Monday, October 29, 2018

One Foot In Front of the Other: A Meditation

Today I went for my Sunday long run. It was definitely a "one foot in front of the other" kind of run. I felt tired and cranky. I ran my first five miles quite quickly - without even realizing it. A 10:31 mile isn't fast for many of you, but for me it's an achievement. The second 5.4 miles I ran with my running buddy, then she left and I ran home. My legs felt leaden, my heart was heavy. I passed five youths in the park, sprinted across the muddy parking lot, and felt so happy to be in Montreal where there wasn't a real threat from those young men.

I've been dedicating all my miles for Mollie Tibbets (#MilesforMollie) who was killed while out for a run during the summer, and whose body was found on my 62nd birthday. She was so young she could actually be my granddaughter, if I'd had a child at 20 who had a child at 22. Funny how I tend to do calculations like that at around mile ten.

Running can be a meditation. Along with considering how cold your buttocks are, how pretty the leaves look, the unevenness of the sidewalk, the pedestrians in your way, you also have time to really think about things. My phone died after the first five miles so when I split with my buddy I ran in silence. There was a lot to think about today: I am organizing a fun new moon get-together for November 7; I thought about the tragic killings that happened on Saturday in Pittsburgh; of course I gave my five children some running time. I wrote a couple of sentences, made a couple of lists. I did some head-to-toe form recons. My left foot has the tendency to flip outwards and I have to consciously correct it: here's a great article on running form.

About three miles from home the weariness set in. My thighs felt like lead. So unusual for me: I often feel better and better the longer I run. I have been taking on too many problems and worries that are really not my own. I had an episode (no, three, actually - funny how life demands that you respond to the issue at hand) concerning boundaries and where I delineate them. And that nagging feeling that, yes, my alt-right Facebook friends were right: we should just all carry guns. I've personally only even seen a real gun up close once. Not counting the sub-machines guns the carabinieri carry threateningly in Italy. And I would describe myself as a pacifist. But would I, if I had been carrying a little pistol to protect myself while running (theoretically), would I have aimed and tried to kill that guy who was mowing down innocent old people who were praying?

I don't know. I've killed chickens, ducks, geese and three turkeys after all. I've witnessed many births, I've watched humans die. But, as I mentioned, I am Canadian, and we aren't in the habit of taking the law into our own hands. Maybe I would have tried to disarm him somehow? It's a moot point anyhow. The scary fact is that those people were killed because they were Jews. No other reason. 

So that nasty little fact was also roiling around in my head during my run. The weather didn't help either: temperatures hovering around freezing; freezing rain and some wet snow. Anyway, I finished my run, got home - a little wet, cold, and a little sore - and stepped right into a warm home full of friendly, generous people.

In the end, all I can do is count my blessings. One after the other. One blessing, one foot in front of the other.
Spread love.

Friday, October 26, 2018

The End of Midwifery

A Heavy Heart

My heart is heavy. Guess what guys? The Man won! It's the end of midwifery! Ok, probably not really. There's always movement and change. I guess the brave families who decide to birth at home on their own will engender the new wave of fearless midwives. I hate it when polemics are forced upon you though.

Ok, I will stop speaking in tongues and get to the point.

I can't believe it's been two years since the crackdown. Actually ... yes, two years. In October, 2016, in two Canadian provinces, three women were charged with "practising midwifery without a licence". Also, just under two years that independent midwives in the UK (fully trained and registered as midwives but choosing not to work through the National Health Service) were forced out of work with a legislation that passed in January, 2017 that meant that they needed to find private indemnity insurance in order to take on clients. And in Hungary, professional midwife Agnes Gereb was sentenced to two years in prison for practising midwifery.

Satanic Brain Surgeons?

What does all this mean? Is it similar to a satanic team of brain surgeons who trained at woodworking school and decided to give everyone down-home lobotomies?

Nope. It's a question of what happens with regulations and legislations. It engenders all sorts of divisive tactics and means that the powers that be, i.e. the legislators, have to keep things steady by creating divisions between people.

It was the midwives' associations that took unregistered midwives to court. That same organization was born during the slow process to legalization of midwifery, back when all Canadian midwives were working "illegally": the work itself was deemed illegal. So how could those women have retained their memories of their own actions and still thought it appropriate to condemn others doing the same?

How did The Man win?

