Family

A thought I am stating up front:

Admittedly, this has been one of the more difficult blogs I have written thus far (I added this paragraph when I was nearly finished writing the blog). I have wanted to write about family from the day I started the blog, but I have often hesitated and abandoned the idea. There have been mentions of family; however, I have clearly danced around the topic on purpose. I have decided to go forward with it, play it safe and not name names. I am fairly certain family members know where they stand with me and I think it’s best not to air dirty laundry in a public forum.

 

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Photo by Fox (free photo library)
Definition from Urban Dictionary and why it resonates:
A group of people, usually of the same blood (but do not have to be), who genuinely love, trust, care about, and look out for each other. Not to be mistaken with relatives sharing the same household who hate each other.
The words I love here are “genuine, trust, and look out for.” I am fortunate to have family members who check all the boxes. I also have friends whom I can say those things about; I consider them my extended or chosen family. None of my true family members are jealous of or would begrudge me of my chosen family. I believe those who love me for, and despite who I am, love me no matter what. I didn’t always realize how much love I had or have in my life; this came with maturity and experience.
I would have added pictures of family I am speaking of here; however, I am fearful that I will omit someone by accident and live to regret it. 

Not unlike anyone else alive and breathing, I have family issues. There are family members that are as much strangers as the individual walking down my street that I have never laid eyes on before today. It would be easy to beat myself up and blame myself for family “stuff.” They don’t like me because I’m fill in the blank. Since we’re all so different and complicated, trying to figure out why people behave a certain way toward you is bound to cause trouble (in your own head). Speculation is often dangerous and inaccurate; especially when it’s about family. Our expectations of family members is not the same as what we expect from friends or strangers. We’re often less forgiving when it comes to family.

This thinking that family should be held to higher standards sets us up for failure. In reality, we’re all human and therefore, we make mistakes, we say stupid things, we take others for granted. With a friend you might sit them down and ask them if everything is okay or if you can talk about it. For some reason with family (I suspect it has to do with deep emotional ties) we are quick to allow our anger and resentment to make us dismissive.

Some of the statements we might make to ourselves:

  • He/she should know better.
  • He/she never invites me to family functions.
  • They’ve turned their children against me.
  • He/she never calls me or I always have to be the one to call.
  • I’m so tired of being the one with all the answers.
  • Am I the only one who is taking care of mom/dad?
  • I wouldn’t be friends with this family member if I met him or her on the street, so why should I expect to like this person?

 

Immediate Family

I have created a life where my immediate family consists of me and me alone. I could easily share my thoughts on why this might be the case, but I think I’ll spare you the psycho-babble. I would imagine that the larger your immediate family is, the more complex your life might be. Growing up, there were nine or ten of us living in the house at any given time. Daily drama and breakdowns were a way of life. I choose isolation.

I am reading The Little Big Things by Henry Fraser. Fraser had a diving accident in Portugal a few years ago. He tells his tragic story with great hope, passion, and truth. His family’s role in his recovery is clear from the start. You’re reading about a healthy family that put one another before all others. Their bond is strong and everlasting. As I read Fraser’s story, I find myself questioning my own family ties. It is true that I have family that I am extremely close with; family I believe would be there for me in any situation, at great personal sacrifice. Conversely, I have family that would not show up for me at a time of need. I have already been there, therefore, I know this is true.

I think that most individuals could point to a time when family loyalty was tested. I believe it is during this time or these times, when we shape our opinions of family members and evaluate how deep we believe their love to be. Can one be wrong in their assessment? Absolutely. Judgment can easily be clouded by an argument, a particular incident, and/or a betrayal by a jealous family member(s).

 

Estranged Family

It seems like everyone I speak to have family members that they do not see or communicate with. The first thing I always think is:  how sad. Then I realize that there are family members I do not speak to and again I think, how sad. But as we all know we don’t get to choose family and we either accept them for who they are or we don’t. I once believed that all family deserved to be forgiven no matter the transgression, however, that is no longer how I feel. I now believe that there are people around us who are toxic. Keeping them around us is unhealthy and unwise. What I have learned over time, is that confronting certain people will only make the situation worse. It’s like the old saying about putting salt on a wound; best not to go there sometimes.

Can an old wound be healed? I think it’s possible to mend a relationship, but both parties have to want it. It is similar to divorce, in that, emotions are often strong and anger deeply rooted, finding middle ground is impossible. The older I get, the more inclined I am to walk away. It is important to consider regret and the outcome of your actions. You have to ask yourself several questions:

  • Did I do everything possible to reconnect with this family member?
  • How deep is the wound?
  • Do I even remember the cause of the disagreement?
  • Is pride getting in the way?
  • If I choose to forgive, can I forgive?
  • Can forgiveness pave the way for a healthier relationship?
  • Is making the first move possible?
  • Will my estrangement affect other family members?

Let me be clear that I am not pointing fingers. I did not have a family member in mind while writing this. I have made many mistakes. I have turned my back on family more than once. I have behaved immaturely and jumped to conclusions. I have avoided conflict and I have looked the other way. I have made excuses. I have placed blame. I have suffered in silence and I have made assumptions.

