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Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Saying I Love You

Saying I Love You

A woman at the entryway studiously
Scrawls my name in curled black letters on
The milky pages of a dull green ledger,
To mark my visit to the banks of
The River Styx.

Metal wheelchairs rattle by,  
Perfumed by unnamed sprays and tablets and gases
That change a summer’s day into a chilled noxious
Blend of hell’s sulfur and acridity.

The people in the chairs, mothers and fathers,
Grandmothers and grandfathers stare blankly
As they ride. Solo passengers on a train of history, with
Cars unhitched and cargo long forgotten.

Hallways, bright and narrow as soft yellow funnels
Guide me where I never want to go.  I step aside
For medicines and juices that roll past
On shiny sliver carts, with squeaky
Wheels, alive with the rhythms of hollow days
And sleepless nights.

A nurse nods, her professional aplomb
And perfunctory smile lack encouragement
For conversation.  My heart rides heavy in my

Nurses and attendants crowd a counter.
A coterie, controlled by white faced
Boards, scribbled in blues and greens and
Reds, of times and doses.

If I asked, they wouldn’t tell. Trust issues.
Privacy issues in this warehouse of secrets,
And forbidden knowledge, written in a language
I don’t understand and can’t decipher.

His room is three doors down on the left.  A withered
Man in a body that once held strength, a face that
Faced the enemy and never blinked, that loved
And was adored.  All gone now, the days
Of his calendar blotted out except for medicinal

Yellowed fingernails, once smartly trimmed
And shined and polished. Disheveled strands of
White and gray that haven’t felt a comb in days. A
Face so gaunt I blink in wonder.

He greets me with dark, empty eyes, black pools
That cannot smile or understand. This man
Who brought me life and saw me through the storms
No longer knows my name.
I am a stranger, one of many who walks into his room
And speaks strange words.

This man whom I have loved forever, the shadow of
The man who used to be, a man who needs my help
When I have no help to give.

“Hi, dad.”  He only stares.

                                                ------William Stroud

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Intercontinental Hotel, Porto, Portugal

Intercontinental Hotel, Porto, Portugal

What do you expect in a hotel?  I know, I know, everyone is different and expectations grow with age.  The younger you are, the less amenities on your wish list.   Bet you know what I mean: Youth begs for a swimming pool, but spa?  Who needs it? Corner bar that has the feel and aroma of last weekend’s beer blast?  No prob. Breakfast room with more spills than thrills? Hell, if I care. No bed?  Dusty floor?  When you’re young and the world is fresh, your accommodations don’t have to be.

Well, I’m telling you I need more.  A lot more.  Hasn’t always been like that.  Wayyyyy back in a nearly forgotten corner of my misspent youth, I took a date to Paris.  Cost me 25 bucks for the weekend.  Rickety stairs. Shower down the hall and you had to plunk coins in a machine to get hot water.  Toilet in the room, surrounded by a thin curtain. Breakfast of a café au lait and a fresh croissant.  But, the location was perfect, near the Place de l’Opera, right down the street from Fauchon. We had another 50 bucks between us and that was enough for a Paris weekend.

The downside?  My date fixed me with a heart-stopping stare. “Never bring me here again.  I’ll pay for a nicer hotel.”  No merriment in her smile because she didn’t have one.

As a very young man, I stayed in a big city’s YMCA.  Looked and felt like a halfway house.  I took my shower in an open bay at midnight. Took me five seconds or less of terror before I scurried back to my rat hole of a room.  Yes, I locked and barricaded the door.  Stayed one night.  Made no unexpected friends, thank god.

Now things are better, at least in Europe.  I hear hostels can be very nice, clean, and pleasant.  As soon as I figure out how to be 22 again, I’ll give them a try.

But, now I like comfort and plenty of it.  Front lobby that could be a dead ringer for the cloakroom at Buckingham Palace.  Smiles from a group of liveried doormen and a dedicated concierge desk.  Check-in as easy as “Here’s your key, sir, and the bar is right over there.”

You find your room so large as to be suitable for two people or fourteen teenagers.  Bathroom that emptied a quarry of marble.  Glistening fixtures.  Bright lights. Towels as thick and fluffy as Flokatis.  Shower large enough to invite three friends, who will see each other only rarely, through a billowing mist.  A tub so deep there’s a lifeguard on duty.  Soaps, shampoos and other necessities from very exclusive shops.  Makes you ditch your toilet articles and start over. Yes, I did.  “Front desk?  Could I have 45 bars of body purifying soap delivered to my room, please?  Throw in some shampoo and hand lotion.  Gift wrapped, please.”
Gents' Room on the ground floor

But, let’s get back to the main event.  Ok, you’ve checked into the Intercontinental Hotel, made your appointment for a full body massage and manicure later in the day. 

Time to hit the bar.  First up, an outstanding, full-bodied red wine.  Portuguese of course.  Terras do Grifo, Douro.  So, let’s deconstruct this title….see how easily I slip into pseudo intellectualism?  Deconstruct my ass!  Tell me what it means!  Ok.  The Land of the Griffin.  Now, Mr. Smarty, what is a griffin?  A mythical beast that has the head and wings of an eagle and the hindquarters of a lion.  So, does it roar or scream?  I already told you it was mythical.  You decide.

But, the wine, whether you sip or swill, is perfect.  I enjoy a full-bodied wine, but without the raw tannins at the finish.  Terras do Grifo is smooth and mellow, with not so subtle hints of I-need-another-one.

