A Guide to the Many, Many Markets of London

mind the gap

Columbia Road Flower Market

London loves markets.  More than any city I’ve been to, London has a market for everything: for food, for vintage clothes, for Sunday strolling, for flowers, for techno music for children (no, really).  They’re full of shouting British shopkeepers and one of a kind souvenirs, of puddings made of blood and maps from the 1600s, of fresh crepes and live guitar music.  They offer an experience of London at its finest and most distinctively London, but there are so many that it’s often hard to figure out where to begin.  This week, Zack and I are hosting our first visitor (hi, Matt!), for whom I’ve narrowed down the London market experience to its best and most diverse:

For anyone who likes to eat their way through the day: Borough Market, Borough Market, Borough Market.  A definitive London foodie experience, Borough Market has been operating in its present location by the Thames River for almost a thousand years (2016 will mark the thousandth anniversary).  You’ll find fresh baguettes driven over from France that day, pistachio kibbeh, pitchers of Pimm’s Cups, venison burgers, Spanish chorizo, fresh fudge, and all of the fruit and vegetables you could ever want.  Go hungry and sample your way through the stalls with a cocktail or cider in hand; if you commit to one of the more meal-like options, the grass in front of Southwark Cathedral makes a great place to settle.  Borough Market is open from 11 – 5 pm on Thursdays, 12 – 6 pm on Fridays, and 9 – 5 pm on Saturdays.

For people who have at least one plaid shirt in their closet, and maybe a pair of black rimmed glasses: Brick Lane has basically everything, from amazing live music to all types of prepared food to vintage bric-a-brac of all sorts.  Flip through a vintage record collection, slide on a fifteen-pound fake leather jacket, and grab yourself an Eton Mess (a jumble of the biggest, most glorious meringues you’ve ever seen, whipped cream and strawberries).  Pick up a CD of techno music designed specifically for children, and then make your way through the Indian restaurants, where proprietors will shout as you walk by to lure you into their establishments.  While you’re there, pop into Sunday UpMarket (with more established shops, as well as many design stalls and amazing Tui Na massage) or the Old Truman Brewery Vintage Clothing Market, the name of which says it all.

For those with green thumbs, or craving a slice Dickensian London:  You’ll hear the scene on Columbia Road before you see it.  Thick British accents are shouting through the air: “Every-fing for a fiver!  Don’t trust the other fellow – you want leaves that are dead already, go over there.  You want brilliant, bloomin’ blossoms?  You know where to go!”  Even if you don’t want to buy anything, the flower market is worth a trip for the characters that fill it, and for the feeling that you’ve somehow stepped a century back in time.  Columbia Road itself is worth a peek too---it’s filled with charming old map stores, little vintage shops, and more than one saliva inducing bake shop.  The flower market is every Sunday from 8 am till 3---come toward the end if you’re looking to buy as the prices drop.  On a sunny day, there’ll be live music as well.

For lovers of antiques and/or Hugh Grant:  Perhaps the best-known market in London, Portobello Road has been featured in many a movie, including the aptly named Notting Hill.  While the street is winding and picturesque any day (even if the said hill is more like a light slope), Saturday finds vintage dealers from all over the country pulling out their wares: I’ve seen boxing gear from the 1930s, pocket watches from the 1700s, a collection of bells from the sixteenth century.

For people who want what’s cool before the cool thing even knows it’s cool: Brixton is currently in the middle of a (wanted or not) gentrification, and its market is no exception.  Tiny, trendy restaurants featuring all that is free-range, organic and innovative mix with shops halal meats and Reggae CDs, wigs and exotic spices.  With far fewer tourists than other markets, Brixton is worth a stop on any day of the week, although Saturday brings a rotating flea, craft or baker’s market, and Sunday a more traditional farmer’s market.

Because punk will live forever:  Famous and famously funky, Camden Market is the place to go for the most comfortable possible version of an alternative scene.  Fight your way through the tourist oriented stalls selling Union Jack flags and screen printed T-shirts and you’ll find one of the most renowned Goth stores in town, vintage furniture worthy of a movie (one of the stalls, in fact, is owned by a studio set designer), and plenty of people inconspicuously selling cannabis of all kinds.  Grab a liquid nitrogen ice cream (the lychee rose with cardamom pistachio topping is to die for), or pop into my favorite teashop in London, Yum Chaa – I recommend the Om Tea, a white-nutmeg-blackberry blend.

This, of course, is just a sampling of my favorites---I could go on for days, including Spitalfields Market, Angel Market, Greenwich Market, Piccadilly Market and more.  Have you had a chance to explore the many markets of London?  What’s your favorite?

A Red Thread

loud and clear red thread

When I fall in love with a man, I fall in love with the place connected to his heart by one red thread, anchored with a map pin. And being there in that city, or usually that small town (a place which no one has heard of---so, he says he’s from the nearby city that other people can at least associate with a state, but is really forty-five minutes down the expressway) is the end for me. Or rather, the real beginning. On your first visit you hear it---the way that people say their A's as “ah” and will you run up to the Rosauers? (The name of the corner market has altogether replace the generic descriptor of “grocery store”) The neighbors close their blinds beginning with the heat of the day and ending with a fan facing backward out the window. He barely notices, because this is his home, but you begin to make sense of him. For months after, you'll catch a glimpse of it---when he opens a beer bottle with a lighter or is stubborn about the definition of coleslaw.

And then on the first hot night of summer he’s seventeen again, driving down River Road. The windows are down and you have nowhere to go and he reaches for the volume when Float On comes across the radio.

xxxix. provence

postcards from france

There is an opportunity to take cooking classes in traditional provençal cuisine with a local, professional chef, and I jump at the chance along with many of my ACCP classmates. The chef is an aixois named Didier, sleepy-eyed and flirtatious in his 50s, who owns the most expensive restaurant in the city. Supposedly there is an interior garden courtyard where you can eat your 60 Euro a bowl bouillabaisse. For this class we are making ratatouille, my favorite dish, but I am distracted by the way Didier is hovering over Alice, touching her hip lightly and leading her hands to chop the vegetables. She is obviously uncomfortable, but he doesn’t move away. He is so close that his breath stirs Alice’s light hair.

With much urging from the rest of us, Alice tells Helen what happened during class. Helen tells her that in southern France, men are just more forward, and that there is nothing wrong with what Didier, dear, sweet Didier, was doing. The next time he comes to the center, she hangs on to his arm as well as his every word.

Alice doesn’t go back to the last class, and I wouldn’t have, either.