I am in the process of acknowledging my limitations and I am attempting to figure it all out. I imagine in that way, that I am much like everyone else.

I welcome your thoughts on this difficult subject.

“The bond that links your true family is not one of blood, but of respect and joy in each other’s life.”

Richard Bach
Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/topics/family

two person holding hands while sitting on grey cushion
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Time

“It’s being here now that’s important. There’s no past and there’s no future. Time is a very misleading thing. All there is ever, is the now. We can gain experience from the past, but we can’t relive it; and we can hope for the future, but we don’t know if there is one.”
― George Harrison

 

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Photo by Carol Buenosia

 

I am convinced that I have spent the better part of my life creating stuff to do, experiences, lists, expectations, worries, and so on, in order to pass time. If I give myself enough to do, then I won’t have time to think about the “real” questions:

  • How can I make a difference?
  • Am I the best version of myself?
  • Am I happy with the choices I’ve made?
  • Do I spend time doing the things that matter to me?
  • What aspects of my life are a waste of my time?
  • What is stopping me from being impulsive?
  • Do I make too many lists?

As I consider these questions, I know that this is not a definitive list. Answers sometimes come easy enough; however, acceptance of the answer is often elusive. For example, if I break away from my normal routine and decide to do something unpredictable, what will happen? Other things come up for me:  Will I spend money I shouldn’t spend? Will I be neglecting my responsibilities? Will the lack of planning make for a less fruitful experience? The questions are endless; this is what gets in the way of spontaneity. When I have thrown caution to the wind, I have often been pleasantly surprised; the unexpected happens and I’m happy with the outcome. One would think that this alone would help push me past my comfort zone. But alas, I get in my own way and way too often I take the conservative route and remain at home.

I have asked friends to help and in some cases, they have. Letting go of control and allowing someone else to do the planning and decision-making, can be a wonderfully freeing feeling. It’s often a win-win. I wish it happened more often. I find myself in the position to just let go, now more than ever. I’m hopeful that more friends will trust my intentions and take me up on this offer. Everyone knows me as a detailed planner, making it difficult to convince certain individuals, that I would truly like to give up control. I’m screaming it from a mountaintop, I’m okay with you driving!

Allow me to ponder another of my annoying questions:  Am I happy with the choices I’ve made? Wow, this being honest with myself business isn’t easy. I’ve made so many bad choices; however, most of them were with good intention. I’m not talking about the nights that I stayed out dancing until noon the following day with the help of recreational drugs or deciding to play hooky from work so that I could see a matinée Broadway show. I’m talking about marrying a woman or deciding not to father children — big decisions which informed the better part of my life. To be angry at myself for making these decisions would be pointless and a waste of time. Having regrets doesn’t reverse the bad decisions or erase the memories. What I do hope is that I have made amends and learned from my mistakes. Reviewing your personal history can help you to know what not to do in the future. Dwelling on that history for a long time and lamenting about what could have been, is futile.

If you’ve been reading my blog, you know that I have been working on being present. Breaking old habits is difficult, however, what I am noticing is less worry and more overall happiness. Thoughts of being grateful have replaced regret and anger about the past. In truth, it’s easier when you are in a beautiful place with great weather and less chaos, but I remind myself that it was me who made the move; it was me who said to myself life can be better if you choose to make it so. And so, I am trying to just enjoy what I have created for myself.

There is a push and pull, the yin and the yang I guess. It’s called balance; the weighing out of the things I need to consider:  money, obligations, insurance, goals, language, and so on. I cannot just overlook or discard all of that. I need to stay focused and balance living in the moment with insuring that there are more moments in the future. Easily done? I’m not so sure. This exercise is a reminder to me that time is precious and cannot be wasted; every moment counts in so many ways, for so many reasons.

A friend of mine recently lost her husband unexpectedly; no warning, no preparation. When these things happen to people we know, it’s like the proverbial slap in the face or as Cher said in Moonstruck, “Snap out of it!” We cannot ignore the fact that at any given moment time might be swept out from under us. When I rest my head on my pillow at night before I close my eyes, I like to think about the day and what occurred. I no longer say accomplished because I no longer feel that everything I do has to be the fulfillment of a goal. There was a point when I was so driven I had to do lists that were broken down according to subject matters and often, I would lose track of where my lists were stored:  computer, journal, desktop notepad, under the refrigerator magnet?

Future Mother-in-law Story

It was New Year’s eve and my partner and I had just hosted a 90 person party in our Brooklyn apartment. It was 1:30 a.m., most of our guests had already said good-bye and the few guests that remained were lapping up the spoils. Most of them were unaware of a conversation taking place in our living room. My future mother-in-law had been staying with us for several weeks. She had travelled from Spain on an extended holiday; a bit longer than I would have preferred I’m afraid. She spoke no English so my partner had to interpret everything she said to me.

Let’s call her Sofia. Sofia looks over at me across the room and says, “Chris, si supieras que solo tienes 24 horas de vida, ¿cómo quieres pasar ese tiempo?”

I looked over at my partner who translated, “She wants to know how you would spend your last 24 hours on earth.”

I had just spent a week preparing for a huge party and I was about four cocktails in. I wasn’t sure why Sofia was asking this question, but I was always polite with her and decided to play along.

