The last day of the decade

Tree of Life (Greenwood cemetery, Brooklyn, New York)

Tree of Life (Greenwood cemetery, Brooklyn, New York)

December 31, 2019. New York, New York. 

And so it has come to the closing of a chapter. And yes, I will avoid the cliche of saying that a new chapter begins (except I just said that. Oof!)

The teen years of the 21st century come to a close. Onward we move to 2020. Albeit, it can be argued that these numbers are only from the Gregorian calendar, but for the sake of  convenience we’ll stick to that for now and not go off on a geeky/nerdy sidetracked vortex into various year numbering systems. (Check out the chart of different calendars at the end of this post though.)

[A note first. Ever since WordPress began to run ads on their free site, I admit that the visual cleanliness of reading its blogs has been immensely lost. Alas, since I already pay for two work-related websites, I am not going to dole out the now-required $80 annually to have an ad-free site + domain that WordPress asks you to go for. So sadly, I’ll stick to this randomly-popping-weird-ads-as-you-scroll-blog. Onward.]

So….. I suppose, like many a year-end-pondering-post – even more ubiquitous with almost every social-media friend, non-friend, media person/celebrity, non-celebrity, stranger and/or acquaintance on some posting spree – I have to blab how it is time for reassessment. reflection, rumination, regrets, non-regrets, gratefulness, gratitude, looking back, moving forward, speculation, celebration and all that jazz and fiz. And also that smug, oft-nauseating crowing of personal and/or career achievements, back-patting, name-dropping, self-soothing, barely disguised self-promotion along with some self-loathing meta-analyses – the latter for those who can look past the pompousness and approval-fishing or the general non-consequential-banality-in-the-long-run of the former.

Well, in some ways it IS time for all that pondering and processing and meta-analyses….it is but some long-induced part-habit, part-social-protocol, part-personal-mulling….as though a number on the calendar can magically change all our bad habits, re-consolidate our soon-to-vaporize New Year resolutions or reset our Optimism Bias buttons at the click of the midnight clock on New Year’s Eve.

As though posting a list of all our hits and misses – mostly hits to show the happy-happy-peppy-peppy ultra-annoying American expectation of the smiley-face frontage – will show the world: “Look-ey how great I am! Look-ey – I’ve done this, this and that, worn ma’ boots and ma’ hat, lookey – how fancy I am!” in some blithe spectacle of self-soothing deceptions of grandeur.

I’m not saying that sprinkling some optimism and benign narcissism around doesn’t work – i.e. it works in showing your friends and strangers that you’re upbeat and accomplished and not about to off yourself as some of those apparent bon-vivants who crowed and puffed and for various-whatever-reasons wore external fake masks of joy while hiding their pain/depression/self-loathing until it was too late. After all, even when it’s not that extreme and can be classified under benign preening and posturing, even in the parade of those who post constant “happy couple” posts, studies have shown that most truly happy couples don’t post as much or rarely post about their couplehood or their relationship on social media, although some do, of course; and while the virtual image is close to the reality for only a few, in a majority of cases, overt-relationship photo-posting is also a sign of insecurity and seeking external validation while undergoing internal turmoil.https://bit.ly/2ZEnGyphttps://bit.ly/35b3F3B )

So perhaps what I am in some way trying to communicate is that IT’S OKAY to rip off those masks….it’s okay to purge the facades and unearth the truth….it’s okay to throw away those pretenses of the happy-happy-lookey-me-did-this-and-that….it’s okay to abolish that need for external approval…..it’s okay to state the truth for what it is. The truth – from your  blogging Gipsy-Geek friendly neighborhood misanthrope ;-) :

The pithy truth – if I may use a slang verb – is that the human species by and large really, truly sucks. Big time. 

We were a flawed fatal accident of Evolution. Ticking time bombs of planetary destruction. A locust-like herd, with year-round/ day-round capacity to breed and procreate, with lifelines prolonged thanks to the scientific brains and hard work of a few, a herd that has spawned at exponential rates to deplete the world of its natural resources, its natural beauty of splendorous magnificence, to rape its forests and grasslands and oceans, purge its mineral-rich mountaintops, tunnel through its mantle and core for shiny objects-of-greed-and-exploitation, devastated & eviscerated and near-driven to extinction its blameless, wondrous, spectacular animal kingdom; tortured, maimed and heinously skinned-alive/amputated-alive/hellishly-murdered billions and billions of sweet, innocent, sentient beings for food and fur and labor and entertainment and false ritualistic beliefs; poisoned its waters, chopped-off its old-growth trees, polluted its air, infected its soil; killed, enslaved, imprisoned, violated other humans since millennia in the name of race, religion, caste, creed, sexual orientation, ideology, greed, envy……….a warring, destructive, polluting species – consuming and buying and wasting like no tomorrow……….never satisfied, never content, accumulating more than it needs, wasting more than it should; apathetic to inequalities, to injustices; and worse, often worshiping demagogues and dictators and following murderous hateful ideologies; and killing or casting out those who DO care, those who DO dare to speak the truth, those who defend the voiceless, those who love and empathize and work to fix and rescue and save.

There is no Hell in the skies or the afterlife. Hell is created by the brutality of the human species on this very earth.

Want proof? I can post a thousand links of the history of violence and human rights’ abuses. And for anyone who watches the news or has the guts to look up sites that defend animals and outline their abuse – check out the pages of Anti-Fur Society Mercy For Animals Animal Save Movement
Toronto Pig Save among many others The cruelty of humans to sentient beings on a daily basis is easy to see.

Do you know that besides all the thousand heinous ways of torture inflicted upon them in industrial farming, even in non-industrial butchery gentle animals are skinned alive, fully conscious with their legs chopped off so they can’t escape while a crowd gathers in delight watching its suffering????!!!https://bit.ly/2SJbMSm – photo) Bleating baby lambs, dog-like pigs, gentle calves beaten and eaten on a daily basis, and even millions of dogs brutally skinned alive and boiled alive to be eaten (https://bit.ly/2MGtnqg and https://bit.ly/2Qcwush )? I have blogged about the cruelty of the meat and fur industry previously here, and I will continue to – as well as join my fellow animal rights’ activists in their activism – till the day I die. There is NO excuse for this type of animal abuse except sheer apathy and psychopathy. No, Really!

If you wonder why animal activists feel the rage they do – frankly – let me ask YOU – if you know the facts, SEE the facts – the question rather is where is YOUR outrage? And Will to act? To choose to act with empathy? To prevent such hellish torture and not give up trying?