Well, it was actually we who lost. We've created an illusory community based on love, trust, love and peace and all that stuff. We talk about safety, honor, respect, inclusivity, but in the end it all disappears in a puff of smoke when push comes to shove. Which it does.

I've travelled the world; created vibrant and useful volunteer organizations (Montreal Birth Companions and WWOOFItalia), and left them; I've been an organic farmer, a midwife, a doula, a teacher. I left that work and now I own and run a small cafe. I'm hiding from the world, I've created a space where at any given time I have a couple of breastfeeding mums sitting n the couch chatting; a lineup of working people getting their lunch; a few retired couples or groups of friends; the constant stream of coffee drinkers working on their laptops. I serve wholesome home made food. I've withdrawn from the birth world, and from the volunteer world, with all of the broken trust and betrayals that both those worlds offer.

What do you mean, betrayals?

I witnessed two NGOs fighting over turf: refugees caught in the middle. Warehouses full of clothing, diapers, and other donated items laying abandoned as not-for-profit enterprises argued over who was to deliver which items where. What levels of insanity are at work here? I was sneaking baby clothes and diapers from the basement of an NGO to take them to a woman in need who wasn't registered with them.

Two volunteer doulas were sexually intimidated, one of them physically, while they were attending the birth of an asylum seeker. Her bible-toting "friend" assaulted one in an elevator and made crude remarks throughout the labor. The response of the aid organization to the complaint? "It's their culture: it's our job to tolerate and teach." What levels of insanity are at work here? Racism: the Nigerian men are all rapists? Sexism: the women's job is to submit and teach by example? Classism: y'all are just volunteers; we are salaried midwives/bureaucrats and our word counts.

I witnessed a 60 year old midwife who was a fully trained professional break down in tears when she read that her government would no longer allow her to practice midwifery. What levels of insanity? Insurance schemes, corporate health care, pitting woman against woman. The end of midwifery.

And on a teensy but frightening personal level, I witnessed a disgruntled doula wreak havoc online by accusing his elders and publicly shaming them.

Culture in Full Decline

We in the affluent world are witnessing a culture in full decline. There are many signs; just look around you. We live in a culture based on fear and suspicion, when there is really very little to fear. The culture abounds with cheap goods made in sweat shops staffed with children who should be in school. The biggest problem of our age is the refugee crisis; xenophobic leaders are being voted in all over the western world because the left has made a caricature of itself. We can buy pot in little plastic child-proof containers; midwifery is tightly regulated; everyone is afraid of each other with no reason; language has been turned inside out. The end of midwifery.

This is where beauty lies.

Real midwives take risks. Real midwives love each other. Real midwives support women. Real midwives can take no for an answer. Real midwives are tolerant. Real midwives know when their skills are not enough. Real midwives are afraid sometimes, but they don't allow their fear to guide them.

For some real midwifery, have a look here, or here. Write to me if you want to know more.
Sending out love on this gibbous moon waning.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Albino Lizards, White Girls and Texas Midwifery

Eight years ago, I decided to go and volunteer in a maternity clinic in El Paso, Texas, right across the Rio Grande from Juarez, Mexico.


In 2010, Juarez was no longer the colorful tourist attraction it used to be. Years before then, it was a place people could go for a good time: fun-loving, slightly exotic people, cheap trinkets and good beer. But ten years ago, Juarez was one of the most dangerous places in the world. Drug cartels and common bandits took the law into their own hands and  declared war on almost everyone. Violent crime was booming: murder, disappearances, and shooting sprees were common. A group of young people were shot and killed while watching a soccer game at a birthday party. No wonder Mexican women were coming across the border to have their babies in the relative peace of a maternity clinic in El Paso, Texas.

Midwives for Mexicans

It was a win-win deal: the babies got U.S. citizenship, affluent do-gooders like myself could gain experience, the mother got good midwifery care for a rock-bottom price, and the Texas gun laws, though lurid in the eyes of most Canadians, meant that the chance of getting shot in a gangland drive-by are lower than across the border. One woman had to decide whether to come across for her baby’s postpartum visit or to go to her husband’s funeral. He was shot the day she came up to have her baby. She decided to come for the postpartum. She said her husband had been an innocent bystander, but who knows. The original reason for the violence may have been drugs, but no one knows why the killing happened.

