Plane Chat: So Long (for now) San Diego, Books, and Miscellany

life: examined is an invitation to get curious, a compendium of ideas, thoughts, and questions about living a creative, intentional life. Thank you for your support.

Hello, friend!

I'm writing to you from high above the turbulent clouds on an Alaska Airlines 737 headed for Boston Logan International airport. If you've been following along, you'll know I was in San Diego spending time with my mom and brother. 

The trip and reunion were a success. We had a good time in one another's company, took lots of naps, ate good food, sipped coffee outside while the birds serenaded us, and did little in the way of touristy things. 

The most touristy thing we did was to enjoy lunch at The Prado in Balboa Park, a restaurant my mom and I have frequented over the years.

After lunch, we went to the Mingei International Museum to see their multi-million dollar renovation and the folk art contained within. The Mingei did a superb job creating a spacious exhibition space, and they now have an indoor cafe and art library. 

One thing is certain—I miss Balboa Park. It’s always been the green-space siren luring me back to San Diego from wherever I was living. 

Next up on the sort-of tourist trail: the beach!

My brother, an avid surfer for 40 years, planned the best beach day.

The water was cold and clear, the breeze was mild, and the autumn sun radiated a certain warmth that’s typical this time of year in Southern California.

It was fun to meet my brother's friends—some with whom he's surfed for decades—people who respect and love him. In the water, he is truly in his element.

As the pilot guides this metal tube filled with humans over Wichita, I'm reflecting on the trip and whether it has re-shaped my views of San Diego and the U.S.

As I mentioned, the last time I visited San Diego was nearly two years ago. COVID, in case you've forgotten, put the kibosh on my travel plans (and yours, too, I’m sure).

My intention was to return once or twice a year to visit friends and family and take care of things like client meetings, banking, and sherpa-ing my remaining collection of books, whose absence I've felt each day, to Portugal.

An aside: I used to have an impressive gaggle of books. Mostly nonfiction, some esoteric, and many that taught me new or deeper skills in the areas of Permaculture, teaching yoga, writing poetry, and more. When I left San Diego in October 2018, I jettisoned nearly 90% of my books. I knew I'd have little opportunity for storage, so I made the tough decision to say goodbye to these friends.

Do I regret getting rid of so many books? I do, in a small way, but the purpose for doing so was worth it (living in Portugal).

Moving Light

When I moved to Portugal, I brought three jam-packed suitcases, a backpack, Milo, and my friend, Sophia, to help me manage it all.

Now, with just a few remaining bins of books, some camping gear, and random bits and bobs, I aim to bring a few volumes back to Portugal each time I visit San Diego.

Newsflash: books are heavy!

This time, I packed a dozen or so titles distributed between two bags, including my first edition of Tracks by Louise Erdrich and a Spanish language edition of Frankenstein with illustrations by my friend Gerardo/Acamonchi

Sadly, I had two rare first editions of some super geeky popular-with-the-Permaculture-crowd books: the late Japanese farmer and philosopher Masanobu Fukuoka's One-Straw Revolution and The Natural Way of Farming. Who would have guessed I was into this sort of thing? 

Unpacking my suitcases will be like opening presents as I don't remember exactly what I'm taking home. 

Back to the reflecting: I had such a good time with my family that it added a pleasant glow to my feelings about San Diego. For the record, I don't hate S.D., but I've had an on-again, off-again relationship with America's Finest City. 

This time, upon leaving San Diego, I felt calm and content with a tinge of bitter-sweetness around the edges, just as I hoped I would. 

Although I saw just three friends during these two weeks, that was enough. Of course, I'd like to connect with others next time, the way this visit unfolded was ideal.

I had the time and space to be with my family, a situation that felt restorative for all of us. Now, I can imagine a next visit that won't be cloaked in anxiety—a fog that descends when I think about returning to the U.S. 

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Masks & Rugged Individualism

Suppose you know something about U.S. history, and I'm sure you do because you're smart and curious (you’re a life examiner, after all).

If so, you'll know that manifest destiny and rugged individualism are cornerstones of American politics and spirit. These traits stand in sharp relief to the cooperative collectivist attitude I witness and embrace in Portugal (and other European countries). 

Although the pandemic is still in full swing, you'd barely know it with all the mask-slackers and general lack of consideration, like keeping distance between humans, in the States.

I was in line for coffee and could feel a creepy dude's breath on my neck as he stood behind me. That's too damn close—pandemic or no. Fortunately, this is not my experience in Portugal. 

Portugal has had tighter restrictions since COVID began. 

We've been wearing masks indoors all along. It's not an issue of personal freedom, it's a best practice for everyone. 

Humans are interdependent; how we care for others (including animals) is indicative of the strength and health of our communities.

The Portuguese intimately know violations of human rights and freedoms and don’t conflate mask-wearing with those violations.

Many people are still alive who suffered through the brutal 40-year dictatorship of Salazar’s Estado Novo regime that ended in 1974. Americans alive today have not experienced revolution, so there’s a misunderstanding of community responsibility versus individual liberty.

There was a display of entitlement most everywhere I went during my time in California (I can only imagine, then, how it is in other states). There's hostility, a simmering rage that seems to bubble under the surface. No, not with everyone, of course, but it's noticeable after being away from it for two years. 

And apparently, science is harder to understand in the U.S., because wow, the wacky theories…

But I digress, as always. 

What Happened?

I'm not sure exactly what happened, besides politics, COVID, celebrity culture, obsession with youth and material acquisition, and oh-so-many other things, to make me terrified of the States. I'm horror-stricken as I observe the effects of divisiveness, tribalism, and late-stage capitalism on people’s lives and how it's all playing out in a Rome is falling sort of way. But that's just me—I'm funny like that. 

I worry about the people I love who are in the States. The people who will likely remain in the U.S., like the frog in boiling water that doesn't notice the heat as it gradually increases. But, there's nothing I can do about that. I can offer my support and help, especially if someone wants to move to Portugal, but I can't coerce anyone into getting out as much as I'd like to do just that.

And yes, I acknowledge that lots of people don't want to live anywhere else. But, of the several I do know who say they want to live elsewhere, Europe, or wherever, I don't see much or any movement in that direction.

It seems the fear of change and the unknown is scarier than being boiled alive.

Nota bene: My reflections about the U.S. are just that—my reflections. I know there's good and bad everywhere and Portugal isn’t perfect. Also, I know a bit of physical distance affords a perspective that even the most observant resident of a place cannot have.

More competent commentators than me have articulately explained why America’s brand of democracy is in peril (using Star Wars to illustrate). Still, most people won't be bothered about it until it's too late (oh, hello, climate catastrophe!). 

If you love living in the States, that's great; it's probably a better fit for you and your values than it was for me, but it doesn’t change how I feel about you :)

Community, quality of life, low(er) cost of living, a calm environment, and universal health care are on the list of values that inspired my move. 

What's on your list? Do you want to live somewhere else, or are you content where you are? If elsewhere, where would you go?


Favorite Facebook Portuguese to English Auto-Translation of the Week:

Man was not born to work, man was born to raise. To that poet on the loose.

What the heck? :)

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Until next time—be well, stay curious, and thanks for reading & subscribing to life: examined