And then……

Then there is this: In all its ugliness, in all its ghastly concoctions of terror and torture, war and strife – there are those among humans who CREATE – works of brilliance, of wonder and immaculate beauty – Music that takes you to some metaphorical heaven, Art that explodes the very depths of your consciousness, Architecture that leaves you speechless in its sheer structural and spatial achievement, writings, Literature and Philosophy that nourish the soul, dancers and Dances that lift you to exquisite wonderlands, films, photography and cinematography that reach the very heights of Imagination and yonder, man-made means of transport that fly and swim and breeze to carry you across the world (and pollute plenty too – except the bicycle), the very internet through which I’m communicating now – despite both the pros and cons of this world-transforming-cyber-network, scientific discoveries and inventions that not just reveal the marvels and mysteries of the Blue Planet itself but of the Universe and propel one across the galaxy, acts of Love and Kindness and sacrifice and bravery that display the miraculous capacities of the human heart……

Were I to be a hopeless romantic, or more so – delusional – I’d have dwelt on all our so-called glories…..but sadly, when it comes to cost vs benefit – the Benefit of the human species is much, much less to the Cost it inflicts by its very polluting, destructive, cruelty-fueled existence on this planet.

In fact it is safe to say that we humans are at this point a virus on this planet. No, really. A demonic tribe that laughs and gloats while innocents suffer. Take a look at that photo of that cow linked earlier or the dogs being skinned alive and boiled alive. As crude and heinous as it is – it is an analogy of how our species, by and large, has treated Mother Earth. Torturing the Milk-givers, the Love-givers in acts of selfish, ungrateful heinousness for a moment of greed on their taste buds.

And you have to remember – yes, you HAVE to remember – that let alone those without the capacity to create – even the creators of art and science – may be quite flawed themselves when it comes to kindness and ethics, jealousies and greed, consumerism and narcissism. You have to separate the art from the person who makes it; the music from the madness; the invention from the innovator’s personal shortcomings…..

Do not make the mistake to fall for the halo effect; to lionize another human for a single-issue facet.

Where kindness and empathy and love and ethical thinking are absent from an artist or inventor or creator – learn to acknowledge and appreciate the aesthetics and functionality of the creation without attachment to its creator.

That is often hard to do for many, because we often make the mistake of believing that beautiful works may also come from beautiful hearts – and while, in some fortunate circumstances that is true, in many occurrences that may not be the case. There can quite frequently be a disconnect from the aesthetic beauty of someone’s work and the sheer brilliance of their brain-power from a lack of compassion within their hearts. I don’t need to say this – but humans are complex, complicated, contradictory, often chaotic and more often than not – cruel and corrupt and conniving. Bad apples exist in every race, country, religion. Because wherever there are humans – regardless of their gender or race – there will always be conflict, cruelties and injustices (albeit statistically, physical acts of violence are more often caused by men, but women who endorse and partake in cruelty are just as bad. A prime example is the fur industry – the men may be committing the acts of trapping, amputating and skinning-alive innocents, but the women who wear and covet fur are fully participating in this barbarism.)

If you look for salvation in the members of the human species – you shall, you will be disappointed. Such is the nature of their nature – a tragedy of Evolution. Too bad that a larger percentage of humans perhaps took after the warring chimps unlike the peaceful bonobos.

Complete Compassion – the one that envelopes all living creatures on the planet is an exception, not the norm. True empathy and the will to fight for injustices in action is rarer than it’s presumed to be…..if the world was truly fair and ethical and kind – the man-made horrors that exist today and have always existed (remember the Dark Ages and Medieval times?) would not be there.

We are a deeply flawed species, despite all the capacities of the high-functioning human brain. As an organism, a group – we don’t have the efficiency of ants, we are incapable of the pure, heavenly, unconditional love that dogs possess and we lack the ability to get along simply and lovingly like so many animals effortlessly do (if you’ve ever watched the Odd Couples segment on the Dodo….a lighthearted segway to link here – but necessary if you need some mood-lifting therapy)

And so. Here we are…

Ten years spent.

Ten years flown by, or grinded by….a mere insignificant infinitesimally small fraction of a nano-nano-nano second if you think back to Carl Sagan’s Cosmic calendar….

….Whereupon I am supposed to wax eloquent about the last decade about personal milestones, while politely kvetching about its socio-political horrors. I should speak of the countries I have traveled to, the panels I have been on, the speeches I have given, the protests I have marched in, the stalwarts in their respective fields and/or the celebrities I have met and befriended and/or already have a close personal relationship with, the newspapers (or in this case the newspaper – a.k.a the New York Times -) that quoted me and invited me, the lectures I’ve given at some university, the publications I’ve featured in, the journalists and writers I’ve rubbed shoulders with and had deep conversations with, the shows I have seen, the shows I have attended as a guest, a TV appearance or two, the places I have been to, the projects I have undertaken….inflate my ego in some delusion of misplaced self-importance, oblivious of the insignificance of it all, really.

I am supposed to display it all in carefully curated and filtered photos or a collage, if you will, with eloquent brief descriptive paragraphs of gushing joy and humble-bragging vignettes – head cocked on the side, face semi-profile, smiling-yet-serene, hands on hip or neatly folder in front in an “I-am-woman-hear-me-roarrrr”-pose, displaying the societal “image” of success and relative well-being – some form of show-and-tell for adults in a hierarchical world – consisting both of ass-kissing hierarchies and status-conscious social stratification – they’ve/we’ve created for “signalling” (albeit such hierarchies in other forms exist in the animal world too – we may not be going around sniffing butts or chest-thumping…and while the format or expressions may be different – the goal is the same – to show dominance or fertility in one way or another)……

(Trivia wisdom: It actually requires a very healthy dose of self-esteem to be very content with humility & the perspective to laugh at the posturing or d*ck-measuring-contests and displays that go on. 😂😄
– 😏 You’re welcome!)

And in the same manner in which I should put forth my “shiny-happy-lookey-me-so-cheerful” appearance, I should neatly “edit” out those “darker” sides of life which may not look appetizing or appealing or appeasing enough in the past decade – the professional worries during the Great Recession at the start of the decade, being attacked on the street by a felon, the grief at the death of my dad, the days where certain challenges had to be worked out with my romantic partner, the ever-present very real sorrow I feel as I sob at the constant cruelty meted out on animals across the world (along with my fellow animal rights’ activists), those PMS-fueled painfully debilitating 48 hour-long migraine headaches, the fatigue of fighting against becoming jaded and cynical, the realization on how much I agree with (and always thought similarly, even when I’d become a Buddhist monk in the Himalayas for a few months in my very-early 20s) philosopher/author David Benatar when it comes to the case of (against?) human birth..and so many other factoids. No, those are “supposed” to be edited out in the “framing” of “happy-happy” times!

