Angles of Our Own Selves

WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge: For this week’s challenge, photograph a person, or a piece of fruit, or a toy — any stationary object — and experiment by photographing it from different angles. While there is no minimum I challenge you to choose three of your favorite shots and post them in a gallery on your blog.

A radical change in perspective is never easy. Altering that already instinctive angle – be it broad or narrow – from which we regard life is a challenge, to say the least. As a person with somewhat twisted values and ideas in certain respects, yet who is so stubborn that she hardly ever changes her opinions, I am also aware of the ineffable necessity of never forgetting to keep an open mind, especially when having to reach various conclusions. That’s why I normally perceive the idea of changing my perspective as a positive endeavour.

And yet… What about those individuals who narrow down their perception of the world to only a handful of selfish, misogynistic, bigot, anger infused notions? I’ve seen it happen to various people, the aforementioned disease manifesting itself in a variety of stages. I’m not talking about those bad moments/days we all have, when we open our mouth without thinking and utter things that we never thought ourselves capable of saying. I’m referring to those extreme modifications in long-term behaviour which make a person unrecognizable. When somebody close to you undergoes such a metamorphosis, when a person you used to admire becomes the opposite of who they used to be in a couple of years, you can only hope the process is reversible, although deep inside you know that’s not the case.

A man who once used to perceive women as goddesses worthy of male adoration now smiles cruelly whenever he hears another piece of news about a woman beaten to death. A man who was good friends with many gays now spews out homophobic propaganda whenever he gets the chance. A man for whom money was never important now hates everybody who is wealthier than him and he despises those who have less. A man who used to cry when hearing about the unknown victims of war or of natural cataclysms now bellows his hatred of anyone who isn’t exactly like him, in every way possible. A man who used to love experiencing and discovering new things now has a vivid disapproval of everyone who opens a book, sees a new place or wishes to grow in any possible way.

Their angle has changed. You can perceive their frustration with their own failure and mortality in every sentence they utter. But your angle will unavoidably change as well – the same way their view on life has changed, your perception of such a person cannot remain the same. That is no longer a person you can admire, just as you are no longer a person they appreciate, since in their eyes you have in many respects become the enemy. Sooner or later, you have to accept it. Sooner or later, they will verbalize it – initially not in so many words, initially in a conversation with someone else, but the moment when you hear those exact words is just around the corner. So you are forced into seeing them from a different angle, whether you like it or not.

I dread the possibility of something like that happening to me, the likelihood of having life narrow my ‘angle’ in such a manner. I dread the moment I might no longer want to learn anything new. I dread the moment I can no longer fight in order to remain the person I know myself to be. That is one angle I never want to experience.

 

Rain on the Water – What a Beautiful Day!

WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge – Show us what a good day looks like.

I don’t even like rain. Not normally… The grey, dreary sky and the giant puddle the town tends to become generally depress me. My days of dancing and kissing in the rain are gone – fun as they may have been, I’ve outgrown them years ago. In fact, I was looking forward to spending the whole day in, catching up on my reading and various other things that needed to be done. And then it started to rain… and my vicious, bitchy, vindictive side took over. I wanted to be out there and see the raindrops fall into the sea… but more than everything, I wanted to see their pouty faces, disappointed looks and disoriented demeanour after it had literally rained on their parade. I’m sure many of those living in touristy areas understand my cruel impulse.

To be fair, I normally don’t mind holiday makers, I’m used to the fact that a few months a year the town doesn’t belong to us anymore; instead, it is invaded by people from all over the country, especially during the weekends. The more it caters for tourist, the higher the prices are, the trendier the place becomes. The fast pace becomes faster, yet the traffic becomes slower; finding parking becomes an utopic endeavour, much like finding a table in a restaurant or a pub or even an empty spot on the beach. Living not far from the beach also means that the neighbourhood will be full of tourists renting apartments wherever they can find them, so they could save some money – you’ll often see a large family or two or several young couples renting a small apartment for a few days or even a week or more. Since most of them drive to the seaside, the extremely narrow streets often become inaccessible for both pedestrians and vehicles. There will constantly be people walking up and down the stairs; rarely will a night go by without somebody having a party and unless you switch off your intercom and disconnect your doorbell, you can be sure somebody will wake you up at least once, ringing the wrong apartment, because they forgot which one they’re in.

That being said, I have to admit that I generally enjoy the summer euphoria, I like to hear the noise of the music from beach clubs in the distance late at night, the same way I love to see how alive and fun the area becomes, I like to be part of that lively scene. But there is such a thing as too much; inevitably there comes a moment when enough is enough and for a short while I begrudge all of them, all those hoards of invaders who behave as though the town existed solely for their entertainment, no matter how that might inconvenience those who have to carry on with their daily life here. That generally happens when you cannot get any rest for days because of the noise or when you find your car dinged in the parking lot once too many times or when the latest batch of holiday makers behave like filthy savages and so on, so on, so on…. That’s when you snap and all you want is for them to go home, no matter how well you understand why they’re here or how much you may enjoy everything that constitutes that summertime, seaside atmosphere.

The past two weeks have been all that and more and I hit my breaking point, so when the rain started today, I was filled with sadistic joy. All of the sudden I wanted to be outside and witness their ruined weekend – sweet, sweet revenge! The first bad weather weekend since late June and I’m feeling no empathy whatsoever, on the contrary… Obviously, not many trusted the forecast, they came to the seaside anyway. Driving away, I could see a good number of them heading back from the beach in a hurry, soaking wet, almost running in the cold rain. Ha! Good, take that, you… you… all of you! (Good thing I remember just in time, I’m too old to stick my tongue out at them; I’ve done that in traffic a few years ago and suffice to say, it was not well received.)The stubborn ones don’t give up that easily, that much I have learnt over the years – they came to the seaside to go to the beach and by god, they will go to the beach and stay there until conditions improve. You often see them huddled up under a tree, an umbrella, in a doorway or wherever they can find refuge as close to the beach as possible; they may even have small children with them, but that will not dissuade them. As I keep driving, I’m experiencing a very pleasant feeling – that of taking back my town; but I can’t help noticing that most of them have already found alternative entertainment in pubs, restaurants and other similar places. Oh well… what can you do…

WEEEEEEE!!!!! The massive SUV in front is speeding up and I know exactly why! I’m with him on this one! I know that puddle coming up is more than your usual puddle, it hides a dip in the not at all perfectly executed road, so it’s deeper than you’d expect. The car on the right speeds up as well – some sort of inferiority complex perhaps? He’s constantly been a pest, cutting people off, changing lanes without signalling, speeding up and slowing down for no good reason, nearly running into a pedestrian trying to cross the road. Besides, he’s an out-of-towner and my sympathy is not with him today. The guy in the SUV is about to teach him a lesson and today I can’t blame him. A swift swish and a wave of water as high as the vehicle washes over the car on our right. He slows down considerably, suddenly suspicious of what other puddles might hide. I laugh with childish pleasure. We are still children at heart, aren’t we? We just don’t jump into puddles anymore, we simply speed up and drive through them…

It’s still raining when I get to the place I had in mind from the very beginning. I was hoping for a calm sea, so I could stare at the raindrops disturbing it’s surface. That’s clearly not the case, but the view is still nice. I’m not the only one who needed to be out on such weather, people are taking in the show from the comfort of their parked cars. I am however among the few going out in the wind and rain in order to take some pictures of the waves breaking against the rocks, practically almost under our feet… or wheels? As I go right by the rail separating us from the sea, the boys in the car next to mine are laughing with anticipation. I suspect bets having been made on how long before it happened. I can’t blame them, I would have done the same. I know what they’re hoping for. More than once I’ve seen waves breaking against the rocks, the water soaking people close to the rail and the hoods of the cars stopped where mine is. I chose the moment wisely though – oh, I really hope I did, I really hope so… Yes, that’s right, I’ve taken my pictures, no wave having washed over me in the process, so I can smugly take the few steps back to my car. Not today, boys, not today! :-)

It’s a pleasant sensation when raindrops and sea water blend, the wind spreading them in your hair, all over your face… I had forgotten that. Good thing I’m wearing waterproof mascara though, or the memory could have become unpleasant. Ok… the boys are getting disturbingly friendly yelling and waving at me from their car… Time for me to go!

