Local Knowledge

Summer arrived particularly early that year. For us, locals, it felt like a well-deserved, yet unexpected treat. It may not have been my native town, it may not have been that long that I lived there, but I liked to think of myself one of them. Of course, being a student who had to not only survive exams, but actually maintain a certain grade average was something of a drawback… but nothing I couldn’t handle gracefully, I figured.

I’ve never been one to study well in libraries or excessively quiet places, so that early summer weather was a real gift. I could simply go and study on the beach, the sound of the sea drowning all that unwanted noise in my head. It was still too early for tourists to flood the shore, so we had the beaches to ourselves, a few people here and there enjoying the perfect weather, delighting in that sandy peace.

I passed my exams, I managed to get a bit of a tan and the study experience proved to be a lot more enjoyable than I could have ever expected. I certainly had to make a mental note and return to that particular beach the following year, in case the weather was going to be on my side, I decided.

I was quite proud of my little discovery, in fact. Not far enough from home to feel guilty for the time wasted to get there, the place wasn’t completely abandoned. Bur the best part was that the very few people populating it seemed to be single, no screaming children disrupting my study sessions. There were other single young ladies working on their tan and it felt like a stroke of luck to have stumbled upon that place where men seemed to be rather polite and civilized when trying to approach them. I remember being offered drinks a couple of times, but they took my refusal very well and I could just burry myself in my study material again. I didn’t really feel offended that after trying to approach me, one gentleman proceeded to try his luck with another girl – she was gorgeous and I had admired her designer beach bag from the moment she arrived. A while later I lifted my nose from a book and noticed they were both gone.

My friend burst into loud, incontrollable laughter. I really didn’t see why my study experience was such a thigh-slapper.

“I had no idea you were looking for a summer job,” is all he manages to utter between fits of laughter. “So how much did you make,” he wants to know next…

I may not be the blushing kind, but I could feel even my earlobes burn as he imparted his knowledge. Clearly the ladies on that corner of the beach were working, but not only on their tan… on the bright side, I was informed, it was a high-end corner beach. Everything – details I had completely ignored – fell into place. Some strange looks I got while sitting there, in the sun, surrounded by all my study notes started to make sense; some of the guys’ giggles when telling them where I had studied were clearly justified. However, the girls seemed oblivious to it when I later shared my hilarious, yet somewhat embarrassing faux pas. Hmmm…

It may have happened many moons ago, it may look entirely different now, but I still smile when I pass by that place and I remember studying on the beach that early summer. You can know a place… and you can know a place…

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The Order of Things

She had a “cat that ate the canary” look on her face, but I chose to ignore it. I was too tired, too hungry, and the only thing I craved more than food was a cup of coffee. If nothing else, you could always count on her to have a fresh pot handy when she was home.

I blindly reached for a cup, but my fingers wrapped around what turned out to be a wine glass. Nothing was where it was supposed to be and I was pointed to the most illogical place for a coffee cup. She had taken upon herself to reorganize my kitchen cabinets, the way she would have liked them to be. The same way her mother used to do to her… the same way her mother-in-law used to do to her, until they took back the spare key they had so gracefully offered her. Who cares that this is my home, not hers? Who cares that she knew what a nuisance this type of behaviour can be?

As I was being given a tour of my own kitchen, I tried not to choke on the cigarette smoke. Who cares that I’m not a smoker?

“Do you like it?”

I hate it.

“It’s fine. It was fine before too…”

I was a student and it was the first time my mother was visiting me, in my own home. Of course I wanted everything to be perfect… as close to perfect as it could be on a student’s budget. Sure, everything was old, but I took pride in how spotless and tidy the place was. I had worked really hard to get it in such a decent shape. But I didn’t feel like arguing after the long day I had had, considering everything I still had to do that evening.

“Did you go out today?”

“No, I was waiting for you to come back. Do you really have to spend this much time at the university, even when I’m here?”

Ok… just let it go… breathe and ignore her… one more sip of coffee… you can do this…

“Well?…” She gestured widely around the kitchen, clearly waiting for some sort of comment.

Well, what?

“Have you nothing to say about all the work I had to do for you today?”

I knew that tone of voice. Just breathe, choose your battles.

“Oh, you mean the cabinets… thanks, it was very kind of you, but you really shouldn’t have bothered.”

“The cabinets? Is that all you have to say? I break my back for you and that’s the thanks I get, you don’t even notice… you and that husband of mine, two peas in a pod, just taking me for granted.”

I looked around carefully, only to notice that aside from a heavy cloud of cigarette smoke and some dirty dishes in the sink, the kitchen was just as I left it. Then she angrily grabs at the old fridge, pulling it aside.

“Can’t you see I cleaned behind the fridge,” the voice is shrill, bordering on hysterical.

