Saturday, October 27, 2007

Entry for October 27, 2007

You wouldn´t believe me if I told you.

Wow.  So, um, it has been a CRAZY few days.  I mean, ridiculous.  I am out currently in Spain...sort of...more on that later.

Some exciting tidbits from the past few days?

Let´s just say that the seats in the backs of police cars in Spain are made out of very hard and uncomfortable plastic...just like in America!

Let´s just say that I had a few hours of sleep in two nights.  Some of that being in some chilly weather.

Let´s just say that I want to marry a Spanish-speaking, black-haired chica.  Ooh la la.

Let´s just say that I am fulfilling one of my dreams.  And I am loving every bit of it.  Probably the most enjoyable part of the trip so far.

And let´s just say that my plan BOMBED.  Big-time.  It was a heavy gamble, and it DID NOT work!รง

So what do I always say when life hands you a lemon (I have never said this before)???  Make some lemonade and drink it as you think about Plan F.

I am very, very far away from home.  And not sure how I´m getting to the wedding.  But once I do arrive, however I do arrive, I will entertain anyone who sits with me.  It has been a crazy few days.

Pero estoy hablando espanol casa dia, y me gusta mucho!

En Espana, nadie habla ingles!  Y me gusto mucho!  Voy a practicar mi espanol!

Y ayer, yo canto a una chica...Bajo el Mar y Kiss the Girl!  Y I kissed her tres times!

Muy bien.

Mucho amor a mis amigos y familia en los estados unidos!


Unas dias locas.

aye, aye, aye.

2007-10-27 19:01:27 GMT

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Entry for October 21, 2007


More pics added today!

I'm leavin' for Spain in a day and a half!

2007-10-22 00:09:55 GMT

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Entry for October 18, 2007


[These are my thoughts from October 18, 2007.  I had a headache, and I couldn’t seem to get rid of it, so I headed for bed early...around 8:30 P.M.  But I was restless.  My mind started thinking, as it often does, and out of the blue, the thought of Andy Pippin came into my mind.  If you don’t know who he is, you will later on...but from there, I just started thinking.  And I figured I would share what happened over the next thirty or so minutes.  My train of thought was pretty focused, but it did wander off-track a bit.  Such is the realm of thinking.  It’s a pretty important subject, and if something triggers a thought for you, please let me know.  I very much love the feedback and conversations that happen as a result of these blogs.]

It’s Thursday night.  It’s been a long day.  I left with Bernd to head down south to a town on the coast.  We were taking Maya and Freddy to the vet.  We left around 9:45 A.M. and didn’t get home until 5:30 P.M.  We did some shopping, some sight-seeing, and just had a normal day of enjoying a town.  But I was tired.  And after returning home, I ended up with a headache.  I fixed some food (one egg on white rice), but that didn’t seem to help.  I had already had three bowls of cereal because I didn’t eat anything too fulfilling or fulfilling the entire day (one small pack of yogurt, some bread and jelly, part of a German pastry, a pasty filled with chocolate, and then the cereal and egg/rice mixture).  So I decided to lay down for a bit.  I wasn’t the type of tired where I was going to fall asleep.  I knew that.  But I wasn’t up for doing anything else but laying down.

And almost instantly, Andy pops into my head.  I first met Andy at a football game in New Berlin, Illinois.  He had a swagger about him, and from the first moment I was introduced to him, we hit it off.  From that day on, we would always joke with each other and enjoy each other’s company.  “What’s up, Andy?!”  “What’s up, Andy?!”  We were two laid-back personalities, and he was quite fun to be around.

I never really hung out with him outside of sporting events.  He was about five years younger than me, and he was still in high school, so we weren’t necessarily close friends.  But I appreciated him.  But I haven’t talked to him in ages.  I haven’t been able to.

And so I was quite surprised that his face pops into my head in October 2007.  I am four thousand miles away from New Berlin, I haven’t seen him in the longest time, and I have had no interaction or connection with him.  But there he was, as clear as day.

This friend Andy is dead.  He died several months ago.  Maybe even a year or two.  I’m not sure.  Everything seems to run together anymore.  And to think I am only 25 years old, and things are already started to get blurry.

So imagine my surprise when I think of him.  I remembered his sideways head when he talked or saw me.  I remembered his picture at his funeral.  I remember his dad saluting him in his casket (which instantly made me cry)...a memory I will never forget.  And I remember the funeral itself.  Rainy.

He was 19 years old when he died.

I met a couple more Germans tonight.  Three more came here last night, and I played some darts with them in the beer hut.  And I just met two others tonight.  They are all in town for a funeral.  One of the guys that I met last week at a party died.  I guess he was riding his bicycle but didn’t come home.  His girlfriend went out to look for him and found him 70 meters from home.  By his bike.  Dead.

And so the people are coming into Portugal from Germany for the funeral.

And as happens when you lay down, my mind started thinking about death.  And from Andy I went to Tom.  Another memory I will never forget.  One of my close friends from high school.  One of the guys I knew from elementary school.  One of my teammates on my basketball team.  One of the few guys I kept in contact with after high school.

To the day I myself die, I will never forget Tom’s funeral.  Because I was asked to do it.  How does a 22-year-old do a funeral for his 23-year-old friend?  I grew up quite a bit that day, that week.

And then I started thinking about others.  I remember my first real experience with death...the one that hit too close to home.  But first, I remember my first memory of death.  Of going to a funeral.  I went to my great-grandmother’s funeral.  To be honest, my only real memories of her are her sitting in a wheelchair in my grandma and grandpa’s house.  And so I was quite confused and a bit curious as to why my cousins were crying at her funeral.  To me, it was just another family gathering to attend.  I didn’t understand death, I didn’t know death, and the whole experience was quite funny (not as in comical, but as in curiously funny).  I just didn’t get why my cousins were crying.  I had no tears, and I wasn’t about to get any.

But my first real experience came in high school.  I was 16 years old, and I received word that a classmate named Mike had died in a car accident.  I can vividly remember going to my history class.  I sat directly in front of Mike.  I vaguely remember our teacher talking about not focusing on it (how do you not focus on something like that?), but all I could think about was the empty desk behind me.  And how it was going to be empty for the rest of the semester.  It just didn’t add up.  Mike was 16 or 17 years old.

16 years old.  19 years old.  23 years old.  I myself am now 25 years old.  I have outlived Mike by 9 years, Andy by 6 years, and Tom by 2 years.  I have gone to college, traveled the United States, and now started traveling Europe.  I have visited Buffalo Wild Wings, I have been to Chicago Cubs games, I have made memories that they simply cannot.

Because they are dead.

It’s quite a provocative thought.  And so I laid there in bed, just thinking about death.  Our American society has numerous quotes about it, the two most popular being... “Death comes to us all,” “There are only two things in life we can be certain about:  death and taxes.”  Of course, numerous poets and authors add their takes on death, and men and women for countless ages have had something to say about it.  I myself quote the line from Braveheart all of the time...(in my best Scottish accent)...”Every man dies.  Not every man truly lives.”

And so death itself is not something unspoken of.  Yet at the same time, it is very much unspoken.  I think about my lessons of death, and frankly, they are many.  I think we all “come into our own” in this area, and as such, we all have different viewpoints, emotions, and experiences with it.

But I consider myself to be no virgin when it comes to death.  I already mentioned Andy, Tom, and Mike.  And others that have affected me....June.  She was a sweet old lady from church.  She always hugged me, and I fondly remember her inviting me over for a beautiful spaghetti dinner.  She really didn’t have much to call home, but she had a love for me that I still enjoy thinking about.  She died.

Barb.  She was a huge help for me.  She was another lady in our church, and she often took charge of a very big week for children that we had every summer.  I visited her and her husband at their home, and we talked weekly.  She died rather suddenly.  To this day, I remember an interview that she did on stage about her approaching death.  She knew it was coming, and though she wasn’t thrilled about it, she welcomed it.  She wasn’t afraid.  But my helper was gone.

