Anthony & Lars

Anthony’s daughter, Julietta, had a boyfriend. A boyfriend named Lars.

Lars had a tattoo of a dragon or lizard or something on his arm. Lars had a motorcycle. Lars had a pierced nipple – he even pulled up his shirt to show Anthony one day, as if that was something Anthony really wanted to see. And what the hell kind of name was Lars, anyway? Swiss or something?

Lars was spending way too much time with Julietta. With Anthony’s only daughter. Julietta began bringing Lars with her to family functions. Anthony tried to avoid him, but it was hard. Sometimes Lars would walk up to him and try to strike up a conversation, right out of the blue. And Lars was always smiling. Trying to get on his good side, Anthony was sure. Well, if Lars thought any of that was going to work with Anthony, he was going to be disappointed. Anthony would NEVER like that sonofabitch.

But Lars continued to hang around. He continued to make small talk with Anthony and his wife, Marie, every time he saw them. Anthony noticed after a while Marie started to act funny, almost as if she LIKED Lars. And Julietta’s three younger brothers didn’t even pretend to hide it. They loved Lars. They loved his motorcycle – Anthony knew Lars took them for rides even though Anthony strictly forbade it. They loved Lars’ tattoo and were thinking about getting some of their own when they were old enough. It made Anthony cringe.

One Saturday evening they got some news. Julietta called from Las Vegas to tell them she and Lars had ridden out there on Lars’ motorcycle and gotten married. She talked to Marie first, but Anthony figured out the gist of their conversation well before Marie handed him the phone. Even though he loved Julietta, Anthony couldn’t bring himself to fake much enthusiasm. He just wished Julietta well and handed the phone back to Marie.

Anthony’s only daughter had eloped with a guy named Lars. He felt cheated. Cheated out of a big formal wedding. Cheated out of a son-in-law he could drink beers with and proudly introduce to his friends. And Julietta deserved better. Better than a guy named Lars with a nipple ring. But she was 24 years old and didn’t need Anthony’s approval. She hadn’t even asked for it.

Julietta and Lars moved into a house just a few blocks away from Anthony and Marie. Lars got promoted at the concrete plant where he worked, and they somehow scraped up the money for a down payment. They didn’t even ask Anthony to help – not that he would have been able to help much anyway given the cost of tuition, cars and other expenses for Julietta’s brothers. And Anthony was having some health problems that had forced him to take early retirement, so money was tight.

Julietta continued to bring Lars to family functions, and after a while their two small daughters came as well. Anthony loved spending time with his granddaughters, but he still avoided Lars as much as possible. At some point, Lars started coming around even without Julietta. Anthony knew Marie had asked Lars to tackle some household repairs she was concerned might stress Anthony’s health. Anthony pretended not to notice.

Then, Lars started to mow Anthony and Marie’s yard. He would mow his own lawn and after he was done, he’d wheel his lawnmower down to Anthony’s house and fire it up again. Lars joked about how it gave him more time to enjoy the noise of the lawnmower – he missed that sound ever since he’d gotten rid of his motorcycle. It WAS a big help, but Anthony hadn’t asked him to do it and wasn’t about to thank that sonofabitch.

Julietta’s brothers didn’t come around much anymore. One moved away to New York City and never seemed to have the time or money to visit. Another had a drinking problem and spent most of his time either attending AA meetings or drunk. The youngest lived right across town from Anthony and Marie, but he and Anthony had fallen out years before and weren’t on speaking terms.

So, family get-togethers and holidays now consisted of Anthony, Marie and Julietta’s family. And after Lars’ father died, his mother, Stepha, moved in with Julietta and Lars, so she started coming too. Marie quickly grew fond of Stepha and they started spending quite a bit of time together. But Anthony just couldn’t bring himself to like Lars’ mother. And what the hell kind of name was Stepha, anyway?

Lars did well at the concrete plant, and eventually became the General Manager. It sounded like a hoity toity title to Anthony – a fitting title for a sonofabitch. Lars and Julietta traded up to a larger house out on Sand Ridge Road, where all the rich people lived. It seemed to Anthony they were just showing off.

