“She stands still, looking around, never moving, never changing. People leave. People change. New people always arrive, so they would take their turn leaving sooner or later. And they live and die, they experience a constant transformation. Yet she transcends stages of life without moving, because she cannot undertake the usual, normal human evolutionary road and follow it through the same ditches of failure and disappointment. So she stands still, most of the times alone, breathing steadily and sometimes stopping someone to keep her company, help her forget fear and loneliness and hatred… and just trying to live.’
There’s something special about the first snow… that day when it doesn’t only smell like winter, but it also looks like winter. It always takes me back to some of the nicer days of my childhood, to snow fights, and snowmen, and sledding. Coming in from the cold, enjoying the warmth and comfort of my home, it reminds me other moments as well…
That warmth and comfort I now take for granted haven’t always been quite like this. Maybe I should be more grateful for small things. Something a friend told me many years ago comes to mind – happiness can be the relief of not having to be out in the cold, struggling, on a day like this, and instead just be in a warm, safe place you can call home… Coming from a kid, this statement left an impression. My childhood may have been far from perfect, but others had it much worse. So for a short while, I enjoyed this winter’s first snow on the beach, putting up with the frozen air; knowing that warmth and comfort were within reach only made it better. Besides, I only like the first snow, so I might as well take full advantage of it, right? 😉
With Christmas only a month away and the air getting chillier every day, with seasonal decorations and gift suggestions invading every corner of our lives, some of us find it difficult to chase away a certain feeling of anticipation. That childish giddiness is almost in the air again, and personally, I have to exercise a certain kind of self-control and not succumb to that exaggerate desire of purchasing more and more Christmas decorations I won’t have where to store once the holidays are over.
The slide down memory lane is inevitable when trying to make some sort of holiday plans and my oldest, closest friend and I have our own traditions. First, we do our best to spend some time together in December, preferably over the holidays (that used to be so much easier to accomplish when we were kids…). Then, once that happens, old photos are pulled out and all sorts of memories are rehashed – bitter, sweet and bittersweet ones alike.
He was the child who refused to believe Santa wasn’t real, until he had no choice but to accept that life is harsh and its struggles sometimes have to be faced at an early age. He believed in magic and magic was suddenly taken away, to only be replaced by sadness and disappointment. I, however, never believed in Santa Claus. Christmas was my favourite time of year. I loved and enjoyed every moment of it for several years before it all became too real; yet I never believed in Santa, even if presents mysteriously materialized under the tree every Christmas morning. I couldn’t really explain why, it was a feeling more than anything else. My intuition simply didn’t allow me to believe it, even if in a way, I would have liked him to be real. Later on, the explanation crystalized in a few simple words, which apply to so many other instances of our lives: it was too good to be true. Like my friend said, I must have been born a cynic. It’s probably also true that he was a happier child before he saw the magic die in front of his innocent eyes.
Now we can make light of such memories, the ones about how we found out for sure Santa wasn’t real. Once I had decided to obtain irrefutable proof that the jolly man in red was only a lie, nothing stood in my way. Evidence once found, my plan was to wait until Christmas morning and then tell my mother I already knew what my presents were. But once I proclaimed I knew there was no Santa and I could prove it, I could clearly discern a shadow of sadness and worry on my mother’s face. I needed to prove I was right; but she needed me not to, she needed me to believe in magic. So I said nothing else aside from the usual, “I just know”. After all, I knew what the truth was and that was enough. Sometimes, parents lie to protect their children. And sometimes, children do the same to protect their parents. On that particular Christmas, the magic was all about a mother and a daughter wanting to make each other happy.
I later understood there was a different magic of Christmas in which I actually believed, and that had simply been the first time I had experienced it. It wasn’t about religion, myths, superstition or supernatural beings making dreams come true. Instead, it was about offering myself some moments of childish joy and also about creating a happy instance for somebody dear to me. What can I say, there’s magic and there’s magic… Mine just happens to be of the more realistic, non-idealized, superstition-free kind.
“It’s like this glass of water,” and she points to the wine glass in front of her instead. “I have this full glass and I give him half. Then I give him half of what’s left. Then I take a few sips myself, I need to drink too. And so on, until the glass is empty. And when it’s empty, I have nothing else left to give. Nothing left for him. Nothing left for me. Nothing left for anybody.” She lifts the wine glass which she stubbornly calls “water” and she drinks greedily. “And it’s still not enough, he’s not happy. He says I’m selfish and self-involved and never give anything back… when all I do is give until there’s nothing left.”
The whiny voice drowns into another sip of wine, waiting for compassionate words to wash over her. I have no such words to give.
“Did he ever ask you to share that glass of water?”
“No… But that’s what I felt I had to do.”
“Was it? Or did you simply decide that’s what he should need?”
She was quiet, trying to suppress those angry words bubbling inside her. Aren’t the two one and the same? What difference did it make, she knew better… she always knew better than anyone else.
“Did you ever stop and wonder if he wanted or needed water? Maybe he wanted a slice of bread instead, maybe he asked you for it time and time again, yet you didn’t care one bit; you had already decided he should only want water.” Because water was all you were willing to offer, even if that water was make-believe and was in fact wine…
“He should have wanted water!”
Being at the receiving end of that sort of generosity makes one feel worthless. It’s degrading to see your needs, hopes and dreams swept aside like the disgusting dirt that they are in somebody else’s eyes, only to be replaced with the “appropriate” ones. You will only want that which I am willing to offer, and you’d better be forever grateful, her actions always made it clear.
“He says that hurts him. That it hurts him to see what I’ve become.”
She was on the edge of realization. He was on the edge of collapse. Their relationship was on the edge too.
“But it’s his fault.”
She couldn’t help herself. Reality was swiftly pushed aside and she was about to yet again plunge into that imaginary world where she is always the victim and the hero.
“No, it’s not. Not everything is his fault. Take responsibility for who you are!”
“Let’s see… I bought some new kitchen knives and they’re great, so cooking’s been fun, I’ve been slicing and dicing and chopping…”
Our conversations had been reduced to various domestic matters and not much else. But that was fine with me, I had no desire to share anything more personal. In fact, I could hardly wait for that phone call to be over.
“Finding good knives at a decent price is so hard… My only good one might need sharpening soon. I didn’t tell you how I got this one, did i?”
Who cares? I stifled another yawn.
“I don’t think so.”
Not that again… I thought they were done with it. She continued telling her story of the stolen knife in a cheerful voice, as though it was the funniest, most normal thing in the world.
We were sitting around their kitchen table, steaming coffee cups in front of us. She lit a cigarette and I started fiddling with the ice cream cup I had just been offered.
“New ice cream cups?”
The design of the spoon looked familiar, but I couldn’t place it. Not one of hers, I thought… Maybe she got new spoons too?…
“Not really… We only have a couple so far, but we’re getting there,” and she winked, giving me a crooked smile. I didn’t know what to make of that comment, so I said nothing.
Their friend’s restaurant, that was where the two “new” ice cream cups were from. She wasn’t feeling well one evening, so their friend offered her husband two cups of her favourite desert to take home and cheer her up. How nice of him, I thought. But as no good deed goes unpunished, they “forgot” to return the cute cups. That wasn’t very nice of them, I couldn’t help commenting, when in fact I wanted to say they didn’t deserve to be allowed back in that restaurant. I had just realised where I’d seen the pattern on the spoon I was holding. That couldn’t be a coincidence.
“If he ever asks us to return them, we will. He should, if he wants them back. But I think he forgot about them anyway.”
“Or he’s just avoiding the uncomfortable conversation….”
“Exactly,” and the crooked smile was back.
“Besides, did you see that new Omega on his wrist? He’s clearly doing well, he can afford it,” her husband added.
The ice cream suddenly felt a lot colder than it should have been. I discretely pulled at my left sleeve. It was no Omega, but I was wearing a new watch too. Who knows what reactions that might trigger?
It wasn’t an isolated incident. There were spoons to go with those cups, as I had already noticed. She pulled out some more knives and forks and she proudly shared their story. Some were from a pizzeria where she found the service was too slow.
“The place was full, you should’ve seen it. All the money they make and they can’t be bothered to offer decent service. That’s the least they could do to compensate me for all that waiting around when I was starving.”
You don’t like the service, you don’t tip your waiter… you don’t start stealing the cutlery! Or do you?… Some coffee spoons followed and there was no story attached, no excuse – she simply liked them, so she took them, and she couldn’t find anything wrong with it. Then there was the matter of the 20 euros… well, he might have gone a bit too far with that, somebody might have noticed, she added. Yes, somebody might have noticed him going behind the bar and taking a 20 euro bill in another friend’s little pub, a place he goes to almost daily… But that would have been the only issue with that… after all, it was really his money, hadn’t he just spent more than that there the previous day?
All their friends who didn’t seem to have obvious financial issues were probably going to miss cutlery and various small items, maybe even the occasional 20 euro bill here and there. Now there was the kitchen knife, another item they had “borrowed” from their friend, the chef and Omega watch owner… I knew the man. He had his own restaurant and worked hard to keep the business going. If he was making enough money to treat himself and his family to nice things, it was because of his relentless efforts and remarkable talent.
I knew what prompted their behaviour, but it was still unfair, so childish, so mean…
There’s a frame to every story and the more you widen that frame, the more you pull at it trying to tear it apart, the better chance you stand to find out how the story came to be. Frustration, envy and anger made their fingers so sticky. The more they couldn’t afford expensive things, the more expensive their tastes became.
She just had to have more and more beauty products, and the prices of the ones she chose was getting higher and higher. Besides, what woman can say no to the occasional designer bag or pair of shoes? She never missed a chance to subtly put down any woman who spent less on her skin, hair and general body care; and those special moments brought a big, satisfied smile to her face. He smiled a matching smile whenever he added one more piece of designer clothing to his already stuffed wardrobe.
Bills kept coming. More and more often, they were just shoved to the side without a second glance. The economy was the culprit, many people were in the same situation. Their income was just not enough to cover their expenses anymore and the economy was to be blamed – the economy, the government, the world in general, but mostly their friends who still managed to keep their financial situation under control. The 80 euros electricity bill was something to bitch about for two weeks… but at least he got to bitch about it in his new 200 euros (on sale) pair of jeans.
Desolation was framed by a myriad of pretty things and revenged by a series of petty thefts. The beautiful frame dragged those it portrayed deeper and deeper. Those who tried to pull them out were immediately written off and no longer accepted as friends.
If the homeless guy at the street corner simply took the designer jacket he is wearing or the nice bag she is holding, would they find it normal, acceptable behaviour? After all, the guy is doing much worse than they are, so according to their theory, he should just help himself to whatever he wants, as long as the one he “borrows” from is doing better… They find delight and validation in pitying their friends who have less than they do, but would that still be the case if things started to go missing after their visits?
I wanted to understand, because I know how terrible constantly sinking can be. But the truth is, I don’t agree with their approach. They’re entitled to their lifestyle choices and I, to my opinions. I can’t do anything to change either of them. All I can do is check my kitchen drawers before she leaves, next time she visits.
The espresso pot was making its usual burbling noise. Coffee was almost ready. I looked outside through the large glass door. The sky was on fire yet again. I am a not a morning person. I took the pot aside, switching off the stove. I am a coffee person. I poured all the freshly brewed espresso in one of those big ugly cups that came with the apartment. For about one year they had been our cups. And that had been our apartment. Just like that had been our town.
I pushed the glass door open and stepped out on the terrace. It was still winter, but the air felt like a warm spring day was about to unfold. We don’t only say goodbye to people. We also say goodbye to the places with which we connected, which meant something to us. I didn’t instantly like the big, crowded town still snoozing behind the early morning lights. But I had spent so much time there, going back and forth, that it had become a second home for one year. Pretty soon I started to understand its language, its pace and its peculiarities and it grew on me.
I had a few minutes to spare. And we needed to say our goodbyes, the half-asleep town and I. The culture, the history, the fun, the laziness and alternating fast pace, all the discoveries that I hadn’t gotten around to make, I would miss them all. Places can surprise you… just like people. Would I ever return? Who knows… who knows when or how… We can only know for sure when we leave. But one thing I did know, it would never be in that same little corner, in that same little moment in life.
So goodbyes had to be said quietly, over that last cup of coffee, staring at the colourful view I had enjoyed so many times. Curled up on a chair, my bare feet freezing and my palms pleasantly hot around the coffee cup, I took it all in one more time. Goodbye, Madrid!