Dale.  He was constantly looking to get someone.  He was a jokester even in his 50’s, and I can only imagine what he was like growing up.  He was a guy from church, and I was on a special leadership team with him.  He cracked jokes, he had an unforgettable laugh, and he had the biggest hands when you shook them.  He died rather quickly.

Grandpa.  I was driving through Springfield when I got a call from my brother.  He was hysterical.  Gradually, I was able to decipher that my grandpa had died.  I instantly pulled my truck over to the side of the road and just started sobbing.  This was my first real close family experience.  I wasn’t as close to this grandpa as I was to my other one, and it is only within the past couple of months that I deeply regret that.  I would very much like to sit and talk with him as a friend, not just a grandpa.  But he is dead, too.

I have been to other funerals, and I am quickly learning that death is a part of life.  Maybe that is my quote to add to the list.  Other lessons of death that I have had growing up...

Every year around Memorial Day, our church would take a moment of silence, and many of the men in the church would just speak out a name.  A name of someone they knew that was killed in combat.  Maybe World War II, Vietnam, the Korean...and my dad would always say Eddie Naffsinger.  As I grew older, I would wait in eager anticipation for my dad to speak.  I always knew who he was going to say each year.  And somehow, though it was a bit unrealistic to me, I knew that my dad knew someone that died.  How close?  I never asked.

I visited the Vietnam War Memorial when I was in 8th grade.  Thousands upon thousands of names on a big, long wall.  Maybe too many names.  That many people dying in a war doesn’t make sense to me.  But I remember the wall.  I was probably 13 years old.  I also visited Arlington National Cemetery.  Thousands upon thousands of crosses in the ground.  Each representing a soldier.  Again, the thought is still poignant, but the immensity is almost overwhelming.  It’s only comparable to looking at the stars.  There are just too many.  It puts you in your place.

Again, in 8th grade, I had an assignment in my science class.  Every day, I was to look at the funeral notices in the paper and mark down their ages.  Looking back, I wonder if this wasn’t a life lesson more than a science lesson, but I can remember that assignment.  I didn’t do the assignment too well, though, because I was never consistent enough to read the paper every day.  I was always having to look for it or make something up for the ones that I couldn’t find (before internet).  But what I do remember is the variety of ages.  The 60’s and 70’s and 80’s were by far the most consistent with deaths, but every once in a while, over the course of the month, an infant would appear.  Or a teenager.  Or a young adult.

In high school, I remember being driven out to a cemetery in the middle of the country.  I was with a youth group, and we were told to look at tombstones.  Again, much like the 8th grade assignment, so many of the tombstones were of older people.  But in a cemetery, we would also find infants and young ones, as well.

Death knows no age.

And so here I am in Portugal, lying in my bed, thinking about this whole idea.  And then it hit me.  I am not afraid.  I was talking with Bernd yesterday, and he told me about the death of the German guy.  And he made a couple of comments that have really stuck with me...

“This is just crazy, you know.  He’s perfectly healthy, he has had no problems, and he just went out for a bikeride.”

“This would be terrible, you know, to build up all of this money and then die.  I would hate that.  This would just be too much for me.”

And I just stood there silent.  I watched a man go through what every man goes through.  We start to think about death so much more when it hits closer to home.  It’s like the girl I was talking to in Serbia.  I honestly had no idea that a war was taking place there, but she wouldn’t even let me stay on her couch with couch-surfing because I was an American.  The war mattered to her because she literally had bombs in her backyard.  To me, I thought nothing of it.  But if I had a bomb in my backyard, I would indeed think much about it.

And this week a bomb went off for several Germans.

And my guess is that Bernd has been here before.  To have lived for any amount of time over 20-25 years is to at least have some lessons or experiences with death.  What his are, I cannot say.  But he has had to think about it more this week.

But I thought about it again.  I really am not scared of it.  And it’s something that I had to wrestle with in Scotland.  I was talking to a guy there, and we were talking about religion.  He doesn’t believe in God, and he couldn’t understand how I could.  And so we talked, and I asked him what he thought about death.  And he honestly and openly said that is the biggest concern for him.  In effect, it scared him ****less.  His “religion” (or lack thereof) didn’t really provide a comforting reality of death.  But to his credit, he blatantly told me that he just thinks we die.  We are no more.  We go back to dust.

I wrote a blog about that conversation, and I had to address why I believed in God.  Why I believed in life after death.  I wanted to believe because it is real, not because it makes me feel better.

But I do believe in it, and I am more than talkative when people ask me why.  I just think that there are so many reasons to believe in it.  But that is exactly why I am not scared.  And I don’t know if Bernd is scared.  I don’t think that is the right word (and I’m sure he will read this, so I’ll find out anyway!).  Concerned?  Curious?  Maybe those are more fitting.

I think about some verses from the Bible I know.  “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”  Paul actually had a desire to die.  For to him, he would be in the presence of God in heaven.  He had a hope.  He actually considered it a “profit” or “gain” to die.

I think about the story Jesus told about the guy who had so much money that he tore down his old storehouses to build new ones.  And how Jesus called him a fool because he was going to die that very night.  And I think about Bernd’s comment about acquiring money but not getting to use it because you die.

And I think about Bernd and me talking about people we know that came to retirement but died soon afterwards.  I think about my dad’s boss who reached retirement but then passed away within a year.  That was actually one of the stories that further made me passionate about traveling at this age.  I am simply not guaranteed tomorrow.

And I think about the comment from James that say that.  Don’t say tomorrow you will go here or go there, do this or do that.  Rather, say, if it is the Lord’s will, then I will do this.  And I find myself saying, “If it is the Lord’s will,” or “If I don’t die before tomorrow,” because of this verse.

I remember taking my youth group out to a cemetery and telling them they ever since we were born, we have all been dying.  I remember having them search for tombstones of the oldest person.  And the youngest person.

I remember visiting Westminster Abbey in London.  I remember seeing the tombstones of people like Charles Darwin, Isaac Newton, and several kings and queens.  People with riches beyond compare and minds that stood apart from the rest.  And they are all dead.

I remember visiting a graveyard in Ireland.  I remember the tombstones from the 16th century.  I remember the church from the 10th century.  I remember the tombstones of brothers, sisters, fathers, and mothers.  Men and women with lives, kids, jobs, and influence.  Men and women with stories of success and failure, delight and pain.  And I remember some of these tombstones so faded that no one would ever know these people again.  They have been dead for 800 years.

And so I just thought about death.  Frankly, it’s perhaps the most important part of life to dwell upon.  To avoid it is to be foolish.  Ignorant.  To focus upon it is to be dangerous.  Silly.  But to neglect it is to die already.

For we are all dying.  It only makes me ask...what legacy am I leaving behind?  And it’s sometimes fun to think about, too.  Will I have a place in Westminster Abbey?  Or will I have a tombstone like Abraham Lincoln?  Or will I just join the thousands....the millions...the billions of others quietly laying in cemeteries around the world.  Will I be remembered after my friends, kids, and grandchildren pass away?  (Can you name your great-grandparents?  Your great-great-grandparents?  Your great-great-great grandparents?).  Or will I have a tombstone that is faded by time?  Will I be a distant and forever forgotten memory upon this earth?

To me, these thoughts are absolutely delightful.  As I mentioned before, I am not afraid of death, and it is strictly to the fact that I believe in a certain life after death.  One that I don’t have to be afraid of.

But I just wonder what others think.  I am always delighted to hear their thoughts, their comments, their questions, their boldness, and sometimes their hesitancy.  I would be a fool to say that I understand everything.  But I would also be a fool to say that every man does not land somewhere (whether spoken or unspoken) in his view of death, me included.

And we can avoid it and be fools in every sense of the word.  Or we can address it now while we can and seek to be prepared (if necessary) for it.  The options are many.  Back to dirt.  Life after death.  Reincarnated.  Just gone completely, totally, forever.  Nirvana.

Which do you choose?  It’s not only a necessity in life to hold a view of death, but I wholeheartedly believe that death actually determines life.  Your death determines how you live.  Back to dirt?  Eat, drink, and be merry!  But you can’t cry when a close friend’s just part of the circle of life.

