Random Acts of Sunshine

RANDOM ACTS OF SUNSHINE

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Nothing starts a day better than a little dose of sunshine with the timeless music of Johann Sebastian Bach on the piano and the optimistic joy of sunflowers. This is the first of my ‘Random Acts’ short video series that I’m working on to celebrate the little pleasures  of life. And Bach and sunflowers have been two of my favourite ways to start a morning for as far back as I can remember……Perhaps, like the Himalayan mountains beckon my blood, as does the Mediterranean Sea, so do the sunflowers of Provence and the music of Bach.

My personal favourite in this collection of sunflower photos is the one of the sprightly lone helianthus bravely blooming at the edge of a grey sidewalk. A symbol of spunky joy indeed! I hope you like viewing this little piece as much as I loved making it, though of course Bach sounds its best when the speakers are good.

Please note that the last photo in the closing shot of the little child in the field has been taken by an exceptionally talented young lady Iryna Smolych from jossphoto.com who I hope to interview some day on my blog. Please watch this in the full screen mode. Happy mornings!

Random Acts of Sunshine. (full-screen it please.)

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I do not know about you, but for me – music is one of the greatest affectors of my moods and state of being. I’ve just always had extremely sensitive ears (and an oversensitive nose – but that’s another story). My dad had to take me to several trips to an audiologist or ENT specialist when I was a kid because I’d complain of hearing everything too loudly or pick up sounds that others would not find disturbing, or sometimes not even notice.

Turns out my ears were indeed too sensitive and I was hearing frequencies and pitches beyond the normal range. Yes – the doc played and experimented with several tuning forks and for a while I became his pet ‘freak’ patient. I later wondered if my affinity for dogs and other animals came from this auditory anomaly.

As a little kid, I had the ability to pick up any music by ear and play it on the piano (an ability which alas, my parents never encouraged, pushing me into dance instead to tone down my ‘tomboyishnes’ – but a decision of theirs that still makes me a wee bit sad at times. ok – here’s more looking at you sunflowers! to forget that!) Anyway, the solution was to wear ear plugs for a while and carry them around at all times, but even to this day, I remain very sensitive to sound, pitch, tonality and my entire body jangles in pain if a certain piece of music is incongruous in context or time of day, or just plain bad. I also like music that is ‘pure’ – i.e. the instruments are real and tangible. Till date, I still am not crazy about digital ‘instruments’.

While I haven’t done a survey I wonder how many people are affected by sound deeply, intrinsically, achingly. It was no coincidence that later ‘Acoustic Design in Architecture’ (a great help when it comes to designing concert halls) became one of my favorite subjects and I’d end up even teaching that. 

I wonder if the liquid in our inner ears that maintain ‘balance’ in our body has something to do with our intrinsic sensitivity to sound and songs. Geek readers can check out this youtube video which explains how our ear processes sounds and how the fluid in our inner ears maintain our balance: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vTiGskc1o48  (Don’t get spooked by the animated biological skinless face at the start – not a pleasant sight to see after the sunflowers.)

I also wonder why  certain styles or pieces of music feel so right in the morning and others only at night? In eastern cultures, classical music was composed and played according to the time of day as well as seasons of a year. I’m sure everyone has different preferences, yet somehow the ‘sameness’ of biology all across the human race perhaps leads to similar effects of different kinds of music on our bodies? I for one, love Bach in the morning. And certain pieces of Mozart. Even Debussy at times. Or Bill Evans playing ‘Here’s to that Rainy Day’. Afternoons, when I feel drowsy I don’t mind a torrid flamenco guitar tune or even a few jolly Gypsy Kings songs to wake me up – their sunny candor taking away the boredom at that time of day. Late sunny afternoons for some reason, stirs a craving for world music – Saif Keita singing songs from Mali, Bob Marley’s nasal wailing or the more classical variations of some old Bollywood song (the ones with tablas and drums), or even Brazilian carnaval rhythms. Exotic. Erotic in the essence of strange accents and exotic languages. Musical metaphors of imaginary (or real) afternoon sex in hot climates. Your lover’s sweat seeping in foreign soil. Where music and moving limbs and eyes surpass the necessity of comprehending language.