“I would want to spend it in your son’s arms,” I replied.

“Entonces, ¿por qué no te comportas como si fuera tu última noche en la tierra?”

My partner chuckled (he too was feeling pretty happy at this point) and said, “She wants to know why you don’t act like it’s your last night on earth.”

The lady could be intense, but this was way too heavy for this particular hour, on this particular night. I shrugged it off.

I awoke a few hours later troubled by this conversation. Why did Sofia say this to me? She obviously had an agenda. I didn’t want to ask her because I was certain it would open Pandora’s Box and I didn’t want to go there with her. We were approaching the end of her stay and I thought it best to say goodbye on good terms. I kept it to myself for the next 48 hours. We put Sofia on the plane and I brought up the conversation on the way home from the airport.

My partner rolled his eyes and said, “I was wondering when you were going to ask me about what my mother said.”

At this point in our relationship there was a good deal of tension between us and any little thing would create an argument. This disagreement was a doozy. He essentially told me that his mother felt that I was taking him for granted and that if I wasn’t careful I would end up with regret and loss. In other words, he would leave me. I, indeed, was guilty of taking him and time for granted. I was assuming that we would be together forever and that we had an endless amount of time left.

In fact, we only remained together for a month or so after the new Year. I was immature and unworthy of his love and affection and it ended. What I learned from my mother-in-law that was not to be so named, is that I went about living life as if my time on earth was endless. I needed to pay more attention to the gifts around me. I needed to be more aware of the finite amount of time I have. And, I needed to live life as if every moment might be my last.

Easier said than done as we all know. However, it is important to keep our mortality and the delicacy of life in our thoughts as we carelessly go about our lives.

 

“For what it’s worth: it’s never too late or, in my case, too early to be whoever you want to be. There’s no time limit, stop whenever you want. You can change or stay the same, there are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it. And I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people with a different point of view. I hope you live a life you’re proud of. If you find that you’re not, I hope you have the courage to start all over again.”
― Eric Roth, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button Screenplay

 

 

Fear Can Hold You Back . . . And a Bit of Lagos, Portugal

 

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

I know fear is normal. We all fear many things and fear keeps us alive. At this time of self-reflection, I think it’s important to address some of my fears and question why I do not possess some of the fears I see in others.

What I am hoping this process will accomplish:

  • Self-awareness
  • Coming to terms with what is real and what is irrational
  • Celebrating fears I have conquered and learning more about how I did it
  • Addressing the fears I avoid and learning more about why I avoid them
  • Developing a process for overcoming fears
  • Learning more about the connection between fear and human nature

 

 

My fears seem to be deeply rooted in my childhood experiences. Without getting too analytical, many of my fears are connected to my mother and how I was raised. My mother had seven children before she was thirty. Her own complicated parenting made it difficult for her to show love and properly nurture her children; therefore, we were all shortchanged in one way or another. As a result, what I fear most is rejection. This is a common fear; however, it does unfortunately interfere with healthy relationship building. I find myself apologizing for just about everything; more often than not, for things that are either beyond my control or unworthy of an apology. What this self-flagellation does is create doubt in people’s minds. This behavior is misinterpreted as a lack of self-confidence and strength. Being aware of how this fear impacts my everyday life is helpful, but it is an uphill climb; fifty years of apologizing is a tough habit to break.

Another big fear is also a fairly common one, the fear of failure. You might say that no one wants to fail and that would be true. However, all fears are attached to levels of intensity; how deep and strong is this fear. For me, the fear of failure has prevented me from interviewing for positions I was interested in, playing sports I enjoyed, taking courses I wished to take, pursuing romantic relationships, and the list goes on. When I did put aside my fear, I gained much from the experience. For example, when I completed my master’s degree, I hoped to further my studies. I dreamed of becoming a Dean of Students as a result of exceptional mentors in college; deans I admired and revered. I was in a fairly secure and comfortable position at Hofstra University and heard about an opportunity at New York University. The desire to live and work in Manhattan was so strong, I decided to pursue the NYU position and the university’s Ph.D. in Higher Education program, throwing caution to the wind. At that time, failure to acquire this dream was stronger than the possibility of failure to obtain the NYU position. Looking back, I recall many sleepless nights of self-doubt and fear. The outcome was a job at NYU and completion of my Ph.D.

What helped me to conquer this fear, was an overwhelming desire to improve my station in life. Many of us are told that we will never be what we aspire to me. You know the verbiage, “You’re not smart enough; you don’t have the money to pay for that; they’ll never choose you.” People say these things to save you from pain and embarrassment. What is does is hold you back — it keeps you from pursuing your dreams and goals. At this point, your dreams have to be stronger than your fears. The only way to be successful is to concentrate on your dreams and push away your fears. There is a reason the old adage, one step at a time, holds up. Small successes lead to big ones. Land an interview and celebrate that success; it puts in the right frame of mind. Next, you get a second interview and finally you claim your prize. In may cases it’s a fight to overcome your fear of failure. I have played the worst case scenario game with myself throughout my life. I find that reminding myself that the worst thing that could happen, would not be the end of the world, made in easier to move forward. Sometimes, going forward rather than remaining stagnant is all that you can ask of yourself. We’re all dreamers; it’s more a question of how badly you want it and what you’re willing to do to get it. Remaining in your comfort zone is rarely the answer.