Snapshots

Snapshots

A series of visual and lyrical snapshots by Molly McIntyre

Walking down the newly sun-baked Brooklyn streets, sunglasses on, carrying a bag full of fruit, passing the tattooed girl who owns the gelato shop walking her tough little bulldog (of course she would have a bulldog!)

READ MORE>>

 

Lessons from Chicago...

lessons for clara

Dearest Clara,

Sometimes when I travel for work, I have that sensation of needing to get outside right then and there.  Often when I travel, the routine involves heading from airport to hotel to office, and then back in reverse again, that it seems like I can go days without fresh air.  It happened to me again most recently in Chicago.  Outside of the huge wall to wall windows in the hotel room, I felt that I had to get some sunshine and fresh air, even if it meant working on my project until late into the evening.

I hopped out and started heading down the street, and came across the boat tours that go up and down the river and out onto the lake.  I bought myself a ticket, catching one of the last available ones for the day and had a just an hour to myself to take in the architecture and the breezes of the city and I realized:

  • Water is our most precious resource: Most of what Chicago grew to be as a city is due to the remarkable possibilities of having both a major river and a major lake.  And it’s that same lake that provides the water that comes right out of every person’s faucet, drinkable at that.  So much of our fortunes are tied to water; when a city is blessed with this kind of resource twice, it’s absolutely our job to take care of it.
  • It’s always colder on the lake: No matter how  the weather of day, you can always find a breeze on Lake Michigan.  On hot days, it’s a welcoming cool down; on cold days, it chills to the bone.  If you’ll be going on the lake, dress for it.  You won’t regret the extra sweater.
  • A good city plan both endures and adapts: As a city, Chicago is fascinating.  But what’s most fascinating is how the city’s plan has expanded and contracted while keeping its core intact as times and needs have changed.  Every city should have a plan, and every plan should do the same.
  • Public art is a public treasure: For some, art means expensive paintings that hang in dark corners of homes and museums.  But Chicago does a fantastic job of putting art “out there”.  Right in the middle of downtown. . .right in the middle of a park. . .right next to the lake.  In Chicago, where you can find people is also where you can find some of the best works of art.  They fit so seamlessly into the cityscape that sometimes we don’t necessarily notice that they were likely a huge investment on the part of the city in order to put them there.  Appreciate the efforts that cities make to keep things interesting and beautiful for the public benefit.
  • Surround yourself with smart people: While on the boat, I was thinking of how different life would have been if I had chosen to go to school there versus elsewhere.  I remember when I visited a noted university there to make my final decision, that it was the first time I realized that I was surrounded by extremely smart people everywhere I looked.   I liked that feeling, and I knew I would be smarter because of it.  I ended up choosing another place for my education, because it was a better fit for the future, but ever since then I have never stopped looking for strong qualities in others to surround myself with.  Other people’s strengths shouldn’t be intimidating, they should be something to learn from.

All my love,

Mom

Meet the Local: Sydney, Australia

mind the gap

Meet the Local is a series designed to uncover the differences (and similarities) in how we think and live in different parts of the world.  Over the upcoming months, I’ll ask locals from places all over the world the same set of getting-to-know-you questions.  This week, we meet Ben, a hometown enthusiast who has figured out the key to his happiness.

Meet the Local Sydney

What do you like about the place you live?

A million things.  Sydney is a terrific place.  It’s a very active place mainly because we have such a great climate, even in the winters.  You can always get out and about and be in the sun.  And there’s just tons to do---the bush isn’t far away, and the whole coastline is beach beach beach beach . . . It’s a really active lifestyle.  There are a ton of musical festivals every summer, there are pop up bars left right and center.  I quite like that Sydney is geographically quite disparate as well.  There are little valleys and basins and beachy areas that have different sorts of people so it’s not one flat lump; it’s a really interesting sort of tapestry.

What don’t you like so much?

A current gripe of mine is that Sydney and Australia as a whole is a very, very big nanny state.  There are rules and guidelines for everything.  As an example, I contribute so much money to the council coffers in the form of parking fines and speeding fines---it’s just silly little things.  They’re trying to make you behave a certain way---and it’s a terrific standard of living, don’t get me wrong---but you have to play within the rules.  It gets a bit stifling, a bit claustrophobic.  If you’re not of that mindset, if you’ve experienced different things, if you’ve been to third world countries, you just find it a little annoying.  It feels intensely civilized---a little too civilized, personally, for me.

What do you normally eat for breakfast?

Two pieces of toast with butter on them, and Earl Grey tea.  It used to be coffee, but I’m trying to stick to one coffee per day and I need to get over that 3 PM wall, so that’s my coffee time.

What do you do for a living?  How important is your job to your sense of self?

I’m called a Community Manager.  I work for a company called Yelp, and as a Community Manager for Yelp I do a couple of things.  I throw parties, I teach people to use the website, I write a newsletter that goes out every week (I particularly enjoy writing, so that part is really appealing to me).  They often refer to it as the unofficial mayor of the city.  You know the places that are opening, you get asked so many times: where’s the best place for tourists, or for dates, or to enjoy a summer’s day, or for a bush walk?

My job is very important to my sense of self.  I used to work in advertising agencies in the corporate world and then I got to the point where I was making ads for a living and I did everything I could outside my work life to avoid ads---I just hated them---so there was that weird disconnect there.  It was really good money, but everyone was polluted, was whinging about not having a life, and working too hard.  It was the same sort of record on repeat.  I’m a natural optimist but I heard myself getting into this really negative mindset.  So I quit my job and was looking for something else, and then Yelp came along.  I really like the idea of setting my own schedule, and try new ideas.  Being able to have that freedom is really nice.  It has a real people power, which is what I was looking for after the corporate world with everyone just chasing money.  There was a lot of talk among my friends at the time going back to when you’re young, when you have to go to school and get good grades.  Why?  To get into university.  And then you have to do well at university---why?  To get a good job.  And then you have to get a good job---why?  To earn money.  And then you’ve got to get promotions---why?  To earn more money.  Money is just the root of all evil.  What we’re doing at the moment, it’s not the antithesis of that, but it’s more about community, being hyper local.

What do you do for fun?

I like being in nature, so I play a ton of sport. Swim and surf and beaches are so close that every weekend I go for a swim.  I really like music; I go to a lot of music festivals.  I read a lot.  I really enjoy writing.

How often do you see your family?  Tell me what you did the last time you saw them.

