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What would Mary do?

I always find comfort in knowing Mary went through something I went through.  Often I find myself thinking, did Mary feel this way?  I’m sure it’s a normal part of coping with her absence.  Although, growing up I didn’t want to do something unless Mary had done it first.  She always seemed to pave the way for me.

I didn’t drink in high school.  In college, I said no at parties until about 6 months before my 21st birthday.  I wasn’t with Mary, but I called her 2 Vanilla Coke’n Rum’s in, to declare “Mary, I’m drunk!”  I definitely was never going to smoke!  But then later, I could at least try it, since she had.  I definitely was not going to be having sex.  And whenever I would do the deed, it would have to be after Mary had done it. How else was I going to know what to do?

This standard pertained to an array of things: going on a date, kissing a boy, traveling, buying things, etc.  All fashion purchases were double checked with her, even after the fact.  I had to make sure it was cool.  I was pretty ignorant, and just plain scared. Sometimes I wonder how much has really changed.

Lately, I have found myself feeling useless, stagnant, bored.  My summer hiatus is (hopefully) ending, and I am starting to finally feel it’s weight pull me down.  I’ve always been an optimistic and active person, I can’t sit still.  I caused my Portugal vacation to be an opportunity to learn another language.  Even now, during hiatus, I have kept up with Portuguese lessons daily, piano practice, yoga practice – I will not let myself become idle.  Still, I have lost purpose, and optimism.  Today was particularly hard.  I know, we need to have these days sometimes.  I do see the the benefit of them.  I know when we have days like these, we can appreciate the good ones even more.
Today, at the end of a long emotional day, I found solace in knowing Mary felt this way.

I remember growing up, and especially in college, she was trying to figure out her life purpose.  She would tell me how jealous she was of me, that I always just knew I wanted to be an actress.    I was passionate about it, and practiced it and sought out opportunities.  I majored in Theatre in college.  It was happening.  She, on the other hand, had many interests.  She played basketball in high school.  She was amazing!  She also played soccer, was in some plays, took piano lessons, art lessons. She wrote poetry. She loved to read. I don’t know how she found the time to know every lyric to every song on the radio.  She majored in Arts Administration in college, and envisioned one day curating an art museum.  After graduating college, she didn’t feel directed towards a passion. She always explored and dabbled, but wasn’t feeling what she thought she saw in so many of her peers around her.  Over time, towards the end of her life, she realized her calling to be a counselor.  It was amazing to see her so passionate about something, and it made sense with all of her life experience to be doing just that.  It really clicked and finally made sense.  It was exciting.

But career aside, there was ONE THING, she told me in high school and/or college,  that she knew she was meant to be and do, and that was to be a mother.  That was the one thing she always felt led to accomplish and had the confidence to do so. She had grown up her mother’s little helper.  She had an amazing teacher and blueprint in place for the job.

Mary also got married before me. She had a child before me. And, she died before me.  These are things I think about a lot.  I think about how when my times comes, I don’t think I will be nearly as scared as I would have been; especially if I go young, or if a disease takes my body, the long and hard way like it did hers.  It would be terrible, but I would at least be comforted in the fact that she went through it, first.  Even more so, I would be happy to see her soon.  She would be waiting for me on the other side, or maybe she would even usher me in and make the transition smoother. I hope she would.

After thinking about Mary, I feel comforted. She felt hopeless and useless, directionless and stagnant at times.  She knew these struggles well, during many years of seeking.  I feel the bittersweetness of being alive without her.  I have the opportunity to live and appreciate bad days like these.  Thanks for teaching me that Mary.  Thanks for teaching me to hope, even when it feels like all is hopeless.

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Hollywood, lighthing design, New Zealand, Silverlake lofts

Lighting is Everything

Lighting is everything.  

This is something you learn living in Hollywood.  It doesn’t matter how good the camera is, if the lighting isn’t perfect, the camera won’t be able to do it’s best work.  It won’t matter how good the actors are, they won’t be seen, the story won’t be understood, all the money invested in the project will be for naught, if the lighting isn’t PERFECT!!

Hollywood aside, if it doesn’t mind removing itself from the spotlight, lighting really is everything.