Reincarnated?  You’ll eventually reach Nirvana.  So you can be a horse in the next life.  Or a king.  Work up or work down.  But no worries.  Outside of temporary pain, Nirvana is always available eventually.

Life after death?  Responsible for my actions?  A God that actually made me and cares about me?  Eternity with Him?!  Sounds almost too good to be true.  But it’s where I land.  I believe in God, in Jesus, in life after death.  Sure, it gives me hope, but that is not why I choose it.  I choose it because I have to do something with this historical Jesus guy.  And after study, He is very hard to get around.

But I am always fascinated and eager to hear others.  I have swayed in my own thoughts, and I have been greatly challenged sometimes even in my own beliefs.  But like I said, we all have a view of death.  And it determines how we live.  So what do you think of death?  And if you don’t think about it, why not?  Take some time to seriously answer that question.  I think it’s important to know why you think or don’t think about it.

I’ll end with a humorous story.  I was visiting my grandma and grandpa at their farm one Wednesday with one of my friends from college.  Grandpa was just a’jabberin’ away (he always does when someone new comes around!), and then he said something that Don and I couldn’t believe.

“Yeah, your grandma and I were going to play cards with Ernie and his wife last week, but,” and he said kind of disappointedly in Ernie, “he just up and died on us!”  And with that, he grabbed a piece of meat and started chewing!  Grandpa had lost a fellow card player, and it was cramping his style!

Don’s and I’s mouths dropped.  We couldn’t believe it!  Grandpa just said it so matter-of-factly...just like the telling of the weather or what he did yesterday afternoon. And Don and I tried to hold our laughter in, but we went to the breaking point.  We lost it.

But I have learned much from my grandpa.  One of these facts being that death is indeed a reality for us all.  I can remember other conversations with him about how he has outlived classmates, teachers, and even students.  How his friends are passing away all around him.  He himself is 83 years old, and he knows his time is coming.

He and grandma have already bought a tombstone with their names on it.  And it comes complete with a John Deere tractor on it.  It’s even holding a reserved spot for two in the cemetery.  I know.  I’ve seen it.  It has their birth years and a dash.  It’s just waiting for the year to put behind the dash.

If that isn’t a dose of reality, I don’t know what else is.

Andy.  Tom.  Mike.  June.  Barb.  Dale.  Earl.   [insert your name here]

2007-10-18 22:00:04 GMT

Entry for October 18, 2007


So I've noticed that I'm a bit spontaneous.  It's not really a revelation, per se.  I mean, I've known it for quite a while.  For a long time, really.  But the spontaneity happened again.  It's what I wrote about yesterday.  But today it became reality.

I am going through with my plan.  I just got off the phone with a guy, and I booked a ticket to Spain.  Come next Wednesday, I'll be one country over.  If all goes well, that should be my fifth country (counting Scotland and England separately) in just over a couple of months.

And I think that's where I am going to end in my conquest of Europe.  For now anyway.  I have been thinking long and hard today about trying to see Spain, France, and Germany before the wedding, and I think I may have been able to do so.  I mean, I have an entire month left...

But I'm spontaneous.  And I am going to forego those two countries for something else.  Something different.  It could prove to be a decision I'll look back upon and wonder why I did it.  But I'm thinking probably not.  There come opportunities sometimes only once in a person's life.  And I think one of those is here now.

The wedding is in 37 days (make sure that groom is aware of this!  He's got some crazy single living to do before then!).

I'm beginning to wonder now when and how I'll come back to Europe.  A couple of weeks ago, I was ready to be back in the States.  I was ready to start extensive pilot training (and I am actually still very much looking forward to that).  But after I came over that 2-month bubble last week, it hit me.  I only have one month left.  I only have four weeks left!

And all of a sudden, the dream became a dream again.  I have so much to do, so little time!  What was once far off (over a month away!) now turned to weeks.  And I still have Spain, France, Italy, Morocco, Germany, Greece, and on and on and on.  And Brazil...and China...

It took me several weeks of traveling to realize it, but God made this world BIG.  Very big.  Like the stars and the universe, it doesn't really even make sense to me.  We think we become world-travelers, but in reality we only see a tiny speck of what is here.  Whether we've seen 5 countries or 45, it's really nothing.  We simply cannot see the world.  Utterly and totally impossible.  But I can (and will!) be a traveling man the rest of my life.  I'm not at all discouraged by these realizations.  I'm actually even in more wonder and awe.  There will always be something to see.  It's finding the healthy balance of being content where you are but never losing dreams, fascination, wonder, and the desire to explore.

Right now I have both.  It's a great place to be.

Now to look ahead a little bit...The next week should be quite enjoyable.  I have a cook-out tomorrow night, a whole hog roast and party Saturday, an American steak party on Sunday, a birthday party and more food on Monday.  And then come Tuesday or Wednesday, I'll be fixin' to head to Spain.

And then I hope to fulfill a little dream of mine.  If all goes well, it is going to be quite a crazy last few weeks.

But like I said, I'll show you pictures.

37 days.  So much to do.  So little time.

2007-10-18 17:03:15 GMT

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Entry for October 17, 2007


Well, I have now been in Portugal for over a month.  Actually, I've already been here for one month and six days.  It's crazy to even think about.  I don't know where the time goes!

I've been workin' at the camp/resort still.  I've been doing a lot of clearing away overgrown brush, mowing, and burning.  It's been nice, though, and I've been able to meet quite a few people and see quite a few places.

But I'm at that dangerous point again.  It's the point where everyone else looks in wonder.  And it's the point where I get the most excited in life.  I've been here before.  Like the time right before I made the decision to ride a motorcycle 4000 miles.  Or like the time I decided to call up a few friends and get a hamburger...600 miles away.  Or like the time I decided to go see the ocean...10 hours away.

I don't know how it happens, but I just know that it does.  One day I am happy as can be, enjoying what I am doing...and then the next, all I can think about is this new idea.  Whether a hamburger or a wave or...

So it's time.  haha...and I laugh.  The "switch" happened a couple of days ago.  And it's been time ever since.  And so I am about ready to bid farewell to Portugal.  She has been good to me.  Very good to me.

But I've got somethin' else to go get.  And frankly, it's one of the craziest things I've ever done.  I don't even know if I can pull it off.  But even as I am typing this, I am giddy!  If all goes well, it will be a story for the ages.

If not, um, hmm...we might have to do a video feed for that wedding.

So give me a week.  Within that time, I shall say goodbye to Portugal.  And hello to Spain.  And hopefully Spain again.  And then hopefully the Netherlands.  Well, sort of.

It's a long story.

I'll show you pictures when I get back.

2007-10-17 16:33:09 GMT

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Entry for October 3, 2007


I had to squint my eyes to shield them from the mud being thrown up at me.  Little bullets were nailing my eyes, my cheeks, my chest.  I had to pull back a little to the left to get out of their trajectories...

I was out on the patio working on my computer when Bernd pops his head out the door.

“It’s want to ride?”

I had met Jose over a week ago at the gypsy market in Rogil.  He and his son had “rolled up” on horses.  I mentioned my eagerness to ride, and the next thing I know I was on top of a horse.  I took a small stroll around the gypsy market...just a couple of minutes, but Bernd assured me that Jose said that I could ride sometime.

I put it out of my mind.

“It’s want to ride?”

The day was almost over.  It was nearing six or seven o’clock, judging by the sun, and I was surprised to hear that he was asking me to ride at this time of the day...

“Right now?”


“Definitely!  Tell him I’ll be there in 30 minutes!”

I had to ride there on my bicycle, and he lived a few miles away.  Bernd had showed me his house just Sunday night.  I put away my laptop, grabbed a sweatshirt, a camera, and headed out the door.  The nights are pretty chilly anymore, and I needed to make sure I would be warm!

And then I hit the road!

