I believe I played until about 1 a.m. this morning and did not take the time to write, although there are some jottings in my notebook that I may share here.
On this fine New Year’s Day, it is pouring rain, washing the air and the streets, so it has been officially decided by the powers that be that today will be a true Sabbath rest day. Still, yesterday… 18,000 steps took me many places, the first of which was across town to the Cais do Sodré train station, where I boarded the train to Cascais, but got off on the third stop, Belém. (FYI: it is really cheap to take the trains, ferry, buses, etc. I think yesterday’s ride was 1,35€.)
From the station, I walked to my first destination, The Padrão dos Descobrimentos, The Monument to the Discoveries. As with all such sites, it was crowded, but I can only imagine what it would be like during the high tourist season.
The monument (170 feet tall) was originally only a temporary structure with a minimum of material for the 1940 World’s Fair, but twenty years later was reconstructed for permanence. It is Henry the Navigator (Dom Henrique of Portugal, his statue is 26 feet tall) at the front who was responsible for choreographing much of the early Portuguese maritime expansion. Other figures represent princesses, cartographers, clerics, etc., who participated in the expansion work. I took a moment to be in Oklahoma on the map in front of the monument.
A half mile further up the street is the Belém Castle, the Tower of Saint Vincent, built in the 16th century. Its location was originally an island, guarding the entrance of the Tagus River, but the river did what rivers do—changed course—and the castle is now quite near the shore.
I then made my way across the main road/train tracks to see the Imperial Gardens (closed for remodeling) and St. Jeronimos (Jerome) Monastery (closed for the holiday), which was built in 1502. It is epic in size. To be able to walk through those doors would make it all worthwhile.
Then for lunch at Queijadas de Belém where I had a pretty good steak cooked in olive oil and garlic. And, yes, that was an exceptionally generous pour of wine. The espresso following the meal helped me to recover.
From lunch, I found a nearby park and just sat and enjoyed while looking up at this handsome fella. Researching it back at the apartment, I discovered that he is Afonso de Albuquerque, 1st Duke of Goa and Viceroy of Portuguese India. To demonstrate the power he commanded, one hand rests on the hilt of his sword while, with the other hand, he points at the guns under his feet (under his command).
This is where I chose to sit and write for a bit. Choose for yourself…
I’m sitting here thinking about how much/far Christianity has reached and helped the world to discover itself, and now that we have, we turn our backs on this faith. You cannot escape the symbols of Christianity, but like so much of the past—the world has thrown the baby out with the bathwater. It is sinful, but sin is no longer relevant in a world that chooses its own relevancy. It is out of fashion and has been discarded like last season’s dernier cri. We are dying, and we believe we are living.
Who is this man atop this pedestal—a pedestal supported by angels and the waves of the sea? Does his sword save him now, or has he become like us? Dead in shoes, going from place to place with no home or friend beside us. Ah! Now a seagull sits on his head and shits upon it! HA!
Children running in circles in play—aren’t we all.
I don’t know if those are good thoughts, odd thoughts, or no thoughts at all, but having spent my time out and about in this city without access to the internet, voicemail, email, text messages, Facebook, you name it, I have found myself once again thinking on my own and chasing ideas that have no bearing on the grand schemes of the world, but are enjoyable to let bounce inside my head. Enough of that…
The train took me back to my apartment and to the grocery store, which was jammed with holdiday shoppers and included a fight between a customer and store manager (when I say fight, it was more than words!) It was then that I decided to stay home for the rest of the evening. I’ve never been much on participating in these kind of holidays, but then I got hungry. I went in search of sushi (closed) so walked into the nearest restaurant, Taberna Da Baixa… my goodness! Delicious.
For starters, I ordered Bacalao (I didn’t know what it was) and it was… amazing. Bacalao is actually dried and salted codfish which is then rehydrated and combined in other dishes. For the maincourse, I had the Sea Bass. Also amazing, especially when paired with a good wine, which the waitress was kind enough to do for me, because the only thing I really know about wine is whether or not I like it (oh, and how to make it.)