The last fear I will mention is the fear of being incapacitated. I never want anyone to have to take care of me on a long-term basis (more than a couple of days). This fear is linked to my inability to ask for help when I need it. Friends have forced me to be better about reaching out. Family and friends have shared that it makes them feel good to help and that I should be better about accepting their help. I’m doing everything — or almost everything, I can do to remain healthy, but life can throw you a curve ball and this fear is real. I am currently in the process of coming up with a game plan so that I can rely on a “facility” to care for me if this were to happen. Leaving it to chance is not in the cards. I cope with this fear by taking control of my options and the outcome.

 

Death

I don’t fear death; I never have. I have always felt that when it happens, it will probably be fast and painless. Rational or not, it’s how I feel. I was in a bad bicycle accident a couple of years ago and I’m certain that when my body hit the pavement, there must have been intense pain. I couldn’t tell you what that pain felt like because my brain has completely erased it. Studies show that our brain protects us from severe trauma — shock shuts down certain body functions and we are not fully aware of the pain we are experiencing. I know there are many ways in which one can die; however, I’m banking on a painless death. The fear of dying keeps people from pursuing many dreams in life. I’ve been fortunate not to possess this fear. As a result I have jumped out of a plane, gone hang gliding, done some rock climbing, worked as a bicycle messenger in New York City, experimented with psychedelic and other mind opening drugs, and so on. To be clear, this is not to say I welcome death.

 

What have I learned from this exercise?

Plainly speaking, it is clear that I have a fair number of fears. Some have been conquered, some I’m working on, and still others are an ongoing challenge. I am okay with accepting that some fears will never go away. I told myself I wouldn’t say or think never prior to relocating overseas. I am willing to accept that some of my fears may remain with me until I die.

I realize that I am revealing a good deal about myself in my blogs. Several individuals have written to me to tell me that it is helping them to be more honest with themselves. Seems like a win-win to me.

 

 

Lagos with Friends from Cape Elizabeth, Maine

 

Jim and Gillian Britt visiting from Maine. A beautiful November day at Ponta da Piedade. The sky really was THAT blue.

 

 

Difficult to capture the true beauty of the place.

 

 

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Tasca Jota— delicious suckling pig, Lagos

 

 

Gun Shots in the Woods

 

The trigger my mother squeezed on a .45 Colt rifle in the woods of upstate New York that summer night will be an image captured and cemented in my mind for a lifetime.

 

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I’m the teenager with the shaggy brown hair unloading my stepfather’s jeep c.1973

I was an overweight, troubled, 14-year-old, with a great deal of anger. My stepfather, Frank, reluctantly accepted that I came with the package when he married my mother. I’m sure on some level he knew I was gay and that turning me into a “real man” was either hopeless or a waste of his time. But try he did, as often as he could. As far as my mother was concerned, on this particular dark night in the woods, he went too far.

As a family, we spent a lot of time camping in the summer. My mother and stepfather enjoyed being outdoors and it was an inexpensive way for a big family to travel. Frank relished seclusion in the wild, so we usually camped far away from the rest of civilization. There was a lean-to (three-sided housing structure) camp high in the New York Adirondacks called Pharaoh Lake. We would spend hours in Frank’s loaded-up jeep to get to the camp. We would have to get out of the jeep and hike the last hour because the trails were steep and rocky, it was too dangerous to ride up in the vehicle. To be fair to my mother, the safety of her children was paramount.

Our family trips would start out on a positive note. Frank and my mom were eager to get us out of the city and they looked forward to time with each other in their own private lean-to. Unfortunately, drama was a big part of my mother’s life and it almost seemed that she lived to create as much of it as possible. This trip upstate would be no exception.

 

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A Lean-to

 

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My mother the redhead at Pharaoh Lake c.1973

 

We had a pleasant enough first few days:  hiking, fishing, target practicing with Frank’s rifles; rifles he proudly displayed on the back wall of the open lean-to — I’m talking four or five rifles. We were instructed to stay away from the guns and I’m assuming he hid the bullets. Frank was stern and if you were smart, you did whatever he asked you to do; especially when he was drinking. I usually responded to instructions with a grunt or a nod.

My chores were fairly simple. I would be responsible for gathering wood for fires, sweeping up the campsite, storing the boating equipment; for the most part, doing these things without having to be told. For some reason, I never knew why, my mother was fairly agitated a few nights into our trip. She’d snap at any of us who had anything at all to say; especially laying into Frank (later in life she was diagnosed as bi-polar). She prepared the usual campfire meal of spam, potatoes and some canned vegetables. We all ate quietly so as to not upset her any further.

Dinner was over, my sisters cleaned up and darkness descended on the campsite. Frank stoked the fire with one hand and nursed a glass full of Canadian Club with the other. I crawled into my sleeping bag with a flashlight and a novel. I kept to myself growing up. My siblings liked to play cards and horse around; I wanted no part of it. I was no angel mind you. I was defiant and arrogant most of the time; feeling fairly superior and smarter than the rest of my siblings — they called me Big Cheese. My cocky attitude didn’t sit well with Frank. Whenever he had the opportunity, he’d try to set me straight. I was deep into my novel when I heard my name called several times. I walked out of the lean-to to see what was up. Frank told me to take the empty water cans to the stream to fill them. I asked him how I was going to do this with it being so dark on the lake.

