Summer at my feet… I can’t say I want it to end! 😉
“I paint what I see, sometimes like this, sometimes like that. I don’t brood about it, or experiment. If I have something to say, I say it the way I think I need to. There’s no transitional art. There are only good artists and not so good artists.”
We found parking without an effort. That was the second ominous sign. The first one was the lack of the usual crowd in front of the doors. By the time we reached the imposing building, I was already sure it would be close. I had obviously perpetrated some kind of indecency to anger the Museum Gods and now they were refusing me the Prado… again.
I had been to Madrid before, but there hadn’t been enough time to visit the museum back then. This time, it would be different, I knew that – I would have plenty of time to do everything I wanted. But I was envisioning that visit to the Prado from the moment I started planning the trip. I could just see myself getting lost on the hallways, wondering from one gallery to another, unable to take in everything, but completely dizzy, floating because of that kind of experience which – instead of understanding it – you mostly feel exquisitely drowning your mind and spirit. That kind of place always makes me feel small – but small in the greatest way possible. I feel compelled to swallow some of my ego and pride. That avalanche of immortality and beauty makes me feel like a huge burden has been lifted, even if only for a brief period of time – if I am so wonderfully small, that can only mean that all my failures are absolutely insignificant, disguised by that comfortable blanket of anonymity.
I wanted to treat myself to that delicious sensation you get when opening a gift you just know is going to be wonderful. So I refused to look up the schedule – I knew it was a local holiday, but I greatly underestimated its importance. After all, I also knew the museum was open at the weekend and on most religious holidays, so they wouldn’t close it exactly that day… or would they? Well… all I can say is I wasn’t the only one naïve enough not to look it up in advance. All my anticipation turned into stifled frustration, I felt like stomping my feet and bitching and moaning about that great unfairness. I wanted my day at the museum; and once I set my mind on something, there’s no distracting me from it, not to mention that I can hardly perceive anything else as appealing. But a certain someone accompanying me had a head start on throwing his own tantrum, so at least one of us had to behave as an adult; sadly it was my turn that day. After all, it was too beautiful an afternoon to waste pouting. We came back a few days later and we finally managed to visit the elusive museum. There was even a very special treat in store for us, and although it was no longer a surprise, it was by no means less pleasant.
Travel as much as you can, see as much as you can; nobody will ever be able to take that away from you. That’s one of the not so many wise pieces of advice my mother gave me and it came to my mind that day, while staring thunderstruck at those Picasso’s the Prado was hosting temporarily. The entire experience proved to be overwhelming, as expected; the anticipation of getting to see some of Picasso’s paintings did nothing but enhance it.
I took my time to appreciate those moments. Nevertheless I was reluctant to leave. The kid I once was, the one who didn’t dare to dream of seeing such treasures with her own eyes, was jumping up and down with joy. There are certain dreams – great and small alike – that we forget we had, simply because we buried them somewhere deep in our soul out of fear or uncertainty. Yet, making them come true can be so surprisingly fulfilling…
“Please don’t put on your glasses again, Miss… we’ll fix it all.”
Gone was the smug look of male superiority on his face. It was my turn to smirk smugly at the both of them.
This was years ago, in my early twenties. I knew the two painters were by far not the best in the business, but they were all I could afford at the time and the living room really needed a fresh coat of paint; besides, I also knew that they could to a decent job of it, if approached the right way. There were some issues with the walls, as I had found out during a previous attempt to do the job myself, with the help of some friends. As I was trying to point out what those issues were and why I needed their professional help, I was rudely interrupted by a bored sigh and a know-it-all, you’re-just-a-woman-who-has-no-clue misogynistic eye roll. They knew better what needed to be done, I should just run along and do my nails or whatever it was we women did when the men were working. I smiled, said nothing and let them do the work I – the little, clueless woman – was paying them to do (but only when the job was done).