Getting There

My flight from Montreal to El Paso went through Chicago O’Hare, a bland, sprawling, badly laid-out airport. O’Hare was clean and bustling early in the morning. I especially liked the automatic saran-wrap toilet seat covers. Lo-fat triple choco smoothies were on sale at the breakfast counter. On the small propeller plane, the cowboy with a handlebar moustache got a seat next to a tourist lady, who politely engaged him in conversation. There was so much wax on his moustache you could have lit it on fire and it would have burned like a five-hour candle.

From my window on the plane I saw the city sitting at the edge of a straggly desert, surrounded by mountains; barren, rocky, and magnificent. I ventured out into the heat and felt like dancing. The sun cleared up all the Montreal autumn from my bones. The Mexican taxi driver was enthusiastic about Canada, and suggested it was a good place to live.

El Paso

On the drive in from the airport, El Paso appears to be full of tawdry car dealerships, McDonald's, Whataburgers, and dollar stores. Most houses are either for rent or for sale, except the large mansions up on the ridge overlooking the town. Downtown looks like Calgary, circa 1961. But the mountains surrounding the town, the blue skies, and the dry heat make up for all the eyesores, and white trash sleazy becomes genteel Southern decay. The Mexican influence is everywhere: from the numerous Taco shops to the sounds on the street, the faces passing by, and the friendliness that is not the usual sedated grizzly-bear feel of small-town American camaraderie but more a reserved and genuine cordiality. It is still America, and to a homegrown Canadian everything seems grotesquely super-sized. I went into a health food store the size of a Wal-Mart. How can I choose between forty-five different types of organic underarm deodorant?

Midwives are weird

The maternity clinic in El Paso was a few blocks from the border, on the service road of a busy highway, across from the rail yards. At any time of day or night, you could hear women moaning in labor, trains whistling, motorbikes racing, newborns squealing, and frazzled midwives yelling instructions to bemused interns. There was a brief time around three-thirty in the morning when there was a pause in the traffic, and the trains take a break, but by four o’clock everything was up and running again.

Midwives are strange creatures and tend to live inside. The place was dark and closed and mostly illuminated by electric lights. Going out to take the trash into the alley was wonderful. The air smelled hot. The bright sun hit the ground and my skin with a jolt which soon wore off as I walked back into the air-conditioned clinic.


I’d been on shift since the early morning and I had twelve more hours to go until I had a day off. My day off would fall on the Day of the Dead, which I knew from Italy as a national holiday, a day of celebration and a day the living visit the cemetery and the dead visit the living. By six in the evening I was exhausted but exhilarated. I loved working with pregnant women and newborns. The clinic was empty now, the office staff had gone home and the place was quiet and slightly spooky. The secretary had been wearing skull earrings and there was an air of ill ease in the place. It is an entry point for some into the U.S.; for some it is the door between life and death, and for others that door never opens. We know that so we are always prepared. Whenever you are waiting for a birth, you are always waiting for the unexpected.


At nine pm the doorbell rang and we went to answer it. There was a black Silverado in the drive. A small woman stood on the steps supporting a larger woman who was obviously in labor. Her aunt carried the bags even though she was crippled from a childhood struggle with polio. Her body was shriveled, but she had obviously learned to use it – it wasn’t her niece who had driven the truck. An inner force twisted her body, and the process had distilled the joy that we usually store deep inside and brought it to the surface. Her face shone. Her eyes were black and she spoke with authority. I helped the woman to the bathroom and then we made a slow procession to the birthing room. The primary midwife was bustling and fussing with equipment. I focused on the birthing woman, who was speaking Spanish to her aunt, who translated to me. “She’s having the baby now!” That was clearly true. As we removed her pants, I lifted the baby and laid it on the woman’s chest. The baby was tiny and silvery, with a small tuft of black hair and perfect features.

By midnight it was time for them to leave. The aunt shouldered all the bags and told me she would need help with the baby’s car seat. She hobbled outside and packed up the truck. The new mother strapped the little girl into the car seat and I picked it up and carried it to the truck. The seat belt didn’t work properly but it didn’t matter; the aunt told me to stop fussing. They needed to drive for a couple of hours before they would be home. The baby would be fine.

Escape from Midwifery Boot Camp!

