t join them because she had small children, but she could help them with their hair and make-up. What I remember was a lot of laughter, a great deal of compassion and complete acceptance; my mother did not judge. To my eyes, she admired and fully embraced their alternative lifestyle. These individuals were colorful, funny, talented, brave, and present. I realize that I have not had a lot of nice things to say about my mother; however, to be fair, this sort of role modeling is the reason I have always been accepting of differences — it’s what I was taught as a child. My mother loved people; people of all shapes and sizes, race, and sexual orientation.

I have learned that individuals who are not very tolerant of differences, more than likely, were raised in a home where differences were shunned, not celebrated. I don’t believe we are genetically wired to hate; hate is something we are taught.

 

People and Places I have Sought Out in Order to Grow

I knew early on, that the only way I would survive would be to find normalcy and attach myself to it. My childhood friend Joey’s parents were happily married and he had grandparents. Grandparents were nurturing and supportive and I wanted that. I endeared myself to Joey’s family and spent as much time at his house as I possibly could.

Education was an essential part of my early survival. Anyone having to do with teaching seemed well adjusted and were almost always helpful. I was always eager to learn and well-prepared — educators appreciated that. I was somewhat aware of my ability to manipulate certain situations; being quiet, complimentary and naive (sometimes I faked this), helped get me a place at the table.

Friends throughout my life have been supportive and loving. I knew that unless you nurtured your friendships, they would not last. Many of my friends have been a part of my life for many, many years; they are my family and I am grateful to them.

I hired a life coach about 10 years ago. Betsy had a profoundly positive influence on my life and I cherish our professional and personal relationship. Having someone ask the right questions can never be a bad thing. If you can afford coaching, I definitely recommend it.

I have had the good fortune to meet and get to know some very bright people in my life:  authors, teachers, artists, creative and caring individuals. These people have helped me to be a better person. Lately, I am more discriminating and selective about who I spend my time with. Part of being more secure and better adjusted, is making the most of your time and life experiences. There is no longer any place in my life for toxic, angry people. No matter how long I have I left, I want to die knowing that I lived life to the fullest. There is nothing wrong with a laugh or two along the way; oh and a really good meal.

Examine where you came from and choose where you want to be. We don’t have much say in our early experiences, however, we do get to pick and choose how we live our lives as adults. Using a bad childhood as an excuse for poor behavior is not always valid. There are certainly times when early imprinting has an impact on our lives, but hard work, some solid therapy and the desire for change, can help you shape your own present and future.

The best thing about this work is that it never ends. Each day brings new lessons and new beginnings. Start the day with gratitude and hope; a lifeline worth preserving.

Namaste.

couple holding hands
Photo by Luis Quintero