Porto and the Duoro Valley

 

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A view of Porto and the Duoro River from the Museu Romântico.

 

I have to begin by admitting that it took much too long to get to Porto. When I first visited Portugal, I knew that I wanted to live in the south because I had done research on the favorable climate and the robust, affordable economy.  I concentrated on exploring areas in the south and since Porto is north of Lisbon (about 3 hours by train — see map below), it was not in my travel plans.

Side note:  traveling throughout Portugal is a pleasure. Public transportation is usually easy to navigate, the airports are not overcrowded, and most people speak English fairly well. It’s good to know some Portuguese because as with all natives, they truly appreciate any attempt to speak their language.

 

Porto

I had some friends (Neal & Winnie Borden) coming into Porto on a cruise ship on Tuesday of this week and that gave me an excellent excuse to fly to Porto. I have been trying to keep these short distance excursions to three or four days. I believe three days is plenty of time to get a feel for a place and if there are parts I do not get to see, it gives me a good reason to return.

I rented a studio Airbnb in the city centre — I usually stay in the center so that I can walk out of my apartment and visit many places on foot or use public transportation — this particular apartment was in the back of building and it was quiet and had a magnificent, large terrace.

 

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Neal and Winnie are true foodies. Their son Adam and I met at the James Beard House in Manhattan over 20 years ago and we bonded over our love of fine food; he gets it genetically from his parents. I arrived to Porto on Monday evening so that I could meet them at the cruise port early Tuesday morning. We only had about five hours and there was lots to see and do. We had decided that lunch would be the only pre-arranged item on our itinerary. I made us a lunch reservation at Antiqvvm (a one Michelin starred restaurant) and decided we’d discuss the rest of our time together over coffee.

If you’re ever going to meet friends at a cruise ship, leave yourself lots of time. I discovered that being drop off at a pier doesn’t necessarily mean you will be close to the ship. I had to walk over a mile to get to where the ship was docked.

Fortunately, I arrived in time to greet them as they disembarked. We took a taxi from the pier to the historic part of Porto. I had heard about the Majestic Café and thought it would be a good spot for planning.

 

 

 

The Majestic Café, opened in 1921, this absolutely gorgeous and charming café should not be missed. [note:  for those of you who are new to my blogs, you can click on the names of restaurants and places for more information. Also note that I do not share every place I eat or visit; only those that are exceptional or awful are mentioned.]

The historic center was perfect for walking, but be aware that many of the streets are hilly and should be carefully navigated. We decided to head out and see as much as we could see on our way down to the river where the “colorful houses” were located.

 

The incredible colorful houses in Ribeiria (a UNESCO world heritage center) on the riverRelated image

Sites in Porto you will not want to miss:

 

 

Stay away from Puro 4050 — awful “Italian” food. Viva Creative Kitchen was interesting, fresh food, in a cozy contemporary setting.

Antiqvvm

Antiqvvm is a one Michelin star restaurant minutes from the center of Porto. Spend a few minutes at the garden overlooking Porto right outside of this beautiful glass and stone building — it’s a magical experience and you will not want to miss a moment. A memorable meal is all about the mood of the day, the people you are dining with, the quality of the food, and the service and ambiance of the restaurant. This was one of those meals where everything was as you hoped it would be. I am savoring this memory and I know it will remain with me for a lifetime.

A big thank you to Neal Borden for these gorgeous photographs of the food we were served. The soft shelled crab, lobster and veal were just some of the highlights.

 

 

 

The Duoro Valley

If it’s true what they say about doing things when you are supposed to do them, then I was not destined to explore wine country in Portugal until now. I’ve been enjoying Portuguese wine for awhile. The best thing about Portuguese wine, besides the great taste, is the value. I have taken several wine classes, but I am far from an expert. There is so much to know; however, I only know enough to appreciate it — I have a lot to learn.

Airbnb offered a full day excursion I could not resist. José, our guide, was knowledgable, friendly, funny and a very good driver. The last part is important when traveling through the Duoro Valley:  with its mountains, curvy roads and narrow streets. Sometimes group tours can be a bust — too large, obnoxious guests; you know the score. This was a group of nine people from five different countries. All of us were delighted to experience the Duoro Valley on this perfect weather day. I honestly enjoyed getting to know all eight of my fellow travelers.

