Basel The Beautiful…


Ahhh… *cough* *cough*

If there were any doubt left in my mind, the saturation of cigarette smoke in the air was confirmation enough that I was back in Europe.  Nicotine and tar never smelled so good.

Since 2003, my first non-family, two month backpacking trip around Western Europe, I must have reprogrammed my mind to view this continent as my North Star.

To put it mildly, I love it here.

The proximity to so many different countries (split between cultures, languages, and landmarks) and their various revisionist histories opens an endless amount of intellectual pathways for those willing to walk them.    The ability to gain so many different perspectives, within a 1-2 hr flight, in my opinion, is invaluable; especially in countries like Switzerland where most people you meet aren’t really from Switzerland.

Currently I’m hanging my hat in Basel, Switzerland, condo sitting for a good friend of mine and learning to embrace absolute solitude.  Too often in life, I think we let the voices around us dictate our thoughts, actions, decisions, even if consciously we don’t recognize it at the time.

Solitude is hard. Mainly because contextually we classify it as loneliness, the big bad word that haunts the dreams of many; but once your mind has the opportunity to reframe and redefine, the thoughts and possibilities that arise from from within can be life-changing.

One voice is sometimes all we need.

As for my new surroundings, Basel is the 3rd most populous city in Switzerland, a small yet beautiful place that exudes organization and elegance; while at the same time clinging to the natural beauty of its history and of course, the Rhine River.

My condo is beside the Voltaplatz tram station and for me, there seems no better place in the city to live.

In the evening, 2 minutes walking and suddenly I am beside the river.  A pathway filled with people barbecuing, drinking, swimming, socializing or just sitting together discussing their lives. It is truly something out of a contemporary Woody Allen film.   Just steps over the river and I find myself in a park with soccer nets, a beautiful double basketball court, and lots of open green space for picnics or other games.  I haven’t experienced an evening yet when this park wasn’t overrun with people.  Incredible.

Downtown is a 20-25min walk but if I am in a rush, rarely, I’ll jump on the #11 tram which is part of the most efficient public transport systems I’ve ever experienced.  From my discussions with locals, all of Switzerland is like this; trains, trams, and boats all coordinated into one orchestra of order.  It’s really quite impressive.

And speaking of quite impressive… Swiss prices.  Oh man.

Now, I’m not talking about the, “Wow, what a deal! I’m really impressed.” type of feeling.  I’m talking, “WTF! How are you snakes charging me 4 CHF ($4.50 US) for an espresso and getting away with it?! That’s impressive.”

I’ve learned to associate grocery shopping and evening dining in Switzerland with walking into a local pick pockets meeting with a blindfold on.  But interestingly enough, I’ve also come to enjoy that all of the products sold in the country are of a higher quality, and their prices are inflated because their wages are as well.

But aside from the financial achievements of the country, Switzerland so far, has been everything I had hoped.  This country may not claim the penchant for passion that Spain or Italy cling to as national treasures, but they certainly make up for it in civility and perspective; Characteristics that are overlooked far too often.

And though I look forward to returning to the mighty city of Barcelona in August, right now, Basel is treating me like a kind old friend and I am perfectly fine with that. J

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Fake Fear and the Fight for Experience

I have been terrified of things for most of my life.   And by things, really, I mean a lot of things.

Public speaking, Financial Reporting, Traveling, Love,  Death, Driving in a car with someone who clearly shouldn’t be driving, Sketchy Chinese Restaurants, Mexico,  Religious People,  Surfing,  Sting Rays, JellyFish,  Drowning, Growing a Business, Starting a business, eating new foods, taking a bus in Mexico, SkyDiving, Writing.

I really could flesh out the above list for the rest of the week and still not be done.  The more I think we know about the world, (or *think* we know) the easier it is to be scared of it.;  Though I think that’s a reasonable reaction to knowledge, I must say, I don’t find it acceptable to give into the fear.

Because out of all the things I’ve ever been afraid of, none of them have ever proven to be as bad as they were in my mind. Most of them, never even existed in the first place.

A perfect example that I am dealing with currently is Mexico.

Right now, I am living in the beautiful down of La Cruz de Huanacaxtle, Nayarit, Mexico.  In February I learned that I had the opportunity to rent a beautiful two-bedroom condo overlooking Banderas Bay, roughly 30min from Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, for a crazy low price.  And my first thought went directly to all of the fearful, chicken little articles about Mexico that have populated the newspapers and websites over the past few years.

  • Drug Cartels
  • Murders
  • Widespread Violence
  • Blah Blahgiddity Blah

Luckily, since I rarely take news at face value anyways, I decided to dig a little deeper into the issue.  I approached a friend of mine, Sean, who is the person responsible for finding me this amazing condo since he has lived in this building with his girlfriend for the past two years.   I asked Sean to give me his impression of the violence and safety in La Cruz, and if I would be okay staying for a couple months.

