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Cascais, Cascais, Cascais!

Dear Friends,

Forty minutes, and ninenteen miles from the center of Lisbon, awaits an idyllic town– Cascais. The coastal town Cascais has streets lined with palm trees, designer stores, restaurants, smaller boutiques and pocket-friendly shops, gelaterias, bookshops, a yoga studio, bicycle shops, rows of pink, white and eggshell houses, bars, pubs and tea houses. A few days after my arrival in Lisbon, I attempted to visit Cascais, but the train strike made it impossible. Thus, after two failed attempts, today was the day.

Upon exiting the train, I was thrown into a delicious state of confusion: Should I walk down the cobbled streets of the town? Should I get a hazelnut ice-cream cone and lick it slowly like those savoring their cones and basking in the sunlight at the sidewalk gelateria? Should I make my way directly to the beach without looking back? Gelato, shops, and cobbled streets are in Lisbon, so I decided to go straight, without stopping, to the beach. Less than five minutes later, an orchestra of waves washed over me.

To the left, and the right: paddle boarders, cyclists, topless sunbathers, sailboats, fishing boats, children skirting the waves, crests of white, a sandcastle being built, guys playing frisbee with their dogs, runners, and young and old stradding the wall that separates the square from the beach. English, Portuguese, Spanish and French rising and falling.

I want to be where the sun warms the sky
When it’s time for siesta you can watch them go by
Beautiful faces, no cares in this world
Where a girl loves a boy, and a boy loves a girl (La Isla BonitaMadonna)

Many years ago, Belinda Carlisle sang “Heaven is a Place on Earth,” and though it was never a favorite of mine, the song kept playing in my mind while observing the surroundings. The town is perfect— the comforts and conveniences of city living, the tranquility of the country, the closeness to the city of the suburbs, and the sea! Oh, Portugal. You were exactly what I was looking for– I adore you.

All we really want is some fun… Some guys take a beautiful girl and hide her away from the rest of the world. I want to be the one to walk in the sun….(Girls Just Want to Have Fun, Cyndi Lauper)

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(http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PIb6AZdTr-A)

Love,

Val

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This Is How It Starts– The Falling in Love

This is how it starts– the falling in love with a city. It descends and envelops you. There’s nothing you can do, it happens all at once. In mid-step, between your exhale and inhale, you realize it.

You find yourself doing things you’d never do anywhere else; like, leaving the house in the pouring rain to listen to live jazz and blues. You adore music, of course you do, but in another city, one you’re not enamored with, you’d say, “There’s music on YouTube, why would I go out in weather like this?”

You want to hold your excitement in, but can’t help sharing every photo, every realization, even when you may be the only one who can feel the thrill of it all.

Like the “Come to Jesus” posters at Arroios station say, “Every day’s a revelation.” You take the advice of a wise five-year old and taste raindrops on your tongue. You’ve eaten codfish before, but never steamed and served with potatoes. Oh boy, that doughnut filled with custard and the churro with creme, you’ve eaten those before, but heaven hadn’t opened its gates in your mouth then. Floods of flavor. Wow.

You do things you know you may regret, but then you think, “Those five minutes were worth it”– like, the mango margarita at The George on Rua Crucifixo. Tequila, aka “Ta kill ya,” you promised never to imbibe after the 2002 Festivale Mexicano fiasco, but here you are with a mango margarita– mango, tequila, salt, and– is that black pepper on top?

You fell in love before, of course you did, but this time, this time is different. You’re different. This city brings out the best in you; it makes you write everyday; it makes you smile inside and out, to which strangers will respond, stop you on the street and say, “You’re wonderful;” it makes things seem new, and since you know everything ends, your heart constricts a little.

Wait!

The novelty may fade, but the feeling could deepen. It doesn’t have to end. It doesn’t have to end.

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(Check out this link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oCM_VWzSiMo)

Lisbon Morning

Dear Friends,

For the sixth time, and with a great degree of scucess, I found a room on Airbnb. My host is a charming Portuguese woman, Agostinha, who welcomed me with a warm smile, a bag of groceries, and unbeknownst to her, pigeon poop on her head. The Portuguese are a bit on the shorter side, so I’m thinking no one she encountered in her errands saw that it was there.

Her apartment is four bedrooms, three of which she rents: a comfortable living room, an eat-in kitchen, and two full bathrooms. Every room is a different color– orange, purple, blue. I’m in the blue room, which has a Buddha head on the side table, a blue chair, a blue painting, and a blue comforter. It’s comfortable and bright. Two large windows stream light in, when I’m ready to open the shutters.