The dishevelled person staring back from the mirror looks nothing like the one who used to be there on so many other occasions… or like the one who can still make an appearance sooner or later. There simply are such mornings, such days… such stages. It might have been a night of crying or a night of drinking and dancing and forgetting, it may have been days and days of exhaustion and despair that have pulled that unrecognizable creature to surface from the depth of one’s being. Those versions of the past and the potential future are simply unavoidable.
It becomes a reflex in most of the cases. Somewhere between several cups of coffee or tee, after all those smoked cigarettes, during those extra moments of applying makeup or whatever other daily rituals, one generally gets one’s face on and they’re once more ready to deal with the world… or at least to hide well enough until they are. We don’t really do it to protect others, or at least we don’t do it only for that particular reason. It’s self-preservation, the need to protect ourselves from the way others might react if they caught a glimpse of all that lurks under that socially acceptable mask. Some do it better; others find it difficult. In the end, it can even be a silent competition – who’s going to fall apart first, whose face will betray them, exposing that creature taunting them from the mirror early in the morning?
“How did you do it? How did you call it again?”
Relationships wear masks as well, not only the people they involve. Silent, sometimes unintentional, sometimes quietly, mutually agreed upon masks. When the mask breaks in two and neither one of those halves can be worn convincingly, you know. You notice the cracks even if you try to look away, so you can “call it”, as my friend put it.
I met recently met a couple I hadn’t seen in a long time. They’re not close friends, just some acquaintances, but it was still nice to see them and catch up. He is a friend of my closest friend; she is his girlfriend. What did I think about them, after all those years, my friend asked… Among many other impressions I was left with after a whole day spent together, I got the feeling their relationship was approaching its end. She would end it, I told my friend. Sure enough, about a week later she informed him she was moving out, my friend told me.
How did I always predict it, he kept asking, as though I was some sort of relationship bad omen. I tend to notice certain details and this wasn’t the first time I had “predicted” such situations. There were cracks in her mask… cracks she was trying to hide, but which were obvious whenever he kept ignoring what she wanted, replacing it with what he thought she should want or with what he needed. Small things, here and there, symptoms of something so much deeper… symptoms he stubbornly ignored. If I – a person who didn’t know her all that well – could notice them, why didn’t he, the man living with for several years? Why was he waiting for everything to fix itself, if he still wanted her to be part of his life, if he still loved her?
But I knew the answer, or at least part of it, because I knew he had behaved the same way in previous relationships. You want the girl, you make an effort and you get the girl. But once you “have” her, that’s it – that is the destination, the final point and from then on there is nothing more that needs to be done. That’s the kind of guy he is… complete with the ability of stubbornly hiding from the fact that she is unhappy. When he forcefully has to accept it, it’s generally too late to do anything to change the outcome… an outcome that breaks his heart once more…
The masks fall – his, hers, theirs – and break into countless pieces. The moment becomes the opposite of what he thought it was. The moment becomes the one she was trying to avoid. The moment no longer inhabits the destination, it becomes yet another beginning – an unwanted and no longer avoidable one.
Many times, the kindest thing you can do is look away from the cracks and allow a person to wear their mask as well as they can… hoping they will show you the same courtesy. But when you share a mask with someone else, staring at the cracks from the inside, what is the best moment to stop ignoring them and start focusing on what they reveal?
What’s your number? There used to be a time when that was nothing but a harmless question, which was simply perceived as somebody wanting to know your phone number… does anybody still remember that? We moved on and the loaded question acquired much more controversial nuances. But all in all, it’s a numbers game from all points of view we soon got to learn it.
Just because we don’t buy a ticked, that doesn’t mean we’re not playing the lottery. Whether we like it or not, that’s what we do every second of our life and the prize varies, we’re often not even aware of what it is until it’s too late. Birthdays, anniversaries, age, addresses, time, history, biology, chemistry, genetics, health issues, income, financial and social status, living conditions, entertainment, family, friends, success and failure and so much more, life in general, it all comes down to numbers. They’re the foundation of everything we build, of all we desire and hope for, they’re also at the core of our greatest fears.
How many times, how many of us have wandered what the point of algebra was, back when we were children? Yet nowadays it often feels like 3x+4y+5z=happiness … and that’s only in the simplest of cases. Then there are those times when the equation gets blurry, endless, untouchable. So different numbers start to add up and the sum or the questions it might raise aren’t always pleasant or even bearable. How many drinks in order to relax and forget? How many pills in order to feel better, to feel nothing or to simply make it from one day to the next? How many zeros in that ideal bank account in order to feel safe? How many people in one’s life in order to feel important? How many victories against how many losses in order not to fall apart? And that’s only on a strictly personal level… There’s certainly a not at all glamorous side of this numbers game as well.
Perfection – in any subjective interpretation – also becomes a matter of numbers, be it in real life, aspirations or in art. Various numbers have defined idealised perfection over the ages, but more and more often we seem to strive for “the one”. We add all the numbers resulting from our expectations and we tend to somehow reach the one as the the only result. The one ideal person, the one perfect home, the one acceptable view on life… In case the one we find or manage to provide ourselves with turns out to be wrong, we start fiddling with all the variables in the equation, but we hardly ever accept that the solution might be something else but one. One failed “one” yields one brand new quest for a new “one”, hopefully the right “one”. Once the right “one” is found, we move on and try to get another one of those ones that we crave so badly. All too often, we believe anything that isn’t the “one” equals zero…
It’s a numbers game. It’s life. Few of those variables can be controlled, but if we manage to come up with our own numbers and set our own rules, we might even win the game once in a while. And doesn’t it feel nice when that happens, when our numbers are the winning ones…
The 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?
My grandmother was one of those persons who manage to transform silence into a guilt inducing, “think about what you’ve done wrong” ordeals that only a cherished adult can inflict on a child. Only later did I understand the manipulative power of such loaded silences and the fact that they were equally efficient weapons against any adult in the family, as they were not meant to keep in check only children. But this most efficient weapon backfired eventually – it was bound to happen after having been used so efficiently for a lifetime, even when it was not needed.
There are so many kinds of silence and they serve so many purposes, but it was primarily a means of attracting attention in my grandmother’s case. The punishment side of it was merely a bonus, I latter understood, after I had already given up on figuring out what I had done wrong in order to deserve the much dreaded silent treatment.
It always followed the same pattern: you got home and all of the sudden you were persona non grata, whose kind “hello” didn’t trigger a response anymore. Naturally, one tries to find out what they did to upset the dear old lady, and that was generally when one also gets the all too familiar, snappy “You know very well what you did wrong, and it’s too late to make it better now,” followed by a very disappointed, “I’m such a martyr” look.
Nobody ever knew what triggered the silence attack, because nobody ever did anything to deserve it. My grandmother was a very verbal, argumentative, bickering lady whenever a mistake had actually been perpetrated, whereas the silence was merely a way to become the centre of attention, to be consoled and cuddled, begged for unnecessary forgiveness, which she would eventually half-heartedly grant, after having had enough of somebody’s grovelling and little favours offered in exchange for her clemency.
But her strategy soon failed to produce the same results with me; logical thinking worked its magic, even if I was just a child: I hadn’t done anything wrong, I knew that for a fact, so why was I supposed to apologise and have imaginary remorse for never committed mistakes? Navigating through the tormenting guilt her unuttered words instilled in me in spite of all my logical thoughts, I discovered a completely new and precious side of silence: I could finally do my homework or read the books I liked without any interruption from my generally very curious, talkative and intrusive grandmother. Without knowing it, I had offended her silence; and I had consequently offended her, thus almost deserving my punishment.
Silence had turned against her, leaving her powerless, and that was when I learnt that the first one to talk lost the imaginary battle of wills between the two of us.Why would I have been the first to utter a word, when I was so quietly comfortable with all my books, while she was all of the sudden alone and in desperate need of a listener, of somebody with whom to share the latest gossip? So she would eventually enter my room like nothing had happened and start talking and talking and talking – we were friends again, all was forgotten.
Nevertheless, her strategy worked wonders with everybody else, including my grandfather, getting her everything she wanted, from that feeling of control and superiority to a nice leather bag, a trip to the mountains or whatever she felt entitled to receive from those around her. Yet I still cannot help wondering why they refused to see what lurked behind the silence of the old, but not often dear lady. Is it really easier to fall prey to this sort of manipulative silence than to confront it?
After all those years I became as talented at throwing silence in people’s face as my grandmother was – how else would I have defeated her, after all? Yes, I can master silence now, but I choose not to become a pitiful creature who uses it in order to get undeserved and unnecessary attention. Once you learn to be silent both in a positive and a negative way, you also learn how to break silence and transform otherwise uncomfortable moments into a source of genuine communication in this overly verbal, often unable to establish real connections era.
As children, many of us are often told we can do anything and become whoever we want when we grow up. Then we start growing up. With every year that passes, more and more of those options are stricken off that imaginary list. We discover ourselves, we understand what doesn’t suit us, we figure out what we don’t want to or cannot do. Whether we like it or not, we learn that wanting something doesn’t necessarily mean we can find a way to get it, contrary to urban legends and positive thinking myths. Yet we keep going, we still plan ahead and we find new purposes every day, because the present and the past are not enough, we also need some sort of hope for the future we can hold on to.
The dreams may not be full of grandeur, our younger selves would have probably not even called them dreams, yet realistic expectations and the anticipation of something more, something new or at least something we have experienced, loved and want to relive is not something to ignore. But what happens if we’ve exhausted all the items on that imaginary list – either because we’ve accomplished them or because they will forever be out of reach – and we have nothing else to replace them with, what happens then?…
She really has nothing to look forward to, everything she ever hoped for is behind her now and she is not that old yet… The thought crossed my mind, while wondering how long the woman can go on about her cats. I looked at the phone once again – over half an hour since that conversation had started and it didn’t seem to come close to its end. As usual, she had no regard for other people’s needs or for their time. Had she paid as much attention to the people in her life as she did her cats, her marriage and her life in general would be so much better, I couldn’t help thinking…
Much like Icarus, she got too close to the sun. It had been a relatively quick and sweet ascent and she’s been in some sort of chaotic free-fall ever since, it dawned on me. Every time you thought she was about to hit the ground, you realized she can somehow avoid it – anything to avoid being down to earth, accepting the reality for what it was and dealing with it. Nothing could compare to that blinding, cruel, mesmerizing sun; nobody could compete with the sun. She couldn’t find a way to keep living up there, suspended above everybody else, looking down on a world inferior to her and her sun. She couldn’t duplicate the flight to perfection, that was a once in a lifetime experience. But she would not accept herself for who she was and what everyday life meant either, somehow avoiding to crash into reality at any cost.
The cost had proven to be rather high. There had been false suns and the pretence of flight, she had hope and dreams of getting back up there, above everything and superior to all, yet all those hopes and dreams inevitably dissolved into sad, hopeless, dreamless reality. She couldn’t have the sun and she couldn’t live up in the clouds, so nothing else mattered, nothing and nobody would be good enough. One by one, real, decent, accomplished people who loved her where pushed aside or torn apart because they were here, on earth, living real lives, with their amazingly nice, terribly bad and boringly neutral moments. None of them could ever offer her the height of the sky, a palace in the clouds, so they were clearly against her, a drain and a burden on her existence.
Her list was empty and she was determined to keep it empty. There was nothing she could have anymore, nothing great would happen to her again, because she didn’t consider anything or anyone real worth wanting. Her memories of the glamorous past were exaggerated and at times made up, and the beauty of sun didn’t make it less untouchable, but she wouldn’t hear of it.
I looked at the phone once more… almost an hour. Nonsensical cat stories, invalid complaints and constant self-pity left no room for any interest in others and their sad, happy or average existences. She may lead a sad life, but that doesn’t mean I have to do the same, even if I do try to make it better for her. So with one semi-transparent excuse, I’m back down to earth, breathing a sigh of relief. I know she’s pouting, but I also know this would not be our last conversation… because I am one of the very, very few people she’s got left. What can I say, it’s cloudy up there…
There was a time every year when those dreaded words had to be uttered… I knew it, yet they always snuck up on me. Some teachers have a twisted, malefic sense of humour, I thought to myself, contemplating again the necessity of writing yet another composition about the person I admired most / the person I wanted to be like when I grew up. Not only was having such an idol (sure, call it role model and that will make it so much better) mandatory in my school, but apparently it was highly necessary to write said person’s praises on regular basis.