I’m trying to buy an apartment in the city right now, which is shockingly difficult.  I think we’re the second most expensive city in the world right now to buy real estate – a half a million gets you nothing.  So I moved back home with my mum to try and save, otherwise it’s just an untenable position to be renting and trying to buy.  So I see my mum a lot.  My twin sister lives in Denver, and my brother lives in London, so we’re quite spread out, but we Skype at least once a week, maybe twice.  And we try to have at least one family holiday a year, where we all meet up in some destination.

 What’s your biggest dream for your life?

I want to keep traveling and I want to write, whether it’s for my own amusement or professionally.  Other than that, it’s fairly simple.  I don’t want to invest in properties or anything like that – I just want a house I can live in and a life in the sun, a family at some point down the track, definitely a dog – a pug – and that’s it.  That’s pretty much it.  And to live somewhere I can be in touch with nature.

 If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be?  Why?

I really feel an affinity for second and third world countries, where the boundaries are a little bit looser and you can do more things.  You can go shoot a gun in the hills if you want, you can take a car and drive wherever you want, you can camp wherever you want, because the land is free – not everyone owns every single inch of land like they do here.  So somewhere like Mexico or Morocco would be incredible.

 What are you most proud of?

This might sound quite trite, but I’m quite proud of figuring out what makes me happy and adjusting my life to follow those lines.  I’ve figured out that the more simplistic life is, the easier it is to be happy.  If you have worries and stresses and bigger things to look after, you can’t focus and you can’t really get true happiness.  The people that have the least are the happiest.

 How happy would you say you are?  Why?

I’m a massive optimist, I can see the good in anything, so I think I’m probably a nine.  I was probably around a seven before.  The downside of being a natural optimist is that you tend to stay in situations longer than you should because you can always see the good in them, even if they’re crap.

The change happened over the course of a year.  I had a really shitty year a couple of years ago where my dad died.  He’d worked so hard to provide for the family and it was really, really sudden.  He was riding a motorbike in the Himalayas. He was a mild mannered accountant, and he went on this trip of a lifetime and didn’t come back.  That was when I sort of found myself at a crossroads, asking myself if the corporate life was right for me.  My dad was a self-made man, an immigrant from Pakistan.  He came here with nothing and built a whole life up and all of the sudden, things were taken away.  So it sort of gave me a bit of immediacy and made me value my time a bit more.  I realized you can work and be happy at the same time – so that was my epiphany.

Check out previous answers from locals in Lisbon, Sarajevo and London.  Want to participate in Meet the Local or know someone who does?  Email liz@thingsthatmakeus.com for more details.

 

When We Think About Change

loud and clear magnolias

For the most part we experience the world as consistent. Even change follows a certain kind of pattern. Difference comes, and then it repeats itself: tempering in a cycle of time.

But, what happened when Darwin looked a little closer at a finch’s beak? Or when Galileo watched the tides rise, curiously out of touch with expectation? Philosophers call moments like that a “paradigm shift," because it wasn’t just about the beak for Darwin. Suddenly, it was about everything. He saw turtles and trumpet vines and all sorts of creatures---and he wondered how they had come to be there. The birds called, same they ever did. What changed was how Darwin saw them.

The half-way point of my daily walk is marked by a tree, less than a story tall. I thought it was a pussy willow. All through the winter the branches were bare, save for the tiny buds covered in fuzz that glowed in the winter sun.

When spring started up with sixty-degree days, I waited for the street to change. I looked for cherry blossoms and tulip trees, but all of New England stayed quiet. Perhaps it would just become green, I thought, without any heralded arrival. I even began to ask people in town: “does anything bloom around here?” They all assured me and advised I be patient. But I didn't know this season in Massachusetts. So I held onto the sneaking feeling that spring had already come for us and there was no reason to wait.

Then one day, on my walk to town, I realized that the pussy willow . . . well, wasn't.The buds cracked open to reveal a clutch of long pink petals.  It had become a magnolia overnight.  Over the week, a hundred blossoms broke the shells that had held them for winter.

By now, the petals have fallen and are beginning to rust. But I am living in the everything after.

Lessons from Philadelphia...

lessons for clara

Dearest Clara,

I don’t know Philadelphia well, but your father does.  He studied for his Master’s degree there. Yet when we visit, we always seem to discover together something that’s still new to him, and this time with you with us, it was an entirely different perspective. I’m so happy that we were able to spend the day there together as a family, and as we took in the sights of the city, I hope you remember the following:

  • Principles and ideas are important: Philadelphia was home to our Declaration of Independence, and to the Constitution, and physically home to many of the men that made those two historic documents possible.  The ideas that they stand for, and the words chosen to represent those ideas were carefully chosen.  In fact, so carefully, the documents still stand today as meaningful, governing foundations.  Every generation has the opportunity to make that kind of lasting, revolutionary impact if they choose their principles, ideas, actions and words carefully.
  • Remember brotherly love: Philadelphia is known as the city of brotherly love because the greek roots of the city’s name mean just that.  But the idea that the name stands for should be part of any city.  A city is always home to many, and in that sense, we’re always a sort of family for each other.  And we need to look out for our fellow residents in the same way that we would for a younger brother or sister, an aging parent, or any family member.  Similarly, we need to look out for and celebrate the success of others in the city as well---like a cousin that wins a race or an uncle who's finally built his house.  A city can never work well if it only feels like home for a few.  It has to feel like home for everyone.
  • Bringing your own is usually better: We love to eat in restaurants in Philadelphia because of the many places that allow you to bring your own wine.  For many places, it has to do with the way the licensing for alcohol is structured, but it’s become part of the cultural experience of eating out in the city.  We go out for the experience of going out, but some experiences just turn out better if we’re able to bring part of our own choosing into it with us.
  • Be prepared to always be an outsider: In a famous stand in Philadelphia, known for some of the best cheesesteaks in town, there is a sign that displays---“You’re in America, Please order in English”.  No surprise, it caused controversy and still does.  People either strongly support it, or they are vehemently against it.  Where you stand is for you to decide---but given how much our iterant lifestyle has us move, the sign was a bi tof a reminder that you will constantly know what is like to be an outsider.  Even though we speak the language here, eventually we will go places where we don't.  So those signs will also be for us.  Because we don’t speak the language . . . because we don’ t know the options . . . because we get the process wrong.  It will happen, and you’ll feel left out.  Some things will always be easier, and frankly, more appropriate, if you do things “their way”.  Some things, if we stick to our core, will be more important to do “our way”.  You’ll have to figure out where the balance is for yourself, but the balance is easier if you are prepared for that feeling.  And when you’re visiting somewhere new, at least make an effort to meet people as close to their way as possible.  Hopefully, as good hosts, they are trying to do the same for you---but remember, the only that's in your control is your own.
  • Not everyone is lucky enough to be grateful for their freedom: Here in the US, we take our freedom, and the liberties and responsibilities that come with it for granted.  For many people, they haven’t known another way.  But visits to the many historic places around Philadelphia will remind you that those liberties are in fact very special, and continually come at a cost.  Not everyone has the luxury of such sound governing principles---be grateful for them, and improve upon them.  No one said that the work of implementing freedoms, rights and liberties is ever done, or that the work belongs to just a few.  It belongs to everyone.