The restaurant would only hold about about 30 people and I was the only single person there (New Year’s Eve and all). I must have been an oddity (or made one particular couple nervous) because she took a picture of me and then held it over for her husband(?) to see. He then kept taking these hard glances over his shoulder and staring at me. I have decided to immortalize their odd behavior in a short story. They will not like it if they read it.
I returned home after my meal and then at about ten minutes to midnight said to myself, “Self, you are in Lisbon, Portugal and it is New Year’s Eve. They’re about to shoot off fireworks and celebrate. What are you doing sitting here? Get yo bee-hind moving!” I listened and I cheered with the crowds.
Feliz Ano Novo, meus queridos amigos.
FYI: I had checked schedules for when sites would be open, but they did not account for the holiday. My plan is to return later this week in hopes of getting in.
I left you last night anticipating the outcome of my adventures in laundry. I must report a slight failure in this endeavor. It turns out that hanging clothes on a rack in an apartment that dips to the high 50s at night and in a damp climate is not conducive to the drying of clothes. (My Dear Mr. Watson, Is this why we’ve seen peoples’ clothes hanging out for several days? Sherlock, your mind never ceases to amaze me!) So, this morning, I woke up to cold, wet clothes, which left me with a number of options 1) go out in the shirt I slept in and hear my grandmother’s voice all day, “You look like you slept in that shirt.” 2) go out in a wet shirt and hear my grandmother’s voice all day, “You’ll catch your death of cold running around in that wet shirt!” Or 3) find a way to dry the shirt. Option number 3) was the clear winner, but how?
I first hauled out the trusty space heater and had plans to lay the shirt across it and was, in fact, doing so (Sherlock was screaming in the back of my head the entire time) when I read the small print on top of said heater, “NĀO COBRIR.” I’m not sure if that is Portuguese or not, but Google Translate kicked that back as “Not Cover.” Plan B…
Rooting through a bathroom cabinet, I found an industrial hairdryer, so for the last fifteen minutes—had you been looking for me—you would have found me in the bathroom with a hairdryer in one hand and an espresso in the other, patiently drying my clothes. I, at first, felt somewhat guilty about using the electricity in such a way. Still, seeing as I’ve had no use whatsoever for a hairdryer in the last fifteen years… yeah, my carbon footprint in the hairdryer department remains small.
For the record, there was one other point when my grandmother spoke inside my head; it was when I set the hairdryer down in the wet sink (please remember that I’ve been lacking in the hairdryer do’s/don’ts for several years). My grandmother said, “Who are you? Thomas Merton!” I don’t actually know whether my grandmother knew who Thomas Merton was nor the suspicious circumstances of his untimely death, but I got the point and quickly removed the hairdryer from the sink.
My dear friends, I am caffeinated, have dry clothes, am eating a tasty breakfast, drinking one more espresso, and am about to head out on today’s grand adventure. I’ll be back unless I run into that bear…. hmmmm…. maybe the hairdryer in the sink was today’s bear? Sneaky bear.
Things I want to remember: my dream from last night.
I started early today in search of a church, but they were all closed (I started too early, or they pray later in the day in Lisbon), so I made my way to the ferry that crosses the River Tagus to Cacilhas. It took less than ten minutes to cross.
Initially, I thought I would walk up to the Santuário de Cristo Rei, but when I could not spot it, I opted for a taxi. That was a smart move. It is much further than it looks. When you come out from behind the buildings that line the streets, the statue suddenly looms in front of you.
My first reaction was, “Wow!” My first thought was, ‘I hope there’s an elevator! (There is, except for the last four flights.)
I spent an hour wandering around the grounds, looking up, and seeing the various other works of art, then went for a café and a pastel de nata—a small custard pie—before heading to the top.
It took about an hour in line, but I enjoyed the bronze art (The Ten Commandments on either side of the door) and the main doors (St. John the Baptist holding the lamb, which I had to touch on my way in.) Eu sou a porta is printed above the door—“I am the Door.” Several other pieces of art adorned the walls on the inside, and one, in particular, caught my eye when I realized it was Pope John Paul II.