Biking has become a way of life for me here.  With no motorized vehicle, I have had to use my legs to get to where I want to go.  The closest town is a few miles away, and I have made the one trip to the bigger town even further away.  The first week here I found myself on the bike quite a bit. As of late, though, I have been staying home more.  Some of it is because biking makes ya tired!  And going to town just doesn’t seem to be as appealing when you have to use your calves rather than gas...

But I was more than eager to ride now!  I headed right out of the lane and chartered some new territory, only having seen it in the evening Sunday with Bernd and family when we went to another town for a restaurant.  And I was having a crazy difficult time moving.

The road appeared straight, and my legs were pumping steadily, but I didn’t appear to be moving like usual.  It didn’t make sense to me.  I pedaled and pedaled and pedaled.  I checked the gears.  I looked up ahead, I looked behind.  Perfectly flat.  I looked at the tires, but I had just checked them for air before I left.

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” I said out loud.

I tried to figure out what was wrong.  I had eaten well today...plenty of pasta last night, much food what was wrong.  I didn’t know.  But I kept pedaling.  At this rate, Jose would be waiting for me!!!

After about 20-25 minutes of pedaling, I neared Jose’s house.  It is tucked back away from the road, and I had only seen the entrance one time.  Bernd missed it that night and threw on his brakes causing a short skid....enough to warrant a comment from his wife in the backseat.

I saw the old machinery threw the trees, but I wasn’t sure where to turn.  I passed a small dirty entrance, but it didn’t look like the one I remembered.  After a few more pedals, I realized that I, too, had missed the entrance.  I did a “U-ey,” and headed back to the small dirty path.  I biked around the puddles from the previous three days of rain, including that day.  And I pulled up to the house...I heard some movement in the back of the house, and I biked back there to see part of Jose through the clothes hung out to dry.

He said something in Portuguese.

“Hello!  Bom dia!”  I responded with what I knew.

I made my way around the clothes, and he made his way out of the open garage.  Jose is a small man, and he has the typical dark skin of a Portuguese man.  He walks stiffly but purposefully as any man who has worked the land all of his life.  He has a beautiful deep, tinny voice with slow Portuguese and a mixture of Spanish in there, as well.  And he only has a few fingers.  Both thumbs and a couple of fingers.  A “silage accident” is all I was able to learn.

But it didn’t stop him.

We said a few words between us, the only words allowable from an English-speaking guy and a Portuguese-speaking guy.  We had little common ground, except the desire to ride.

We walk back to this typical concrete structure found all over Portuguese.  It’s an old lights on the inside.  But that’s where the horses are kept.  I pass by chickens, ducks, rabbits, and dogs on the way there.  More typical animals for the Portuguese.

Jose threw out some “boots” to me.  I had seen him and his son wearing them at the market, and it’s a good thing, too, or else I may not have known what to do with them!  They are leather “boots,” and I am sure they have a proper name that true cowboys know, but I do not yet fit that category.  Yet.  They cover the top of your shoe, then cover the entire part of your leg from the knee down.  You wrap it around your leg, then strap up.  And did I ever have to strap up!  Each “boot” had about 15 straps.  Tough leather.  It took me several minutes to get ready.  Jose already had his on, and he went inside to get the horses.

Out comes the first horse...the one Jose will be riding.  This horse is quite funny to watch.  Jose had rode up on this one at the gypsy market, and I quickly realized it was the same one.  Why?  Because the horse is scared to death.  The eyes are huge, protruding from the sides with a fear only known to the horse.  I figured Jose was breaking it, as the horse is very stubborn.  We all had a good laugh as the horse controlled Jose at the market, not the reverse.  After a rebellious strut around the market, contrary to what Jose was asking and yelling, the horse and Jose disappeared with Jose making noises the entire time.  A few seconds later the horse was back, doing the exact opposite of Jose’s commands.  We all laughed and watched in utter amusement.

Jose tied this horse to the concrete wall, then went to retrieve the other one.  And I think I figured out what is wrong with the horse.  He has a serious case of Terrets.  He is jittery, he is paranoid, and he can’t sit still, even on a short rope.  I was quite amused but a bit concerned for his wild life.  Something was deeply wrong with that horse.

Then my horse came out.  A nice, dependable guy.  The one that I had rode briefly at the market.

I watch Jose throw a couple of older saddles on the horses.  They looked rather plain, rather silly to me, and I wondered how old they were!  And all I could think about were the saddles that I saw at the National High School Rodeo Finals.  Incredibly fancy.  Decorated leather.  Thousands of dollars each.  And I wanted very much to have a saddle like that to give to Jose.  It just seemed like he would very much appreciate something like that.  And I think I would appreciate doing that, too.  These saddles were so simple!  But the more I think about it, the more I like Jose having the simple saddles.  Maybe he has never seen those other saddles, and he knows not that they even exist.  And really, he has no need for them.  He only needs a place to sit atop his horse, and he has that.  Two of them even.  And I think that was enough for him.

I watched him strap the saddles, then throw on the reigns.  He then took the horse I was to ride and rode it around his back lot for a bit.  I think he just wanted to make sure the saddle was secure, the reigns were good and tight and free, and the horse was cooperative.  After several minutes of riding, he beckoned me out the back.

And it was a good thing, too.  When Jose left me, I found myself alone with that other horse.  Or maybe I should say it the other way!  The other horse found himself alone with me.  And he freaked out.  Stomping back and forth.  Left and right.  Neighing.

"He seriously has Terrets.”  I think I may have even told the horse that he had a problem.  But the guy was too busy freaking out to even hear me.  At Jose’s beckon, I started walking out there, and I’ll be if that horse didn’t jump at my first step.  I had made sure that I was in sight of the horse (which wasn’t hard to do because he moved around to see me so much anyway), but he was quite frightened when I stepped...

That’s a messed-up horse!

I walked down to Jose, climbed atop my own horse, and then rode around the lot in circles for a bit.  Ok, let me give you my horse-riding history...

1.  I vaguely remember my aunt having horses.  One named Tex.  I know not whether I rode it or just sat atop it or just saw it.  I was under 10 years old.

2.  In 1993, I went to Colorado with my family for a family vacation.  While there, we rode horses through some trails.  Easy horses, nice horses.  I was 11 years old.

3.  In 2003, I rode a horse in Mississippi.  Sorta.  This was a sorry excuse for a horse, really.  But the owner had fallen in love with her.  And I was put atop her because I was gimp.  I had seven stitches in the bottom of my left foot, and I can remember the pain and difficulty of even getting up to a canter.  A gallop was anything but enjoyable.  A very unpleasant experience.

4.  I watched 8 Seconds several times, and they ride horses on there.  Sometimes.

Well, that just about covers it!!!  So my inclination was:  Act like you know what you are doing.  Jose had left to tend to his maniac horse.  I had remembered some lessons from the past, and so I gently led the horse the way I wanted to go with the reigns.  Not too bad, really!  The horse followed!  But the horse was going a bit wider than I wanted.  So I led him further in.  Pretty good!  But he was sometimes slow, sometimes fast.  What to do?  I kicked him when he was slow, and he sped up a bit.  When he was fast, I just made sure to stay atop him!  I was going in tight circles, and it’s pretty easy to have your momentum thrown to the outside!

And I loved it.

I went around to the left.  Then around to the right.  Several minutes of learning my new horse, and then Jose came down.  And he started going in circles...opposite me.  He was making wide circles to the right, I was making tight circles to the left.  The faster Jose’s horse would go, the faster mine wanted to go.  But I was able to keep us from hitting, so I figured that was pretty good!

Then Jose stopped.  And so I stopped.  And we lined up next to each other, after another amusing show of Jose and his horse...

“Izquierda!!!” (left)

The horse would back up.

“Izquierda!!!”  Jose would yell.

Still nothing.  Finally, after much convincing, Jose and I were lined up next to each other.  It was time to go.

We both motioned our horses forward, and we were off.  Down a dirt road in Portugal.  My horse wanted to get up to a canter, and Jose followed.  To be quite honest, the canter is one of the most painful rides of a horse.  It’s not walking, and it’s not running.  It’s a quite bumpy experience.  With every step, my butt would nail my saddle.  Not comfortable.  But I knew not how to slow him down.  And to speed him up would just be silly.  Jose was keeping up, though, so we kept that pace.