The Duoro Valley is most famous for Port wine. We were fortunate to do a tour and tasting of Quinta do Tedo vineyards. This beautiful vineyard is a boutique winery selling 80% of its product to consumers who visit the vineyard. We were given a very thorough tour, followed by a generous tasting. We tasted tawny port, ruby port and late bottled port. I have always been a big fan of port wine. Good ports are easy to find in the States and I have been enjoying them for many years. I’ve also been fortunate to taste several fabulous vintage ports.

The Spruce Eats — an informative piece on Port wine.

The best part of the day was the drive to the top of one of the mountains. It was a clear, gorgeous day and the vista was breathtaking. We were also treated to a boat tour on the Duoro River. We drank a sparkling Duoro white and marveled at the beauty of the land and water.

My take away from a marvelous day in the Duoro Valley is that this place is a well kept secret. I learned of several train trips I can take for a weekend getaway or pleasant day trip. I have a feeling I’ll be blogging about this wine region in the near future.

 

 

 

 

It’s going to take me a very long time to truly appreciate the breath and beauty of Portugal, but heck, all I have is time. The next stop? Well, who knows.

 

MAP of the Iberian Peninsula

Portugal And Spain Map From Kolovrat 1
So you can see how far Porto is from Faro (about 7 hours drive). It’s actually not far from the Spanish Galician border.

 

 

Observations Concerning the U.S. and What is Happening Now

Some thoughts before this American expat flies home later today:

 

I wasn’t going to write this blog until after I returned home to Portugal and had some time to reflect on my five weeks in the U.S. After a year away from my country, my family, my friends and the politics of my former home, there are many observations I feel compelled to share. I will not name names. Not only would it be unfair and inappropriate to do so, but in truth what I saw and experienced could have come from anyone, anywhere in this country. Some might argue this point, however, the culture of the U.S. is reflected in every city and town throughout the country.

If you consider the history of the U.S., a year is hardly more than a moment in time. To be clear, my comments will not be generalizations that can and should be applied to all Americans. What I will share are subjective observations about the people and places I visited.

Politics

One of the things I said when I moved abroad is that I would try not to pay too much attention to the politics in the States. That didn’t happen. I watched the news everyday and I found myself feeling just as angry and bewildered. I left Portugal in April willing to listen to what everyone I spoke to about politics had to say.

I have several Trump supporters in my life. This became a big problem for me when he was elected because Mr. Trump and the people he surrounds himself with, represent just about everything I am opposed to. At first I did not want to speak to or interact with these people. Over time, I found myself missing them and feeling badly about my attitude. I made the decision to put politics aside and to try to understand where these friends and family members were coming from.

I had several very difficult conversations with family members I care deeply about. I remained calm and listened carefully. What I learned was revealing and comforting (in a way):

For the most part, the people I know who support Trump are kind, smart, caring individuals. They are fully aware of most of his shortcomings and they watch and pay attention to a variety of media. They seem to know that, for the most part, they are not the majority of this country. They say that there are lies and distortions on both sides of the aisle and I would have to agree with this assessment. They know how I feel and they respect my thoughts. I could go on; however, the bottom line is that they have thought about the pros and cons and the facts. They are not 100% conservative or 100% liberal. They believe in much of the same things I believe in and they are not all the same; not in any way.

I came out of this experience feeling a bit better about the people in my world. I’m admittedly still not happy about the choice they have made, but I can no longer dismiss them or their beliefs. The best I can do is continue to share when I witness distorted facts or atrocities. I also need to remind myself that my truth may not be my “brother’s” truth.

The Economy

I was shocked at how much more expensive everything was. Hotels, restaurants, the subway; everything has gone up and not just a little. There was a time when I could buy a cup of mediocre coffee at a street vendor for a buck — that same cup of mud is now two dollars. I guess what I don’t understand is why people keep going back for more. You cannot have a casual sit down lunch at a restaurant without spending twenty dollars or more (including diners).

When I was a teenager I would see Broadway shows for $8 and that was considered a lot of money because movies were a dollar. Now, cheap Broadway tickets are over $100 and movies are $15 (or more). My friends told me stories about rising rents. Between Airbnb and greedy landlords, there appears to be big problems for renters everywhere. You either have to live far from where you work or share a small space. Greed seems to have gotten worse.