But then again, if the above paragraph were my only string of woes (amid others, too boring and silly to even post, let alone elaborate) how indeed fortunate I am! No truly, I am being serious and not sarcastic here….it is hard not to feel utterly grateful for being so much luckier both through chance, choices, work and circumstance than live in the horrors of reality that so many across the planet face. My limbs are intact, so far, I have food on my table, a roof over my head, educational degrees, I’m not living in a war zone, I can read, write, kvetch and have no addictions (other than an earlier voracious encyclopedia-reading and later Wikipedia-binging addiction) and am more than content with all that I own (to the extend that I have hardly bought anything new in items of clothing, bags etc. in the last 12 years or so), am grateful for my loving partner, for my parents who exposed me to good books early on, grateful for my friends and very grateful for certain wonderful former teachers and professors.

But then who says I have to speak, let alone write about those “happy” moments outlined earlier, and let alone post curated or non-curated photos? The only interlocutor here is me myself asking a rhetorical question in some neurotic loop in a vortex of cyberspace in a blogosphere that houses several millions or on social media which contains billions?

Technically, I am not required to speak of anything at all, to write nothing at all – except as my own outlet. And if I don’t take out the time to post and “curate” photos, it is out of my own reluctance, or more specifically – some languishing laziness – the lethargy of which I’m quite embarrassed by, afflicted as I am by it … a nonchalance that is part instigated by some pathological innate proclivity to procrastinate when it comes to personal preening (as well as several other activities) but mostly an astounding amount of laziness when it comes to organizing and selecting photos of fellow-humans – my own included.

Because, you see – the most liberating of mental and emotional Freedoms, one of the great secrets of happiness (which I’ve long known since childhood – maybe by default being quasi-Aspie-ish) is to not give an iota of weightage to seeking approval from other humans….to not care about impressing, of status-signalling, nor caring to rock the boat and calling out the so-called “polite” outward pretenses of others hiding their apathy or cruelty underneath.

I don’t really care for the approval of other humans. I prefer enjoying the approval of animals. 

If social media has shown us anything at all in the past decade – it is the immense amount of narcissism tied to keeping up appearances – an entire industry of (often idiotic) “influencers”- who don’t care about the suffering inflicted on billions of innocents across the world – as they pose and preen, puff-up and peddle – their “perfect” selfies and pouted portraits placed along backdrops – real or fake – as they wrap their bodies in the skin and hair of tortured innocents….peddle “lifestyles” under idiotic hashtags of #lifestyle as they espouse an overtly consumerist and materialistic “aspirational” persona that is often times as fake as it is destructive to the pristine landscapes that get defiled in the process. (Please read this excellent article on “selfie”-tourism: https://beside.media/dossier/spoils-of-nature-on-instagram/)

Which brings me to: The secret – or rather my personal secret of joy. Yes, yes, while I do have the true love of my human partner and the well-wishes of true friends – my secret of joy truly comes from not really relying on any human for my internal state of happiness. Never did, even as a child as much as was possible. I derive joy internally from that space of silence and solitude within and externally from the company of animals and trees. Anyone who has had or deeply loved a dog or cat or any other non-human family member will understand this. And even more so – those who have loved ALL animals – their love and empathy not just restricted to their pets.

Numerous studies (to be listed at a later date here) have shown the therapeutic, healing, incredibly powerful mental, physical, emotional benefits of the true angels in our midst – animals – and the TRUE giver of unconditional love – D-O-G.

Has there been anyone so innocent, so unconditionally loving, so supportive, so beautiful, so life-nourishing, so healing, so loyal as an animal – especially a non-human mammal – you’ve cherished or known?

Of course if you’re a parent or have a child – a lot of this may not be applicable, as while you may love and be loved by a family pet – you’ll always feel more bonded to your child. It is after all the strongest evolutionary bond, and placing the focus of one’s very life to the immediate needs and caring of one’s offspring has got to be the greatest distraction and savior from existential angst and pondering for sure, even while it exponentially increases material worry for provision and upkeep (if you are a good parent obviously). There is no time to think about many other problems of the world when one’s purpose is to to raise one’s dear child.

And yet, and yet….the same human parents who could never think of any harm befalling upon their own child often have no qualms of snatching away a milk-suckling baby from his/her mother – an innocent lamb, a baby calf, a little baby goat or a suckling piglet and putting them through unbearable harm and torture for eating their body parts! With no concern of the pain and suffering of their mothers who too are tortured, miked dry and brutally killed off! Have you ever wondered just how barbaric the process is? They are fellow mammal babies and mothers for goodness’ sake. And yes, they absolutely DO feel the same feelings of love and bonding to their children as you do and unbearable physical pain when slaughtered.
Evolve. Indeed – Evolve already!

All these gentle creatures ever wanted was just to live and to love and be free and the human species decided to take away even that basic right from them. (Yes, carnivore animals do hunt in nature – but…just binge watch BBC Earth’s Planet Earth series to realize the very STARK difference between how they do it vs. how humans do it if you don’t know so already. Also, unlike big cats and other carnivores we certainly do not require meat to survive.)

But to return to the point of the innate love humans feel for their children – for those who relate with Benatar’s views (a few quotes here: https://bit.ly/39BcVRS and feel ambivalent about parenthood, you know what I mean. To quote Anatole France: “Until one has loved an animal a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.”

But though animals bring so much joy with their very sweet dispositions and presence, there again is the source of my great sorrow and for those like me….for when you love animals and trees you feel that unbearable pain when you see their deaths and their suffering and worse, feel the helplessness when you can’t stop it all….and in many ways you are tied to that pain forever…until it is your own time. An existential certainty tied to love and pain. To attachment. To bonding.