I cleaned up and soon enough no one would ever know that a baby had been born in the room just a few hours ago. Everything was clean and bright, waiting for the next one. I slept a little in the chair and by the morning I was ready to take a break. Within a couple of hours I found myself in a rented PT Cruiser driving down the highway on my way to the desert. I followed the road signs to White Sands, past the mountains, until the land was flat and bare and the vegetation was short and prickly. Tumbleweed rolled by and I couldn’t decide whether I was on the set of a spaghetti western or Road Runner. I kept the windows open and tried to find some music on the radio. All I could get was Vivaldi which didn’t fit the mood so I muted it and concentrated on the road.

But not well enough.

The road got narrower. What few vehicles there were seemed to be going very fast. I passed some road kill that looked foxy, and I realized the place was infested with coyotes. I passed a sign that looked vaguely military, but I didn’t take much notice. The asphalt ended and I saw a dusty sign in Arabic. Then a large dust cloud rose in the valley and I saw helicopters hovering above the car; I had stumbled into a military area, so I carefully turned and went back the way I had come.

Desert Bound

I was almost back in El Paso when I saw the sign to White Sands National Memorial, so I headed out and found myself back in the desert. Blue mountains rose in the distance. The land stretched for miles, hot and dry. The road ahead shone with the heat. The sky was crackling, the road was straight and I was hungry so I ate a banana and threw the peel onto the shiny road. I prayed for a gas station and I wondered what I would do if I ran out. I turned on the Vivaldi after all, and then found some Mexican love songs.

Finally in the distance I saw what looked like civilization, or something like it. As I rolled into town I saw a sign towering above the shacks that said “Outpost”. Beneath it were three fifties-style gas pumps. Behind the gas pumps there was a small table and two chairs. The chairs were occupied by two skinny men with raggedy grey hair and a few teeth. Of course they were in their fifties, like me. They were very friendly and one of them had a relative in Ontario. They assured me that White Sands was the place to see, “It’s one of the Seven Wonders of the World”. It would take me another hour or so. I filled the tank with gas and got back on the road.

The blue mountains got closer and became a wall of grey stone in the distance. I couldn’t see any white sand and I was wondering if this was all in vain. The desert started to change and the land became flatter. I followed a signpost and arrived at the adobe visitor center where tourists can fill up on trinkets and rent sleds to slide on the sands. I took the dune road into the sands and wasn’t impressed. I’ve seen dunes – on the Mediterranean, on the coast of the St Lawrence Seaway, in the Sinai, in the Sahara. Hah! White sand, scrubby bushes, dunes…

Albino Lizard

I turned a corner and suddenly I was in the mountains going skiing. The hills rose on either side of the road, white. The road was white. I stopped the car and climbed up the hill. At the top I looked around – hills and hills of snow, as far as I could see, all the way to the blue mountains that were back in the distance. I looked down at the sand. It was fine like baking powder and stuck to my legs. I sat down and wrote some words in the sand. The heat was dry and delicious. The sand was soft. I saw movement in the corner of my eye and I froze, thinking of snakes. A small bleached lizard walked in front of me, turned around, and stared at me with his little black eyes. His paws rested on the white sand in front of him and he blended in perfectly. He reminded me of the little silvery newborn I had seen a few hours before, in his place, gazing at me.

C and W

Hunger drew me back to the car and I started back, eating an apple and wishing I could stay. I drove away from the dunes and back onto the highway. The mountains seemed closer in the setting sun and I found some country music on the radio, singing about 9/11, patriotism, God, guns, and girls. I rolled down the windows and turned the music loud. Pickups were a theme on the road and on the radio. When I got back to town I got a ride to the clinic from the car rental agent. He told me about his fiancée. He takes her on a trip to a different place every year. Last year they went to Vancouver – it was too cold, for desert rats. Maybe Montreal next summer, he had heard it was a party town.

I went into the clinic. Two women were in labor. They would give birth during the night and drive back to Juarez in the morning. Later that morning, the woman I had assisted would come back to the clinic with her sister. The aunt didn’t come. I unwrapped the baby and she lay, perfect and silvery, her black eyes staring at me from a desert-like place.

Monday, October 8, 2018

A Week in Lisbon! What To Do?

7 Days in Lisbon

We had a week to get away; we had wanted to go to Lisbon for years. I wanted a place I wouldn't skip on my marathon training schedule; we couldn't break the bank. Let's go: a week in Lisbon!

