O Canto da Alma

“If this property were located in Castelo Branco city, not Lousa, it would be worth at least €100,000 more,” the ReMax property agent told us. “Property buyers aren’t looking here … they want to live closer to the city or to live off the land on a quinta.”

There are plenty of places to choose from—including Lousã (Coimbra district)!

Technically, Portugal’s mainland is divided into 18 districts (distritos) formerly referred to as provinces; 278 municipalities (concelhos); 159 cities (cidades); 533 towns (vilas); and 2,882 civil parishes (freguesias). Countless “unofficial” villages, like Lousa, add to these numbers.

Granted, our little village isn’t the biggest, the best, or the prettiest.

Other places in Portugal have those honors. Lousa doesn’t have the tourist attractions. It’s not located in one of the more popular places. With 35.82 km² of area and 621 inhabitants (2011), its population density is 17.3 hab / km². And, apart from two cafes, it doesn’t even have a snack bar … let alone “shops,” except for two competing caddy-corner grocery markets (we’ve yet to learn the history behind that) and a beauty salon open on Wednesdays and Saturdays.

Like so many little villages across Portugal, Lousa is an appendage, abolished in 2013 under administrative reform and added to the parish of Escalos de Cima. (Similarly, Escalos de Baixo took on the village of Mata.) Perhaps we in Lousa should derive some pleasure that, at least, we’re annexed to the high “scales,” not the low ones.

Part of the “L” triumvirate – Lousa, Lardosa, Louriçal – surrounding the A23 motorway, just south of the popular Fundão and Covilhã cities, Lousa’s streets (which follow neither rhyme nor reason) are too narrow to cast shadows. Without a stop sign or traffic light anywhere in sight, motorists race up and down these roads with wild abandon … or inch slowly but surely, as the tortoise to the hare. It’s a miracle there haven’t been accidents, as walkers wedge themselves against the walls of buildings and meandering dogs dodge the horseless carriages speeding their way.

Anchored by a standard blueprint church, the village plaza with its fresh water fountain next to the rectory is the trunk from which street stumps and stubs branch out in all directions. You’ll find some truly grand homes here which, in their heyday, must have been primo properties for the privileged. Clustered around them are row houses of varying shapes and sizes. While pride of ownership is obvious in many of these homes, others have withered and weathered, generation after generation, inherited but hardly inhabited. Unlike USA townhouses, no two buildings are alike. There’s no prevailing regularity or symmetry. Some have doors so improbably short that only the smallest of people can fit through them.

Cobble stone streets are simply engineered, higher in the middle mains and lower on the sides, enticing the gushing water to run off and disgorge into the sewers in front of our doors. The village’s perimeter is ringed by large farms (“quintas”), land holdings, and the cemetery.

Lousa has a Centro de Dia where our seniors congregate. We’ve got a Centro de Saúde, too, allowing residents to wait hours to consult the doctor or nurse. A primary school epitomizes the one-room schoolhouse, where twenty or so youngsters (all told) learn their lessons. Our village sports several small parks and an arena of sorts, were children play and adults can compete. Next door to the freguesía building where our junta meets for a half hour or so on Tuesday and Thursday evenings to administer to village’s business is a Casa de Cultura, where special events for the village are coordinated and orchestrated.

People trudge to a sheltered bus stop at the village entrance and sit on concrete benches, waiting for transportation to and from the big city where they work and shop.

Animals abound. Homeless dogs and cats roam the streets in search of morsels of food remaining on whatever’s been thrown out for them. Sheep, too, pass through the streets twice daily, nudged from behind by a man driving a tractor; flanking their sides are two shepherd dogs. Meanwhile, geese, ducks, donkeys and burros, horses, roosters and chickens, and other assorted livestock all contribute to the bucolic cacophony.

Trash bin trios are strategically sited, triaged throughout the village. And a plethora of directional signs point the way to get elsewhere.

Some things truly are special here: Lousarte is the village association, a cultural center and “museum” showcasing Lousa’s traditions and vast social heritage. Lousarte already has two sections, Traditional Dances of Lousa and a Theater, and has published a book about the village’s saints (male and female). We also have the União Lousense, a recreation club where one can exercise with a trainer two nights each week.

In addition to holidays venerating its special saints, Lousa has popular celebrations that bring people together: a chestnut roast, communal tasting of the season’s first wines, and sardine festivals (among others).

We’ve gotten to know the cast – including the village “characters” – and those who routinely stop for their morning coffees, departing the café hacking persistent smoker coughs … and they’ve come to know us. A klatch of women who gather at our mini-market to chew the fat enjoy our attempts to speak their language. Sweetly, they smile and tutor us.

We’re probably the first Americans who have chosen to live in Lousa. As human bodies biologically adjust and adapt to an infusion or a transplant, so, too, have we been accepted and accommodated by the Lousenses as part of their community. Initially, we may have been those two “strange Americans” who moved here, installed fly screens on our windows, walked our dogs on leashes and picked up after them … but we’ve been adopted by the good people of this town and, now, we are treated as their very own personal Americans.

Despite the naysaying property agents, growth is occurring here in Lousa, as new buildings are constructed on the outskirts and “ruinas” are reformed into lovely homes of character.

Probably what attracts us most to Lousa is a sense of community — a genuine spirit of neighborliness — where folks among its 600 residents recognize us, but not know us more than in passing, wave from their cars and greet us as we walk its streets … especially when returning after spending a hefty chunk of time at our second home in Portugal (Vila Boim: population 1,200) or our vacation bolt in Spain (Olvera: population 10,000).