Later on, I was surprised to hear they had finished already… that is, just in time, with no delay. But I wasn’t at all surprised to see what a terrible job they had done and I started pointing out the flaws, one by one. The first couple of flaws pointed out triggered disgruntled comments and useless justifications. I kept on pointing out the rest of them, taking my glasses off once in a while so I could look the older one in the eyes as I was explaining why everything was wrong and how it could have been avoided, had they paid attention to me in the first place. They were finally quiet as I kept looking up close at the badly painted walls, mentioning even the smallest of flaws. Meanwhile I had also done my due diligence and knew exactly how they were supposed to have done their job and I didn’t shy away from telling them. That was the point where I was reaching for my glasses again, about to go hunting for more of their mistakes. Please don’t put on your glasses again, Miss… They had capitulated and after they redid everything, they were finally quiet, demurred and probably as respectful as they could ever be to a woman, especially a young one. Nothing good could come out of my putting on my glasses and taking a closer look, they had figured out. Funny enough, those were my compute glasses, I really didn’t need them in order to instantly see everything that was wrong.
Many things may have changed ever since, but more often than not taking a close look only reveals all the flaws, all the ugliness we sometimes wish we could not see. I’m guilty of being an overly analytic, overly realistic person and contact lenses on or not, I unwillingly, instinctively notice discrepancies, deception, double meanings, hidden layers, lies, pretence, ugliness masquerading as virtue, even if I try to focus on anything else. In my worst moments, I simply cannot believe that anything or anyone is what they appear to. The rest of the time, I just take things as they come, refusing to accept that it’s all nothing more than constant deception, simply so I could occasionally get some sleep at night.
I have an eye for details and I cannot help constantly taking a close look at things, people, situations… at myself. The one advantage such deviant behaviour presents is the acknowledgement that absolutely everything is flawed, even damaged, at times even ugly or simply empty. Perfection is a mere illusion easily dissipated by close analysis – the same way beautiful flowers are often crawling with unappealing insects, that wonderful family, that perfect couple, that amazing person whose life we often envy or wish we could have are hiding messy existences, full of unpleasantness or despair. It only takes one close look to make the façade crumble…
The little girl kept following us and the more I felt her big, strange eyes trying to drill into our souls, the more I couldn’t help wondering at which point exactly we had crossed that shallow, invisible line dividing our worlds…
The place isn’t far, maybe an hour’s drive, but it has little in common with the seaside madness my town becomes every summer. And even the fickle heart of the holidaymaker seeking endless entertainment, forgetfulness and temporary distraction from everyday life needs a moment or two to breathe and recover, away from overpopulated beaches, loud terraces and crowded trendy clubs. Yes, I knew such a place, somewhere we could go and spend a little while hearing ourselves and each other, a place where we could lose ourselves in a different time… I knew a very nice spot, just right for an afternoon’s getaway.
It wasn’t the first time I was visiting that historically laden, yet entirely ignored place; but I have no idea where on the bumpy, bad road lies the border between our world and that to which the little girl belongs. It might be where the decent layer of asphalt ends; or when you enter the first village… or maybe the second… or when you drive by the rusty sign introducing the stranger to her village. I know this type of village for long enough in order to be aware of all the innocence lost and lack of romanticism of the rural community. Yet there still are times when I’m taken by surprise and two strange eyes manage to pierce through my cynical shell and make me wonder and re-evaluate basic issues of my own existence.
She appeared out of nowhere as soon as we got out of the car… a child of the trees, daughter of water. No, a real girl, a child of misfortune and poverty – nothing poetic about her untold drama. She muttered something without getting too close; I think she offered to be our guide on the river banks. I knew the place, I declined her offer, because my overly realistic, cynical, cautious mind had already come up with various ways in which we could have ended up on the bottom of the river, to never be herd of again. She looked neither happy, nor sad, her sunburnt face gave away nothing.
She was spying on us and I was spying on her. She kept walking when we walked, stopping when we stopped, constantly muttering to herself or perhaps to the grass, to the flowers or to the birds; but her eyes were scrutinizing us with great curiosity whenever she thought we weren’t looking. When we walked away from the car, she walked around it a few times – my perfectly average, nothing out of the ordinary car passes for a sign of luxury in such a village, that much I know. Like any girl her age, she was eyeing our outfits, our accessories and our smartphones as we kept taking pictures. Unlike children her age that we grew accustomed to, the hills, the river and the hardships of fieldwork and rural life were her second nature, not technology and endless trips to the mall. Does a child like her even dare to dream of a normal life? Or are her dreams so little that they wouldn’t even count as aspirations on our value scale?
