The About section of this website is currently blank (apart from some links to various biographical posts), a symptom of Not Enough Hours In the Day Syndrome, an affliction I wrestle with daily. This entry started out as an attempt to fix that omission. It wound up being a lot more than that.
My life has changed so dramatically over the past eleven months, in pretty much every way for the better. There are exceptions to that, of course. The fact that we have been living for the past three months underneath a family who took in their daughter and her two very small boys who, despite being cuter than a bunch of dickens, have apparently been exposed to absolutely no discipline whatsoever, and who literally scream (as in, high-pitched and blood-curdling), yell, cry, stomp, jump, and run all day and and evening (usually quieting around 8 pm, sometimes to 10 pm), with accompanying exasperated admonishments from their mom and grandparents, is an example of this. Periods of quiet may last as long as an hour or two. All of it in Arabic, which is something of a relief, really, as it makes the cacophony 10% more tolerable; I'd be really screwed if I could follow the narrative, getting invested in it. This isn't the first time they have visited, although it's usually not for as long as this, and the development of the younger boy into his own toddler power has really upped the decibels. We have tolerated it for waaaaaaaaay longer than anyone else I can think of would because we are keenly aware that Rowan also makes noise, although he is a fart in a tornado in comparison.
So, that's bad, though perversely entertaining, and destined to be a rich source of story-telling material years down the road when that whole "comedy is tragedy plus time" thing kicks in. But look at the positive side. I'm happily, gratefully, and resolutely still sober eleven months after hitting my own personal Bottom just before Christmas last year. This is something I haven't addressed here before, but yes, I am an alcoholic. I've been revolving door-ing AA for about three and a half years now, and it finally stuck on December 24th, 2019. I have a great Sponsor and a terrific Home Group, an inner core of which kept meetings going outside in a local park from March to September every two days. I was fortunate to be a part of that small group, and I credit most of my success navigating those early months of sobriety to them. Thanks, guys!
A major part of recovery in AA is the acknowledgment of one's Higher Power, however that is conceived. As an open-minded but naturally skeptical agnostic (with at least one solidly supernatural experience in my past that is rationally inexplicable), this strongly spiritual aspect of AA is one I have struggled with somewhat but ultimately come to terms with. It's true that the overall success rate of AA isn't great - there is a ton of drop out (or, as we refer to it, Going Out) - but for those it works it tends to work in a big way. There are plenty of people with 20, 30, even 40 years in the program, and almost without exception, those long-timers have really embraced the spirituality of the program. One very valuable way I have of accessing what I call my Higher Power is through creative expression, especially through digital manipulation. This can be a profoundly meditative process for me, something akin to the flow state, that can seem timeless and from which I often emerge feeling refreshed and energized. I used to feel that way quite a bit when I was much younger, before the booze tamped it way down, and it was very gratifying to see that creative energy come storming back after about two and a half months of being dry. In late Feb, early March I started to channel that energy into our back yard (the basement suite's front yard), cleaning it up and suddenly very motivated to garden. Everything in containers so I could move things around.
And then the lockdown, which in BC started on Mar 17th, 2020. I was the first at my job to take a voluntary lay-off, March 13th (a Friday, and Rowan's birthday), and so got my application in to EI early. Schools closed, so the boys were at home and Alex started remote learning. I remember, as we all do, that first week of lockdown. Lisa was working her part-time job on the 18th and 19th, we didn't have access to a car at the time, and so I spent that weekend pushing Rowan in his chair from supermarket to supermarket, buying what I could as shelves emptied. So surreal.
Within a week, though, Lisa was asked if she wanted full-time work at her job (she is very good) and so she started full-time on the 23rd. I was now stay-at-home Dad and figuring that out during this bizarre and extremely stressful time. If I need evidence of a Higher Power, I don't have to look any further than the fact that I had three months of sobriety when the Pandemic started. If not, I have little doubt that I would not be where I am now on pretty much every level.
