'Eat Pray Love' meets 'An Apple A Day' meets 'Under The Tuscan Sun'.
Stuck in a job he hates, madly smitten with a woman two decades his junior, racing helplessly into middle age and living in a world where vodka and orange juice is considered breakfast food, Mark Hill knows it's time to make a big life change.
He quits his job, stuffs a few clothes and some personal items into an old navy duffel bag, sends all of his other possessions to the bin or the charity shop and books a one-way ticket to Portugal.
In a small town slightly off the tourist trail he leaves the rat race behind, discovers a slower pace of life, comes to terms with unrequited love, develops a taste for fresh fish and eventually learns how to say "boa tarde."
Poignant, insightful and sometimes funny, Sophie, Rice and Fish is for anyone who's ever thought "there has to be more to life than this."
"Rice and fish," I say to the waiter.
It's all I can manage to say. I don't look at the menu. I don't ask for suggestions or inquire as to what's fresh. I don't read the daily specials chalkboard. I just ask for "rice and fish."
I am in Lisbon, my landing point in Portugal. I want rice and I want fish. Any rice. Any fish. I don't care.
The waiter looks at me like I'm the world's dumbest tourist. "Menu?" he says.
I repeat, almost pleading. "Please," I say. "Rice and fish."
He brings me a plate of salty sardines and a bowl of slightly overcooked white rice. Not fancy. Not even very good. Certainly not a dish that Rick Stein would lose any sleep over. But, for me, perhaps the best meal ever. And quite possibly the first step on the road to saving my life.
I am looking for a village. Lisbon, of course, is not a village.
I love Lisbon to death.
I love the up and down twisty winding hilly streets. I love the 25 de Abril Bridge which everyone tells you was designed and built by the same people who constructed San Francisco's Golden Gate but actually wasn't but is cool anyway.
I love the clunky funky yellow streetcars that wheeze up and down the streets providing locals with an easy way to get around and tourists with a convenient way to see the city close-up and have their pockets and purses carefully picked all at the same time.
I love the fresh seafood on offer at dozens of markets around the city and the crowded little restaurants where they cook the fish outside over coals and serve it up with rice and a glass of wine for about ten euros.
I love the calcada, the traditional Portuguese pavement. I love the way you can walk into any of Lisbon’s many pracas (squares), look down and discover a glorious work of art under your feet.
I love the people who manage to be friendly and nice and helpful but without falling into that horrible "professional customer service" attitude that characterises so much of the western world.
Lisbon is a great city. But I am not looking for a city. I am looking for a village.
My hands are shaking. I'm sitting in a backpacker hostel at a table with a group of young people from all parts of the world. We're chatting. I am desperately trying to seem normal. But my hands are shaking. Even using two hands, I can hardly bring my cup of coffee to my lips without splashing it about my face. It is everything I can do not to look like a drooling idiot.
It's a bit after eleven o'clock. It's also the first time in years that I've gone this far in the day without a drink.
It's the first time in many months that I haven't woken up at 7:30 in the morning and immediately reached for the half pint of vodka and orange juice that I'd placed beside my bed the night before along with a small spoon to stir the drink because, over eight hours, vodka and orange has a tendency to separate (the vodka goes on top; the juice sinks) and you need to give it a mix.
I make it through breakfast and head down the spiral staircase to the front door. I'm shaking. My legs quiver. There is no handrail and I am seriously worried about falling down the stairs.
At the tiny shop a few minutes walk from the hostel, I manage to get a one litre bottle of Sagres beer out of the cooler and onto the counter without dropping it. The shop owner picks €1.60 from the pile of coins in my shaking hand.
What must he think of me? He probably thinks I belong with the winos and addicts at the park just down the hill. I probably do.
Back at the hostel, the bottle is almost empty before I am back to normal.
Normal? This is my normal.