Forgive me for not using my X-ray vision… and for being one of those few deranged people who don’t go looking behind the fridge, first thing when they get home. But most of all, sorry for not generally noticing you cleaned a place that had already been scrubbed clean and disinfected only one day earlier. And that was only the second day from a three week visit…

Those who know me, tease me about being a neat freak… but I’m nothing compared to the neat freak my mother used to be. Whenever this tendency of mine seams to take an unhealthy turn, I remember her scrubbing the spaces between the tiles with a tooth brush when I was child. That will never be me.

Many things have changed since that visit of hers. Many things will forever stay the same. She no longer cares about having a spotless home; but she bitterly criticizes everybody else. I no longer care about her approval, but I do tend to go overboard when expecting her for a visit. I do eventually manage to step back, take a deep breath and say to myself, “The hell with it, nothing will ever please her anyway.” Last autumn, just before her impending visit, I had that revelation while polishing the exterior of my entrance door. The following day, she was waiting for me to find my keys in my bag, while noticing my neighbour’s door.

“What’s wrong with these people? Don’t they know the door is the first thing one notices about their home?”

“Don’t you know that’s possibly the last thing anybody cares about?”

I smile and she smiles back, because she chooses to consider such comments part of my strange sense of humour, cynical ways.

Many of us spare no effort in our endeavours to change that often perverted order of things, where we become our parents. Difficult as it may be, it is doable; and it can often be a great self-control mechanism. Yet it can only go so far… Certain things are beyond our control, I realize while staring at a recent photo of my mother. Tired and in a foul mood, with no makeup on, she looks exactly like my grandmother when she was about her age. So I wonder… as the years go by, will I end up hating my reflection in the mirror, simply because I might feel my face belongs to somebody else more than it does to me?… All I can hope for – worst case scenario –is to only ever see that reflection in a mirror, and not when the two of us are face to face.

Wanderlust

The snow covered mountain tops seemed… they seemed familiar. We had been driving up and down through the mountains all day long, we were heading towards yet another landmark, but… there was something about those peaks, like I had seen them up close. All day I kept trying to figure out which mountain was which, as terrible at geography as always. My sight oversaturated with all those wonderful landscapes, I still couldn’t help staring in that particular direction. Then I noticed the signs, as we drove into possibly one of the dullest small towns I had ever seen.

My throat closed with emotion for a moment, as I recognized the memory and remembered the place. The name of the place typed into the GPS, I never even glanced at the route. The destination was the main concern. I turned my head and as our eyes met and we smiled melancholically, I knew my friend was thinking the same thoughts.

For a week we woke up to see those peaks first thing every morning. An indescribably old, barely functional truck drove us and our rucksacks several kilometres down a terrible, pothole filled road. Not too long a hike and we were finally at what we chose as our camping site. I stare at the mountain and I remember all the drama and adventure of that trip as though it was yesterday. The guys who climbed all the way to the top of those steep rocky cliffs… the guy who abandoned his girlfriend on the mountain, on a storm, in the middle of a passionate fight, and then went after her… that day I decided to hike up the mountain on one of the more accessible trails and how I decided that torrential rain wouldn’t stop me, even if that meant I had to drag my boyfriend after me, even if that meant my best friend felt compelled to come after us, worried something might have gone wrong. I remember how intense love felt back then; I remember how friendship used to be more important than anything else. But above all, I remember those nights around the camp fire… we were just a bunch of teenagers, having little else in common but our wanderlust and our need to escape our lives. Somehow, right there, in the middle of nowhere, having nothing else but a fire, our tents and each other, we felt safe. And we were happy.

We look at each other again.

“Were we… what, fifteen, sixteen?… Sixteen, we must’ve been sixteen… that’s right…”

And we do the math, but avoid actually saying how many years have passed since then; we feel old, and at the same time, we’re giddy like children. We keep driving down today’s road, giving voice to yesterday’s memories.

As the days get warmer and longer, this crazy urge to just pack my bags and go – anywhere, everywhere – takes over me. Sometimes it finds an outlet, and it also finds company. I can’t help appreciating the irony of then versus now… just like I can’t help noticing how many various ways there are to reach the same destination. We keep focusing on the destination and finding value in the journey that takes us there. How about the company we choose? What if that’s the most important part, especially when it comes to the more difficult journeys? I only know this – if wanderlust hits and I want somebody with me, that person is somebody truly special to me.

Underneath the Tinsel or Making My Own Christmas Traditions – Part One

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Part One – The Illusion

The house was filled with that delicious smell of baked goodies. Vanilla and a variety of other aromas I was too young to know or recognize conspired with my grandmother in creating that warm, heavy, divine, mouth-watering smell that could mean only one thing: Christmas was only a few days away.

It was the final element in that trilogy of olfactory sensations that I have associated with the winter holidays from a very early age. The oranges were the first harbinger of the impending festivities and as I stood by the big fruit bowl, scratching at one of them with my little nails so I could carry its perfume with me, I knew there wasn’t long to go ‘till the much expected moment.

