Chisel Chips

Pedro, you’re my kind of guy

Too many people approach travel like a to-do list. Read the guidebooks and brochures. Then go, go, go. Tick them off to say you did, and … what of it?

Yes, seeing the new and historic can stretch the mind a bit, but not if you have to fight your way through a throng armed to the teeth with cell phones and silliness.

Elevator de Santa Justa, a stunning piece of work from 1902, wrought iron reminiscent of the Eiffel Tower in Paris.

To illustrate, from our current visit to Portugal, Today, we rose early and scurried off by Metro to the Entre de Campos train station for a visit to the historic town of Evora.

Nice place. Lots of old buildings.

Lots of Europeans from all countries sitting around the square, sipping espesso and sucking on Galouises and leaving me to wonder, couldn’t they do this on their back deck? Why fly and ride or drive to Evora, to sit and watch the world go by? Didn’t they know there were old buildings to stand in front of and document for the bored grandkids with their cell phones?

Same question for me. Not that I’m jaded, but old buildings and relics and such are much less interesting than the people, when you can figure out a way to engage. Without Portuguese language skills, I rely on the English speakers to save me from feigned shopping.

So I was oh-so grateful, on our long trudge uphill to the Castelo de Sao Jorge, in Lisbon, to dip into a little shop opposite the shop that had seduced my spouse. Inside, checking out the souvenir T-shirts (yes, I admit it; so sue me), I heard the voice of Pedro Chaves explaining that the images on the front of the shirts represented past and present brands of canned sardines. The shirt smelled better.

Sardines are everywhere here, on the menus, and canned and decorated in cute collectible (or giftable) labels and stacked in shops where visitors pass.

Pedro has a love-hate relationship to the city’s economic engine, no doubt familiar to folks who remember Carmel when it was sleepy.

“Lisbon is now like Disneyland,” he said. “Everybody is coming here because we have wine for 4 Euro a bottle.”

Despite the flood of visitors, and its impacts, Pedro doesn’t want it to go away. “I need it for my business,” he said.

So he put on his Chamber of Commerce hat, and gave me a handful of slips of receipt paper with notes about what to see and do and how to shop for Port.

So nice, I wasn’t sure if I was buying the T-shirt because I liked it or just to thank him for his time and wit. Both, likely.

As is commonly the case here, he spoke far better English than I did Portuguese (I’m making liberal use of “obrigado,” local lingo for “thank you.”)

Pedro knows people in Wisconsin and Florida, and inferrred that I belonged to the subspecies of American traveler known as “Trumpus ejectus,” so he dialed up a funny video of Trump telling the Christmas story. We shared a guffaw.

Credit card receipt in hand, my wife and I resumed our climb to the castle. My wife has never been to a castle, nor, obviously, used a restroom in one.

After getting in the requisite ticketing line and amusing ourselves chatting with the sweet lesbian couple from Argentina (one of whom is a pathological map collector, like me) we got inside the climbed all over the castle and took in the views of Lisboa. Then we left and walked back downhill.

Anyway, lovely time. Great food. Lots of old buildings. Better new T-shirt. 🙂

Scene but not heard above the streets of Lisbon.

(To meet Pedro Chavez yourself, go to Nobre Povo … Portuguese Contemporary Handicraft, Rue Bartolomeu de Gusmao n 23 e 25, 1100-078, Lisboa, 351-218-888-023,

Close encounters of the marvelous kind

David Hockney’s Image Emphasizing Stillness at the Museo Colaceo Berardo in Lisbon, Portugal.

When the world gives you rain, it also gives you museums.

Who wants to be inside when the weather is glorious, no matter how glorious the weather inside? The interior of a building looks pretty much the same anywhere in the world.

But if the choice is between wandering around in the dry insides, or enjoying traffic splash runoff rainwater on you as it passes, go inside. That’s what we did on our first day in Lisbon, given a steady drizzle, not that it deterred us from walking the 3.6 miles from our rental to the Museu Colecao Berardo in the city’s Belem neighborhood.

Inside, visitors find a richly varied modern art collection compiled — and later donated — by mining and banking magnate Jose Manuel Rodrigues Berardo. The time inside paid a nice return on investment — sunshine, and drier skies. We walked briefly to an Internet discovery — Enoteca de Belem, Travessa do Marta Pinto n. 10, 351-218-879-093.

Inside, our server provided a link to another encounter the following day (see next post). A charming, multi-lingual native, he offered us tastes of three white wines before we chose our preferences and our meals arrived.

That coincided with the arrival at an adjacent table of five young people from all points on the globe who had met while bunking at a local hostel, and teamed up to tackle the fun. Listening to them laugh reminded me of similar bonding on a much earlier trip of my own. No nostalgia for the hostel experience, but without it, how could I forswear a voluntary repeat of such an experience?

Inside the TimeOut dining hall. Options and quality abound.

On our walk to the Berardo, we stumbled upon the TimeOut dining hall. It features sit-down options — some with Michelin-starred chefs — or take-out stands full of fine cheeses, cured hams, and beverages galore. Have I mentioned that wine prices go as high as your ego needs, but you can get a perfectly drinkable bottle just about anywhere for 4 Euros? Why drink water when wine is more affordable?

Homeward bound afoot (always our preferred mode), we came upon Village Underground Lisboa, a complex of stacked shipping containers repurposed into a mix of uses, including coworking space. It looked well worth exploring, but was closed — mostly. Aware of my wife’s pressing need, I spied a WC symbol, and steered her there. Ahhh, relief.

Travel sucks, travel rocks

We slept 12 hours last night. After not sleeping at all for the previous 29.

After sitting in cramped airline seats for 9 hours between Portland and Amsterdam.