At least you know that your dog will never be disloyal….something which cannot be said even about human childre

And so, as the last teen decade ends – the decade of Haitian earthquakes, Filipino typhoons, Australian wildfires, Brazil’s Amazon burning and depleting, BP’s and other “natural” gas companies’ oil spills, the Arctic melting, civil unrest, the rise of right-wing populism, the ever-present terrorist bombings by fundamentalists of all kinds around the world, of psychopathic world leaders and their army of Orcs, of Orange idiots and power-hungry dictators, of divisiveness and irrationality, of increasing populations in many places with decreasing population in others, with uprisings of concerned citizens who are much younger than the elder-folk but generally far more aware of the science of climate change and our biodiversity’s degradation, of the ever-increasing shortages of resources, of territorial conflicts, the humanitarian crises of refugees and migrants only increasing around the world (and obviously the torture of animals which I don’t see ever ending – for if there is one thing in common among people of all races, regions, countries, religions (except Jainism), ethnicities around the world – except for the minority who have evolved enough to be truly kind – it is the horrendous apathy and psychopathy meted out on animals) – just remember that environmentally, and let’s accept it – the world won’t get any better. We’re past the tipping point (https://www.spiegel.de/…/is-it-too-late-to-save-the-climate…)

Short of some scientific miracle – that fundamentally exorcises the cruelty and greed and stupidity of the human species – the pillage of our natural landscapes and our wild and domestic animal-world will not stop in the future. Even if certain states or cities bring in more ethical regulations just like a few recently have (finally having developed some awareness thanks to the relentless work of activists), there are vast swaths of entire countries and people, who, well – really don’t give a damn about their flora and fauna. Sad, but completely true.

I so admire the brave and wonderfully optimistic scientists, designers, ecologists, inventors and doers who are bravely trying in so many ways to improve or heal our ecosystems. And I salute the medical scientists throughout history who substantially worked to alleviate physical human suffering….and yet, how sad it is that in a resurgence of anti-science, anti-intellectual, anti-kindness demagoguery of the ever-increasing masses who exhibit stronger traits of dumbness, cruelty and/or both – there is a denial of the wisdom of proven science – the very science that doubled their life-spans…..

Is it wrong for me to sometimes wonder if humans should have ever come into existence at all?

Is is wrong for me to often state that I so wish that Evolution had stopped at the Bonobos?

Is it wrong for me that when I hear of self-induced “selfie”-deaths occurring by slippage or mauling, I say under my breath: “Darwin” (as in the Darwin Awards.)

Is it wrong of me to have a fantasy that somehow the human species had evolved in a way that it could be fertile only every 10 years only twice in their lifetime? I mean they could have sex whenever they chose but except for once or twice in their life they would be sterile the rest of the time? 

Obviously I’m not asking for anyone’s opinion of whether my rhetoric is right or wrong. I already know the answer 

For many of us who live in the USA, it was one of the darkest days in American history when the vomitous Orange Goon became Peesident.

But for those who have studied Ecology in-depth (myself included) the dice had already been cast when Al Gore lost the crucial election in 2000 thanks again to the outdated Electoral College system and the infamous Florida recount. Because he knew the precariousness of our environmental fragility.

The ultra-capitalist ruthlessness of Reaganism (not that morbid Stalinesque-style socialism or Maoist Communism are any better) had already set in motion much of the damage that unbridled greed would cause, but Gore at least understood the science behind climate change. He would have worked for environmental protectionism and conservation which he continued to do even without holding political office.

Instead, the devastating Bush Jr. years and its resulting chaos, wars and reversal of environmental policies, followed by Obama’s luminous personal presence and intellect – which brought back a glimmer of Hope – (but sadly most of his time in office spent in cleaning up and recovering from the mess of the Bush years with antagonistic opposition from a Republican House and Senate because the idiotic (yes in this case) and complacent liberals had not turned up in the midterms to vote for the Democrats) – was followed by the Army of Orcs installing their Orange sociopath-moron in the White House despite him losing the popular vote in 2016, fueled by their hatred for a far superior Black President and their misogyny against a whipper-smart (albeit with past political baggage-thanks-to-husband) woman candidate.

Trump is the ultimate rabid bull in the porcelain shop of our fragile ecosystems – which had already been subjected to cracks from years in advance and harmed even more once Gore lost in 2000. (Let me not even get into animal-rights issues in this paragraph, because we already know the truth on that.) If you don’t have eco-anxiety already, which several ecologists and land planners had for eons – then I assure you – following long-time environmentally-aware actor Leonardo DiCaprio’s facebook or instagram feed is sure to give you Eco Depression. Because the latest news stories about our depleting landscapes and fauna are always on his feed. One may choose NOT to see that of course, but avoiding reality won’t necessarily change Reality.

The precipice has been reached.

The only way is a wild ride as the roller coaster hurtles downwards, and then hopefully (hoping against Hope) perhaps, perhaps it rides up again? Humans won’t go extinct – fear not. They are far too resilient and far too numerous. Like in earlier times and in the past century – the innovations of a few in the future will carry on the survival of the multitudes. The plot-lines of Sci-Fi movies like “Elysium” will likely be a reality, albeit conditions in “The Road” are just as likely while “Idiocracy” turned out to be the most prophetic of all.

No, our species won’t go extinct. It is too resilient – or rather with too much of a killer’s or psychopath’s survival instinct. But what it will do is drive most of the rest of our beautiful, unique, innocent life forms to extinction. It already has done so for millions. And it will only continue to do so.

Until then, all you can do is choose Kindness. And choose to fight against barbarism. Because every individual act of kindness counts. Every drop counts. Believe it. After all, it is a multitude of drops that make the ocean.

Every plastic bag NOT taken from the grocery, every act of not creating waste, every act of ethical ecological responsibility counts.

Make that choice to not endorse the murder and torture of absolute innocents; to not pollute the planet with more plastic; to reuse clothing; to sip from the cup and not use plastic straws; to stop rabid consumerism, your lust for crystals and diamonds; your lust for always bigger, for more, more, more…the list goes on and it’s simple (https://bit.ly/35bzMjD); to choose ethics over greed and shallow posturing.

Is that really that hard to do? 

Here’s to #2020 ahead and to 2020 hindsight.