When Anthony and Marie’s medical bills started piling up, Lars paid some of them off without saying anything about it. Anthony also knew Lars had bailed Julietta’s brother out of jail on more than one occasion when his drinking had gotten bad. But it was hard for Anthony to appreciate these things. In fact, it wounded his pride a bit that sonofabitch Lars was usurping Anthony’s leadership role in the family.

The time came for Anthony and Marie to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary. Julietta planned a huge party for them as a gift from her and Lars. Most of Anthony and Marie’s friends were there, at least the ones that were still alive. It was also quite a surprise when all three of Anthony’s sons showed up with their wives and families. They even expressed remorse at having stayed away so long and promised to bring the grandkids around more in the future. One of them let slip the reason for his change of heart was Lars had talked him through it. And it turned out Lars had been in touch with the other two as well.

Anthony and Marie couldn’t get around very well, so they stayed at the head table all evening visiting with a steady stream of friends and family. Everyone had wonderful things to say about Julietta, Lars and their girls. But especially about Lars.

“Well,” thought Anthony toward the end of the party. “Maybe Lars isn’t such a sonofabitch after all.”

PC: Daniel Thürler on Unsplash

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Truth

“What would make you hate me?” Jared asked.

“What kind of a question is that?” Olivia replied tersely, without really considering answering. It was a practiced deflection. Olivia had been deflecting Jared for years.

Olivia always said she wanted a deeper bond with Jared. She chided him for his silence, for not sharing enough details of his day, for never talking about his deepest thoughts and feelings with her. But, the truth was, Olivia didn’t want to know EVERYTHING that went on in Jared’s head – only the good parts, if there were any. The parts that would uplift her and reinforce the fairy tale world she’d built around their relationship. And, if there were no good parts, Olivia wanted Jared to make some up.

The truth was, Olivia feared truth. At least, any truth she might find unpleasant to know. So, she usually avoided it.

“It’s a simple question,” Jared replied. “You always say you love me, and you seem to have reasons for it. But what would make you hate me?”

Olivia sensed a trap, or at the very least, bad news. Was Jared about to tell her their marriage was over? Or he’d had an affair? Or he’d gambled away all their savings? Or was he just looking to start a fight? Because answering his question truthfully could ignite all kinds of fires. It wasn’t a positive question, and Olivia could think of no way to answer positively.

“It will make me hate you if you don’t let this question go,” Olivia replied smoothly, feeling good about coming up with a brisk, non-combative deflection.

Olivia and Jared sat in silence a while longer. The while stretched into a lifetime. The thoughts in Jared’s head were still there. But Olivia didn’t know about them.

 

PC: Sebastian Pichler on Unsplash

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Portugal

Although we began our journey last year with a retirement mindset, this month I began the search for a new work situation that would allow us better access to family in Austin and the USA.  Many interesting options have come up and we are considering each carefully to decide which is a great fit for both sides.  Thanks to all who have reached out with advice and opportunities!
Everyone has to lay their head on a pillow somewhere, and we decided the place we wanted to be while we outline our next chapter is PORTUGAL!  We’ve been here before and love it.  However, we’ve changed our pattern of staying in one city for one month at a time and have been traveling around Lisbon area and the Algarve (which is the southern coast once ruled by the Moors).
General Impression
The British have been vacationing in Portugal for centuries so English is widely spoken, which is a good thing because the Portuguese language seems nearly impossible.  I’ve heard people claim it’s similar to Spanish, but I don’t hear it.  Many of the words are close and look the same when written, but the pronunciation is very different.   To me, it sounds more like Russian than Spanish.

There seem to be very few Americans around.  Maybe that’s why we like it so much!  The natural environment can be rugged with cyclical drought, not unlike Central Texas.  But it doesn’t drop below freezing in the coastal areas and while it can get quite hot in the summer months the most extreme heat is confined to July and August.  And, even then, it’s more off and on than constant (which IS unlike Central Texas!).