Then came the tree. My grandfather was never too involved in all the preparations, but getting the tree was always his job and I was his trusty sidekick. It was our little tradition: we would scour all the Christmas tree markets until we found the perfect one, I would choose it and he would carry it home. I don’t know about him, but that intoxicating fir tree smell would make me completely forget about the freezing cold wind, about the icy patches on which I really needed to watch my step and about the snow, which somehow managed to find its way into my boots each and every time. The serious, respectable, stern man became a child again, analysing fir trees, laughing more than I would see him laugh during the entire year and always indulging me, all the while knowing that the one I chose would inevitably be too tall. He’d be the one severely reprimanded as soon as we got home, but little did he care.

So when the baking also started, I knew it was time for my mother to arrive and for a long time that was what Christmas was all about for me. Once that finally happened, the two of us would decorate the tree and do the last of the Christmas shopping for that year. Among all those activities, she would work on answering all my questions about Santa and trying to convince me he was real. You see, that was a story I never fully believed, so each year she struggled to convince me, until her patience invariably reached its limits, resorting to the so very effective argument, “Because I said so.” As soon as that was taken care of, we could continue decorating while listening to carols. New decorations got lost among the older ones, my mother would share Christmas stories from her childhood and we would conspire on playing all sorts of silly little harmless tricks on my grandparents, the way she used to do back in those days she recollected.

Come Christmas morning, there were presents under the tree for everybody. At that time, I had no idea that not all families could enjoyed the same pleasures we did. I didn’t grow up to be a religious person, but in those days both my mother and I indulged my grandmother, dressed up as elegantly as we could and joined her to church. I was to be quiet and well-behaved, but most importantly I was to be thankful for everything my family was offering me.

Some of what we had, we were supposed to share with others on Christmas. We had relatives and close friends come by our place and we would return their visits. Everybody would wear nice, festive clothes, gifts would be exchanged and there was laughter to be heard around the tree. The good china, the fancy silverware and the expensive crystal would make an appearance, as we were going to always share a delicious home cooked meal with our guests. As the impeccable baker that she was, my grandmother always had little goody bags ready to be trotted out and handed out when our guests were finally heading home or for us to take to all the homes we were visiting from Christmas Eve until the New Year’s.

Our friends and neighbours behaved in a very similar fashion, from what I can remember. We often knocked at their doors, offering little packages of homemade goodness and in their turn, they would share some of their feast with us. My job was to help wrap up everything and small branches cut off our too large Christmas tree or bits of mistletoe were my special touch. Old clothes, washed and carefully packed, were being taken to some destination unknown to me, where others needed them; I wasn’t sure why or how, but I didn’t spend any time wondering about it during those early years.

Christmas was a time of magic, of dreams come true, of love and sharing, it was the time of year when I felt cared for and safe more than at any other given moment, it was when that which I desired the most became reality. For the innocent child I was, that trilogy of smells was the promise of bliss. That trilogy of smells still makes my heart beat faster… even now, so many years later… even now, when I know better…

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, as Dickens said it so wisely… and I would eventually understand it clearly.

 

Part Two – The Reality

Part Three – My Own Christmas

Bang Advice

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I don’t remember her name. But she always wore bangs, that I remember. She wore bangs when not many fashion conscious women dared even consider it. Her haircut wasn’t always the same, neither was her hair colour, but she always wore bangs… and she looked great. Looking impeccable at any moment seemed like an effortless endeavour for her, like it was an extension of her being. From all my mother’s friends, I liked her best. Beautiful, elegant and graceful, she had an extraordinary ability to combine elements and come up with the outfits that suited her perfectly. Unlike some of their friends, she was never ostentatious, she knew exactly how to discretely emphasize her features in order to look attractive without being vulgar or tacky.

But it was her bangs I was particularly interested in that summer, and I had a good reason for it. After all, I wanted to get bangs as well, yet I wasn’t allowed to. If I wanted to be pretty, I couldn’t have bangs covering my forehead or strands of hair getting into my eyes for that matter; besides, all I had to do was look around and see that no pretty girl wore bangs, I was told. I rolled my eyes, but my grandmother had deemed the conversation over.

I loved spending time with my mother’s friends. They were an endless source of interesting information and great gossip and they never filtered their conversation when I was there. I felt like one of the girls, not just a child, and being with those wonderfully independent, outspoken women was so much fun. They were nothing like my friends’ old-fashioned, boring mothers, even if some of them did have children. So in a moment of relative silence, while coffee cups were being refilled, I walked up to her and asked her, how come she always wore bangs? In my mind, I was going to put a flattering spin on my curiosity, but before I knew it, I had just blurted out my out of context question.

She stopped smiling. She stopped looking at me as though I were some adorable doll, the way she usually looked at me. All of the sudden, she was serious and I was her equal, I felt, as her eyes were staring into mine while speaking. She never wore too much makeup, I couldn’t help thinking, and her face was always fresh and natural.