After blasting eastward through a truncated night and arriving in a strange land with as many signs in English as Dutch.

After hanging out for five hours, most in search of an electrical plugin so we could check on the happiness of our dog back home.

After arriving smoothly in Lisbon, and, to our surprise and thanks to the help of the lovely information officer — “Speak English?” A smile. “A little” — who explained how the Zap cards work on the Metro, buses, trolleys and urban trains, gliding quickly to the Metro exit that put us a short walk from sweet Marie, the young Austrian expat who was waiting on the sidewalk in front of our Airbnb rental to show us in and around.

The photo above is a look through the living room of our place, toward the little patio out back, low below a canyon of windows and laundry lines.

It was the perfect setting for the aged Gouda, hard salami, tomatoes and crusty bread that we washed down with a nice bottle of the local red — before tumbling into bed at 7:30 p.m. local time.

See what I mean? Travel is about stepping beyond the orderly comforts of our everyday lives, into a whiplash of stress and fresh surprises.

This is the first of a series of posts about our visit to Portugal. I abjure Facebook, so I will share links via old-school tools for you who may want to follow along.

My wife’s nearly brilliant future career in futzing

My wife loves food. Cooking it, and eating it.

She hates futzing, even though she’s pretty good at doing it.

Expert cooks build temples to their talent — restaurants. What if expert futzers did the same thing? Elevate and celebrate the futz, and it might become a pursuit worthy of actually … pursuing.

My wife’s love of food became abundantly clear after our mid-life relationship blossomed, and we graduated from home-and-away sleepovers to shared residency beneath her roof.

That passion revealed itself in numerous ways. At the time, we both worked in freelance communications. Straight journalism, or marketing copy, or strategic planning. Whatever someone would pay us to do. I enjoyed it, more or less. She hated it.

I enjoyed it more because I didn’t have to wear a tie or commute to my upstairs office. I enjoyed it less because the occasional client would exercise some previously unmentioned clause that meant I wasn’t likely ever to get paid.

Kathy had connections that led to fat contracts, and tackled them with gusto, but it was all pretty Sisyphean for her. It was definitely not futzing.

Only at the end of the day, when she closed her computer, did she lift from her chair like Tinkerbell and flit into the kitchen, eager to make magic happen.

For her, it wasn’t a chore so much as a drug. Most of the time, she would rummage through the fridge and cupboards, pull a bunch of stuff down, start chopping and frying and mixing and blending, and before long, we ate better than most people dining concurrently in the city’s finest restaurants.

She wasn’t born this way. She learned by doing, layering on skills learned from the need to feed her 5-year-old self, and later, from an occasional class, from buying and reading cookbooks, from tapping the culinary zeitgeist.

Pre-Internet, she had subscribed to, and collected several years of Bon Appetit magazine. Filed them in those magazine storage boxes, indexed by year and month. At some point in the past, she had gone through each issue and logged information about cuisine and recipes and seasons onto index cards. Then, if she wanted a squash recipe for Thanksgiving, she would know which issue to pull and consult.

As you must gather, this dedication betrays a little more than what most would think of when someone calls themselves a “foodie.” Or a futzer.

My wife has never called herself a foodie. She prefers “chef.” She earned it, not after writing a check to the Culinary Institute of America, but after acceding to my supportive urgings, and opening not one but two restaurants.

Kathy is a bit like a border collie. She needs a job. She is not happy, lying around the house, chewing on rawhide.

“I love getting up early and getting out for a run like this,” she said today, as we embarked on a run at 9 a.m. “I hate futzing around all morning and showing up at the trail around 11.”

Even though we sold our last restaurant three years ago, she has morphed into a cooking collie. Like a collie eager for a cat to pass (and chase), she looks for cooking gigs to chase. It keeps her out of trouble, and few people call the cops when she shows up in the kitchen and turns out surpassingly edible grub.

Without the dog whistle of a restaurant and its myriad demands, she can sometimes drift into futzing. Such a great word. It means that one is “wasting time.” But Kathy applies it to things that, basically, are not cooking. If she is not cooking, she is futzing. Reading books. Browsing the web. Sewing napkins. Arranging flowers or talking to her son on the phone or planning little social events.

All that is essential, yet she thinks it secondary to the primary thing in life — cooking. I am inclined to encourage her greater attention to futzing, since that is more of what life promises in our 60s and beyond.

Imagine, striving to become the world’s best futzer. Hours spent in pursuit of epic futzation. A web site devoted to famous futzers. Record-length futz sessions, remarkable for the sustained indolence.

Instead of belittling it, imagine celebrating it. She could travel the country, talking to famous futzers, posting videos of those interviews, sharing common techniques, building Top 10 Snacks for Futzing.

That last one, of course, would lead her back to cooking, and far from futzing.

I thought this futz-a-thon was a great idea. Then I remembered. We already have a world dedicated to the celebration of futzing: Social media.

Despite spreading propaganda and fake news, social media is basically about people sharing the hairballs of their lives. “Hi, Friends, today I futzed around with the cat. Tomorrow, … well, who knows.”

Futzing is like that. No agendas, no pressure, just aimless, idle drift, from one room to another in search of nothing in particular. The Zen-like joy of futzing descends onto one’s shoulders at the point that we realize futzing is a goal unto itself. Flow into the futz, and the futz will reward you with a state of futzana.

When you realize you’re going nowhere, but enjoying the trip just the same,  you have done the nearly impossible — turned nothing into something. You’d be surprised to find out how many people shared your interests in futzing, and would love to meet and spend time with you, sharing tales of your respective futzing.

Don’t knock it until you haven’t tried it.

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