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neighborhood church
neighborhood church

Agostinha was on her way to eat a bifana this morning, so I accompanied her for the walk. A bifana is a pork sandwich; no lettuce or tomato, just simmered pork cubes on a fresh roll. For breakfast, I’d had pastry and mint tea at Doces and Emocoes.

Agostinha Magalhaes-- Take a Break Lisbon on Airbnb
Agostinha Magalhaes– Take a Break Lisbon on Airbnb
couldn't wait to take a bite.
couldn’t wait to take a bite.
pork cooking for a bifana
pork cooking for bifanas
standing bar bifana shop
standing bar bifana shop

We walked past the library and pool, which is two blocks away; men standing outside pastelarias, and people walking their dogs. For such a tiny person, Ana inhaled her sandwich soon after receiving it; then, she took me to a vintage shop a few streets away. The pristine shop, Humana, had thrift clothes on the ground floor and vintage clothes on the lower level. It’s strange, I’ve never seen an old lady on the street and thought, “Hey, I’d love to raid your closet,” but going into a vintage shop and seeing clothes from the 60s-80s always makes me hopeful.

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The forecast predicted a sunny, 81 degree day today, so in the afternoon, I felt the beach was the only place to be. I took the subway to the terminal stop on the green line, Cais do Sodre, where I was to transfer to another train to Caiscais. After almost an hour of waiting on the crowded platform, a sign was posted that the trains were suspended until 4pm. It seems the train drivers are on strike.

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With beach plans thwarted, I took the train to Alameda and walked around the area a bit. It’s the Easter weekend, so most of the shops are closed, but the cafes are all open. I chose an outside table, where I sat under a comfortable heat, ate quiche, drank some carrot juices, ate a few heart-shaped sweets, and read The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden for a few hours. If you haven’t read that novel yet, pick it up as soon as you can. It’s highly entertaining, clever and fast-paced. The heroine’s a wonder, and Jonasson’s writing made the day.

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Take care,

Val

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Reading Between the Lines: Leaving for Lisbon

Dear Friends,

Walking to Kaisers supermarket, the corner cafe beckoned. Pellets of sleet were falling, and a warm escape would’ve been welcome. Usually, there are one or two customers sitting outside, wrapped in dark coats, drinking coffee or eating a waffle with a scoop of ice-cream, but the sidewalk was deserted. The cafe owner, a middle-aged Italian guy, waved from the window and I waved back. A quick hello. It would’ve been nice to stop in for a pistachio sundae with a crispy wafer and a coffee amaretto, but I continued on. When I need to write, I sit in there, and drink a cappucinno and observe others eating sundaes. I haven’t had one yet, but will.

Maybe tomorrow…

In the afternoon, most of the tables are filled. Despite the cold, some customers eat large servings of gelato and whipped cream outside, when all the tables inside are taken. It must be quite lovely in the spring, as the street is lined with trees. At around nine or ten years old, I convinced myself that ice-cream was awful and stopped eating it for a couple of months. The smooth, creamy dessert that had been eaten every Sunday for years had become the equivalent of liver or beets– detestable. Chocolate, pistachio, vanilla, strawberry, all would be refused. “No, thanks. I don’t like ice-cream,” I’d say. It’s easy to convince ourselves of things, isn’t it? Whatever the issue was, it certainly wasn’t ice-cream, but denial can be satisfying.

Oh what a day what a day what a day…

At Kaisers, Wilmer, an American cashier with long hair, and another cashier were chatting at the registers. The aisles were empty. I asked him if today’s a holiday that I don’t know about, but he answered that the supermarket is always quiet in the afternoon. There was no one returning water bottles for .25 cents at the machine; there were no older women in fur coats at the meat counter; there were no teenagers in the candy aisle. The candy aisle is overflowing with Easter goodies– bunnies, eggs, new chocolates. I bagged my purchases and left, stopping at the bakery next door for a baguette before walking back up the hill.

Yesterday, on the tram downtown, a Bosnian woman sat beside me and started talking about her day. “Where are you from? I just came from my third job interview,” she said. “The interview was in German, and I don’t speak German, but that’s okay. I can learn.”

“New York. So, when they ask you to do something, how’ll you understand– isn’t that important?”

“It’s okay, I can learn,” she repeated.