**************

 

Choose Life

As 2020 comes in, if you haven’t already -Choose life over death; choose compassion over torture…. ……and you don’t need Paul McCartney or Prince or Mr. Rogers or Benedict Cumberbatch or Peter Dinklage or Jon Stewart or Joaquin Phoenix or Anoushka Shankar or Billie Ellish or Natalie Portman or Carl Lewis or Venus Williams or Martina Navratilova or Novak Djokovic….you get the point – many others who do it for the animals and/or their health – to say so. 😄 Basically, if your brain’s not wired like a psychopath or Narcissist and if functioning properly in the empathy-area – watching any animal raising+slaughtering or fur video or dairy industry calf-killing should make you reconsider partaking in this heinous abhorrent theriocide…. But if even after knowing/seeing, it doesn’t rankle the empathy area in the brain – then, well – no words really. (And no – those who say they love their dogs and cats – but are absolutely okay wearing fur and eating animals who are intelligent, compassionate mammals just like their dogs and cats are just plain hypocrites – yup – pretty much) (Won’t post horrific slaughterhouse videos obviously – as there are SO many truth-exposing vids and even documentaries out there – but you can always see where your meat and fur and down and fancy croc+ostrich/lamb/calf leather purses or Ugg boots come from – straight out of the worst horror shows on earth involving the horrendous torture of absolute innocents in the most heinous ways. For those who are not hypocrites or apathetic you can go to Mercy For Animals or Anti-Fur Society or Animal Save Movement and several others. There is no shortage of information. ) …and if you’re of an older generation – be prepared one day when your grand children and Gen Z – most of them way more aware and FAR more outspoken than older generations of the heinousness of the meat and fur industry – look at you in disgust one day and ask you: “Mom/dad/grandpa/grandma how COULD you?!!??? How COULD you – you horrible, disgusting, cruel people?!! You ruined the planet for us! You eat innocent BABIES!! You wear the fur of dogs skinned alive!! You’re cruel beyond words!! You’re cruel beyond words…” #ChooseLife #ChooseCompassion #ChooseTRUELOVEforALLanimals 🍏🍊🍋🍎🥦🍇🥭🌶🌽🍆🍅🥕🍐🥑🍉🥒🍍🍒🍑🥂🍾🍷

 


* Calendars from various systems:

2019 in various calendars
Gregorian calendar 2019
MMXIX
Ab urbe condita 2772
Armenian calendar 1468
ԹՎ ՌՆԿԸ
Assyrian calendar 6769
Bahá’í calendar 175–176
Balinese saka calendar 1940–1941
Bengali calendar 1426
Berber calendar 2969
British Regnal year 67 Eliz. 2 – 68 Eliz. 2
Buddhist calendar 2563
Burmese calendar 1381
Byzantine calendar 7527–7528
Chinese calendar 戊戌年 (Earth Dog)
4715 or 4655
— to —
己亥年 (Earth Pig)
4716 or 4656
Coptic calendar 1735–1736
Discordian calendar 3185
Ethiopian calendar 2011–2012
Hebrew calendar 5779–5780
Hindu calendars
 – Vikram Samvat 2075–2076
 – Shaka Samvat 1940–1941
 – Kali Yuga 5119–5120
Holocene calendar 12019
Igbo calendar 1019–1020
Iranian calendar 1397–1398
Islamic calendar 1440–1441
Japanese calendar Heisei 31 / Reiwa 1
(令和元年)
Javanese calendar 1952–1953
Juche calendar 108
Julian calendar Gregorian minus 13 days
Korean calendar 4352
Minguo calendar ROC 108
民國108年
Nanakshahi calendar 551
Thai solar calendar 2562
Tibetan calendar 阳土狗年
(male Earth-Dog)
2145 or 1764 or 992
— to —
阴土猪年
(female Earth-Pig)
2146 or 1765 or 993
Unix time 1546300800 – 1577836799

“Stay Weird”

September 1, 2015. In the past couple of weeks, this gem of a 4-minute video from Canada has been doing its rounds on the web. It’s a video posted as a farewell by the CBC Radio show “Wiretap” which ended after 11 seasons. Created by Jonathan Goldstein, a former producer of This American Life, WireTap invited audiences to “eavesdrop on a mix of funny, thoughtful, and unpredictable stories and conversations.” The Montreal Gazette called the show “something between borscht-belt comedy and Franz Kafka.”

“How to Age Gracefully” was originally an episode that kicked off the show’s tenth season on September 6, 2013. In it, people between the ages of 5 years to 90 years old shared their wisdom about growing up — and it was as witty as powerful. Goldstein remarked that the concept seemed to have stuck with people; so he and the show’s team decided the best send-off would be to invite listeners down to the CBC and make the premise of that episode into a video. 

If my readers get the chance, do pick up a copy of Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert’s book “Stumbling on Happiness.” Among its many insightful observations there is one that perhaps correctly notes that each individual person may think that he/she is utterly unique (which in a sense everyone is at a DNA level) but in truth how we feel or question or ruminate later in life in fact can and will be very, very similar in manner and kind to those who are like us in personality, but are much older than us. So a good way to deduce how your future self may feel/regret/question/wonder is by asking someone who is older than you, yet with a similar outlook, attitude, profession, upbringing, preferences and belief system, and find out how they feel at their age and what they would have told their younger selves.

In that sense, other than its charming premise and real life characters, the video “How to age gracefully” is a simple, minimalist yet powerful and poignant philosophical vignette shining a light on existentialism and what it means to grow up or grow old or to keep “growing” with age.

Make sure to watch till the very end ;)


Unconditional Love

On a late December evening in 2002 just before Christmas vacation started, I brought my little Moitié home.

Earlier that afternoon I had decided to give myself a little Christmas gift after a year of excruciating hard work at one of the city’s largest and busiest architecture and planning firms. At the Papineau Veterinary Clinic in Montreal, they have cats of all ages for adoption. The little 7 week old kitten – half black, half white – which they had found abandoned when he was even younger immediately won my heart with his affectionate demeanor. Within seconds of holding his little fluffy body in my arms, he broke out into a loud purr. He had found his home.

Later that evening I returned to make the payment of $89 and take him home in a cat carrier. “Home” was a cavernous 2 bedroom apartment next to the Oratorie St. Joseph  on Montreal’s Queen Mary street where I lived with my then-partner Guillaume – a successful lawyer now with his own practice, but at the time working on his Bar exams. We were both in our 20s, full of youthful optimism and naïveté, the world before us and not in the least aware of the twists and turns in our life that the little cat would be directly affected by.

On exiting his carrier, immediately the kitten started rubbing against both of us, unable to stop giving and wanting affection. All kittens are cute, but it was easy to see that this little one was exceptionally cuddly. Our other cat Biloo, a beautiful Maine Coon, around a year and half old which we’d both chosen together in the summer of 2001 to celebrate a year since our first meeting, had always been independent and was not exactly a cuddler, so this little one with a white dot at the end of his black tail was an instant heart-warmer. We decided to name him Moitié-Moitié (for the pronunciation- here) or “half-half” as he was half black and half white and was justly dividing his time nuzzling between both of us.

Moitié would go on to accompany us as we moved to the house we bought six months later in Montreal’s south shore with a big backyard and swimming pool. He loved the outdoors, and it soon got impossible to let both cats stay at home, as their exploratory instincts had taken over.