“You make your own style. You don’t let fashion or people dictate how you’re supposed to look, do you understand me? You adapt fashion to your needs, to your personality, not the other way around. You…”

“Don’t depress the girl,” the one who was always the loudest and the most direct of them interrupted, giving her a friendly nudge. “She just always wears bangs, it’s her thing,” she winked at me. “Just like my thing is being a bitch,” she continued, noticing her friend’s sad, lost gaze. She caressed her hair and handed her a fresh cup of coffee.

Years later I would think of her when seeing the Samantha character in Sex and the City.

Somebody dispersed the tension by announcing she had a new lover. Everybody lit up cigarettes, sipped their coffee and loudly asked for details. I kept mulling over the serious style advice I had just received. Sure, my mother had told me the same thing, but it never hurts getting a second opinion… after all, mothers weren’t the most reliable source, were they?

On the way home, I was told the full story – I was old enough to understand and I had to know I hadn’t done anything wrong. Besides, my mother thoroughly enjoyed to have me as a gossip partner, since I could be trusted not to tell anything to my grandmother. Her friend’s haircut wasn’t a fashion statement, it was necessity. She had adapted her hair style to suit her needs after having been in an accident which had left more than emotional scars. There was also a very real, visible, long scar on her forehead, one she hid well with skilful makeup and by wearing bangs. She was self-conscious and didn’t like to be reminded of the trauma she had suffered, yet it was unavoidable, the scar taunting her from the mirror every day. I regretted having voiced my curiosity… or perhaps I didn’t really, since it had gotten me answers. Nobody was perfect, yet one could still be remarkable.

A few days later, while my grandmother was taking her afternoon nap, I was taking a pair of scissors to a chunk of my hair (what girl hasn’t done that at least once?). I contemplated the result with great satisfaction, even though I wasn’t yet sure it looked good.

As a result of my actions, I was rushed to the hairdresser’s. My grandmother couldn’t contain her outrage, while my mother couldn’t contain her amusement. I had been overly enthusiastic with the scissors and had cut a bit too much, so my amazing new bangs were too short and I looked slightly ridiculous. The hairdresser did her best to fix what she could; after that, all it took was patience over the following weeks, until my hair grew… and surprise, surprise, I discovered that I could still be pretty, even with bangs. Besides, what mattered most was that I liked my look, that I was happy with it. I was taking steps in the right direction and she had been right, I realized.

In response to WordPress Weekly Discover Challenge – A Piece of Advice.

Preserving Time

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Fine, fine, I admit it. I liked the Spice Girls for about five minutes, back in the ‘90s… or 20 years ago, as the annoying news lady decided to inform me the other day. That couldn’t be true… could it? But as I rushed from the kitchen to stare incredulously at the TV (as though that was going to change anything), I quickly did the math and horror of horrors, the lady was right.

Snippets of old videos followed on the screen and flashes of old memories ran through my mind. It’s been 20 years since my friends and I used to jump up and down in front of the TV, dancing to the Wannabe video, choosing our favourite Spice Girl and believing that “girl power” was a given. When the perky blonde came back on the screen, about to move on to some more depressing news, I made a face at her; in fact, I’m pretty sure I stuck my tongue out at her, a gesture strictly reserved for the most obnoxious drivers. But the perky blonde was not done with me, as her next piece of news involved a grey haired Jon Bon Jovi singing at a wedding, looking a lot older than a few years ago, when I saw him live in a concert. That’s what you get on a slow news day… although, ironically enough, lots of important things were going on in the world at the time. But clearly not important enough to push aside trivia reminding me that it’s been twenty years since then. In the ’90s sounds so much better than 20 years ago.

“You know, I told somebody you were 24 the other day.”

Ha? I paused, not knowing what one replies to that. Somebody had asked her how old her daughter was and apparently “24” was the right number for my mother.

“I see you’re not sticking with 28,” I finally recovered my voice.

She stopped counting at 28… not 29, not 30, but 28. I never lied about my age, but apparently my mother feels the need to, for several years now. I will try and preserve a little bit of mystery and won’t say for how many years I’ve been turning 28 according to her… suffice to say that she knows my age, yet she will not admit it to anyone, sometimes not even to me. And apparently, starting this year, I’m 24 again.

I can’t come up with a good reason why she chose that particular age, other than the fact that if I’m 24, she’s still in her 40s. In a way, it does make sense. She liked herself a lot more back then, so many things still seemed possible for her. I can understand why she would want to go back to those days, to somehow relive certain moments, so she could both have the chance to feel that happiness and make different decisions, take a different path. I know she chooses to often forget her own age and certain aspects of today’s reality, succumbing to the mirage of better days. Once in a while we all do that. Once in a while, when she doesn’t exaggerate, I understand her… after all, I’d rather say “in the ‘90s” than “20 years ago”… But I dread the moment she remembers how much she loved who she was in her 30s. If she keeps this up, I can see the day when I reach for my gin & tonic and she smacks my hand – soon enough, I won’t be of legal drinking age anymore.