Seeing her eyes look away as soon as she realized I was analysing her reminded me once more that we aren’t even born equal, much less do we have equal chances to overcome our initial condition. I know people who have children her age and they make unbelievable efforts to provide them with the best education and everything they need to have a good start in life, to stand a chance… How much of a chance does this kid stand when her parents allow her – probably make her – go troll for tourists and increase the family budget? Did she even know what she was missing? The way she smiled carelessly at the birds and flowers and spoke to the waves made me think she had no idea that there was more to life than what she had experienced; she was still a child who could enjoy little things in ways we couldn’t even imagine. But the way she looked so much older whenever she was focusing on something could only make me believe that either her intuition makes her feel what lies ahead or she had already survived experiences no child her age ever should know.
Will she break the cycle? Will she be able to make it out of that world, in spite of her lack of fortune and perspectives cast upon her from the moment she was born? Or will she simply continue the century old tradition in the poor village – have children at a very young age, get married even younger, allow herself and her children to be abused by a drunken husband because nobody taught her there are other ways of life out there? Maybe she could be amongst those few incredibly lucky village children who stay in school, who have parents who manage to see the importance of education even if nobody offered them such a chance. Or perhaps her father is just one of the many men who were sitting around the tables and drinking in front of the village pub we had driven by on the way to the river… one of those men who drink the little money they have, with no remorse about what that type of behaviour does to their families.
We left the town to escape our lives for a few hours and that we did… but wild nature was not the only thing to make us think twice about our values and appreciate our own lives and opportunities. It’s the wilderness of people and the cruelty of poverty in a place that – in many respects – seems to still live in the 19th century that really makes one wonder… Easy as it may be to distinguish the dividing line between water and clouds, between land and sky, that thin, oscillating line between worlds stays well hidden most of the times, we only perceive its existence once we cross it.
Warning: gentlemen (and not only) with strong feelings against the trivial habit of offering flowers are kindly asked to avert their eyes. Judgemental lady used to and adoring to receive flowers at work!
I am, have been and always will be a spoilt brat this way – flowers are more than an assortment of colourful plants with a price tag that you throw in a vase, on an empty corner of your desk. Those who know me also know they are both a symbol and a token for me, mere proof that no matter how difficult a struggle life might become, I can still find it in me to surface for a breath of air and a glimpse of beauty… and that as long as there is somebody willing and caring enough to offer me that small source of joy, all is not lost.
We find that sort of comfort and fleeting happiness in various things and places and we are all entitled to like what we like and want what we want. So with the risk of upsetting some of you, I will admit that one way or another, the one thing all the men that have been wrong for me had in common was their inability or unwillingness to offer me flowers. That particular, apparently trivial need of mine would not be the only one they would disregard or write off as irrelevant simply because they felt differently about the subject. Lack of respect comes in all shapes and sizes; and purposely refusing to make a small gesture that would bring pleasure to the one next to you counts as disrespectful, even mean to me. What can I say, I do a lot of reading between the lines and I instinctively find meaning in symbols and the gestures accompanying them. Call me a shallow, crazy, materialistic bitch if you so choose, but I simply appreciate a man who pays attention, enjoys seeing me happy and knows that offering is about the recipient and their affinities, not about the giver and their preferences.
Yes, I know, I know, there’s something terribly wrong with me in order to have such unrealistic expectations and standards. 🙂 But I am beyond redemption, I have been spoilt rotten from an early age. I remember there was this boy whose mother always gave him a big bunch of spring flowers to offer the girls in our class and to the teachers. Her job had something to do with a greenhouse and that’s where she got the flowers for free. So every morning for a couple of weeks in spring, my friends and I – all the girls he liked or even tolerated in the class – found flowers on our desks when we got to school. He was terribly shy and that’s why he did his best to get to school before all of us; when we confronted him, he could barely find his words and he’d turn all red. It was still a very sweet gesture though, and so was he. And he wasn’t the only one, as I have mentioned before – we were quite used to the boys offering us flowers on various occasions, such as Valentine’s Day.