We are part of the local “tribe” in Lousa, a place that we cherish because of what it is, rather than what it’s not: Simpler lives and times — boring or monotonous, perhaps, to some — whose daily routines are the very backbone of the communal spirit.

Lousa, the overlooked stepchild and less likely half-brother or sister, has taught us to understand the song of the soul (O Canto da Alma), a fado that weeps for its past, shrugs off its present, and hopes eternally for better tomorrows.

Soulfully, it’s the “love that remains” here.

Saudade.

Shared here are personal observations, experiences, and happenstance that actually occurred to us as we moved from the USA to begin a new life in Portugal and Spain. Collected and compiled in EXPAT: Leaving the USA for Good, the book is available in hardcover, paperback, and eBook editions from Amazon and most online booksellers.

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Sermon: Beauty and the Beast

In his book The Orthodox Heretic and Other Impossible Tales, Peter Rollins tell us that, “Religious writing is usually designed to make the truth of faith clear, concise, and palatable. Parables subvert this appraoch. In the parable, truth is not expressed via some dutsy theological discourse that seeks to educate us, but rather it arises as a lyrical dis-ourse that would inspire and transform us. In light of this, the enclosed parables do not seek to change our minds but rather to change our hearts.”

Here is “The Invisible Prophet,” one of my favorite topsy-turvy parables told by Rollins:

It is said that when God sent one of the greatest prophets to earth, the devil was so terrified that people would heed her message that he hatched a plan to ensure that it would never be heard. He decided to conceal her message as best he could. He looked far and wide for a hiding place that would be so impenetrable, so concealed, that no one would ever hear it. After a long and difficult search, the devil finally found the perfect hiding place: he concealed the prophet’s message in beauty.

When the prophet finally began her ministry, people would gather around to witness her legendary beauty and elegance. She moved with extraordinary grace, and when she opened her mouth the words sounded as if they had been carefully crafted by some divine poet and sung by a choir of angels.

When she spoke, the crowds would reverently murmur, “Isn’t she beautiful?” “How elegantly she moves,” “What grace and splendor she has,” and “What majestic poetry she crafts.” The great painters would sketch her form, and the poets used her as a muse. The critics would delight themselves in her carefully crafted words, and the sculptors would turn to their marble.

Her message was a difficult one, telling of an impending tragedy that would befall the earth if the people did not learn to love the planet, to live simply, to turn from selfishness and embrace humility. She proclaimed that whole cities would be leveled if people did not learn to love once more without limit, without return, and without borders.

Though celebrated as poetry, the prophet’s cries of condemnation were not heard. Her beauty and elegance eclipsed her message, until both she and her words disappeared entirely beneath her voice and form.

So it was that the people moved towards their destruction with dancing and celebration, with eyes that could not see and ears that could not hear. Focused on her bountiful beauty, the wisdom within remained hidden through the ages.

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The “New Normal”?

Repeatedly, I’ve heard these words (^^^) used to describe the way we’re living now—especially the uncommon behavior(s) we’ve adapted to and adopted.

Trouble is, they’re neither new nor normal.

Despots, disasters, and debacles have a long history of turning our “standard operating procedures” into inappropriate behavior and questionable conduct.

It hit me the other day when I saw almost everyone in our immediate vicinity, as well as images beamed from across the globe, wearing facial masks–which is a good thing!

Except for those who refuse to wear them.

Because, like so many other matters, masks have become political statements of which side you’re on. Basically, it boils down to “You’re not the boss of me; you can’t tell me what to do” vs. “Please, people: it’s not about you, it’s about public health and the greater good.”

Yeah, right. Try convincing conspiracy theorists that their preferred sources of news and information are either confused, conflicted, or callously (and covertly) compromised in spreading their own versions of reality for certain reasons, ends, and purposes.

And all those alternative visions are producing a feeding frenzy for the media, where each and every tidbit is taken and shaken as utterly imperative “Breaking News!”

The media feasts on food for its fodder.

Talk about thickening plots …

Isn’t it weird that stock markets are soaring to their highest levels ever, when 30 million Americans aren’t working and can’t buy food for their families or pay for the roofs over their heads? Yeah, I know: they’re betting that the future will be better by far than the past. How many people are still collecting – or applying for –unemployment paychecks? Or scratching subsistence from food banks and the largesse of others? How is it that so few have so much, while so many have so little? Why is it that some people hate immigrants (who pay taxes), but not billionaires who don’t? Isn’t that, too, riddling the new normal?

When did it become about keeping folks out of the USA, rather than welcoming them in? “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free” speaks not about the rich or the elite, but the wretched, despised, and despairing. Children separated, yanked, from their families and kept in cages like captive animals. Rather than bulding walls, we should be opening doors and creating sanctuaries.

Atlas shrugs and havoc reigns.

Has there always been so much selfishness and hatred blowing in the wind? Or, are we yet a generous and good-hearted people?

We’re used to political party put before principles. Now, however, we have angry pretenders preceding both parties and principles. Follow the leader, you know, no matter how crazy.

It’s happened before … when times weren’t “normal.”

If it isn’t politics and protests, then there’s the weather. Crazy, climate change weather with uncontainable fires, scorching heat, flash-flooding rainfalls, the Everglades drying up as the Amazon burns, earthquakes, more frequent hurricanes, monsoons, typhoons, tsunamis.

Our increasingly endangered wildlife bespeaks species disappearing while they’re hunted for personal pleasue and stolen for keepsakes. Meanwhile, we continue to dump toxic waste into waters already bloated by plastics and packaging.

Which is why some fault our overindulgences, lack of care to protect the environment, and continuing dependency – guns for gas – on non-renewable energy sources as the biggest and baddest “new normal” of all … except, of course, for the pandemic.