He basically laughed me off the phone.

Then, he and his girlfriend, Carla, proceeded to leave me fake voicemails making fun of me for thinking that I might get killed in Mexico.   So this, combined with my larger fear of actually having to spend the rest of this year in Ontario, easily superseded any fear I had and now here I am in Mexico.

But it’s funny, I have been here for nearly a month and still that imaginary fear is still lingering; enough that only today did I have the balls to take the bus home from another town.

Over the past three weeks I have been laughed at by nearly a dozen people, who Sean has enjoyed telling about my fear of Mexico.
This never ceases to get a laugh. Even today at my first Salsa lesson (which was amazing!), I told my instructor how I was a little scared to take the bus back home, and again… heavy laughter.

sunrise in Nayarit Mexico

Sunrise in Nayarit (from my Balcony) - Scary huh?!

This is one of the main reasons I have cut down about 95% of my news intake, and I am a much happier, productive person for it.

CNN, Huff Post, Fox News, Toronto Star, and your local newspaper, simply don’t have anything else to write about, and fear sells.  We are evolutionarily hard wired to seek out danger, so we know what to avoid to survive,  but learning about a small plane crash in Colombia shouldn’t affect my thoughts about a flight from Toronto to Calgary, but for a lot of people it does.

We focus our fears on such improbable events, like plane crashes, shark attacks, drug violence in Mexico, and yet we don’t think twice about excessive alcohol consumption, smoking, texting while driving, or eating a double cheeseburger with bacon.

All of the things I just mentioned are much more likely to seriously impact our quality of life, our longevity, and not to mention our mental health. Because our irrational fears are constantly feed a steady stream of hypey bullshit from anyone with a keyboard and a broadcast license.

These people are doing nothing more than getting in the way of us doing the things we want in life. They stop us from turning the monotony of our lives, into a non-stop adventure.

Recently I’ve found that surrounding yourself with people that help you fight the fear and feed the adventure is one of the most important steps we can take in our lives (I will cover this more in a future post).   Because there are plenty of chicken littles out there that will tell you how unsafe Mexico is, that your business idea is flawed, or maybe even that life cannot be enjoyed without drugs and alcohol (arguably the same thing).

These people are dangerous and personally I think should be kept at arm’s length. We only get to live one life.   It is incredibly short, and yet full of possibilities.  We need to be surrounded with people that challenge our inner fraidy cat, and force us outside of our comfort zone (typically defined as the city we grew up in) and into a life of adventure that we can be proud to have lived when all is said and done.

And don’t get me wrong, this does not only include travel and risk taking. This could include major life decisions, like quitting a job you hate to chase a dream, or ending a marriage/relationship for the hope of a finding a better mate.  Fear stops us from doing all of these things.

For this moment in my life, I have two people to thank for pushing me into my trip to Mexico. My buddies Joseph, Alex, and my new friend Sean.  Without them, I’m honestly not sure if I would have taken the next step to make this experience a reality.

“Thank you”,  just doesn’t seem like enough.

And now here I sit, in what has seems like paradise so far, thankful that I was able to make this dream a reality.  From here, who knows where I’ll go, but I am learning more and more, that if it scares me, 9/10 it’s worth pursuing.

With this being said, you’ll never guess what I have planned for myself in California at the beginning of June.

But I will give you a little hint…


skydiving in the city of Angels

I Will Be Petrified Until My Feet Safely Touch The Ground

What are you fearful of doing and what is holding you back from it?

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A Chance Encounter with my First Love…

It was August of 2010, I was in Ottawa with my girlfriend at the time, winding down a weekend meant to celebrate my 31st Birthday. We waded in the pool inside the Chateau Laurier Hotel when in walked my first love, Elizabeth, trailing behind her adorable little girl.

I had not seen Elizabeth in years, and though she had aged considerably since taking center stage in my life, when she smiled she still lit up the room and stopped my heart.

I am speaking, of course, about movie star actress Elizabeth Shue.

Ms. Shue, now technically Mrs. Guggenheim, became the love of my life when I was still counting my years in single digits.  She was everywhere.  I can’t recall if I first saw her in Cocktail, The Karate Kid, or Adventures In Babysitting but I’m almost positive it was the latter.  But regardless, I was in love.

Deeply connected, unconditional, uncontrollable, irrational,  romantic love.

With my slight leaning towards hyperbole aside, when Ms. Shue walked into the pool area of the Chateau Laurier, all of these childhood feelings and memories came rushing back to me.   My girlfriend at the time was also slightly star-struck since I had force-fed her Adventures in Babysitting only a short time before.

I could feel the child inside of me, Mikey, who is never far from the surface, waiting desperately for the adult, Michael, to pull his shit together and come up with a game plan.  The sad part, I had nothing.  No witty ice-breakers.  No bold one-liners. Not even a shameless fan attack.  I was drowning in my inability to approach another human being for social interaction, the same skill I’ve used like a trained assassin for most of my life. I guess that’s what true love does. It paralyzes.