What was wrong with figuring out who and what I became step by step, rather than set a pattern for myself and try to mould my personality accordingly, I wondered… What was so terrible about simply becoming myself, rather than endeavour to be somebody else? I was able to notice and focus on, maybe even obsess about people’s flaws from a very early age; wanting to be like somebody else meant voluntarily taking on those flaws which were often unacceptable, not only reproducing their admirable qualities. If you add the fact it was generally expected of girls to write about their mothers (grandmothers, aunts, older sisters were also acceptable options in a pinch) and for boys to choose their fathers as role models, the banal homework assignment became a veritable ordeal.
Hmmm… I certainly didn’t wish to grow up to become my mother (talk about one’s worse nightmare…), other female relatives were even less desirable options so I was left with imaginary characters and a vast variety of people I had never met, yet I was supposed to get a clear enough idea about who they were and want to emulate all their qualities and flaws. So a fictional character it would be – at least you knew what you were working with in that case.
I remember Scarlett O’Hara was one of my early choices. I had yet to read the book, but I had watched Gone With The Wind and I liked what I saw. I honestly think I could notice my teacher’s jaw drop as I was reading. I wasn’t even 10 and acting out that way was absolutely unacceptable, she informed me in an angry tone. I normally wrote so well, what had happened to me? I rather liked my composition and I had trouble understanding why slightly incoherent girls got better grades. “I love my mom a lot” was the only reason they had for wanting to be like their mothers; the truly profound ones also mentioned mommy being a very accomplished cook or having pretty hair.
The importance of saying what a person wants to hear, not what you really believe was one of the main things I learnt in school; therefore I instinctively learnt how to rebel against this tendency. I generally got very good grades, so I could afford to splurge once in a while and speak my mind in glorious, hilarious, at times even offensive ways. As for the “idol” composition, I remember a masterpiece detailing what I admired about a stray dog that bit me; there also was that piece about my mother, a “how not to” account…
As we go older, it became acceptable for movie stars, singers and public figures of all sorts to be what we aspired to become, but it didn’t make it any easier as far as I was concerned, so that particular assignment remained an opportunity for mockery and entertainment. Of course I preferred certain singers, I had favourite authors, I liked certain well-known people better than others, but the truth was I didn’t like to dig into their personal life, nor did I enjoy learning everything there was to know about them, the way it was presented and fed to the public. I generally separated the person from the artist – I may have enjoyed the art, but that didn’t mean I would also appreciate the artist that created it. So school presented me with another ordeal, the task of looking into authors’ (or any other relevant persons’ we studied about) background.
The dry list of years and events connected to various individuals bored me to death… until I understood there were more comprehensive and fun ways to learn about them. If you perceived them as characters, you could simply read their story and if you were lucky enough, you managed to find all sorts of juicy details that were not included in the boring synopsis provided by teachers. There was also a positive side to this not so amusing endeavour. Those titans became a lot less intimidating, they were in fact people just like us, with flaws and shortcomings, and their brilliant minds didn’t necessarily guarantee their happiness; even success and recognition were often out of reach during their lifetime. So there was hope for all of us… Unfortunately, once you got to learn more about the person, it became more difficult to respect the work.
I did admire people for various reasons, even if I didn’t necessarily like them entirely and I learnt to take bits and pieces from them, to value those features that made them great, to appreciate what they offered directly and indirectly. It was sometimes as simple as enjoying somebody’s music (of course, it didn’t hurt if the way they looked made your teenage hormones wild and your knees weak with emotion). Alas, I was not allowed to put up posters, damaging the paint was a big no-no, one set in stone by my grandmother. So one day she came home to find the furniture in my room and the door covered in posters of singers and bands I liked, adored or even barely tolerated.
She had only mentioned the walls, after all… and it had become a battle of wills. It had all started from the one poster I wanted to have and since she didn’t allow it, it became crucial for me to display all the posters I could get my hands on. I found the loophole in her rule and there was nothing to do but look mortified. She appealed to a higher court, but since my grandfather couldn’t care less about what I did with my room as long as nothing got broken, I won. A few weeks after having made my point, I took most of them down, careful not to damage the furniture, and only left the one I initially wanted. Jon Bon Jovi showed off his toned body to all my visitors. Unfortunately one afternoon I quietly entered my room to find my grandmother ogling the image with a certain indiscrete, hungry look you really don’t want to see in your grandmother’s eyes…
Years later I saw him live in a concert and the experience brought up so many mixed memories and feelings… It was amazing, that much I can say, a child’s dream that the adult made possible. I may have been fascinated by the man on the stage and by his voice, yet call me a narcissist, but I was also my own “idol” for a moment there as well…
I like to be spoiled once in a while… who doesn’t? It takes a lot to spoil a woman, many tend to believe… yet so many times it actually takes so little. When his idea of a long walk is going all the way from the door to that uncomfortable spot at the far end of the parking lot, but he suggests an afternoon walk in my favourite park, I know he’s only doing it for me. We walk a lot because I like it and I know he doesn’t mind it too badly if I’m there with him. Hours later we can collapse on comfy chairs on a terrace and spend some quality time with delicious cold drinks. That’s for both of us, just like all our late dinners.
Food is one of the many joys of travelling and discovering local restaurants can be a small adventure in itself. From infuriating to enlightening, from disastrous to delicious, it’s rarely what you’d expect it to be, that much I’ve learnt. But after a long day of walking up and down a place you don’t know too well, after taking in as much as you can – museums, shops, shows – nice, cold drinks are just what a girl needs.
Yes, small things can make a great difference, when you get the feeling someone has been listening and paying attention. What we tend to forget is that we can and need to be that ‘someone’ for ourselves and for the special persons in our life.
We can treat ourselves to something delicious, even if that might be something as insignificant as homemade bread. As for the walk in the park… hmm… that might entail having to put up with another James Bond movie in return… Oh well, the things a girl will do for a man who spoils her 🙂 …
Yes, I could. He had a keen eye for detail and unfortunately, so did I… But I knew there was only one right answer to his question. The piece of furniture had been beautifully restored, yet at a very close glance, you could tell what some of the most damaged spots had been. I knew he could tell, I knew he knew I could tell as well, so why was it so important to him for me to ignore the previous flaws? After all, he had done such a great job reconditioning the old nightstand… But I knew why, just as I knew I could work my way around that answer, if I wanted to be kind and compassionate to him.
“Not in this light… it looks great,” and that wasn’t a lie – it did look great.
We initially bonded over a somewhat shared interest for fixing things and an entirely shared love for shoes. No matter how badly we disagreed with each other or how great the gap between us would become over the years, those shared passions would always be our safe space, our common ground.
The first times he asked me that question I answered without hesitation and promptly proceeded to point out each and every little fixed problem I could spot. I thought he would appreciate my attention and interest in his work; instead he seemed angry and cold. He pointed out a few more marks I hadn’t gotten around to noticing and then he moved on to some impersonal topic. Every time, the same reaction… well, if you can’t handle an honest answer, why bother asking the question in the first place? Why such a childish cry for validation from a man his age? But then I got to know him…
Furniture restoration was his hobby, I had been told. In fact, it was so much more than that… He was truly talented and for a while, he really enjoyed doing it for a living (if you ask me, he would be a much happier person today if he hadn’t given it up; but nobody asked me, so…). But that had been in a rather distant past; the future of that past transformed the results of his talent into a hobby and a slightly touchy subject.
A great part of their furniture has been rescued and then patiently refurbished by him. The older, more deteriorated a piece of furniture was, the more stubbornly he would insist on saving it and restoring its past glory. Friends would bring him old pieces they no longer needed or wanted and he would carefully and patiently turn them into beautiful objects again. An antique mirror frame was the first item we ever discussed, my smug remarks igniting his anger. As I later learned, it had been broken into more bits than I was able to count on the restored version and a friend of his was taking it to the bin when he got his hands on it. To everybody else, it was a heap of rubbish; to him it had the potential of becoming beautiful again. It took him a long time, but he eventually devised ways of putting all the bits back into place and holding them together. It had a brand new life ahead.
He liked to show me how he went about fixing all the flaws, the small ones and those that appeared to be beyond repair alike. I had fun learning some simple techniques that I would later try myself. He wasn’t trying to hide the damage caused by time and by intentional or unintentional human error. It was important for him to know that the final result, the present version was appreciated for what it is and not judged for the sad state it had been in for a certain period of time. Once he was convinced of it, he had no problem talking about all the damage he had fixed, no matter who was pointing it out during the conversation.
He was like his furniture, I slowly discovered. Was he aware of it? Will he ever be aware of it? I doubt the future is able to bring any more answers than the past did concerning these questions. He put himself together and repaired his damaged being with the same patience he had when restoring sad, beyond repair furniture. He disclosed his past and his healed scars the same way he always talked about putting together broken bits of wood and covering the cracks – with a mixture of pride and shame, sometimes with anger referring to stupid mistakes, other times with sadness, thinking about unavoidable incidents.
I knew there was only one right answer in that case, because he deserved a caring answer, in spite of everything else. Once we finished going through all the details of the repair work the broken nightstand had required, he could pack it carefully and take it back to his mother’s place. For better or worse, he had managed to fix the damage caused by the past and instil future life in that piece of furniture. But who can tell how long it will take until it – until he – will fall apart again?…
“Could you tell me how to get my poems published?”
The guttural, insecure voice made us all turn our heads. Had he really asked that? We stopped staring at the clear spring sky through large, unwashed windows, we stopped wishing we could be somewhere outside, taking in all that warmth and freshness.
She was taken aback as well. She paused, holding a book and some papers with handwritten notes up in the air, halfway from her bag to the massive desk. Had she not been one of our favourite professors, most of us would have taken advantage of one of the first beautiful spring days instead of being there, in that stuffy room, counting the many, many minutes… That woman was never at a loss for words. She had written several books, she had read more then all of us together and we had yet to find a question about art, culture, politics, travel or education that she couldn’t answer. On top of everything, she was in her early thirties, attractive, had a great sense of humour, an amazing fashion style and a career most of her peers envied, having taught in a variety of universities abroad. What can I say, those of us who didn’t want to be her, wanted to be with her… Yet she was silenced for a second by his unexpected question.
“Do you write poetry?”
That was the question on our lips too, but she was the one to voice it. He grunted some kind of affirmative answer. Most of us were already jaded; shocking situations didn’t always shock us, but somehow the thought that he could and would write poetry was unimaginable. The kid who could hardly express himself coherently was writing poetry? The kid who often stopped our professors in the middle of their discourse to ask them what this or that rather common word meant or how to spell them, was writing poetry? The same professors who strived to allow us our creativity and freedom of expression, thus overlooking occasional mistakes, had their patience tested whenever he was the one speaking. But this was the guy writing poetry… By that time we were aware of each other’s intellectual ability and we often wondered how and why he was a student. He failed to understand simple facts and assignments, he lacked creativity and he only managed not to fail all his exams because he studied like a maniac all these things that made no sense to him. But now he was informing us that he wanted to be a published poet…
Envisioning him as a poet made us cringe. Weird didn’t begin to describe him – in fact, we were all somewhat weird in our own way, so weird was the norm. He was something else. He wasn’t simply different, he was “naked under the trench coat, exposing himself to girls on the street” strange. In truth, after getting to know him a little bit, we learnt to stay away. It wasn’t just that we didn’t like him. The girls feared him; the boys were tired to listen to his obscene stories of how he had been with all the girls, when everybody could tell they were just all too detailed accounts of porn he had been watching. He had amazing, non-discriminative stalking capabilities. As a girl, if you were at all nice to him – and by that I mean answer his Hello – you were bound to find him loitering on your street for no good reason, until someone else took your place in his heart. As a guy, he would obsessively try to convince you to include him in a “guys’ night”. On top of everything, his poor personal hygiene certainly didn’t do him any favours… But he was writing poetry…
Our professor provided him with names and addresses of several literary magazines where he could submit his poems. She praised anyone who had the courage to write poetry or fiction in general and subject their work to the public eye, as she didn’t believe she could bear the unavoidable negative critic. (None of her books were works of fiction; but she was an astute literary critic, who knew exactly how a writer is judged.) No, she was sorry, but she couldn’t read his poems; however, she could recommend some reading circles, if he was interested. But she was the one we felt sorry for – he relentlessly followed her around the university until the end of the semester and she soon became the protagonist of his disturbingly pornographic accounts.