Dining
As you might expect for a seafaring nation with a lot of coastline, fresh seafood is the dominant cuisine here. The grilled sardines are amazing!  Italian is common as well, often with a local spin.  There’s also a variety of wonderful pastries, most notably  Pastel de Nata, a flaky crusted tart filled with rich custard.  The back story is that nuns in this Roman Catholic country raised hens because they needed egg whites to starch their habits.  They mixed the leftover yolks with plentiful sugar from the Portuguese colony of Brazil to make the creamy custard filling.  It may be true or not, but they are delicious either way, especially hot from the oven!
Lisbon
A cosmopolitan city with between 2 and 3 million people in its metropolitan area that should be on everyone’s travel list.  I’ve heard Lisbon described as “unnecessarily pretty” and that’s an apt description.  But, although there are plenty of tourists, it’s also a city dominated by the people who live and work there.  Since the late 2000’s downturn, which the locals call “the crisis”, Lisbon has seemingly recovered and there’s renewed interest in commerce and construction.  There is also a bridge (25th of April Bridge) across the Tagus River estuary that’s reminiscent of the Golden Gate.
Carvoeiro
Pronounced CARVE-WHERE-OH, this formerly tiny fishing village is now a tiny tourist haven.  We broke from our pattern of AirBnB/Home  Away apartments and stayed at a beautiful upscale resort hotel for a few days.  It was the perfect spot to vacation from our vacation!  We enjoyed the rooftop bar, as well as the local seafood.
Lagos
Pronounced LA-GO-SH, this is a bigger tourist town where we stayed in a great apartment with a big balcony from which we could see the ocean.  We could easily walk down to the beach or into town, but often opted to sit on the balcony and enjoy the quiet.  There was a wine shop right below our apartment that kept us stocked up!  One afternoon we hiked along the cliffs overlooking the coast to the neighboring village of Praia da Luz, another fun place where we’d vacationed a few years ago.
Portimao
This seemed to us to be the Portuguese city that gets no respect.  The rest of the country dismisses it as a working city of no interest, but we really enjoyed our time there.  We had a light and airy apartment with two massive balconies that collectively were larger than the entire apartment.  We were walking distance to beautiful beaches and plenty of restaurants.  We also made a day trip to the adjoining village of Ferragudo and enjoyed it there as well.
Pera
Another departure from “our usual” we stayed way out in the country, not really walkable to anywhere, and inland from the ocean.  We had a nice, quiet stay as the only occupants of a small four unit motel with a swimming pool and expansive view of the neighboring city of Armacao da Pera, where we visited and ate several times.  We also spent a pleasant afternoon at a local vineyard and sculpture garden.  Barbara rented a bike for the week to do her Geocaching hobby and we got to know two or three of the local Uber drivers well.
Albufeira
Locals warned us against staying in this touristy city but we’had pre-booked an apartment so were committed.  However, much like Portimao, we found the local perception to be off the mark.  We stayed in the old city, rather than on the beach strip and, although it was a little loud at night, it was a picturesque place well worth checking out.
Costa da Caparica
We took the bus from Albufeira for a 3-1/2 hour ride north toward Lisbon for our stay in this seaside town on the southern end of the aforementioned 25th of April Bridge.  The weather was cloudy and the wind blustery for most of our stay here, which may have colored our opinion, but this wasn’t one of our favorite stops.  It’s not an especially pretty place and the oceanfront consists of a series of jetties with sandy areas between them.  But we had a wonderful AirBnB host, Hugo, that bent over backwards to take care of us – including bringing us a new coffee maker at 11:30 pm so we could have coffee the next morning!  Hugo grew up in the former Portuguese colony of Mozambique and moved to Lisbon to work at a venture capital firm.  Portugal makes special provisions for people from all its former colonies to live and work here at will.
Setubal
We enjoyed our stay in this authentic working port city.  It’s not beach-oriented but has a well preserved old town and a number of bustling squares.  We didn’t see a lot of tourists around, but the ones there were seemed more domestic than foreign.  There’s an old fort that sits atop the city and offers great views.  Although seafood dominates, we found a great restaurant that specialized in beef and game and ate there twice during our 4-day stay.
Tidbits
Lisbon has an extensive and cheap metro system with subways, trains, boats and buses that’s pretty easy to access and figure out.  There are trains and buses between various cities, but once in the smaller cities we mostly relied on taxis and Uber cars.  Our train ride from Lisbon to the Algarve cost 28 Euros each and the return trip by bus was only 19 Euros each (and actually took about the same length of time).

