Yeah, you. My reader. It’s been more than 7 years, 2 domains and a divorce since DelSo was born. Over the years I’ve shared a lot of my life and self here, in print. You, as a reader, have come to know me on some level from my words. What makes you return here (assuming you’re not new around these parts) and read what I write? Let me remind you of some of what I’ve related to you in the hope that you might feel inclined to share with me – who you are, reader? Why are you here?
There have been so many miles – more plane rides than I could have ever imagined, along with runs and races and road trips. I’ve explored cities with my boys and my girlfriends and solo. My feet have run in a half dozen different countries and probably about the same number of states.
My home has evolved from a house with two full-time parents to one of three part-time children. There have been physical improvements, rooms repurposed and painted, new rugs and furniture rearranged. It feels different. After a refinance or two, I know it’s mine.
I’ve written about books I’ve read and movies and concerts I’ve seen. Increasingly, politics and my dismay with our current leadership have been topics I’ve felt compelled to write about.
My children and the challenges of being a parent frequently provide fodder for posts. While the joys outweigh the frustrations, parenthood remains a roller coaster ride that keeps me on the edge of my seat with a scream threatening to escape. It’s a heart racing ride.
Sometimes I cook or bake and post recipes and photos of the fruits of my labors. Food and wine are a big part of my life and I’ve happily shared my experiences with you. Oh – and there’s that wine bar that I own.
There have been times when I wrote with sadness or anger, but I think I mostly write from a place of understanding and acceptance. Balance and moderation are woven throughout much of what I write.
Health and wellness have been covered and the miracle of menopause has been mentioned. The heartbreak of addiction and the threat of cancer have been present. I’ve learned to ski and have found bliss in pigeon pose in a room heated to 100+ degrees.
It’s all here – my life. Not perfect, not necessarily what I ever imagined it to be, but a life that I feel grateful for in a city that I have come to love.
Will you tell me why you visit my life?
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On my very first trip to Europe, in 1988, I made a new friend, A. He was wearing leather bike gear, with a scruffy face and charming English accent. The attraction was immediate. We made a connection that led to numerous transatlantic flights and were lucky enough to explore a few amazing cities together. It’s a time in my life that I recall warmly.
The last time I saw my friend, A, was almost 25 years ago, in London. He helped sort out accommodations for my brother and me and we got to spend an afternoon or two together, along with his towheaded two year-old son. He was married then and seemed contented. Again, happy memories of a lifetime ago.
We maintained a correspondence, old school, with paper, envelopes and stamps, for quite a few years after that last in person visit. Although the details are hazy after so many years, I recall receiving a letter telling me he was sick, maybe a brain tumor and the prognosis was dire. It was goodbye.
Life was wild with young children and new careers, and I accepted the news with sad resignation, too busy to immediately follow-up. Of course, I’ve wondered over the years about him, and his family, and have taken half-hearted stabs at trying to locate him in the digital age. I looked for an obituary online but never found a word about them. Until last week.
After happening upon a memento from a trip I had once taken with my departed friend, I impulsively searched Facebook for his name and came up empty. I changed my search to the name of A’s son. Immediately, a photo appeared – A’s face, but a version far younger than I ever had known A to be. His son.
I clicked on the link and found the obituary, not of A, but his son. Oh, no. The tow -headed boy had grown into a too young to die young man. Almost 7 years ago A’s son had died while serving in Afghanistan. There were photos of the funeral and I saw an older than I had ever imagined A. I struggled with sadness and relief.
Sometimes the real heartbreak comes long after the breakup.
Isn’t it pretty to think so?
If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time or are acquainted with me in real life, you know I don’t watch a lot of television. I just don’t have time for sitting around, especially during the academic year, and really only justify indulging myself with a couple of hours of viewing when I’ve got a basket or two of laundry to fold. Except for last week, that is.
Last week I took solace in the ugliness of methamphetamine and drug cartels and the harsh desert landscape of America’s southwest. I fled our world of black people dying at the hands of police and police officers dying by the guns of black citizens. I successfully ran away from a truck filled with hatred at a time when dozens failed to make the very same escape. I avoided the ugly rhetoric of politics, complete with bigotry and racism and ignorance, by immersing myself in a society devoid of political parties. I chose, for more hours than I’d like to admit, to reside in a place that somehow, perhaps because of its very distance from my own personal reality, seemed safer than the world that I find myself currently living in.