As he ran after her to ask who knows what, we couldn’t help ourselves… we had to take a look and find out what sort of poetry he wrote. It didn’t improve our opinion of him – he was delusional, just like in so many other respects…
But he thought himself a poet and that’s all that mattered. After all, who can really tell what person hides behind a poem? In a way, we wanted to find that his poetry was something we could appreciate. In a way, we hoped his poetry could change the way we perceived him. In a way, we wished he had something that prevented him from turning into the monster we feared he might become…
I heard a thousand blended notes, While in a grove I sate reclined,
In that sweet mood when pleasant thoughts
Bring sad thoughts to the mind.
To her fair works did Nature link
The human soul that through me ran;
And much it grieved my heart to think
What man has made of man.
Through primrose tufts, in that green bower,
The periwinkle trailed its wreaths;
And ’tis my faith that every flower
Enjoys the air it breathes.
The birds around me hopped and played,
Their thoughts I cannot measure:–
But the least motion which they made
It seemed a thrill of pleasure.
The budding twigs spread out their fan,
To catch the breezy air;
And I must think, do all I can,
That there was pleasure there.
If this belief from heaven be sent,
If such be Nature’s holy plan,
Have I not reason to lament
What man has made of man?
William Wordsworth – Lines Written in Early Spring
“Forever desiring, forever weary of his conquests like the great trickster of Seville, he always subjected himself to just a single woman, only to liberate himself from her through his works.”
Brassaï about Picasso
So many ways types of love and so many occasions to experience them, if only we allow feelings to flourish… Each of us perceives love (in all its shapes and sizes) in their own personal way and it’s certainly too subjective a matter in order to be boxed in or limited by fixed, blind rules. But one general assumption might just be true for all of us: no two loves are the same, regardless of whether we refer to romance, family, friends, people we may not even have met, or to things, jobs, pleasurable activities that embellish our lives in various ways.
It might not last forever, but each and every love we have experienced leaves a mark, it changes us, it becomes a part of who we are. It is a growing and a learning experience at the same time, even in those (many) cases when the dénouement is anything but positive or when it has proven to be painful rather than pleasant. It might leave us broken, but as long as we manage to put together the pieces, we often emerge stronger, with a clearer view of who we are and what we need. And it’s in those situations when we reach out to those other kinds of love that we hopefully have in our lives, relying on them for support we may not even know we need.
There are certainly more than one love related myths out there and aside from allowing us to hope and dream, they also set us up for disappointment, fostering unreachable standards and expectations, often blocking our perception of reality and true value. It’s funny how something that’s supposed to make us so happy actually frustrates us and makes us miserable because it doesn’t fit the pre-set pattern. Apparently we sometimes are so desperate to make ourselves feel inadequate by comparison to those untouchable ideals, that the already existing myths are not enough, we constantly come up with new examples of how love (any kind of love) should be in a perfect dimension… we even idealize examples from the animal kingdom…
Let’s be honest, even that generally considered a romantic symbol of monogamous, perfect couple is just that: an image, not reality. Yes, apparently sometimes not even swans mate for life, nor do they have a perfect couple life. They occasionally ‘divorce’ an unsuitable partner, they sometimes cheat on their significant other and they do look for a new mate in case the first one dies. Fun fact – it seems the black Australian swans are the friskiest of them all, on average one out of seven eggs is the result of an ‘extramarital’ affair. Sure, they have good reasons to behave this way; yet even when their couple life is successful, it’s not so much because of love or great romance, but because they’re practical creatures – they’re stronger together and they stand a much better chance to survive and thrive. Hmm… that sounds somewhat familiar…. 🙂
So why not make love a personal experience, one that suits who we are, what we believe and what we need? That could prove to be so much more constructive than judging and labelling ourselves and those around…
I still feel sorry for the photographer who used to take my picture once every couple of years or so when I was a child. God forbid my mother framed anything but a picture of professional perfection… of me. You know how some children hate the dentist’s and parents have to drag them there under false pretext… well, once in a while, I’d get to wear my best and most uncomfortable dress, awfully oversized bows, shiny patent leather shoes and I would be tricked into having my picture taken. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind being photographed, I simply never liked posing. That’s why I still feel sorry for the poor man, he certainly had his work cut out for him.
As usual, getting me to look natural while sitting on the ugly, uncomfortable chair, staring at the camera was a demanding, time consuming, frustrating experience. I had offered my own suggestions, but they had been blatantly disregarded, so he had to deal with my attitude as well. But somehow he managed to get a decent shot, all the people waiting outside (whose appointments had been pushed back because of me) were only mildly angry, so everybody was happy. Almost everybody… Clearly, I was not going to be the only child in the room that day.
We were ready to leave, my mother announced. Sure, why not just leave? After all, the child is all everybody cares about these days… She doesn’t mean anything to anybody anymore… nobody wants to photograph her…. nobody wants to frame her picture… Yes, my grandmother was throwing a tantrum, as she had her heart set on having her picture taken as well (I would have gladly traded places). So that’s what the new hairdo and the elegant outfit were all about.
One more picture, my mother pleaded with the photographer… just one… pretty please… pretty please with a seductive smile on top… Well… ok, but just the one, he was pressed for time. In the blink of an eye, my grandmother put a doting arm around my shoulder, the photographer adjusted everything, I heard the snap and that was it!
My grandmother got her picture… and I got mine! I looked adorable, she looked respectable, elegant and loving… and the little ugly doll I managed to sneak out of my pocket and hold up right in the centre of the photo looked hilariously horrendous. Rage, outrage and pouting for several days followed, the picture was deemed unworthy of being framed, but I swear, it was all worth it… especially considering that the punishment I received was, ‘No more professional photos for you, missy!” Had I only known that was all it took…
You look so happy here… that must have been such a great trip/birthday/holiday.. Yet I knew what he reality behind those picture perfect moments was, the same I knew there was nothing honest about them. I remember looking at those pictures – they were pretty, I looked nice, everybody looked happy, but somehow, I felt I didn’t recognize the faces. They may not have had social media and online personae those days, but certain pictures were nevertheless taken simply to keep up appearances and/or to trigger other people’s envy. How else were they to know you were so much better and lived such a fulfilling life? Not much has changed, after all…
Later on, as a teenager, I discovered I loved candid pictures of myself and my friends. They may not have been considered acceptable by certain relatives, but the more ridiculous and funny they were, the more I appreciated them. I hated and still hate ‘staged’ photos. Fine, fine, call it ‘composition’ if you must, but that’s not for me. I’m not a photographer, I just take photos for fun, for myself, so I would remember as many moments and details as possible. But when I look at the pictures I’ve taken – decent, awful and mediocre ones alike – I remember exactly how I felt. There are those I’ve taken because I needed to make myself feel better; there are those that I’ve taken to remind myself that some nice moments existed even during the worst of times; and there are those meant to remind me of how I used to perceive certain things. There are also those photos in which I look terrible, exhausted, but I know what a great time I was having exploring, being alive and enjoying it. In fact, some of my favourite pictures are the imperfect, damaged ones. What determined them, what those moments lead to, that’s what holds value and creates a memory for me, not an impeccable image of a perfect smile.
On that note, I’m focusing on seeing past the grey clouds and the dreary scenery while waiting for more and more flowers to bloom. After all, although it may not look like it, winter is officially over. Have a wonderful spring, everyone! 🙂
The plane took off, leaving behind a land still somewhat sleepy under the very warm spring morning’s sunlight. A few hours later, a frozen, 300 C colder, snow covered town was welcoming us as we were landing. Just looking at the white immensity we were approaching was giving me cold shivers. A couple of hours later, I was driving down my street, on what seemed very much like a rainy, murky autumn evening. Great! Three seasons in the one January day… two of them in the same country, no less… I really didn’t want to be home. On top of everything, I barely got to stop the car before noticing a murder of crows had taken residence in the tree above my parking space while I had been away. They did mind their manners, I must admit – they did allow me to walk away with my luggage before turning my car into a very popular, highly sought after bird toilet. Somehow, that felt fitting – nothing discrete or symbolic about it, my car looked the way I felt. No, I was not too pleased to be back.
A couple of weeks later, I got my wish, I was flying back… and then I was flying back home again. And yet again, winter was playing tricks on me, oscillating between autumn and spring. And yet again, I must say, fitting! The season’s instability suits my current mood, it suits more aspects of my life then I would like it to. But the truth is, I just want spring… real spring, not this winter in spring’s clothing situation we’ve got going on right now.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining about the 20 something degrees and sunny weather (although -200 C would be a lot less shocking this time of year). I fully enjoyed the splendid weather welcoming me home this time, but there is something sad about it too, it feels fake. You can still see winter’s sharp teeth through the sunrays shining over still barren trees; you can just feel it won’t be long before winter shows its true nature again. It’s become a fickle season, by the looks of it – is winter attempting a makeover, a rebranding even? Is it perhaps multitasking, trying to offer us as many meteorological experiences as possible over a few months? Have there been too many complaints, so the season’s PR department is trying to shed a new light and warmth on winter?
It might not be just winter… the more I think of it, the more obvious it becomes the other seasons seem to follow this trend. Have we perhaps reached the point where we managed to push a season into changing so it would reflect our contemporary lifestyle – fast, unreliable, out of control, jumping from one extreme to another, utterly insane? Well… it looks like even seasons need to wear masks these days… 😉
I was old enough to remember, but I can’t remember exactly how old I was… maybe 5… But I do remember exactly what I wore, what I looked like, but most importantly what they looked like. I was mesmerized. The surreal creatures populating that unimaginably graceful, perfection-infused world couldn’t have been the same people I knew… the same people I had seen drinking coffee, smoking, talking and laughing, just like everybody else… the same people I had seen at birthday parties, or cooking dinner, or simply sitting around and doing nothing, just like normal, ordinary humans. I would never look at them the same after that performance.
Swan Lake was the first ballet I had ever seen and most of the divine creatures that had fascinated me that evening were our family friends. I was still struggling to understand and appreciate the experience when everything took an equally extraordinary turn. I somehow managed to take a massive bouquet of flowers to the couple everybody was applauding, in whose home I had spent so much time as a child, that I wasn’t quite sure they weren’t family. But now they seemed strangers and I kept looking at them, wanting to make sure they were the same people. They were and they were not. I couldn’t quite figure it out at that specific moment. All I knew was that a great honour was being bestowed on me when the two didn’t let me return to my seat and instead took me with them backstage.
The two large dressing rooms were swarming with dancers whose graceful movements had transposed the audience in a dimension of dream, beauty and perfection. I could hear familiar voices again… yes, I loved the ballet… yes, I loved them all for being so beautiful… did I want to become a ballerina when I grew up? Funny… in spite of all those overwhelming sensations, ‘no’ was the word that instinctively came to my lips. But I was still under the spell of that mystifying display, so I felt such an answer would hurt those delicate, yet superior creatures (I still wasn’t quite sure they were the same people I had known forever, even if I already noticed my mother heading towards us – she looked like herself among her surreal looking friends, so everything must be the same).
It was art, I had been told so many times before – ballet was art. And those were the artists, I was also told. I had no idea what art meant, but I would latter on piece together images and memories; my presence was forgotten in a matter of minutes all I had to do then and there was sit quietly on a chair out of the way and take everything in, see, experience, feel and try to understand.
But the mysterious, enchanting creatures I had just seen on the stage had disappeared and I was trying to understand if what was unfolding in front of my eyes was terribly ugly or stunningly beautiful. I didn’t like how the dressing room smelt, that much I knew. Up close, the costumes were not at all as delicate as I expected them to be – many of them actually looked old and shabby, many needed mending and cleaning. Angelic faces looked grotesque in normal light and the half removed makeup was letting tired, half angry, half satisfied, absolutely human features resurface. Costumes were flying left and right, uncovering the same perfect bodies I had seen on stage, bodies which seemed devoid of any grace now. Was this art as well? Were they still artists? All I knew was they were nothing like what I had been lead to believe adults should be. They were free and open about their beauty and their bodies, they didn’t censor anything about themselves.
Then another thing became equally obvious. They were just like everybody else – petty, judgemental, cruel, envious. They started to settle down, forming smaller groups, discussing, criticizing and tearing each other apart. The show had been a success, yet they were whispering all sorts of offending remarks about each other; the more entitled ones didn’t bother to hide their disdain. In the same time, they were planning a party for latter… they were the closest of friends… they were the best of enemies.
