Some thoughts before leaving Europe, perhaps for a long time

31 May


Before I begin this rather self-indulgent little essay, let me mention the photo above. This shows George standing in the middle of the medieval streets of the wonderful town of Porto, Portugal. These houses are still lived in, and most of them have been thoroughly modernized to contain electricity, refrigerators, and the internet. They are steps away from some of the best restaurants, and the cheapest, that we have experienced in a long time. I hope this gives a pretty evident indication of why we would, if we could, choose to live here than amid Los Angeles mini-malls in a country that is self-destructing.

That being said, we are one week away from returning to Trumpland, and are at this point still uncertain of what we are going to do when we return, and even precisely why and how we began this particular journey at the beginning of the year. In hopes of gaining some clarity of where we are now, I want to lay out a bit of our recent thinking about events and our own situation.  This is as much a way to organize my own thinking as it is a defense of what must seem to many as an extravagant waste of energy and money.

Last year, when we spent ten months in Europe, we really felt liberated and as if the whole journey was a lark, our last adventure before some kind of settling down to a “normal” retirement. We found it was easy to rent our house in Pasadena, to cover all the mortgage, property tax and utilities expenses, and then, because of the kindnesses of many European friends and the fantastic resources available through AirBnB,, and HomeAway, we were able to live more cheaply in Europe than at home.  I know most of our American and Australian friends still don’t believe this, but it’s true:  as long as our housing costs were covered in the U.S., our time in Europe was much cheaper, even with flights included. We didn’t stay in hotels, we ate out very rarely, we bought no clothes and very few souvenirs, and many times were able to stay places for free. We had a bit of a bequest that helped with the expenses, so that gave us some breathing room. We returned to Pasadena in June of last year.

So then what?  We still faced this overriding dilemma: WE CANNOT AFFORD TO LIVE IN OUR PASADENA HOUSE ON OUR RETIREMENT INCOME. That’s the situation which we have yet to resolve.  I don’t think any of our friends have any understanding of how limited our resources are. So while we were still unsure of our future plans, we kept our house on the rental websites, and soon had someone, a Huntington scholar, signed up to be in the house for four months, February-June 2017. AND he wouldn’t mind looking after the cats! Oh, I forgot to mention the cats: one of our biggest vexations about travels and moving around involves what to do about our aging kitties. That circumstance caused major trauma last year, when we had to take them to my sister’s house and pay her to look after them.  So finding someone to stay in the house with cats in situ seemed too good a deal to pass up. We still were unsure of where we would go for those four months, but hoped that we would take that time to find a less expensive place to live to see out our Golden Years. While we had returned in the chaotic atmosphere of the election campaign, we really didn’t imagine that the unthinkable could happen.

And then the unthinkable happened: the election. The next day, while reeling in grief at the prospect, our neighbor walked by our house, and called to me: “have you thought about Mexico?”  I hadn’t, but at that moment began organizing a stay in Ajijic, where we knew people.  I also determined, perhaps precipitously, that there was no way in Hell I was going to be in the country when the inauguration happened, so I arranged with friends to have them rent our place in January, and we went to Australia for that month. Since we are dual citizens, it only seemed logical to check out the possibilities of repatriating there. I was so in shock by the election outcome, and so afraid of what this meant for our family and friends (and the country in general), that I really did want to find out about the possibilities of living abroad. Being away from the U.S. for the first one hundred days of what I knew was going to be a disastrous non-presidency seemed at the time a very good idea. Finally, being the Europhiles that we are, we really had to spend some time on the Continent, and in our favorite places, to see if there was any chance of settling down here.

So as we end our stay in Europe, and before I write my travelogue entry about this beautiful town, here is what we have learned:

1) There is no escaping the frightening consequences of America’s catastrophic political decision. The effects can be seen and felt everywhere, and it’s just as depressing to contemplate perhaps the end of American democracy and certainly the end of America’s reigning international influence while out of the country as it is to contemplate that demise at home. We might as well try to resist and fight the good fight on native soil.

2) We can’t continue country-hopping forever; this is getting tiring. We need to find SOME place to settle, to deal with our stuff, our cats, and to feel that we have some space to call home.