Biloo would die shortly after, hit by a horrible speeding car in the early morning in the fall of 2003 when she was making her way back home – and it would be eighteen hours before we’d discover her hiding, painfully injured but still alive, rush her to the vet, and be told that the best thing was to euthanize her. For years, it would remain an incredibly traumatic and painful memory in my life. Pets have that effect on us. They love us so innocently, so unconditionally, so simply…..anyone who has lost a pet knows how hard it is, and even more so, if the death was a violent or painful one.

Through it all, Moitié continued to love us, heal us. He was one of those cats who liked sleeping tightly right next to you, loved snuggling and sitting on your lap, and head-butting, licking or nipping like a pure eternal fountain of love and affection. He stayed on with Guillaume when I moved to Florida for a new job, with questions suspended around our relation, as quite frankly – I had reconsidered it by now due to sheer exhaustion as I was working crazy hours, while he was still getting his ropes around law. And there were other issues – which in retrospect were so minor, that they could have been easily worked out. Love or a lack of love as well as chemistry had never been an issue though, nor had there been any incompatibility in literary, artistic or intellectual tastes, as all those fundamental aspects we shared in plenty, and I am quite lucky to have been loved so deeply and strongly by a great person. It was more his extreme possessiveness and most of all, inability to understand the crazy working hours of the architecture world. Instead of loving support, there used to be constant rages against my working late, the long hours before deadlines, the loss of vacation time. I had no choice as he was still an intern, and we needed my job to keep going. Architecture hours are truly brutal and it would be several years before I would question the masochism and slavish workaholic brutality of my profession, and wake up to smell the coffee and look beyond the bubble architects lived in, but, alas – back then neither of us could understand the other’s point of view.

So when I moved to South Florida in early 2006, it made sense that Moitié should stay back with Gui as he had grown more attached to him as in his kitten days it had been Gui who had spent more time at home while I was at the office. In 2004, soon after his internship, he had refused an offer to join that firm as an associate and instead decided to start his own law firm which had only led to an increased workload for me as now I was working as an architect by day and moonlighting as a legal assistant at night, helping build up a business, where failure was not an option. Gui had rented an office on Montreal’s Rene Levesque Boulevard, but the pressure and exhaustion had caught up with me and I was ready to leave to be on my own now, to have my own metaphorical “space” to grow individually. It was a sad, uncertain period for us, and Moitié comforted him unconditionally to the point that Gui would joke that all his inheritance would one day go to the cat. We sold the house we’d bought and now had our own apartments in our own respective cities. On every visit back to Montreal I would run to hug and spend time with the little fella, who had never forgotten his mommy.

When Gui decided to leave Canada to open a second office in south-east Asia in early 2007, he handed the kitty over to his twin and his girlfriend. The cat must have been confused and devastated. He had known no others except Gui and me. It took him a while, but soon enough, he was giving his love to Raphael and Marie.

In mid-2007 they all bought a beautiful duplex I had picked out, the twins deciding to live in the same building, or at least renting the upstairs when Gui was away while Raph and Marie would live downstairs. When I returned back to Montreal – there was Moitié – affectionate as ever, fatter, wiser and giving love to all who came his way, even to my grouchy new cat Mojo – who had been adopted after being found starving and abandoned in a garbage dump in Fort Lauderdale, along with his siblings locked up in a box. Moitié in the meantime had survived many adventures, disappearances (when he ran away from the twin for a month), break-outs (when he found a way out from a basement heating room to escape in the bitter Canadian cold for 14 days and lived outside till our return from a vacation in Cancun) and many other ups and downs in his kitty life.

On this return, I stayed on for another 18 months much of which, from the early summer of 2008, I spent in an apartment on the top of the Mount Royal Summit Park (on Ridgewood avenue) and resumed working at a distinguished firm I’d worked at since 2004. The housing recession had started to strike much of the US, and Canada had a far more stable job market at the time. Gui and I figured out our relationship and finally split on very amicable terms and moved on with new partners in new countries – he deciding to spend the major part of each year in Asia and me moving to Cambridge in 2009 and eventually to New York.  As I had already spent some years in Asia, prior to meeting him, I didn’t feel like going back there again, while for him it was a fascinating novelty. While we had “officially” or legally split in 2006, this time any strong lingering emotional ties were cleared up, and boundaries that reinforced mutual respect towards each other and to our new partners further strengthened. We still remain professional trusting friends, and on my trips back to Montreal, I’m always invited to stay at his mother’s or at his twin’s – and they both extend the invitation even to my present partner.

Moitié stayed back with the twin after our split and would later even become a patient and loving pet to the little baby girl that Raphael and Marie-Claude would have in 2011. He was well-known in the neighborhood as a loving, peaceful cat, a gentle soul who liked taking strolls through connecting backyards, protective of new kittens and ready to take on any feline bullies.

He was there to comfort me when I returned deeply hurt after receiving the insulting rage in a supposed meeting for a long overdue in-person  “apology” by a cruel individual in October 2010; he had always been there whenever I used to come home exhausted from a day in the office; he was always there to greet me every time I would visit Montreal,  a can of his favorite cat food in my hand, my pace escalating with excitement and anticipation as I walked round the corner towards the duplex, crying out “Moitié, Moitié” as he would come running from wherever he was like a faithful little dog.  And he had been there, as a steady anchor, for all the other humans in his life, nuzzling, cuddling, always demanding and giving affection, with dog-like loyalty yet in full feline grace and elegance.

Cats on average live for about 15-18 years. Moitié was only a little over 11 years old.  So it was with a jolt of shock when Sunday night I was forwarded a mail from Raph to Gui about the sudden demise of this little feline angel. They had found him paralyzed in half his body in the bedroom on their return home from an afternoon out. He had suffered a stroke.  After careful consideration, the vet’s advice and several hours in the clinic they had opted for euthanization. He died in their arms, purring and rubbing against them till the last moments before falling asleep forever. Living in New York, I had last seen him only several months back during a summer visit to Montreal. Little did I know it would be for the very last time.

Tears and sadness at the pain of loss have engulfed me since the news. Guilt as well….wondering if I should have moved him with me to Cambridge, to New York…..but then he really loved his backyard and the house in Montreal and he would cry and bellow whenever he was moved to a new place (had tried that) and was a creature of habit. He was happier where he was. And what guarantee was there he wouldn’t have had a stroke at that age anyway?

