Saturday, June 29, 2013

This Girl is on Fire

I sure had a blast at the Alicia Keys concert in Lisbon, thanks to Knox and Laurel. I left the farm on the 1:45 bus and arrived back in Lisbon, the big city, and checked into my hotel. Next, I found my way to the waterfront arena where the concert was being held later that night. Police were guarding it like the friggin' crown jewel, and yet somehow I saw Laurel and her son out of the corner of my eye, returning from a visit to the zoo. It was as easy as that. After a quick reunion we were whisked inside where we watched the sound check. Much later that night we watched the concert.

sound check

hey ho

I love this pic. My camera went berzerk when Alicia came on stage. She is the blue squiggle.

upon seeing this pic my sister asked if I was onstage with her. Sadly, no. But close.

This Girl is on Fire

Today, I found my way to Sintra - about 1/2 hour outside the city and the most enchanting town I've ever encountered. I hiked up the Moorish Castle, nestled in a forest, to capture these photos. Oh, it's hot here, but the heat didn't stop me from getting my tourism on.

Moorish Castle

Palace in the distance

Royal Palace
Interesting sculpture
Beautiful Sintra

I had two issues with the Portuguese today. One: when they say something is a 5 minute walk, they really mean 35 minutes. Why can't they just say that? Two: a little hotel snafu when the maid entered my room that had the DO NOT DISTURB sign hanging from it due to art and computers strewn about. Sure, my bed was nicely made,'t I hang the sign so that wouldn't happen? When I phoned to complain they had the nerve to blame the transit strike for the confusion, and apologized with an odd fruit plate. Okay, okay...overall, I've had the best time here, I just needed to vent (she says while munching on a plum)

Friday, June 28, 2013

Adios Obras

The heat has lifted, if only just a little. The past four days we experienced that suffocating kind of heat that zaps your energy and keeps you inside. It's no coincidence that three of us had migraines the other day.

I am heading back to Lisbon in a few hours. Despite the heat - or maybe because of it - I've been very productive these last few days. Being saturated in nature has inspired a lot of what I've been working on. I've been observing the swallows as they dip into the pool for water, and a snake that slithered its way into one of the artist's studios, resting on a painting, I've watched the round, little bunnies hopping through the fields of barley and have even been inspired by the ants, the size of my toes, and the way theycarry things on their backs, marching through the blazing sun. My new novel has become richer, fuller, more alive all because of my time here.

Now I am headed back to the city - to a rock concert tonight and then a few more cultural activities over the weekend before I make my way home to Los Angeles. It will be hard to ever forget this trip of art, nature, music, food and a host of quirky, kind characters. Portugal is a country well-worth your time, if you haven't already been here. 

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

É quente!

Well, the heat landed and with it came swarms of mosquitos and a migraine. Oy! My legs are absolutely nasty, peppered with bites. Thankfully the migraine was sort of migraine-lite, so I was still functional and able to have a fun night out in Estramoz at the castle. (see pix)

walk up to the castle

view from castle

cobblestones with red seeds or flowers in the middle

in front of statue of Rhaina Santa Isabel


Turns out I am heading back to Lisbon on Friday because I'm going to see Alicia Keys after all. I booked a Priceline hotel and got a great deal, though not smack in the center of the city like last time, but close to a metro station. The concert is Friday night and I will spend the weekend doing some things I didn't get to the first time, like the Gulbenkian Museum which is supposed to be superb. I head back home on Monday and prep for my next trip, Montreal!

Monday, June 24, 2013

Snails, no...Sardines, yes

What a day yesterday... our trusty guide Louis took us all around Evora, and to various rock circle formations (prevalent around here, think Stonehenge but smaller) and then to the county fair under the light of the full moon.
photo credit: Sally Stafford
not ick
I couldn't bring myself to ingest the snails that everybody ordered for a snack (I speared one with a toothpick but as soon as I got it out of the shell I practically dryheaved and promptly fed it to Louis), but I did wolf down the grilled sardine on toast - yum!

I am too tired to write elaborate descriptions, so I'm just posting a few photos. I have my camera set to "Super Vivid", my new favorite setting. 

Louis "The Thinker" on s stone
freshly stripped cork trees
Tree pose by stone

Friday, June 21, 2013

It may sound crazy, but in 1996 I saw the Steve Martin art exhibit in Las Vegas and made a vow to myself that I was going to collect art. In the 17 years since, I've either purchased or been gifted 5 wonderful pieces of art. I'm excited to announce that despite dwindling wall space (and bank acct.), I'm adding a sixth to my collection.