Deserted beaches with closed umbrellas and drenched chaise-longues – what a beautiful sight! I know I’m not going to feel the same in a few weeks when summer really is over, when everything changes within a couple of days – one day they’re here, invading the beaches, suffocating the town, the next they’re gone, not to return until next summer. That’s the first sign that it’s officially and unavoidably autumn. That can be a depressing conclusion for somebody who doesn’t like rainy, dreary weather. I know I’m not going to like it then. But what a pleasant sight it is today…

 

Parallel Lives – Sample Fragment 1

The buzzing sound of the plane engines and the milky view of the clouds with the protruding mountain peaks below failed to provide her with their usual sleepy serenity. Relinquishing control of her life and relying on the mysterious laws of physics to transport her exactly where she needed to be had been replaced by frantic panic, as her fingernails were deeply embedded in the window seat from the beginning of a flight which would normally allow her to spend some of the calmest hours of her existence. She had to make use of all her self-control to complete the boarding procedures and to maintain her resolution of going through with her trip, but she felt the plane would take her nowhere this time – it had occurred to her that she was only drifting, she never really had a clear idea where any of the planes would take her, she was just spinning in a circle, in the vague hope that access to the right flight would eventually be gained, by chance or by mistake. And as she felt falling deeper and deeper, she couldn’t help wondering why she kept leaping from one flight to another, as none of them had proven to be the right one.

For more sample fragments from Parallel Lives, see: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/396169

When in Rome…

WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge – This week, share an image of something creepy. Unsettling. Eerie. Disgusting.

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Cimitero dei Cappuccini (The Crypt of the Capuchins) was among the first items on my ‘to see’ list in Rome. I’m neither the squeamish or the easily freaked out type, so I knew I just had to visit the place. When finally finding the location (I simply walked by it twice, in spite of all the signs, because it looked so normal on the outside), I thought for a moment that my expectations had been unrealistic. Only for a moment. My imagination couldn’t have created anything like what I got to see inside. Art, macabre and religious symbols intertwined in a manner impossible to describe in words. Never have I felt it stronger – death is the only survivor of time. Hundreds and hundreds of dead, buried and exhumed bodies – belonging to capuchin monks – have supplied the raw material for this unusual kind of religious art. In case you’re wondering who displayed their remains in such creative a manner, the answer is simple: the other monks, the living capuchins, the ones who used the various rooms of this crypt as a place of prayer and recollection…

I can’t take credit for the pictures above, they are no more than photos of some postcards from my collection. This was the only place I have visited where I simply forgot to reach for my phone or camera and ‘immortalize’ the moment. What would have been the point?… I don’t even know whether visitors were allowed to take photos or not; I don’t remember if there were any signs mentioning it. I only remember somebody was reprimanded for using their camera – that was the moment when I realised I hadn’t even thought of using mine. But I didn’t try to afterwards either.

Once I was outside again, under the warm spring sun, all I could think of was that such a beautiful day in Rome needed to be enjoyed… by all means, no minute could be wasted.

 

Quick Updates and a Quick Thank You

It’s about time I kept a promise made months ago… There’s finally a little corner on my blog dedicated strictly to thanking all of you who deemed me worthy of various awards. A separate category mentioning you and your beautiful blogs is my personal way of saying ‘Thank you’. I haven’t always responded promptly and I haven’t always found time to participate in further nominations or write the appropriate posts, but I have included everybody in this section and in the already published pieces. While I am deeply grateful to everybody who might have me in mind in the future, I think I should stop here with receiving further awards. I hope nobody feels offended, but I’m retiring from the award receiving business :-) .

Now… for a different kind of ‘Thank you’… You have no idea how much I appreciate all of you who took time to read my Parallel Lives sample fragments or download the book. All your comments and suggestions reinforced my confidence that writing the book was indeed a good idea. A selection of your opinions accompanied by links to your blogs will become part of the Parallel Lives page in the near future. As for the sample fragments, they end here, but I will dust off some of the old ones and repost them for the new comers. I apologize in advance to everybody who has already read them – please ignore them.

Last, but not least – for those who enjoyed MissShy’s adventures, there will be a few more of those stories in the hopefully not too distant future.

That being said, I have one final reminder… It’s summer, my friends, so find some time to be naughty and have fun, whatever that might mean to each and every one of you! There’s no time like the present, so enjoy it!

 

A Day at The Museum

WordPress Photo Challenge: What is your inspiration? What moves you? What is it that never fails to motivate you, to get you going, or make you happy? Show me your inspiration!

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“I paint what I see, sometimes like this, sometimes like that. I don’t brood about it, or experiment. If I have something to say, I say it the way I think I need to. There’s no transitional art. There are only good artists and not so good artists.”

Pablo Picasso

We found parking without an effort. That was the second ominous sign. The first one was the lack of the usual crowd in front of the doors. By the time we reached the imposing building, I was already sure it would be close. I had obviously perpetrated some kind of indecency to anger the Museum Gods and now they were refusing me the Prado… again.

I had been to Madrid before, but there hadn’t been enough time to visit the museum back then. This time, it would be different, I knew that – I would have plenty of time to do everything I wanted. But I was envisioning that visit to the Prado from the moment I started planning the trip. I could just see myself getting lost on the hallways, wondering from one gallery to another, unable to take in everything, but completely dizzy, floating because of that kind of experience which – instead of understanding it – you mostly feel exquisitely drowning your mind and spirit. That kind of place always makes me feel small – but small in the greatest way possible. I feel compelled to swallow some of my ego and pride. That avalanche of immortality and beauty makes me feel like a huge burden has been lifted, even if only for a brief period of time – if I am so wonderfully small, that can only mean that all my failures are absolutely insignificant, disguised by that comfortable blanket of anonymity.

I wanted to treat myself to that delicious sensation you get when opening a gift you just know is going to be wonderful. So I refused to look up the schedule – I knew it was a local holiday, but I greatly underestimated its importance. After all, I also knew the museum was open at the weekend and on most religious holidays, so they wouldn’t close it exactly that day… or would they? Well… all I can say is I wasn’t the only one naïve enough not to look it up in advance. All my anticipation turned into stifled frustration, I felt like stomping my feet and bitching and moaning about that great unfairness. I wanted my day at the museum; and once I set my mind on something, there’s no distracting me from it, not to mention that I can hardly perceive anything else as appealing. But a certain someone accompanying me had a head start on throwing his own tantrum, so at least one of us had to behave as an adult; sadly it was my turn that day. After all, it was too beautiful an afternoon to waste pouting. We came back a few days later and we finally managed to visit the elusive museum. There was even a very special treat in store for us, and although it was no longer a surprise, it was by no means less pleasant.

Travel as much as you can, see as much as you can; nobody will ever be able to take that away from you. That’s one of the not so many wise pieces of advice my mother gave me and it came to my mind that day, while staring thunderstruck at those Picasso’s the Prado was hosting temporarily. The entire experience proved to be overwhelming, as expected; the anticipation of getting to see some of Picasso’s paintings did nothing but enhance it.

I took my time to appreciate those moments. Nevertheless I was reluctant to leave.  The kid I once was, the one who didn’t dare to dream of seeing such treasures with her own eyes, was jumping up and down with joy. There are certain dreams – great and small alike – that we forget we had, simply because we buried them somewhere deep in our soul out of fear or uncertainty. Yet,  making them come true can be so surprisingly fulfilling…

Looking Up Close

Weekly Photo Challenge: This week, discover the hidden details that can only be seen up close.

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“Please don’t put on your glasses again, Miss… we’ll fix it all.”

Gone was the smug look of male superiority on his face. It was my turn to smirk smugly at the both of them.