This type of bad behaviour was further enabled by the boys I dated as a teenager, including my high school boyfriend. Yes, horror of horrors, I kept receiving flowers on my birthday and on various other special occasions. But what I remember most fondly is how we used to sneak into the botanical garden at night, sometimes only the two of us, other times our entire group of friends. The guards were mostly asleep in their quarters and they only had surveillance cameras at the main entrance those days, so we had the whole place to ourselves. Even in those rare when our presence was discovered, they were too sleepy and bored to even try and catch us. So at the end of May and in June I’d always go home with a selection of beautiful roses that my boyfriend would pick for me… 🙂
As you can imagine, I haven’t improved over the years. I have a long, complicated, sometimes frustrating, other times exquisitely beautiful history with flowers, both when it comes to giving and receiving them. When a friend of mine turned 20, I gave her a bouquet of 20 of her favourite flowers. Her boyfriend was terribly offended by my gesture, while she was moved to tears. He was trying to teach her a lesson – flowers were a token of consumerism and materialism and he was not going to indulge such tendencies in a woman. He would have rather basked in her sadness and disappointment than have her receive flowers from somebody, anybody… I could see his face darken with anger when he noticed how much joy the flowers brought her.
Don’t get me wrong, uncomfortable as many of you, gentlemen, might be with the topic, I find that many of you deserve to receive flowers once in a while from us as well – if you like this sort of thing, of course. I was 4 or 5 when I first offered flowers to a man. It was the first ballet show I went to see with my mother and at the end I was sent to offer a big bouquet of gladiolas to the prima ballerina, who was a family friend. Instead I gave the flowers to her dance partner and husband. He had been equally amazing and I remember wondering why nobody was giving him flowers.
I also remember he was taken by surprise and asked me if I didn’t mean to give her the gladiolas. I shook my head with determination. Men often feel unconformable, even offended if a woman offers them flowers, I noticed over the years. So I will only offer a man flowers if I know for a fact he wouldn’t mind it. But I must say, I had lots of fun offering flowers to all the male teachers at the end of high school, given the diverse reactions that gesture triggered. We decided to be open-minded and progressive that year and our class offered flowers to all the teachers, regardless of their gender. One of the boys would offer them to the ladies; the task of dealing with the men fell on me. Some of them were amused and pleasantly surprised; others were at a loss for words, not at all at ease with the unforeseen situation; only one of them was downright rude, mentioning that our youth and inexperience was no excuse for mistaking him for a woman… He immediately made a grand exit, leaving the room in a huff, in genuine drama queen style. But the general consensus was that it was about time the men got some attention as well.
That’s what it comes down to – attention, respect and appreciation. A token that somebody cares enough to listen and then to transform their appreciation for me into a gesture, that’s what flowers are as far as I am concerned. They don’t need to be expensive or come from the trendiest florists; they just need to be alive, that’s all it takes to say ‘I thought I’d surprise you,’ or ‘I know this day is special to you, even if it might not be equally so to me’. And when I decide to cheer myself up or simply brighten my day and my home with some flowers, for no other reason other than because I feel like it, it’s also a reminder of rougher days and how today’s small treats should not be taken for granted; instead I should fight human nature and appreciate them. So let’s stop and smell the roses for a moment or two, because flowers are never just flowers.
Well…. Maybe not a whole month… and maybe not exactly nothing…
Just a couple of weeks… Sipping Sangria in Spain and then coming back home to burry my toes in the sand…
I’d gladly burry my head in the sand these days, but it’s been pointed out to me that people my age don’t do that. So my toes will have to take it this time. And what a nice feeling it is… It’s funny how little time I spend sunbathing each year, in spite of how much I love to be on the beach. I would do better, I’ve decided at some point in June. I’d take a break, as much of a break that can be taken from real life, and just be lazy, just be with myself… and do nothing for anybody. I’m selfish these days and I’m not ashamed to admit it. I don’t want to hear anybody complain for a while; I don’t want to deal with anyone’s problems. Family, friends and acquaintances will have to handle everything on their own – if I can, so can they. That’s it, the ‘Gone to the Beach’ sign is up and I don’t care what anybody has to say about it 🙂 .
Easier said than done… and I’m the main obstacle, as it turns out. I’m not one to sit still, stare at the sky through her sunglasses and do nothing for hours and hours. But once you manage to break apart from the routine, once you manage to pull yourself away from all the little distractions, it’s really worth it. Leaving my phone home was both the most challenging and the most helpful part of it. It took instinctive fumbling through my bag every 5 minutes in order to realize that I hadn’t left home without my phone in years… who can remember how many? I got over most of the withdrawal symptoms in an hour or so and I could finally relax. And part of the relaxation was enjoying a good book and taking handwritten notes on an old notebook I found and threw in my beach bag just in case. It felt a bit like those days I used to go to the beach and study for exams as a student… only better. It’s always better when a well-behaved waiter serves you cold drinks once in a while… even if they are non-alcoholic ones, since you still have to drive back home. But hey, nothing’s perfect, right?