I realize these kinds of issues arise with every generation; however, the difference today is how pervasive price gouging is and big business and its impact on the economy. If more and more people are using their homes as Airbnb rather than renting on a long-term basis, what inventory will be left for those who cannot afford to buy or pay high rents?

Some of the Comments Made to Me or Overheard

  • Americans should take an intelligence test before they’re allowed to vote — overheard at a restaurant in Brooklyn, NY.
  • I like Trump. I mean he’s just a man and men love women. I don’t care what he does in the bedroom and I don’t care if he sends out mean tweets; what I care about is how safe we are and our the security of our economy — someone I know very well.
  • This country will soon be run by minorities; we have to try to slow them down before they ruin it for the rest of us — also someone I know well.
  • What we’re doing to our planet is scary and I’m wondering if I did the right thing by having children — a family member.
  • What we are experiencing is surreal and difficult to comprehend. I know this country has been through tougher times, but this feels like the beginning of the end. I waiting for a huge implosion — a family member.
  • New York City has become a place where there is no longer a middle class. You’re either very rich and live well or you’re poor and living day-to-day — a good friend.
  • There are no more mom and pop restaurants. All of the new places are owned by corporations or rich investors — a friend in the food business.
  • Keeping cars out of NYC only makes it easier for the rich to get around. If delivery trucks cannot or will not pay to enter the city, how will people get milk or afford milk — a friend in NYC.
  • We better be prepared for a second term of Trump because it’s going to happen — several people.
  • Not all Floridians are pond scum — a stranger at the bar at Miami airport.
  • Guns that kill will always be easy to get in America; it’s the people who use them that are the problem — a good friend.
  • Late term abortions are wrong and causing problems for other more legitimate abortions — a liberal friend.
  • Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden are too old to run for president. I know it’s agist to say this, but I know how being old feels and the elderly have no place running the country — an older friend.
  • Doctors will never work for less — a friend in healthcare.

There was so much more said in my presence. What I learned is that opinions and thoughts are strong and real. In the end we have to do our own research and search our own souls for answers.

The Future

What I see and hear concerns me deeply. Many people I know and love have the means to survive for years to come, but there are also many people in my life that are living a life that borders on poverty. I cannot imagine surviving on minimum wage today or being out of work for any length of time. People seem more concerned with their own future and less concerned with their neighbors and humankind in general. I don’t necessarily have answers, but I do have questions:

If the United States becomes a country divided by haves and have nots, how long can it survive? Will there come a time when the marginalized and forgotten rebel? If that time comes, who will survive? Would it not be better for those who have an abundance to share a percentage with those who do not? “Charity begins at home,” has true meaning in today’s world.

What is happening in Venezuela and other parts of the world should teach us many lessons, but are we willing to learn?

Note:  Pardon any spelling or grammatical errors, it’s time to pack.

Nearly One Year Abroad

 

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Asilah, Morocco for the New Year 

 

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

 

A Brief Overview

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

The Highs

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

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

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

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

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

The Little things that make a big difference:

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

The Lows

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

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

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

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

Did I Make the Right Choice?

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

Access to Travel

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

 

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

Sagres Guide

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What Lies Ahead?

The best is yet to come . . .

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

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

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

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

Running From Demons — PART III

Final Chapter

Greg dug into his pocket to see how much he had left to his name; his new name. He was relieved he’d had the foresight to grab a couple of thousand from his stash before he left his room. It would have been easy to blame himself for this mess, but that would be a waste of time and time was not on his side. His choices were limited. He had a new name, a new passport and so little money.  Greg didn’t like the name Joseph. He didn’t even like Joe; it reminded him of his high school football coach, Joe Ballard. Coach Ballard was an asshole. He wanted to be a Carl or a Matt; he’d have to live with Joe. He’d think about it on the way to the airport, maybe he’d go with José or use a nickname.

When Greg got to the airport in Lisbon, he looked on the board to see if there were any flights going direct to Morocco. He wanted to minimize the number of airports he had to pass through. A flight to Marrakesh at 3:00 p.m. would work. He would have a few hours at the airport, but he’d have to wait and it would give him time to think. He knew he would have to avoid the bars; he needed a clear head and his funds would soon run out.