All my love,

Mom

9-to-5

My working life over the past year has been anything but simple. Creative, perhaps—especially in terms of scheduling. But simple? Absolutely not. When someone asks the dreaded question about what I do, I usually feel as if I’m being sucked into a vortex in which my mind races backwards over everything I’ve actually done in the previous week or so. Gleanings from that vortex vary drastically depending on the week, but may look something like this: blog posts, incoming mail, outgoing mail, email, phone, database, website, blog posts, other website, slow web, write something, footnotes, footnotes, nap, footnotes, bibliography, transliteration, tired, footnotes. Hmm.

Needless to say, I generally return from this cloud of confusion with nothing very satisfying to offer my interlocutor and instead respond with a question mark in my voice: “Publishing? Books, usually? Also, the internet?”

My journey into the working world began last year at this time when, armed with two consecutive diplomas, I strode with equal parts excitement and bewilderment out of the university gates and into the employment-seeking wilderness. The intervening months between then and now have been marked by a few shining moments of serendipity, a smattering of deep disappointments, and an unfailing stream of worry, fear, and self-doubt. If I could offer my one-year-ago self any advice, I would tell her to spend more time doing things and less time worrying about doing them. I would also tell her to stop submitting resumes to automated robots, start meeting real people, and just make something happen. She might have listened, though not without eyeing me suspiciously and worrying that my advice was completely biased and autobiographically motivated.

Since beginning this column last summer, I have wandered through the desert of too little work and the valley of too much. I have wondered about fostering creativity in work and play, and I have worried all the while about finding direction. I have managed an ever-evolving concoction of part-time and freelance work. I have copyedited books, written an essay, and helped make something happen.

In just a couple of weeks, my hazy vortex of work will crystallize into something a little more recognizable: a full-time job in book publishing (without the question mark). While the internet seems increasingly flooded with glamorous entrepreneurs and mysterious freelancers, I am trying to muster up some confidence as I march in the other direction—toward a lovely office with an finicky copy machine, Dunder Mifflin paper, friendly faces, and what seems remarkably like a 9-to-5 schedule.

I can think of a whole new set of questions to worry about (for example, what exactly does one do with an entire weekend?), but let’s leave those aside for now and get to work on making things happen, shall we?

XXXVII. Provence

postcards from france

A group of us out for an all-night downtown street party Aix. If you’re energetic enough to stay out late, this city reveals its international side in its student nightlife; French is mixed in with English, Spanish, Italian, Arabic, German, and various Eastern European languages. In spite of the melting pot, we American women always seem to attract the most attention---half of it based on the idea that we’re easy to sleep with, half for other reasons. In a country known for its stick-thin women, my friend Anna often stands out for her big-boned Iowan frame. Tonight, she finds herself the target of a 20-something Frenchman, spurred on by booze and his friends’ laughter as he makes slurred, belligerent remarks about the size of Anna’s shirt. She doesn’t look at him or reply and we all try to ignore it at first, continuing to talk to each other more loudly than before. But something snaps for me.

You can fuck right off, I turn and hiss at him in French. His eyes widen and he takes a stumbled step backward. My angry defense is just as much for me as for Anna. Five years of silent frustration for being treated like an idiotic piece of meat on account of a set of ovaries and a foreign accent pours out in a string of acidic, vulgar phrases that I’ve known for years but never actually said to anyone. Whether it’s the ferocity in my voice or the surprise of being talked back to, the guy stops speaking and quickly walks away.

Amidst a chorus of OOH’s from my friends, none of us so sober ourselves, the memory of writing down swear words flickers through my mind---sitting in the small kitchen in Normandy with Madeleine spelling the sentences out for me, word for word. I’m glad her teaching didn’t go to waste.

Anna Comnena: Byzantine Princess, Crusades Chronicler

historical woman

I first became acquainted with this historical woman of the day because she was one of the only sources for describing a bunch of historical men. Isn’t that the way the historical cookie always crumbles?

Anna Comnena (1080 – c. 1153) was a Byzantine princess, the daughter of Emperor Alexius Comnenus I, and an eyewitness chronicler of the First Crusade and some of its most prominent Crusaders. In fact, it was her dad that invited those European macho men out East in the first place. It goes like this:

A SUPER SHORT SUMMARY OF THE FIRST CRUSADE Seljuk Turks were expanding out of Central Asia and into what we now know as the Middle East. The Byzantine Empire (Greek Orthodox, concentrated in modern day Turkey, capital Constantinople) started getting nervous. Though loathe to request help from Western Christendom (you know, Europe), who were Catholic, and probably kind of a pain about it, Alexius Comnenus finally felt like he had no other options. “Come over here and help us out, guys,” he said to the Pope. “We’re all Christian brothers and stuff.”

Pope Urban II got excited, because as usual the Church was having a lot of problems in Europe, and having one big CAUSE tends to make problems disappear (or at least go temporarily invisible). So he made this big speech in 1095 and announced that everyone should go on Crusade to the Holy Land. Your soul would get saved, yada yada yada.

So Crusaders poured out of what is now France, and Germany, and England, and Italy, and walked/rode horses all the way to what is now Turkey, and some of them killed a lot of innocent people on the way in what were probably fits of zealotry and testosterone, and then the leaders got to Constantinople by 1097 and (mostly) pledged loyalty to Alexius. They had cool names like Godfrey and Baldwin and Bohemond. Anna provides descriptions of all of them in her chronicle.

But they really wanted to do other things besides just save the Byzantines. Like what was in it for them? So they poured into Syria and Palestine and set up Crusader castles and some of them stayed for like a hundred years or more (their progeny, of course. Though I do like to picture like the Indiana Jones guy sitting around in a fortress in the mountains crumbling to dust). Oh and they also killed more people.

The end. (Until the Second Crusade.)