By my third day on the beach, I was confident that I could take my phone with me because I wanted to, not because I needed to. And what I wanted was simply to take a few pictures. Then it went back in the bag, internet connection disabled and ringing tone muted until the time I made it back home.
Every summer I’m making myself the same promise, that of spending a bit more time by myself on the beach, baking in the afternoon sun or splashing around in the waves, the way I used to do once. Something always gets in the way. Let’s see how it goes this summer. So far, the time allotted to doing nothing and caring about nobody’s issues but my own worked out well. I’ve even managed to be lazy and this post is proof of that – I’ve been meaning to write it since Friday 🙂 .
Have a beautiful month of July, all of you! I hope we all manage to find something to inspire us this summer.
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…
Endless, lazy summer months spent at the seaside as a child made me take it for granted. The sea was there, it was that place you returned to as soon as the summer holiday started, to only go back home at the end of August. Not only did I not think too much about it or consider myself lucky, I was often bored with it. What, didn’t all kids my age feel the same? Didn’t they all see it my way? Well, I couldn’t care less whether they did or not. By mid-July I would already be sick and tired of forced happiness and socialization. The constant repetition of what other experienced for a few days, maybe a week or two at most, was getting to be exhausting; so the older I got, the harder I worked on reducing my summer seaside ‘sentence’.
I’m sure there were children out there with a deep understanding of nature and of those pitfalls of human emotion and it must have been those children who wandered what the sea looked like in winter. Since I was definitely not that gifted, I neither wondered, nor cared about it – the sea and its conundrums were something to be dealt with in the summer and I was not going to worry about it beforehand.
My eyes first met the grey hues of the winter sea when I was a teenager – and it was one of those profound revelatory feelings that only a teenager can fully experience. I would go for a walk, I told everybody, I wanted to see the sea. I knew they wouldn’t say no, I had done my part and kept up appearances, the way I was supposed to; I hadn’t asked for anything the entire time and I knew such a I wouldn’t be refused such small demand favour. After all, I wasn’t the only one who needed to keep up appearances, the adults had to do the same and I knew I could ask for anything at that point. But much as the angry teenager wanted to take advantage of their moment of weakness, I couldn’t overcome my pride and self-respect – I wanted to gain nothing from that particular context. I would play my part, but I wanted nothing in return. Nothing but a few moments alone, walking on the beach in the cold breeze, so I could gather my thoughts.
Knowing exactly when, how, why and which appearances needed to be maintained in society was almost instinctive behaviour in our family – that’s probably why my timing was always impeccable when choosing to misbehave and be nothing more than my outspoken self. However, that particular trip at the seaside would not be such a time, as the entire family was playing the appearance game.
I could hear the roar of the waves before I could see them and once I felt the compact wet sand under my boots, I could finally relax. I could finally breathe, even if the frozen, salty air hurt my lungs. The strong wind was something I hadn’t experienced before, but neither that, nor the several patches of snow on the sand felt out of place. The sea was rough, loud and grey – no pretence, no mask, no pretty, sweet summer delight – a force of nature through its own unpleasant, lonely honesty. For the first time in days I could feel my face muscles relax as the pressure of false, socially acceptable smiles and looks dissipated. Being myself, whatever that might have meant, was not only acceptable, but advisable; and for the first time ever I was able to acknowledge and accept that the sea was part of my soul – that grey, wild see, whose roar was the most calming noise I had ever heard. As I was finally walking away, the frozen wind lashing my face, I felt serene, at peace with myself and everybody else. I knew would miss that view. But I also knew somehow, eventually, I had to find my way back not only to that place, but to that sort of inner peace.
Those moments of tranquility don’t last long, I learnt over the years… at least not for me, I’m not that kind of person. But I still go and stare at the sea – especially at the deserted, grey, off season sea – whenever I need to clear my mind.
I’m a seaside person. I’m a summer person. There’s something about those early summer days that makes me feel alive and empowered. No matter how sad and depressed I might occasionally be or how unsuccessful some endeavours might turn out to be, the end of May and beginning of June always bring back that childish feeling that everything is possible. It’s that time of year which makes me feel restless, it makes me want to try everything and anything, because I couldn’t possibly fail; and if the improbable were to happen, I wouldn’t even care, because I know I can survive it. Yes… it’s a good time to be and feel alive.