This was years ago, in my early twenties. I knew the two painters were by far not the best in the business, but they were all I could afford at the time and the living room really needed a fresh coat of paint; besides, I also knew that they could to a decent job of it, if approached the right way. There were some issues with the walls, as I had found out during a previous attempt to do the job myself, with the help of some friends. As I was trying to point out what those issues were and why I needed their professional help, I was rudely interrupted by a bored sigh and a know-it-all, you’re-just-a-woman-who-has-no-clue misogynistic eye roll. They knew better what needed to be done, I should just run along and do my nails or whatever it was we women did when the men were working. I smiled, said nothing and let them do the work I – the little, clueless woman – was paying them to do (but only when the job was done).

Later on, I was surprised to hear they had finished already… that is, just in time, with no delay. But I wasn’t at all surprised to see what a terrible job they had done and I started pointing out the flaws, one by one. The first couple of flaws pointed out triggered disgruntled comments and useless justifications. I kept on pointing out the rest of them, taking my glasses off once in a while so I could look the older one in the eyes as I was explaining why everything was wrong and how it could have been avoided, had they paid attention to me in the first place. They were finally quiet as I kept looking up close at the badly painted walls, mentioning even the smallest of flaws. Meanwhile I had also done my due diligence and knew exactly how they were supposed to have done their job and I didn’t shy away from telling them. That was the point where I was reaching for my glasses again, about to go hunting for more of their mistakes. Please don’t put on your glasses again, Miss… They had capitulated and after they redid everything, they were finally quiet, demurred and probably as respectful as they could ever be to a woman, especially a young one. Nothing good could come out of my putting on my glasses and taking a closer look, they had figured out. Funny enough, those were my compute glasses, I really didn’t need them in order to instantly see everything that was wrong.

Many things may have changed ever since, but more often than not taking a close look only reveals all the flaws, all the ugliness we sometimes wish we could not see. I’m guilty of being an overly analytic, overly realistic person and contact lenses on or not, I unwillingly, instinctively notice discrepancies, deception, double meanings, hidden layers, lies, pretence, ugliness masquerading as virtue, even if I try to focus on anything else. In my worst moments, I simply cannot believe that anything or anyone is what they appear to. The rest of the time, I just take things as they come, refusing to accept that it’s all nothing more than constant deception, simply so I could occasionally get some sleep at night.

I have an eye for details and I cannot help constantly taking a close look at things, people, situations… at myself. The one advantage such deviant behaviour presents is the acknowledgement that absolutely everything is flawed, even damaged, at times even ugly or simply empty. Perfection is a mere illusion easily dissipated by close analysis – the same way beautiful flowers are often crawling with unappealing insects, that wonderful family, that perfect couple, that amazing person whose life we often envy or wish we could have are hiding messy existences, full of unpleasantness or despair. It only takes one close look to make the façade crumble…

 

Thin Dividing Line

Weekly Photo Challenge: This week, share an image that has two clear halves, literally or figuratively.

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The little girl kept following us and the more I felt her big, strange eyes trying to drill into our souls, the more I couldn’t help wondering at which point exactly we had crossed that shallow, invisible line dividing our worlds…

The place isn’t far, maybe an hour’s drive, but it has little in common with the seaside madness my town becomes every summer. And even the fickle heart of the holidaymaker seeking endless entertainment, forgetfulness and temporary distraction from everyday life needs a moment or two to breathe and recover, away from overpopulated beaches, loud terraces and crowded trendy clubs. Yes, I knew such a place, somewhere we could go and spend a little while hearing ourselves and each other, a place where we could lose ourselves in a different time… I knew a very nice spot, just right for an afternoon’s getaway.

It wasn’t the first time I was visiting that historically laden, yet entirely ignored place; but I have no idea where on the bumpy, bad road lies the border between our world and that to which the little girl belongs. It might be where the decent layer of asphalt ends; or when you enter the first village… or maybe the second… or when you drive by the rusty sign introducing the stranger to her village. I know this type of village for long enough in order to be aware of all the innocence lost and lack of romanticism of the rural community. Yet there still are times when I’m taken by surprise and two strange eyes manage to pierce through my cynical shell and make me wonder and re-evaluate basic issues of my own existence.

She appeared out of nowhere as soon as we got out of the car… a child of the trees, daughter of water. No, a real girl, a child of misfortune and poverty – nothing poetic about her untold drama. She muttered something without getting too close; I think she offered to be our guide on the river banks. I knew the place, I declined her offer, because my overly realistic, cynical, cautious mind had already come up with various ways in which we could have ended up on the bottom of the river, to never be herd of again. She looked neither happy, nor sad, her sunburnt face gave away nothing.

She was spying on us and I was spying on her. She kept walking when we walked, stopping when we stopped, constantly muttering to herself or perhaps to the grass, to the flowers or to the birds; but her eyes were scrutinizing us with great curiosity whenever she thought we weren’t looking. When we walked away from the car, she walked around it a few times – my perfectly average, nothing out of the ordinary car passes for a sign of luxury in such a village, that much I know. Like any girl her age, she was eyeing our outfits, our accessories and our smartphones as we kept taking pictures. Unlike children her age that we grew accustomed to, the hills, the river and the hardships of fieldwork and rural life were her second nature, not technology and endless trips to the mall. Does a child like her even dare to dream of a normal life? Or are her dreams so little that they wouldn’t even count as aspirations on our value scale?

Seeing her eyes look away as soon as she realized I was analysing her reminded me once more that we aren’t even born equal, much less do we have equal chances to overcome our initial condition. I know people who have children her age and they make unbelievable efforts to provide them with the best education and everything they need to have a good start in life, to stand a chance… How much of a chance does this kid stand when her parents allow her – probably make her – go troll for tourists and increase the family budget? Did she even know what she was missing? The way she smiled carelessly at the birds and flowers and spoke to the waves made me think she had no idea that there was more to life than what she had experienced; she was still a child who could enjoy little things in ways we couldn’t even imagine. But the way she looked so much older whenever she was focusing on something could only make me believe that either her intuition makes her feel what lies ahead or she had already survived experiences no child her age ever should know.

Will she break the cycle? Will she be able to make it out of that world, in spite of her lack of fortune and perspectives cast upon her from the moment she was born? Or will she simply continue the century old tradition in the poor village – have children at a very young age, get married even younger, allow herself and her children to be abused by a drunken husband because nobody taught her there are other ways of life out there? Maybe she could be amongst those few incredibly lucky village children who stay in school, who have parents who manage to see the importance of education even if nobody offered them such a chance. Or perhaps her father is just one of the many men who were sitting around the tables and drinking in front of the village pub we had driven by on the way to the river… one of those men who drink the little money they have, with no remorse about what that type of behaviour does to their families.

We left the town to escape our lives for a few hours and that we did… but wild nature was not the only thing to make us think twice about our values and appreciate our own lives and opportunities. It’s the wilderness of people and the cruelty of poverty in a place that – in many respects – seems to still live in the 19th century that really makes one wonder… Easy as it may be to distinguish the dividing line between water and clouds, between land and sky, that thin, oscillating line between worlds stays well hidden most of the times, we only perceive its existence once we cross it.

Not Just Flowers…

WP Weekly Photo Challenge – This week, share a symbol with us, and tell us what it means to you.

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Warning: gentlemen (and not only) with strong feelings against the trivial habit of offering flowers are kindly asked to avert their eyes. Judgemental lady used to and adoring to receive flowers at work!

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I am, have been and always will be a spoilt brat this way – flowers are more than an assortment of colourful plants with a price tag that you throw in a vase, on an empty corner of your desk. Those who know me also know they are both a symbol and a token for me, mere proof that no matter how difficult a struggle life might become, I can still find it in me to surface for a breath of air and a glimpse of beauty… and that as long as there is somebody willing and caring enough to offer me that small source of joy, all is not lost.