I beat myself up with all the possibilities (as unfortunately I often tend to be quite hard on myself at times), was upset for a while wishing they’d informed me earlier so I could have rushed to Montreal to see him one last time, but then finally reconciled that what happened was probably the kindest and sanest option – that at least he had not been killed by some car and died without being found and painfully bleeding. After a long phone conversation with Marie on Thursday other facts started to bring in some peace, despite the sadness. At least the stroke had occurred at his home, not outside, where the paralysis would mean that he would freeze to death, unable to walk in the -25 Celsius Canadian winter that week. It had always been a concern of mine – that such an incredibly loving and affectionate kitty should be near his loved ones in his last moments. And in that respect – his death had been peaceful, relatively painless and dignified. Guillaume was perhaps the most devastated as the cat had been like his son. He is still inconsolable, breaking out in tears in the middle of the day in his office, and buried with guilt wishing he had never left the cat and moved away to Asia. He had thought the cat would live for 20 years so when he returned back full time in another 3 years, he would be reunited with his “son.” Alas, that was not to be. Fortunately he had been able to spend three weeks last Christmas with Moitié during a trip back to Canada.

Animals come into our life, mostly the mammals we have as our pets, they give us irrevocable love, ask no questions, pass no judgment, spend the day waiting for us to return home, all they ask for is to be fed and walked, loved and caressed and in return they give us the most unconditional and loyal love we will ever know or experience in our lifetime… They remind us over and over again the simplicity and beauty of life and love, bereft of the complications, greed, power-wars and duplicity of humans who have innumerable flaws and failings – especially when it comes to loyalty and unconditional love. Yes, no one can love you like a dog, a cat or a faithful pet. There is no substitute for that kind of joyous, simple, innocent and genuine  love.

We see all around us in our world (at least those who are introspective or meta-analytical to see) hypocrisies, superficialities, toxic attention-craving, ass-kissing hierarchies, injustices (tons of those committed against animals), online status-whoring among fame-and-validation-hungry people, narcissistic self-indulgence, mind-numbing idiotic “selfies,” pussy-footing political correctness where we’re disallowed to call a spade a spade,  and many more  widely accepted societal “norms” that make the mannerisms of the human race often seem so pretentious and repulsive at times.  I came to a realization a few months ago; it’s something  some others I know also believe in – something I used to feel as a kid too, but at some point I’d lost that wisdom: that I prefer to trust warm-blooded animals far more than humans; that I’d rather spend time with the innocents of another species than with some of the conniving, constantly self-promoting caricatures of our species…Being an introvert who loves solitude, and generally not very social (except in good company) that realization wasn’t hard to come to.  Moitié’s death and his legacy reminded me even more to focus on real life in all its textures and fragrances, instead of the virtual parody much of “life” has become these days with an overdose of excess-information-without-wisdom, quantity-without-quality..….

Spring will step into Montreal again this May, the last slivers of snow will melt and the tulip buds sprout, the birds will commence their singing again….but this Spring I will know that no pink-nosed Moitié will awaken from his lazy slumber to go out and play like he did every day.  Life will go on. Except someone will now live on only in memory and in the innocent love he brought to all whose lives he touched in his short time upon this earth. This Spring, the new grass in the backyard of that house will sorely miss the silent and soft steps of the most affectionate cat in the world that I ever knew and who will forever live on in my heart and who I’ll always deeply miss – mon meillieur minou Moitié.

*

What was up with February 9, 2014? That night I not only lost my beloved Moitié forever, early that week I received the news that on that same evening one of the kindest, gentlest, most beautiful and most unpretentious souls I had met in New York’s art world, Hudson – who ran Feature Inc. gallery – and was a breath of fresh air in the snooty art community, had also passed away.  He was only 63.  A New York Times article on his death: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/17/arts/hudson-gallerist-and-nurturer-of-artists-dies-at-63.html?_r=0

Hudson and I had connected instantly – from the first glance and further reinforced through our conversations. He was my kind of guy/human – solitude-loving, unpretentious, with good taste in art and ethics, and with “an enormously fine-tuned bullshit detector.” Humble yet firm, witty yet serious, energetic yet low-key – his innate authenticity and ethics shone through his gentle old-soul face. Every week I would receive his emails about the shows in his gallery and his opinions on art. It is with great sadness I will know that Spring will seep into New York City after this whitewashed winter, but Hudson will never be there in person again. One of the last remaining good ones…..He will be greatly missed. An apt eulogy written on him:

Seeing Out Loud: Remembering Feature Gallery’s Hudson

By Jerry Saltz

“Hudson — the founder of the Feature Inc. gallery, who went by one name — was one of the greatest of his generation, a generation that was rich in art-dealer talent. Feature opened on April Fool’s Day 1984 with a show of work by Richard Prince, and was eventually among the first to exhibit the art of Takashi Murakami, Raymond Pettibon, Tom Friedman, Charles Ray, B. Wurtz, Judy Linn, Richard Kern, Lisa Beck, Tom of Finland, and many others. Hudson was 63, but seemed timeless. He was one of the last of his kind, and among the smartest, wittiest, and most visionary gallerists I’ve ever known — old-school in that he almost seemed not to want to be a dealer. He just loved art and artists. 

The possessor of a sharp eye, an enormously fine-tuned bullshit detector, and an ability to disagree affably but firmly, he started in Chicago, then moved the operation to New York four years later, landing first at 484 Broome Street. Before that he’d been an artist and a performer and spent ten years as an administrator and curator in the not-for-profit sector. Hudson called his gallery Feature “as a way to deflect a personality from the gallery, an attempt to let the exhibitions be the focus. The structure of having several galleries simultaneously show differing exhibitions was my move against stardom and a push for pluralism and multiplicity … it is the artists who lead the way. Watch what they’re doing and you’ll see what is happening.” When it came to curators—many of whom drifted away from his gallery over the past decade — he told the artist Dike Blair, “They should flee from hipness and the current notion of art as fun … What ever happened to the museum as a place of study, aesthetics, and the subjective, or the quiet time wandering about a museum deep in thought or ecstatic with emotion? Perhaps museums should institute one silent day weekly … curatorial positions should be created for those with training outside academia.” Amen.

At first he might be placed in the class of gypsy-dreamboat super-intelligent anti-gallerists like Colin de Land, Gavin Brown, and Michele Maccarone. But Hudson was more taciturn, detached, solitary. He avoided being the center of attention and was not social. He said that when he went home after hours, he didn’t read the paper or the internet and, except for listening to music, remained in total silence until the following day. “I prefer art that is complex and multi-focused,” he said. “Such work is, and probably always has been, out there, yet because it isn’t an easy read, or easy to explain. It rarely functions in the market in a very big way.”