I suppose a small part of me is entirely incapable and unwilling to grow up – the same way Christmas is a time of miracles, summer is a time of possibilities, as it used to be when those early June days of my childhood made me almost smell the salty air of the summer holiday. The first strawberries and cherries were delicious treats, sweet emissaries of the lazy, happy days to come. They still are – the real ones, the local, imperfect, amazingly tasty ones, not the properly fertilized, plastic looking ones we can find all year long.
That’s the taste of childhood, even if I no longer even think about how it would be like to pick them myself, somewhere in a remote garden in the countryside. My heels would certainly not agree with that sort of activity anymore… We didn’t spend too much time thinking about our shoes when we were children, did we? I didn’t grow up in the country or in a small town, but fortunately my childhood wasn’t controlled by technology either. Books, real people, real friends and spending as much time outside as possible were amongst my main concerns. And I remember this one thing – early summer meant the first cherries, which meant the first scraped knees. They also meant the nurses from the nearby clinic would have fresh, new reasons for aggravation and somewhat hysterical fits. Ironically enough, it wasn’t because we were their impatient patients, but because we were little, bratty perpetrators of a very unusual type of theft. The two cherry trees growing in the clinic’s backyard would always become an irresistible temptation as soon as we could spot the red dots amongst the leaves. They were fair game, we thought; after all, many of their branches were hanging over the clinic’s decorative fence, right above our playground. The nurses coming out for a smoke would inevitably catch us each and every time we climbed the trees in what we thought to be sneaky attempts to pick as many of the little red treats as we could. We always managed to get away before they could get their angry hands on us, but we certainly got to learn quite a few curse words that way; and few things make you appreciate life and freedom as running away from a nurse chasing after you on with a broomstick…
Our pursuer eluded, we’d calm down and divide the spoils of our escapade. There was not one of us who didn’t have a ball full of nice, cold cherries waiting in the fridge, we could have just gone home to have some of the fruit our parents were struggling to get us to eat; but what was the fun in that? No fruit ever tasted as good as the cherries we’d steal from the trees behind the clinic, even when some of them were still green. Thinking back, I can’t even tell what we enjoyed more, stealing cherries or annoying the nurses… It was that mix of the two that provided us with just the right amount of adrenaline, I suppose. While we never stole any actual thing, we had very sticky hands when it came to fruit and flowers (lots of the older ladies enjoyed planting flowers in the small gardens in front of our apartment buildings, and we enjoyed triggering reactions similar to those the nurses had). We eventually understood the nurses’ anger – they simply wanted to pick the cherries themselves and take them home once their shift was over. That only made us more adamant in our attempts to steal as many as possible before the nurses could get their hands on them… and us.
It was during such an incursion that we finally started differentiating between doctors and nurses. Just as we were getting ready to flee after noticing the authority figures coming out and lighting their cigarettes, we experienced the shock of our lives – not only were the two doctors dressed differently than the nurses, but they started laughing and told us to take our time, have as many cherries as we wanted, and be careful not to hurt ourselves in the process. Just try not to break too many branches, you do want to have cherries next year too, right? Well, we certainly were not prepared for that, we had no idea what to do with ourselves anymore. An angry nurse immediately started yelling at us from a first floor window, but few children felt a similar affection for doctors as we did, when the two replied, ‘They’re just kids, let them be…’ Yes, we were just kids, therefore everyone involved in the medical profession was the devil as far as we were concerned; but that was the moment we started doubting the veracity of our conviction. Like I said, summer was the time for new experiences and discovering hidden meanings of everyday life.
I am not naïve, I’ve had plenty of years to learn that the mirage of summer is often just that – an unfilled promise of happiness; enthusiasm dies out sooner or later and exhaustion takes over; dreams often become nightmares. This is why I try to enjoy and make the best of that early summer empowering feeling that I get with the smell and taste of the first strawberries and cherries. While life is certainly no ball of perfect genetically engineered, fertilized cherries, displayed in optimal light, it might actually be a handful of cherries grabbed in a hurry from a not particularly cared for tree in a remote village. You open your hand and see what you managed to make away with – there are some pits in there too, a few green cherries, some rotten ones, even a couple of leaves in between, and you can only hope that those deliciously ripe ones, the ones that are naturally perfect and delightful, are enough to make it worth it and keep you going.