With his back to me, Frank responded, “Take a flashlight and holler if you need help.”

My mom must have heard this and shouted, “Oh no Frank. He’s not going out on the lake by himself.”

We had a small boat with a trolling motor and the stream was a couple of miles from our campsite. I was fairly certain the man had lost his mind because it was pitch black on the lake and I was wasn’t very good at navigating the boat even in broad daylight. I don’t recall there was much of a moon that night. They argued back and forth for a while. My mother suggested that he send Frank’s son, my stepbrother Larry, who was a few years younger than I. Frank continued to insist that I go to the stream and I figured my mother would convince him otherwise. Voices were raised and my siblings all sat silently waiting to see how this one would play out.

Frank finally shouted, “He’s going Lou and that’s the end of it.”

This next part happened so quickly I wasn’t even aware of it at first. My mom ran to their lean-to and grabbed the .45 Colt. She cocked the trigger and aimed the rifle at Frank. The kids watched in horror as my mother ran down a list of reasons why she was going to shoot him. My sister Grace’s finger nails broke through skin on my arm and my brother Leo dropped to the ground to hide behind me; he would have been eight or nine years old at the time. Frank seemed genuinely frightened, although I’m still not sure if the rifle was loaded; Frank would have known. He actually had the presence of mind to point to us standing off to the side.

“Lou you’re scaring the kids.”

My older sister Kathy actually walked toward my mom to plead with her.

“Put it down mom, he’s not worth going to prison over.”

My siblings and I were probably all thinking what my sister was able to say. My mother eventually put down the rifle. Frank left the campsite with Larry and the water cans and was gone for quite a while. My mother apologized to us for scaring us. I secretly cheered her on, hoping I’d have one tenth of her chutzpah when I got older. My mother and Frank thrived on this kind of insanity and they’d usually kiss and make-up pretty quickly. But not this time. While Frank and his son were getting water, my mother instructed us to pack. It was our usual bedtime mind you; I was hoping she wasn’t serious.

When Frank got back to the campsite, we were all standing by the trail with our packed bags.

My mother said, “We’re leaving Frank. I’m done.”

He tried to reason with her, but she was fairly resolute. She let Frank know that we were going to walk down the mountain and find our way home. At this point his anger and drunken state prevented him from putting up a fight.

“Do whatever the fuck you want; I’m done too.”

We hiked in the dark for over an hour until we got to the road leading to the highway. I’m not sure what my mother was thinking; I’m not sure she was thinking at all. The six of us were walking on the road for maybe twenty minutes when Frank drove up beside us and told us to get in. It took some time, but my mother finally caved and we all climbed into the jeep. My mother was crying hysterically and some of my brothers and sisters were weeping as well. I was numb; wondering when and if the drama would end.

They argued parked on the shoulder of the road and then finally decided to pull into a nearby motel. We were six hours drive from home and Frank had been drinking heavily; there was no other option. I don’t recall getting any sleep. I was only 14 years old, but I was certain that I could survive on my own, therefore, I plotted my escape. Just as soon as we returned to Brooklyn, I was going to talk to my father and move in with him. I dreaded the idea of living in his dark and dreary studio, but anything was better than the life I was living.

The following morning, my mother came to our motel room to wake us. She told us that she and Frank had made up and that we were going back to the campsite. I’m sure that I rolled my eyes and silently protested. To my mother’s credit, she didn’t blame me for their argument. She kissed the top of my head and assured me that things would get better. She was optimistic and convincing and because I’d heard this before, I doubted her. I changed my mind about moving in with my father; I always did. As insane and chaotic as our household was, truth be told, I couldn’t have imagined myself anywhere else. This was my life and until early adulthood, I believed it was perfectly normal.

Much of my youth is a blur; I guess your mind sorts it out for the sake of self-preservation. Today, quiet means everything to me and my primary goal in is to avoid drama. Admittedly, that’s not always the case; in truth, there is a little bit of momma in me.

 

Alternative fact:  A different version of the story . . .

This particular camping incident is fairly vivid in my mind for obvious reasons; however, there is one part of the story that I am not sure about. My mom may or may not have fired the gun. There is a tiny part of my brain that has her pointing the gun up to the sky and pulling the trigger; you know, for dramatic effect. I figure one of my brothers and sisters will read this and tell me which version is correct. It just seems like something my mom would have done. Unfortunately, I cannot ask her. I don’t think she would have minded retelling the story; she wore these memories like a badge of honor.

 

Fantastic offer for the holidays

I have written about this beautiful bed and breakfast outside of Faro a few time and just learned that they are offering a Christmas package that would be a special gift under anyone’s tree. If you’re in the Algarve or coming to the Algarve, Mercedes is not your typical vacation spot. I took these photos just a few weeks ago when I spent some time there. Paco (their pug) is a wonder.