What can you do for 7 days in Lisbon? You can have the time of your life! Food, art, romance, friendship, beauty, and running. A week in Lisbon here we come!!!

We went in late January, during the deep freeze in our home town of Montreal. We wore our winter jackets and needed them for the first few days, and on our crazy trip to the coast. Some days were pleasantly warm, and we shedded layers. I always ran in my capris and a t-shirt... but generally the weather was cool in Lisbon - check out the southern European winter.

Day One

We arrived before dawn.

I found a lucky charm on the floor as we arrived and I knew we were going to have fun ... our trip started out with a funny turn ... we were relaxed and happy as we landed in deep fog, and we decided against rushing off the plane with the rest of the passengers, so we missed the bus! Got special transport with the crew, and listened to the pilot talk about how difficult the landing was. Hmmm...

We love to travel! We booked an Airbnb that wasn't going to be ready until noon. No problem, we thought, until we walked around town for too long with our bags (het, just duffle bags but still bags), got chilled in the wind, and wished we had know about the various left luggage storage spots in Lisbon. Then we could've visited a museum or a bookshop and relaxed in the warmth ...

At noon

We were finally allowed into our apartment and it was lovely!!!

Four flights up these beautiful stairs (just the right cool-down after a run through this amazing runner's paradise!), a little hideaway with a balcony where we could watch the city from dawn through twilight. And also a place where the firemen could visit (twice!) so they could secure the large piece of metal siding that was blowing off the roof next door!

After getting settled, we set off to explore Alfama, which is the oldest and very beautiful past of Lisbon. The Alfama is a maze of tiny streets, stairs and close-set houses. It is the oldest part of Lisbon, and survived the 1755 earthquake mostly intact. It is said that it used to be the red light district during that time, and during the 15th century it housed the Jewish population of Lisbon. We wandered around, got completely lost, and wandered back. After doing some groceries close to the apartment, made a lovely dinner and went to bed early.

Day Two

Saturday we relaxed! It's so easy to relax in a place where people still go out for a morning walk. Coffee shops were full and people were eating the traditional Portugese pastry (the Pastel de Nata is a tiny custard tart) with their coffees. No one sitting alone on their laptops, but people of all ages chatting, eating and having a regular Saturday morning.

Our r and r was only disturbed once with the unlikely event of the doorbell ringing. I looked out of the window and saw the neighbours pointing at our house. My husband ran downstairs, opened the door, and a herd of firemen rushed in, onto the balcony and on to the roof. One of them fell back down on to the balcony; I thought I was going to have to do first aid. They fixed the sheet metal, said "buon appetito" in Portugese, and left us to enjoy our lunch.

The day was full of walks, yummy home-cooked food, chocolate, red wine (Portugese wine is good!), naps, then dinner out (4 out of 10, sadly, a little vegan place. I don't know how they got a 4.5 on Google, perhaps because the staff was so pleasant).

Day 3

A perfect day! First, a run. Let me tell you about running in Lisbon ... in a word, amazing!!

Lots of hills, stairs, flat if you want, many runners out on the roads (and everyone waves or at least nods). I was in the middle of a marathon training plan, so I had a great chance to cover my week's worth of training sessions in a warmer, hillier place. I went out for a 13 k early Sunday morning. Lovely! And very warm compared to the 13 k I did the week before!

After my super morning run, we decided to get the tram to Belem, which is just outside Lisbon and houses a Marine Museum we wanted to visit. Sadly, it was closing by the time we got there so we consulted our trusty guide book (Rough Guide to Lisbon) and discovered a treasure! The Berardo Museum is a beautiful building that houses art from every era! It is a pleasure to visit, and very affordable. We wandered around the museum for hours.

At closing time, we went for a drink in the bar just behind the museum. It was perfect! There were a few tourists there, like us, and there were also smart-looking older Portugese couples who were out for their pre-dinner evening drink or coffee. We sat for a while and weirdly I had a craving for cider so we had a very good apple cider (British). Then of course I went to look for the bathroom (yes this is relevant). With scarcely-understood directions, I first walked into the cleaning closet, and then I went down a hall and found myself in a pizza/sushi bar! (And I found the well-appointed washrooms...).

Off for dinner!