He said something in Portuguese to me...and pointed at my feet.  I quickly realized that he was telling me to pull my feet further out.  I had them all the way up in the stirrups, and I guess that was bad form.  I brought them out to just behind my toes, and Jose seemed to like that.

But this canter had to go.  We slowed down to a walk, but my horse didn’t like to walk.  He liked to canter.  A little walking, a little canter, a little pain.

I finally reached a good form of taking my weight off of the saddle.  I put it on my feet.  Hmm...maybe that is how you are supposed to ride.  Imagine that.  My butt didn’t hurt so much anymore, at least.

We took several dirt or gravel roads through the countryside.  The paths were wet from the recent rain, and my horse was quite afraid to go through long puddles.  He would either try to go off the path to the left or stop completely when we came to one.  Being a good horse-rider now, I made sure to make sure that my horse went through the puddles.  It was a trust issue, really.  My horse had to trust me that those puddles were safe to go through.

I was now a full-fledged cowboy.  At least to myself.

Jose’s horse continued to act up a bit, and I said, “Aye, aye, aye.”  Jose understood what I was talking about, laughed, and then pointed at my horse.  “Lento!”  He called my horse slow!  And then he pointed at his horse, said something about “fuerte,” and I was certain that he saying that he needed a strong horse for a strong man.  Or a strong-willed horse for a strong-willed man.  Either way, Jose’s choice was the horse he was on.  Terrets, stubbornness, or strength.  Take your pick!

We went up to a trot, and that was more comfortable.  Quite comfortable, actually.  The horse just gets into this groove, and the bouncing disappears.  We walked some more, and Jose always stayed with me.  Very little talking, but I was having a great time.

We stopped at the Escritorio, and Jose talked to a woman there.  I waited atop my horse.  After he came out, we went out for more riding.  The guys in the rock trucks just stared at us.  With wonder.  With curiosity.  With longing.  Every man wants to ride a horse, I’m sure of it.

And Jose took me to some of the most beautiful countryside I have ever seen in my life.  We walked down this path, and the sporadic houses even disappeared.  We came upon two old structures from years gone by...someone had once said this was paradise, and it was, but they either died or lost money or lost interest in traveling from their real home to here.  And so the structure was now old and decayed.

“Mi casa,” I said and pointed to the old house.

Jose laughed, said something, and agreed.  What a fine place to live.  All around us there were open fields.  And somewhere in those fields were pine trees that dotted the now wide-open landscape.  Some fields were worked up by hand or mule, and others were either not being farmed or waiting for a different season.  But we were in our own country out there.

And on top of all of that, God was doing some fine craftwork Himself in the skies.  The recent rains had now left some beautiful towering cumulus clouds.  Somewhere off in the distance was a thunderstorm.  Somewhere over those mountains.  Oh, yes, you could see the mountains, too.  And in the middle of it all, the sun was starting to go down, turning from the bright yellow to that soft orange.

I was in paradise.

We walked slowly through the trees, then came out of them again, following this sandy, dirty, rocky road the entire time.  We passed by the fields up close, and I asked what they were in my best Portuguese/Spanish.

“Que vegetable?”  It came out “Kay veg E Tah Blay”?  I pronounced every syllable which is a no-no here in Portugal.  But that’s what I knew.

Jose seemed to understand, though, and he responded...

“Potatoes dulces.”  Ah, yes, sweet potatoes!  I have heard much about these here, and I am actually anticipating an octopus and sweet potato meal sometime in the next couple of weeks!  Bernd’s wife had promised!  And I even hear that I will be able to attend a Sweet Potato Festival here in October!  All the sweet potato concoctions I could ever want.  Perfect!

And actually, finding myself where I was, with the sun setting, with the mountains wearing the cumulous like a cap, with the fields spread out before me, that is all I could say.


Jose smiled and agreed.

And then he said something, and he was gone!!!  He just took off!  No walk, no canter, no trot...he sped off!  And what to do but follow?!  I don’t know that I’ve ever taken a horse to a gallop before, but, hey, why not?!


I gained a bit on Jose, but his wild maniac of a horse, though crazy, was a bit faster than my trusty steed.  I found myself galloping directly behind him.  The sound of the hooves hitting the wet ground had a beautiful cadence to it.  But there is no room for being in second place when horse-riding.

I had to squint my eyes to shield them from the mud being thrown up at me.  Little bullets were nailing my eyes, my cheeks, my chest.  I had to pull back a little to the left to get out of their trajectories.

Jose would look back every once in awhile to see if I was still there, and I hoped that he was always surprised to see me, just a step or three behind.  Two guys, galloping through the countryside.  Perfecto.

The road turned, and after a couple minutes of all-out riding, we slowed down.  The horses gave off billows of steam from their now-warm bodies.  I patted my horse on the neck to show my approval.  What a treat!

We walked some more, and I looked over at Jose’s horse who was now making quite a bit of noise.  His mouth was all foamy, and he was panting rather heavily.  So I did the same in mockery to Jose and his horse....

“<pant> <huff> <pant>”

And we both laughed.

We walked slowly the rest of the way to Jose’s house.  The horses had treated us well, and we absorbed the sun as it set over the hills, somewhere over the ocean.

Once back at the house, Jose hosed down the horses with water, and then we took the saddles and reigns off of them, and then put them away.

And in his beautiful voice, he spoke to me in Portuguese...

“Es pequeno.  Otra dia...”  And he spread out his fingerless hands.  Then something about going along the “mare...tres or quatro horas...”

Yes, yes, yes!  Our ride tonight was very short...only about an hour!  He was inviting me back for another ride along the coast!!!  For several hours!!!

“Sim, sim, sim!”  Yes, yes, yes!

I didn’t know whether to do it or not, but I figured I might as well risk it.  If Jose can ride a horse with no fingers, then surely he can take a picture without fingers, as well.  And I asked him to take a picture of me in front of my horse.  He said something about not doing it earlier with me on top, but I said...

"Otra dia.”  I was coming back!

And I watched him take his thumb and hold the bottom of my camera, then take his solitary pinky and push the button.  It wasn’t necessarily a strain, but he had to take some effort to position his hands correctly to hold the camera.  And then he pushed the button. It was quick, and on my camera, you need to hold it down for a few seconds, but I had the flash off, so maybe not.  I was desperately hoping that the picture took, because I would feel bad to ask him again!

I looked, and sure enough, there was a picture.  Good!

I thanked him repeatedly, then hopped on my bike.  He said he would call Bernd when we could ride again.  Perfect.

The sun had already set, and it was beginning to get dark.  I had really wanted to get out in the open and take a picture of the huge beautiful clouds over the mountains, but I had missed my 10-minute window.  The brilliant orange colors were now gone, the sun having stolen them back after giving them for such a short time.  The clouds were still powerful and towering, but they now lost much of their luster.  In just a few short minutes, the human eye wouldn’t even be able to tell that those huge monsters were off in the horizon.

I pedaled out of the dirty trail, then onto the main road.  I needed to get home before dark so as to not be hit by a car.  I took the turn towards home, and I stopped to try for a picture.  But it not worth it.  I missed my chance.  So what else to do but wait for a car to pass and then relieve myself.  Which I gladly did.

Then I headed home.  After about 5 minutes of pedaling, I started to pick up speed.  Every so slowly.  And not the type of speed that a little boy enjoys when going down a steep hill.  Not the type that makes your eyes water.  Or makes your hair blow back.  Rather, this was a gentle breeze.  This was a gentle coast.  But I found myself not having to use my pedals.

“You’ve got to be kidding me.”

I looked behind me.  I looked ahead of me.  There is just no way.

But there I was, not pedaling, but moving forward freely.