Corona virus. Covid-19. But not the “China” virus.

“COVID-19 has me obsessed with how close to death I am, at tables set up in the street, in roaring traffic, with only a flimsy plywood partition between me and a brutal, bloody finish,” posts an articulate friend online. “I just don’t sit in the avenues, only the cross streets; it’s safer …” Yeah, let’s hear it again for the new normal!

It’s not normal – neither new nor usual – for contradictory information to be flying around, with statistics and sound bites. Whether it is what it is or isn’t lacks definitive answers or a common denominator. That’s senseless and stupid. Not to mention confusing (I just did!).

Like sending children to school in the midst of this crisis. Or hanging out in bars. Or not nationally mandating mask-wearing and social-distancing. Or participating in round-em-up rallies. And who’s going to take the vaccine (when it’s available) and who’s not, after all?

“One pill makes you larger, and one pill makes you small …”

Nor is it normal for artificial intelligence, like Facebook, to know more about our personal lives than we, ourselves, do. Not only are the so-called “social” media collecting every last lick of our digital DNA, but they’re using the data to determine what we do and where we go from here … selling our most intimate “psychographics” to any and all bidders.

Endless squinting at tiny mobile screens when people gather, close enough to look deeply into each other’s eyes and share elbow-kisses. But they prefer immersion in their digital devices over face-to-face contact. It may not be new, but it sure ain’t normal.

There are some who contend we’re actually living in the realized visions of Animal Farm, Brave New World, The Handmaid’s Tale, Fahrenheit 451, Lord of the Flies. Whatever. To me, it feels like we’ve either stepped through the looking glass, down the rabbit’s hole, where Cheshire cats and “Off with their heads!” are the norm … or that we’re inhabiting Twilight Zone nightmares from which we can’t shake off the sandman’s dust.

Insanity.

But only if we truly accept this as “normal.”

Let’s face it: totally abnormal is what it is, instead.

Please don’t cry for me, America … or Portugal and Spain, for that matter. Let’s wail for our world and work together to fix it, returning us to a real sense and semblance of normal.

Shared here are personal observations, experiences, and happenstance that actually occurred to us as we moved from the USA to begin a new life in Portugal and Spain. Collected and compiled in EXPAT: Leaving the USA for Good, the book is available in hardcover, paperback, and eBook editions from Amazon and most online booksellers.

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World Travelers

We know people who take trips to fabulous places by air, sea, and land. Some of them have been almost everywhere the world wantons, seeking its seven wonders and exploring places far from the beaten track.

For them, it’s one exciting trip after another, going to places most of us only imagine and dream about, courtesy of TV’s travel channels and the worldwide web.

What wonderful opportunities to be strangers in strange lands, to get away – truly away – for the vacation of a lifetime (or two).

We, however, have chosen another path … towards destinations that many simply cannot fathom: While enjoying periodic cruises, shopping for stuff purchased impulsively on a tourist’s whim, and seeing how other people live (albeit from an American perspective), we prefer to return – year after year – to the same two places: a Spanish town where we’ve spent a month unwinding after nearly a year’s worth of frustrations and, a small village in Portugal where dealing with frustrations occupied much of our time. More recently, we added another small property in Portugal–this one is on the Spanish border by Badajoz.

Sometimes, if we could manage it, we made more than one trip to these places … spending an additional ten days to two weeks there the same year.

I not only got to speak with the natives, I spoke as the natives do … picking up new slang and jargon, along with rapid fluency. Where and when I couldn’t converse, I learned how to communicate.

For a month, we moved around with the locals—either walking a lot or driving cars with clutches that required us (sometimes) to pull up the emergency brake when forced to stop and then start again in the middle of a steep hill, with traffic honking behind us. For a month, we ingested different kinds of foods and “delicacies” (pig jowls, snippets of bull tails, pizza made with unusual ingredients, linings of cow stomachs, etc.). And, for a month, we tried not to eat three meals daily – breakfast, lunch, and dinner – at our “normal” times: morning, noon, and (very) early evening … but, instead, to consume smaller “tapas” portions in the mid-afternoon and evenings (although we preferred to eat at 7:00 PM, not 10:00 PM).

But the biggest difference, we’d found, between being travelers passing through and living as part-time residents was learning to accept that other people and cultures tend to do things differently than we do … which is perfectly all right.

Take patience, for instance—something I am sorely lacking.

In Iberia, we may wait at the bank for an hour or more while those ahead of us receive “personalized service” from customer reps. We had an 11:30 appointment at the Notario (the ultimate “lawyer’s lawyer” in many EU nations), only to be seen an hour later than scheduled because the Notario’s attention had been diverted by other matters. We sat in our attorney’s office for much longer than planned because – like our insurance agent – he takes the time (as much as needed) to be interrupted by telephone calls, other people coming into the office “just to ask a question,” and whatever business our agents can conduct while we’re sitting there with them.

We have come to understand that when contractors tell us they’ll be here at 10:00 but don’t show up until 11:30 – and then take a two-hour lunch – before returning and working until 19:00 or 20:00, it’s not because they’re lazy or taking advantage … it’s because the hands of a clock don’t control them. They move to the beat of different drummers.

Ultimately it’s been good for us, learning to live in another culture that’s different from our norm, and that a “mañana mentality,” once adjusted to and accommodating it, indeed can be healthy.

In 2017, we no longer took month-long “vacations” to our Spanish town and village in Portugal. We stayed. We became residents, if not citizens, of international oases where we’d passed snippets of our lives. For lots of reasons – practical and political – we decided to make Portugal and Spain our home. 