This is a cool little spot with a great wood-oven pizza menu, and a huge selection of sushi. We chose pizza and beer, and it was sublime! At the end of the evening we rolled out of the restaurant and took a tram home. In Lisbon, as in most of southern Europe (except France! They put their kids to bed pronto, no messing around), families, couples, people of all generations tend to be out late. The tram was packed and we were happy.

Speaking of trams, and crowds. Do be careful of thieves in Lisbon! Our friend (who lives there!) was robbed while we were chatting with her in a cafe - her bag was on the floor, she was preoccupied with her young child and with our conversation, and two men next to us got their hands into her purse and made off with her wallet. (Same thing happened here in Montreal to a customer at my cafe: put your bag in full view and keep your eyes on it!)

Day 4

On Monday we had a lazy morning and decided to go for a stroll. We wandered through the Alfama again ... and found ourselves near the center of town next to the Casa dos Bicos, which is a strange building with spikes on the outside... So many of the buildings in Lisbon are beautifully tiled, some with patterned colored tiles, others with plain white or a lighter color, some with intricate designs. This 16th century building really stands out, partly because it is strikingly ugly compared to the tiled beauty that surrounds it. The building houses a tribute to the famous Portugese writer Jose Saramago. (I bought one of his books and found it pretty heavy reading.)

We continued along the waterfront and explored the main market, which was disappointing. (But check out Day 7 and you'll see why!) The fish stalls were all closed, there were a few sad-looking vegetables and a tourist stall. We went for coffee instead, and sat outside in the sun chatting about the things you chat about when you've been together for over 35 years... kids, the meaning of life, hegemony and what it means, what to have for dinner tonight, you know...

We spent the rest of the morning wandering around central Lisbon. Check out the artisanal shoe stores. The shoes are made with soft leather, and the price is right! Take a stroll down to the waterfront, and then walk through the Praça do Comércio and up one of the shop-lined streets to the Chiado area of town.

I love books, reading, and bookshops.

On most of my trips I try to find one book to take home and read, to remind me of my trip. I loved the look of this little bookstore:

But I was very excited to find mention in my guide book of the oldest still-operating bookshop! I was so excited to go in! And there on the wall, kind of in a place of honor, they were showcasing "Mein Kampf". Yes, fascism is definitely on the rise in Europe. I remember in Pontremoli a few years ago at their yearly literary fair, the Premio Bancarella they had also decided to keep several copies of this hateful book on their shelves. I sent my husband to guard the door and threw them under the table. Not being a smoker any more, I couldn't do a real direct action protest by setting them on fire, so I threw them harshly in the hopes they would tear. Not possible in this upscale bookshop so I left quickly and muttered angry comments under my breath.

"Is the world in the hands of those who have the courage to dream and take the risk of living their dreams?"


As I was angrily steaming up the hill, it was getting dark and my husband realized it might be time for a drink. We walked up to the top of the hill, and found ourselves a little outside bar at the top of one of the many elevators that take people to the top of the town. The Bellalisa Elevador houses a large outdoor restaurant, but there is a bar outside where you can sit and have a drink and look out at the view. Perfect! We had one drink and then realized we were having such a good time we needed one more for the walk home. It was lovely!

On our way home, we passed a huge church with no roof. We discovered this was the Carmo Convent, beneath which was the centre of the giant earthquake of 1755 that destroyed most of the city. The earthquake took place on All Saint's Day (Nov 1), and much religious speculation was made of it. The area that suffered the least damage was the Alfama, which is said to have been the red light district ("why did God save the prostitutes?") or the Jewish area ("why did God save the Jews?"). Here's an interesting article suggesting that the earthquake rattled people into thinking more seriously about atheism.

Of course, us being us, as we walked arm in arm back to our place (a much longer walk than we expected), we discussed all this and more, and stopping at times to make a point, and stopping at one point on the top of a hill next to a beautiful piazza to listen to a 5-piece band play covers!!!

And home for a late dinner. With a bottle of good red wine, delivered to our door by the amazing Dima Peyroteo of the Wine Museum. We found him online, ordered a case of wine and port, and he was at our door within the day! The port was very good too. Porto Quevedo Ruby, a full-tasting port without the sweetness that some fortified wines have.

Day 5

After a busy day on Day 4, we decided to take it easy on our fifth day in Lisbon, especially since we had another busy day planned for Day 6! I went for a fast run up and down some hills around the apartment, and along the way I noticed in passing a huge outdoor market. I looked it up when I got home and found the Fiera da Ladra is a huge flea market that is only open on Tuesdays and Saturdays, and closes at 2pm! Luckily my husband was busy cooking when I got in from my run, so we ate and went back out.