During this early time, when I needed a break I played Geoguessr for the first time, having heard about it on one of those podcasts like Tanis, The Black Tapes and Rabbits, fictionalized alternate reality with a spooky conspiratorial twist. Geoguessr reignited my love of Google Earth. It had been likely a couple of years since I had fooled around with Google Earth, and I was delighted to discover that there was now a new, experimental, web-based version that 3D modeled portions of the Earth's surface (mostly large and famous cities, landmarks, and interesting geography). I spent quite a bit of time zooming around cities I have visited in Europe, and taking advantage of both improved Street View quality (newer recordings all the time) and the proliferation of Photo Spheres (360 degree photos taken by regular people).
I don't know how I first ran across idealista, probably an online ad, but it is fair to say that this particular real estate listing aggregator enabled the creation of this website and my subsequent creative efforts just as much as anything else. To begin with, I only knew it as a Spanish company, later learning they also offer services in Portugal and Italy. I enjoyed Barcelona very much both times I have been there, and I began to use idealista to window shop detached houses around that amazing city. And then a curious thing happened.
Within a week, I became obsessed with using Google Earth to try to find properties that were listed on idealista - almost all of the listings only provide a rough area where the property is located. I now understand the power of internet sleuthing, something I was aware of but hadn't really thought about in much depth. I spent many happy hours noting swimming pool shapes and landscaping particulars, often resorting to wandering local streets using Street View while searching for a certain coloured front door or front gate shape. When I realized I could do the same thing in Portugal, I dropped Spain like a hot potato (sorry Spain) and switched my attention to Portugal's Algarve region. I've been to Lisbon and Lagos a couple of times, most recently in 2005 during my five and a half month tour of Europe. Lisa joined me in Portugal for two weeks during that trip, cementing Portugal as one of my favourite places to be. Within short order, I was spending a lot of time learning about Portugal, sleuthing properties, and using Google Earth to virtually walk the streets of towns like Lagos, Tavira, Faro, and Silves.
Naturally, I talked to my group about it, and the general consensus was that early recovery often features obsessions like this as mental energy is freed up and needs somewhere to go. As long as I recognized it for what it was and kept it at a healthy level, it was okay. I decided to form a long-term plan around the obsession, starting this website as a result. My reasoning went something like this:
I've wanted for some time to figure out a way to make money from home. If I could channel my newly rediscovered appreciation for the Algarve into a website, perhaps I could make that happen. I would use the internet to explore the region, review properties that stood out to me, and provide research on how to navigate immigration and purchase real estate. For quite a while, my plan was to ultimately move there with my family, finding a place with a little bit of land, something rural and inexpensive. Why not retire to one of most attractive places on the planet? With a successful website, I could bring in enough income for us to live off of. It could work! And so WhyTheAlgarve was born.
I will be the first to admit that more than a little escapism was involved here, fantasy wishful thinking in the face of a very turbulent and tumultuous situation, and I recognized that at the time. But, I told myself, at the very least I am learning how to make and maintain a website. I'm learning about a part of the world with a rich history and culture, and hopefully I will be able to provide a service that other people may find useful. I stumbled across a few YouTube channels created by couples who had moved to Portugal and were setting up homesteads in the Central region: OKportugal, Our Portuguese Homestead, and the Indie Projects. Fuel for the fire.
I also started listening to Good Morning Portugal! (now Expats Portugal), a streaming daily radio-style news and culture show hosted by Carl Munson. I like to think of Carl as a positive version of David Brent from "The Office." He's all about community, self-sufficiency, and walking lightly on the land. We communicated through email a few times, and he strongly urged me to take a look at Central Portugal as a possible place to resettle, for economic reasons if nothing else. We are anything but rich, so that made sense, and before too long I was using idealista to look exclusively at potential homesteads in Central Portugal. I was blown away by what was on offer up there, so much for so little. There are, of course, thousands of farms with ruins and houses "in need of reconditioning," but there are also plenty of properties with serviceable dwellings going for a song. I began acquainting myself with the area.
It was a little before this time that I started thinking about merchandise. I was trying to build up a brand, and merch is a necessary part of that. The good news is that I have been a prolific photographer and digital image manipulator/designer for many years. I've also been professionally working as a scenic artist in the theatre, museums, and corporate events (less so TV and film) since the late 90s, so I have a solid background in colour, texture, and design. The bad news is that I haven't done any of the digital stuff for over ten years. There are a number of reasons for why that happened, but the biggest has to be booze. A slow, insidious, frog-in-a-pot-of-water influence that settled in, sapping energy, focus, and started taking up all that valuable mental real estate. Any creative spark that survived was more than sufficiently fed by the occasional fun theatre set with some backdrops.