All of a sudden I realized why it had been so difficult to bike to Jose’s house.  You couldn’t see it with the naked eye, and I am not sure if it was because of the terrain on the side of the roads or because of the hills in the distance or just because of its gradual nature or what, but this road had the slightest incline to it.  But enough to make it difficult to pedal up.  And enough to make it unnecessary to pedal down.  But you would never have known it just by looking.

I felt better that my bike was fine.  I was glad that I could continue to use it for the days to come.  And I was very appreciative of only having to bike five minutes of the 20-minute ride back home.

I put the bike away, went to my room, took off my dirty sweatshirt with the specs of dirt that had been thrown on me, and I sat down to some pasta.  After eating, I ended up falling asleep all dirty.  I wonder what I dreamed about.

I mean, what do you dream about at night when your days steal all the night’s content?

2007-10-03 21:58:45 GMT

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Entry for October 2, 2007


“I’m touched to see that you yourself are tearing up, too.”

She wasn’t supposed to see.  I had managed to keep the solitary tear from rolling down my cheek by staying laid back in my chair.  I couldn’t lean forward, or else it would fall down my cheek, and she might see.  So I waited a minute or two (after the time when the tears were supposed to come) and then nonchalantly took my right sleeve and quickly dabbed my right eye.  Very smooth.  As natural as having a scratch...

Then she broke the silence.  Grr.

I had spent the day with Klaus and Renata, some neighbors up the road.  We took the 40-minute drive to Portimao for a day in the city.  More or less, we went to a very nice shopping’s like a mall but long.  Just store connected to store connected to store.  Athletic store, “you can find everything in here” store, hardware store, furniture store, grocery we spent a few hours shopping.

And let me tell you, I had some of the most fun in the hardware store and furniture store.  I quickly wanted to become an interior designer (yes, my manliness was coming out early that day!).  I walked into the hardware store, and up above the shelves are models of bathrooms, kitchens, bedrooms...all in these bright oranges, dark browns, and soft turquoises.  The colors are a decorator’s dream.  They accent each other so well, and I thought how fun it would be to decorate a house like that back in the States.  To give one a little Portuguese flavor!

I was impressed with the styles, and I loved the simplicity of it all.  One enjoyment I have had in Portugal is that houses are not cluttered.  I remember my room back home, and I had stuff, stuff, stuff.  Papers, books, winter clothes, summer clothes, boots, shoes, a bed, a couple big dressers, rodeo gear, a baseball card collection, a tub of pictures, a tub of awards and recognitions, receipts, watches, little knick-knacks, and on and on and on.  And it’s not just me!  I have never been accused of being the cleanest guy out there, but my brother’s room was full of stuff, too.  And my mom and dad’s house.  Every room is full of something that has been collected over the years.  Even our bathrooms are full of stuff!  Towels, towel racks, toothbrush, comb, shaving cream, shampoo bottle, soap, scale, laundry basket, rug, electric shaver, razors, toothpaste, moutwash...and on and on and on!

Of course, I’m pleased to report that the Portuguese do take baths!  They shower, they use deodorant, they brush their teeth...but their houses are not full of stuff.  They somehow manage to keep their rooms in complete simplicity.  With the minimal amount of furniture, accessories, pictures, mirrors, etc.  And yet from what I have seen, the rooms look so much better than what we have in the States!  Personal preference?!  Maybe!

But as an up-and-coming interior designer, my newly found phrase is...

Less is More.

So that was a fun experience.  And I thoroughly enjoyed looking at the items they had.  I’m not even sure if we have these in the States, but I saw a shower contraption that had nozzles coming at you from every which direction.  You had the shower above, and a ton of showers hitting ya from head to mid-section, too.  Boy, if I didn’t want to just hop in there and try one out!  Too bad the water is not connected, or I may have!  It looked like a jacuzzi without the pool of water!  Simply fantastic.

I also made my way over to the grocery store, and I was pleasantly surprised to see every single price on digital display.  Below every single item in the entire store was a small digital price tag instead of the printed stickers we have.  Amazing.  Another thing I have learned?  American is advanced.  We are an industrialized country.  We have a strong and consistent economy.  But we are not the most advanced.  Yeah, I couldn’t believe it!  Who knew?!  So I walk into this grocery store, and I see thousands of little digital tags displaying the price and the price per ounce.  Or milligram.  Or whatever.  I’m sure if they wanted to change a price, they would swipe a little handheld computer over it, and voila!  It’s changed.  Sure beats the paper and sticker guns in America!  Very neat to see.

And something else that I am not sure why it hasn’t caught on yet in the States.  Ok, picture this.  You head out to Applebee’s with friends, right?  The waitress comes, takes your order, goes back, places the order, come out with the food, then you sit around and talk for awhile, and then you all have to pay.  Either by cash or credit card.  With the credit cards, she takes them back to a secret special corner to a computer across the room, brings back three receipts, two for you, one for the company, has you sign them, blah blah blah.

In several restaurants in Europe, here is what happens.  When it is time to pay, the waitress brings you a little cordless handheld device (very similar to the “swipers” for credit cards at grocery stores or department stores in the checkout lane), you stick your credit card in it, and you’re done!  Just like that.  No unnecessary walking back and forth.  No unnecessary signatures on receipts.  Just put your card in, let the money come out, and take your card back.  Very nice.

So it’s been kind of neat to be around more technologically advanced places!  I’m certainly not “roughing” it.  America is great.  But there are so many other people and technologies out here, too!  We’re not always the leaders!  And that’s kind of neat to know.

So anyway, I finish up shopping, and we drive back home.  It turns out that their vehicle of choice is a driving camper.  Boy, if I had one of these, I would never be home.  It would probably be my home!  It’s pretty sweet to have a table to eat on (which we did in the parking lot of the retail center!), a refrigerator to grab stuff at any time, and a bed to sleep on!  And once again, a dream comes sweet to load up six or seven guys and just head to Alaska?!  Of course, I don’t have six or seven guys willing, and that is problematic, but in my prime of college, I think I could have!  Side-note:  Mushu and I almost bought a driving camper for $600.00, and to this day, I still partially regret that.  I had the insurance lined up, and we even took it for a test-drive.  After about 15 miles, we couldn’t breathe, because the exhaust manifold had a crack in it.  And it was one of those campers where the engine was right there between the driver and passenger underneath the hump, so the exhaust fumes were just pouring out of the carpet up front.  My eyes burned, and Mushu later told me it hurt his lungs, but I think we could have certainly bonded with that ol’ puppy.  Coulda, woulda, shoulda.  Grr.

After we get back, I am invited over to another meal at their house, and I am treated to these little creatures called “camaraos.”  With an accent on the end.  Seafood that Renata had just bought at the grocery store earlier in the day.  And let me tell you, their fresh seafood at their grocery stores is a blast.  Fish everywhere, octopus, little unidentified creatures...I love it!  With the camaraos, this was the first time I’ve ever had ‘em, but I pulled off the tail, pulled off the head, pulled off the legs, and ate!  And they were incredibly good!  I love ‘em!  Saboroso!  It’s nice having fresh seafood always available!  I enjoyed a seafood kabob a couple of nights ago, too!  They are great!  Illinois needs legislation to put in an ocean.

Well, as we are eating, Renata says that part two of a show is on.  She invites me to stay and watch, and the story line sounds great.  A woman is separated from her children back in the 80’s when East and West Germany are still split.  I had been fascinated with this topic the past week, because I am meeting several Germans who talk about the reality of it all.  Me?  I only knew the Berlin Wall came down in 1989.  That is all I could tell you about Germany.  Oh, and we fought them in World War II.  That is it.

So I watch this movie about a mom who is taken from her two daughters...based on a true story.  And even though the movie is in German, I can understand what is happening.  Klaus and Renata occasionally fill me in with details, too.  I won’t spoil the movie, because I want to see if it has English subtitles, but I would recommend a watch.  And, yes, I teared up at the end.  Shut up.  Now this movie can go with the ranks of Rudy, 8 Seconds, and Bambi.