Preserving time seems to be an obsession for all of us, trying to bottle up certain moments so we could repeatedly savour them at a later moment is not at all uncommon. Everybody has their own way of saving those instances for later use and their own reasons for occasionally sinking deep into those memories. For instance, aside from a plethora of photos, old notebooks and a variety of other things, I also have a couple of old dresses from back when I was about 18. I fear time, just like everybody else, so trying them on when I am really sad somehow makes me feel better, because I can still fit in them, and it also makes me laugh, because of how ridiculous I look. But what I don’t do when I’m sad is sink into happy moments and memories from the past, that’s just a recipe for depression. What can I say, we each fight time and preserve our sanity, our own way.

I’m not delusional about my past, I remember the bad at least as well as I remember the good. That’s why I think it might be about more than preserving time, it might actually be about preserving that person I was at a given moment – I may not have always liked my life, but I generally liked myself. That’s why the present can’t be overlooked and forgotten while we sink too deeply into the past – we need to set something aside for the future too. On that note, I think I’ll go and pour myself a glass of wine (while I still can) to go with my ice-cream and enjoy a nice summer evening, here and now… because who knows what’s to follow. Cheers! 🙂

In response to WordPress Weekly Discover Challenge – For Posterity.

Retro Gifts, New Memories

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A particular birthday present from a family friend really captured the essence of those moments… Not that it was expensive or out of the ordinary (it would certainly present no particular interest to today’s twelve year olds), not that it came from a person I so greatly admired at the time, what really mattered was the symbolism of the situation.

I had already decided that I was old enough to choose how I’d spend the big day – you’re practically a grownup when you’re twelve, aren’t you? – and not go along with the family’s dull ideas about the ideal celebration. Not surprisingly, the adults had a different take on the matter. They informed me that I was either having the party they had planned with the guests of their choice or no party at all… Naturally, I chose to be equally stubborn – if the adults were going to be unreasonable and childish about it, then I could be stubborn – and have no party. Not much of a sacrifice, considering that in our circle, kids’ birthday parties were more of an opportunity for the adults to show off and network than a chance for the young ones to enjoy themselves.

Shortly before that controversial birthday, this person I admiring from many points of view paid me a surprise visit, in order to bring a little token of her affection, a reminder that a special day is more than a good party. In her early twenties, beautiful and smart, about to graduate from a prestigious university, engaged to what I used to think should be the man of any woman’s dreams, she was my best friend, the big sister I never had. Her life was far from perfect and anything but easy, I would later find out, but that was not the reality of those days.

The nicely wrapped box contained her old photo camera, a couple of black and white film rolls and a brand new photo album. To my not so little little friend, so that she could make memories of her own, she said… I didn’t need to explain, she understood what I was going through; she always understood and she always knew the right thing to do. The days of mobile phones and digital cameras being as ubiquitous in a kid’s life as bubble gum weren’t there yet, but some of my friends were already allowed to occasionally use their parents’ photo cameras. Of course I wanted one of my own, but much to my chagrin, I was not considered old enough to be trusted with such technology…

When I saw the used, old fashioned, simplistic camera that was all of the sudden mine, I knew things were finally looking up. Memories of my own, I repeated, fiddling with the new toy. It had been a gift from her father, she was about my age when she had received it, and now it was my turn, I was the closest thing she had to a younger sister.  We wondered about all afternoon and she taught me how to use it, how to adjust all the settings and how to make the tricky machinery behave and capture all those memories for me. She was passionate about photography and she had a gift for it, but that cannot be taught, unfortunately…

I used the second roll of film on my actual birthday, for my non-party. My school friends and I decided it was a shame to waste such a beautiful day – my birthday, of all days – and time would be much better spent in a park, so we skipped school for the first time. A birthday I would spend as I pleased, starting to make memories of my own, growing up and independent from my family – she had gotten it right yet again – and the old camera played such a significant part in it, as the day turned out to be perfect in its simplicity.

The days when an old camera meant freedom and all the desired happiness and independence are gone; the kids running around the park that autumn day grew up and failed to stay in touch. The adults never found out about our little escapade; I used my savings to get the films developed and all my friends got copies of the photos. But those black and white pictures are still around, testimonies of days that sometimes may seem unreal.

In response to WordPress Weekly Discover Challenge – Analog.

Beginnings, Beginnings…

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Adults were the enemy, no doubt about it… Yet they had all been young once, children, teenagers… So at what point did they start to mutate, when was it that they stopped understanding and started forgetting?

The 12 year old me had no answer to those daunting questions, and neither did any of my friends. But I was afraid it might happen to me eventually. No, no, never, that would never be me. Yet… what if forgetting is stronger than the human being? Not forgetting actual situations – adults seemed to remember many things, they all had childhood stories – but the feelings behind them, the implications, the reasons and the results. It wasn’t about remembering, it was about remembering it right.