I reflected that maybe I should sit in the solo seats, and not choose window seats just to feel the sunshine through the glass. She sat next to me, because I seemed content. “Are you happy?” she asked. A very good question. “Yes,” I said.  I told her that I was visiting, to which she replied, “Stay. You should stay here. It’s the best place– safe.” As a woman, I can well understand how safety would factor in one’s choice of hometown, but tell me more.

Every winter was a war she said….

When I got back, I had received the strangest message on Facebook; not that the message in itself was strange, but the fact that I hadn’t spoken to the sender in so long made it odd. He asked me what I’ve been doing with myself “for all these years,” and if I was still single. When you’re living your life, day night, one foot after the other, it generally doesn’t feel like “all these years.” Yep, I’m single, but how to expound on that I’m not sure. I almost asked, but didn’t want to delve too deeply into his analysis of the possible causes. (There’s much time, and when there’s no more time, there’s time again.)

My tourist visa expires next month. The work permit I applied for last month will arrive in the mail this week, and then it’ll be possible to start working. However, the reasons I had for coming to Germany are no longer clear. It has been surprising though, because the language has been more fun to learn than I thought it’d be, the neighborhood is convenient, and the prices are far cheaper than Tokyo. This comfortable period Dusseldorf-Berlin-Dusseldorf has been worthwhile, with visits from two very good friends, and paid writing assignments. Yet, when the visa expires, I’ll be leaving for Portugal.

How sweet it is…..

Portugal feels like the right place to be for spring.

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Love,
Val

* italicized lines are from songs

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An Incredible Wanderlust

Dear Friends,

I recently had a chat with two incredible artists and nomads, Tony and Chris, that touched on the subjects of being infected by the travel bug, living as an expat, ex-loves (theirs, not mine), Brooklyn (past and present), Berlin (past and present), possible future, illegitimate children (theirs, not mine), and the creative and spiritual energy of Bali. (If you’ve read posts from the early years of this blog, you may remember Tony from Paris and New York.)

It took me way back, back down memory lane… 

Tony speaks in stories, with the accompanying accents and quirky mannerisms of all the people he’s talking about. In less than thirty minutes, he was a German, a Brit, a Nigerian, an American, a Frenchman, and a Cambodian– he was all the people he had met, and of all the places he’s been. Fascinating, and funny; undoubtedly, funnier than the very people he impersonated.

Like all conversations with people you’ve known for almost half your life, the “Do you remember…?” moments arise. For some reason, Bobby Brown, (the My Prerogative Bobby Brown) almost always trickles into the conversation, but we didn’t get on the subject of New Jack Swing, its masters and its masterpieces. However, walking down memory lane was much like music: heady, swirling, pulsing, quick, enriching, rushing in.

He recalled, “Do you remember going to Buttercup Lounge? Yea, you remember.”  Walking down slick streets looking for the next party, dancing at Moes, sitting at the bar at Frank’s, drinking too much, reclining in the park in Paris with a baguette? Do you remember how I hated you when we first met; playing Scattergories , Brooklyn Moon, visiting Denmark, lounging on the couch at Bar 25 and confetti falling from the sky?  There were things that I hadn’t thought about in over a decade that only needed a jog to the memory bank to come alive…and there was NY as it was in our twenties– dark, it always seemed to be night, reckless, half tipsy, bipolar– at once euphoric and depressed, rainy, loud, frenetic, sleepy, cynical, broke but never broken, and brimming with life. Young.

There were remembrances I could have asked him about before moving on to the next topic: Do you remember the underground place in Brooklyn where we had to knock twice to get in, the exonerated woman you spoke to all night, the low ceilings of Ludlow Bar, eating pepperoni slices at 4am, going to church after 9/11, then Fort Greene Park, barbecues at my mother’s house, cupcakes at Sugar, Sweet, Sunshine, and Stevie Wonder, a soundtrack for life, early in the morning?)

The most fantastic thing about traveling, as Tony pointed out, is that it keeps one in a state of learning and growing. He says traveling subtracts five years from one’s life. A) In a new country, one can be fresh…. at least, in the beginning. Then, there you are again, as they say, wherever you go there you are, and it may just be time to move. B) In a new country, you’re bound only by your own imagination. No judgments, no expectations. C) In a new country, you meet new people who are much like the people you left behind, except you haven’t had the fights with these new friends yet, and you may never, because you’re not the same person you once were…and it’s true, you care less.