Anyway, as I am watching this movie, I am just surprised and a bit appalled that I know nothing about any of this.  The Germans were talking to me about Checkpoint Charlie, and that was the first time I had ever heard those two words used together.  We are only 20 years removed from these events, and I could have told you nothing about the tension between East and West Germany.  And I knew nothing of Checkpoint Charlie.  Of course, I was just a few years old at the time, but what about history classes?

I guess we spent too much time talking about our own Civil War.

Anyway, see if you can find the movie in English.  Something about Checkpoint Charlie.  It’s a decent flick.  At least half of it is!

And so from there, I was escorted back through the very dark path (no moon that night) with my grocery sacks.  We stopped at the beer hut...I was planning to hop on the internet for awhile and then hit the sack, but I was invited to stay for a drink by Bad-Weather Mike.

And, frankly, I was a bit shocked to hear that.  I don’t know why.  But Mike just has a demeanor about him...he is a thick, tough guy, and he drives a truck for a living.  He has made a couple of comments to me in the few days since he has been here, but nothing much.  Only a couple of things about being American.  And so I found it rather surprising to be asked to have a drink with him.

We ended up talking for 4 ½ hours.

Mike is from Germany, but he drives a truck for a Canadian company.  He’s been on the road in North America for a year.  Before that, he drove his own truck around Europe.  He speaks English very well, and I asked him if he had classes at all.  Nope.  Just the radio on the open road.  Oh, and text messages.  He says those help, too, because he has to type the English words.

Here I am talking to a guy with very thorough understanding (most of the time...he asked me what a “redneck” was because he met some self-proclaimed ones at a bar one time, but didn’t know what that meant) of the English language in just one year.  From the radio in his semi.  Unbelievable.

I was greatly encouraged about learning Portuguese, though.  Or German.  I am actually surrounded by that more here in Portugal.  But the thought of being able to speak any language the quality that Mike did in one year gives me hope!

And so for several hours, we talked about virtually everything.

Mike has been to the 48 contiguous states, much like myself.  And we both shared our dream of going to Alaska.  I was able to score a ride with him in the big rig when I get back, but I think that will just be through the lower States.  Sweet action!  Another dream of mine!

We talked about the upcoming election, how he didn’t understand how America voted for George Bush a second time... “Ok, one time we can understand.  But to do it again?  That’s just ********” (it’s a male bovine’s by-product).  And he would repeat this phrase often over the next few hours.

And then we talked about America kind of being “out of the loop.”  Klaus told the guys about me watching the movie about Checkpoint Charlie and not knowing what it was, and all the Germans agreed that Americans don’t know world news or history.  Touche.  I can’t argue.

Mike told me how all the Germans eagerly watch our election.  All eyes are on the television set during the American elections.  They are as interested as we are to find out who the next President is going to be.  Ask me about Germany.  Go ahead.  I don’t have a clue.  Do they have a President?  A Prime Minister?  Male?  Female?  2 years?  4 years?  1 year?  How many parties.  I don’t know.

Just as a lil’ test...we are at war with Iraq...could you point it out on a map?  Hmm.  How many of us could?

He asked me what I thought about the upcoming election, and I shared my thoughts.  He thinks we need new blood in there.  Someone with new ideas...sounds like a good idea to me!

Ok, I just had a completely random thought...

Bernd’s wife wears a shirt sometimes that reads...

On the front:  What do you call a Canadian?

On the back:  An unarmed American with healthcare.

Good stuff.  If you don’t get it, that’s because you are American.  Silly.
Ok, back to my story.

I shared with him how we only learn foreign languages for a couple of years, but not until we are 15-17 years old.  “Well, that is too late!”  I couldn’t argue.  How many of us Americans have really used or greatly benefited from our high school language classes?  What quality were they?  Did we take them seriously?

And so I have Iris coming home at seven years of age...speaking to me more and more in English because she is learning it at school.  Oh, and she speaks fluent Portuguese and German, too.  Yeah, she is seven years old.  Three languages.  Not all too uncommon over here.

How sweet would it be to speak another language?  Aye.

And then I shared something that I found absolutely fascinating.  We had watched the FIFA Women’s World Cup on TV the day before.  Germany was playing Brazil, and it was held in Shanghai, China.  Well, Germany wins, and since the Germans were celebrating in the beer hut, we had to watch the awards ceremonies.  And much to my shock, this is what I heard...

"And the award for the best forward goes to...”

“And the award for the best goalkeeper of the tournament goes to....”

“And now presenting your 2007 FIFA Women’s World Cup Champions!!!”

I don’t know if you caught it.  I heard the presentation for the German championship team...the team that just played my very own English language.  English was the chosen language for the awards.  And then I saw the girls sing and dance to... “We are the Champions!”...their mouths singing the words.

And as Bernd so admirably puts it, from my lips I could easily have said, “This is just too much for me.”

I mean, I know English is an international language.  I recognize the importance of knowing English.  I have traveled to four countries in Europe, and I haven’t had a big problem with finding other English-speakers yet.  The stores in Portimao?  To work there, you have to know Portuguese and English fluently.  So many tourists come to shop there that you need to know both languages.  I am a pilot, and I know that the internationally-accepted language at all airport towers is English.  So I understand the fact that English is a global language.  I would just never imagine that Germans would take their championship honors in anything but their own native tongue.  Or sing anything but a beloved home song.

To put it into perspective, how about the World Series trophy being given to the Chicago Cubs in German?  Or Chinese?  That would certainly not happen (and no, it’s not because it would not happen because the Cubs would not make it...I know what you all think before you say it...2007 World Series Champions, here we come!!!).  (On another side-note, I haven’t watched a lick of baseball or American football since I’ve been here, and I don’t miss that previous comment is only half-hearted...but take it nonetheless).

I asked Bernd about English being spoken at the FIFA awards ceremony, and he was a bit surprised, too.  But I realized that most of the songs that we listen to in Portugal are English.  Some Portuguese, but most are English.  And in Bernd’s collection, he has a whole host of American bands and singers...Lynyrd Skynyrd and the likes.  And on the radio, they play American songs.  So I thought a bit...

When is the last time that I have heard a Portuguese song on American radio?  Or a British song?  Or a Chinese song?  I can’t name any Chinese songs, I’ll tell you that.  Well, someone would say, Chinese isn’t our native tongue.  Right.  Or we don’t understand Chinese.  Right.  Or we don’t like Chinese music.  Or we don’t need Chinese music because we have our own.  Right.

And as Mike would say, “All of us from the outside just think that you guys are all arrogant.”  He wasn’t being mean...he was being honest.  And it was something to think about.

And we talked about how America is polluting the world.  Something about us not signing the Kyoto Protocol???  I didn’t know what it was, and Mike wasn’t surprised at that.  He didn’t know how to translate the name to English, so he asked a guy in German, and he knew instantly what Mike was talking about.  They had a jeering chuckle at me not knowing something about the world again.  Story of my life!

And a couple of hours into our talk, Bernd runs inside and grabs a DVD.  It turns out Bernd spent some time with Mike on the open road...what good friends do!  And he taped so much of it!  I left after watching nearly two hours of semi-driving, but it was quite enjoyable!  I desperately wanted to get back on a motorcycle and just start driving!  I had the insatiable desire for another cross-country roadtrip!  Even in a car...or a semi...or a van!  There is just something about the open road...

But on the topic of pollution, we were watching a part of the DVD where they had stopped at a truck stop for the night.  The rumbling noise of the diesel engines was very loud on the television.  “This is ********.”  And Mike asked me why American truckers didn’t know about “bank heaters???” or something to that effect.  More or less, you turn your engine off, but you are able to stay warm with this heater.  I guess it’s used all over Europe.  But Americans idle their diesel engines all night long.  More gas wasted.  More pollution in the air.  More crazy Americans, he says.

And we talked about drinking.  Mike couldn’t believe that it was hard to find beer in America.  I wasn’t sure what he was talking about, but he said that some stores don’t sell beer.  Well, I guess that would be true, yes.  “In Germany, every single shop sells beer.  Every corner.  Open all the time.”  He and Bernd couldn’t believe that some bars closed on Sundays.  Or that some places stopped serving alcohol at certain times.  Or that if you did buy alcohol, you couldn’t drink it in the store, or on the street, or in your car.  “Where are you supposed to drink it?!  Not in the store...not on the street...not in your car...In your house?  That is ********.”