We find that sort of comfort and fleeting happiness in various things and places and we are all entitled to like what we like and want what we want. So with the risk of upsetting some of you, I will admit that one way or another, the one thing all the men that have been wrong for me had in common was their inability or unwillingness to offer me flowers. That particular, apparently trivial need of mine would not be the only one they would disregard or write off as irrelevant simply because they felt differently about the subject. Lack of respect comes in all shapes and sizes; and purposely refusing to make a small gesture that would bring pleasure to the one next to you counts as disrespectful, even mean to me. What can I say, I do a lot of reading between the lines and I instinctively find meaning in symbols and the gestures accompanying them. Call me a shallow, crazy, materialistic bitch if you so choose, but I simply appreciate a man who pays attention, enjoys seeing me happy and knows that offering is about the recipient and their affinities, not about the giver and their preferences.

Yes, I know, I know, there’s something terribly wrong with me in order to have such unrealistic expectations and standards. :-) But I am beyond redemption, I have been spoilt rotten from an early age. I remember there was this boy whose mother always gave him a big bunch of spring flowers to offer the girls in our class and to the teachers. Her job had something to do with a greenhouse and that’s where she got the flowers for free. So every morning for a couple of weeks in spring, my friends and I – all the girls he liked or even tolerated in the class – found flowers on our desks when we got to school. He was terribly shy and that’s why he did his best to get to school before all of us; when we confronted him, he could barely find his words and he’d turn all red. It was still a very sweet gesture though, and so was he. And he wasn’t the only one, as I have mentioned before – we were quite used to the boys offering us flowers on various occasions, such as Valentine’s Day.

This type of bad behaviour was further enabled by the boys I dated as a teenager, including my high school boyfriend. Yes, horror of horrors, I kept receiving flowers on my birthday and on various other special occasions. But what I remember most fondly is how we used to sneak into the botanical garden at night, sometimes only the two of us, other times our entire group of friends. The guards were mostly asleep in their quarters and they only had surveillance cameras at the main entrance those days, so we had the whole place to ourselves. Even in those rare when our presence was discovered, they were too sleepy and bored to even try and catch us. So at the end of May and in June I’d always go home with a selection of beautiful roses that my boyfriend would pick for me… :-)

As you can imagine, I haven’t improved over the years. I have a long, complicated, sometimes frustrating, other times exquisitely beautiful history with flowers, both when it comes to giving and receiving them. When a friend of mine turned 20, I gave her a bouquet of 20 of her favourite flowers. Her boyfriend was terribly offended by my gesture, while she was moved to tears. He was trying to teach her a lesson – flowers were a token of consumerism and materialism and he was not going to indulge such tendencies in a woman. He would have rather basked in her sadness and disappointment than have her receive flowers from somebody, anybody… I could see his face darken with anger when he noticed how much joy the flowers brought her.

Don’t get me wrong, uncomfortable as many of you, gentlemen, might be with the topic, I find that many of you deserve to receive flowers once in a while from us as well – if you like this sort of thing, of course. I was 4 or 5 when I first offered flowers to a man. It was the first ballet show I went to see with my mother and at the end I was sent to offer a big bouquet of gladiolas to the prima ballerina, who was a family friend. Instead I gave the flowers to her dance partner and husband. He had been equally amazing and I remember wondering why nobody was giving him flowers.

I also remember he was taken by surprise and asked me if I didn’t mean to give her the gladiolas. I shook my head with determination. Men often feel unconformable, even offended if a woman offers them flowers, I noticed over the years. So I will only offer a man flowers if I know for a fact he wouldn’t mind it. But I must say, I had lots of fun offering flowers to all the male teachers at the end of high school, given the diverse reactions that gesture triggered. We decided to be open-minded and progressive that year and our class offered flowers to all the teachers, regardless of their gender. One of the boys would offer them to the ladies; the task of dealing with the men fell on me. Some of them were amused and pleasantly surprised; others were at a loss for words, not at all at ease with the unforeseen situation; only one of them was downright rude, mentioning that our youth and inexperience was no excuse for mistaking him for a woman… He immediately made a grand exit, leaving the room in a huff, in genuine drama queen style. But the general consensus was that it was about time the men got some attention as well.

That’s what it comes down to – attention, respect and appreciation. A token that somebody cares enough to listen and then to transform their appreciation for me into a gesture, that’s what flowers are as far as I am concerned. They don’t need to be expensive or come from the trendiest florists; they just need to be alive, that’s all it takes to say ‘I thought I’d surprise you,’ or ‘I know this day is special to you, even if it might not be equally so to me’. And when I decide to cheer myself up or simply brighten my day and my home with some flowers, for no other reason other than because I feel like it, it’s also a reminder of rougher days and how today’s small treats should not be taken for granted; instead I should fight human nature and appreciate them.  So let’s stop and smell the roses for a moment or two, because flowers are never just flowers.

Parallel Lives – Sample Fragment 64

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“You treat that kid badly, that’s all. I’m not jealous, I’m just curious, you know. But you treat him badly and it gets to me to know that he just lets you be a bitch to him.”

“Maybe I do treat him badly, but as long as he’s happy with it, it’s nobody else’s business. I don’t pretend to be outraged by the way you treat your wife; nor do I get enraged with her because she allows you to get away for a couple of days with another woman and meanwhile she pretends not to notice what’s going on right under her nose. It’s not my business to decide what should make other people happy; and if they do get what they go looking for, then they’re the only ones to be blamed if they don’t like the outcome.”

“You are something else…”

“Thanks.”

“I’m not sure that’s a good thing this time.”

For more sample fragments from Parallel Lives, see: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/396169

Closing Doors Rather Than Opening Them (Weekly Photo Challenge)

Ready to walk on through? This week, share an image of a door.

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Be open to new experiences… be open to trying new things and meeting new people… open all the doors you find in your way and something good will always come out of this… and if you cannot open the doors yourself, do everything in your power to find some way or someone who can do it for you… have your doors, much like your arms, open for everybody, nothing bad can come of it… How about knowing when to close those metaphorical doors – on a chapter of your life, on a person, on a situation? Isn’t that sort of knowledge underrated, the same way both the open doors of our heart policy and the people who can open all sorts of doors for us are many times overrated?

It occurred to me that the older we get, the more difficult it becomes not only to be open to new challenges, but to actually close the door and put an end to undesirable situations we might find ourselves in; instead, we fool ourselves into thinking we might fix everything, we might change whatever isn’t working properly, when in fact we do know when something has escalated to a point beyond return or repair. But doesn’t one determine the other? Aren’t we afraid to close the door on certain people or contexts simply because we dread the moment when yet again we have to start over? We have already been through it so many times, that in spite of the experience and endurance gained, we risk it becoming a habit. The routine of disappointment mixed with stubbornness and hope can sometimes blur out the warning signs and we fail to see and / or accept that we need to move on once more.

Walking away without looking back can prove challenging these days… it used to be different. I was reading one of Lillian’s poems earlier, one memory lead to another and I got to have flashbacks of how easy letting go used to be. It took two ballet lessons to understand that activity wasn’t meant for me and move on to something else. When I was in kindergarten, it took me 10 minutes to understand that the boy I liked for months was a bore, all it took was the courage to go and play with him; once I realized that, I stood up and left, to never talk to or care about him again. Sure, we’re not children anymore, the complexity of our lives can often be overwhelming and nothing is either black or white, all the shades in between become unbearable and suffocating at times. But when have we forgotten that any doors we might have opened willingly or otherwise at some point can also be closed? When have we become so unable to just close the door behind us and walk away?…

Summer Book Sale on Smashwords

Smashwords.com ‘s summer sale has begun on July 1st ! For one month, thousands of Smashwords authors and publishers will provide readers deep discounts on ebooks, with coupon code levels for 25%-off, 50%-off, 75%-off and FREE.

Why not take advantage of this opportunity to discover and support indie authors and their works? You never know what hidden gems you might find. After all, you can never have too many shoes or too many books ;-) !