The Fiera da Ladra (thieves' market!) is part flea market, part junk shop and part artisanal fair. It stretches for a few streets along the top of the Alfama, around the Campo de Santa Clara. We browsed through old books, postcards, lamps, LPs, you name it. I bought a pair of earrings, a hand-made leather belt, several fridge magnets. There were lots of broken conversations with people, mixing English, Portugese, Italian and hand gestures to create the illusion that we were actually conversing, and in a way we were.

As the blankets and mats were being rolled up and the fiera started to disperse, we walked back down the hill to the centre of Lisbon by the waterfont. We stopped for coffee where the owner gave us a free pastry that was so good I could've probably eaten twenty more! It was, he explained, a traditional walnut cake. Whatever it was, it was delicious.


I have to confess, although I do enjoy wearing pretty clothes, and I do love a new pair of running shoes or a running skirt, and of course I love all stores paper-oriented - bookshops, stationary stores and the like .... my biggest love is a good old-fashioned hardware store. I'm not talking Home Depot here, where you can buy anything from a hundred sheets of drywall to a giant bar of chocolate. I mean a small, down-home, hardware store.

When you look in the window and you see this. Twenty different sizes and shapes of machetes, each with their own purpose. You can find a wood stove; pruning shears; a copper and glass still; glue; locks and keys; screws and hammers. No chocolate. No drywall. I can spend hours in a small hardware store, not buy anything at all, and come out happy. In a clothing store, on the other hand, I could also spend hours but I usually think most of the clothing is ugly and then I feel ugly when I leave. I am an old hippie, essentially, with very expensive tastes. I went to the Balenciaga fashion exhibit here in Montreal last week and now I want an original Balenciaga... yip. Oh, by the way, if you are super incredibly rich, please visit Storytailors in Lisbon and buy a fantasy dress.

So anyway we visited a wonderful hardware store and bought a couple of fun things. A machete. Stuff like that.

Day 6

Off to the beach! After almost a week in Lisbon we were looking forward to seeing the countryside. We did our research and planned to go to Guincho beach for the day. We read that there were restaurants all along the waterfront, so we went after breakfast and planned to have lunch there. "The train departs from the Cais do Sodré train station in Lisbon (green metro line). The train journey is 30 minutes and a single ticket costs €2.15. It is a 200 m walk from the Cascais train station to the bus station, which is below the Cascais Villa shopping centre." Super easy directions and we were at the beach by mid-morning. Public transport in Lisbon and surrounding areas is fantastic! Clean, fast, easy to use.

The coast line is beautiful!! No, this is not a stock picture; I took it from the road above the beach. The beach itself stretches for about a kilometer; we walked almost to the end and back but it was COLD and there was a biting wind. I wore my winter coat but took my socks and shoes off to enjoy the sand.

But the crazy thing was, we picked the best day ever to visit the beach! The waves were huge! Magnificent, pounding, scary waves. You could see dark blue underneath as each waves rose and crashed down. It was insane surfers' paradise!

We walked a meter or so at a time and then just stopped to stare at the waves and listen to the crashing. Big Waves catching them on video doesn't do justice - they look like nice, body-surfable waves. But here's proof:


We were getting cold; teeth-chattering with the exhilaration and the freezing wind. Time for lunch! We hiked up to the first place (see that fortress-looking place in the picture?). Turns out this was where they shot some of the sequences for a James Bond film. In the lobby there are photos of Very Famous People. Lunch was going to cost as much as our Airbnb.

We took a stroll down the road and soon realized (after a couple of kilometers) that this was Rich People's lane. Lots of fancy cars, fancy looking restaurants and menus that started at 80 Euros. Back to the beach. I found a packet of cookies and an orange in my bag. We snuggled down in between two rocks and ate our lunch. Hiking up to the bus, though, we found a lovely coffee shop in the dunes. We sat outside, shielded from the wind with a large plexiglass window. The view was stunning; the staff were friendly (as always).

We raced up to the bus stop and of course got slightly lost. Got to the train station late so we picked up a Sue Grafton novel at the kiosk, and weirdly found out that she had just died. Home again, big pasta dinner, lots of red wine, sleep...

