Monthly Archives: February 2015

People die

Neither a good wind nor a good marriage ever comes from Spain

This is a Portguese proverb and there seemed to be some truth in it. The weather was overcast and somber.

I cycled to the hospital where I would have a consult.
Now, tell me what happenend, the doctor said.
I decided to do the short version, which goes along the lines of, well, you know, I cycled 4000 km  and now my knee hurts.
He examined my leg.
This is your leg?
Um.. yes.
Does this hurt?
No, not really.
He looked at my leg to find out how he could make it hurt.
Yes, that hurt, I said when he had found out.
I thought you would explain the MRI scan to me.
The scan is very complex, he said. You have many problems.
I have?
Yes, the meniscus, the arthritis, the inflammation and the ligaments. He twisted my leg.
I remained silent.
Well, the ligaments seem to be okay, he said.
Oh, good…
He looked at me. You’re a young man, he said.
I failed to understand.
I want you to try another medication. If that doesn’t work we have to do an arthroscopy.
How long will I have to take the medication for, I asked.
Two or three weeks,
Okay, two weeks, he said, when I tried to jump out of the window.

A little setback, I said to myself as I cycled back.

Trying to be positive. It could have been worse. People die.
And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in preventing you to achieve it.

me reading

Reading The Alchemist, looking like Bear Grylls. Photo by: Diogo Marçal

I walked at the waterfront and picked up a pebble. What had Paulo Coelho said?

You don’t have to understand the desert: all you have to do is contemplate a simple grain of sand, and you will see in it all the marvels of creation.

I looked at the pebble. Paulo Coelho must have better eyes than I have.

I continue to meet an endless array of people in the hostel and have some intense conversations. Some even get very emotional when they leave and want to hug me.

I met a young French cyclist who was lovesick.
Let’s go to a bar, he said.
Okay, I said.
We ordered drinks and we talked.
He told  me about the woman he loved and how she loved him. But they couldn’t be together. It was a sad story.
After his second glass of wine, he giggled.
I think I’m a  bit drunk,  he said.
It was time to get back to the hostel.

Later, I met an Australian. He started travelling because he couldn’t stay with his girlfriend anymore. She was an alcoholic.
After eating the food I had cooked, we sat on the balcony. We had finished our bottles of wine.
I’ll  get another bottle of wine, he said.
We talked politics.
Chiang Kai-shek had to leave China, I said.
But I think it’s gonna be okay, he said.
What, Chiang Kai-shek leaving China, I said?
No, Laura, he said, eventually I wil get back to her.
Oh, yes, sure, I said.
We need another bottle of wine, he said.
I think we do, I agreed.

I cycled through the Ria Formosa Nature Reserve and saw flamingos and spoonbills.



The City

The MRI scan of my knees is made. I now have to wait for the consult.

When I walk through Faro, I often think about a poem of Cavafy, called The City
His words sound like a dark prophesy:

You’ll find no new sea or land
This city will always dog you
You’ll roam the same streets
Go grey in the same houses
You’ll always end up here
Forget anywhere else
You’ve no ships, no road
The life you’ve wasted here
You’ve wasted everywhere.

This is the translation of Desmond O’Grady, which I like much better than others I’ve found.
Of course Cavafy’s poem is about Alexandria and I first read it when I found it in a small leaflet I bought when visiting the Cavafy museum in Alexandria.

Not many days later I bought a copy of Arabian Nights in the bookshop of the American University of Cairo. Since then, I have read this collection of tales several times, always delighting in Burtons erudite translation.

So, when I finished reading The Alchemist, I was intrigued at the plot: I had the feeling I had read it before and, after googling my suspiscion, I found I was right. It was stolen from Arabian Nights. Tale 14: The Ruined Man Who Became Rich Again Through a Dream.

Reading books and killing time

Waiting for the MRI scan of my knee, I have a lot of time to read.

Thinking, Fast and Slow – by Daniel Kahneman. This is a book about behavioural economics which is the field of economy which tries to explain why people make stupid decisions. This is something I am very interested in.The book offers some surprising insights in the irrational way our brains work and I would highly recommend reading it to anyone. While reading the book I tried to relate it to my personal life and experiences.

hostel entrcance

The entrance of my hostel

It was in this course that I found out that my life hack of making money in the West and spending it in developing countries (Portugal, sic), has a sound scientific basis as the following quote from the book illustrates: Brain scan studies suggest that making purchases at very low prices is a pleasurable experience.  A major scientific breakthrough made possible with expensive MRI technology. It seems suitable here to point out that MRI scans are not only used for silly knee injuries, but also for the advancement of science.

The book mentions furthermore an interesting thought experiment concerning holidays: Imagine that at the end of your holiday, all your photos and all video material will be destroyed. Besides, you will get a magic potion that will erase all memory of your holiday. The question is: How will this affect your holiday? How much do you want to pay for it? Do you still want to climb that mountain or walk through that jungle?
Personally, I think not. I would lay on the beach and drink cocktails. It has long been my philosophy that travelling is all about collecting stories.

Another book I am reading is The Alchemist of Paulo Coelho, in a French translation.
I am doing quite well, allthough the French verb conjugations are giving me headaches. The book is very inspiring and it taught me a lot about sheep. It’s also full of blatant lies and ill advice…
I’ll give an example. In English, because the diacritics in French writing are driving me crazy:
It says somewhere in the text:  And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.
This is not true. It sounds nice. It sounds inpiring. But it is not true.
Afnother example: There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure.
Not true. Think only of a mountaineer whose dream it is to climb a moutain. He tries to summit it, but in doing so, he stumbles and falls to his death.
No fear, but death nonetheless.