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/396169 (use the SW100 code at checkout to get the book for free)

https://www.smashwords.com/books/category/1/newest/1

 

Muse… Or a Month of Doing Nothing (Weekly Photo Challenge)

What’s your muse — what subject do you turn to frequently, more inspired each time?

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Well…. Maybe not a whole month… and maybe not exactly nothing…

Just a couple of weeks… Sipping Sangria in Spain and then coming back home to burry my toes in the sand…

I’d gladly burry my head in the sand these days, but it’s been pointed out to me that people my age don’t do that. So my toes will have to take it this time. And what a nice feeling it is… It’s funny how little time I spend sunbathing each year, in spite of how much I love to be on the beach. I would do better, I’ve decided at some point in June. I’d take a break, as much of a break that can be taken from real life, and just be lazy, just be with myself… and do nothing for anybody. I’m selfish these days and I’m not ashamed to admit it. I don’t want to hear anybody complain for a while; I don’t want to deal with anyone’s problems. Family, friends and acquaintances will have to handle everything on their own – if I can, so can they. That’s it, the ‘Gone to the Beach’ sign is up and I don’t care what anybody has to say about it :-) .

Easier said than done… and I’m the main obstacle, as it turns out. I’m not one to sit still, stare at the sky through her sunglasses and do nothing for hours and hours. But once you manage to break apart from the routine, once you manage to pull yourself away from all the little distractions, it’s really worth it. Leaving my phone home was both the most challenging and the most helpful part of it. It took instinctive fumbling through my bag every 5 minutes in order to realize that I hadn’t left home without my phone in years… who can remember how many? I got over most of the withdrawal symptoms in an hour or so and I could finally relax. And part of the relaxation was enjoying a good book and taking handwritten notes on an old notebook I found and threw in my beach bag just in case. It felt a bit like those days I used to go to the beach and study for exams as a student… only better. It’s always better when a well-behaved waiter serves you cold drinks once in a while… even if they are non-alcoholic ones, since you still have to drive back home. But hey, nothing’s perfect, right?

By my third day on the beach, I was confident that I could take my phone with me because I wanted to, not because I needed to. And what I wanted was simply to take a few pictures. Then it went back in the bag, internet connection disabled and ringing tone muted until the time I made it back home.

Every summer I’m making myself the same promise, that of spending a bit more time by myself on the beach, baking in the afternoon sun or splashing around in the waves, the way I used to do once. Something always gets in the way. Let’s see how it goes this summer. So far, the time allotted to doing nothing and caring about nobody’s issues but my own worked out well. I’ve even managed to be lazy and this post is proof of that – I’ve been meaning to write it since Friday :-) .

Have a beautiful month of July, all of you! I hope we all manage to find something to inspire us this summer.

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Disappointment at The End of The Rainbow (Weekly Photo Challenge)

Whether you opt for a single photo or seven, we want to see all the colors of the rainbow.

It was right outside my window, I noticed it while watering the plants. Sure, I’ll take a few pictures – it was right under my nose, after all. I generally can’t be bothered paying too much attention to rainbows these days; I get the feeling there are more and more, they show up everywhere, but I rarely stop and take a good look at them. There was a time, though, when I was desperately looking to find one…

I never wanted to see Santa, to catch a fairy or to pet a unicorn – I always knew they didn’t exist, no matter what stories the adults were trying to feed me when I was a child. None of the arguments were plausible. What I did want to see was a rainbow… a real one, not the ones in books or in any other sort of failed reproduction. Whenever we were asked to draw something conveying happiness, all of us somehow managed to end up with a rainbow – but not all of us had actually seen one. For me, it was some sort of symbol of exquisite beauty, grace and perfection; but the longer I was looking for it, the weaker my belief in the rainbow’s existence became. Was it by any chance another mythological image used to distract us?  I went to the one voice of reason I knew – my grandfather would tell me what’s true and what’s not. And so he did. He offered me a simple explanation of what it was and why it appeared and in spite of not understanding much of it, I believed him, it seemed based on facts, not on ‘because I said so’s. ‘It’s as real as the ice cream you and I are going to have after our walk this afternoon’, he said winking and smiling at me. I couldn’t be happier, there would be a walk, there would be ice cream and there would definitely be a rainbow eventually; all I needed to do was be patient and persevere.

‘There… look up… there’s your rainbow!’ I had been looking for it for so long and when it did eventually present itself to me, I never even noticed it, it had to be pointed out to me. Where, what?… There, that faint coloration on the sky? Is that what all the fuss was about? It couldn’t be… ‘Pretty, isn’t it?’ Yes… pretty, of course it was… but what’s pretty when you’re expecting gorgeous, out of this world splendour? I was a child looking for bright colours mashed into the thick, overpowering, majestic ribbon of life and happiness dominating sky and earth, the way I had seen in books, the way all of us were drawing and dreaming it to be in kindergarten. My eye was not yet trained to appreciate discrete beauty and my soul had not yet learned that there is disappointment at the end of any expectation.

For quite a while after that experience, I simply looked away with disgust and disappointment whenever I was presented yet another rainbow. I stopped chasing rainbows – or so I thought – the same way I thought I had learned how to control my expectations in every regard. Tricky things they are, expectations… they sneak up on you and you often understand you had them only when they are brutally crushed at the end of the rainbow. I may have found ways to be realistic about my expectation, but that feeling of disappointment never goes away.

I did learn to appreciate the understated, unexpected beauty of the rainbow. I also learned that I cannot find an astonishing collection of perfect parts in just the one thing or person. We take any beautiful colour on its own and when we’re lucky, we find them all in the one picture, composed of separate elements; when we’re even luckier, we can actually notice the puzzle and piece everything together in one more desperate, hopeful attempt to make reality reach the heights of expectations. Even if the rainbow’s colours are almost undistinguishable dots, we can still try and make them into a rainbow…

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Parallel Lives – Sample Fragment 63

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I can be such a dumb fucker sometimes… Robert looked at Amalia, trying to smile apologetically, hoping for an opening to explain himself. Come on… But her sunglasses covered her eyes, her head turned away from him and her thoughts lost god knows where. She probably regrets this trip now; I just became one of the crowd of idiots she undoubtedly considers men to be. He hadn’t intended to offend her in any way, after the night spent together he felt as though things could be talked out openly between them. So what if he wanted to know every little detail of her sex life? So what if he needed every little fact to paint a picture of her? He was going to ask her for details, he would’ve shared some of his own, but then that dismissive look of hers shook him, the past refused to stay buried and words took over.

For more sample fragments from Parallel Lives, see: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/396169

A Sea of Off-Season Feelings (Weekly Photo Challenge)

Umbrellas in winter? Balaclavas in July? Show us what “off-season” means to you.

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Endless, lazy summer months spent at the seaside as a child made me take it for granted. The sea was there, it was that place you returned to as soon as the summer holiday started, to only go back home at the end of August. Not only did I not think too much about it or consider myself lucky, I was often bored with it. What, didn’t all kids my age feel the same? Didn’t they all see it my way? Well, I couldn’t care less whether they did or not. By mid-July I would already be sick and tired of forced happiness and socialization. The constant repetition of what other experienced for a few days, maybe a week or two at most, was getting to be exhausting; so the older I got, the harder I worked on reducing my summer seaside ‘sentence’.

I’m sure there were children out there with a deep understanding of nature and of those pitfalls of human emotion and it must have been those children who wandered what the sea looked like in winter. Since I was definitely not that gifted, I neither wondered, nor cared about it – the sea and its conundrums were something to be dealt with in the summer and I was not going to worry about it beforehand.

My eyes first met the grey hues of the winter sea when I was a teenager – and it was one of those profound revelatory feelings that only a teenager can fully experience. I would go for a walk, I told everybody, I wanted to see the sea. I knew they wouldn’t say no, I had done my part and kept up appearances, the way I was supposed to; I hadn’t asked for anything the entire time and I knew such a I wouldn’t be refused such small demand favour. After all, I wasn’t the only one who needed to keep up appearances, the adults had to do the same and I knew I could ask for anything at that point. But much as the angry teenager wanted to take advantage of their moment of weakness, I couldn’t overcome my pride and self-respect – I wanted to gain nothing from that particular context. I would play my part, but I wanted nothing in return. Nothing but a few moments alone, walking on the beach in the cold breeze, so I could gather my thoughts.