---

Anyway. Anna provides the only Byzantine-eye view to this whole saga, in a chronicle she wrote of her father’s reign, the Alexiad. In this she reminds me of Dmitri Nabokov or Christopher Tolkien—forever in their father’s literary shadow, translating his old stuff, writing down reminiscences, safeguarding his estate. Celebrity fathers, ya know?

But Anna was more than just a woman who wrote about men that historians care about, though this is probably why her memory has been kept alive so long. She was also accomplished and educated, serving as a physician in a hospital her father had built for her, specializing in, apparently, gout.

She also had designs on the throne. At the age of fourteen she married Nicephorus of Bryennium, and as her father approached death, she conspired with her mother Irene to have her husband named the next emperor instead of her good-for-nothing brother John. However, she was outmaneuvered, and on his deathbed Alexius blessed John as his successor.

Later, she was busted for conspiracy to commit regicide or its twelfth-century Byzantine equivalent, and spent the rest of her life in a convent. This is where she hunkered down and wrote the Alexiad. Which ended up not being a bad use of her time.

So as a woman of the medieval Byzantine court, she was able to carve out an occupation, some expertise, a decent education (although she was forbidden from reading classical poetry because it was indecent), and even came thisclose to becoming Empress, courtesy her own ambition and wile. We don’t know a ton about her, but what we know is pretty impressive.

Though why do these stories always have to end in a convent?

shaking things up.

city flower

I'm a creature of habit. I like to set up structures for myself and work within them. I’ve never had much trouble shifting my routines when things begin to feel stale, but having at least some kind of repetition from day to day helps me to feel productive and centered.

In the mornings I walk. Sometimes my walks are long and meandering and sometimes they are quick, a way to get somewhere. After my walk, I write. I sip tea and punch out sentences and edit photographs along the way. In the afternoons, if there are errands to run for work, I do those. The precise details of my days vary, but mostly they include traces of something familiar.

Traveling to find flower blossoms in the middle of the week is not part of my usual rhythm.

Last week, on Thursday, I boarded a train to go deeper into Brooklyn. Habits are hard to break and so I rode an accidental stop in the direction of Manhattan before circling back around. I got off at Grand Army Plaza and padded down Flatbush Avenue in search of cherry blossoms. 

Inside the gates of Brooklyn Botanic Garden the trees were at their peak. Festooned in giant puffs of pink, they looked like creatures out of Jim Henson’s studio. I half expected them to break into song.

Below them, whole packs of tiny humans were shaking up their daily routine. 

Teachers and chaperones made attempts at order.

“Line up; you're still in school, you know.”

But under the cherry blossoms on a mid-week morning at the end of April, there's no such thing as the regular routine.

"It smells like heaven here, " said one little girl. And of course I believed her.

Don't Forget Jerusalem

word traveler

Five days in Israel don’t seem a long time, and indeed they are not. Nonetheless, Israel State is quite small (barely bigger than New Jersey), so you don’t need weeks to visit the most important sites. The only essentials are a car (a GPS is unnecessary, directions are clear and easy so a good map will do) and lots of curiosity. As I prepared to come back to Milan, I started thinking about the best things I saw (or felt, or tasted), and I realized that when there’s too much on the table, it’s best to make a list to avoid forgetting. And this is definitely a trip I don’t want to forget anything about. So, not necessarily in order of importance, here’s my list.

1. Coexistence of many religions. As a Catholic, what I felt wasn’t only the spirit of my own religion; it was a universal feeling, of acceptance, of struggle and hope. More than a pilgrimage to the roots of Catholicism, I thought I was learning a very important lesson about many ancient faiths.

 

2. Oranges and lemons. Juices are not cheap (life isn’t cheap in general, mostly as costly as in Italy, or at least this was my impression), but for the equivalent of $4/$5 you can get the most flavorful juice. I found it very helpful after a long day wandering in heat, or even for breakfast. It gave me the energy and the salts I needed.
3. Feeling that you are part of something historic and important. It’s not easy for foreigners to understand what living in Jerusalem means, and what being a part of those religions’ history is. Struggle, triumph, being a victim or a victor. Longing for peace and compromise for it. Places that belong to everyone and are equally important to everyone.
4. Old city shopping. How good it feels to just wander around inside the Old City walls. After the first day there, I was happy–I was actually able to find the same places again, and it felt like a victory! From Muslim to Christian to Jewish symbols, the challenge consists of getting past the more touristy places and looking for the hidden corners. So, instead of buying any memento along the Via Dolorosa, with its countless souvenir shops, I bought candles and rosary beads in the ancient site where Jesus was kept imprisoned, a cave below the ground level where taking pictures is forbidden, and at least I felt that I was contributing a little to the site’s maintenance.
5. Real hummus. How delicious! Abu Shukri restaurant was suggested on the guide (I rely on Fodor’s, the best!) as the place where they make the best hummus in town, and it definitely was. It’s in the heart of the Old City, and while it lacks in decor, it has a local clientele that confirms its superior quality. I got hummus with pine nut, and Husband opted for hummus with . . . hummus (chickpeas).
6. Friday night walk. On Friday nights, the city is full of life. We walked to the Western Wall, and this is what we found. Families gathered in prayers and children chanting all together.
7. The parades of monks, nuns and other religious types in their various robes and hoods.
8. The zest for life. Jerusalem is not only what you see inside the walls of the Old City; outside the walls it’s a very young and vibrant place, full of life, restaurants and shops. As far as I could see, the best time to enjoy the pulse of life is on Thursday nights. Listening to live music and watching dances on the street while eating shawarma (a mix of meats wrapped in pita bread, so yummy) was relaxing and fun. On Fridays nights instead, everything is closed, as the population gets ready for Shabbat, the day of rest. So don’t expect to find anything opened on Saturday morning. The only place we found for breakfast was a service area on the highway, on our way to Nazareth, and it was packed!
 
 

This isn’t a comprehensive list, of course. It’s inadequate, incomplete. And it’s only about Jerusalem. All of the other places we saw (Bethlehem, Nazareth, Tiberias, Haifa) deserve their own lists. I am looking forward to another trip there, I feel like there’s so much more to learn.

A New Perspective

mind the gap

Once, I called my Dad from New York.  It was the middle of December, and I’d been living in the city for three months. “Dad,” I said.  “I woke up this morning feeling so bummed, and I don’t know why.”

“Mmm,” he said.  “SAD.”

“I know.” I nodded into the phone, and stuck my lower lip out further, as if he could see it.  “It is sad.  And I felt stupid cuz it was for no reason, but I thought I could call you because you’re my dad, so you have to care.”