But were they still artists? And if they were, then was their petty behaviour part of their art? Was the artist impersonating the human or was the human trying to imitate the artist? Which one was predominant? Which one was the true identity? I gave up answering those questions. I learnt to live with the thought that the artist is human and the human can be an artist, the two are sometimes one and the same or at least intertwining halves that can hardly be told apart. Art and everyday life can be the same. Perfection is nothing but apparent both when it comes to life and to art. There is incomparable beauty in everyday life and hideousness in art… and so much more to both of them… especially when both of them are the same entity.
I’ve seen Swan Lake again a couple of days ago. It was beautiful… the way it always is… It wasn’t perfect, the same way life never is. Having seen how much effort, discipline, determination and talent goes into making such a performance seem naturally beautiful, perfect even, I generally refrain from criticizing. Yet I caught myself hearing my mother’s and her friends’ cruel words going through my mind while noticing some of the prima ballerina’s mistakes. Who is she sleeping with? She’s too old, she should have retired years ago… There are at least two younger girls better than her… Or were they my words?… Was I imitating the artist, without being an artist myself, thus becoming nothing more than a critic?…
We revere them so much, we want to be like them so badly, that we forget they are only human, just like us… So when we work so hard trying to imitate them, don’t we also bring into our lives some of the ugliness that is part of theirs? After all, beauty and perfection are apparent and talent isn’t exactly easy to replicate…
I have a love-hate relationship with time… and hate often prevails. I look at my watch and even if I can count the hours, the minutes that go by, I still cannot tell time. I still cannot understand it. Life changing moments have always been just that – moments. Moments that descended upon me out of nowhere. Moments that echoed through my existence over the years. People came into my life and left, always the same way, abruptly, without any warning or foretelling signs.
I am a planner, yet rarely did any of my plans have an impact similar to those split second events that set and reset the course of one’s life. Time and I are not on friendly terms in such situation, even if the change is a positive one. But even when trying to plan everything, to predict the unpredictable, I still let those split seconds determine everything, because the truth is I do rely on my intuition when allowing a moment’s impulse to prompt a major decision. That’s when time and I make peace, because the dreaded split second is mine to control and do what I please with it – for better or worse, I know it was my own decision that subjected me to a variety of consequences, not an external, uncontrollable, unexpected momentary event.
I am sure of only one thing when it comes to time: the more it manages to put me down, the more desperately and stubbornly I will try to fight it. I will manage to find ‘me’ time, those wonderful interludes when I make time my own, rather than be its frantic slave. I will seek those places hiding atemporal beauty, thus making time redundant; and whenever I can, I will find refuge there. And I will always seek to find that ideal moisturizer as well, that one which makes time crawl on our skin a lot slower than the fiend would like to, leaving behind less visible marks.
Devouring Time, blunt thou the lion’s paws,
And make the earth devour her own sweet brood;
Pluck the keen teeth from the fierce tiger’s jaws,
Last time I heard a person banging at one’s door that loudly was when the oldest lady in the building fell asleep while cooking her dinner and nearly burnt down the whole place. The first to smell smoke knocked at all the doors, we all got out, hoping for the best, yet envisioning the worst. Fortunately, loud banging on her door finally woke her up before the firemen got there, she was taken outside while her apartment was being properly ventilated and that was the end of it.
I stood up, trying to understand the man’s words and figure out what was going on this time. As the loud door knocking subsided, the angry words became easily distinguishable. The building wasn’t burning down; there was no burst pipe; burglars hadn’t broken into anyone’s home. The current event was a lot more mundane, apparently a lot more insignificant according to general consensus, yet equally disturbing, if you ask me. It happens every day, everywhere, in all walks of life, yet it hadn’t happened right under my nose for a while, so it took me by surprise, it shook me a bit.
The rejected lover keeps knocking at his ex-girlfriend’s door… louder and louder, more and more violently. He is the man, it is only up to him to determine when and how their relationship ends. He knocks and knocks, while angry words try to punctuate his desires. She’s home, but she will not open her door. I cannot hear her, but the message is clear – he needs to leave, because she wants nothing to do with him. Minutes go by, pleading and knocking continue, yet the door remains locked and closed. As the woman’s determination starts sipping into his system, the man’s true nature starts surfacing without great difficulty. Manipulative words try to express the right reason for him to be there, the one that would make her open the door; he goes from anger to indifference to supplication and back to anger within minutes. He just wants to see her. No, she’s deluded, he’s not there for her, all he wants is to say goodbye to her child. Reasons alternate and when it becomes clear one isn’t working, he moves on to the next.
What? She’s called the police? He couldn’t care less, she can stick the police up her… He’s only here to get what’s his things, he needs his things after all. Yeah, that one jacket he’s left behind, that’s what he wants and that’s why he needs to be allowed into her apartment. If only the idiot woman that she is could understand such a simple thing… he’s not here for her, nobody would be here for her anyway, she’s just a worthless piece of trash. He’s leaving in the morning, he needs his jacket, she won’t hear from him again; he’s leaving the country. The destination changes from one sentence to the next – he’s moving to London, he’s moving to Paris, he’s moving to Rome and so on…. Clearly he’s paid attention during geography classes in school, since he can list most European capitals within one angry, abusive monologue. As his knocking and kicking at the locked door escalate, so do his invectives, ‘useless whore’ becoming one of his kindest terms of endearment.
I feel a very strong impulse to open the door and tell him off, ask that sad excuse of a man to leave. But I don’t. I don’t do that sort of thing anymore. After having gotten involved in a variety of reckless situations as an adolescent and in my twenties, after somehow – miraculously – getting away untouched, I finally manage to control myself and avoid this sort of things. I see myself in my pink bathrobe and I realise I probably can’t accomplish anything more than become the next target for his abuse. She’s safe behind her locked door and I am safe behind mine, even if I’m still so tempted…
But where are all the men? After all, there aren’t only women living in this building; there are men of various ages too, none of them too old or too feeble to open his door and politely ask the intruder to calm down, go home and leave us all alone. Who let that creature in the building in the first place anyway? And where are all the so-called men who are my neighbours?
I have good instincts and they’ve always kept me away from abusive men, whose main means of securing a woman’s affection/obedience/loyalty is aggression. But I’ve seen and refereed so many of these situations between distant relatives, close friends and various acquaintances, that – as a woman – I find nothing to be more unacceptable and unforgiveable in a man than abusive behaviour.
As knocking evolves into constant kicking of the door and the voice settles on a course of endless insults, she will play her final card. Oh, so you’ve got a man in there with you, you say?… But after concluding that once a whore, always a whore and making his point with his fists against the door, he quickly decides he has to go home, leaving a trail of invectives behind him. The big bad wolf that kept everybody behind their locked doors couldn’t run faster at the mere suggestion that a man was standing by the side of the woman he had abused and was still looking to abuse for an indeterminate period of time…
Yet, where were all the men in the building? I know that was a fortunate situation, the aggressor being so easily deterred from torturing his prey. But it still was just one of him… And then a different thought slowly invaded my thoughts. What if it wasn’t fear? What if it wasn’t indifference? What if it wasn’t chivalry being dead and buried? What if, instead, they found that type of behaviour normal, acceptable? Moreover, what if they actually thought that’s what she deserves?
I couldn’t let it be. So even if I didn’t ask anybody in the building (because I like to stay out of my neighbours’ lives, hoping they would stay out of mine) I did ask a couple of men close to my soul, who I know would never treat a woman that way. One of them told me there has never been an occasion on which he tried to defend a woman abused in public by her boyfriend/husband without said woman jumping in to take her man’s side… He wasn’t wrong – all too often I was told of various incidents, only to be pushed away and be accused of malevolence towards their significant other by the women in question, as soon as they forgave their abusive partners. I was also told that a decent man needs to get his facts straight first – on one hand, one needs to know what sort of lunatic one might be dealing with, on the other hand one needs to know whether the victim in question I indeed a victim. And let’s not forget, one woman’s abuse, another woman’s foreplay….
All I can say right now is I hope that my neighbour who managed to escape her abuser can find the strength to stay away from him. I hope the majority of those locked doors were hiding indignation, not support for that kind of behaviour towards women, because that in itself represents a small step in the right direction.
I may be able to come up with quite a variety of words to describe myself, but ‘optimist’ is not amongst them. I’m a realist. And as a realist, I cannot help having my moments of stifling pessimism, just as I also cannot help having hopes and dreams from time to time. As for that one person of the two who know me in real life and have also been told about this blog – no, I don’t suffer from multiple personality disorder either… Or if I do, the one typing right now certainly has no idea about it. But we’ll go back to that later.
If you believe yourself to be a realist, then most likely you have often been accused of negative thinking and you’ve been labelled a pessimist more times than you can remember. I won’t deny it, I do believe that if anything can go wrong, then most likely it will; but if I were a pessimist, I would say, “then it will”. Of course, I can’t help noticing that if my perfectly functional computer decides to throw a tantrum and crash or if there’s a power cut or if my internet provider suddenly experiences various difficulties, it will always happen just before I manage to click ‘Save’ or ‘Send’ as I’m struggling to meet that impending deadline. So I’ve learnt to accept that technology is not infallible and it bears one striking resemblance to many people: it will let you down just when you need it the most. Of course, if your car is going to get a flat tire while simply being parked in front of your home over night, there’s a very good chance it’ll happen when you’re in a hurry the following day… and the weather will probably be awful, nobody will be there to help you change the damn thing or to give you a ride. But the control freak that I am doesn’t give up, she simply learns her lesson. I save documents and back up my work more often than I like to admit to; I try to leave early enough so I manage not to be too late in case of unexpected impediments. And for this sort of things I get called paranoid, pessimist or negativist!
I have been accused – on more than one occasion – that I see the worst in people. I really don’t – I only notice stereotypical behaviour, I remember past situations involving said individuals and I tend to be quite a good judge of character. I apply the same thought process when it comes to positive aspects, but that generally gets overlooked and dismissed, on the premises that I couldn’t possibly ‘predict’ something good about a person, given my negative tendencies… Overlooked tend to also be all those situations when my ‘negativism’ has led me to accurately ‘predict’ unpleasant outcomes regarding certain endeavours or people… that is, if I’m lucky and I don’t get blamed for the entire course of events – clearly, my opening my big mouth to state the obvious was what caused it all. But, like I said, I tend to learn my lessons and to keep my opinions to myself once in a while – which doesn’t come easy to me – or just be aware I’d have to live with a wide array of unpleasant consequences when I decide to express my thoughts in a less diplomatic fashion.
Yet being a realist who’s seen a fair share of awkwardly unlucky coincidences and being ambitious, stubborn, opinionated and impatient are features that can clash in unpleasant, disappointing, even depressing ways. Overcoming failure becomes difficult. Picking yourself up and trying again and again and again simply because you cannot accept a certain turn of events might start to seem pointless. After all, the realist in you knows what the chances to succeed are. After all, insanity is often defined as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results (thank you, Einstein, for throwing so many of us in that delightful category). And yet… the stubborn, ambitious person in me cannot settle for less than she thinks she deserves, so she’ll not be able to give up, no matter how depressing that might be. Meanwhile, the impatient one cannot take that drama anymore – she wants what she wants and she wants it now. (Wait, maybe I do have multiple personalities after all… Hmm…) Anyway, the realist that I am needs to rise above and find a way to survive, so I could survive without going insane in more ways than the one described by Mr Einstein (or whoever else people chose to credit for that particular definition).
You reach a point when no matter how fast you think and speak, no matter how ambitious you are, no matter how disappointed you’ve become, no matter how cynical you’ve always been, you need to stop and take a good look at your life for what it actually is, not for what you want it to be. You need to do that not for some metaphysical, impersonal, altruistic, holier-than-thou reason, but only so you wouldn’t sink. We all find our own ways of coping with it, our own solutions. Personally, after several years of taking a break from it, I started writing again, for myself and to myself, the same way I had done for a long time – before any of you say anything, I am well aware this doesn’t bode well for my claim to sanity. But I find it gives me a new perspective, it allows me to see everything in a slightly more objective (dare I say realistic?) light. Later I started this blog and by that time I had reached a sort of balance; this led to that amusing little comment about my personalities – I know it must seem so unlike the blunt, cynical me in real life.
