Picture (Im)Perfect

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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! 🙂

In response to WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge: State of Mind – Every photo we take says something about our emotions at the moment of taking it.

Fake Seasons

4The 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.

3A 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.

5Don’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?

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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… 😉

In response to WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge: Seasons – Share an image evocative of the weather or represent the current “season of your life” in metaphor.

Life… Art… Everyone’s a Critic

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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…

In response to WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge: Life Imitates Art – This week, find inspiration in a piece of art. Then, imitate it.

Time…

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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.

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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,
And burn the long-lived phoenix in her blood;
Make glad and sorry seasons as thou fleet’st,
And do whate’er thou wilt, swift-footed time,
To the wide world and all her fading sweets;
But I forbid thee one most heinous crime:
O carve not with thy hours my love’s fair brow,
Nor draw no lines there with thine ántique pen.
Him in thy course untainted do allow
For beauty’s pattern to succeeding men.
  Yet do thy worst, old Time; despite thy wrong,
  My love shall in my verse ever live young.
William Shakespeare – Sonnet 19

In response to WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge Time – This week, think about time and portray it photographically.

 

Vibrant Abuse

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.

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In response to WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge: Vibrant – This week, share a photo of something vibrant. Let’s wash the web with a rainbow of colors.

Glass Half Empty, Half Full, Or No Glass At All?

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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.

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In response to WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge Optimistic.

Letters

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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.

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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.

In response to WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge: Alphabet – This week, let the alphabet be your inspiration: find a string of letters.

Flying

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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.

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In response to WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge: Weightless – Show us the effects of gravity in your photo this week.

Vicious Circles

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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…

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We don’t need to see the full circle to perceive it…

In response to WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge: Circle.

Now

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’.

In response to the WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge: For this week’s challenge, take a moment to notice your now, and share a photo of it.

Christmas Gathering?…

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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…

In response to WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge – Gathering.

 

 

Oops… Where Did The Lights Go?

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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…

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In response to WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge: ‘Tis the season to revel in photographic (and/or photogenic) disasters.

Transition

I am not a patient person. I can fake patience, I can control myself and I can talk myself into behaving in a patient manner (I am a reasonable individual… when  I choose to be), but this is a virtue I know I will never truly possess. Yet there are certain transition periods that we can hardly notice; it takes time and perspective in order to perceive their evolution and results.

All too often I don’t feel certain changes, all too often I feel the need of something radically different. But sometimes I get lucky, I get that fortunate moment of clarity – either by interacting with somebody I haven’t seen in a long time, or by looking at old pictures, or by simply watching the seasons change – and see the evolution, perceive all the differences, big and small, and accept transition for what it is, constant and inevitable. If I do have the right state of mind, I let it sink in. I congratulate myself on my progress or console myself for the losses. I dare to move on, even if I know I may never get where I want to be, because I would rather try and manipulate transition into following the path I choose, rather than let time and life pass me by.

But let’s be honest… Those are rare moments that I need to focus on noticing and enjoying, because, after all, I am not a patient person…

In response to WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge – For this week’s challenge, share an image that depicts transition. Let life itself be your muse.

Three Is Not Always Perfect

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: What comes in threes?

 

Of Victory and Loss

In response to WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge – Victory

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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…

Ornate, Creepy or Tacky?

WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge:In your photo this week, share something unabashedly ornate — where it’s clear that the creators pulled no stops and went all out.

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The things you get to see when you stop overthinking your own issues, look up and notice what you’re walking by… While ornate is definitely not my style, I do appreciate the beauty of nicely decorated buildings – in some cases. But this one left me speechless – am I the only one who finds it somewhat creepy? I had a similar sensation years ago, when I saw a building’s façade decorated with sculptures of baby heads…

Careful

WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge: This week, show us careful — a photo taken with care, a person being careful, or a task or detail requiring care.

Some roads need to be approached carefully, extremely carefully. So do certain situations. Unfortunately, there aren’t always warning signs to prevent and protect us from what lies ahead; and even when such signs cross our path, they are rarely as noticeable or easy to comply with as they may be when driving up and down a hillside. As for the view, let’s just say it often leaves a lot to be desired when it comes to life’s sinuous trails…

(Extra)ordinary

WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge: Mundane and meaningful objects. Beautiful everyday things. This week, surprise us with something or someone (extra)ordinary.

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.

 

Instant Happy Place

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WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge: Happy Place

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…

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Boundaries

WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge: This week, let’s explore the creative potential of limits, borders, and dividers of all types.

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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.

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Not Only Seasons Change

WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge: This week, show us a change in progress.

It looks like autumn, but it feels like summer… or is it the other way around? It’s that ambiguous time of year when it feels like you go through two, maybe three seasons within twenty-four hours. Early autumn mornings are quickly followed by warm summer days, completed by late spring or late summer evenings and fresh early autumn nights.