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.
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.
It’s beginning to look and occasionally even feel like spring, so going to see the sea on a beautiful, though windy and somewhat chilly afternoon seamed like the thing to do. The afternoon almost became evening by the time that I was actually out, but the perspective of taking a nice, quiet drive – maybe even a walk if the weather allowed it – thinking of nothing and just stare at the scenery was too attractive. I had the sea on one side, the sun setting over the town on the other, but it struck me how instead of clearing my head and taking in the view, my mind was preoccupied with something else. I was looking for a good place to park and take a few shots of the sunset… or maybe I should just go on the beach… no, the sunset and the trees are a better choice, who knows, that way I could even come up with something suitable for the photo challenge.
Or maybe I could just look and see – actually see – the beautiful images I was looking at. It took getting out of the car and shivering in the cold wind to come up with that ‘revolutionary’ idea, while my already frozen hands were searching for the phone. The bag went back on my shoulder, my frozen hands went into warm pockets and I went back to that old habit of watching, seeing and perceiving everything through my own eyes, not through a camera. More and more often we need to see reality on a screen in order to perceive it… You know how it is, you notice something, you have a small revelation of your own, and then you can’t help noticing all the manifestations of said idea. I was clearly not the only one willing to brave the cold wind for a few cute photos; in fact, my stubbornly not taking any pictures was making me feel a little bit out of place amongst the people out for a walk by the beach in the early evening.
I hurried back to my car and turned up the heating. I would just stay there for a while, in the warm comfort of the metal shell and stare at the view, at the waves, at the sand, at the sky and think of nothing – just a little bit of ‘me and the sea’ time. No photos, no phone, no camera, just my own eyes 🙂 I have countless shots of seas and sunsets, many of them taken in a hurry – having had only a moment to stop, I had more and more often used it to take a picture at which I would look more carefully later, when I’d have the time. So I could certainly take a break from that sort of behavior I had adopted without even noticing it.
And here we are – no new photos for this week’s Rule of Thirds, just a few adapted oldies; somehow, I wasn’t too enthusiastic about this one…
Do you think you are old? How about them? Aging only made them more attractive…
There is a certain cocktail of fear, frustration and depression that only birthday milestones can inflict on a person. Reaching any of those multiple of ten birthdays is if not a trial, at least a contradictory, controversial moment for most of us. It starts early on, when you’re a child so happy and proud to have finally achieved a double digit birthday, it’s a time when you begin to feel so big and important, you have finally become somebody who matters. In what almost seems to be a blink of an eye, ten becomes twenty – the moment you’re not in your teens anymore is a bittersweet victory, you feel like there’s finally something to back up all your claims to be treated like an adult, but the pressure which comes with having that wish granted starts to reveal itself as a constant rather than an accidental consequence. By the time you’ve reached your mid-twenties, there’s already a gnawing thought tormenting you once in a while, especially when nothing seems to go according to plan – the dreaded, end-of-life-as-you-know-it thirty is the next big step and it’s not at all as far away in the future as you might like it to be.
I am no longer ashamed to admit it, I was one of those women fearing the ominous number whenever I had the feeling time had a mind of its own and a cruel way of passing too fast, preventing me from doing all that I wanted to do. Some things are inevitable and the illusion of a disillusion disseminating birthday eventually became reality, not only a mean allusion in the back of my mind. However, having a close male friend that turned thirty the same month I did put certain things in perspective, making me break out of my selfish shell for a moment or two and actually acknowledge that this isn’t a critical time only for women. I used to think men simply ignore this milestone and women are the ones most tortured by the ticking clock. As it turned out, the men I witnessed crossing their thirties threshold took it considerably worse than the women I had a chance to see experiencing the same ordeal.
