Tag Archives: World At Large

Catching up on the Olympic Games after not giving a crap for a while

Heartbreaking losses!

Heartwarming victories!

Kids doing typical kid stuff!

Human interest stories about attractive athletes!

Scientifically-engineered rain that falls at the same time every day!

Al Roker playing badminton!

Girls crying!

Athletes falling!

Two-piece swimsuits!

Spandex endorsements!


Cozy American sofa and a bowl of cookie dough ice cream!

The wondrous world of Portuguese sanitation

Today I discovered something wondrous about Portuguese sanitation. The trash cans scattered around Cascais are not trash cans at all. They’re doorways to underground chambers that hold landfills of trash under the cobblestone streets. Today I saw dumpsters collecting the refuse by picking up large sections of the pavement with their dumpsters, raising the deep tombs of trash, and emptying them into trucks. So the trash bins are like toilets that only indicate a larger disposal system underground. Why is this so fascinating? Because if your purpose is burying a city’s worth of rubbish, why stop ten feet underground? Why not just keep going with the trash? Why not dig holes deep into the center of the earth and just let stuff decompose there?

I can’t help imagining how freaked out I would be if I visited a trash can with several bags worth of waste and the trash can never filled up no matter what I put inside and suddenly I realized I had discovered a portal to China. Then I’d stick my head inside, like “What?” and suddenly I’d be a pole vaulter in the Beijing Olympics and my parents would be so proud even though I smelled like garbage.

You know you’re in Europe when. . .

“You Know You’re in Europe When”

Episode One

The English pub that serves as my Portuguese office plays a steady stream of homegrown techno and dance music. The last song referenced both the Peace Corps and the “bourgeoisie.”

Where are all the dead tourists?

When driving along highways and byways in the United States, I often see makeshift crosses or memorials for those who have died in car accidents on the same route. Flowers and painted signs implore drivers to make an example of the dead and to please watch the road.

But as the bbf and I walked along a steep Atlantic coastal road today, sliding through half-hearted fences to sightsee at the edges of the limestone cliffs demarcating our certain deaths, I wondered where all the dead people were. It would be stupidly easy to fall off a cliff and to give up the ghost on the rocky ledges below. I’m not being morbid or trying to worry my family; I’m just being pragmatic. How could travelers not have fallen from these precipitous places? Especially drunk tourists, or cocky teenagers, or naive children? And I found myself wanting to Google the dead on those cliffs, to create memorials in my mind based upon the obituaries I found on the internet. “Child, 7, dead after tragic fall from Cascais cliff when chasing pigeon.” Or “Tourist bicycle careens off cliff, instantly killing Gerald Shoemaker, age 46, English, drunk.” [Nothing noteworthy turned up in my search.]

Maybe everyone is more cliff-savvy in Europe than they are in the States. But I know about rogue waves, veering cars, sudden gusts of wind, slips of the tennis shoe. Accidents happen, and in America, we’re constantly reminded of those accidents. In Cascais today I found myself being more careful on the cliffs because I didn’t know who had died at their feet, and I had only my fatalistic imagination as a barometer.

An old black and white cat weaved through the limestone rocks – she had probably been exploring the cliff ledges for a decade – and in her leaden stare she said, “You might just be the first.”

Screw you, cat. I’m buying Crocs tomorrow. We’ll see who makes it through the month.

Battle of accordion players who exploit puppies for cash

Yesterday I swooned over a Cascais busker whose tiny dog collected change in a bucket while his Portuguese master played the accordion. Here’s a picture:

Portuguese busker with over-worked dog

You see something like this one day and think, “What a precious slice-of-life!” You see the same thing the next day and you think, “I’m so over this. And P.S. – poor dog.”

Then I walked a block further and saw another accordion player with a nearly identical dog who also cooled his haunches on an upside-down shoebox. But this second dog had not been trained to collect euros in a plastic bucket in its mouth. Still, I thought, one of these busker dudes must have totally copied the other busker dude’s routine. Aren’t there vigilante street laws for that kind of thing? Can’t you get shot for stealing another dude’s accordion beat?