No, I wasn’t trying to pretend to be a different person, a better, nicer or kinder one. I am who I am and I make no apologies for it. I am a realist who is doing her best to see the positive side of her own existence. I try to enjoy what I do have, the beautiful moments, the wonderful people, the special times and the nice things in my life, aside from everything else that drives me crazy, while also driving me to want more for myself. But in order to do that, I need to constantly remind myself it needs to be done – forced positivity is a realist’s self-prescribed medicine – because I am not, nor will I ever be an optimist floating on pick, inspirational clouds surrounded by cuddly unicorns. I find my own kind of satisfaction to keep me going. Sometimes it’s in the books I read, the words I write, the flowers I receive, the moments by the sea, the colours of the sunset, the travelling to various places… and sometimes it’s in that selfish, obnoxious pleasure of knowing I was right and others were wrong in reading a person or a situation… and other times it’s simply in enjoying a pair of obscenely beautiful and expensive shoes I know I probably shouldn’t have bought.
The beam of light heading my way seemed out of place in the middle of the cold, dark field. I didn’t remember a road being there; yet there must have been one, otherwise… My right foot instinctively became gentler with the pedal, the car slowed down on the almost deserted motorway and I could focus on that puzzling light cutting through the field on my right. It didn’t take long and as that flash of light and I passed each other, heading into opposite directions in the night, the warm sensation of discarded memories invaded my body. The initial beam split into several, than many interconnected bright squares flickered for a few moments, only to slither away into the night as abruptly as they had appeared, the train heading towards the town I had left.
There was a road cutting through the field, parallel to the motorway. A railroad. But I don’t take the train anymore. I don’t like trains these days. I don’t think of them much or often. Yet that warm sensation was familiar. It might have been the hour. It might have been the route. Or it might have simply been that particular train. It all translated into the fact that it could have been ‘that’ train – the one I used to be on so many times, the one taking me to what used to be a destination and what is now a home. It was a sensation from a time long ago, a time of travelling by train and writing letters…
When was it that I last wrote a real letter? Or for that matter, when did I last open my mailbox to find an envelope with my name and address handwritten on it, enclosing pages covered in ink scribbling? I remember the last time I took the train, but I can’t remember the last real letter… That part of who I was transformed, evolved into something else… or perhaps it disappeared entirely.
When did those women find time to get anything else done, considering that most of their day seemed to be dedicated to letter writing? And how exactly did they know what was worth putting in writing for their friends, acquaintances and relatives to read? The contradiction was certainly puzzling – the heroines of those books seemed to spend so much time writing letters about what was happening, that I couldn’t understand when they managed to find a moment or two to have anything happening to them. I wasn’t quite sure how to answer that question, but I knew I wanted to try it, because the child I was had decided that letter writing could turn any banal life into a fascinating, novel worthy existence.
That train in the night taking me to my holiday destination, taking me away from all my friends would often be the source and location of my first letter from each particular trip. Finding what to write about was easy, I immediately got to understand – every little thing needed to be shared with my best friend, the same way we used to share every insignificant experience when we were home. In return I got equally detailed letters, relating what now feels like absolutely nothing, yet what used to be pivotal happenings at the time. The most banal things were special adventures back then and riding the train for an entire night was no exception. The falling stars, the ugly towns, the picturesque places I’d see, the cute, nameless green-eyed boy who smiled quietly at me for half a night, while we were both sticking our hands and heads out the open window to feel the cool wind and the speed of the train, they were all letter worthy experiences.
I have a fairly large box full of such letters, most of them from my childhood and teenage years. I have letters from close friends. I have love letters from boys (now I am amazed that there have been teenage boys able to care enough for a girl in order to write her love letters and I actually knew some of them). I have letters that changed the course of my life and I have letters that made me wonder if I would still be able and willing to wake up in the morning and keep living. I have letters I’ve written and could never bring myself to mail and I have letters I’ve mailed and then asked to have returned. I have letters from people I don’t know anymore, because the children we were became adults who have nothing in common and no desire to even try to discover and accept the person the other has become. Regardless, they all have one thing in common: their colour and texture will always bring the past in the present, conferring it the weight of reality, as its silent witnesses that they were.
Signs becoming words, becoming stories, becoming communication, becoming life have always been important to me. Writing them down just as they happened made them real and objective, helping me analyse them in a more detached fashion. They’ve become hopes, disappointments and escape; they’ve become language and literature to be discovered, devoured, learnt, analysed and then learnt again. I may not always understand them and I may not always be willing to even try. But when it comes to letter writing, to correspondence of any sort, one thing remains unchanged: that thrill you experience when you just know somebody can hardly wait to read that which you want to share with them, the same way you’re looking forward to their reply.
We often need to see the bigger picture in order to understand the story behind the words behind the letters. And even when we do, it might still feel like a foreign language we can only grasp with great difficulty.
I was 18 when I first got to be thousands and thousands of metres above the world as I knew it. Travelling by plane would not be an issue for me, I just knew it; in fact, I had a feeling I would enjoy flying. I wasn’t wrong. During the following couple of years it became a normal part of my existence. I kept looking forward to that exact moment when I could feel the plane lose physical contact with the ground, heading towards the clouds. Defying gravity gave me a free pass to defy everything negative in my own life and for a long time, those were the moments when I would feel absolutely no pressure. For the control freak that I have always been, voluntarily giving up any sort of control for a couple of hours or so, while floating above everyone and everything that my life entailed, was exquisitely liberating.
I’ve lost track of the number of flights I’ve been on over the years. I’ve become somewhat jaded and like most repeated actions, flying has lost a great part of that initial magic. All the traveling related stress often gets the best of me and it’s no longer easy to be oblivious to everything going on around me (but at least it makes for some interesting, often hilarious travel stories).
Early morning flights have never been my favourite. But then again, sleep is the only thing I favour early in the morning, so that might have something to do with me… Anyway, sleep was not going to be an option that December morning and there was nothing else to do but accept it. The plane had taken off, breakfast had been served, but clearly nothing was going to calm down at least one of the several screaming babies. So, so many screaming babies… no high tech device could reproduce that sort of surround sound… Is it me or are there more and more people traveling with very young children and infants? No, no, I distinctly remember having been on many flights with absolutely no young child on board… years ago. That conversation I was having with my at the time very bitchy self was interrupted by the scenery. And although it did nothing for the hoard of crying children, it did calm me down. I managed to focus on the snow covered mountains underneath and let flying work its magic on me. Well, until the brat sitting behind me decided that kicking all the seats in front was an absolute must…
What can I say… nothing’s perfect. And no one is perfect either, so as a result, I turned and gave the brat my meanest look. Relative peace was restored and I got to feel like I was floating weightlessly and effortlessly (though certainly not noiselessly) through the clouds.
As soon as that much desired snow covered everything, it seemed that those to complain about it most bitterly were the very people demanding it the loudest a week ago or so. Who would have thought?… Forget about that white fairy tale like magic so craved over Christmas, now it’s all about freezing cold, snow and ice covered roads, impossible traffic… and the cold, oh the cold… and did I mention the cold? I must have – after all, that’s what everybody keeps talking about.
We’re children at heart, really… we must be, since we constantly trap ourselves in the same vicious circles , even if we know better by now. We want the toy in the window, that very one which we are denied. One way or another, we often manage to find a way to get it; but once we get our grubby little hands on it, the possibilities are limit. Chances are we are just about to discover that we don’t really like it as much as we thought we might or it simply looks different in the harsh light of reality. Or maybe it is exactly what we thought it would be, so we are going to thoroughly enjoy it for a minute or two, until we either break it or simply through it aside, bored with the predictability of that which we already have. We might remember it at some point in the future, we might feel intrigued by it on a few other future occasions, especially if other show interest in it too.
Of course, there are those rare situations when we treasure it and we might endeavour to preserve its lustre as time passes… but how often does that happen? The truth remains that more often than not, we start looking forward and searching for that even newer, more interesting, more amusing toy the very moment we finally can feel the other one in our hands. And so we are right back where it all began and we start spinning in new circles in order to get that which we now want. How many of us can honestly say they don’t recognize the pattern? I’m certainly not raising my hand…
What better moment for vicious circles if not the beginning of a new year? Personally, I’m trying to perceive it as the next part of something that started at some point in the past, I simply refuse to uproot my entire existence or at least fragments of it simply because one more year passed… or because a new one has just began… it depends on how you want to look at it. That’s partly why I’m not the New Year’s resolutions type of person. If I decide I must change something, then I cannot and need not wait for a symbolically charged moment in the year. Besides… I feel I would actually trivialize important matters by throwing them around under the title of ‘resolutions’, while irrelevant aspects aren’t worth being transformed into pivotal situations to stress our determination and dedication. Ultimately they seem to lead to disappointment, one way or another – we feel bad about ourselves if we cannot induce those major changes, we feel bad about ourselves if all we can manage is change those irrelevant aspects. Since finding that elusive balance between what I should, what I could and what I would change is anything but easy for me, I’d rather not come up with deadlines and to-do lists at midnight, just as one year ends and another begins…
It looks like I know better… but like I said, I can also recognize certain vicious patterns that might send me spinning in circles, and that’s simply because I know how tempting they are, I know I will occasionally give in. I was smugly pointing out the futility of such resolutions when my closest friend reached for his cigarettes, about to go out into the cold and light one up, after once again promising himself to quit smoking in the new year (I’ve lost count of all the years that were supposed to bring about the same change). I was just flaunting my superior knowledge, making my point by wondering out loud, ‘Is this the last of 2015 or the first one in 2016?’, when I caught myself thinking… yes, thinking (I refuse to say almost making) a resolution of my own…
I should really have more fun this year, I thought to myself. It was the third consecutive New Year’s Eve I was spending the same way… a warm, pleasant, cosy way… but the same predictable way, nevertheless. It was my own choice, yet it suddenly occurred to me I should have done things slightly differently. I am one of those people… those people who get bored easily… those people who once in a while need to rock the boat just so they could feel alive. These are the moments when it takes everything I have in order to focus on what I do appreciate, on all the reasons why it’s better for me to let the boat float safely and occasionally boringly smoothly, especially since I can vividly remember how much time, effort, determination and suffering it took to get the waters to calm down. I was aware it wasn’t all about the year that had just ended, but about that night itself – I was where I had chosen to be, but it wasn’t entirely exactly how I would have preferred everything to be. So the need to lash out and to somehow make up for it reared its ugly little head for a moment or two.
I resisted my own vicious circles on this particular occasion, even if it meant turning viciously sarcastic for half a nigh or so. I resisted the pattern not because I am strong, but simply because I know better and thus I can tell when it’s worth rocking the boat. It’s when I choose to allow myself to fall back into vicious patterns that I do it knowing and trusting my strength – I know I can pull myself out, no matter what. Even vicious circles lose their appeal after a while. But are we really to be blamed if we decide not to resist them, given that cyclicity defines our existence, be it for the better or the worse? That’s too relative a matter…
We don’t need to see the full circle to perceive it…
As lights flicker, it feels like past and present merge, leading to an immediate future, only seconds away, when we can travel back and vividly touch the almost palpable fabric of our memories. You can feel the snow under the soles of your shoes, you can smell the cold winter air only by looking at an old picture or even at an ornament depicting a white Christmas. How long does it take until you start missing that white Christmas? How long does it take until you drown into those visions of frozen beauty, wishing that now was then?
No, we are not having a white Christmas in my little corner of the world. In fact, it’s beginning to look a lot like spring (I hear there’s a lot of that going on in many parts of the world) and a great number of people decry the lack of snow. I won’t deny, I wouldn’t mind watching a few flakes fall slowly or even a thin blanket of snow covering some of the ugliness of the world for a day or two… but more than that? No, thank you! It’s funny how many of the same people hoping for snow covered holidays would also be among the first to complain about the countless disadvantages that much desired beauty brings about.
A strange, depressing type of nostalgia seems to have taken over. Everywhere I go, people of all ages can’t help going down memory lane and concluding that it was better ‘then’ – whenever and whatever ‘then’ may be. Many of us might have seen better days, there’s no argument about that. Many of us may have had more and may have been happier. I’m sure a great many things have been in many ways better. But how about the ones that are better now? What about everything we do have now and take for granted simply because it is a normal part of our lives, while back then it may have been a distant goal or a dream? So if we’re going to reminisce, let’s make an effort to remember the bad with the good as well, so we might enjoy some of the ‘now’, now… not in some obscure future, after it will have become ‘then’.
Is famine about to strike? I don’t think so, I would’ve heard something about it on the news. Are shopping centres about to meet their demise? Allow me to have my doubts about that one too. Oh… wait… that’s it, this is the last weekend before Christmas. And I had to go to the mall, didn’t I? No, no, no last minute Christmas shopping, I know better than that. I just wanted my shampoo, a certain shampoo that I can find only in a certain shop. I’m not delusional, I expected it to be crowded, that’s why I started with the most remote part of the parking lot, the one where you always find a spot, no matter how busy it is or how close the holidays may be. Well… not today… Is it me or is it getting worse each year?