It was actually on the chilly side for most of our stay  – the locals remarked that this May’s weather was more like March, and it was actually warmer in Scotland than Portugal at times.  Most days saw highs about 70 and lows about 60, but there were some stiff winds that made it seem colder and quelled any desire to jump into the ocean.  But we enjoyed the beaches being less crowded than normal.

Most things were more expensive than in South America and eastern Europe where we’ve spent the last year but much more reasonable than the rest of western Europe.  We paid Austin prices for food in most of the tourist restaurants, but there were many local places where we could have a great meal for about 10 Euros each.  Bottles and glasses of wine were dirt cheap both in restaurants and stores.  Our AirBnB/HomeAway digs typically were around $60 per night for short-term, off-season rates.

The Ugly
After being spoiled by the mostly great WiFi and telephone coverage that our Remote Year program arranged for us during the last year, we’ve been a little disappointed by some of the WiFi speeds and local cellular data/voice plans we’ve encountered on our own.

As pretty as the mosaic sidewalks throughout Portugal are, they can be very slippery even when they aren’t wet, especially in steep areas.  Girl shoes tend to make the situation worse, and Barbara had quite a bad fall one day.  Fortunately, she suffered only minor scrapes and bruises.

Service providers here are typically slow to respond to things.  The owner of one of our apartments had been waiting for months for the internet provider to hook up their new service and still had no idea when it would be done.  There can also be a fair amount of waiting in line, although the lines are very orderly.