I sit at home, my current temporary home, on the couch – typing.  I am in the most amazingly designed living room in a beautifully designed apartment.  My roommate Tracey and renter of this cool Silverlake loft for the past 7+ years, has impeccable taste and creativity.  There are items around the apartment, from all over the world, each is perfectly placed.  The attention to detail is off the charts.  I completely appreciate this, and am convinced I wouldn’t know what to do with the objects if each was individually placed in my hand.  Tracey is from New Zealand, so it’s no wonder…..right?

One of the things I appreciate most about the apartment, is Tracey’s lighting designs.  There are lamps, lightbulbs, and other bright things strewn all about the apartment, high and low, in nooks and crannies.  There are so many options for different lighting schemes, depending on where you might want to plop down for a bit.  I am truly tickled by it.  I remember when I first moved in, I thought it was irresponsible and wasteful.  Really, I did, I am embarrassed to say.  Now that I have fully benefitted from her choices, can I truly appreciate them.  There is nothing more amazing then sitting in the living room with a cup of tea, 5 lights on, and different shadows on the walls to keep me company; NOTHING (because lighting is EVERYTHING!!).

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How would you walk, if you didn’t feel pain? 

About two weeks ago, I noticed that I had really “broken in” my feet, here in Faro. My heals began to become cracked and dry. In my left foot, there was a deep cut about the length of my thumb nail that had developed on the corner edge of my heal. I used the foot cream I brought in my first-aid kit, and it began to get better. However when I finished the cream, it had not fully healed. And it wasn’t going to stop me from walking at least 3 miles a day around this beautiful city, Faro.  

Today I walked to school for the last time. I listened to my favorite “walking to school” music, and took in my surroundings. I tried to take as many mental photos as possible. During which I noticed that I was applying more pressure on my right leg, to compensate for the pain on my left foot. I tried to apply equal pressure while walking, as if I had no pain. It took some focus, but it was possible. I just had to “look past” the pain.  

It got me thinking – How would I live my life if I didn’t feel pain?  

One of things I have realized during this trip is that I have defined the present, by my past pains/hurts/negative situations. The loss of my best friend, the pain of ending a long and invested relationship, etc. Being the sentimental person I am, I want to always keep people close to me, this includes the pain, which does not allow me to fully heal.  

This does not mean I cannot miss people when the moments arise. I can completely experience these feelings in the moment, and let them pass as they will, not as I will them. Those from past relationships will always be with me of course, in the most beautiful ways. But through acknowledgement, not attachment, I can heal and grow.  

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Which way the winds blow, and the blood-lines flow.  

I guess I’m about to get my period – I just want to eat chocolate and I’m very needy. Today I actually cried to the school administrator and asked, “How can I stay here? Is it possible to teach English in Portugal?” 

I thought that I would be immune to PMS during this trip. Oh well, guess not. I feel emotional, and I can’t tell if it’s because I’m about to ride the “crimson wave” (Thank you, Clueless), I’m solely & 100% sad about leaving, or if I’ve become a little more Portuguese (They have a flair for drama. Overhear a conversation at lunch, or watch a futbol game – you’ll see). It’s probably a combination of all three. It’s okay, I surrender to the journey. 

This past weekend I spent in Lagos. While I was there I discovered that I’m in-trouble. I became completely certain that I do not want to go home. Lagos is the place you read about in Peter Pan. It is Neverland for the soul.  I truly was not expecting to fall in love; not with a city, an ocean, a country. I traveled to Lagos alone, and was elated the entire time. I did not need a companion. I was more then delighted to hike and explore by myself. The ocean was my friend, my very good friend. Don’t get me wrong, I met some great locals, had great conversations and meals with them, and received great recommendations of places to go and sites to see.

Lagos is a huge tourist destination, so I can’t say that I was speaking much Portuguese this past weekend.  With one more week of learning Portuguese, it is more clear then ever that I need to stay if I want to become conversational, let alone fluent! I am learning just enough of the language to get around, but it is still very difficult for me to understand those that speak it. Apparently the Algarve regions speaks ‘muito rapido’ compared to other regions of Portugal. I would love to stay longer and get better at this language that I am falling in love with, however I already signed a lease for an apartment upon my return and paid the first month’s rent and security deposit. If I hadn’t, I would have extended my trip in a heartbeat! Oh well, we can’t always control the circumstances in our lives.