Evenings are for more somber or sensuous tunes in Jazz, or even lively big bands, poignant French ballads, or Django Reinhardt-esque brazen liveliness, or classical symphonies of Beethoven, Brahms and Tchaikovsky. And late at night, I love the pensive mood of Keith Jarrett, or melancholic versions of Jazz, and of course, the nocturnes of Chopin.  Dark nights are also for Pink Floyd, Jimi Henrix, Tool, the Scorpions, a few selected Rave beats, as well as some heavy Metal groups or songs I listen to. They seem so in sync with the mystery and terror of night, with madness and mania, fury and fire, or even just contemplation of the ‘dark side’ of psyches or moons or ‘crazy diamonds’ ;) I do not know if the ‘metal-at-night’ phenomenon is more out of a habit from the architecture-school days when pulling all-nighters was accompanied by the thrash of metal guitars – haunting, screaming thrusting one into werewolf-energy while drawing lines or making sketches in an inspired frenzy. But even without the architectural memory, I still find that genre very effective only at night.

Somehow friends who listen to the Goldberg variations in the night and Metal in the mornings seem to have it all topsy-turvy. In the open studio of my grad school, there were fellow-students who would jangle the hall with  either Judas Priest and Metallica in the early mornings or depressed ballads of Sarah Mclachlan. (Why couldn’t they hear them in earphones, instead of jangling the entire studio and all my nerves??! and I’d retreat back to that kid with sensitive ears, my state of mind anxious and muddied, wishing they would understand the subtlety of tender timid sunrays that ask for the joy of sunflowers, not the stench of death and skulls.)  

I have no problems with either thrashing, heavy and/or melancholic music at night, but mornings – ah sweet, sweet fresh clean innocent new mornings – please give me my Bach, and sunflowers, a good cup of tea, and soft, happy strums of the guitar, the sitar and the piano – and let me glide into the day reflective, alone in my thoughts, alone in the peaceful solitude of a morning-mind, and lapping up quiet exultant serenity……..

So – to those who like genial harmony and genus helianthus  in the mornings – here’s to Bach and sunflowers!

And if such indulgence in making ‘random acts’ videos and thoughts make me an idiot, so be it. There is a great quote by Bach: “If I decide to be an idiot, then I’ll be an idiot on my own accord. ” 

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Mountain Madness


MOUNTAIN MADNESS

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Much Madness is divinest Sense-
To a discerning Eye-
Much Sense-the starkest Madness-
‘Tis the Majority
In this, as All, prevail-
Assent- and you are sane-
Demur- you’re straightway dangerous-
And handled with a Chain-

– Emily Dickinson (1830 -1886)

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My road trip to the West, with hopes to traverse through Montana this month was interrupted a few weeks back by a really bad car crash that completely ‘killed’ the car. Hit by a speeding angry 4 x 4 Dodge Truck. In Racine, Wisconsin on lake Michigan north of Chicago.

Saved by 1 foot of metal buffer – a complete T-collision and I’d have been dead smoked meat now. The hit was so bad that the car’s chassis broke in 2 parts. It really came out of nowhere. A deafening crash, Boom and I’m looking into an overpowering White Bright Light and smoke before my eyes which 2 seconds later I realize is my face in my white bright air bag and burning rubber. I’ve had brushes with death before but I’ve been thanking the safety engineers of Toyota and the inventor of the air bag and seat belt ever since this particular brush. The impact was so strong, the seat belt casing got ripped apart. No injuries, thankfully, though the mechanic thinks it’s a miracle given the impact and the fact that the front half of my car is gone. Had bought a new Toyota in 2006. R.I.P. mon voiture.

The truck driver was safe and sound, arrogant, strutting around, unapologetic despite speeding 30 miles over the speed limit and even to the policeman’s shock not once, that’s right, not once came over to ask how I was doing. Kind friendly mid-westerners from the residential neighbourhood where it occurred poured out. So in August, I’ve decided to celebrate life again and place only pictures…..a breather from the lengthy posts. Perhaps I was writing those long posts in July as ‘therapeutic’ writing after the crash. I’ll make a little video as some more self-invented therapy to recover further from the horror of death-so-close and as a little goodbye to the silver car that had served me so well and traveled thousands of miles from the Florida Keys whence I viewed tropical fishes in the South to the very North of Quebec close to Lac St.Jean national park areas, the fjords of Saguenay and the Taddoussac region where the giant whales live, and from Cape Cod in the east to Chicago……alas, its death occurred in Racine (‘Root’ in French) Wisconsin, but its metal and safety features saved my life.