Chris pointed out that we’re transients; we need to move, to go, to feel new earth, to see. It’s an incurable wanderlust. Give me new: What else, where to, who to? He wondered aloud how long it would be this way, and I wondered silently if there’s any hope for us? To stay in the same place for more than three years, five years, one month– interesting. When I think of leaving, the itch of excitement comes, and last year, I met so many people who were just the same– we are not alone.

“…..It was already late

enough, and the road full of fallen

branches and stones.

But little by little,

as you left their voices behind,

the stars began to burn

through the sheets of clouds,

and there was a new voice

which you slowly recognized as your own,

that kept you company

as you strode deeper and deeper

into the world,

determined to do

the only thing you could do–”  (The Journey, Mary Oliver)

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berlin vacay

Much love,

Val

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From Jamaica to Germany

Dear Friends,

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Last week at this time, my mother and I were at Milk River Bath in Clarendon; she was soaking in the mineral baths, which are reputed to be among the most curative, restorative, and mineral rich in the world, and I was lying across the bed, in a sleeveless blue floral dress, reading Dan Brown’s latest novel, which was intense, but a bit lengthy.

This day, last week, was sunny, hot and tranquil. There were no mosquitos buzzing, because the repellent, Vape, was plugged into the wall; and the only breeze came from a large standing fan making its way slowly back and forth.

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I hadn’t been to Milk River Bath, since childhood, and I remembered not liking it then, so when my mother went on her numerous visits to the baths (possibly her favorite place in the world, besides her orchid-filled garden), I never accompanied her. However, my time in Japan, opened my eyes to the wonders of soaking for lengthy periods, and it was with eagerness that we both made the trip to Clarendon (the Jamaican parish in which the baths are located).

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The legend of the bath is that of a slave, who for a week, soaks his severely whipped body in the mineral water, which heals his wounds. He returns to his master (I never understood that part of the story), and is then made a manager of the Bath. Upon the slave owner’s death, the property was willed to  the Jamaican government, who test the water every year. The waters of Milk River are reported to be as potent and mineral laden as it was over 150 years ago.

Last week ago at this time, a few hours before, I had seen many pelicans in flight, rising from the marshes and gliding upward and outward. My mother and I, on our walk toward the nearby fisherman village, had encountered a rastaman who greeted us with “Bless!” By this time, we had eaten our ackee and saltfish with boiled green bananas breakfast, followed by passion fruit juice and Blue Mountain Coffee sweetened with a bit of thick condensed milk. Our senses were fulfilled.

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It’s unfair for any place to follow a visit to Jamaica, where streets give birth to butterflies. It’s unfair to compare Jamaica in January to Germany, which has greeted me with sleet, charcoal skies, which makes early morning look like evening, and the general feeling of barrenness that winter brings. It’s unfair for winter to follow summer with no fall as a buffer in between.

Though, I was treated to coffee in my first two hours of being in Dusseldorf, (ain’t it nice being a woman?!), my bones and hands are still cold. You’d laugh if you saw me– I’m wearing gloves, a scarf, wool socks and leg warmers inside the house. It’s much too early to say, and snap judgements are unfair, so I’ll withhold judgement; the pluses are the accommodations are large (though chilly, even with the heater on high), there’s a long balcony (on which I won’t sit for two months), it’s clean, and the supermarket and train station are nearby. As they say, “Life is what you make it.”

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Love,

Val

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Last Letter from Rishikesh

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Dear Friends,

This is the last letter from Rishikesh, as I’ll be leaving tomorrow. It’s incredible that a month has flown by.

This month has been about meetings and encounters. Unfortunately, I usually didn’t have my phone or camera, so few photos were taken of the fantastic people I met from all over the world: Australia, Denmark, The States, Germany, etc. Lasting friendships have begun here.

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In the month, I practiced yoga, meditated consistently, listened to swamis elaborate on ego and love; walked along the sandy shores of the Ganga; journeyed high into the mountains; ate ridiculously good paneer and pancakes when ashram food got too boring for words; learned and forgot Hindi words; evolved my wardrobe into one with more color; spent days in silence; and encountered the greatest energy in meditation, which blew my mind and heart wide open.

Sundays are our free day at the ashram, so today will be spent 1) washing some clothes and hanging them on the balcony’s clothesline 2) buying a few souvenirs 3) eating an hours-long lunch at The Beatles Cafe and watching the sunset 4) meeting friends for dessert (maybe carrot cake and butterscotch ice-cream) 5) going to the kirtan at Yoga Chakra Hall.

You see how quickly a day can pass– eating, laughing, talking, thinking, writing, laughing, listening?! Each day the same, each day new.

Love,

Val