After buying his plane ticket, he was left with a little over $1800 dollars. He’d exchange the dollars for Moroccan dirham at a bank away from the airport where the exchange rate would be better. Greg had to give his passport to the ticket agent and that went well. The big hurdle would be in Marrakesh where he has to go through passport control. He knows that if he worries about it, it won’t make things easier, so he pushes the thought from his mind and he considers next steps. He figures the only work he’ll be able to find in Marrakesh is waiting tables. Perhaps he’ll find something at a nice American hotel. He’ll have to lie about his past, but he knows that server jobs are fairly easy to find.

Sitting at the gate he cannot help but notice the faces around him; so many smiles and so much pain. Empathy is so foreign to Greg he has to think about what he’s feeling in order to process it. At first he dismisses it as a sign of weakness and moments later he embraces it — he even likes it. He sits up and throws back his shoulders. He can feel the air filling his empty lungs. There’s an announcement about boarding. He figures he has time; in fact he has nothing but time.

When it’s time to board, he approaches the gate with a feeling of hope. He sees his plane on the other side of the glass, but the sun is almost blinding. A hand lands on his forearm and startles him.

“Por favor, venha conosco.”

“What?”

“Please come with us.”

Greg notices there are two uniformed men on either side of him. He wants to resist; he wants to run; he cannot move.

“Sir, you need to come with us now.”

After passing the security checkpoint, Greg enters a small room. A desk, a file cabinet, and security cameras fill the room. He knows what’s happening and he’s not afraid. The men take his passport and tell him to wait. He waits and thinks about Sarah and how much he loves her. He wonders why he hurt her and how he can become the man he saw on the sidewalk in Lisbon, in the market stall, in the coffee shop, and at the gate. His heart is full and he feels lighter; almost like he’s floating.

Later, Greg is staring out the airplane window. This time he is on a flight to JFK. He is handcuffed to a stranger to his right; his future is unclear. Hours pass as clouds break below; he is not sad, he is not angry. The wheels touch the ground and he is aware of the present. Escorted by security, he exits the plane. He sees Sarah standing in the distance and he knows he’s left Joseph Campos behind and Morocco was never meant to be.

 

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A moment of contemplation on Desert Island

 

“You may have a fresh start any moment you choose, for this thing that we call ‘failure’ is not the falling down, but the staying down.” —Mary Pickford

 

Running From Demons — Part II

 

 

 

 

Greg was feeling confused, let down, lonely and lost; all new for him. He  reminded himself that he had confided in someone. One person who would never come looking for him and never tell anyone. His ex-wife Sarah hated him, but she would protect Greg to his death. Twelve years of marriage had tied them together forever. He considered calling her to tell her he was about to become someone else. A part of him wanted her to know so that no matter what, there would be one person alive who knew the truth. Greg also knew that he’d be putting Sarah in danger by sharing his whereabouts. He had always admired her strength and tenacity; despite his better judgment, he’d give her a call tomorrow. For now, he had to get back to his room.

He meandered through the streets of Lisbon, ducking in and out of crowded cafés. He needed to return to his hotel room before 5:00 p.m. or he wouldn’t get the money to Slim in time. He realized he’d never know the names of these characters who were helping him. Greg had no choice then to give the guy what he asked for.

He counted out the $10,000 and wrapped the bills in a plastic grocery bag. Slim had asked for Euros, but he figured he’d take dollars; everyone wanted U.S. dollars. The exchange rate had never even occurred to him. He quickly wiped down the room with some disinfectant wipes he found at a store on his way back to the hotel. He hoped that he’d only have to spend one night in this filthy room. Greg locked the door and checked the knob twice.

He looked around the outside of the hotel to be sure he had not been followed and headed for the pawn shop. Pawn guy and Slim were watching the game when he entered the shop. He smiled and handed Slim the money. Slim did not smile back; he grabbed the bag and headed to the back room. Ten minutes later he returned looking extremely unhappy.

“I told you Euros. What am I going to do with your fucking dollars? You have any idea what the exchange rate is these days? This is 25 percent less than what I told you.”

The last thing I needed was to piss this guy off, but it occurred to me that it was time to play hardball.