Drive safe everyone! And watch out for crazy speeding drivers. And thank the unnamed, unseen automobile engineers who design cars so well these days, that if one gets lucky, one can still walk out of high-impact crashes without a scratch. And thank the ephemeral gift of life. So precious. So short.

So since I couldn’t take pictures of Montana, I decided to celebrate here instead memories from earlier trips to mountain worlds. Among my six ethnic mixes covering both Northern and Southern European lands and the Mediterranean Waters and Dead Sea, I also have the presence of the mountain worlds of the northern Himalayas in my mix…..the call of the mountains is very strong in my blood, and a passion for mountaineering and ice-climbing. So strong was the call to dwell in the mountains, I’d ended up being a Buddhist monk for 3 months in my early 20s up in the mountains – not so much for any religious reasons but because I figured the best way for free boarding and lodging in the most breathtaking views of the Himalayas was to be a monk instead of the restricted weeks of shivering treks and flimsy tents that as mountaineers we have to brave. These are pictures from some of my favourite climbing ranges through the years – the Kumaon range of the Himalayas, India (bordering Tibet), the Kanchenjunga range (in Sikkim bordering Nepal which has the third highest mountain peak of the world), Bhutan, Ladakh and closer home, the ranges in Canada.

I usually don’t take too many photographs as I like recording pictures like movies in my mind instead (an anomaly which is both a blessing and a curse – especially when it comes to being unable to forget.) But these trips have always overwhelmed me with the sheer beauty and scale of the magnitude of the landscapes – pictures in my mind which I hope never to forget and hold with possessive passion. Mountain worlds dotted with terraced hills, tall trees, monasteries, enchanted forests, mountain lakes and days and nights in hard core mountaineering. There’s no other way to put it – I madly love mountain lands and some day, I will go to Montana, though this trip got interrupted.

Upwards & Onward! (as one brave lady on my blogroll always says.) No matter how dampening the downers in life may be…And mountains are a reminder that it’s possible to walk in the clouds. And climb every cliff. With your own sweat and determination (and, er…piolets and crampons.) After every storm in life. And breathe again the fresh air of freedom…….and thank one’s luck each time one does so. To be born on this planet. For the gift of human life. And the responsibilities it entails.

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Ladakh – the highest plateau of the world

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Ladakh

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A monastery in Ladakh at night

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A gorge in the Kumaon range

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The Kumaon range of the Himalayas – on the way to the Kafni & Pindhari Glaciers

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Approaching the peak – the 16 day uphill climb gets closer to the final leg up the summit

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Celebrating my b’day in June with a Himalayan trek. 1997. (My lucky climbing sweater – I’ve had it for more than a decade. And wear it in the last leg of every climb through the years.)

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Terraced valley in Sikkim

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The breathtaking Kanchengyao around lake Gurudongmar in northern Sikkim.  The Kanchenjunga is one of my favourite ranges for mountaineering, apart from the Kumaon range. Its highest peak has a 28,169 ft elevation. The 2.75 sq. mile state of Sikkim is home to the red panda.

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Kanchenjunga range viewed near Darjeeling…a call of the wild I cannot deny.

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minus 25 degree celsius – the walk before the ice climb. 2008.

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Ice, Ice! (this picture is in Canada not in the Himalayas)

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Raphael – our ‘lead’ climber

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My parka and three layers of clothing to keep the cold out, but the exercise still makes one sweat

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Fire on ice

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Guillaume reaches on

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2006. We’re envious of those who have shoes with inbuilt spikes ;)

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The rest of us use old-fashioned external crampons on our shoes….

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Banff…in the summer

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Bhutanese monastery in the Himalayas

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Perched on the rocks…

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at the edge of a cliff…location, location – that’s what helps monks with the meditation ;-)

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Mountain Magnolia

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Kumaon range. Near Nanda devi peak

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On and..

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on and on.

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The team on one of the climbs

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A little rest, at last.  Un petit plaisir de la vie avec du thé chaud sur la glace

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Uttarakhand Nanda Devi

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” It is not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves.” – Sir Edmund Hillary

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A small update: By coincidence, Randall Munroe put up this cartoon 2 weeks after this post on his XKCD website. It just seemed to tie in so well with the ED quote and near-death-car-crash I’d started this with, thought I’d place his cartoon:

xkcd _ the carriage