Knowing exactly when, how, why and which appearances needed to be maintained in society was almost instinctive behaviour in our family – that’s probably why my timing was always impeccable when choosing to misbehave and be nothing more than my outspoken self. However, that particular trip at the seaside would not be such a time, as the entire family was playing the appearance game.

I could hear the roar of the waves before I could see them and once I felt the compact wet sand under my boots, I could finally relax. I could finally breathe, even if the frozen, salty air hurt my lungs. The strong wind was something I hadn’t experienced before, but neither that, nor the several patches of snow on the sand felt out of place. The sea was rough, loud and grey – no pretence, no mask, no pretty, sweet summer delight – a force of nature through its own unpleasant, lonely honesty. For the first time in days I could feel my face muscles relax as the pressure of false, socially acceptable smiles and looks dissipated. Being myself, whatever that might have meant, was not only acceptable, but advisable; and for the first time ever I was able to acknowledge and accept that the sea was part of my soul – that grey, wild see, whose roar was the most calming noise I had ever heard. As I was finally walking away, the frozen wind lashing my face, I felt serene, at peace with myself and everybody else. I knew would miss that view. But I also knew somehow, eventually, I had to find my way back not only to that place, but to that sort of inner peace.

Those moments of tranquility don’t last long, I learnt over the years… at least not for me, I’m not that kind of person. But I still go and stare at the sea – especially at the deserted, grey, off season sea – whenever I need to clear my mind.

Vividly Coloured Early Summer Delights (Weekly Photo Challenge)

The theme for this week’s photo challenge is “Vivid.” Perhaps it’s your favorite flower in full bloom, a beautiful sunset or the color of your ice cream. Vivid is limited only by your imagination.

 

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I’m a seaside person. I’m a summer person. There’s something about those early summer days that makes me feel alive and empowered. No matter how sad and depressed I might occasionally be or how unsuccessful some endeavours might turn out to be, the end of May and beginning of June always bring back that childish feeling that everything is possible. It’s that time of year which makes me feel restless, it makes me want to try everything and anything, because I couldn’t possibly fail; and if the improbable were to happen, I wouldn’t even care, because I know I can survive it. Yes… it’s a good time to be and feel alive.

I suppose a small part of me is entirely incapable and unwilling to grow up – the same way Christmas is a time of miracles, summer is a time of possibilities, as it used to be when those early June days of my childhood made me almost smell the salty air of the summer holiday. The first strawberries and cherries were delicious treats, sweet emissaries of the lazy, happy days to come. They still are – the real ones, the local, imperfect, amazingly tasty ones, not the properly fertilized, plastic looking ones we can find all year long.

That’s the taste of childhood, even if I no longer even think about how it would be like to pick them myself, somewhere in a remote garden in the countryside. My heels would certainly not agree with that sort of activity anymore… We didn’t spend too much time thinking about our shoes when we were children, did we? I didn’t grow up in the country or in a small town, but fortunately my childhood wasn’t controlled by technology either. Books, real people, real friends and spending as much time outside as possible were amongst my main concerns. And I remember this one thing – early summer meant the first cherries, which meant the first scraped knees. They also meant the nurses from the nearby clinic would have fresh, new reasons for aggravation and somewhat hysterical fits. Ironically enough, it wasn’t because we were their impatient patients, but because we were little, bratty perpetrators of a very unusual type of theft. The two cherry trees growing in the clinic’s backyard would always become an irresistible temptation as soon as we could spot the red dots amongst the leaves. They were fair game, we thought; after all, many of their branches were hanging over the clinic’s decorative fence, right above our playground. The nurses coming out for a smoke would inevitably catch us each and every time we climbed the trees in what we thought to be sneaky attempts to pick as many of the little red treats as we could. We always managed to get away before they could get their angry hands on us, but we certainly got to learn quite a few curse words that way; and few things make you appreciate life and freedom as running away from a nurse chasing after you on with a broomstick…

Our pursuer eluded, we’d calm down and divide the spoils of our escapade. There was not one of us who didn’t have a ball full of nice, cold cherries waiting in the fridge, we could have just gone home to have some of the fruit our parents were struggling to get us to eat; but what was the fun in that? No fruit ever tasted as good as the cherries we’d steal from the trees behind the clinic, even when some of them were still green. Thinking back, I can’t even tell what we enjoyed more, stealing cherries or annoying the nurses… It was that mix of the two that provided us with just the right amount of adrenaline, I suppose. While we never stole any actual thing, we had very sticky hands when it came to fruit and flowers (lots of the older ladies enjoyed planting flowers in the small gardens in front of our apartment buildings, and we enjoyed triggering reactions similar to those the nurses had). We eventually understood the nurses’ anger – they simply wanted to pick the cherries themselves and take them home once their shift was over. That only made us more adamant in our attempts to steal as many as possible before the nurses could get their hands on them… and us.

It was during such an incursion that we finally started differentiating between doctors and nurses. Just as we were getting ready to flee after noticing the authority figures coming out and lighting their cigarettes, we experienced the shock of our lives – not only were the two doctors dressed differently than the nurses, but they started laughing and told us to take our time, have as many cherries as we wanted, and be careful not to hurt ourselves in the process. Just try not to break too many branches, you do want to have cherries next year too, right? Well, we certainly were not prepared for that, we had no idea what to do with ourselves anymore. An angry nurse immediately started yelling at us from a first floor window, but few children felt a similar affection for doctors as we did, when the two replied, ‘They’re just kids, let them be…’ Yes, we were just kids, therefore everyone involved in the medical profession was the devil as far as we were concerned; but that was the moment we started doubting the veracity of our conviction. Like I said, summer was the time for new experiences and discovering hidden meanings of everyday life.

I am not naïve, I’ve had plenty of years to learn that the mirage of summer is often just that – an unfilled promise of happiness; enthusiasm dies out sooner or later and exhaustion takes over; dreams often become nightmares. This is why I try to enjoy and make the best of that early summer empowering feeling that I get with the smell and taste of the first strawberries and cherries. While life is certainly no ball of perfect genetically engineered, fertilized cherries, displayed in optimal light, it might actually be a handful of cherries grabbed in a hurry from a not particularly cared for tree in a remote village. You open your hand and see what you managed to make away with – there are some pits in there too, a few green cherries, some rotten ones, even a couple of leaves in between, and you can only hope that those deliciously ripe ones, the ones that are naturally perfect and delightful, are enough to make it worth it and keep you going.

Parallel Lives – Sample Fragment 62

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Amalia was dizzy. Why? Why are these comments always a must, no matter who the guy is, no matter how evolved he might appear at a first sight? Inevitably, disappointment strikes and one’s self-defence system will overwrite all previous reason. He may be a man, but he is mainly a male and he cannot help but being human; he will push the limit and he will refuse to accept things for what they are, so one needs to assert one’s will in order to remain on the same level with him.

“Come on, don’t be silly. It was just a joke, I know how you see things, but I also get his side of the story. And from his point of view, he’s in love with you, he’s trying to have a relationship with you, and you’re the bitch that’s screwing anyone but him. By the way, are you still screwing him? When was the last time the two of you did it?”

“It’s been a while. And it’s also going to be a while before this bitch screws the likes of you again… I’m spending a couple of weeks with my family and I’m leaving the day after tomorrow.”

For more sample fragments from Parallel Lives, see: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/396169

On the Way (Weekly Photo Challenge)

For this week’s photo challenge, stop and photograph the metaphorical roses (or the literal tulips). Share a shot of something you saw, did, or experienced on the way: a photo not of your destination, but of an interesting thing along the way.