“Take it or leave it. You’re not the only guy in Portugal with access to passports. I’m paying you more than enough. Give me back my money if it’s not good enough.”

Slim studies Greg for a solid minute. Pawn guy never takes his eyes off of the game. Slim motions Greg into the back room. Greg reluctantly follows, thinking perhaps he’d gone too far. Slim gets uncomfortably close to Greg’s face and whispers,

“Considering where you’re going, I guess I can settle for less.”

“What do you mean, where I’m going?”

“The best I can do is Morocco.”

It was like he’d been punched in the stomach and kicked in the head. He had to choose his words carefully or this wouldn’t end well. It was Casablanca or he’d be back at square one.

“Is it ready now?”

At this point Slim is incredulous. “Are you fucking crazy man? Tomorrow morning if you’re lucky.”

Greg turned around so he couldn’t see his rage and disappointment. He pulled it together and walked toward the door. He turned and spoke and his words were sharp.

“I’ll be back at 11:00 a.m. tomorrow. If my passport isn’t waiting for me, there will be hell to pay. My connections in the States are not as forgiving as I am.”

Greg was so pissed off he’d forgotten to lose himself in the dinner crowd filling the streets. He stopped off at one of those international calling stores to telephone Sarah. The shop was packed with women in Hijabs, reminding him that he’d soon be in Morocco.

Sarah didn’t pick up on the first try. Not recognizing the number, she probably ignored the call. He hoped she’d realize it was him and answer the phone. He tried her again and this time she picked up.

“Who is this?”

“Sarah, it’s Greg, I’m in Portugal.”

“What the hell Greg, I told you to leave me alone. I’m gonna hang up.”

“No, no Sarah, please just give me two minutes. I’m not asking for anything.”

“Ninety seconds and I’m cutting you off.”

He’d be the worst husband and didn’t deserve ninety seconds. When they met, Sarah was naive and sweet and he’d made into a bitter woman. Greg didn’t cheat on Sarah. He didn’t physically abuse her. He didn’t stop her from buying things; he didn’t tell her she was worthless. What he did was inexcusable; He spent every penny Sarah had saved since she had her first job. There was always that business that was going to make them rich. Greg would focus on that next scheme and forget the rest of the world existed. It was a reckless way to live and he knew it, but he couldn’t stop himself. She watched him destroy his own life and take her down with him. Greg’s parents, friends and anyone he did business with tried to stop him, but he didn’t see it — he only saw green and more green until all the green ran out and than all he thought about was a way to get more. Sarah was the only one who stuck by him, until she’d had enough.

He knew that someday Sarah would be a force to be reckoned with, but today, she was done. He tried to soften her up a bit.

“You know how much you mean to me Sarah?”

“Greg, you asshole, you told me you were not going to ask for anything.”

“Alright, I only have a few seconds left so let me say something I need you to remember. As of tomorrow morning, I will no longer be Greg Torino. I’ll be leaving Portugal and hiding out for a while. I’m not going to tell you where I’m going because it’s better for you not to know. I don’t know how long it will be before we speak again so I wanted to tell you that I know I was a shitty husband. I never meant to hurt you, but I know that I hurt you badly and for that I am sorry. I hope to someday make it up to you Sarah. You’re a good woman and I never deserved you.”

“Greg, you didn’t have to say any of that, but for the first time in your fucking wasted life, you’re right, you were a shitty husband. I would wish you luck, but that would be a stretch.”

“Goodbye Sarah, I love you,” and he hangs up the phone.

He realizes a woman is banging on the phone booth door and trying to get his attention. He can only see her eyes and her fist pounding the glass. He turns away to wipe away tears. Greg cannot recall the last time he wept. He leaves the booth and walks toward his new life.

When he wakes the next morning after a fitful sleep, he recalls his conversation with Sarah. He feels good about apologizing; she deserved some closure and he was finally man enough to give it to her. He felt a little stronger and more resolute. He’d make a life for himself and perhaps someday he’d find a way to forgive himself as well. For now, he had to see if his passport was ready to be picked up.