Day 7

Our last day in Lisbon! Our week in Lisbon was almost over. The great thing about a really good vacation is that you're sad to leave...

A nice morning run along the waterfront (you can run for about 15 k from Cais do Sodre all the way to Belem) was followed by a long walk through the town. We were supposed to meet with someone in the early afternoon so we had lots of time to enjoy the city. It's fun when you have someone to meet up with in a new place who knows the fun spots ... but it was great meeting up with her after we had already spent a week exploring on our own. But this wasn't a friend who we had known forever or someone we knew super well. Just the good friend of a close friend of ours, from back when our kids were small. But she's our kids' age, so she has a small child.

On any given day at my cafe  you will find people of all ages enjoying the food and each other's company, or just sitting by themselves and working. In the front you'll see people meeting for work; at the bigger tables there will be larger groups eating together; on the couches you'll often see a group of mothers with their babies or toddlers. The mums will be chatting and nursing their babies (everyone needs to eat right?), and the small children will be playing with the in-house toys. Everyone gets along.

Here in our busy culture we have a tendency to divide people into groups - not only in our bigger cultural picture but even in one person's life. The older friend of a friend who visits must be given a half hour and tea. The friend can't have dinner with the husband around. Children are not welcome and certainly not nursing babies. In other countries its different. When we first moved to Italy the people we met were astounded that we put the kids to bed at seven. Whoever heard of such nonsense? It would mean that we would have to be home every night at seven!!

We met with our friend and her child in a beautiful spot at the top of the Edward VII Park. This is a typically sculpted park that stretches down the hill so that from the top you eyes follow the length of the park and then move to the rest of Lisbon. We sat at a pretty outdoor cafe next to the pond and had coffee and chatted about pretty much everything. Then the pickpocket thing happened. We realized then ran around the park looking in garbage cans, then down through a nearby mall (the only shopping mall in Lisbon apparently. No luck. She called her mum and they went to the police station. I figured it was ciao ciao and see you in a few years.

Nope, not in Lisbon. We made a plan: she would go to the police station, then pick up her husband and we would meet for dinner at 7pm. In the meantime, we spent our last day in this beautiful city wandering around, climbing the hills, checking out the little stores. Just before sunset we found ourselves at a little bar on the waterfront, drinks in hand, sitting next to the sea wall and watching the sun set over the Tagus. Perfect!

Best vegan food around!

We arrived at the Vegan Food Project before seven and there was already a lineup! They take traditional Portugese recipes and recreate them with all plant-based ingredients. The ambience is perfect; children are welcome; the service is friendly but professional. As a cafe owner myself I appreciate a quality business, where the food is excellent, the kitchen is clean and the employees are happy. They are located in the Chiado district, which has a bustling night life, and it's best if you reserve a table as they are packed! Open for lunch and dinner, and closed during the afternoon.

We ate magnificently, and we still thought our lovely friends would be heading home. Nope! Now we were going to a small bar ... it's closed, okay, off to the market! Remember the market we were so disappointed by? Well, at night it transforms into the Lisbon TimeOut Market and it is a hoot! It's like a giant traditional market, food court, night club and pub all rolled into one. There are food stalls of every variety. We had beer and desserts (of course!). There are young people out for the evening; families with small children; friends eating with great concentration; older couples sauntering about. Stalls sell souvenirs, port, sausages, custard pies... sushi, pizza, seafood, burgers, all excellent and hand-picked by the TimeOut big shots.

Music. There's a DJ. Lights. Picnic tables. Finally we realized we were all ready for bed so we left the market, took one last stroll around the waterfront, and headed home to pack and prepare for our early morning departure.

Day 8

We were slowly packing away our stuff and doing all the things weary travellers do the night before a 5am taxi. Check-in. What clothes to leave out? Fragile gift - is it going to break? Is that machete we bought going to rip up our clothes? So tired, just want to get to bed already. Suddenly there was an ear-splitting bell ringing and banging on the door four stories below. We ran down. And up, followed by firemen. More drama with the sheet metal. They ran onto our balcony, climbed on the roof and spent a good half an hour trying to attach it to something.

Finally, they left, with this parting remark: "Three best things about Lisbon: the food, the friendly people, and the best firemen in the world!"

Our week in Lisbon was a resounding success! We'll be back!