We have come to understand that we’re no longer wayfarers or tourists, but rooted residents, part and parcel of places welcoming us to new homelands and communities.

Shared here are personal observations, experiences, and happenstance that actually occurred to us as we moved from the USA to begin a new life in Portugal and Spain. Collected and compiled in EXPAT: Leaving the USA for Good, the book is available in hardcover, paperback, and eBook editions from Amazon and most online booksellers.

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The Bureaucracy Begins: Applying for a Long-Term EU Visa

The Bureaucracy Begins: Applying for a Long-Term EU Visa

Professor/pastor probing media, religion, gender, international living, and allied cultural norms.

These words inscribed on Facebook, LinkedIn, and other social media sites profile how I imagine myself.

So, there: now you know enough about me.

Reading between the lines, however, would inform you that we had moved around the USA quite a bit – living in New York, Virginia, Maryland, Wisconsin, Florida – as career changes and professional opportunities beckoned. Fluent in Spanish, I traveled throughout Mexico, South and Central America, as a liaison for international adoption agencies.

As mentioned, my better half and I had long considered living in another country and experiencing a different culture. Learning a new language to converse and communicate, we believed, was an admirable goal. Some people are so defensive of their own ways and means that their sense of identity and nationalism is threatened when other ways are engaged in and embraced.

With credentials from the University of Madrid, a vacation bolt in Andalucía, and a growing circle of friends there, Spain seemed a natural first choice for us. But the process of applying for and being granted retirement residency in Spain can be onerous and demanding at best, next to impossible at worst.

Many countries of the European Union are also part of what’s known as the “Schengen” zone. The same Schengen application form is used to apply for residency in any of its 22 EU nations. But the interpretations of myriad functional requirements often vary from country to country.

Take finances, for example.

All Schengen countries want to know that you have the financial means to provide adequately for yourself and your dependents, without being a burden on the country and its economy. All countries seek proof that you have the necessary wherewithal—albeit from Social Security, other pensions and annuities, investments and savings, bank accounts, even credit immediately available via “charge” cards.

Spain dictates specific annual earnings expected retirees must receive: “The minimum income required is 400% of the IPREM (Public Income Index) annually plus the required percentage per each additional family member.” At the time, that meant, for a retirement visa and residency in Spain, one was expected to receive no less than $2,500 per month or $30,000 a year. Add $7,500 more for each dependent. I’m told that now, for some reason, those amounts are slightly less.

Wow!

How many Spaniards – especially those living in small towns throughout the country – earn that kind of money? Very, very few! For a country where the cost of living is so relatively low, I maintain Spain is shooting itself in the foot by requiring such high income levels from prospective retirees who would likely support the economy by spending money on their homes, food, and lots of leisure time activities.

Consider Portugal, now: €14,000 annually is an approximated income you have to make to get a “D7” residency visa in Portugal. But it can change depending on the number of “dependents” (wife, children, etc.). That amount is basically considered 100% of the minimum wage (MW) required for the husband/or wife (the visa’s owner) + 50% of the MW for his wife/her husband. For each child, it’s 30% of the MW. Portugal’s 2018 monthly minimum wage was 580 euros … although in 2020 it’s almost 700 euros..

Unless it has changed, financial means or financial subsistence in Portugal doesn’t require proof of income, simply proof of access to funds. Savings, bank accounts, investment funds, etc., all count as money to which you have access.

“You can qualify for permanent residency in Portugal simply by showing a reliable minimum income of at least 1,100 euros per month,” U.S. News & World Report reported. “This program is not intended specifically for retirees and is open to anyone. You can apply and qualify at any age, and the income you show can be earned or passive.”

In other words, money in banks … savings and retirement accounts … investments … even a line of credit on your “charge” card will count towards meeting your financial means in Portugal, as long as you have access to the money. The same holds true in many other EU countries: Italy and France are particularly popular, among others.

The process of applying for the right to reside in a Schengen EU country includes completing and/or acquiring much time-consuming paperwork, lots of patience, and more money than might be imagined. Included among the documents (some only available for a fee) required to be submitted with the official visa application: Original passport, a copy of the passport, and another accepted form of identification (driver’s license, state ID, or voter’s registration card). Plus a copy of this. A notarized document explaining why you are requesting the visa … the purpose, place, and length of your stay (and any other reasons you need to explain). Proof of permanent retirement income from an official institution (social security and/or private source) to live without working. Proof of accommodation: either a lease or title deed of property you own. Proof of other sources of income or properties (if applicable). Proof of health insurance with full coverage, necessarily including repatriation coverage. Criminal History Information/Police Background Check, which must be verified by fingerprints. It cannot be older than three months from the application date. The certificate must be issued from either the State Department(s) of Justice from every state you’ve lived in during the past five years. This document must then be legalized with the Apostille of the Hague Convention by the corresponding Secretary of the State. Alternatively, FBI Records, issued by the U.S. Department of Justice and legalized with the Apostille of the Hague Convention by the U.S. Department of State in Washington, DC, are acceptable. (A local police background check will not be accepted; but you must also get a police record from the countries where you have lived during the last five years.) A recent doctor’s statement signed by the physician on the physician’s or medical center’s letterhead (not older than three months in) indicating that you have been examined and found free of any contagious diseases according to the International Health Regulation 2005. Married? Your spouse must submit the same documents as you, together with a marriage certificate (original, issued in the last six months, plus a photocopy). Minor children must also submit the same documents as the applicant, along with original birth certificates issued in the last twelve months … and a photocopy.

Quite a list, huh? But, that’s only the beginning!