Knowing that was his last night in that stuffy room made him smile for the first time in days. He locked the door and headed to see Slim. As he was leaving the hotel he notices someone watching him from across the street. He remains still for a moment to see if the man continues to look over at him. When he casually glances back that way, the man is lost in the crowd of street traffic. He wishes he’d left the hotel earlier; he’s made too many mistakes. He shrugs, chalks it up to paranoia and walks toward the pawn shop.

Greg immediately notices that Slim is not there. Pawn guy comes out of the back room and approaches Greg.

“He’ll be right back — you wait here.”

Greg doesn’t like it, however once again he’s at the mercy of these bottom feeders. He sits and considers his past. He has always been a near-do-well, but he wasn’t a crook.  He’d never stolen from anyone or cheated anyone. He had taken a lot from those he loved, but he always asked for it. He had cheated himself out of a decent life. He could have had so much more than what he ended up with.

It’s twenty minutes before Slim walks in with the passport. He barely looks at Greg and offers no apology. Greg asks him if he has the passport. Slim takes it out of his jacket pocket and hands it over.

“I’d leave the country soon if I were you.”

I’m confused about the sense of urgency. I thought I would spend some time traveling around Portugal and Spain before going to Morocco. After all, I had years of hiding in front of me.

“It’s not safe here for you,” Slim adds.

Greg grabs the passport and opens it to see who he is. He checks out the photo first; that’s fine. He thinks to himself, this looks pretty real. He’s not sure he likes the name Joseph Campos.

Slim says, “You have Spanish relatives; it’s a good name — suits you.”

At this point Greg just wants to get out of the shop and away from these lowlifes. He thanks Slim and gives a thumbs up to Pawn guy.

He decides to leave the hotel with the money he has left and head for Morocco where he can blend in with the locals. He’ll book at flight to Casablanca or Marrakesh at the airport, pay with cash and start fresh. He realizes he’s smiling again, having been resourceful enough to accomplish his first big task. Greg finds himself almost giddy with excitement. He feels lighter and hopeful.

When he gets back to his hotel, his smile disappears. He finds his door ajar and there is no one in sight. He enters the room and everything is turned upside down. He goes right to the dresser which is on its side. His stash is gone. This is exactly what he feared might happen. Greg’s only thought is now what and he falls to his knees.

To be continued next week

 

 

 

 

 

 

Running From Demons — Part I

Unlike any of my previous blogs, this is a work of fiction.

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He gazed out the window of the 757 and could think of nothing save what he was leaving behind. He pondered how many people he had hurt and how much of his life he had squandered. Greg had never been one for remorse. He plowed through life showing little or no concern for anyone but himself. The world was fucked up and until now, he was going to grab his piece of the pie in whatever way he could get it.

Having angered and alienated everyone who ever cared about him, he needed to escape to a place where no one knew him; Portugal seemed like a good place to start over. He exited the plane with a carry-on and his American passport. Walking toward Customs he worked up a sweat. Concerned about calling attention to himself, he ducked into a restroom to splash cold water on his face. Greg had $30,000 U.S. dollars to his name and it was all in his carry-on. If he were to be stopped, he’d be screwed. He knew about the cash limit, but he needed to close his U.S. bank account before his business practices caught up with him. That cash was all he had to live on until he could figure something out. Having gambled away his 401K, the tax penalties alone would wipe out any real estate equity he had in New York. His plan was to never have to deal with the U.S. government again.

As he walked through Customs he smiled and avoided eye contact with the officers. To his surprise there were no documents and no papers to sign; he was going to like this country. He checked into a 50 Euro a night hotel in a questionable Lisbon neighborhood. He needed a secure place to hide his cash and a halfway decent bed. This was not the way he usually travelled; maxing out his credit cards was his usual MO and he couldn’t remember the last time he paid off any of his balances. Before long, the creditors would be after him too. He knew that he had no one to blame but himself. Still, a survivor survives and Greg was hell-bent on starting a new life.

He sat in the dark in his small hotel room. He could smell the past and he could see that this was a place no one cared about. Finding a place to hide the money wasn’t easy. He lifted the dresser and taped the bills to the bottom. Clearly, no one had moved the dresser in years. Greg had avoided the bathroom, knowing he’d eventually have to use it. He was a bit of a germophobe and he had not had time to buy some disinfectant to wipe it down. He’d grab something at the market down the street. The overhead lighting was way too bright and the lamp was too far from the only chair in the room. He did a bit of rearranging and decided this situation was short-term and he’d have to let it go. At least he had a decent mattress and his room faced a small courtyard; at least he would have to listen to street noise.