Years after most Breaking Bad aficionados, I watched the series finale. Loose ends were tied up, comeuppance was dealt out, closure was achieved. It was satisfying. I’m going to miss it.
Home, sweet home
After more than 20 hours on a bus (actually, 3 buses) we arrived in Lisbon as darkness fell. There was a failed connection with an Uber driver and an eventual cab ride with a driver who could not locate our desired address and instead dropped us off at the bottom of a formidable hill and advised us to simply walk an unknown distance until we located #4 Beco do Mirante. We wandered down a street so narrow that it felt more like an extended driveway than a road, before encountering a mound of trash and a gang of street cats taking their evening meal. We turned around and started over, eventually stumbling upon our home for the next three nights and being warmly welcomed by Renata, our AirBandB host.
It was not an auspicious start.
Despite the less than positive beginning to our stay, Lisbon absolutely captivated me. The view from our flat, both from the front and rear balconies, was memorable, with a beautifully lit dome filling the night sky when we arrived and the rising sun glowing over the river greeting me in the morning. The architecture was remarkable with many of the building facades tiled in dizzying patterns to whose charm I could never imagine becoming immune.
The sounds of Lisbon included barking dogs and cooing pigeons and Fado music. Of the three, I preferred the pigeons. The sidewalks are made from small, rough cut stones which are surprisingly slippery even when dry and the narrow streets wind about with complete disregard for a more modern city’s commitment to a grid pattern. The hills are impressive and I felt no guilt about not running when I instead happily walked for hours up and down and around and about.
Portuguese people are handsome – both males and females. Dark hair and eyes and golden brown skin dominate. The men are more direct with their attentions than I had expected, dispelling any stereotypes I previously held about aggressive Italian or Spanish men. These guys were open about their admiration without being threatening. If I were younger I might have found it intimidating, but, at my age, I’ll take it as a compliment.
Look at that tile!
The wines, (with decent rosés selling for 2 euro a bottle in the corner grocery store), and sangria we sampled were tasty, as were both the red and white ports we tried. The traditional custard tart, pastéis de nata, was a delicious treat any and all times of day and there were other baked goods, including a bread studded with chorizo and ham, that were also excellent. The meals we had were not quite on par with the food in Barcelona, but there weren’t really any bad dining experiences. I could not find the fish stew I had imagined, but it gives me yet another reason to go back.
Breakfast with meat bread front and center.
This is a place I definitely want to revisit.
Maybe I’ve gotten a little too blasé about traveling. What was once approached with actual penned lists, which were meticulously cross checked, has become a much more casual affair. I select a few favorite items of clothing and then flesh out my travel wardrobe while trying to remain committed to a color scheme. Navy blue has been my go to palette one last couple of trips. I toss in toiletries and any necessary electronic gadgets or chargers and go. Simple.
Getting out of town for my most trip was complicated by home and business responsibilities. There were some banking tasks that would need to be accomplished in my absence so I went through my wallet to leave ATM cards for those taking care of business while I vacationed. It seems I should have paid more attention to what I was doing…
We arrived in Barcelona Saturday morning after what had been a long day of work and travel. I approached an ATM in the airport and fumbled for my bank card to make a withdrawal…and it wasn’t there. I checked again, looking in compartments and pockets where I knew it wasn’t going to be and tried not to panic. Hmmm. Somehow I had left all of my ATM cards at home. How was I going to solve this problem?
I had 80 euros in my wallet from last year’s trip to France and both a Visa and an American Express card. On a European vacation many years ago my ATM card wouldn’t work at most of the bank machines I encountered and I resorted to taking cash advances on my credit card. I’d just do that again. I’d get dinged for some bank fees, but whatever. Simple.