There was only one thing to be done about it. I picked a nice mote book that I was saving for just such an extreme occasion and decided it would be the first of many. Everything had to be documented. There was no other way I would grow into one of those narrow minded, uncaring, depressing, oppressive people who accepted nothing but their own biased judgement and could not understand us… because they could not remember correctly how it was like to be us.

I was no exception, I soon discovered that most of the girls kept diaries… and even a few of the boys were bold enough to admit they kept “journals”. In fact, there was an absolutely hilarious afternoon when we were about 14 and we found one of these journals. One of the boys had been careless enough to bring it to school and leave it on my desk… My friends and I got our grubby little hands on it and the public reading that followed in a nearby park after classes turned out to be embarrassing to say the least. here were certain very private physical matters in there that no adolescent boy would like to have read by the girl he used to like in front of the girl he kindda likes… and all of her friends and his friends. Oh yes, we were merciless… But if you don’t want your classmates to read your diary, you don’t bring it to school, it was a known fact.

Whatever the reasons each and every one of us had, journaling was a widely spread activity. But that wasn’t writing, none of us perceived it as such… writing sounded too much like homework, that was just too tedious. Yet I was right about one thing – that first note book was followed by several others over the years. I may have denied their existence in front of my friends (that was just too girly a thing for me admit to), but the truth was that writing cleared my mind. It may have been meant for my eyes alone, but it was cathartic. It was calming whenever I could no longer control my anger; it was soothing when I felt I couldn’t control my tears; and it was comforting and motivating whenever I felt there was no hope.

I eventually came to understand my personal writing as the best way to gain some perspective. Writing then became dialogue. I would write letters to a good friend of mine who was older and had moved away. My closest friends and I had this notebook where we kept writing whatever went through our minds, everything that troubled us or that made us happy. We did start letting others in, but one thing remained the same – none of us could relate to, confide in or trust the adults in our lives, we had to rely on each other. That we did have in common, it was a fact, not mere adolescent rebellion.

Yet some adults were different. I couldn’t deny that when my middle school literature teacher came to me one day and told me I had won some prize in a writing competition. I vaguely remembered being told about that competition and I had dismissed it immediately; what did she want from me, I couldn’t be bothered with that, I didn’t write like that… She said nothing else, she just asked me to hand in another copy of a composition I had written as a school assignment. She send it in for me and apparently some people liked it… Hmm… who would have thought? She repeated the stunt whenever she got her hands on something I wrote and she liked; that’s how I won a couple more prizes in various writing contests for kids my age and that’s how I ended up accidentally writing occasional pieces for the school paper. Writing could help me if I let it, she made me understand. I didn’t have to take it too seriously, I didn’t have to make it into a career, I just had to allow it to be an outlet. That was my decision… unlike the various competitions she chose for me to enter unwillingly.

She was right, I later had to admit… everybody should have a hobby to sink into whenever they need to let go of everything. As for the life of the misunderstood teenager… well, there was more to it than I had initially imagined. Some of that lack of understanding and tolerance was not about forgetting or about not remembering it right. Some of it was nobody’s fault, neither the adults, nor the kids could be blamed for the incredibly fast paced life and for the way everything evolved beyond everybody’s perception.

I got my first taste of that bitter reality very early in my twenties, when a friend asked me to talk to his younger sister about sex… So many things had changed from social and technological points of view in less than 10 years, that nothing I had written down could have helped me with some of the scary question that perfectly average 13 year old had. I remembered it right and I remembered it all, yet the context was no longer the same. It wasn’t only about remembering, it was also about adapting what I knew to her context, if I wanted to convince the girl that she could and should be her own hero, first and foremost…

In response to WordPress Weekly Discover Challenge – Origin Story.

Forgetting What I Learnt

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The words and phrases are floating over me, trying to break free from a fog refusing to dissipate. There is a certain familiarity about the text, I should known what it’s all about. I knew it at a point… But I keep reading, pushing those feelings of disappointment and panic somewhere deep and far away in my mind.

That’s what happens when you promise to help… You’ve studied something like this at university, right? I had to say yes, I couldn’t have asked why he wanted to know before saying anything… Serves me right – live it, learnt it!

Hey, wait a moment, this isn’t the same categorization we were taught, what the hell are they talking about? Rather than going straight to the point, they just confuse everything… how’s a person who doesn’t know about it supposed to understand anything… oh wait, a few pages later they finally do it right… good thing I know what the story is, that saves a lot of time.

But that’s exactly it, I do know, I do remember! A sigh of relief… my memory is still what it used to be, it’s not failing me yet, the years haven’t changed me that much from that particular point of view. Yes, I can actually help with this, I won’t make a fool of myself, nor will I be a nuisance.

I may be able to jolt my memory, I may be able to piece together information that I’ve assimilated, but I would definitely be a lot more challenged if I had to learn it now than I used to be back then. Well, this is exactly what my friend is going through these days and I can’t say I envy him. We’re the same age and while we both got admitted to different universities after high school, life got in his way a lot worse than it did in mine, and he is only now working towards getting his degree.