For Spain, every document submitted must be translated into Spanish … and not just by anyone. Only “certified” translators identified – many of whom charge @ $40 per page to translate – are acceptable. Despite being fluent in Spanish and having taught the language for quite a few years, I wasn’t on the list and couldn’t do our own translations.

But, for us, the real sticking point was the annual retirement income requirement. We owned (without a mortgage) our home in Spain and could live quite comfortably in our small town on my monthly Social Security payments. Nonetheless, $1,700 per month supplemented by a $250 private annuity didn’t come close to the $2,500 Spain required. Especially not when factoring in my spousal dependent.

We could enjoy visiting Spain twice each year for up to 90 days per visit when separated by 180 days … but we couldn’t live there full-time.

Bem vindo, Portugal!

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Presidents and Precedents

Since my public school days, I’d seen a president assassinated, the murder of his assassin, and the capture of his assassin’s assassin … all reported by the media, often “live” on our black and white TVs.

Later, I saw that same president’s brother assassinated as he, too, campaigned to become our country’s number one man.

I’d seen a Democrat – from Texas yet! – inherit the presidency, but decide not to seek another term because we had become so deeply entrenched in a war triggering marches on Washington and uprisings at campuses across the country (where students were shot dead by “first responders”).

I’d seen a president and his vice-president, both disgraced by scandals, resign from the two highest offices in the land.

I’d seen our first “unelected” president, when a guy-next-door congressman – but not the Speaker of the House – succeeded his predecessors.

I’d seen a well-meaning peanut farmer from Georgia elected president, a decent and truly Christian man, relegated to the back burners of history … remembered more for his brother’s beer than his own accomplishments (which finally are being realized and accredited).

I’d seen a beloved, second-rate actor become president and be shot (along with others) in front of our televised eyes … and, yet, despite the outcry, no real gun controls were effected.

I’d seen a father and son each elected president—the first for a single term, the second for two;

I’d seen a president selected by a partisan Supreme Court when the votes were so close and the election errors so many that day after day, week after week, a “winner” still couldn’t be called.

I’d seen a likable boomer – one of my own generation – impeached while in office because of alleged improprieties dealing with questionable real estate transactions and this president’s penchant for women, including consensual sex with a young intern whose stained, blue dress immortalized the evidence of his infidelities.

I’d seen the first black man elected President of the United States, yet denied his rightful responsibilities during eight years of impasse with a do-nothing Congress.

And I’d seen the first woman nominated to be our country’s commander-in-chief … only to be trumped by a lying, cheating, tax-evading, bankrupt, conflicted con man who abused and took advantage of people, denouncing them daily with tweets and promoting a helter-skelter agenda of favoritism to the rich.

Flabbergasted, flustered, and furious, I began asking everyone who’d listen a series of “since when” questions.

# # # # #

Since when:

• Did the executive branch of our government become so authoritarian that the legislature cowers instead of confronting the mess (or rushes off to retire with its ill-begotten gains and lifetime pensions)?

• Did members of Congress become “leaders” of this country, rather than representatives of the people who elected them … as if we were mere pawns in some preconceived, haphazard game of high stakes chess or roller skating championships?

• Did it become all right for nepotism to be an acceptable way of governing this country, where non-credentialed family members wheel and deal with emissaries from foreign countries for personal gain right there on site in the White House?

• Did it become legitimate for subordinate staff and aides to claim “executive privilege” and refuse to testify before Congress and/or its designated special investigators?

• Did we become a people who cheer – whose religious leaders bless – malicious, slanderous, hateful, and divisive words of a toxic, laughing stock president and his henchmen?

• Did our country stand alone, apart from the rest of the world (especially our allies and trading partners), in such critical matters as climate change, first-strike warfare, trade wars and economic tariffs … all based on the nonsensical ramblings of one man whose ignorance is only surpassed by his ego and arrogance?

• Did we have such a revolving door of executive and administrative staff – ambassadors, advisers, agency heads, justice officials – coming and going … due, in large measure, to firings or their fear of being associated with criminals and/or criminal offenses?

• Did responsible statesmen so deliberately ignore and refuse to investigate multiple alleged crimes and charges of injustice against a lifetime judicial nominee, so as to effectively rush through the confirmation of a new justice with dubious standards and questionable morality? Especially when that judge will serve as jurist in a potential trial of high crimes and misdemeanors (including treason) committed by the man who nominated him?

• Did our principal international nemesis (Russia) become a country whose leaders and politics are coddled and colluded … or where independent “back channels” between the Kremlin and White House are surreptitiously planned by players from both regimes?

• Did our government cater exclusively to the richest 1% of the country, while denying the other 99% even scraps from the banquet table?

• Did the administration in power benefit and take so much in personal pursuits and paranoid pleasures … a country whose president spends one-third of his time playing golf, a third tweeting or watching TV, and another third grand-standing before his base?

• Did it become legal to ambush trillions of dollars in new debt a year for tax cuts to appease the already privileged and patrons … only to warn that Social Security, Medicare, and other government programs we were required to pay into must be minimized?

• Did our chief executive dedicate himself with such glee to so swiftly and unilaterally dismantling myriad social welfare and infrastructure programs that guided and protected our people, basically to strike his predecessor president?

• Did it become acceptable to acknowledge – without corrective measures – that more than two-thirds of what a president says are proven lies?

• Did money so effectively dictate the rules of the realm, rather than the voices and votes of the people?

• Did the legitimate, mainstream press – always considered the fourth pillar of government – degenerate into an “enemy of the people” … while hurried and bizarre social media platforms became the pedestals for fake news and alternative realities?

• Did we end becoming a melting pot of diversity, benefiting from the talents and hard work of immigrants seeking to contribute to a better life?

• Did democracy despair and break down in the USA?