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The destination isn’t always what we would have expected, so we might as well make the best of it and enjoy every moment of the journey. We often achieve our goals, finally getting everything we were striving for, only to realize we don’t need it or we it simply does not suit the person we have become anymore. It’s that sequence of events and experiences leading to the final point that shapes us, helps us understand who we are, occasionally redirecting us on a new, completely different path.

Broken… But Not Beyond Repair (Weekly Photo Challenge)

This week, capture something broken.

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Renovation… Restoration… These notions don’t apply only to buildings, do they? We all too often undergo a process of renewal ourselves, we try to repair broken parts of our being, we piece together shards of our soul, our hopes and dreams, in desperate attempts to become what we had been ‘before’. Such an intimate struggle is often best kept hidden from prying eyes, we need time and privacy to recover.

Do they think they’re fooling anyone? That’s the question I heard from many people when passing buildings covered in an image of what they looked like and/or what they would look like once all the repair works are carried out. I know they’re joking, the same way I know they know nobody is expected to mistake an image on a panel for the real thing; and often enough, when I’m deeply involved in my own life and thoughts, I don’t even pay attention to these walls about to be fixed. But when the building is a special one or when I’m in a melancholic mood, I can’t help but wondering, how many times do we manage to piece ourselves together as discretely as we might think do? And when those around seem not to notice, how often is it out of respect for our privacy and how often is it mere indifference?

We develop acting skills we aren’t always aware of; and we need our masks, so underneath them we can take our time and restore our true, broken selves. Like many women, I am well-versed in applying my ‘mask’, and that is also because it can be that actual first step towards feeling better and getting better. Think about it, ladies… Dark circles, puffy eyes, pale skin and any other sign betraying sleepless nights, tears, disappointment and pain have been and will be concealed by our expert touch countless times, simply because we don’t want to answer any questions, we don’t always need to share our hurt – be it superficial or of the deepest kind – before we are ready to do it. Once the mirror projects an image closer to that version of us we like, once we are done practicing our relaxed, carefree smile until we have once again perfected it, we might even feel a shiver of relief and budding confidence – yes, if that small part of who we are can be fixed, then perhaps we can do the same with our entire being. So we continue the process, not only to hide our suffering from others, but to give ourselves hope and confidence that we are going to get over yet another bump in the road. We go on and wear that special outfit, so that when we look in the mirror we see the person we want to be and not the mess that we might be at that particular moment and we are a little bit grateful that at least we still have control over some things.

Some might call it shallow pretence, but small things do make a difference. After all, we fix what’s broken the way we know best, we make use of whatever small things work for us. We might simply need a boost, we might have to entirely rebuild or reinvent ourselves, we have our own more or less controversial ways of achieving it, but there are times when we want nobody to witness our struggle. Certain broken parts can be fixed, but time and privacy might be required – hence the cover-up, it just makes it easier. The worthy ones will see beyond the ‘screen’ anyway.

Parallel Lives – Sample Fragment 61

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Their night in the mountain resort was one of innocence lost, but what surprised Amalia was how normal it felt to her; it wasn’t so much a change, but a realisation of how things should be, who she was as a woman and how great it felt to control and lose control at the same time. Insecurity left room to pride and she felt happy, as she realised what an effect she had on the man who was now driving silently.

“What do you think about a repeat of all this in a week or so?”

“I wouldn’t say no, but at a different time.”

“Why? Have you got plans with your boyfriend?”

“No need for sarcasm…”

“I was just saying… Maybe the poor sucker is looking forward to coming back and seeing you and for once you don’t want to disappoint him.”

“You’re the poor sucker, if that’s all you could understand so far. That being said, perhaps we shouldn’t make plans in advance.”

For more sample fragments from Parallel Lives, see: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/396169

Forces of Nature… Or of Human Nature When Travelling (Weekly Photo Challenge)

This week, share a force of nature from your corner of the world.

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I managed to get to my window seat without anybody stepping on my feet; there was plenty of room for my carry on bag; there were no screaming children seated close by; and the gentleman seated next to me appeared to be a very civilized, polite person. I sighed with relief – all these aspects were nothing but miraculous, given the chaos of people boarding what was obviously going to be a full Airbus A310. There was still hope, I could enjoy the flight, I could relax and empty my mind while staring at the clouds – yes, I know, I have all too often bored everybody with my predilection for seeing the wonders of nature from above. I could even take a nap – I was exhausted after all. As it turns out, it was indeed a good opportunity to ponder on the wonders of nature… of human nature when travelling, that is…

Has it ever struck you how people undergo a radical metamorphosis when traveling, especially if they are on vacation? We often resemble a swarm of locusts rather than the civilized individuals we embody in our day to day life. Yes, I am aware of the psychological factors, but that doesn’t mean observing this manifestation is any less fascinating. We eat and drink everything and anything, dishes and beverages that we wouldn’t even touch at home. We wear the most ridiculous outfits either because they are more than comfortable, or because we have some distorted, cliché ideas about what we should wear in a particular place. But it’s allowed when travelling, right? And let’s not even get into all those ridiculous souvenirs that we buy, only to wander what we were thinking when we get back home. I admit I also have a couple of tacky fridge magnets which make me doubt my general sanity… Somehow, travelling makes most of us more desperate to consume everything that’s available, from food and entertainment to art and culture.

The trip isn’t really over until we get off the plane, so the flight time is the final occasion to let our inner locust thrive. But while many of my travel fellows were restlessly looking forward to their snacks and beverages, I was contemplating going to sleep. The view out the window wasn’t too impressive, I didn’t feel like reading and my inner locust draws the line at airplane food, since I am a picky eater even if I am travelling. I knew I had to wait until they were done with their food, the unappetizing smell of the warm meal and the noise were going to keep me awake. But who knew the travel habits of the gentleman sitting next to me would keep me awake too?…

He was clearly very interested in his appearance – a man in his early fifties probably, in good shape and neatly dressed in his casual designer clothes, to which he had matched a rather expensive watch and a very nice pair of shoes. Thus I wasn’t at all prepared for what followed…

The flight attendant served us our lunch and as usual, I couldn’t bring myself to tell her I didn’t even want to see the unappetizing dish on the folding table in front of me. So I thanked her politely and thought I could eat the chocolate bar and have a glass of orange juice. After all, there are people starving in the world… but since I couldn’t figure out how my consuming that awfully smelling meal would help them, I didn’t touch the rest. While I couldn’t help a grimace of disgust, my neighbour asked for a glass of wine, a glass of apple juice and a glass of water, which he carefully aligned next to the food tray. After almost inhaling the questionable meat and whatever gooey things accompanied it, scraping the dish clean, he moved on to the bread roll… which presented a certain cardboard-like quality. With expert moves, he spread the small lump of butter in a thin layer and even the crumbs were gone in record time. I would imagine slightly buttered cardboard makes one very thirsty, so this is probably why the gentleman proceeded to drink from the carefully aligned glasses – apple juice, wine, some more juice, water and so on, until no drop was left in any of them. Just as I was watching him with the corner of my eye, thinking he had nothing left to devour, he made one final discovery – there was a bit of jam he hadn’t seen before. In a matter of seconds, everything had been scooped out of the minuscule plastic container. In a fit of restraint, he set aside the chocolate bar, so he could have it with the cup of instant coffee and with that of hot tea the flight attendant served after the meal. True enough, she did ask, “Coffee or tea?”; but when our gentleman replied, “Both,” she chose not to debate it any further.

Now I can finally go to sleep, I figured, once the trash had been collected. I was just dozing off when a somewhat familiar rattling noise brought me back to reality. It was time for my neighbour to check his finances, obviously – he had taken an impressive amount of coins out of his man purse and now he was counting them diligently on the folding table. Lots of five cent pieces, I couldn’t help noticing… Once that little task was performed, he could finally find some peace of mind and move on to taking a little after lunch nap. Good, that meant I could sleep too.