Half an hour later, I’m still spinning in circles, trying to avoid crazed shoppers and furious drivers. Just as I’m wondering how bad it would actually be for my hair to use dishwashing liquid instead of shampoo until after Christmas, there it is – the holy grail, also known as a parking space. Once inside, everything is fine. I don’t mind crowded places, as long as the parking issue is solved and I always find the pre-Christmas hustle and bustle rather invigorating. I also find it fascinating to observe how fast and abruptly we switch from generosity and enthusiasm to anger infused consumerism. Christmas spirit becomes seasonal anger, frustration, selfishness and hateful, vengeful greed in the blink of an eye. Or is that what Christmas spirit is supposed to be these days? Who knows anymore?…
I was going to take a small break from Christmas today, hence the photo; I wasn’t planning on mentioning any personal tradition for the holidays, I’ve already done that on several occasions this month. All I was going to say is that there are eleven more months in the year, so if we don’t get to spend any or enough time with those dear to us in December, we can certainly make up for it on other occasions. We need to keep that in mind, in spite of all the pressure we all have to bear when it comes to spending the holidays in a certain way. But, like I said, I had the ill-conceived idea of going to the mall today – and we all know how that can be. So I am only going to say this: perhaps we should also remember that we can buy, buy, buy everything in sight during those other eleven months of the year; that way, we might be able to spend less time in December hating everybody who’s managed to buy more and faster than we have and actually enjoy the holidays. And if we absolutely must behave like animals uncivilized, uneducated creatures, we might want to remember that many of them (like the ones in the picture) are a lot more peaceful and mild-mannered than we can be around the holidays…
We’ll have a nice dinner in a nice, romantic restaurant… and maybe drinks afterwards. Oh, right… you’re driving… well, then I’ll have a drink for you too. Desert? Sure, why not… I’m on vacation, after all. Right… you’re on a diet… coffee it is then, a nice espresso after dinner will be just what we need. We’ll stay out late, right? Tomorrow’s Saturday, we can sleep in late. But you had to go to work today… oh well, we’ll just go home when you feel tired. Anyway, none of that really matters as long as we go and see the lights. Of course after dinner… a pleasant walk in the cool night air, hand in hand, watching the lights in a town none of us knows very well. We’ll talk about Christmases past, present and future, I’ll stop to hug you once more, because I’m so happy to be here with you, then you’ll kiss me and tell me you love me. Did I mention we’ll walk hand in hand and marvel at the beautiful lights? It’ll be so romantic! Yes, they put up the Christmas lights and they’re supposed to be spectacular, some say the best in the country. Well, if the internet says so, then it must be true…
Easier said than done – clearly we weren’t the only ones with that sort of a plan in mind. The nicely lit up capital is swarming with traffic of all sorts, vehicles and pedestrians alike are determined to get somewhere, somehow on the early December Friday night. His job is to try and drive through the madness, keeping us – and those around us – alive. My job is to find our way and deal with the opinionated GPS lady, keep an eye on the map and another eye on the road and make sure we can figure out the correct turns in time. But GPS lady has had a bad day and her grumpiness and delayed reactions have gotten us lost several times, so it doesn’t come as a surprise when she does it again. Never mind, nothing that cannot be fixed… by driving the wrong way on a one way street. Now we know why nobody was heading this way. Wait, wait, wait, I actually know where we are – and it’s exactly where we want to be.
Ok… now we can relax a bit, we can drive around and look at the lights for a while, until we find some place we can park and then go for that walk we’ve been talking about. They’re nice, aren’t they? Not bad, but I’m sure there must be better to be seen, our expectations are quite high after what we had read about the festive display. Now for parking… While my eyes are desperately seeking an empty space or some sign directing us to nearby parking options, I can’t help feeling something has suddenly gone terribly wrong. It takes me a moment or two to assimilate the change – the boulevard in front of us has all of the sudden gone dark. No, not dark, just significantly less lively and colourfully lit up than it was just seconds ago. Where did all the Christmas lights go? Is it a power cut? But the street lights are still on. Strange… Never mind, look, there’s an underground parking over there, we can figure it out after that. But walking through throngs of people on averagely lit up streets doesn’t help us understand what went wrong and why all the Christmas lights went out exactly at midnight.
My plan had fallen apart quickly and pathetically, I concluded. And since I was quite fond of my plan, I felt a wave of rage taking over me. I wanted my romantic walk under the Christmas lights and I wanted it then and there. The control freak in me was just about to start stumping her feet and throw a tantrum the size of the so-called Christmas tree, that deplorable, pathetic metal shape standing in front of us, all dark and gloomy. He was holding my hand and by the look on his face, I knew he was on the verge of throwing a tantrum as well. Normally I am the one to calm him down, but not this time. I need to vent and yell out my frustration about traffic, parking, crowded places, bad organisation and a million other things. And that’s when I hear him burst into laughter… I forgot how you can rant… go on love, you’re brilliant! And he keeps laughing and laughing, point at which I cannot do anything else but laugh as well. The night is actually too beautiful to be angry and frustrated. So are the lights on that five star hotel on the other side of the street – their Christmas lights are on all night, they don’t turn into pumpkins at midnight. There’s the romance we plan and there’s the romance we stumble across when we least expect, in the most frustrating of situations…
I coincidentally found out that she divorced him. The same way I had coincidentally found out the two of them had gotten married in the first place. The same way I found out they had a beautiful daughter.
I didn’t congratulate her on her wedding or on having the baby she was dreaming to have ever since she was a child herself and I didn’t comfort her during her divorce. She didn’t invite me to her wedding, she didn’t let me know that their little family was becoming a trio and she didn’t bare her soul to me when her dream family proved to be just that – a mere illusion. None of us did any of those things, because we were about eighteen when we last spoke, and the last time we were close friends was even a while before that.
Her marriage and pregnancy didn’t come as a surprise. The kind of man she chose to marry didn’t surprise me either. But her finding the strength to leave him did – I was impressed and I was happy for her… and for a moment I could see that stubborn little girl she once was.
We are the same age and we spent the first years of our lives playing and growing up together. Then school separated us, but only in a certain way, because we shared that kind of bond and friendship that seem indestructible at that age. We were both competitive, we were both stubborn and opinionated, we were both convinced we had all the answers, but we were completely different and we appreciated each other exactly because of it. We had constant access to each other’s world, but the older we got, the less use we wanted to make of that access.
Being different slowly became having nothing in common. I didn’t feel comfortable among her friends and she felt like a stranger among mine; so of course we both acted up and those people became the enemy. But we could even accept that about each other – it would be just the two of us when we met, sharing everything and supporting each other during those confusing, complicated and painful years. However, a time came when not even the family drama that always brought us together managed to be a strong enough link. And what a cliché the reason appeared to be – nothing else but boys.
Yet there was so much more to it than that trivial fact – we were making our choices regarding the paths we were going to follow, the kind of life we wanted, the kind of treatment we considered we deserved. I had a boyfriend who worshiped me and perceived me as the centre of his universe, while I wasn’t necessarily always kind to him. Her take on a ‘real man’ was somewhat different than mine… to say the least. Jealousy, violence and control were what she perceived as the main attributes of the guy worthy of her love. Her boyfriends became more and more questionable, until I finally had to refuse meeting one of them. High school girls all over town knew how violent he was and stories about how his family got their fortune were whispered in secretive, fearful tones. No, that was not the kind of guy whose interest you wanted to awaken. But she knew all that… and that was when I was politely informed that I had no business talking about relationships, since I had never been in a real one. After all, a real relationship was one in which the guy set me straight, not let me be myself and do whatever I wanted, the way my boyfriend did.
She firmly believed I deserved to be slapped around a little bit, just to finally understand what real life and a real guy feel like. It was our first and final fight. We still talked once in a while afterwards, mostly agreeing to disagree. But I understood it was time for the two of us to keep our distance, because there was no way the three of us (she and I.. and the dubious boyfriend she would not leave for anything in the world) could be friends. Sure… I understood the appeal when it came to bad boys, but within limits… life-threatening was not and will never be sexy in my book.
Yet.. I understood her… how could I not, when I knew her story? Nothing and nobody taught her that loving a person means so much more than owning their body and soul and disposing of them the same way one does regarding any other type of personal property. Growing up with an alcoholic, occasionally aggressive and mostly unemployed father that both she and her mother adored had taught her what a ‘real man’ should be. Without such a ‘real man’, she herself could not reach her full potential as a real woman… Her mother never left her father, no matter how badly he treated her. He was the most important person in her life; she came second and the kids came third. She worked two jobs to support the family; and when she lost those two jobs, she finally gave in and started drinking too. Once they were sharing the same vice, they became strangely happy, in spite of everything they had to deal with. But her mother never left her father…
This is why I was so pleasantly surprised when I found out she divorced her abusive husband, putting her daughter and herself above the ‘real man’ she had desired for so long. I don’t know the details, but I am glad she stopped perceiving three as being the perfect number for the family she had built in her dreams as a child. We will never be friends again; we will probably never talk again, even if we might still coincidentally find out all sorts of things about each other. But we have never been enemies either, we simply followed our own separate ways. This is why I can now say I respect her for having the power to open her eyes and understand both she and her daughter deserve more. She will never know this about me, the same way I will never know many things bout her, but it makes no difference. All that matters is that we both have the memory of what once was a beautiful friendship, belonging only to the two of us.
In response to WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge – Victory
Every new place I get a chance to discover is one more victory for me. Sometimes it can even be one more battle won against my own ignorance. It can be a mere small victory or it can be a victory so big that it will fill my soul of warm sensations and my mind of delicious memories for years to come.
There are places you dissect like a thorough student, wanting to learn their story and understand their system. And then there are those places that simply speak to your heart, they get under your skin and whether you knew it or not, you actually always wanted and needed to see them.
They are the places where your soul, your entire being can wonder, not only your mind. They are the places where you know you will always want to return. They are the places where you know you will eventually find your way back no matter what, no matter how long it might take. They are the places that constantly grow and regenerate, yet preserve their essence, their core is their constant strength. Some of that essence you take with you when you leave. And some of yourself you leave behind as well, a tribute for the gift of knowledge that you received… because victory also implies loss. That place may have offered itself to you, yet you were the one who was conquered – and for it, you will be forever grateful.
Paris was such a place for me – cliché as it may sound – a place of love and true romance, dream and reality at the same time, a source of culture, emotion and discovery. It was the strength I so desperately needed at that time, even if I didn’t really know it beforehand. What I had always know was that I wanted to see it, and when I finally did, it crept into the depth of my being. So when I read “Victory” Friday evening, I thought… personal victories…travel… Paris. I had more cheerful pictures in mind and a romantic story to go with them. Then Friday night happened – a cruel, tragic, unexpected reminder of how loss is one side of the coin and victory the other.
We are flawed, we are subjective, we are human… Yes, some unspeakable tragedies make our heart sink deeper and our eyes tear up more than others. Yes, we are not always fair. But as long as we still have the ability to feel empathy and be outraged at least by some of these acts of destruction, we can still call ourselves humans. So, to all of you who perceive what happened in Paris as tremendous loss and pointless destruction, and not as a victory, I can only say I share your sorrow. To those who have lost somebody in that inferno… I wish I knew what to say… I wish there were words able to make it better, to turn back the time…
You travel. You arrive in a new place. You want to experience everything this place has to offer. All of the sudden, even the most banal sights have a charm of their own and you endeavour to find a hidden story behind the most ordinary of things. The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence and now that you finally are on that other side – whichever and however it may be – not a moment can go to waste.
We tend to overlook one thing: that place so special and new to us is somebody else’s everyday routine. One person’s ordinary can always be someone else’s extraordinary. A tree is often just a tree at home, but there are so many shades to be discovered in those leaves in a foreign place… It’s all about our subjective perspective, I got to understand a long time ago, when I met a woman able to see her home town through the eyes of a stranger – she still saw every beautiful façade, every interesting little corner as though it was the first time. As we were walking through her town, she was recounting bits of history as though they were part of her own life.