 

 

 

Mercedes Country House – Christmas Package 2018

Check in: Dec. 23rd

Check out: Dec. 27th with late check out (subject to availability)

Breakfast included each day

Meals (wines: white, red and vintage port included with dinner Dec. 24th and lunch Dec. 25th)

Dinner:  Dec. 23rd

Lunch:  Dec. 24th

Dinner: Dec. 24th (traditional Christmas eve Portuguese dinner) 

Lunch:  Dec 25th (traditional Christmas day Portuguese lunch)

Dinner:  Dec. 25th (optional 20€ pp)

Dinner: Dec. 26th (optional 20€ pp) 

 

1 Person – 540€

2 People – 690€

3 People (extra bed in the room) – 840€

info@mercedescountryhouse.com

 

Catania, Sicilia . . . Finally!

 

Good stuff about Catania — click on anything underlined for more info

It’s pouring rain outside and I’m okay with that. After four or five months of nothing but sunshine, the rain is a welcome relief. Sunshine starting Friday (two days away).

I arrived to Catania on Monday evening and I’ll be here for a week. Flying through Milan was the least expensive way to go and I guess one layover was acceptable. I almost left Milan without my luggage, not knowing that I had to transfer my bag to my next flight. Usually, when I fly the same airline, they transfer my bag. Anyway, I had lots of time in Milan and I got it done and met a few nice airline people along the way.

Here are some of my first impressions:

  • It’s much more expensive than Portugal. Food, taxi, band aids, and buses.
  • The natives are friendly, but there’s a little edginess (not a word) — like living here isn’t easy.
  • The Old City is beautiful; very dark and very old (lava rock has been used for building).
  • The beef here is incredible.
  • So far, I haven’t had any bad food. Snacking on Parmigiano Reggiano, prosciutto, oil cured black olives and good Sicilian red wine (very robust and dark).
  • It’s easy to get lost, but people are helpful and it’s a way to discover your surroundings.
  • Sicilian food is not the same as Italian food.

I’m staying in an Airbnb apartment with two terraces; one off the bedroom and the other off the dining room. I have a view the Old City and the Port — both are magnificent. The trash collectors wake me up, but I’m an early riser anyway. The apartment is fully equipped save for an umbrella. I think I can live without it.

 

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No donuts in Portugal and I LOVE them!

 

 

Prestipino (Old City) is a bakery around the corner from my Airbnb. Claudio (my host) told me about it, along with many of his favorite eateries; one of the many things I love about Airbnb travel.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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There are bakeries on every corner and they are all awesome. I can’t stop eating.

Sailed on the mediterranean and this is what they served us with prosecco:

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Bad angle, sorry.

 

 

The roasted tomatoes were sublime and the melon was the best I’ve ever had (so orange). Combine the food, the prosecco with the salt air and it was heaven on earth.

I had dinner at Steak House (www.steakhousecatania.it) last night. They had different cuts of meat from all over the world. Having been taught to buy local in Maine, that’s what I did. I had an awesome T-bone with roasted potatoes. I brought home leftovers and I will be eating steak and eggs (from the market) for breakfast tomorrow.

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Steak House

 

I went to the open-air market today and did not take pictures because my phone was charging and it was cloudy. I’ll go back before I leave. I had fresh oysters, freshly made caponata Siciliana and a basket of fried fish. I ate well. All of the street food tours were close to 50 Euros or more and I enjoyed time with the merchants and spent maybe 15 Euros all in. And I have enough food at home for a couple of meals. Travel with me and you’ll save big bucks.

After having a candlelit dinner (abbondaza from the market:  mozzarella, pizza, mussels, semolina bread, etc.) out on the terrace, I noticed some big black clouds moving in from Mount Etna. Moments later the thunder started and I quickly decided that this was going to be a delicious evening of soft music, Sicilian red wine and a long-awaited thunder-storm; honestly it’s been many, many months and a good storm is on my top five favorite things list. What a glorious night in Catania. Unfortunately, there was massive flooding here and that made it it a disaster for some; not good.

I went on a bus tour to Noto, Ortigia Island, and Siracusa today (the third full day of my stay). Etnatribe deserves a plug; they were fantastic. Mother nature decided that a thunder-storm would keep us away from the archeological park in Siracusa. It was raining so hard after lunch that they closed the park.  I was disappointed; however, I have seen Greek and Roman ruins in other parts of the world and I was happy to be safe in the van while it was pouring. Most vehicles could not drive on the roads it was raining so hard, but alas, we were fine. The big bonus was that our guide Orazio, is also an Etna guide and spent an hour telling us all about the volcano — fascinating.

 

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Greek amphitheater at the Archeological Parc
We started our tour in Catania and made our way to Noto with clear skies and very few tourists (apparently most people go there in the afternoon). Noto is one of the most beautiful cities I have ever been to . . . anywhere.

 

The next stop was Ortigia Island. This historical island is the original Siracusa before they expanded many, many years ago.

 

A day in Catania (at the Fish Market, Bellini Gardens and walking around)

 

I was scheduled to go horseback riding at Mt. Etna tomorrow, but it just got cancelled due to the weather; bummer. The best part of growing older is that you learn acceptance.