He’s chocking, was the first thought to cross my sleepy mind some ten minutes later. No, not chocking, just snoring… And to think I had assumed peace and quiet were guaranteed just because there were no screaming children around… Luckily, there were still things to be consumed, so he didn’t sleep for long. Once awake, the ladies’ issue of the airline’s magazine received his undivided attention, so I could take a blissful half an hour nap. It was an overwhelming aftershave fragrance and some unexplainable warmth that woke me up this time. I opened my eyes to see the fashionable gentleman leaning over me, only a few centimetres away, staring at the clouds, his forehead close to the window. I cleared my throat and my angry glance made him sit down and stare at his shoes for a while. Well, I was certainly awake and since sleep was no longer an option, I started analysing the oddities of human nature when traveling… I suppose they need to be referred to as eccentricities when it comes to certain people…

And speaking of eccentric individuals… after another nap, our gentleman proceeded to entertain himself with the other magazine the airline had so generously provided him with. For my final delight, he took interest in the map showing all the flights and destinations of the airline we were flying. And that’s when it happened. A strip of paper found its way out of my neighbour’s bag and after a brief, yet careful analysis of both the map and the paper, he started measuring. Yes, the width of the paper became a measuring unit, allowing him to roughly calculate the length of various routes on the map…

I tried to immerse myself in the grandeur of nature and life unfolding under us as the plane started to descend. Humans have managed to tame and control forces of nature in many situations so far. How do we tame and control the human nature of the traveller though, especially of the eccentric one? Is it advisable to try or is it one of those things that should be accepted as they are, an integrant and undeniable characteristic of our species? Humans might be one of those forces of nature more difficult to tame and contain after all… But between the people sitting behind me bragging about how much they had spent on their holiday and the eccentric gentleman surreptitiously “borrowing” the free magazines, I just couldn’t reach a conclusion…

Parallel Lives – Sample Fragment 60

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Images of the sun setting over a vineyard fade away in one’s mind; so do those of the mountain peaks seen from a hotel room. It’s the sensations of some summer nights that cannot be swept away by storms over the years, because they find a special corner in a woman’s mind, sheltered as defining instants and melancholy triggers.

The first time a girl has sex is one of those memories, but it’s often facts, not sensations, it’s often contexts and people that confer it an unalterable place in the girl’s mind. Some women, some special women, choose to also note and treasure a different kind of a first time – the one with that man who has finally taught them what it is and what it feels like to be a woman. Because it takes more than sex and more than just a male for such a moment to come to life for the first time – it takes a real man, one with real character and personality, one with ambition, experience and strength, one with a past and a future. And it also takes a woman able to note and appreciate such qualities, one that can be his equal and can also allow room for him to be himself.

For more sample fragments from Parallel Lives, see: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/396169

Parallel Lives – Sample Fragment 59

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The barrier of polite speech was gone between them and being crude about the realities of their interaction was not meant to be offensive; if anything, it was a term of endearment, a testimony of their intimacy, but also a turn on for him.

“I don’t think I was so exhausting, you didn’t have a problem keeping up with me.”

“That’s not what I meant. I was referring to your mis-en-scene. The outfit, your actions, everything was perfect, like a movie moment really. That’s what I hadn’t had since too long to remember: a beautiful woman, who’s not afraid to be perfect, who creates a night like that, who turns screwing into a phantasy… or the phantasy into real sex… I don’t know. You know what I mean.”

“Sure. You like me because I’m not real. Or you think such a thing cannot be real. And I agree with you.”

“So… what do you think? Was I what you expected?”

“Of course,” she muttered, looking away distracted.

Everything and more… so much more. But that’s something to carefully dissect and think over at home.

For more sample fragments from Parallel Lives, see: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/396169

Motion (Weekly Photo Challenge)

This week, share your photographs that have captured motion, and tell us the stories behind the images.

I took these photos quite a few years ago in a small town in the south of Italy. It was Ferragosto and everybody was celebrating – the dancing was just starting as we arrived. I felt out of place at first, overdressed as I was, coming straight from the nice restaurant where we had dinner. But such a trivial matter made no difference in that small town square, where vibrant traditional music sipped through old walls and narrow streets, invading every fiber of our beings. People were just people for one night, it didn’t matter who they were, what they wore or what language they spoke. It didn’t matter that I was still struggling to understand their dialect, it didn’t matter that my Italian friends had immediately disappeared into the crowd, joining the dancers. I soon understood that I didn’t need to know anyone or anything, not even the steps to the pizzica or the tarantella, that night was all about enjoying the moment. They had accepted me as one of their own even if I couldn’t dance their dances or speak their dialect too well :-) … That was the night when traditional folk from Southern Italy appeared to me more welcoming and open than ever before, thus proving once more that music, dance and celebration help us relate on a completely different level.

Early Bird (Weekly Photo Challenge)

This week (and especially if you’re among those who find the early bird concept cringe-worthy), I encourage you to set your alarm for the early hours, grab your first (several) cups of coffee, and challenge yourself to capture an outstanding photograph in the early morning light.

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Let me preface this by saying that I am not a morning person! Say what you will, laugh if you must, but waking up earlier than my normal hour equals torture to me. Personally, I blame it on genetics – both my parents suffer from this ‘ailment’ :-) .

I will wake up early in the morning whenever I must, but I will also hate myself and the world for it… especially if such a depressing situation occurs at the weekend. So this Saturday was no exception to the rule… While driving through the almost deserted streets on an already warm and sunny morning, all I could do was think that I really should have drunk that third cup of coffee before applying my makeup. That way I might have not been yet again reminded that early mornings, mascara and contact lenses often don’t go well together.

Once I sorted out that aspect while being the only one waiting at a traffic light, I could move on to hating all those fortunate people who were still in their beds. But if everything went well, if I found parking right away and the annoying little task presented no unexpected complications, I could be back home and under the covers in about half an hour.

Yes, that was the only thought that made me feel better. Did I care about the unique opportunity to see the town so calm and sleepy in daylight? Not even a bit… Did I reach for my phone to take at least one photo of all those traffic lights with no cars waiting for the lights to change? The thought never crossed my grumpy mind. I caught a glimpse of the sea with the corner of my eye – I think it looked calm and lazy – but I couldn’t even be bothered to turn my head and take a better look, much less stop and think about it. So that chance of having some fresh, new photos for the challenge was lost on me :-) .

That being said, I will admit there were many occasions when not only was I lucky to be awake at an annoyingly early hour, but I have done it on purpose, without it being a must. Such a case was on a trip to Rome a few years back. We caught a very early flight, dropped the luggage at the hotel and started wandering the streets at an hour when sleepy waiters were still trying to get the cafes ready for another day of touristic invasion. That’s how we accidentally got to the Trevi Fountain without any effort, without even trying, without having to fight hoards of people in order to get close to it. I took my time to look around and cherish the peace and quiet. Only a few more sleepless souls were there to enjoy the morning treat – it looked so different, the experience felt so much more real then all the other occasions on which I saw the fountain later on, during the same trip…

There already were tourist out and about by the time we made it to the Pantheon and we could even stop at a café and reward ourselves with much needed espressos and breakfast. But those special, almost private moments by the Trevi Fountain will always stay with me… That’s probably why I didn’t even considered throwing in a coin and wishing to never have to wake up early again… :-)

Parallel Lives – Sample Fragment 58

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She did want to get home, but not just because she felt suffocated, she also started to like this, to like him, his company was pleasant and intrusive at the same time, and that was much stronger a reason. Certain complications need to be avoided.

“You were great last night… It was like you were reading my mind.”

“Was I really?”

“Give me a break, false modesty doesn’t become either one of us. You were unbelievable and you know it very well.”

“What can I say, I aim to please… See, I can do cliché as well.”

“You can do lots of things. Is there something you can’t do? I got a hardon only seeing how prepared you were… that sexy outfit of yours, the massage oil… and that stuff with the ice cubes, I didn’t even know I liked that. I haven’t been fucked this way in a long time, you know…”

She flinched at the sound of the word. Why can’t men just call it having sex?

For more sample fragments from Parallel Lives, see: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/396169