Up we went in the elevator, the short climb, and… the first thing you’ll notice is the wind! It blows quite strong at the top. Then, you look up. From the ground, the statue appears large, and standing on the platform at the base is not disappointing. The platform is 269 feet, and the figure of Christ is an additional 92 feet.
Images painted on the ceramic tiles at the base of the statue…
And the view…
Just below the statue, a few flights down, is a gift shop and the Chapel of those who trusted in the Heart of Jesus. I stopped for a few minutes to pray before taking the elevator back down.
Pope Benedict XVI offered a Perpetual Plenary Indulgence to all who visited, and I can use all the help I can get!
The Pilgrim’s Prayer:
After another taxi and ferry ride, I was back on the north side of the river. A bit of research last night told me that if I walked a few blocks north, I would come to the Rua Nova do Carvalho (The Pink Street!) Voila! Found it. (This is a complete 180° turn from the Cristo Rei, as this area of town was formally the red light district.) The street will definitely put a smile on your face, as will all the silly, wannabe social influencers (?) posing for pictures.
It was close to 3 p.m., and I had not eaten since an early breakfast, which led to a minor mistake: eating at a restaurant on The Pink Street. I won’t name them (if you don’t have something nice to say…), but don’t make the mistake. So many people are going through that it is impossible to maintain good quality, although, at the end of the meal, the waiter provided me with a glass of a 10-year-old port wine that made me forget about the rest of the meal.
As I was making my way back to the apartment, I saw everyone facing me and taking pictures, so I turned, and there was one of the iconic Lisbon buildings: Elevador de Santa Justa. Too many things I read said, ‘Don’t waste your time or money riding the elevator to the top,’ but it was still fun to see.
I’m back at the apartment, and this evening’s festivities are a bit more domestic: laundry.
Tomorrow is New Year’s Eve. During the day, I plan to take a train to Belém, about 30 minutes west, and tomorrow night—if I’m up for the crowds—fireworks on the river. Keep you posted.
This devotional was for The Episcopal Church of the Resurrection’s annual Advent Devotional series.
Now the Feast of Unleavened Bread drew near, which is called the Passover. And the chief priests and the scribes were seeking how to put him to death, for they feared the people.
Then Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot, who was of the number of the twelve. He went away and conferred with the chief priests and officers how he might betray him to them. And they were glad, and agreed to give him money. So he consented and sought an opportunity to betray him to them in the absence of a crowd.
Then came the day of Unleavened Bread, on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. So Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, “Go and prepare the Passover for us, that we may eat it.” They said to him, “Where will you have us prepare it?” He said to them, “Behold, when you have entered the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him into the house that he enters and tell the master of the house, ‘The Teacher says to you, Where is the guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ And he will show you a large upper room furnished; prepare it there.” And they went and found it just as he had told them, and they prepared the Passover.
-Luke 22:1-13 (ESV)
The Passover that Jesus asked John and Peter to prepare for is the greatest of festivals during the Jewish year. It is a memorial of the night when the tenth plague swept through Egypt, killing all the firstborn of the Egyptians but “passing over” the Jews. In the process of establishing the festival (Exodus 12), God gave the Jews several laws on how to prepare for and celebrate the festival in the subsequent years. For example, one of these laws prescribed the removal of all leaven from the home. Over the centuries, these laws became more strict and codified, leaving no room for error. Not all are as fastidious as others in adhering to the requirements, yet one author reports, “We have a pious friend in Israel who airs out every book in her home in case there should be any bread crumbs in them.” (Source)
Although not prescribed by Holy Scripture, the Church has established two seasons of preparation: Advent and Lent. In Advent, we prepare to celebrate Jesus’ birth and to prepare for his second coming, and in Lent, we prepare to celebrate Christ’s victory over death. With regard to Advent, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “There are only two places where the powerful and great in this world lose their courage, tremble in the depths of their souls, and become truly afraid. These are the manger and the cross of Jesus Christ.” (God Is in the Manger: Reflections on Advent and Christmas, p.26) If that be the case—which it should be!—then we should not enter lightly into our encounter with him in the manger, but instead, we should seek out the “old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil” (1 Corinthians 5:8) and prepare our hearts so that we might humbly kneel before our Lord and King.