Cooking class this evening at the home of a very special Sicilian cook; born and raised in Catania. 

I walked to a very nice neighborhood about 20 minutes from my Airbnb. Thankfully, by now I know the streets and it’s very easy to walk around the city. Deborah and her partner Fabio were waiting for me. I was the only person to sign up for a class last night (lucky me) and I was so pleased that Deborah did not cancel. Aside from teaching Sicilian cooking classes, Deborah is also an attorney and mother of three. She and Fabio had a beautiful and inviting home and I had four hours of Sicilian bliss.

 

That’s her son Giuseppe washing dishes (above). He took a break from studying to say hello and help his mom — a good Italian boy and very charming.

We prepared a pumpkin risotto with fresh pumpkin and Deborah’s ricotta cheese (she shared that she makes it almost everyday because her family eats so much of it), a meatball and pumpkin dish (pictured above) and a not-so-sweet typical cinnamon and pistachio Sicilian custard-like dessert. Deborah and her class the day before made a delicious caponata and so we ate that as well; lucky me. She also had leftover pistachio cake, which she generously shared. Deborah also baked brown bread and that too was delicious.

The names of Deborah’s traditional Sicilian dishes:

Risotto alla zucca con ricotta di pecora; polpette e zucca in agrodolce; and Gelo di cannella.

The Arab, Moroccan influence in Sicilian cooking makes it very unique and not very Italian (to this southern Italian boy). The seasonings and spices are much more middle Eastern than typical Italian. The meal was delicious, but even better than that was Deborah and Fabio’s delightful company. I believe I have made some new lifelong friends. The Sicilian red Nero d’Avola sealed the deal. What a magical experience offered by Airbnb. If you’re headed to a city for vacation, I highly recommend checking out what they have to offer. It’s usually local residents sharing their talents.

I booked a room at the airport hotel due to my early flight Monday morning; I figured it was best to plan a soft landing. Tomorrow morning I will leave my Airbnb and go to relax at the hotel’s pool, spa and bar. This trip has been a truly restorative and educational experience. Had I know Sicily was so incredibly beautiful and inviting, I would have come sooner. The good news is that there is so much more to explore. I will be back.

A Side Note: 

Before choosing Faro as my new home, I considered Italy along with a few other countries. After one week in Sicily I realized that if I had moved to Italy, I would become rather large. There is something about the soil, the climate, the history, the regulations, and my Italian background that would make it impossible to avoid eating and drinking everything in plain sight.

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A view from the Bell Tower in one of the many churches of Noto. My God did I see a lot of churches.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Most Frightening Experience of My Life

Our memory is a powerful tool that assists in our pursuit of happiness; preventing accidents, mistakes and reminding us daily, that we are human. Memory can also be a rehashing of the most horrendous experience of our lives, relentlessly replayed, over and over again.

It was 1:15 a.m. and I was standing at a bus stop in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn. I was 17 years old, naive and immature. I had just come from my first disco roller skating party.  Happy and dreaming about my future as I waited for the bus. I had been longing for freedom and finally had it. I was living on my own and earning money and I could do just about anything I wanted. I had signed a month-to-month lease in a single occupant border house near Brooklyn College and I was struggling through my first semester. That night, the disco party I attended was everything I hoped it would be.

Standing by myself, I reflected upon what I had experienced at the rink. I met new people — possibly new friends, and I skated, I laughed and I had a blast. Waiting for the bus was routine; I must have done it dozens, if not hundreds, of times before; however, never at that hour. So there I was waiting, and waiting, and waiting, and before I knew it, it was 2:15 a.m. I was aware that buses do not run as frequently in the late evening; however, I assumed they ran all night. I was beginning to think that I might have to walk home — I was about 3 miles away. It was right about that time that a car pulled up to the bus stop. A guy got out of the car and asked me if I was waiting for the bus. For a second I thought that it might have been someone I had met that evening and that perhaps he was going to offer me a ride. Unfortunately, that is how my mind works. As he moved closer to me, I told him that I had been waiting for the bus for a long time. Don’t ask me the color, make or model of the car, that I cannot tell you.

The next part happened very quickly and years later, the details are still fuzzy. The guy who had gotten out of the car, continued walking toward me.  I recall seeing two or three of them, all around 18 to 20 years old, getting out of the car as the first guy approached me. The guy almost in front of me, turned and yelled something to his buddies and I knew I was in trouble, in fact, I feared for my life; it was a feeling in my gut that I cannot explain. I turned and started running as fast I could. I looked back and noticed the guys started to disperse in different directions; I knew they would try to cut me off. I turned back around to see where I was going and I was met with a fist to my face. I started yelling, “Help, please help me.” One of the guys put his hand over my mouth and they all started grabbing my arms and legs. I thought that they were going to try to carry me to the car, so I began kicking and flailing my arms. I was somehow able to break free and I once again started running for my life. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a car coming down Coney Island Avenue; I ran out in front of the car waving it down. The car stopped and I had a brief moment of relief.

I shouted, “That group of guys is trying to kill me,” pointing behind me.

The next part was truly frightening and I still feel the intense fear I felt over 40 years ago. The car doors opened, another group of guys got out of the car and then they were all chasing me. It only took seconds for them to catch me and what I felt and heard is as clear today as if I’d heard it yesterday.