Now, I haven’t spoken about the awesome couple I am staying with. Initially, I was unsure of what was going on and have been waiting for positive news. I still don’t fully understand the situation. Nuno had a scheduled and routine surgery on a blood-clot in a vein in his leg two weeks ago. Something went wrong with the procedure and there were complications. He was sent up to Lisbon after a few days, and he and his girlfriend Teresa have been gone ever since. Occasionally I get updates via a phone call, text or Whatsapp message. I am happy to report he is recovering and doing better, however they will most likely not be back before I leave Faro. This makes me sad, not just for me, but for them. It is hard to become uprooted with no warning, and for a reason such as this! 

Sometimes life takes a different course then we plan.  Veins, bloodlines, circumstances are routed and rerouted for us.  The wind can surpise us and pick up at a moments notice. And yes, PMS happens.  All I can control is how I respond to the circumstances – my breath (which can at least slow my beating heart). Of course thinking of other people’s stories, puts my little sob-session in perspective. I truly am grateful for every moment of this experience.  And at the very least I can always take my school administrators advice – save my money and come back.  Sounds like a plan Cristina!

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Sunday Morning.

Today was a nice, relaxing day.  I slept in, did 2 loads of laundry, went grocery shopping, performed in a kids concert, and made a nice dinner at home.  
You read correctly.  I performed in a kids concert, and it was so random how it happened.  My friend Filipe is a singer and musician, as well as a dancer.  A group of friends and I went to see him perform a show at a bar this past Friday night.  Today, he invited me to a kids concert that he was performing in.  I was uncertain of what he meant, but wanting more music in my Portugal experience, I said yes.  

He picked me up with a group of guys, all but one I had met last weekend.  They were the band, and tour around the area performing children’s events.  Joao, the front man, started doing these events after stopping his career as a mechanical engineer.  So of course now he makes a living teaching guitar and performing.  On the way to Loule, the city they were to perform in, Joao taught mesome of the songs they were going to sing.  They convinced me to sing along in a song or two.  I went along with it thinking they couldn’t be serious; I can hardly speak Portuguese, let alone English. 

We arrived in Loule´, parked the car and entered through a side-stage door and brought the instruments right onto the stage – it was then I realized what I had gotten myself into.  I was picturing a birthday party, or a rec room somewhere.  No, this was a full blown theatre.  

The sound engineer began working with them immediately upon our arrival, setting up and beginning sound check.  There were only 4 mics and 4 chairs, so I concluded they must have been joking in the car – I was not going to be performing.  Still, they kept making comments, saying they needed a woman in the mix.  They produced another chair to the stage, and I realized there was no turning back.  They decided not to mic me since I couldn’t speak Portuguese well enough (me, not have a mic on stage!? Well that was humbling!).  They gave me 2 bags of percussion instruments to choose from through the concert, to use as I pleased:  maraca’s, tambourines, xylophones, blocks of wood, hollowed sticks, a triangle, egg shakers, shakers in the shapes of fruits and vegetables – the cucumber was my favorite.  I started to get nervous, I need to rehearse! I can’t wing it, I don’t know these songs, and I never play percussion!!

We waited in the wings, listening to the sounds of children fill the theatre.  Joao decided I should go on first, before the four.  After we were announced, I skipped onto the stage masking my nerves and took my place.  The crowd was silent.  There were about 50+ people in the audience, kids and parents – my nerves settled, and the show began.  It was truly adorable.  These kids knew many of the songs, and joined in dancing, clapping and singing.  Halfway through the show, Joao invited the kids to come up on stage and play with the slew of instruments he had brought.  It was so cute to see so many kids get excited about performing, being on stage and making music.  

This trip has brought me back to my first love (at the age of 4), singing.  I wonder where it will lead me next.    I felt so lucky to have had this experience today.  Talk about going with the flow and being in the moment!  Now I can say I performed in Portugal, on stage, in a theatre no less!

  
Post-show high, dancing in front of Loule´s city fountain.

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Saudade, Legacy; all this I am discovering. 

I was born at the wrong place time, in the wrong time.  
Last week I discovered that Deborah, our school’s tour guide who takes us out on excursions every week, has the exact birthdate as me.  We were born about 9 hours apart, taking the time difference into account.  Portugal is 5 hours ahead of Eastern Standard time, so it makes sense to me that she would arrive first.  :-)  Sisters, separated at birth. 