Then I remembered that I’m no longer in the United States. Maybe two cute dogs can coexist on the same urban block without someone getting shot. I walked by the rival buskers later and they were talking to each other like brothers while their tiny dogs played amicably at their feet.

Still, I’m disappointed I didn’t witness some kind of authentic Portuguese street fight, with the two dogs in the middle collecting blood and teeth in their kitschy plastic buckets. I am a tourist after all. I live for that kind of stuff.

Took a day off from the beach yesterday

That Portuguese vacation atmosphere can be so exhausting. Instead of beaching, we took a coastal bus from Cascais to Sintra, a royal vacation spot of yore that all the guide books said we had to check out. The bus flew around sinuous turns and blustered by cliffs with no embankments to speak of, but I was quite comfortable. You can shoot me out of a cannon to get from point A to point B, but as long as I’m not in a plane, I’m perfectly happy. The bbf, on the other hand, got sick to his stomach and remembered the statistics about Portuguese car accidents numbering the highest in Europe.

The bus stopped at Cabo da Roca, the continent’s westernmost point, long enough for two Japanese tourists to climb aboard and immediately fall asleep (those people are travel pros). En route to Sintra, we also sped through tiny Portuguese towns where fat little dogs and young skateboarders stuck their heads through metal fences to watch us pass. On those narrow streets, the bus came within inches of their adorable noses.

Sintra sits at the foot of a lushly forested mountain. At the top of the mountain, the Moorish Castle and the Palace of Pena overlook the city. So we had to figure out how to climb the mountain. I wanted to walk, but the bbf wanted to take a bus convertible, one of those roofless contraptions that tourists always snob around in. Thankfully, I listened for once and we didn’t have to hike five miles straight uphill while the aforementioned accident-prone vehicles sped past. And it was fun to wave at the naive hikers far below our bus when they collapsed from dehydration.

I was grateful to have energy left over for climbing to the top of the castle ruins and checking out the Sintra valley. I even had energy left to shove some American teenagers out of the way when they obstructed my camera view. When my family lived in England for a year when I was a kid, castle ruins were my and my siblings’ favorite weekend destinations. At places like Kenilworth, we didn’t have to worry about breaking Tudor furniture or stomping on some queen’s garden; we could just scale the crumbling walls and imagine ourselves to be ancient royalty (albeit the kind that got rained upon). Ignoring the personal danger involved in climbing medieval turrets like trees, castle ruins are great places for kids. And I still love them. Especially when you can walk a precipitous wall within inches of your (or some obnoxious teenager’s) certain death.

After the Moorish Castle, we wandered farther uphill to the Palace of Pena, a former monastery that fell into ruin, like most everything in the Lisbon area, after the great earthquake of 1775. But the Portuguese royals renovated the monastery in the 19th century, converting it to their summer palace, and possibly the original inspiration for Disneyland. The palace sprawls over the mountain, incorporating “Oriental,” Arabic, and other Eastern influences in its architecture – very trendy at the time. Inside, we spotted a painting that seemed to depict dogs playing poker, but they turned out to be monkeys. Thank heavens King Carlos had at least that much taste.

Does anyone need another travel blog? Probably not. More to the point, is anyone envious yet? I heard that it’s in the 90s in Virginia. It’s sunny and in the low 80s here. But I’ve done my time in the Virginia summer. This trip is my reward for two summers spent in Williamsburg, VA, breaking into hotel swimming pools and sweating through underpants.

Tonight I think we’ll walk to the big Cascais nightclub called “Coconuts.” If they are spinning bad European techno, we might even go in.