“Well,” my dad said.  “That’s debatable, but I was talking about SAD.  Seasonal Affective Disorder.”

It was my first winter outside of California or Arizona; that is, it was my first winter.  I spent awhile half listening to my father explain Seasonal Affective Disorder, and then awhile Googling it.  Like most ailments I look up online, I had most of the symptoms:  oversleeping?  I never woke up before my alarm.  Social withdrawal?  Who in their right mind would brave the gusting wind and snow to meet up with friends?  Weight gain? Well, wasn’t that just my body’s way of trying to stay warm for winter?

Because it made me feel better to say that I had something, I bought a blue light lamp that sat on my desk.  Supposedly, this was supposed to mimic sun, making my poor, confused brain think I wasn’t spending much of my year in a climate mostly uninhabitable to humans, breathing in the breath of a thousand coworkers, only going outside during the pitch dark mornings and evenings during my commute.  Did my brain think I was on a sunny beach in the Caribbean?  I’m not sure.  Did having the bright blue light shining in my eyes make me feel like I was doing something to help myself?  Let’s go with yes, although not enough for me to forget it at the office when, that summer, I left the company.

Fast forward to the next winter.  This time, I was in London, at a latitude---God forbid---even further north than New York.  In London, I’d peek out my window and find that night had fallen at 3 pm.  In London, the snow was pretty the first day and freezing and slippery for the following forty-eight.  When people asked me if I was enjoying London, I would tell them that the grey cloud layer that lay over the city like a reverse blanket was making it awfully hard to go out and explore. I’m sure I’d like London, I’d say, if I felt like I could see it.

Within the past few weeks, though, something magical has happened.  Tentatively, the sun began showing its face, finally casting away the clouds to blatantly, brightly hog the bright blue sky.  People began spilling out of their houses to fill park benches; pubs began dragging heavy wooden tables onto sidewalks and streets and roofs and alleyways---anywhere, really, which qualifies as outside.  I went to the grocery store the other day and found it closed when I arrived.  “Sorry,” the manager mouthed, pointing to the sign he’d just hung in the window.  “We close at eight.”  Eight?  I looked at the time on my phone, then up at the perfectly sunny day, then down at my phone again.  Even the sun loves London in the summer, it seems; it refuses to pack it in and call it a night.

A new London began to emerge, and with it, a new me.  I was suddenly energized in the morning.  I was eager to strap on my shoes and wander down canals, discovering the new parks that pop up in every corner of this city.  I sat at outdoor cafes and laughed as my hair became dusted with a snow shower of falling flowers from a nearby cherry tree.  I watched the sun set from the top of Primrose hill, and looked past the green grass to the shining city below me, lit amber as the sun slid beyond the horizon at near nine at night, and I thought: so this is London.

SAD?  I don’t know about that.  But suddenly, I’m finding it much easier to be happy.

Memories of Bangladesh

On April 24th a building housing shops, a bank, and garment factories collapsed in Savar outside of Dhaka.  As of the first week of May, the death toll has risen to 650.  This first week of May has also seen a resurgence in political and religious unrest as reports indicate that 20 people were killed as part of protests.  My heart aches for this place that sits so close to my heart.  I’m still trying to find the words to express what I think and feel about the tragedy and developing situations.  In the meantime, I’ve been reading through my old journals and archives, re-reading and remembering moments of my life in Dhaka.  Below are some snippets. I hope they add to the picture, add to the face of a nation that’s struggling. The more I learned about Bangladesh, the more interested I become.  This is a young country, partitioned from England in 1947 and independent from Pakistan in 1971.  The events of the 1970s (war, natural disasters, famine) seriously depleted the population.  Corruption and poverty are crippling the nation, but there is a pride and a backbone to Bangladesh that shines through.   I lived in Dhaka, one of the loudest, most crowded, most polluted cities in the world.  People are flocking to the capitol looking for work and an income to send home to their families.  Around every corner, there seems to be a new story.  The rest of Bangladesh is sprawling flood plains, beautiful rice fields, and little corners where time seems to have stood still.  From Dhaka, it only takes a few hours and you can find yourself exploring Buddhist Vihara from the seventh century, indulging in a cup of tea at a tea plantation, or walking along the world’s longest continuous beach.

Everywhere I look in Dhaka, street vendors are selling their wares.  In the morning I pass the first:  The cucumber man.  He is in his thirties I guess and sets his rickety table up by the bus stop.  In the afternoon the line for the bus will wind down the block and I imagine he will do a brisk business with those waiting.  His table is full of cucumbers.  Half peeled, half not.  I’ve been tempted by the vendor, but I’ve seen the flies landing on the peeled vegetables and turned away, I’m terrified of the so called ‘Dhaka Belly’ and will do anything to avoid its curse.  At first I thought the veggies were just sold as they were:  plain crisp cucumbers that the customer could just bite into.  But as I paid more attention, I noticed the process.  A customer comes over and makes their request.  The vendor then starts shaving an already peeled vegetable, placing the thin pieces into a small bowl.  Next he adds spicy mustard which he keeps in a water bottle.  The two are mixed together and then scooped into a cone made of newspaper and handed to the customer.

In the afternoon the Cucumber Vendor is joined by a man selling roasted nuts.  The new vendor sets up his small table across the street, near a small kiosk selling cigarettes (by the pack or individually) and phone cards.  The small table is covered with six bowls; five hold various types of nuts the sixth popcorn.  In the evening another addition appears on the cart: a small butane flame used to freshly roast nuts or pop more popcorn.  The smell reminds me of Christmas in the states ‘Chestnuts roasting on an open fire.’

 

 

Finding My Story Again

finding my story

By Shelley Abreu Last year, as my daughter’s official recovery period from a bone marrow transplant drew to a close, I stopped writing. I didn’t realize it at the time, but my creative withdrawal happened during the same month she stopped all of her medication.

For the previous two years, we followed a treatment protocol designed to cure her of cancer. This medical plan of attack was my armor. Even when things went wrong there was always a back-up plan. In fact, when the worst happened and her cancer relapsed during treatment, the doctors simply drafted a new protocol. Of course, it wasn’t really simple. She would need a risky stem cell transplant. It was done with a lot of deliberation, care and thought. But I felt like a warrior. No matter what the test, I had marching orders.

Whenever I felt like I was slipping into a worm hole of grief, I merely had to focus on what was next---what action would move us one step closer to her cure. I knew it was dangerous. Her protocol didn’t guarantee us anything. Still, I felt protected by the task of executing each phase of her plan. There was always something on the horizon to focus on. And with my writing, there was always something positive to report. Yes, I could write about my fear and worries, but there was always tangible hope.