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Since when did all these heinous things happen in a country birthed by liberty, freedom, and justice for all?

Since November 2016, when Donald Trump was (s)elected president and commander-in-chief of this hitherto generous, gallant, compassionate country … although some will maintain that planning for much of this usurping had been long in the making—by a complicit Congress, curtailed court system, and conspiring officials, whose patrons pull their (purse) strings … to divert attention from their back room back-stabbing. And by too many people who should know better, but prefer to gloat in their deplorable despair and disdain.

We lived in a place and time where – by and large – our elected representatives are beholden to their patrons, rather than to their constituents. They answer to no one (except themselves and their keepers) and exempt themselves from the rules that they make.

We lived in a place and time where the disparity between the income of corporations and their executives is radically beyond the grasp of working people. And, yet, despite all the loot the rich have accumulated and stashed, it’s not enough.

So, our Congress was intent on denying the safety nets ordinary people depend on, while giving even more money to those hoarding what they already have.

We lived in a place and time where our legitimate mainstream media, hitherto the bastion of freedom and justice, had been summarily dismissed and replaced with alternative facts, truths, and realities. Yellow journalism and slanted nonsense were held above our responsible press.

We lived in a place and time where political gerrymandering had corrupted our Electoral College such that twice – twice! – within a generation, the people’s choices for president were overruled and citizens denied their right to vote.

We lived in a place and time where we were isolated from the rest of the world, often the brunt of its jokes. We were the only nation in the world not to sign on to global environmental protection agreements and accords. We vacated our promises to trade with, protect, and support other countries (which now question whether we can be trusted anymore).

We lived in a place and time where moneyed people against public education, investment people who caused our near financial collapse, opportunistic people who inflated the prices of critical medicines, energy executives who knew naught about diplomacy, hunting advocates, and people whose memories failed them on imperative legal matters, were now running the very government offices they had hijacked … but scientists and otherwise knowledgeable people were forbidden — ostrasized — for speaking truth to power.

We lived in a place and time where a destructive, conflicted, ignorant, narcissistic, self-serving, delusional, degenerate man believed that his own, private empire should benefit from the country’s public business. Because, he believed, he was above the law.

We lived in a place and time where some of us signed petitions, wrote letters to editors and our representatives, made calls, knocked on doors, used every technological advantage to speak our hearts and minds, march on occasion, gather for community and committee meetings … but our representatives declined to address us.

Indeed, we lived in a desperate place and time.

What kind of desperate measures, if any, should we personally be taking?

Each must do what we believe best, according to our own particular situations, strategies, and peculiar circumstances.

For us, the decision was to leave.

We will always consider ourselves American citizens, register and cast our votes in USA elections, care about the land where we were borne.

But to intake and inhale this poisonous venom, a contagious cancer that has spread across the United States and, through it, the world?

No!

Internalizing the strife, we were grief-stricken, mentally exhausted, spiritually drained, and physically disabled.

The time had come for us to move on …

We would emigrate from the USA and become immigrants in Europe.

Shared here are personal observations, experiences, and happenstance that actually occurred to us as we moved from the USA to begin a new life in Portugal and Spain. Collected and compiled in EXPAT: Leaving the USA for Good, the book is available in hardcover, paperback, and eBook editions from Amazon and most online booksellers.

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Motivations

“Get going, already,” motioned the young couple who had purchased our house in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, and were waiting, eagerly, for us to depart from what was now to be their new home.

In addition to our house, they had bought a good deal of our furniture … as well as my favorite toy, an all-wheel drive Jaguar.

We had disposed of most of our possessions and keepsakes.

Except for the contents of one 8 x 8 x 20 foot shipping container filled with an assortment of “household goods” and our beloved artwork, collected and curated together over 25+ years together (plus not too few U-Haul “wardrobe” boxes filled with blankets, comforters, bed linens, towels, and other household goods that we’d purchased for donation to the needy in Portugal–especially victims of the fires), everything else we owned, including Russ’s Jeep Grand Cherokee, had been sold, gifted to loved ones, or donated to nonprofit charities.

Turning back one last time to wave a final good-bye, I realized that we had divested much if not most of the content comprising our life in the United States, as we prepared to make the one-way journey to Portugal with our three dogs, three large suitcases, and two allotted carry-on bags containing computers, passports, and other essentials.

Over the past ten years, we had been fortunate and privileged to own “vacation bolts” in Spain and/or Portugal, and to travel there once or twice annually, enjoying a month to six weeks during each visit.

But, this time would be different.

It wasn’t a visit. We’d be staying, not returning.

One-way, not round-trip, tickets.

This was the first time we were traveling with our dogs, three miniature schnauzers, who’d accompany us in the cabin on the three flights taking us to our new home: Green Bay > Chicago, Chicago > Philadelphia, and Philadelphia > Madrid (where we would rent a car large enough to transport our family and assorted paraphernalia on the four-hour drive to our property in Lousa, a village of 600 on the outskirts of Castelo Branco).

Endlessly, we had talked about living in Europe alongside other the expats and immigrants – from the UK and the Netherlands, Australia, Canada, Sweden and elsewhere – who had become part and parcel of our family and circle of friends in Spain and, later, in Portugal.

But they were European Union nationals. Different rules applied to them than applied to us. Even the Brits, though fearful of potential consequences their “Brexit” might cause, were convinced they would never be forced to leave the countries to which they had emigrated. Certainly, protections and provisions would be included in the terms and conditions negotiated during the UK’s exit from the EU.