I woke up and I immediately felt worried – worried that the new decade wasn’t actually making me feel any different, depression and despair hadn’t taken over me; in fact I was feeling quite pleased with myself, the way I normally do my birthday. There was no trace of the pain, sadness or frustration I used to think would accompany this frightful day, it was just a birthday like any other; it occurred to that the introspection was meant to find fault where there wasn’t any. I switched on the TV and focused my attention on a news channel while drinking my coffee. There hadn’t been any relevant cataclysms; no nuclear war had started; no meteor was on its course to collide with the planet; no signs of any pandemic. It was clear, I realized, settling more comfortably, cup of coffee in hand: the end of the world wasn’t scheduled for that day just because I was turning thirty. And why should that happen, since even my own little personal universe was calm and safe, surprisingly unaffected by the matter? Just to make sure, I subsided to my vanity and closely inspected my face in the mirror – I hadn’t turned into a crone over night, no wrinkles were menacing to scar my visage in the near future, I could still pass for somebody in her early twenties if I was well rested, everything was the same as before. I was the same as before, not feeling thirty, far from looking thirty; the only difference was that I was actually thirty, but that suddenly stopped meaning that much, because I liked who and where I was, I had managed to come to terms with my existence and accept myself quite a while before that day. I wasn’t twenty anymore, but was it really that bad? I looked around at my home –
everything was the way I wanted it to be, every item was my choice and there was no sign of the awful, shabby furniture that used to give me nightmares when I was twenty and still a student. A beautiful bouquet of roses which had been delivered early in the morning was sitting in a vase on my coffee table, soft, quiet reminder that my special someone knows just what I like and hadn’t forgotten the special day. And that messy pile of wrapping paper and cardboard in the corner – that was my own present for myself, the pair of boots I had ordered online arrived just at the right moment. Life was certainly no worse than at twenty!
Not only did I survive my thirtieth birthday, but I actually enjoyed it. So why had I been so unsure about the way I’d react even if I had already reached the point where I wasn’t too worried about turning thirty? Remember the close friend I was mentioning earlier? We are the same age, we grew up together and we even turned thirty together, only he did it several days before I did. We know each other so well, yet there are still times when his behaviour surprises me, and after having seen how much of a blow this birthday was for him, I started worrying about what it would do to me… All of the sudden, there was no more time for this guy who had always been somewhat naïve and idealistic in many of his beliefs, almost annoyingly able to always see the good in people and situations. Who would have thought that I, the vane woman, would be calm and rational about my age, whereas he, the serious male, would be the drama queen who has a meltdown? After being grumpy, bitchy and displeased with everything and everyone for no good reason on his birthday, I finally managed to get him to share his troubles on mine… Well, it was mostly a rant, half self-pity and the other half reproachful because I didn’t share his opinion and I would stubbornly not change my idea about my thirtieth birthday being a joyous occasions and not at all the doom and gloom he was describing.
Think of all the aspects single women in their thirties complain about on TV shows and now imagine a man doing just the same – that’s the gist of his turning thirty paranoia. He was single, and if he hadn’t managed to get married up to that point, what were the chances for that to ever happen? All his male friends who wanted to get married, had already done it (and most of them regretted it, I might add), so it must be him, there was something terribly wrong with him. And if there were no perspectives for him to get married, then what were the chances for him to have children? And he wanted children, and all his married friends already had children… But not him, no, not him, everything was over and hopeless for him. Then he moved on to his career, etc., with the occasional flashbacks about not having a wife and kids. And by the way, why the hell was I not feeling the same way, since we were the same age, how could I not see that all was lost and meaningless? There was no point in trying to explain that a man in his thirties is young and attractive, so he didn’t need to worry about finding his better half (or halves, who knows…); there was no point in enumerating all the positive things in his life; his self-pity and disappointment had to run their course before he could see clearly again. But by the end of the evening, I thought I’d have to stop him purchasing adjacent burial plots in the graveyard for both of us as a special birthday gift for me – we were thirty, therefore practically dead.
He isn’t the only man I know who panicked about this dreaded age. Another example is a twenty-nine year old guy who started talking about marriage on his first dates simply because he couldn’t picture himself thirty and not married, it was simply unacceptable. We weren’t close friends, so we lost touch at a point; but I know that he is still single and in his late thirties now, so I bet he’ll make for quite an interesting case study when he turns forty.
All joking aside, age is every so often a terrifying monster for all of us; and like the vane creature that I am, I do my best to if not avoid, at least diminish the tell-tale signs the passage of time leaves behind. But I refuse to obsess over the inevitable, I choose to focus on the matters I can change – life is hard enough as it is, why add unnecessary worry lines? But I often think of the revelation brought on by my friend’s thirtieth birthday – men fear aging as much as women do and we all have good reasons to feel this way. So is there a way of preventing the illusion of time from becoming the disillusion of a lifetime? Do let me know if you have the answer to this one…