This past October, after ten months of post-transplant isolation, my daughter took her last dose of cancer related medicine. It was a day of celebration. I hung a banner, and we made a special dinner. I felt elated.

Then there was nothing left to do. Suddenly, the worm hole widened its mouth---jaw chomping like a wild beast. What now, it taunted?

When I sat to write, I found myself reflecting on the past or contemplating the future. But I couldn’t bear either. I was done reliving everything we had endured. And the future carried the burden of “what-if.” All we could do was wait and see and pray that the cancer didn’t return. The battle part of the story was over. And all our friends and family were declaring victory.

“You must feel so happy,” or “you must be so relieved it’s over,” people would say. It felt like they wanted me to write the final chapter. Of course, I felt those things in part. But I’m not ready to wave the flag. I keep asking myself when will that happen? When will I feel like we’ve won? Cancer will snarl at me for the rest of my life. Sometimes I feel like I’m crouching behind a rock in a flat open field waiting for the enemy to return.

What was the point of writing anymore? Why did the story still matter if I couldn’t sum it up with positive inspiration? How many ways could I write about the endless tunnel of fear that loomed around each corner of my mind. I guess the act of not writing was my new protection, my new armor, my way of not facing the unknown.

The next few months, I began to feel depressed. Disconnected from life. Strangely, even though my daughter was doing better than ever, I felt half alive. I see now by denying by fear, and my story, I was holing up in my own emotional bunker.

Last month, our family took a spur of the moment trip to the Caribbean. It was our first vacation that required a plane ride in three years. The night before our departure, I nervously threw flip-flops and bathing suits into our luggage. I was excited but also scared. It felt perilous. We had spent the last year living safely in our home, tucked away from people and their potentially life-threatening germs. Now we were free.

When we made it to our destination, I watched my kids splash around in the pool, my daughter full of life and energy. I felt the worm hole contracting just a little bit. The warm wind hushed the snarling sound in my mind. I realized it wasn’t time to just wait and see. It was time to start living again.

When we returned home, and the kids were back in school, I opened my laptop and started to write. Why? Because I realize my story does matter.

I might not always have a happy feel-good chapter to write. But who does, really? Life isn’t about outcomes. It’s about the experience of it: the beautiful, the absurd, and the horrific. Stories teach us about living, and therefore the act of writing does too. Writing helps us shed our protective armor. It makes us vulnerable. And it leads us back to ourselves---when we are lost, we find in our words the story that connects us to the fullness of our life.

Recalibrating

I am completely fascinated by the relationships I’ve witnessed between drivers and their GPS systems. I used to assume that a GPS was simply a disembodied robo-voice that warns you when it’s time to make a turn. Apparently for some, however, a GPS is more like a bossy friend—someone you talk to, argue with, and refer to by name in casual conversation. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve interrupted a discussion to ask, “Who’s Karen?” only to have everyone present refer me to the contraption on the dashboard. Go figure. In case you haven’t guessed, I am a relatively new driver and do not yet own one of these curious devices, so my methods for finding my way from Point A to Point B tend to be rather unconventional. For instance, it would not be out of the ordinary for me to call up my sister in Pennsylvania and ask her where I am as I repeatedly circle the same block somewhere in metro Atlanta. Although I’m sure you might consider this method to be entirely ineffective, it happens to be very calming. After a few minutes on the phone with a familiar voice, I have regained my hope and confidence and am much better equipped to face the task of figuring out where I am in relation to where I want to be. It works (almost) every time.

Earlier this week, I had to make a drive of about fifty miles to a place I’d never been. I was determined to complete this journey without A) phoning a friend, or B) taking ten hours to do it. I decided to bolster my chances of success by setting up two foolproof navigational systems.

By this, I mean that I taped a series of Post-It notes to the dashboard with instructions for both legs of the journey. I also set up the Google Maps app on my phone with its rather unpredictable voice guidance. I am proud to say that I made it to my destination without a hitch. The return trip, however, was another story altogether.

Only a few minutes in, I noticed my surroundings had nothing to do with anything on any of my Post-It notes. As soon as I realized I was lost, I silenced the Beyoncé album that had been keeping me company and pulled into a deserted church parking lot. I took a few deep breaths and considered my options. I could try to retrace my path and start over, in hopes of getting back on track with my notes. Or, I could start from where I was already and try to find a different route altogether.

Before I knew it, an ironic voice with an Australian accent popped into my head and sighed, “Recalibrating...”

I chose the latter option, and in the end, discovered a simpler route home than I’d originally planned.

When I finished graduate school and moved here nearly a year ago, I kept wishing I had a compass for my life. If only I knew which direction I was headed, I thought, it would be much easier to plan my course. Lately, though, I’ve been wishing more for a work/life GPS (and a real one too, for that matter). Rather than a fixed point on the horizon that I’m working toward, I wish for a guiding voice to argue with about my journey, a system that recalibrates for wrong turns, and even the option to change my destination altogether.

It seems, as I discovered on my recent journey, that my internal GPS is already built in, complete with a colorful Australian accent. All I have to do is turn down the radio, from time to time, and listen.

XXXV. Provence

postcards from france

Bridget’s host family has one of those beautiful provençal country houses that you see on the covers of Peter Mayle books. From Agnès’ apartment, it's a 45-minute uphill walk to get to it, which is one of the reasons I love to visit. On the way I pass Cézanne’s old painting studio, and once I crest the final hill, I am rewarded with a view of the Mont Sainte-Victoire over the olive groves. It’s not something I see every day.

Élodie, Bridget’s host mother, is stick-thin, blond, and tan. She knows that Agnès and I don't get along, so she frequently invites me over to their house for Sunday lunches. She smokes constantly, comme un pompier. Like a firefighter. My memories of Élodie are of sweet smoke wafting out of the kitchen, her whisking away at something that she probably won’t each much of, an apron tied tightly around her small waist.

Every time I arrive at their house, out of breath and slightly sweaty but beaming, Élodie and Isabelle, her equally blond and beautiful daughter, seem just as baffled as the last time I walked through the front door. You walked all the way here? Uphill? We can come pick you up!

No, thank you, I say, feeling like I’m repeating my lines in a scene. I’d rather walk. I like being outside. They shake their heads and laugh at how American I am.

Before lunch starts, Isabelle sneaks away to smoke cigarettes out of Élodie’s sight. She is only 15 years old and thin like her mother, but obsessed with losing kilos. The Sainte-Victoire winks at her where she is hiding behind the chimney, but she pays it no attention. Flicking ash onto the rosemary bushes growing around her, Isabelle checks her phone, stubs out her cigarette, and heads back inside to push food around her plate. 