And somehow or another, the topic of nakedness came up.  And he mentioned that in America some nine-year-old Swiss kid was sent to prison with adult inmates for watching his sister go pee or something.  I don’t know...I found the story a bit skeptical, but that is ok.  But he made the comment about Americans being so afraid to let their kids go around naked.  And I shared the story about the Portuguese kids that played around me while naked...and how awkward I felt.  I would be sued or reprimanded back home!  And here I was with parents watching their naked kids play with me!  It was enough to make me ask the parents about it all...And Mike said, “This is ********.  You are afraid to even hang out with kids in how they want to hang out.”  Yes, yes, I am.  If they are naked.  Haha...

We talked a bit about my future plans, and I shared with him that I had considered living somewhere outside of the United States.  I haven’t come to any conclusions yet, and I very well may end up back in the States, but for now, everything is an option.  I said that I loved Portugal, but he was quick to tell me that he was tired of it within a week.  I was kind of surprised at his comment, but he held to it.  And he told me to remember that I am only here a couple of weeks.  And that I meet people on vacations.  That don’t give a true reality to what Portugal is like.  And that if I ever had to get an 8-hour job (though he said 10 hours is the norm here), I wouldn’t like it like I do now.  And how I would only have 1000 Euros at the end of the month...not much to show for the work I was doing.  And he had a good point.  And a couple of Germans have really made me think about living abroad as of late.  It’s great to have these reminders!!!

And we laughed at Mike taking the truck up to 90 mph while Bernd was sleeping (he made sure he got it on tape), and we just talked and talked and talked.  And a few hours into us talking, me and several other Germans, Bernd made a comment that struck me.  He said it right to me.

“Mike doesn’t like to talk to English speakers.  Especially from North America.  So when he asked you to drink with them, I was, uh, shocked, you know.” (in that thick German accent)

But as the night wore on, Bernd accepted me because I could hold my own (I made a joke with a Portuguese word, and Bernd quickly shook my hand, then invited me back in 2009 for his 50th birthday party).  And Bernd accepted me because Mike accepted me.  I had been here a couple of weeks already, but it took some time to actually become one with them.  I had to play on their turf, go to their restaurants, use their language, watch their futbol games, but all the while, be myself.  It was fairly easy to do...sometimes difficult...but it ended up paying off.  We went to a new level last night.

And Mike accepted me because....that’s a good question.  I don’t have an answer for that one.  It’s intriguing...maybe I can ask him about it as we’re cruising down the backroads of America in his truck.

And I thought about how people have influence with other people.  And I thought about what people I could help other people accept.  Mike accepted me, so Bernd accepted me.  People are always watching me to see what I do, and if I do it, they do it.  If I talk to someone, then they can, too.  Makes me wonder if it’s just with me that this happens or with all of us.  Do we have the power to make or help others accept other people?  Just with our actions ourselves?  I know for me, it has certainly been true.  I try to talk to the “down-and-out,” trying to be their saving grace, their link to other people.  I don’t know that it always works, but it’s a neat thought to ponder.  What “Mikes” can I be to link others to “Bernds”?  Interesting thought.

But it’s nice to have people to talk to.  It’s nice to just kick back and relax.  It’s nice to meet with fellow guys and talk about anything and nothing.  To talk about everything there is to talk about but still talk about more.  It’s nice to not watch a clock.  It’s been refreshing.

And it’s been really nice to be humbled.  To have Germans gang up on me and criticize me for not knowing much!  To have questions thrown to me about my country, my politics, my system that I support.  To have grocery stores that are more advanced than back in the States.  To have technologies that we haven’t adopted yet.  To realize that as good as America is, it’s not the only country.

Mike put it best.  He doesn’t hate America...he quickly admits he loves their truckstops and buffets!  But what he can’t stand is that we are only concerned with what takes place within our borders.  As a whole (most everything I write about is generalizations, and I realize that), Americans are not global-minded.  We don’t know much about the world.  And we sure don’t know as much about the other countries as they do about us.

Of course, the instant argument is that that is because America is the strongest nation (easily conceded by all Europeans I have met).  Whatever happens in America trickles down and affects the rest of the world.

I will agree.  But I want you to think about that very comment today when you...

Wake up to your Samsung alarm clock.  Put on your Adidas clothes.  Lace up those Puma shoes.  Tidy up with your L’Oreal make-up.  Eat a quick Danon yogurt for breakfast. Grab your Gucci, Prada, Louis-Vuitton, or Chanel purse.  Throw on that Georgio-Armani suit or cologne.  Get in your Honda, Kia, Lexus, Volvo, BMW, Mitsubishi, Porsche, Audi, Toyota, Nissan, Volkswagen, Hyundai, or Mercedes-Benz car.  Freak out because the last person left the tank on “E”...and stop at Shell or BP.  Wonder if you’ve made it to work on time as you look at your Rolex watch.  Eat your Nestle candy bar in the afternoon.  Come home to your Philips-Magnavox TV to see what the weather will be like tomorrow.  Have to stop the kids from playing Nintendo so you can watch the news.  Plop down on your brand new Ikea furniture.  Get bored with what’s on TV so throw something in your Panasonic DVD player.  Check your funds in your ING account.  Take the night slow with friends as you drink Guinness, Smirnoff, Foster’s, or Corona.  Catch a cute kid-moment on your Canon digital camera.  Listen to music on your Sony stereo while brushing your teeth.  Get a phone call from a friend on your LG or Nokia phone.  Throw on some Nivea skin lotion before heading to bed.

What in the world am I talking about?

I want you to read that paragraph up above, and I want you to acknowledge which things you have.  Or which things you have used.  Or which things are simply common to you.  Go ahead.  And then I want you to tell me the country from which these products come from.  Go on, give it a shot.  After you take a minute to do that, then (but only then!) can you keep reading.

If you’ve made it this far, you better have re-read that paragraph!

Ok...let’s see if this helps...Samsung (Korea), Adidas (Germany), Puma (Germany), L’Oreal (France), Danon (France), Gucci (Italy), Prada (Italy), Louis-Vuitton (France), Chanel (France), Georgio-Armani (Italy), Honda (Japan), Lexus (Japan), BMW (Germany), Mitsubishi (Japan), Porsche (Germany), Audi (Germany), Toyota (Japan), Nissan (Japan), Volkswagen (Germany), Hyundai (Korea), Mercedes-Benz (Germany), Shell (Netherlands), BP (United Kingdom), Rolex (Switzerland), Nestle (Switzerland), Philips-Magnavox (Netherlands), Nintendo (Japan), Ikea (Sweden), Panasonic (Japan), ING (Netherlands), Guinness (Ireland), Smirnoff (United Kingdom), Foster’s (Australia), Corona (Mexico), Canon (Japan), Sony (Japan), LG (Korea), Nokia (Finland), Nivea (Germany).

How well did you do?

The only question I have from all of these lessons, travels, and conversations is this:

Am I really an American?

Or maybe the better question is:

What does it mean to be an American?  This is not a rhetorical question, and I expect your comments.  I have German roots, I eat at Chinese restaurants, I wear German clothes...that is what I am talking about.

And as Bad-Weater Mike put it best, how arrogant am I if I think that the rest of the world doesn’t affect me in America?  How ignorant in the best sense of the word to not care about what happens across the big oceans!  Look at the above companies to realize that we are no longer able to sit around and not have global eyes.  We need to know what’s going on in the rest of the world, because not only do we affect the rest of the world, but the rest of the world truly does affect us.  Germany’s politics and economy will affect us in America.  So will China’s.  And Canada’s.  And on and on and on.  It’s time to stop thinking and learning just about America.  It’s time to start learning about our world.

And if you disagree, I side with Mike.

How arrogant you are.

All thoughts appreciated.
2007-10-02 20:15:16 GMT