The hostel in Faro

The hostel I am staying in was built by the owner of a tuna factory. It was originally a country house as Faro was much smaller back then. The mansion was divided in four apartements for the four brothers of the family. But these days the tuna factories are long gone and the house has become a place where travellers can rest their weary heads.

Other tidbits.

Facebook makes people unhappy according to a study of the University of Missouri. Professor Margaret Duffy found that heavy Facebook use (a survey under students who used Facebook on average two hours a day!)  can lead to feelings of depression etc… Regrettably, Professor Duffy did not research the feelings of happiness of people regularly visiting my blog, which, I feel, would be far more stimulating for most people and which is, moreover, very unlikely to raise any feelings of jealousy.

Portuguese food constitutes an Intangible Cultural Heritage according to UNESCO. Together with the cuisines of countries like Italy, Spain and Greece, it is listed as Mediterranean Diet, which propagates the question if Portugal is a Mediterranean country. A dubious proposition given the fact that it borders absolutely nowhere on the Mediterranean Sea. Most of my knowledge of the Mediterranean Diet is from microwaved Portuguese food which I eat in front of the television.

On that same television I watched Ultimate Survival which could easily be assumed te be  about cycling along Portugals roads, but was just Bear Grylls being dropped in some wilderness.
So I watched him survive.
Bear Grylls is descending into dark caves, climbing rocky peaks and traversing frozen waterfalls. It seems ill advice to the average office employee who finds himself in a typical survival situation, as Bear Grylls would call it.

Portuguese Jews

Portugal to naturalise descendants of Jews expelled centuries ago.

A few days ago, I read this news article on the BBC website. I was fascinated by the fact that it was about people that left Portugal more than 500 years ago…

Jews were expelled from Spain in 1492 and many of them fled to Portugal. After King Manuel I came to the throne of Portugal, it was arranged that he would marry princess Isabel of Spain, but only under the condition that he was to expel the Jews from Portugal as well. He conceded but later decided the Jews had to convert to Christianity or otherwise leave Portugal without their children. Ironically, Isabel died less than a year after her consequential marriage with the king.

Jews that converted to Christianity were called New Christians. The Jews that fled the country often did so to Morocco. Their children were sent to São Tomé, a newly discovered Island near the coast of Africa. According to one source it was inhabited by lizards, snakes and other venomous reptiles, and was devoid of rational beings. It seems fair to assume there was no public library or health care to speak of. The same source mentions  that most children were swallowed up by the huge lizard on the island. Most of the remaining children perished.

The New Christians didn’t fare much better.

During the so called Easter Slaughter of 1506, an estimated two thousand New Christians were believed to be killed in Lisbon. Men and women were beaten to death or burnt alive, while their children were ripped apart by the raging hordes. A German who was in Lisbon describes how women with child were flung from the windows and caught on spears by those standing underneath. Interestingly, this happenend during a Christian holiday. Sailors from foreign ships, notably from Holland, France and Germany, that lay in the harbour, joined in the killing.

Easter slaughter

Woodcut depicting the massacre. It is on display in the São Domingos de Lisboa Convent, the place where the pogrom began.

The Portuguese Inquisition, established 30 years later, was for more than 200 years not nearly as deadly for the Jews as that single eruption of hatred that occured during those fateful days in 1506.

For those with a philosophical inclination it might be interesting to learn that Baruch Spinoza, the famous Dutch philosopher, was of a Portuguese Jewish family.

When I was reading the article on the BBC webiste, I was wondering how many people could this law potentially effect? To get an idea: the General Society of Mayflower Descendants states that “tens of millions” descent from the 102 passengers aboard the Mayflower who sailed to America in 1620. It’s easy to see that the number of descendants from several thousands of Jews more than a century before that, must be far larger…

To learn more, I visited the Faro Jewish Heritage Centre which was situated at the old Jewish cemetry. The caretaker let me view a DVD about the history of Jewish Heritage Centre which was exceptionally boring. Then he took me around and showed me the cemetry. He told me about it’s history which was tedious beyond believe (no lizards). Finally, after one hour, he let me go after I payed him 3 euros. I politely declined the offer to buy some memorial stamps.

I made some pictures at the cemetry, but they are not very interesting, so here are some pictures of me on the beach instead:

Faro beach with me on it.

Faro beach with me on it.

This is my National Geographic posture, lecturing interesting stuff about the beach.

This is my impersonatino of a National Geographic presenter, lecturing interesting stuff about the beach.

I let go of the National Geographic posture...

I let go of the National Geographic impersonation…

Faro news

After a third visit to the meanwhile familiar hospital, the doctor recommended that an MRI scan should be made of my knees. As this is a fairly expensive test, the hospital needed approval from my insurance company and so I made a telephone call to ask for it. This took some time, mainly because of the weekend, but eventually the approval came through.

However, my Insurance company didn’t want the State Hospital to do the test and, after consulting me, they have contacted a private hospital to do the MRI. That sounded all pretty good to me. I don’t know anything about private hospitals but I imagine welcome drinks and fresh flowers.

So why are MRI scans so expensive? Well, its mainly because the hardware costs a fortune. And if you have expensive hardware, you want qualified people to operate it, and qualified people wouldn’t mind working in Malibu, so they cost a fortune as well. And you need people to keep everything clean and, so you see, it all adds up.

The MRI machine itself is a big magnet and it’s going to be a first time for me. It wasn’t really on my bucket list, but now it seems quite exciting to be stuffed in a big magnet and stay for some time in a higly magnetic field and get all your hydrogen-atoms realigned for a while…

But for now I have to wait for the appointment to be made by the hospital.