Except, it was the weekend and there weren’t any banks open. Not a big deal, we’d just wait it out until Monday, right? My credit cards should cover us, I thought, as we grabbed a cab to get us to our accommodations. No problem. I was so confident that come Monday we’d be able to access cash via a cash advance which I could pay off immediately electronically, that I went ahead and spent 40 euros cash on the cab when the driver balked at my Visa card. It’s all good, except…
Monday came along and none of the banks I went into (there were 4 attempts on my part) would perform a cash advance transaction. My only option was to use an ATM, but I had never bothered to set up a pin, which once again left me high and dry. Now, though, I had even less cash. We were down to my last 20 after an indulgent cab ride home on Saturday night. Yes, we had spent 60 of our 80 euros on cab rides.
What did we do? We basically charged everything, which was fine because I had expressly obtained my Visa card because it came without fees for international transactions. As a matter of fact, I was earning cash back on my purchases. Not having cash definitely was a crimp in my style, but by no means was it the end of the world. We figured it out and ultimately a lack of cash didn’t translate at all to a lack of fun. Lesson learned. It won’t happen again.
Have you ever listened to this album by Miles Davis? It’s one of my favorites and sets the mood for so many things – a romantic dinner, a quiet conversation, time alone with your special someone. Add it to your playlist and thank me later, ok?
Now that you’ve got that going, let me share some of my impressions of Spain, or more accurately, Barcelona.
- The dogs here are rarely on leashes, although their owners always seem to have one slung over their shoulders. The dogs are very well behaved and never run into the street or approach strangers even when a stranger is missing their own dog and more than willing to give a pat.
- Fashion observations: women wear tights and stockings far more than at home. They also rock tight, little leather jackets, while people of all ages have those super light down jackets in a rainbow of colors. Happily, I haven’t seen a single pair of Uggs.
- Far too many people smoke cigarettes, just like in Paris. The only other unpleasant aroma has been a vague sewer smell that wafts around in a mild, yet noticeable way.
- Speaking of smells, it’s weird – the Mediterranean doesn’t have that briny smell that announces its presence like the Atlantic. There’s no “sea air” that I could discern.
- Children seem to be very well loved here. Parents are affectionate and attentive without resorting to that helicopter approach which is so prevalent in the U.S.
- Everyone has either a scooter, a bike or a soccer ball.
- Scarves are oversize and wound repeatedly around the necks of both men and women.
- Running seems to be a pretty big activity here and I got lucky with a boardwalk of sorts and parks super close to our apartment. I ran every day.
- Chefs use a generous amount of salt and pastry is far more delicate than I imagined.
- I’d like to come back here again.
When I travel I hope to gather experiences. Sampling local cuisine, seeing new places, absorbing the flavor of a previously unknown culture, is what I’m all about. This trip has certainly provided those opportunities – and more. The nearly full moon over the Mediterranean, the Park Guell, white anchovies and jamon washed down with sangria, it’s all been wonderful and appreciated.
All of those good things have made the new experience of missing my flight a bit easier to swallow. I don’t really know how it happened. I can only say it was a combination of a leisurely lunch and a couple of missteps with transit that led to us arriving at our gate only to be turned away as too late to board. Plan B, as in bus, became our best option.
I don’t often ride the bus at home, preferring the train for trips to NYC and opting to drive or fly to other destinations, but the bus was our only play to get from Barcelona to Lisbon. At about the time our flight was scheduled to land in Lisbon we got on the first of the three buses required to get us across Spain and into Portugal.
Bus travel is weird. I don’t know why the vibe is so different from flying. It isn’t as if planes are all that much more luxurious these days than a decent coach bus. The bus has individual entertainment monitors, wifi and reclining seats just like a commercial plane, yet somehow it seems to magnify the sounds and scents of its passengers in a way that an airplane fails to do, generally at a fraction of the cost. Bonus?
The smells on the bus were sobering – food and farts and foreign scents. I took my shoes off both as a means to get comfortable and self defense as I added my own aroma to the potpourri that filled the air. You’re welcome, bus riders. Our overnight travels allowed for a bit of sleep and when I awoke, we were nearing Madrid. My alarm at the state of my feet upon our arrival, swollen perhaps from the surprisingly good Chinese food we had consumed prior to our 7 hour ride, was completely trumped by the sight of my fellow passenger brushing her hair in the bus station bathroom. See, she had removed her hair attachment completely, revealing a much more staid coif than the Charo style hair she had been rocking when I last saw her in the seat behind me.
It’s been a weird morning. Time to find the next bus and continue our journey – Lisbon or bust.