For our part, we loved our lifestyle in Spain and Portugal. Life was easier (or easy-going) and slower there. Calmer and more tranquil. Far cheaper, too. And healthier. We walked rather than drove most days; typically, we ate less but healthier; and we drank far more red wine. As a “mañana mentality” took hold, we felt far less stressed and much more liberated. All in all, our quality of life greatly surpassed our cost of living.

Yet …

Visits and vacations are different from full-time living and residence. So, we dawdled, too comfortable in our intimacies and surroundings to actually make such a major move.

Perhaps it was the regular, routine Social Security payments I had worked a lifetime to earn. More probably, however, the political changes – first subtle, then crassly overt – which had changed the climate of our country, provided the real motivation for us to get going and relocate.

Shared here are personal observations, experiences, and happenstance that actually occurred to us as we moved from the USA to begin a new life in Portugal and Spain. Collected and compiled in EXPAT: Leaving the USA for Good, the book is available in hardcover, paperback, and eBook editions from Amazon and most online booksellers.

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Prologue

About 15 years ago, we purchased a small “vacation bolt” in a typical town in southern Spain, where we’ve spent months each year enjoying a different way of life. Later, we added a property in a small Portuguese village where we now live—about a six-hour drive, door-to-door, from our home in Spain–and, this year, we added a second small home on the Portuguese border at Badajoz, Spain, reducing our drive to four hours.

On March 25, 2017 we departed our country of birth to live in another.

We no longer reside in the USA, but divide our time between Portugal and our home-away-from-home in southern Spain. Yet we still are citizens of the United States and care (cringe?) deeply about what’s happening there. We have chosen — deliberately — not to be embroiled day and night with all the political atrocities, crimes, and conflicts which have divided the country, estranged families, stolen from the people, alienated us from our allies, poisoned our environment, and brought us time and again to the brink of unthinkable disasters.

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My heart continues to cry for the beloved country and I will express disgust and rage at those who claim to represent us but actually profit and privilege from their perches.

I don’t regret the moves we made.

All things considered, our lives have been enriched by knowing people from all walks of life throughout the United States and around the world. Social media conveniently bring many together, enabling us to cross-pollinate the people and places we’ve known over the past 50+ years: high school classmates, college alumni … and dearly beloved friends in New York, Virginia, Florida, Wisconsin, Spain, and Portugal.

We now face challenges of a different sort here in Portugal, the world’s third most peaceful country (following Iceland and New Zealand) and, reportedly, the friendliest and most popular one–especially for immigrants and expats.

In essence, we started from scratch … finding friends, doctors, dentists, veterinarians, hair cutters, food, and our way around … all in a language we couldn’t yet speak or quite understand. We needed to learn how to slow down, to enjoy the simplest pleasures of life, and trust that tomorrow will bring its own promises and priorities.

Thank you for taking part in our journey.

As “they” say, it’s not the destination – but how we get there – that matters most.

Shared here are personal observations, experiences, and happenstance that actually occurred to us as we moved from the USA to begin a new life in Portugal and Spain. Collected and compiled in EXPAT: Leaving the USA for Good, the book is available in hardcover, paperback, and eBook editions from Amazon and most online booksellers.

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Rx Rip-Off

Three years ago today, I had a doctor’s appointment. My physician gave me a prescription for three — just 3! — tablets of a medication not covered by my Medicare Advantage plan.

“They’re quite expensive,” he warned, “so you will probably want to shop around for them.”

As his nurse reviewed the doctor’s notes with me before leaving, she bent over and whispered, “Look online, hon. I’m sure you can find these drugs for far less from Canada … or elsewhere.”

“Are you kidding?” I joked. All I needed was more inbox spam for male enhancers.

So, I called every pharmacy in the area. The mail order division of my Medicare provider. And U.S. online drug stores.

Bottom line:

TWO HUNDRED AND EIGHTY-SIX DOLLARS ($286) FOR THREE TABLETS!!!!!

Then, I went back online and looked at Canadian pharmacies. A legal, licensed, accredited Canadian “dispensary” requiring a bona fide prescription would charge me US $19.80 + $9.00 shipping for eight — not three — of the same brand tablets. But, I’d have to have my doc rewrite the ‘script for eight tablets instead of three.

Living in Portugal and Spain now, pills and pharmaceuticals cost a whole lot less–23 Euros for six “comprimidos” of the same drug from a different supplier.

Portugal and Spain subsidize their pharmaceuticals and set the price for them.

I still can’t help but wonder what’s wrong with this picture: $19.80 for eight of the same, non-branded tablets from a Canadian pharmacy vs. $286.00 for three from a U.S. drug store and about US $27 to purchase them here in Portugal. Per pill, that’s @ $95 (USA) vs. $3.60 (Canada) vs. $4.50 (my Portuguese pharmacy).

That’s not right. It’s wrong. Very wrong!

Shared here are personal observations, experiences, and happenstance that actually occurred to us as we moved from the USA to begin a new life in Portugal and Spain. Collected and compiled in EXPAT: Leaving the USA for Good, the book is available in hardcover, paperback, and eBook editions from Amazon and most online booksellers.

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An Exceptional Language: Portuguese, La Lingua Franca

Unfortunately, Portuguese was never one of the languages offered in most USA schools.


Spanish and French, yes … with some of the more upscale schools including Latin (or Greek) – even Russian! – in their curriculum.


Mas não português.


So, most of us opted for Spanish or French.


Even a limited knowledge of Spanish, especially, can be both a help and a hindrance — a mixed blessing — to learning Portuguese.

Let me be clear: I am not saying that Portuguese derives from Spanish or that peering into Portugal’s language portal through Spanish eyes is what learning Portuguese is all about. Many people have difficulty understanding and speaking Portuguese (though reading it is somewhat easier), not just because of the vocabulary and syntax, but — especially — because of its pronounciation. But, once our ears are attuned to the sounds and rhythm of the language, there’s a nasalized beauty in the poetics of Portuguese.