This weekend I was supposed to meet three girlfriends from my school to take a day trip.  I missed the train by one minute, and saw it pull away from the station.  If there is one lesson I learn from this trip, it’s DON’T BE LATE, because the next train was 2 hours later!  I was very tired from only 4 hours of sleep the night before.  The Portuguese don’t sleep, so when in Faro….  

It turned out to be a lovely day, with non-stop walking, but was ironically very relaxing.  I took in a flurry of markets by the marina in Olhao.  I walked to the end of the pier and found refuge under an awning from the 90+/30+ (F/C) degree weather and scorching sun, while absorbing the salty wind.  Most of the day I spent finding the shady parts of the street or sidewalks.  I concluded it was best I did not make the train to accompany my friends.  They wanted to head out to an island for the day and soak up more sun; I was satisfied from my sunburn the previous weekend.  I would much rather take in the environment with all my senses: the city streets, the people, the culture, all the hubbub.  Plus, living in Southern California, I do not crave the ocean or hot sun; I can get it when I want it. Lucky me, I know.  

In the afternoon, I took another train to Tavira.  It is an old town mostly consisting of old people, and many of them tourists.  I had not experienced enough music up until this point.  Only by chance at a restaurant and bar last weekend, and also at the beach last Saturday, but I heard mostly American cover songs.  I had made plans to meet up with a fellow student from my school – Rob, an older British gentleman along with his wife, and their friends in town for the weekend.  Rob recommended coming to a concert at an old church in Tavira; this weekend was Portuguese guitar.  It was just what I needed to satisfy my cravings!

I had time to kill before meeting them, and I took a self-guided walking tour that was led by my trusty steed and guidebook – “Rick Stevens: Portugal.”  It gave me a good idea of the layout of the tiny, old city.  Next to the church was a man by the name of Luis, selling tickets for a Fado concert right before the Portuguese Guitar concert. Of course I attended that concert as well.

The short 30-minute show explained the history of Fado, followed by a live performance.  I was completely moved by the music. The woman’s voice was hauntingly beautiful.  The men were very skilled on the guitar and swept up in the music also, one of the men habitually closed his eyes.  I could not fully comprehend the lyrics, but I understood the heart and soul of the pieces.  My heart fathoms Fado!  With tears in my eyes, I determined everything was as it should be. I was in the right place, at the right time today.  

Following the guitar concert, Rob and his friends invited me out for a drink by the river – the ladies drank a glass of vinho verde (Portugese wine), while the men drank cerveja (beer).  We discussed the concert, my journey, their professions, quasi-retirements and traveling.  I love older people, I love British people, I love old cities, and I love traveling!

I feel a great Saudade, for what, only my hearts understands!! 

(Saudade is a Portuguese word that does not have a direct translation.  It is in part, a deep sense of longing or melancholy, nostalgia.  Some relate it to homesickness.)

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BACK to reality. 

My dad had two pieces of advice for me before my trip: 1. “Don’t get cocky”  2. Check your reflection whenever you pass store windows, car windows, side mirrors, etc.  See the irony here?  If  I am safe in Portugal, I might appear a bit cocky.😉

My dad gave me my first bit of advice when I told him I was confident in my ‘street-smarts.’  He quickly retorted, out of his protective nature.  He believes you can never be too careful, or prepared. He has a saying, “never not prepared”, which he normally recites in Latin. Yes, that’s my father.  

In my first week here, I was told my Portuguese was very good and I was picking it up quickly in class.  I was courageously saying hello to people I met, asking them simple questions, and ordering food.  I felt good about my progress.  Now in my second week, we are learning much more, and quickly.  I feel a bit uncertain, as though I don’t have solid footing.  I am apprehensive to move forward, especially at the rate that we are going.  

I got sunburn on my back this past weekend.  I applied sunscreen when my friends and I first arrived at the beach.  However 5 hours, a swim in the ocean and a spontaneous nap on my stomach later, my back was a lovely shade of lobster.  I do not feel so pretty in pink.  The Portuguese people I have been hanging out with say now I look like a real tourist.  

“E´ verdade!” I say,  as we fade out to the sound of the famous Portugal cock, crowing in the the background.  

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