Later on, we would adventure into the heady land of gin and tonic.   A Gin No. 3 from London’s famous Fortnum & Mason’s cellar, along with a Fever Tree Indian tonic.  Yep, if the tonic is good enough for a sub-continent, it’s good enough for me.  And, it was good enough for me and anybody else.  The next table over followed our lead and we quickly made friends.

See, bars at nice hotels are congenial, not like in the U.S. where they’re either body swap lounges, or biker bars where if you chat with someone’s girlfriend you suddenly qualify for reconstructive surgery.

The bar at the Intercontinental is so congenial you may never want to leave. The bar staff is swift and sure, but sadly, it’s time for my full body massage and manicure.

The Intercontinental is like that.  After the massage, we’ll get directions from the coterie at the concierge desk and enjoy the delights of the city.  But, I could sure use some more of that Grifo slosh…

View from our room

A nearby cafe

On the Water Front

Link to the Intercontinental:

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Porto, Portugal, Mercado do Bolhão

Porto, Portugal, Mercado do Bolhão

No matter where I visit, I always find my way to the local farmers’ market.  I realize buying food isn’t usually something you stuff in your suitcase.  But, I go anyway. I’ve walked away with a fish carton at Tokyo’s famous Tsukiji Fish Market, packed away canned sardines in Etratat on the Normandy coast, and chorizo in Santiago, Spain.

There are things other than fresh fruits and vegetables to buy, especially for inquisitive shoppers. And the people?  They make the market.  In Santiago, it was an older shopkeeper who went out of her way to help a confused traveler find a shop where nuns make the finest tarta de Santiago .  In Metz, France it was a woman selling cheese who tested my meager French, then twisted my arm to taste half a dozen.  So what was it in Porto?….gimme a sec, I’m coming to that.

Each market is a vastly different experience.  Different smells and flavors. Can you get the right chocolate for Spanish hot chocolate in Charleston?  Or how about shrimp and grits in Madrid?

Listen to what I’m telling you:  Visit the markets!  Chat with the people!  Listen to the music of the voices and find a cornucopia of delights.

Mercado do Bolhão in Porto, Portugal is a wonder.  By the way, don’t get tongue twisted over Bolhão, it’s pronounced Bol-yo and an easy walk from downtown.

But, let me summarize the essence of markets, the things that attract me faster than a swimsuit optional beach?  You think I exaggerate?  Ok. Maybe a little, but the pull to visit a market is strong! There are always different things to see, sounds to hear, things to taste, people to talk to, architecture to admire.  A market draws you into the beating heart of a city and it’s people.  Of course, merchants are eager to sell, but also possess a fount of knowledge about their city and for those of you hooked on gardening, it’s is a wonderful source of information. 

What’s that, you don’t speak French or Portuguese or German or southern?  Fear not and march bravely forward.  Every market I’ve been to has an English speaker nearby and pointy-talky works just as well.  “How much is this?” you ask.  The response is gibberish to your untrained ear.  Your look is as blank as if a doctor asked the date of your last tetanus shot.  The seller immediately either writes the answer, or shows you the number on a calculator.

I mentioned architecture.  In Porto, the market came about in 1893, but wasn’t covered until 1914…yes, Portugal missed out on a couple of world wars and has never mourned over it. 

Built on or near a swamp, Bolhão, according to what I have read, means Big Bubble.  Swamp no more, it’s in the center of town and an easy walk from most downtown hotels.

So, what did I do there besides gawk and take photos and wonder if there were a swimsuit optional beach?  Are you familiar with Port Wine?  Similar to Spanish Sherry.  I’ll write more about that in a follow-on blog entry, but right now, I’ll tell you we found a wonderful older couple who had a matchless array of wines and ports and didn’t mind chatting about all of them.  What’s your pleasure?  Ruby? Tawny?  Old, young, sweet, dry…..we’re talking ports now, gentlemen, so control yourselves. They poured and with each empty glass, they poured more. We drank and listened and learned.  The couple alone were worth the visit.

We tasted the younger ports, then tried the ten year old, then the twenty year old, then the forty year old.  The white, the ruby, the tawny, finally settling on a forty year old tawny.  At least I think that’s what we settled on.  At that point it was hard to tell.  Could have been four acres of land and two cows.  But nobody mooed at me on the way back to the hotel and I didn’t have dirt under my fingernails, so I’m pretty sure we just bought port.  Anyway, it’s says 40 Years old and my depleted bank account confirms it.

Photo from Bakespace, which also offers a recipe:

So, anything else we bought or sampled or can’t discuss?  Yes, matter of fact we tried the famous Porto cream tarts.  They’re called nata (cream) tarts, but the taste is a very rich vanilla pudding, with a deliciousness and aroma that made my maddened taste buds shout for more.  Yes, I surrendered to gluttony.  After all, you’re only fat and in Porto once!

I’d write more, but now I’m in the mood to let the photos tell the rest, while I sneak another sip or six of some fabulous port!

Still interested in some markets?  I’ve blogged about a few:

Checkout a previous post on Charleston’s City Market.

Or the great things to tantalize your taste buds at The Charleston Farmer’s Market.

Maybe you already read about my time tasting wine in Santiago, Spain’s old market?

And let’s not forget the fabulous Marché Couvert in Metz, France, across from the Cathedral!

Hungry in London?  Boroughs Market is the spot!