In 2008, during his general audience, John Paul II said,
The liturgy of Advent, filled with constant allusions to the joyful expectation of the Messiah, helps us to understand the fullness of the value and meaning of the mystery of Christmas. It is not just about commemorating the historical event, which occurred some 2,000 years ago in a little village of Judea. Instead, we must understand that our whole life should be an “advent”, in vigilant expectation of Christ’s final coming. To prepare our hearts to welcome the Lord who, as we say in the Creed, will come one day to judge the living and the dead, we must learn to recognize his presence in the events of daily life. Advent is then a period of intense training that directs us decisively to the One who has already come, who will come and who continuously comes. (Source)
As we “prepare our hearts to welcome the Lord, let us heed the words of St. Paul: “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves” ( 2 Corinthians 13:5a), and cleanse yourself of the “old leaven.”
Jesus said to Peter and John, “Go and prepare the Passover for us, that we may eat it.” In like manner, go and prepare yourselves so that “at his coming, [he] may find in us—in you—a mansion prepared for himself; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.” (Collect for the Fourth Sunday of Advent)
The Golden Fistula(new cover art coming soon) is available on Amazon and has had 1,000+ edits to correct the grammar. The Journey is also out there. All this is in preparation for the release of The Marble Finger (the second Father Anthony Savel Mystery). If you are interested in following, connect with one of these social media outlets (FYI: I don’t do much on Twitter) or follow this blog.
Prose Colored Glasses, the anthology from Enid Writers Club celebrating 100 years, is now available for Kindle on Amazon. It will soon be available in paperback as well. My short story, Ciao, is included. Purchase a copy to read short stories and poems from some of Enid’s best authors.
Who is the third who walks always beside you? When I count, there are only you and I together But when I look ahead up the white road There is always another one walking beside you Gliding wrapt in a brown mantle, hooded I do not know whether a man or a woman —But who is that on the other side of you? T.S. Eliot / The Wasteland
We had met at the opening night of an art showing in Chelsea in happening New York City, which sounds far more interesting and romantic than it actually was. I had managed to sneak out a few minutes early from my position as an executive sales agent (a.k.a. telemarketer for an up and coming dish network, that promised to provide the viewer with a high-quality cinematic experience for the entire family, along with enough soft-core porn to keep the average household suitably entertained). So, being too early to meet my equally aspiring comrades for a night of frivolity and microbrews at Death Ave., I opted to drop into the gallery next door, which had more than its allowable number of hollow-cheeked and somewhat attractive women mingling aimlessly amongst a smaller gathering of man-bun sporting assholes.
She, Teresa Buccola, had been by far the most attractive of the hollow-cheeked and had entered the gallery immediately after me, hurrying in as the front door closed behind me.
“Thanks,” she said, sarcastically. “Typical,” she continued as she pushed towards the back of the gallery.
I didn’t see you… whatever.
Art is subjective and this particular brand of art was subject to being buried with tons of more appealing swill at the nearest landfill where even the rats would be appalled at the property devaluing contributions. And, as I am prone to do whilst wandering alone at any outing that doesn’t provide sustenance to keep me busy chewing instead of speaking, I let slip a few choice words while attempting to discern what appeared to be a “sculpture” of a spider devouring an ironing board.
“Looks more palatable than these… what? Tapas?” I said, holding up something that resembled the pigs-in-a-blanket that I had enjoyed as a child, but that tasted like overcooked Brussel sprouts.
There she was, Miss Typical.
I stared, the eleven between my properly trimmed eyebrows surely adding a century.
“These,” I said, holding up the offending non-morsel on a toothpick, “are not very good. That’s all.”
“I made them.”
Awkward silence and additional staring.
I eventually blurted out, “I’m sorry about the door.”
“I’m sorry about the door. I didn’t see you coming. I really would have held it open for you if I had.”
“What’s wrong with the food,” she asked, pointing at what remained on my plate.