The communications professor in me wants to know about a language and understand what makes it tick. Peering through the peephole of Spanish, because it’s my familiar tongue, I try to unpack the mysteries of how the Portuguese language works—and why.


But my Spanish also causes obstacles, hurdles, and stumbling blocks. People constantly remind me that I’m thinking – and talking – in Spanish.


When I speak Portuguese, it comes out sounding like a Spanish mish-mash.


“Fala português … não espanhol!” my Portuguese friends admonish and encourage me.


Intent at understanding the “why” behind the language, its psychology, the rules governing its syntax, I’ve embarked on an ambitious adventure to analyze Portuguese, at least as the language relates to Spanish … arriving at a number of “Eureka!” findings in the process.


Some rules hold true rather regularly between Portuguese and Spanish. For instance:


• An “n” in Spanish is usually an “m” in Portuguese, while the Spanish “ie” is simply an “e” in Portuguese. Examples: una/uma … con/com … en/em … diez/dez … sin/sem … tiene/tem … bien/bem … abierto/aberto … también/tambén … alguien/alguem … siempre/sempre … tiempo/tempo … invierno/inverno … fiesta/festa;


• That “ny”sound (as in“canyon”) signaled by a tilde over the “n” (ñ) in Spanish is much the same in Portuguese, with words having “nh”letters: viño/vinho … señora/senhora … español/espanhol … baño/banho … leña/lenha;


• Although also used in Portuguese – most frequently over the letter “a”(ã) – the tilde produces an entirely different (nasal) sound: João … cartão … educação … manhã … não;


• The “ue” diphthong in Spanish becomes an “o” in Portuguese: luego/logo … puerta/porta … puerto/porto … puede/pode … fuego/fogo … fuerza/força … escuela/escola … cuenta/conta … suerte/sorte … juega/joga.


• “O” in Spanish is often “ou” in Portuguese: poco/pouco … otro/outro, while the Spanish “l” often becomes an “r” in Portuguese: plato/prato … placer/prazer … plaza/praça;


• “U” in Spanish can become “ui” in Portuguese: mucho/muito … at other times, instead, it becomes an “o”: gusto/gosto … punto/ponto;

• The double “ll” in Spanish often translates to “ch” in Portuguese: llave/chave … llama/chama … lluvia/chuvia … llegando/chegando;


• Words beginning with “h” in Spanish often switch to an “f” in Portuguese: horno/forno … hacer/fazer … hablar/falar … hijo/filho … harina/farinha … fugir/huir … hablar/falar … harto/farto;


• When you see a word with a “çao” suffix in Portuguese, it probably ends in “ión” in Spanish: relação/relación … informação/información … edição/edición … habitação/habitación;


Confused?


Wait, the questions keep coming … and we haven’t yet touched upon tenses and sentence structure:


It’s “bom dia, boa tarde, boa noite” in Portuguese, but “buenos días, buenas tardes, buenas noches” in Spanish. Why are the day’s divisions plural in Spanish but singular in Portuguese?


When does “dia” end and “tarde” begin, anyway? Why, after 12:00 PM, of course, you say? Maybe technically. But people in Portugal generally believe that “tarde” begins after one has eaten lunch. But what about “noite”? When it becomes dark … or after eating dinner?


And why are the words for “day” spelled the same in Spanish and Portuguese, while only Spanish gives it an accent mark (día)?


Spanish, like most Latin-derived languages, names the days of our lives: lunes, martes, miércoles, jueves, viernes, sábado, domingo. Except for the weekends (sábado, domingo), Portuguese, instead, numbers them: segunda-feira, terça-feira, quarta-feira, quinta-feira, sexta-feira.


But don’t confuse “feira” (market, as in market days) with “feria” (fair, market, and often, holidays) or ferias: vacation.


Thankfully, many words are identical in both languages: “casa,” “porque,” “tal|vez,” “médico,” “viajar”, “comprar,” “poder,” “vida” … and even “de nada,” to say “you’re welcome.” So, how come cats are cats – “gatos” – in both languages, while a dog is “perro” in Spanish but “cão” in Portuguese? And, for goodness sake, how did “gracias” become “obrigado,” every foreigner’s favorite Portuguese word?


Pronunciation and accents are other matters entirely, as Portugal uses almost every accent mark in existence—and then some! How can anyone other than a native enunciate clearly the subtle differences between “pais” (parents), “país” (country), and “pães” (breads)?


Similarly, verb tenses and conjugations differ in the two countries of Iberia. For instance, consider so-called “reflexive” verbs. More often than not (although not always), their order is reversed: In Spanish it’s “se vende, se trata, se llama,” while in Portuguese we get “vende-se” and “trata-se,” but “se chama” … except when asking a question, used in the negative, and other exceptions: “Se vende a casa?” “Como é que se chama?”


Here’s where turnabout between the Portuguese and the Spanish isn’t necessarily fair play: Some Portuguese people understand spoken Spanish, because they grew up watching Spanish TV.


Spanish people, however, have a hard time understanding Portuguese. Some say that’s a matter of choice, not of ability.


As for me, I don’t think I will ever get used to seeing “Puxar!” on a door and pulling rather than pushing!

Shared here are personal observations, experiences, and happenstance that actually occurred to us as we moved from the USA to begin a new life in Portugal and Spain. Collected and compiled in EXPAT: Leaving the USA for Good, the book is available in hardcover, paperback, and eBook editions from Amazon and most online booksellers.

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