Portugal and Portuguy

We’re here in Cascais (“Cash-Cash”), Portugal, about 30 minutes from Lisbon. So far so good. We found a park with wandering peacocks and kennels of white rabbits. The bbf is excited because Culture Club is playing in the Irish bar where we internet. Portuguese beach kids are way cute – confirming that the English parents did, in fact, kidnap Madeleine. The policia just needed an outsider’s perspective to solve that one.

Thong bikinis – still popular.

Smoking – not as popular.

Speedos – only popular if they’re bulging.

Let me stop and clarify for a second that all my friends hate me because I’m here. So I don’t want to show off about the pristine beaches and the bunny rabbits and the citadels and such. Maybe I should just chronicle the bad stuff. Like I’m pretty sure I saw some poodle shit on the cobbled street earlier. Right before I bought ripe cherries from a street vendor and had my picture taken on a castle wall. And I got a grain of sand in my eye while I was tanning. So it’s not all roses here. But they do climb the walls of my apartment.

I’m sure we’ll eventually have a day of bad weather or at least some GI problems. But for now, we like the local beer, we like the green wine, we like the Right Said Fred video playing on the pub TV (local beer helps), we like that no one has tried to sell us heroin yet, and we like watching the teenagers making out in the ocean. It’s like they’ve never kissed anyone before – it’s beautiful.

But we wish we could share our trip with everyone. So if you want to give me your mailing address, I’ll send you a postcard. I won’t even charge you like this guy. And I promise to write you something insensible, maybe in broken Portuguese. Quick, get your postcard while you can. This place will only exist while I’m here. It’s called global solipsism, and it only works for me.

I am leaving you; don’t try to follow me

Dearest readers,

You may have heard rumors about my selling the Cuisinart, buying a plane ticket to the Old World, and alighting on that continent for the remainder of the summer.

The rumors are true. The bbf and I leave for Cascais, Portugal, in a week. Do not try to follow me. Do not try to keep me here in Virginia. Your anguished tears cannot prevent the inevitable. Your impoverished feet cannot walk across the ocean. Your nine-to-five physiques cannot adapt to surfing and lounging as well as mine.

I can see that you are concerned. Will there be enough for me to eat? I’ve looked into it, and I think so. Do Portuguese Wal-Marts stock 12-packs of Fresca? Probably not, but I will try to deal. Will the native people give me the respect I deserve as a blogger? If they know what’s good for them. Finally, will the denizens of Cascais judge me harshly for being a spoiled American tourist who has not yet bothered to learn the language? Perhaps they would, if the language of tawdry string bikinis from American Apparel wasn’t so universal. I will also bring my George W. Bush baseball cap and matching “W” earrings, because I heard foreigners love the guy.

So, dear readers, this would be the end of Us, but I hear the internet is global now and not just installed in Virginia. In addition, I am sun-intolerant and will probably be spending most of my vacation in a Portuguese computer lab complaining about the lack of Fresca. Elizabeth Barrett Browning I am not.



Sometimes we wake up to good news

I’m going to take a momentary break from cruising Facebook in order to acknowledge the elephant in the room.

God bless you, Barack Obama. This is a happy day.

I heard a great idea last week, via my boss. HILLARY CLINTON ON THE SUPREME COURT. She’s obviously a smart cookie; she just needs to be outside of politics. So let’s make Hillary a Supreme Court justice, and I will be Barack’s VP. I bet he smells so good.

How to catch a ride on an elephant

A few years ago Washington D.C. resident Kimberly Zenz discovered a strange loophole in the elephant polo bylaws. An elephant polo event must provide elephants for all participating sportsmen. So Zenz formed a team – the Capital Pachyderms – and her players have since traveled to Thailand, Sri Lanka, and Nepal to compete on the backs of real elephants.

You can find the full story on Mental Floss.

Elephant polo

I might steal a page from Zenz’s playbook and start a Charlottesville yacht club or hot air balloon squadron. Then I can compete in circumnavigating the globe without any initial investment. I also wonder if NASA might provide me with a space shuttle if I challenge George W. Bush to a race to the moon.