I felt empathy for Ms. Shue being half naked and in mommy mode, not to mention that her star had fallen into a steady stream of B-movie roles, and far away from either Teen Idolation or her Oscar Worthy role in Leaving Las Vegas.  Still, the last impression I wanted the former love of my life to have from our one encounter was, “Awkward Asshole Fan”.

So… I waited.   And as Ms. Shue reached the opposite end of the pool I was hit with a mental pile of bricks.  Overly excited, I leaned over to my girlfriend and said, “Holy Shit! She was in Back To The Future 2 and 3! She played Marty’s girlfriend Jennifer.  How the fuck did I forget that?! This is crazy.”

Back To The Future. My all-time favourite movie trilogy that I’ve watched more times than I would like to admit, and in my drunk puppy-love state I had forgotten Ms. Shue had played a staring role. Now I was under water. I was once again an 8 year old trying to hide his excitement and love from his crush.

Elizabeth swam with her daughter and asked me a question I’ve long since forgotten, but my answer was a personal disappointment.  As I masterfully played the part of ignorant hotel guest and mediocre swimmer my mind became a fury of conversation choices and two minute monologues based on achieving one goal… make contact, be nice, shake hands, leave.

But fighting like a dog in the street with that goal was the part of me that had so many questions I desperately wanted her to answer:

“Did you enjoy being in Back To The Future?” (this was most important)

“Even though a lot of people look at Cocktail as a fluff 80s movie, I thought it was just ahead of its time. Do you get a lot of comments still about playing Jordan Mooney? “

“What was your favourite role of the 80s?” (I could give a shit if it was The Saint or Leaving Las Vegas)

Elizabeth Shue in Cocktail

Cocktail With Tom Cruise

As much as I wanted to pepper her with all of these questions Jay Leno/Ryan Seacrest style, I knew that I would more be playing the role of Kamikaze Paparazzi than jovial talk show host;  Which is another reason I didn’t want to make my approach in the water.

After all of these painful internal conversations I decided it was time to go.  I got out of the pool, dried off a little bit, and then as I saw Elizabeth crouched near the pool step latter looking down at her daughter I decided it was now or never.

I gathered all the courage and material I had rehearsed over the past 15-20min and I went for it with reckless abandon. Like Jon Cusack at the end of Say Anything with my proverbial ghetto blaster lifted over my head…

Here , paraphrased, is how that encounter went:

“Excuse me, hi, Ms. Shue. My name is Mike and I just wanted to say that I am a huge fan of yours.”


“I mean, I just forced my girlfriend to watch Adventures in Babysitting last week.”

(her uncomfortable smirk turned slowly into a smile)

(here I realize I probably shouldn’t have lead with Adventures In Babysitting, and instead opened my adoration with Leaving Las Vegas…. Dummy).

“I don’t want to bother you with your daughter, but I just wanted to say I’ve really enjoyed all of your films, I think you’re an amazing actress, and I just wanted to wish you the best for the rest of your career.  I look forward to seeing you in more movies.”

(At last, a totally sincere and genuine smile. The kind that I watched in Cocktail over and over and over again just because seeing her happy made me happy.)

“Thank you so much, that’s really nice of you to say.”

“You’re welcome. Hope you have a great time in Ottawa.”

“Thanks, take care.”

And that was it.

Mikey could proudly go to sleep at night knowing that Michael had actually stepped through time for him and made his dreams come true.

Throughout the rest of that day and, sadly enough, the next couple days all I could think about was Elizabeth Shue.  It got to the point that my girlfriend was visible angry at how often I would bring up the encounter.  My girlfriend finally turned to me and said, “Oh. My. God. I think you’re actually in love with her. And I don’t just mean like a star-crush, I think you actually love her.”   We both had a good laugh, my girlfriend laughing with reserved annoyance, and me laughing with awkward shameless guilt.

In all honesty, I was getting annoyed with myself at the absurdity of my emotions, but this is childhood love. It doesn’t understand logic, rules, or “girlfriend’s feelings”.    It just understands how happy watching Cocktail made me when I was 8 years old.  I suppose pure, illogical “love” like that doesn’t quickly fade, or truly go away.

And no matter how absurd this story is, I must say, I’m grateful that it happened.  Because it’s usually near impossible to recreate the infatuation or “love” that you feel for a movie star when you’re 8 years old and it is something we rarely get back.

It felt exciting.

So I guess it’s no surprise that even though this happened nearly two years ago, I was inspired to write this post after just having watched Cocktail, again… and she was just as perfect as I remember.

Thanks Elizabeth Shue. For Everything.

I wonder what Alyssa Milano is doing these days….

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