The first order of business was to get a new passport. They’d be able to trace him to Lisbon, but with a new name and a Portuguese passport, he could hide out in a small seaside town. The money would run out quickly, so he had to work fast. Finding someone who could give him a new identity wouldn’t be easy. He knew he’d have to part with some cash and make several changes to his appearance. Shedding some of that excess weight would help; he’d cut out the alcohol and the junk food he often ate on the run. He told himself that the new Greg would be healthy and more conscientious about his spending. He also knew he had to stick to his plan or he’d end up behind bars; an option he couldn’t fathom.

Although he had never had to consider changing his identity, he recalled from movies that pawn shops were a good place to start. There happen to be one fairly close to his hotel and he didn’t want to carry cash further than he had to. Two thoughts dogged him as he circled the shop; would the language thing be an issue and how would he know who to trust. He knew how to read a poker face from his past and money talks, so he walked in and looked for someone to proposition. A short, seedy looking character wearing far too much cologne, came out of what appeared to be a back room.

“I’m Greg, do you speak any English.”

“A little.”

“Are you the owner?”

“What do you need.”

“I need to speak to someone who can help me with some papers.”

“What kinda of papers?”

Greg was wondering if this was a mistake. He hated himself for not having a contact in Lisbon. He couldn’t risk sharing his plan with anyone in New York; he had too many enemies. He changed his tactic.

“I’m Canadian and I lost my passport. I have time to wait for one from the Canadian Embassy and I was hoping you might be able to help.”

Pawn shop guy gives him a half-smile and says, “Give me a minute.”

The shop is a mess and he hasn’t seen another customer since he walked in. Soccer is playing on a big screen above the register and a mix of tobacco and cologne is making him sick to his stomach. He pretends to look around the shop, but he’s feeling anxious knows that he’s taking a big risk. Without an alternative plan, he waits.

He hears the pawn guy on the phone and five minutes later, he steps back into the front of the shop.

“Cinco minutos.” He walks over to chair, pats it and motions for Greg to sit.

Greg’s thinking, I either bolt or I wait. He says, “That’s okay, I’ll stand.”

Pawn guy shrugs and watches the game. Greg waits a good 45 minutes and in walks a very tall, very confident, very non-Portuguese fella. Greg thinks he might be a Swede, but he’s not certain. The guy walks right up to him, says nothing about being late, and asks:

“Miguel tells me that you need something?”

“I’m looking for a passport.”

“A passport for you or a friend?”

“A friend,” I say, thinking this is code.

“Portuguese?”

“American.”

“I mean the passport.”

“Whatever works.”

“Good because I don’t think you speak Portuguese so it would be a little strange, yes?”

“Yes,” I say, “I mean no, I don’t speak Portuguese.”

“Ten thousand Euros cash and you can have it tomorrow.”

That’s a lot more than I expected to pay; although it seems like a small price for freedom.

“How do I know it’s authentic?”

“Oh you want a guarantee too. That will cost you extra.”

Slim smirks as he walks toward Greg. Greg backs up and reaches out with his six-foot long arms to grab his shoulder.

“Look, I think I would have been out of business a long time ago if I couldn’t make this work. You either trust me or you take your business elsewhere.”

Greg had done some shady things in his life, but none were as risky as this. He thought they might follow him and find out where he was staying. Well he could easily fix that by moving to a new hotel; an out-of-the-way hotel. He thought he might get scammed; could he trust a thief? He was confused and conflicted and what he really wanted was a drink. He was ten feet away from a bar and a scotch on the rocks; he’d have to ignore the temptation.

His mind wandered to a situation ten years ago in Istanbul. He had hired an escort for what he thought would be a quick release. He ended up being chased through the streets and had to give up a gold watch and all of his cash. At the time he swore to himself that he’d stay away from the dark side. He’s broken that promise a number of times and he knew, he was about to break it again.

“When do you want the money?”

“When do you want your ticket to freedom?”

“Give me an hour,” Greg needed a little time to think.

To be continued . . .

 

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