It was love at first sight when I walked in to Sally Stafford's art show here at OBRAS and immediately saw this piece. I took a photo before her art talk even began, and kept turning my head to look at the piece during her talk. What I love most is how it captures the tall grass here in this paradise of Evoramonte, Portugal. It's just icing on the cake that I've gotten to know and love the artist, too. She suggested I bring it to my room and sit with it for a few days before committing to it, and so I did, waking up every morning to the glittering golden painting, and looking outside at the real thing. It is the best souvenir of this trip and I can't wait for you to see it in person.

Meanwhile, Wednesday was my talk and reading and I'm attaching a few pictures.

pecha kucha: photo by Sally Stafford
reading from new work: photo by Victoria Cattoni

Still pimpin Imperfect: photo by Victoria Cattoni

Happy Solstice!

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

There is a Castle on a Hill

This blog is not only a way to share with you my experiences, but it is a way for me to remember them. 

I wish I could write in more detail, and more often, about these experiences, but there are just so many - so many sensory details, little stories, themes and day-to-day events, that I'd end up spending all my time online. 

castle, looking up
Ingrid's Fiat, custom built drawers
Spending extended time in a solitary place is how I like to travel. It's such a window in to a community. 

Yesterday I headed to the castle with Ingrid (a resident) and Ludgar (the co-owner) to help take down Ingrid's exhibition. Her art show went up early in May, before I was here, and I missed all the fanfare around her opening. I really wanted to see her work so I joined them for the
view from the top of the castle
dismantling of the project. 

I was a little surprised by the castle - barebones, no furniture, dirty and swarming with bugs! The only thing that saved those castle walls was Ingrid's paintings! Apparently there are so many castles in the vicintity that this one decided not to make itself a museum with furniture and descriptions, etc. A bad decision, I think.

And let me tell you about the stairs... I took hundreds up to the roof for spectacular photo opps...

just a few of the hundreds of stairs
But I also took hundreds, maybe thousands, helping walk Ingrid's work out of the castle. Today, my legs are throbbing. I got an amazing workout.

Later that evening, I went with Ludgar and Carolien back to the town of Evora for what I thought was going to be a sax quartet jazz concert. Instead, it was rehearsals for a final exam at the University. We sat in an empty, large auditorium in the music department and watched about 7 sax students - all quite talented - play songs with what seemed like a piano instructor (amazingly talented) The music ranged from classical, to Gershwin, to odd modern stuff, but it was such a treat. A lot of the musicians knew Ludgar and Carolien so after their performances they would come into the "audience" and kiss them, and me, hello. There is a lot of kissing here in Portugal. No such thing as a handshake. Everyone greets each other with a double-kiss -- even strangers. I walk around with my lips puckered ready to greet. At a party the other night someone did a triple-kiss. I forget where they were from, but not here.
view of castle from the pool
Tomorrow I give a talk and a reading. I'm going to be really vulnerable and read something I just wrote the other day.

Oh, and don't get me started on the Tomcat that has appeared, throwing everything and everyone into a frenzy...


Sunday, June 16, 2013

Happy Father's Day!

A few pictures chronicling the past few days. The beauty of this place continues to amaze me. Today Frida the cat stepped inside with a mouse in her mouth and a few minutes later Fleur, the other kitten, came in with a bird. Me no likey.

Went to the local farmer's market in Estramoz on Saturday (so much cheese, olives, fruit!), followed by a 2-hour ping-pong marathon where it was proven very quickly that just because one grows up with a ping-pong table in their backyard doesn't mean one can hold a candle to the seasoned players. We had a farewell dinner for Karan up at the castle at sunset.

I came here to finish a draft of my novel, and despite all the fun and activity, I think I'm going to reach my goal. 

Wanted to wish my Dad a very happy Father's Day! Miss you and wish I could be there eating with everyone!

fierce games of ping pong.

dinner up by the castle


sunset at the castle

leaning in

view looking down

bread soup (bread on side) Broth, garlic, garlic, garlic, cilantro, green peppers

Friday, June 14, 2013

City Girl

The wildlife here is staggering. And by wildlife I include bugs. The other night at dinner a GIANT beetle crawled next to me and I shrieked like a little girl. I had to apologize to everyone reiterating that I'm from Los Angeles. Yesterday I followed the sound of one of the cat's howling. When I found her she had a lizard in her mouth - and proudly walked up to me to show it off. I won't elaborate about the giant sized spider I found in my bathroom just as I was sitting down to pee. Needless to say, a merry band of residents came to usher it out. I am a city girl through and through.