Decadent delight, to burry my toes in warm sand and to feel the waves against my legs this late in September. This weekend I thought I’d take the last barefoot walk on the beach. I wasn’t having too great a day. I needed to drown my thoughts in the sound of the waves just as badly as I needed to feel like a kid playing with my toes in the sand. It’s almost hard to believe that less than too week ago the beaches were still full of tourists – it always amazes me how fast any sign of summer fun and glory disappears, literally from one day to the next, as though the waves wash away everything and anything.

The view, the fresh air and the noise of the sea worked their magic instantly. I was obviously not the only one in need of such magic. We had finally taken our town back from the hoard of holiday makers and the weather was good to us, so there was nothing better to do than enjoy this simple fortune.

I know many women dread taking walks by themselves. Personally, I often need it, it helps me sort out my thoughts and find balance in a way I never can if I have to focus on the person(s) accompanying me as well. It’s all about thinking of everything and nothing, about people watching and also ignoring everybody at the same time.

It felt fitting, it made sense that I take stock of the summer past. Sometime at the end of June I had decided on a selfish summer. Did that feel good… I will only say this much: detaching yourself from those people who do nothing but consume your energy, taking everything you can offer and more without ever giving anything in return, not even the slightest sign of appreciation, much less a kind word or help can be such a relief… Especially when some of those people are related to you… It may not have been the most spectacular one ever, but my all-about-myself summer was just what I needed and the change was definitely beneficial.

Late September, late afternoon and there were still people sunbathing or swimming. I couldn’t blame them, the water was warm and tempting. The pretentious summer crowd was replaced by a few tourists taking advantage of the great weather and their low-cost vacation, but mostly by a variety of locals of all ages taking in the sun and the salty air.  Young couples were enjoying the thrills of early days romance and passion, oblivious to the world around them. Children, parents, grandparents, dogs, they were all enjoying the beach alike. After a summer ruled by appearances, money and extravagance, the beach was again a place where everybody felt at ease. Flip-flops and shorts, bathing suits, dresses and sandals, jeans and t-shirts, shirts and ties, rolled up sleeves, jackets casually held on their owners’ arms or shoulders, anything and everything felt appropriate, because nobody could be bothered to care. It summer often feels like a time when everything is allowed, this time of year feels like everything is acceptable.

Just as I was congratulating myself for taking a short break, just like everybody else, not caring about my outfit or my looks, I was abruptly brought back to earth by a face I couldn’t quite place… I didn’t know her, yet I had the feeling I had seen her many times. Oh yes… that’s why… The local starlet, so-called model, often invaded the TV screen, as she was better known for her affinity for plastic surgery and for her countless liaisons with obscenely rich and/or dubious men.

They must touch up those photos quite a lot, was my first thought, thus encouraging my inner bitch to wake up and take note. Hmmm… she has put on weight… was that why she had disappeared into public oblivion or was it the other way around? My-my… how the mighty have fallen… On my way back I couldn’t help noticing she was improving her artificial tan on the beach belonging to a rather cheap hotel. And since nobody seemed interested in taking pictures of or with her, poor thing had to rely on herself and take pouty selfies. Good thing a girlfriend had accompanied her, otherwise social media might have been deprived of sensual images of her in a damp bikini. Oh yes… my female ego was having a great, if petty day, noticing the changes she seemed to have undergone; besides I looked younger and was in much better shape, although from what I know, we are the same age. The small things that please us… Yet, to give credit when credit’s due, her hair looked amazing in spite of the wind and high humidity, while mine felt and looked like I had spent the better part of the day teasing it.

Once my ‘mean girl’ moment passed, I could go back to my calming walk. Nothing and nobody can be immune to change. I could feel the early autumn evening was about to replace the summer warmth and I was finally ready to go home. My mood had altered, the way it always does when I feel like it’s just me and the sea. As for the rest, who can tell what changes are to come next?…

Monochromatic

WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge – This week, share with us your monochromatic images.

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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.

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(Dis)Connecting

WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge: This week, show us how two (or more) things — people, objects, places — come together.

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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…

Rain on the Water – What a Beautiful Day!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

When in Rome…

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

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

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

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

 

A Day at The Museum

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

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

Pablo Picasso

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

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

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

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

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

Looking Up Close

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Thin Dividing Line

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not Just Flowers…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vividly Coloured Early Summer Delights (Weekly Photo Challenge)

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

On the Way

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

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

Broken… But Not Beyond Repair

This week, capture something broken.

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

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

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

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

Forces of Nature… Or of Human Nature When Travelling

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Motion

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

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

Early Bird

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Driving By A Marriage Proposal

For this week’s photo challenge, share with us a photo that expresses something fresh.

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. 😉

Wall

Share an image of a wall that reveals something about a place, people, or you.

Old walls always fascinate me… The history and mystery they hide are so tempting and intriguing! It’s such a treat to imagine what used to go on behind them, who or what they were trying to keep out… or in 🙂 And what was it that finally brought them down?…

But more importantly, are the walls that we can see and touch the strongest ones? They are, after all, the only ones we really know how to destroy, how to climb over…