We learn differently, he and I… and many of the things we had to learn, we learnt together, both when it came to academia and when it came to life and its struggles. I helped him understand algebra in middle school and I frightened him into learning the conjugation of French verbs in high school. I found it terribly annoying that many of my class mates took so long to understand what to me appeared simple things; but he could keep up with me, so making him see how easy everything was became fun.

So once again we go back to that routine, the one where we discuss the course material, because that way he remembers it a lot better. That’s how he learns. I, on the other hand, have always studied best on my own; group studying was a waste of time and it held me back. I had no problem studying efficiently while sunbathing on the beach, as long as I was left alone…

Here we are, once again… we spend a day and the better part of the night figuring out the course material I had studied too, although I attended a different university and took different courses. Sure, they labelled it differently for me, but it’s really the same dry, boring, theoretical stuff that I only managed to understand because I had a gifted professor who could create a context and challenging examples to get our attention… and apparently to help me remember something I hardly ever need to use. This might in fact be the first time I do…

That’s why I was worried when I thought I had forgotten everything… Not because I needed to remember it – I am aware of having forgotten a lot of useless things I studied and learnt mechanically – but because this had made sense at the time. I may have hated the theoretical side, but the applied part was great fun. And I always remember that which I have understood, that which has made sense, that which I could have even exemplify in an interesting way.

No, I am not good at forgetting. I have yet to learn how to do that. Just like this highlights of an irrelevant course, everything that I’ve learnt and experienced comes back to me one way or another, no matter how hard I try to not remember certain things. It’s exactly those instances I try to forget that have the bad habit of coming back to me exactly when I least expect it or want it. Good memory is an amazing asset… and it can be a tremendous liability as well. But once you’re used to having access to such a tool, no matter how challenging it might be to handle it, the mere thought of losing it is the kind of fear you still need to learn how to control.

In response to WordPress Weekly Discover Challenge – Learning.

Jubilation in Small Pleasures

2The jasmine plant outside my window is trying to shake off heavy raindrops and my mind goes back to other jasmine imbued evenings and early summer storms. I open my windows widely because I want to breathe in the fresh air, the scent of rain and jasmine… because I want to feel the way I used to feel back then… because I wish I still liked the rain.

It was our thing, running in the rain, making a mess of ourselves and not caring about it… just laughing and running and screaming and letting go of all responsibility, fears and worries that made us so different from other adolescents. We never ran for shelter when summer storms were upon us, thunder and lightning made us feel free and invincible. If we weren’t already outside, together, leaning on each other when the rain started, then we knew we would inevitably meet in the nearest park. Everybody was running away… we were running towards… towards each other, towards the storms.

I wore high heels back then as well, I carefully did my hair and chose my outfits, but somehow it really didn’t matter what became of all those efforts. My hair was dripping wet, clothes were uncomfortably sticking to my body, rain water made my feet slip in my shoes or sandals, but none of that mattered. Torrential rain washed away all those thoughts and experiences burdening us, and although I didn’t know it back then, my friends and I were acting our age for a moment or two. That sort of underrated jubilation forges bonds able to resist time. I know that because even now I can still laugh and reminisce with one of those friends who used to run and laugh in the rain with me.

It takes something else to get that sort of happy squeal escape our lungs these days. It takes conquering new territories, discovering new places. It takes complex pleasures to trigger reactions, because we’re no longer able to allow the simple ones get to us – that would mean settling for too little, wouldn’t it?

Torrential rain means something else today. It’s getting annoyed about what it might do to my hair, to my leather jacket or to my silk dress, it’s running to my car, avoiding the puddles that might damage my cherished shoes. It’s worrying about all the dirt in the raindrops and doing my best to avoid them touching my skin. I suppose this is simply acting my age today.

But the scent of all those delicate jasmine flowers drags me to another time, to a different universe. Perhaps we’ll find the strength and courage to run out into the storm again, loving it rather than fearing it… After all, haven’t we found the strength to accomplish much more difficult tasks, to survive much more challenging situations? If I can still find reasons for jubilation in the innocent surprise of unexpected flowers, couldn’t I at least learn to tolerate the rain again?

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In response to WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge – Jubilant.

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The Typewriter

 

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The computer is resting casually on my knees – ubiquitous part of a calm, quiet afternoon at home; but once in a while my glance wonders off to the old typewriter… Oddly enough, the object belonging to such different times doesn’t make for a strange anachronism.

I wanted to take it apart as a child, even before I could read, that’s the first memory I have of the typewriter which had to be stored out of my reach, on the top shelf or in a hidden corner. Even if the characters it produced made no sense to me at that time, once I understood what it was used for, I immediately concluded it held the mystery of all the books I pestered my grandmother to read to me. She was the keeper of that great skill that allowed her to magically transform the gibberish on the page into words, into mesmerizing stories, but she didn’t feel like sharing this gift with me as much as I would have liked her to. So it only made sense that once I solved the puzzle of the typewriter – by taking it apart, of course – everything else would fall into place and I would learn all the secretes of those books my grandmother refused to read.