Today Louis, a local, invited us to his home. Karan, Minami and I set out on foot to get there. We were told to cross the train tracks, make a left, take a path, we'd see a cork grove on one side and a door on the other and to go through the door and climb up the hill. There we'd find Louis. It took about 1/2 hour to get to the "door" (which was really a wire gate) but behind it, roaming, were horses, cows and bulls. I was fine with the horses and cows, but those two bulls scared the crap out of me. What was that movie I saw as a child where a bull charges a little boy? Well it stuck with me and I was too frightened to cross the bull's path, so we took the long way around to his house, only to learn that the bulls are scared of people and would never hurt a fly. CITY GIRL
At Minami's art display the other night
Louis lives in a home without running water and just recently got electricity due to some solar panels. He ushered us in giving us water, juice, tea and biscuits as Karan immediately probed him on the meaning of life. We had a lovely visit and I've included some pictures.

What is the purpose of life?
Louis through the cork
Louis, me, Karan
A friend just contacted me on fbook to say she was coincidentally coming to Lisbon at the end of the month and might have some Alicia Keyes tickets, as her husband is working on the show. This would mean leaving this paradise a few days early, but how fun would it be to see a concert in Lisbon? These are the perks of Facebook...
Melissa with the herb named Melissa, good for calming nerves!

beautiful roses

Wednesday, June 12, 2013


Last night we took a trip to the town of Evora for an "experimental concert in the dark." That is what we were told. We wound our way up to the walled city and ended up at a community arts center, that apparently used to be the home of someone very wealthy (or royalty? I'm not sure). Within minutes I was hugging and kissing the musicians. Everyone is very warm and friendly here. We were shuffled into a room (presumably once the living room of the rich or royal family?), doors were closed and lights turned off. For a minute I felt like I was in the Haunted House ride at Disneyland, and nervously waited for the elevator to drop. Instead the music started - sitar, guitar and drums. It was oh so dreamy and psychedelic. I kept thinking of George Harrison playing with Ravi Shankar in India. I really got lost in the music, lights out and all. When the concert ended, Karan (the other writer here) and I spoke with the sitar player who moved here from India. We drove back talking about religion, politics and creativity, arriving home at 12:30.

This morning was a trip the supermarket in the town of Estremoz. Tonight is a potluck dinner and we are all required to bring a dish. I could have stayed in the market for hours - how I love shopping in foreign markets! Everything is a wild guessing game.

There is talk about a ping-pong match for Thursday night. Ha! Little does anybody know that I grew up with a ping-pong table in my backyard. Minamee, the resident from Japan, is apparently the ping-pong champ. We'll see if I can dethrone her :)

Sadly, Karan, my writer and yoga buddy, is leaving on Sunday so we are all going to the castle for dinner on Saturday night to bid him farewell.

cork trees (with Mickey Mouse ears)
The owners of this property, Ludgar and Caroleen, are the most gracious hosts I've ever met. They have been doing this for 10 years and really know how to nurture and entertain their guests. Caroleen reminds me SO much of my friend Suzan, with her cheery disposition and appetite for life. She even looks like Suzan. (Suz, you and Adam might want to consider doing this - I think you are made for it!)

The place I'm staying - a converted barn - is so classy, sophisticated and welcoming. They renovated it themselves and you can feel the love in every room. More in the coming days...

Monday, June 10, 2013

Day 1 - No Writing, Lots of Hiking

my room
This morning I awoke to the clanging of bells and assumed it was one of the neighboring farms signaling breakfast was ready, but when the noise didn't stop for an hour, I went to explore. The answer made me giggle. The owner of this property calls it the "Sheep Orchestra". You see, there is a sheep farm on the other side of the mountain and often the sheep roam over this way to graze. Bells are attached to them so they sound every time they take a step. The noise is relentless and beautiful.

I'm told there is a pig farm next door. The previous owner, a male, was the pig castrater, just like his father, grandfather and so on. When he had kids, he only had girls, so the eldest grew up to become... you guessed it... a pig castrater. OY! She has since had triplets and I believe there is now a boy in the mix... not to be sexist or anything...

cute chickens
As I sit here writing, there are about four chickens circling me curiously. Damn, they're cute. So full of personality. When the cats walk by they don't even flinch. Everyone here seems to happily coexist - chickens, pigs, people, sheep and castles.

Ludgar, the owner and hike leader
We went on a two hour hike today to a lookout point. I am so not a hiker but who am I to say no to a group activity? I felt like Indiana Jones trekking through the bush. I will let the pictures do the talking. So much beauty. We ended up on a huge rock with views of the surrounding areas. No I have not begun working on the novel yet, but I figure this is all research for my book about Mother Nature.

pool on the property, castle on mountain

hiking with the gang

mountaintop destination
old railway used to transport Portugese Royal Family
proof that I made it to the top!