I learned image manipulation using Photoshop, like everybody, and was starting to get quite good at it before drinking became a real problem. Now that I had need of that kind of software again, but not having the same easy access to easily installed pirated versions of Photoshop, I did some research and ended up selecting GIMP as a good, free alternative with comparable features and abilities. However, GIMP's interface differs from Photoshop's just enough to annoy the hell out of me for months. I flailed away with it for quite a while, gradually figuring it out, eventually becoming semi-competent with it. And then another curious thing happened.
There are a lot of print-on-demand merchandise services out there, and that required further research. Zazzle was (and is) such a service, moderately well-reviewed, that appealed to me because they carried a number of print-all-over products such as leggings, tank tops, tote bags and such. I began using Zazzle to place images and designs on to different things, using their virtual models to see how layout worked. And I was hooked. It only took a few days to realize that manipulating images and using those results on, say, a pair of leggings was supremely satisfying. It might seem like over-dramatization, but I knew I had found something that could keep me happily employed for the rest of my life.
This was a real renaissance period for me, creatively. The dam broke and I was flooded with it. Within short order, almost all of my available screen time was taken up with making digital art, or at least experimenting and relearning the craft. I began posting some of these results here as well as on Instagram.
Eventually, I realized that I had to make a decision about my focus and about this website. I was getting so much joy, satisfaction and reward from this creative work, that I began to wonder just how one goes about getting paid to do this stuff. That's a difficult nut to crack, as many millions of artists will attest, but I have some thoughts. I made the decision, though, to make pursuing that goal my main focus. The result is the redesigned website you are reading now. My priorities here now are:
1. My ongoing creative experiments, both the making of images from initial photography to manipulations of same, and the application of those results to products.
2. Reviews of affordable homesteads and other self-sufficiency properties in Portugal. I still really enjoy researching Portugal and interacting virtually with it via Google Earth, idealista, and other resources. It's an attractive country on so many levels - beauty, lifestyle, recreation, climate (depending), culture, food, safety, politics. I have, though, been pondering the potential hubris of a guy in Vancouver publishing a site exclusively about Portugal, even if that guy has spent a total of twenty days there. So less of an emphasis on Portugal, but still an effort to find some homestead gems and explore this great country, if only from afar. We will be back there one day, I'm sure of that.
3. Articles featuring Google Earth in some major way, either as the main subject or providing supplemental information. I love Google Earth, and I especially love the "new, experimental" version. I get endless kicks out of finding weird and bizarre glitches in their attempts to 3D render the surface of our planet. It's also very gratifying to use it as a tool to find art in landscapes. The deserts of northern Africa are particularly fruitful for this, supplying an endless supply of sculpted topographies. Also fun are river deltas, glaciers, and the abstract patterns of agriculture. While some articles are about Google Earth images per se, others use them to provide additional data. So, for example, a review of a Portuguese property such as this one will include many screen grabs from both satellite imagery and Street View.
4. Feature Artists. This is something I would like very much to do more of but haven't, lately. When I started WhyTheAlgarve with it's exclusive Algarvian focus, I often featured photographers capturing aspects of the country, It was a way to get another glimpse into the Algarve at ground level and, incidentally, a great way to generate content quickly. As it is, the above priorities gobble up almost all my available time, giving this category short shrift. It's certainly not for a lack of artists to choose from, especially now that I have widened the scope of the website. One of the main benefits of Instagram from my perspective is that it provides access to a vast variety of artists. I am perpetually amazed at the range of skills, styles, subjects and methods.
5. Sundry. Everything else, including articles like this one that inject my personality and lived/living experience into the narrative of the site. I'm egotistical enough to think that my perspective adds appeal to this endeavour. We shall see if I am right.
And that about wraps it up. This is far more than I had intended to write, but sometimes you just have to go with the flow. The irony is that this article is far too long for the About page, my purpose when I sat down to start this thing. I will link to it from that page, though.