Do My Friends Even Like Me?

Asking For It with Sibyl

Dear Sibyl,

I seem to have a penchant for attracting friends who are very ambivalent about me.  Or friendship.  I am not sure, but they are so difficult to be friends with, because they pursue me mightily, but then reschedule our date several times, and say any number of passive aggressive things to me when we finally do get together.  

In between hangouts, I get a lot of "I miss you so much, I really want to invest in our friendship more, you are so amazing" from them.  It's really confusing, and if this were a love relationship, I would obviously just break up with them.  Since it is a friendship, I am so uncomfortable telling them the truth—which is that they are sending me wildly mixed messages and at this point the friendship is not worth all the work it requires.  How do I deal with this friendly mind-fuck?

With Thanks,

Baffled Buddy

 

Dear BB,

Ambivalence is one of the hardest emotions to hold for another person.  When folks are straight up angry, sad, or in love, even when it's difficult to relate, you can just let them express themselves and move on.  But ambivalence, especially when it is directed at you, leaves a confusing sheen on every interaction, which can linger throughout a relationship.  It is easier when the person knows they are ambivalent, but awareness is rare.  Instead, you get something akin to manipulation, as the person is trying to get you to help them sort through their ambivalence with your reaction.

My advice is to get out of there.  Since it sounds like many of your friends are acting this way, that may leave you a little lonely, but being alone is better than being beset by conflicting emotions that belong to other people.  And here's the thing about ambivalence—whoever is feeling it absolutely has to work it out on their own.  No one can take them by the hand and solve their problem.  So it's best to just leave them to it.

You also seem to be wondering, "Why does this keep happening to me?"  Well, consider the fact that you could be a polarizing person, someone who provokes strong reactions in people.  If that is the case, if you are a bold figure who people either love or love to hate, then folks with ambivalence issues are naturally drawn to you, because they intuit you will help them work through their conflicting feelings just by being yourself.  In fact, by confronting them, drawing their consciousness to their own ambivalence, you would be affixing a target right to your chest for all of their wavering arrows.

Don't fall for it.  Not only is it pretty much impossible for you to solve this problem for them, but your self-worth could get all tied up in confusing relationships.  So, put up kind but firm boundaries with these friends, and don't let flattery sway you.  If they are colleagues, simply see them at work, and enjoy the time you have with them there, but politely rebuff their invitations.  Tell them you are busy, and it is true—you are busy being fabulous, trying to attract new friendships, ones in which you can truly be yourself, rather than some kind of magnet they can attach to or repel themselves from.

Love,

Sibyl

Submit your own quandary to Sibyl here.

Meet the Local: Lisbon, Portugal

mind the gap

Meet the Local is a series designed to uncover the differences (and similarities) in how we think and live in different parts of the world.  Over the upcoming months, I’ll ask locals from places all over the world the same set of getting-to-know-you questions.  This week, we meet Jose, a former teacher who is making a new living in tourism after being laid off during the economic crisis.  

Meet the Local Jose Guerreiro

What do you like about the place you live?

I don’t really know how to explain…I just feel like it’s here, where I belong.  I lived in Spain for a few months, I lived in Romania for a few months, but I always feel the need to come back home.  I feel I have my family here, and I have everything here.  I really feel at home here.

What don’t you like so much?

The politicians.  Because they do all of this to our country.  The economic situation of Portugal, I think it’s their fault.  Because we work, we do all of the things we have to do, and they ruin everything.  I think this is very common in Europe, the politics are each time less credible, so the people don’t really trust anymore in politicians.  In Portugal, 40% of people don’t vote.  So the people who do vote don’t really represent anything, and the politicians can do whatever they want, because the people don’t care.

What do you normally eat for breakfast?

Three slices of bread with butter and chorizo.  Coffee with milk.

What do you do for a living?  How important is your job to your sense of self?

I was a teacher, teaching sports.  I really like to work with children.  It was nice, I was doing something different than other people, because I used to work in summer camps too so I was taking the way of teaching in summer camps inside the school.  So I was not teaching sports, I was teaching games, and I was trying to teach values with those games.  First I would read the story, then I would do a game, and then I would relate the game with the story and real life.  I went to a small village to teach, but I was not from there, so when the crisis started, the people who don’t have friends are the first to leave.  So they asked me to leave.  Now, I do tourism, I run a walking tour company.  I really like it, because I can stay in Lisbon where I like to live.  I meet a lot of people, so even though my friends are leaving to get jobs in other countries, I can make new friends.  Of course, it’s not the same thing, but it’s okay.

What do you do for fun?

I go out at night, I go to the cinema.  I like to climb, but I don’t climb anymore, since I started the tours.  Because most of my friends that climb, they do normal jobs so we don’t have the same schedule.  I also like to run with my father, my father and I run together.  And travel.

How often do you see your family?  Tell me what you did the last time you saw them.

I live with my father.  I see my mother one or two times a week, just to talk with her.  I see my sister when I see my mother – they don’t live together, but she’s always there.  My grandmother also lives with us.

What’s your biggest dream for your life?

Right now, I don’t have many dreams.  I just want to make sure the situation doesn’t get worse, or at least the tours keep running as they are now so I can at least have a stable life.  Some of my friends, they are really bad in their lives.  They were married and have children but are living back at home with their parents, or they have moved to other countries and don’t really like their jobs or the conditions that they live in and I don’t want that to happen to me.   So I don’t have a dream, I just don’t want to have a nightmare. But if I had a dream, I would want a small house with a small garden where I could sit in the plants.

If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be?  Why?

Here.  When I was younger I always wanted a house with wheels---a mobile home---so I could travel, but I think if I had that now, I would always come here.

What are you most proud of?

Now, it’s the tours.  When I came on and my friend was running them, they were almost dead.  Nobody would trust them---if you asked someone about our tours, people would say, “don’t go!  It’s terrible!”  And now we’re the sixth most popular thing to do in Lisbon on TripAdvisor, and I’m really proud of that.

How happy would you say you are?  Why?

From 0 – 10, I would be a 6.  I think everything is going well in my life, but I would like to have more friends, and a girlfriend.  My friends left---but the girlfriend, well, I’m a bit shy.

Check out previous answers from a local in Sarajevo, and a local in London.  Want to participate in Meet the Local or know someone who does?  Email liz@thingsthatmakeus.com for more details.