What can I say, the oddest of things can make sense to a child… My grandfather was the one to put an end to my destructive impulses, showing me that the typewriter is the source of new mysteries and in no way the solution to understanding the already existing ones, enclosed between book covers. Once in a while he’d write lectures, speeches or even some fairy-tales he had made up for me and those were the moments when I sat on his knees, while he typed and uttered the words out loud, so I’d know what the mystery maker was compiling. My grandmother rolled her eyes disapprovingly at what she considered to be a boring, useless activity, but I was fascinated by the eloquent discourse and the clicking of the keys.

It was a time auspicious for fast, radical changes and much like the typewriter, my grandfather became obsolete, lost and irrelevant after his retirement, losing his identity in the blink of an eye. The old and noisy typewriter would make itself heard occasionally, as it was trotted out for him to relive the glory of long forgotten days. But much like him, the mystery maker had lost its power and nobody would ever listen to the somewhat nonsensical words filling the pages that my grandmother would immediately deposit in the bin, muttering about wasted time and noisy typing devices.

But the old man would never accept that his trusty companion was no longer of use to anybody, having become the laughingstock of the contemporary world. He was dead set on reaffirming the relevance of the old device which had survived decades of changes, happiness and misery. So it became a habit for him to type invitations to all sorts of family events, invitations which my grandmother would surreptitiously throw out, telling him she had mailed them. It worked out fine, until one day when he decided to mail the invitations himself, thus offending his wife’s sensibilities. The infamous typewriter was immediately stored away in some obscure corner of the house – much like when I was child – and he was told it had suffered a bad fall and was no longer functional. The old man muttered for days. Much like everything else that accompanied him along his sinuous path to success, defining who he had once been, the typewriter had been suddenly taken away from him, without any possibility to be redeemed, because he no longer had the energy to fight for it.

I wasn’t quite sure why, but when I left for university I felt that the old typewriter had to go with me. Several years passed before it saw the light of day again, I had actually forgotten I had it. But it was such a pleasant surprise to eventually rediscover this childhood relic! From that moment on, it could finally live its retirement days in peace, in its own corner amongst old books and photo albums, receiving the appreciation and respect it always deserved.

“It gathers dust, but it looks very cute,” my mother very pragmatically noticed when she saw it. That may be the case, but the retired typewriter is so much more! It lives as a constant reminder that there still are instances when dreams come true and some persons can shape and control their destiny, reaching the peaks of success and achieving the goals they set for themselves. Yet life has a perverted sense of balance – or perhaps a sense of humour – pushing the same persons into the abyss without any warning. And there are cases when no amount of caution can save them. All we can do is enjoy our personal moments of glory and do our best to type a happier sequel to our sad stories of despair.

In response to WordPress Weekly Discover Challenge – Memory.

Linden Trees Are Outdated!?

If you could clone one element from another city you’ve visited — a building, a cultural institution, a common street food, etc. — and bring it back to your own hometown, what would it be?

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No place is perfect, the same way no person is without flaw. And I might as well admit it, I count myself amongst those people lucky enough to live in a town they like, which suits them from many points of view. But… (Isn’t there always a “but” for most of us, under almost any circumstance?) But we certainly need more parks, that’s the thought that often crosses my mind, especially in those cold winter months, when a nice walk by the sea is simply out of the question because of the wind. Those – together with the warm, lazy early June days – are the times when I think of the town where I grew up. It’s not nostalgia, I don’t miss either the town or the people left behind. What I do miss is the beautiful, old park I could see from my window every day (the one in the picture is a different one, but from the same town), that park I knew by heart, an escape for me and my friends during those overly dramatic afternoons of our teenage years. The unbelievable, almost surreal aroma of the linden trees blooming at the beginning of June was a sure sign that the summer holiday was only days away. That divine smell permeating all the way to my room was one of those life’s little pleasures which often go unnoticed. As it turns out – is there ever anything pleasant you get to hear about on the news? – the same beautiful linden trees prevalent in that park have become obsolete, as some of the town officials have decided. They are simply outdated, they seem to think, and although the park is a cultural and historical landmark, they should certainly be replaced with some new, trendier trees. Will they go through with this insanity, in spite of people’s outrage? I couldn’t tell and part of me doesn’t even want to hear about it if it does happen (although I’m sure the news will inform us about it, once it’s a fait accompli). Perhaps it’s not a relevant matter in the grand scheme of things, but I see it as a way of metaphorically murdering people’s past and part of a town’s history. Thus, in a time where history is not deemed fashionable and people are often denied their past and memories, we definitely need more parks… or perhaps it’s just me, perhaps it’s the intoxicated smell of the blooming linden trees mixed with the salty air of the seaside making me believe memories should be cherished and beauty should not be destroyed that easily.