At the time, I didn’t see my home town the same way she saw hers. I perceived it the way we generally perceive our own lives, placing all the flaws in foreground, while the positive aspects are carefully tucked away and forgotten in the background. I am definitely one of those people who always think there’s room for improvement and that often gets in the way of enjoying what I have, but at least now I know to remember to stop and look around once in a while, to go through my own history and not disregard personal victories simply because things could have also turned better. And when I tend to forget this, I know I am bound to eventually go thorough pictures from various places I’ve visited; that’s when I inevitably come across some ridiculously ordinary, uninteresting shot of mundane, dull things and once I’m done wondering, ‘What were you thinking?’, I tell myself that the most ordinary object, situation or person can seem or really become extraordinary under the right circumstances.
Buy your dream home, the sign read… the same sign that went up before the building itself was errected. As months went by, I got to see how the place where one can buy one’s dream home became reality. Nothing special, really… Just an average apartment building, not too big, not too small. I had high hopes – after all, it’s not every day that one can see that Eldorado of homes growing right in front of them, right? Once the building was coated in an awful colour, the eyesore dream finally became reality. Only one question remains – whose dreadful dream was that to begin with?
Silly me… I keep forgetting, I’m getting old. I must be getting old, or at least older, since I still hold on to this demented idea that a home is something you make, not something you buy off the shelf, identical in every respect to many others, its price and its location in the trendiest areas making it a dream come true. Complete with the same furniture and fittings filing all the other ideal homes in the building, those cold, depersonalized walls practically surpass one’s wildest expectations. Why bother having a personality when you can buy one for the right price? There’s even a small array of choices available to fit a choice of budgets. Don’t worry though, that’s the only painful choice you apparently have to make – and even that one is actually made by circumstance, not by you. All that’s left to do is move into your ‘perfect home’ – who cares what happens between those trendy four walls, now that you’re there, your life is perfect.
It’s not a case of sour grapes. I’m not a hypocrite, I like pretty things as much as any other woman (perhaps a lot more than some) and pretty things do not come cheap. But above that, I appreciate beauty, and that is often free and unexpected. I appreciate it just as much as I value character, and that is not something that can be bought. I’ve said it before, my home is my safe haven. I wouldn’t call it my happy place, I find happiness to be a brief experience, deep yet often fleeting, residing in the most unexpected of places and moments; contentment however is more stable.
‘Home’, no matter where that happened to be, has entangled a lot of emotions for me over the years, from fear to bliss, from loneliness to fulfilment, from hatred to love, from rejection to acceptance, from despair to happiness. It finally means peace, shelter, a place to regroup and find solace, a place where I grow and fail, a place where I find the strength to be get up and move on, a place entirely of my own, a place who is me, not only mine.
I lived here for years before this place actually became home. I had to accept that I needed to grow roots. Then I made it belong to me; then I made it mine – slowly, piece by piece, the same way I built myself over the years. Slowly, the same way I managed to accept that having a home is not necessarily a bad thing, loaded with resentment and hatred. You see, I grew up in a different town – oh, but it was in the best part of town, in one of the apartment buildings envied by most. My room had an exquisite view of vineyards and sunrises; the other rooms overlooked parks bathed in romantic sunsets. That apartment was and still is the apple of my grandmother’s eye, no person ever came close to the place it held in her stone cold heart. As a teenager, I would often sneak on top of the tall building at night and watch the stars with my friends, all of us hoping to escape that life as soon as possible. I felt more at home in the parks in the area or on top of the building under the starry sky than between the four walls that harboured mainly hatred, lies and resentment.
That’s how I know you cannot buy your dream home… you can’t even buy a home, all you can do is hope to be able to make the place you live in become your home, whatever that might mean to you. From that point of view, the teenager I used to be managed to see her dream come true – far away from the hatred-filled building with the great view and in a cosy, warm place by the sea, all of her own, where failure and success are acceptable, where she can be happy, where she can fall apart, where she can be herself; where she can grow roots, where she can always come back, no matter how far away she travels. A happy place, a sad place, her personal space…
I was just trying to get to my car. I saw her with the corner of my eye, but I was hoping… No, no chance. Over years of being such an annoying presence in people’s lives, she has perfected the art of stopping them on the street, cutting right in front of them, so they cannot escape her incessant talking. I never ask her how she is because I never really want to know; yet she never fails to regale me with all the details of her life and more… Her medical history, her personal history, her relatives’ lives, her acquaintances’ lives; all the private details about everyone she knows, including herself, she will share with anyone crossing her path. A friend of hers died of cancer, she says. I don’t want to know all the gruesome details. I don’t have a choice. All she cares is that the poor woman wanted to be cremated and her family are following her wishes instead of having her buried ‘like a good Christian’. By now she is so close to me that I can feel her disgusting breath on my neck. She never has any respect for personal space. I hate that I was raised to be polite to people, I instinctively act civilized and this is where it gets me. But making that family’s tragedy into one more gossip topic… One step back, one unfriendly look and she finally stops touching my arm; but she still doesn’t stop spouting out religious nonsense. I don’t care about religion! I don’t go to church anymore! I believe each and every person is allowed to believe in whatever god they choose… or in no god at all. There, I’ve said it! And she is finally quiet. I can see it on her face – But she looked like such a nice woman… I was just trying to get to my car, she should have let me. Good day! And perhaps have some boundaries next time… or if not, respect those of others.
It can feel like such an easy, desirable options sometimes – a monochrome life… One colour, no complications, no hidden meaning, no mystery. Yet, when we are presented with such a reality, we take it in, we may even enjoy it for a while – for as long as it takes to rest our weary eyes – but we eventually start craving something else. Any stain of a different colour becomes a desirable alternative – anything to disturb that dull monotony. We need more than shades, we need an entire colour scheme to stay our hunger for adventure and growth, the same way we need a vast array of feelings in order to feel alive.
He kept showing her books, one after the other, wanting to know whether she had read them. He would then briefly tell her what each and every one of them was about. You little book snob, you! She should really… But before I was able to find the appropriate punishment for his attitude, I couldn’t help noticing that the two kids were playing out a scene so familiar to me. Not many had ventured out in the sweltering heat that afternoon; and those who had, preferred the beach and the sea to the book fair, so I could quietly observe the two teenagers.
Her answer was invariably no. No, she hadn’t read that one either; no, this one she hadn’t read, but she was going to, she just hadn’t found the time yet. Oh… that one… great, great book, that one… read it – well, not quite, but it was all the same really, she had seen the movie and she absolutely loved it! What, it wasn’t really in the spirit of the book? Well, of course not, it couldn’t have been, it was only a movie after all, but since the movie was good anyway, she couldn’t wait to read the book! Oh, no, no, no… there wasn’t any need for him to lend her the book yet, she wanted to read a few others first… but she would definitely let him know in case she changed her mind.
The two of them had entered the book fair right in front of me and I could see them attacking the shelves and tables with great gusto. Oh, the early days of adolescent love… when you desperately want to know and like everything about the other person… when the emotional/hormonal connection is so strong, that you fool yourself into believing the two of you are connected just as strongly on every other level. (But who am I kidding? That hardly applies to adolescents alone.) He was obviously a voracious reader and he was looking forward to sharing all his thoughts with her, as well as to discovering what her preferences and opinions on the matter were. She was obviously looking forward to discovering and adoring a new side of him; but she hadn’t expected the experience to abruptly reveal a part of her she probably hadn’t considered relevant until then.
Their initial enthusiasm turned into uncomfortable silence. She became silent first, not knowing what to reply to his overwhelming literary tirade. He toned down his discourse, trying to get her to talk. He gave up on showing her books he had read and he started picking up copies of the ones he knew nothing about, reading jacket blurbs or random fragments, joking about the characters and making her laugh. Their connection was almost restored. When she finally reached out to confidently pick up a book, saying, “Look, Osho!”, his face lit up with joy. What did she think about that one, he wanted to know.
“I really love her,” she answered as enthusiastically as she could.
“The author is a guy…” he replied in a low, disappointed tone of voice.
It, it, it, she meant to say “it”; it, the book, it… they have that particular one at home, she browsed through it and she liked it.
I couldn’t help giggling and neither could the lady representing the publishing house selling the book whose author apparently had such a controversial identity. Our eyes met and we exchanged a few amused glances. As expected, the two of them never noticed; since when do adolescents in love notice anything outside their own private world?
Among the thousands of books, the girl was bound to find something she had actually read. Smiling shrewdly, she pointed in the direction of a certain bestseller, wanting to know whether he had read it. After a few evasive attempts, he blushingly confessed to have only seen the movie. The girl proudly handed him a copy of Fifty Shades of Grey, suggesting he read it as soon as possible – after all, she had read it and she strongly recommended it. The boy’s cheeks turned fifty shades of red, not knowing what to say or do next.
I buried my nose in a book, doing my best not to burst into laughter. However, it’s probably not a laughing matter that the only book the girl seemed to have read was exactly that one… But the scene in its entirety was altogether more than familiar to me. I have dragged various guys to all sorts of book fairs and book stores over the years. Some of them enjoyed it, others had to focus on not falling asleep. Sometimes it was just a random choice of something to do on a date; many other times, I would do it on purpose. I happen to believe that two people stand more of a chance to get along if they share some core values and have at least a few common interests. History has taught me that I cannot have anything more than a meaningless fling with a man who doesn’t read. Passion might be crucial in establishing a connection, but it takes passion in all its forms in order to maintain it for more than a few moments…
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…
“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.”
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…
“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…
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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… 🙂
No, no, it wasn’t meant for me (good thing it wasn’t, because I would have kept driving)… 🙂
I have unwillingly intruded – together with hundreds of unsuspecting drivers – upon a somewhat unusual marriage proposal. The sun was shinning, flowers were blooming, birds were chirping and there it was, stopped on the side, in a dusty, empty parking lot – a car with a banner awkwardly tied to it’s trunk. That simple question so many girls dream of hearing, resonating deeply in their hearts, was spray-painted in black, uneven letters on said banner. A photographer was immortalizing the special moment for the happy, strikingly young couple, so I suspect the question was met with an affirmative answer 🙂 . People were slowing down, many of them even stopping to take a closer look at the unexpected, personal unfolding of the fresh start of a life together for the young couple. Will it last or will their story have peaked with that proposal on the side of a road, on a sunny, early spring day? Who can tell… I wish them well, whoever they are.
One thing’s for sure – the fresh flowers, the budding trees and the bright sun have gotten to all of us, not only to the birds and the bees 😉 . I look at many of the people around and it seems that something has melted within their souls – it’s that recurring transfiguration we witness every spring, the very one that disappears a few days later, as soon as warm days and lively colours become the norm again. But it’s fun while it lasts. 😉
It’s beginning to look and occasionally even feel like spring, so going to see the sea on a beautiful, though windy and somewhat chilly afternoon seamed like the thing to do. The afternoon almost became evening by the time that I was actually out, but the perspective of taking a nice, quiet drive – maybe even a walk if the weather allowed it – thinking of nothing and just stare at the scenery was too attractive. I had the sea on one side, the sun setting over the town on the other, but it struck me how instead of clearing my head and taking in the view, my mind was preoccupied with something else. I was looking for a good place to park and take a few shots of the sunset… or maybe I should just go on the beach… no, the sunset and the trees are a better choice, who knows, that way I could even come up with something suitable for the photo challenge.
Or maybe I could just look and see – actually see – the beautiful images I was looking at. It took getting out of the car and shivering in the cold wind to come up with that ‘revolutionary’ idea, while my already frozen hands were searching for the phone. The bag went back on my shoulder, my frozen hands went into warm pockets and I went back to that old habit of watching, seeing and perceiving everything through my own eyes, not through a camera. More and more often we need to see reality on a screen in order to perceive it… You know how it is, you notice something, you have a small revelation of your own, and then you can’t help noticing all the manifestations of said idea. I was clearly not the only one willing to brave the cold wind for a few cute photos; in fact, my stubbornly not taking any pictures was making me feel a little bit out of place amongst the people out for a walk by the beach in the early evening.
I hurried back to my car and turned up the heating. I would just stay there for a while, in the warm comfort of the metal shell and stare at the view, at the waves, at the sand, at the sky and think of nothing – just a little bit of ‘me and the sea’ time. No photos, no phone, no camera, just my own eyes 🙂 I have countless shots of seas and sunsets, many of them taken in a hurry – having had only a moment to stop, I had more and more often used it to take a picture at which I would look more carefully later, when I’d have the time. So I could certainly take a break from that sort of behavior I had adopted without even noticing it.
And here we are – no new photos for this week’s Rule of Thirds, just a few adapted oldies; somehow, I wasn’t too enthusiastic about this one…