3) We have familial responsibilities that we have to acknowledge. I really do want to be a part of my grandson’s life on a more regular basis than once or twice  year. And George still has a father to care for, if only at a relative distance. So we need to be somewhere that allows us quick access to Colorado, and that, alas, is probably not in Europe or Australia.

So there you have it!  We will still tot up all of our criteria, giving the pros and cons of each place we have visited. But in the long run, we just have to figure out some way to live on our very limited means for the rest of our lives, while being relatively near our family. Family and finances trump (now there’s a good word gone to waste!) all. I hope this hasn’t been too boring and self-reflective, but it has helped me sort through some confusions. And if any of you know a place in a blue state that has relatively decent weather (no snow?) and some cultural events and institutions, is near a major airport, and where we can find cheap rent or, even better, cheap houses to buy, please let us know!

And now I will close with my requisite photo of cats: this time next to cars on a neighborhood street in Porto. I will write of the delights of Porto (FOOD!) in a little while.


8 Responses to “Some thoughts before leaving Europe, perhaps for a long time”

  1. Marcie May 31, 2017 at 5:52 pm #

    Erika I can identify with you situation.
    It’s hard decision to make. Ken went to work for the USAF because he thought he could do more good and possibly make some changes from within the beast!

  2. esauboeck May 31, 2017 at 6:59 pm #

    Thanks, Marcie. I know we’re not the only ones in this boat–both in our agony about our country and in our agony about our financial situation!

  3. Win Thrall August 6, 2017 at 8:01 pm #

    Dearest ee, Your agonies about where to live remind me of what Arthur & I contemplated in 1990 (you were there). Our priority was to live where we had easy access to film, art, theatre, Chicago, and affordable living. We would have liked to live near our 4 children and grand children but they were in different places. (Big regret not to be closer, tho)
    Yes Milwaukee is still my favorite place, in spite of the weather, but now living in a condominium, I don’t have to wrestle with snow, or managing house and yard issues. Living between a river and a Great Lake (like an ocean) is a plus, too. This year, being in Northern Yucatan in January (Merida is v nice & popular with US x-pats), Switzerland in May and Germany in June, was a wonderful infusion of Europe. The best solution to life is balance of home and away, so I am glad that I am free to travel. ~~ Win

  4. esauboeck August 6, 2017 at 8:07 pm #

    Thanks for writing, Win! I hope you got my email with toddler pics!

    • Win Thrall August 6, 2017 at 8:28 pm #

      I loved getting the pix. The one of you and George is on my desktop ready to print! Loved seeing the kid and Porto (bestill my heart about Portugal – been there twice).
      Biggest problem I have is how to synthesize all my thoughts and describe the latest events in my life to you. Have just added another today — “talking” to my grand daughter Minna (Jay’s oldest) who is staying in Orange, CA this summer before she starts her sophomore year at Chapman, studying film!!! She is deep into Victorian Pre-Raphaelite illustrations – copying and hoping to sell them, She is curious about seeing more V art after I told her about my favorite ones. She wondered if the Getty had any (I doubted it) but do you know where they would be — Hammer? Then I thought wouldn’t it be great if I could get out there and we could go together to the museums.

      Miss you A LOT.

  5. esauboeck August 6, 2017 at 8:44 pm #

    How interesting: a granddaughter interested in pre-Raphaelite art! Yes, the Hammer has some, LACMA has a few, and so does the Getty. Has she checked out the collection of the Bowers Museum? Since she’s in O.C. Also look at San Diego. As I remember, the museum there has some, too. Yes, you should come visit! But make it soon, if you want to see us in CA! By next spring, we’ll probably be out of here. 😦

    • Win Thrall August 6, 2017 at 8:53 pm #

      Thanks so much for these references. I’ve sent them to her.
      I have an idea she will go far with her film making because she has incredible focus – digs deep into issues and has expressed some impressive thoughts. The UCLA head of film dept (Petra) called Jay to say her entry film was the best she has ever seen! But the admission was so horribly expensive and Minna was not offered any aid. But she seems happy where she is.
      I had some doubts about Chapman because Kenneth Starr went there after the Clinton fiasco and thought it was probably right wing but it is churchy. I haven’t asked her about it.

  6. esauboeck August 6, 2017 at 8:55 pm #

    Chapman is pretty conservative, but I think it’s loosened up a bit….

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