I was not normally at a loss for words, but not wanting to insert my foot any deeper than I already had, I repeated my loquacious self.
She laughed. Then she covered her mouth and laughed even more.
It was a sound that even the most stoic of hearts could fall in love with and I did. Right there in the middle of so much bad art and man-buns, I fell in love.
“You didn’t make these.”
She laughed even harder.
There were sharp glances from those who refuse to let even the slightest glint of joy enter their eyes for fear of smearing their perfectly mascaraed lids, but she saw only me.
“Why are you here?”
Between her fingers, holding back guffaws that I would later learn lingered only a breath below the surface, she said, “I had to pee!”
And the laughter peeled from her in great torrents of uninhibited joy.
And suddenly the entire gallery was caught up in her merriment and joy.
Two months later, I tried to give her a ring and make it official. She wasn’t ready. Twenty-seven days after that—give or take an hour or so—I was glad she hadn’t taken me up on the offer, but there is nothing like time and habit and predictability to take something that should not have been to….
“Where are you?”
“Where are you? You’ve slid around the corner again and I lost track of you.”
“Focus for shit’s sake! I’ve been talking to you for the last twenty minutes and if you can tell me one thing I’ve said, I’ll spend the next twenty minutes pleasantly visiting with your mother.”
Hesitantly I said, “I don’t think either of you would enjoy that.”
“Well, I know I wouldn’t, but if it will pull you out of whatever dark dream you’ve wandered off into, then I’ll be happy to endure.”
She could, on occasion, be just a touch dramatic, but I’ve been home for at least two hours, and not only could I not tell her what she said in the last twenty minutes, I’m also quite certain that the last one hundred and twenty minutes are equally as blank.
She had a way of going on about things that shifted the mind and ears out of gear. Like closing your eyes and settling on the bottom at the deep end of the pool. The necessary and appropriate sounds are present, but the sound waves are so stretched out and distorted that by the time the thirty-three and one-third rpm recording reaches and undulates the tympanic membrane it… never mind.
Bottom line: on occasion, I tuned her out and drifted in my own thoughts, which is why this particular moment was more taxing than others.
Last Wednesday, I had been with Teresa for thirty-six months, and exactly one week and a day ago, she had reminded me of this gladsome event. Unfortunately, she had remembered, but I had not. That misfired synapse had brought on at least forty-eight hours of fighting, another twenty-seven of pouting, nineteen minutes of making love, and untold hours of sulking and tentative glances over several meals, sleepless naps, and a sixty-three-minute conversation about adopting a mesmerizing chimera kitten while gazing at said kitten who slept peacefully ignorant behind the plexiglass of their potentially traumatized life that would have inevitably been spent being taxied from one ‘parent’ to the other following the protracted divorce and ensuing custody battle.
‘Why?’, you ask would I forget such an event as a thirty-six month anniversary and then go on to consider adopting a Felis catus, regardless of those bilateral markings and David Bowie eyes?
No. Not “Goodbye” or “Hello”. Ciao… a perfume and not the more recent olfactory delights of Vince Camuto, but the 1980s variety, the original, by Houbigant.
In 1980, even though a healthy American teen, I was far more likely to have solved the issue of quantum physics before recognizing that a girl was hitting on me. I was more concerned with when squirrel season opened and whether or not I would finally be considered old enough to receive a Seiko Digital Chronograph Watch A229-5000 (I had no idea what all those buttons did, but I was certain that my life would not be fulfilled without them), but then, in the ninth grade…
Following second period, I was walking down the hall to an hour in the library. There was a group of girls chatting happily as they made their way to whatever third period demanded their presence, when she stopped, turned, and smiled. I didn’t even know her name, but she walked straight towards me. I was preparing to step out of her way, clearly she had not seen me, when she suddenly stopped, stared me in the eyes, and said, “I’ve wanted to hug you.”
I remember my exact response.
“Thcbl cy bracooit… eau.”
She smiled and then pressed her body into mine, wrapping her arms around me as she did.