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Tenerife, Spain

We’re following up on US job opportunities and will head stateside in July to be with family while we sort things out.  It’s an exciting time for us but, on the down side, this will likely be my last update.  Cheers to all who have followed our “mis-adventures” over the past 14 months!  We’ve enjoyed staying connected and hearing back from some of you off and on!
Through our Remote Year connections, we stumbled upon an unbelievable opportunity to travel to the Canary Island of Tenerife (Spain).  Our friend, the amazing Anne Kuppens, is opening a live/work space called Nine Coliving in a 150-year-old colonial style mansion in the heart of the historic Village of Orotava.  She let us stay free for three weeks in exchange for help painting and otherwise preparing her incredible place for a September opening.
General Impression
We’d never visited the Canary Islands so Tenerife sounded exotic and remote.  We were surprised that it was only 2-1/2 hours from Lisbon on a direct flight.  The Canaries are far more populated than I expected, with nearly 900,000 on the island of Tenerife and just over 2 million on the seven primary islands overall.  The tourist activity supports TWO airports – one on either end of the island.  As you would expect for a volcanic island with a huge peak in the middle (at 12,200 feet it is the highest peak in Spain) most of the development is around the perimeter of the island.  It reminded us of Hawaii.
Dining
Nothing especially notable on the food side.  There were lots of fresh vegetables available, many harvested locally, but it was hit or miss as to what you might find on any given day.  We looked for strawberries to make shortcake for July Fourth but had no luck.  One common local crop is potatoes – several tasty varieties are grown.  Small potatoes cooked unpeeled in salt water are served as tapas with different dipping sauces.  There’s also a local wine industry and we tasted some good ones.  Fresh fish was also typical.  Grilling on the roof was our favorite dining option!
Mount Teide
Others in our group, Jan and Jelske from the Netherlands, rented a car and gave us a ride to the funicular (gondola lift) from where we could access the top of the volcano that originally formed the island.  They parked, hiked to the top, spent the night, watched the sun come up and returned the next day.  Barbara and I did the middle-aged thing (or maybe the old thing? – I guess people don’t usually live to be 120…), riding up and back to the peak on the funicular and returning on the bus.  The vegetation changed from tropical to piney woods as we traveled up, eventually petering out entirely.  The top of the mountain was above the clouds so had a surreal feeling.
Winery
We spent a nice afternoon (our 31stwedding anniversary) with our group at a winery, tasting local vintages and taking a cooking class.  We learned how to make some dipping sauces for the local salt potatoes and then we had a competition within our group to see who could make the best one.  I won, of course.
Nine Coliving
The highlight of our stay was the house itself – some days I never went out at all!  It was originally home to a wealthy family and has a historic designation, as do a large number of other houses in the old city center.  High ceilings, lots of stairs, nine bedrooms (with potential for more as rehab progresses), huge roof deck, beautiful central courtyard and a lush back garden and patio.  We painted, gardened, cooked, cleaned and otherwise tried to make ourselves useful – although I’m pretty sure we got far more than we gave by being able to stay in this beautiful place for three weeks for free.  There were several others staying too, and the faces evolved over time, so it was also a very pleasant social experience.  Many thanks to Anne for letting us stay!
Beaches
The beaches are black volcanic sand and look very hot, although I’m ashamed to admit I never once went to the beach during our stay.  Surfing is big here (another similarity to Hawaii) and several of our fellow house guests surfed on many occasions.  Apparently, the waves are particularly variable, so every surf day is a slightly different experience.  And there are several beaches to choose from, depending on what you’re looking for.
World Cup
I must say, the World Cup experience is generally more exciting to follow in Europe than in the USA as the fans are extremely knowledgeable and enthusiastic, and the games are televised in every bar and restaurant.   However, we found the experience on Tenerife to be more subdued that we had in Portugal.  Unless the Spanish team was in the game, there didn’t seem to be a lot of people following the other matches.  Surprising.
Activities
Maybe it was just the time of year, but there was a lot going on.  Nine Coliving was only a few blocks from the main La Orotava central square, in fact our roof deck overlooked it, so we were able to experience several concerts, fun runs and other events while we were there.  They also had a small but well stocked farmers market on Saturday mornings.  Barbara went whale watching on a catamaran with our group, but I passed on that since boats aren’t my thing.
Tidbits
There was no Uber on the island, so we mostly took taxis if we had to go more than a mile or so.  They weren’t unreasonable to take just to the neighboring villages, but the trip to the north airport near the city of Santa Cruz (about 15 miles away) was about 25 euros.  We also took the local buses to some locations – they were affordable but often crowded and tended to be slow as they stopped many times.  And we generally walked to destinations within the Village of Orotava, since it was a small place.  Tenerife itself is well connected to Europe and we were told that the locals were given special deals with the airlines that allowed them to travel for just a fraction of the normal fare.We expected it to be hot along the west coast of Africa, but we were more often chilly, even in July.  It only rained significantly during one day of our visit – most days were a combination of sun and clouds, often changing dramatically within just a few minutes.  The house had no AC and we never felt the lack.  The peak temperature hit mid-eighties F many days, but generally with a cool ocean breeze.  The Tenerife climate is arid overall (between 5 and 20 inches of rain per year at various locations) but there’s a fair amount of vegetation in many spots because it never gets terribly hot.  Winters are cooler (most people have space heaters), but never freezing.

We were expecting prices for food and other things in this island location to be high, similar to Hawaii, but didn’t find it so.  Grocery store prices were about the same as our previous stop in Portugal.  We didn’t have to buy much besides food, but the few things we did buy seemed reasonable.  And since we were staying free we didn’t get a handle on real estate rental prices at all.

The Ugly
We didn’t find any significant warts here during our stay.  I’m not a big fan of the volcanic “black beaches”, but that’s more a matter of personal taste than a complaint – and since I never went anyway I have little reason to complain!.  While I think overall it might be too quiet for a permanent home it was a GREAT and relaxing place for an extended visit.
Our travels are at a temporary standstill, so this will likely be my last post for now.  Hopefully, our paths will cross soon.  Until then, SAFE TRAVELS!

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