“Fucking faggot.”

“Grab his watch.”

“Make him bleed.”

“Mess him up and teach him a lesson.”

Other instructions and comments were shouted out and I’m not sure how much time went by, but sometime later . . .

“Okay, okay, I think that’s enough, leave him alone.”

I didn’t see the guy who said it, but I was grateful that one of these barbarians had an ounce of compassion.

In a second they were gone and the quiet on the streets of Brooklyn was deafening. I recall the concrete under my face being warm, the street lights were blinding, and I had no idea where I was. I put my hand in my back pocket and my wallet was still there; I remember thinking that was odd. I could also feel my gold cross was still around my neck. Blood was dripping from my forehead and every part of me ached. All I wanted to do was sleep. I’m not sure how long I lied on the curb before hearing a voice and feeling a hand grab my arm.

“Are you okay?” It was a foreigners voice; Syrian or Pakistani, definitely Middle Eastern.

I told the stranger that I was badly hurt and needed to get home. The exchange we had is not completely clear in my memory, but I do recall that he insisted that I go to a hospital. He said that we were not far from Coney Island Hospital and that he would take me. I told him that I was beaten and robbed and that they’d probably taken my cash (I’ve never kept my cash in my wallet). He didn’t seem to care about money. To this day I am not sure if he was a car service driver or a citizen who was driving by, saw me lying on the curb, and pulled over. The irony still haunts me; horrific violence and extreme kindness, minutes apart.

I’m not a religious person, but I recall making a deal with God that night as this stranger drove me to hospital, if I made it out, I would never put myself in a dangerous situation again. The man who drove me said very little. At one point he hit a pothole and apologized several times; such compassion.

We were met at the emergency room entrance by an orderly. The driver quickly shared how he’d found me, then he put his hand on my shoulder and said, “I hope you’ll be okay.” A gurney was wheeled outside and I was helped onto it. I was in a lot of pain and bleeding and I just wanted to sleep. I’m pretty certain that I was left in a hallway in the triage area. There was a lot of screaming and crying and I faded in and out of sleep. Occasionally, a nurse would come by to take my vitals and to ask me how I was doing. Time passed very slowly. I remember thinking that I probably wasn’t dying — I assumed they would have taken care of me right away if I was; at least that is what I had seen in the movies. It must have been six or seven in the morning before I finally saw a doctor. He said that I was badly bruised and that the cut on my head was superficial. He told me to put ice on my head and ribs and he gave me some Tylenol to take. Our interaction was brief. It occurred to me that I never spoke to the police that night. An orderly asked me if I wanted to call someone to come and get me.

I remember thinking, who do I want to see right now. It was my mom of course. When a child gets into trouble, who does he usually turn to. I was in trouble and naturally I was blaming myself — and I was my mother’s child. Why was I out in the wee hours of the morning? Wasn’t I putting myself in Danger? Didn’t I know better? Was I asking for it? I knew my mom wouldn’t blame me; she’d hold me and let me cry. But alas, she was living in North Carolina with my stepfather and several of my siblings. I had no choice but to call my father. My dad did not usually go to bed until after midnight because he worked late. I knew I was going to have to wake him and I knew he wouldn’t be happy with me. My dad viewed any kind of illness or pain as a weakness; a character flaw. He expected his kids to be strong; the boys didn’t cry and the girls did not whine. I was not a tough teenager, but in front of my father I always appeared confident; a mask I wore for him for many years. I called his home number and he picked up on the third ring.

“What,” is how he answered the phone.

I said, “Dad, it’s Chris.”

“Chris, is everything all right?”

I told him what happened to me, showing no emotion, as if reading from an encyclopedia. He almost let me finish, but he couldn’t help himself and said,

“What the hell were you doing out at 2:30 in the morning?”

I asked my dad if he’d come to get me and he said he’d be there as soon as he could. We both hung up and I sobbed until he got to hospital. The reality of what could have happened on the streets of Brooklyn hit me hard that morning. Had that one guy (probably the leader) not told them to stop beating me, I probably would have been bashed to death.

Two things that stand out for me about that horrible experience:  First, when my dad arrived and saw how badly I had been beaten, he held me while and cried, and second, I’m was not certain of the boys’ motive for beating me and I was left with many questions:  Were they a gang and I just happened to be a warm body they could victimize? Were they out looking for gays to bash and was I hiding my sexuality well enough? Was this an idea one of the boys had and the rest played along with it? Was it just a random act? What came over the one boy who asked the rest to leave me alone?

The biggest question that I have asked myself far too many times, is how has this impacted my life? Have I been blaming myself for this act of violence my entire life and what does this say about my own self-esteem? I’m a fairly guarded individual, is this the reason why? Is this the reason I am against violence of any kind? What kind of adult might I have been had this not happened to me? I’ve also been trying to pay my debt to the stranger who stopped, my entire adult life (no regrets).

The mysteries of this memory will never leave me and what lingers is this:  there is very little in this world I fear and I refuse to spend my life looking over my shoulder.

My heart and respect goes out to Christine Blasey Ford. Your bravery and duty to country, fucking blew me away.

 

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