The next thing I clearly remembered was Toni Fallow walking away with a quick glance over her shoulder and a smile that said she would be back for another hug. For my part, I was happy to oblige her for the next two-and-a-half years. She was my first true kiss, first bare breast, first love, and first broken heart.
Today, walking out of the office, looking forward to a potentially happy evening with Teresa of thirty-six months, one week and one day, anticipating episode one of season three of a mindless but intoxicating show of conquering thrones, a nice meal, and a bit of scotch (“Hello, Cousin Glen!”), there was Toni. Every kiss, touch, moment, desire, passion… all of her. There she was in a single scent of a 1980s perfume that was no longer even produced and my knees buckled.
I called out, without hesitation or concern for who heard. She had to be here.
I tried to follow that scent of memories, but it was quickly lost in all the noise of sweat and day-old deodorant.
I could have cried.
I remembered her hair. Her long dark hair cascading over her shoulders and down the smoothness of her back.
I remembered her skin. Skin bequeathed by some ancient race and born of the moon’s embrace.
And I remember her scent.
Her scent. Her scent…
I’m going to regret that.
“Teresa. I’m here. Just… just a long day. Lots on my mind. Sorry.”
Ah. There it was. The end of all conversations and the beginning of a cold night.
A finger in my face.
“You can’t treat me like this and then spin around inside your whims and expect me to take it! I won’t”
Very emphatic. I somehow doubt she would appreciate the internal commentary.
“No! Not this time. I’m tired of trying to help you work your shit out. Figure it out for yourself!”
I was in the process of doing just that before you interrupted my… my waking dreams! Dreams that took me a long way from you. Dreams of Toni on the night…
God, she was beautiful. Every other princess at the junior prom had purchased their dress from some store with a label. Toni’s mom had made hers. Chanel should have been so fortunate to have created something so potent. It covered everything that it was supposed to and revealed everything that the teenage male mind could hope to imagine or caress. And she was mine and I was the envy of all of the boys and even a few of the girls.
We stood dancing (not really, we were engaged in a kiss that would have made the one from The Princess Bride look like the fairy tale that it was) while Steve Perry sang out, “I’m forever yours, faithfully…..” I remember the tight little circles our bodies moved in and I remember the feel of her lips parted against mine and I remember the hormones pulsing between us and I remember Ciao. When the song ended, we discovered that we were alone on the dance floor. Those that watched our self-indulgent oblivion broke out into applause and laughter at the love that would never end. Except, it didn’t even make it to our senior year.
Sometime during that next summer, he entered in. His name is not even worth mentioning, much less remembering. He was a blip. In retrospect, I allowed him to be more of a blip than he should have been, but by the time I recognized my ignorance, I was almost forty years old and Toni had been happily married for fifteen years and had three beautiful daughters of her own. I, on the other hand, find myself divorced (no children, thanks be to God), and presently in a questionable relationship of thirty-six months, one week, and one day, wondering if I had made the gravest mistake of my life at the age of seventeen.
I had seen her only once since those high school days of innocently passionate kisses and brushes of flesh in the hallowed halls of Teenage High. We had both been attending the wedding of two mutual high school friends who had, in fact, survived not only those same hallowed halls that we had frolicked in but also all the years that followed and who were only now making the ultimate commitment of the self to one another. They were happy and as desperately in love now as I thought was when Toni first pressed her body into mine following second period on that day in the 1980s.
It wasn’t an awkward conversation nor was it comfortable. It was a conversation between two adults who knew the touch of one another’s flesh before age, wisdom, responsibilities, and life had kneaded the passion of youth from its midst. If she had been wearing Ciao I would likely have abandoned every aspect of my life to be with her, but as it were, I think she was wearing the same heavy Estée Lauder that her mother had worn, which is why I am now divorced and presently with Miss thirty-six months, one week and one day: Teresa.
“What?” I had forgotten she was there. “Wh… sorry?”
A moment to calculate.
A silence and then a glance up from the magazine she had been slapping through. Was that hope I saw or resignation?
Her lips pursed as though she was experiencing some painful gas, then she again said softly and with only a hint of desperation, “What?”