Hudson. (Photo by Judy Linn)

Hudson. (Photo by Judy Linn)

“Unlike almost every other dealer I’ve ever known, Hudson sat at the front desk. No office walls separated him from the gallery. Getting a checklist or signing-in meant seeing him, as he was forever working — usually with a staff of one or two. His great director Jimi Dams left to form his own excellent gallery in 2005. Since then, it’s mainly been Hudson and the wholehearted artist Anne Doran. Once, when asked to comment on the architecture of other Chelsea galleries, he remarked, “Well, I wouldn’t exactly call it architecture. In scale, administrative layout, and personality — the suits — we see business at work, the corporate model, which I don’t find rewarding or wish to encourage.” Whenever I called late on summer weekends looking for information, Hudson always answered the phone himself, in the gallery.

It wasn’t until recently that Hudson participated in art fairs, saying, “We should all pay less attention to the salesmanship and showmanship of auctions and fairs, and, of course, be more aware of the not new and hot. Stop running around trying to see everything everywhere, and spend more time with the richness that is close to home.” Time eventually forced his hand, and over the past few years he did participate in a few, to fabulous effect. The first, I think, was at Zucher Studios on Bleecker Street where there were no more than a dozen other galleries, most lesser known. I bought two marijuana brownies from him for $25 each and gave them to my best stoner friend, who said they were divine and a great price. His fantastic booth at the Outsider Art Fair (Feature as an outsider!) was all tantric drawings by anonymous Indian artists.

I often saw Hudson early on Saturday mornings going around to other galleries. He saw a lot of art and had well-formed individual opinions on everything he saw. I learned a lot from him and stood corrected often. In the early 2000s, when photographic work dominated the scene, he called for a “moratorium on photography, especially art-directed snapshot-quality images of low life, especially when class, gender, and sexuality are pictured …. and avoid the notion of the largest possible photographs, particularly when laminated to Plexiglas. MoMA’s Gursky exhibition made me think that this guy makes great postcard images, and many of them actually would be more significant at that scale and in that form.”

He was ultra-aware of the shift in metaphysical control from artists and dealers to speculator-collectors and auction houses. He lost artists to bigger, slicker galleries. Still, few dealers have been more committed to and passionate about the artists they represent. In 2014, Feature is a special gallery of special artists: Always on the cutting edge, but always art-first. I often didn’t quite understand the work he showed. But — as with only a tiny handful of gallerists — I trusted him enough to make extra efforts to come to terms with it. I was sometimes sheepish around him, especially when I wrote about an artist and event I assumed he didn’t like. Even then, he was sweetly funny with his disapproval and scorn. He had nicknames for people. He called me “Salt shaker.” I knew this was a sly reference to the way I can get caught up in the flavorful hype and throw myself at, say, a performance by Jay Z. I’m told he could be quite harsh to artists who sent him unsolicited work that he didn’t like, writing notes that suggested why they might want to give up art. I’d love to do an exhibition or book of these letters and notes to artists. Hudson loved engaging with those who engaged with him. He was always available for conversation. I think I loved him. I know I’m in shock and despondent that he’s gone. The art world has lost a colossal spirit.”

*

Carl Sagan. Always….

Essential viewing…..For those times, when the inexplicable injustices of the world grip you (such as several recent miscarriages of justice in Florida’s legal system), for those tumultuous political/social times when a form of hateful discord grips people of different communities, colors and religions – and you understand the futility of such group-think, for the times you need answers or just peace or closure – helpless at your inability to reconcile with justified anger at certain man-made systems, for the times you wonder about your “place” in the world, for the times you need to get out of the abyss of excessive navel-gazing myopic views and understand the fallacies of our anthropocentric world; and for the times when the sheer scale of the Universe and imagining its immensity becomes akin to a spiritual experience……… For the times when perspectives of a wise and ethical astrophysicist, ecologist, anthropologist or scientist-philosopher, and based on proven facts, makes much more sense than any subjective opinions blindly followed……..For the times when knowledge sets one free, while ignorance merely buries.

carl-saganI feel very lucky to have been exposed to the work, shows and writings of Carl Sagan at an early age. What an incredibly wise man he was! Wish there were more objective scientist-philosophers like him. Wish he hadn’t passed away so soon.  When I met the “father” of landscape ecology research Richard T. T. Forman at Harvard in 2008, I gushed like a teenager. But wish I could have met Sagan, at least once, before he died. He was also one of those few great men, whose private conduct had integrity and ethics, and did not differ from his public image – a disparity oftentimes sadly seen in many creative or public figures who may seem very alluring from the outside, but have hypocrisies within. Carl Sagan even transcended that – by all accounts he was good, wise, humble and ethical, both publicly and privately. Yes, he truly was a great man.

Here are two well-made videos by a fan, with Sagan’s narration. There are many more videos of him out there, of course, and his must-have series “Cosmos” which is a testimony to the good that great and intelligent television shows can do, as opposed to the murk it more often churns out.

On my blogroll section is a link to “Carl Sagan quotes.” And a chapter from his last book can be found here: * Billions of stars * Billions of sports fans

Wishing you wisdom………and billions of warm wishes from the ravenous July heat of New York City.

Bonjour from Paris

montmartre steps

Paris. France. April 9, 2013. I have been travelling through various cities in Europe since mid-March, both for work and rest. This post is written from my current city – Paris;  sitting right next to the steps of Square Caulaincourt, Rue Lamarck, Montmartre. 

While in later posts, I shall post pictures from the travels, today marks the first death anniversary of my father, who passed away due to a sudden swift heart attack last year.  Youthful, hyper-active and conspicuously full of life – he remained that way right up till the very end – bursting with frank, undiplomatic outspoken chutzpah, never afraid to call a spade a spade, and  so vibrant that friends, neighbours and his loved ones still miss his vivacity and near-comical foot-in-mouth well-intended but bluntly-phrased verbal gaffes even today.

This morning I had a long talk with my mother – my parents had eloped and got married in their 20s and remained married till his death.  My mother had a Ph.D in Philosophy with a minor in Mathematics, and my father a Ph.D. in Geology with a minor in Physics. Definitely not the most diplomatic nor quiet person around, he complemented my mother’s calm, logical Spock-like reserve.  

I have to hand it to my parents though – that in all the years I know them – I never saw them have fights – no screaming drama, no loud vulgar expletives; no vindictive arguing, no throwing things – none of that; none at all. The occasional short argument for sure, which was usually over things related to infrastructure – such as a broken plumbing fixture, a fridge door accidentally left open too long – and that sort of thing – but never, never the bitter, screaming, shouting matches that I have sadly heard some of my friends say they witnessed among their own parents.

My father certainly loved my mother a lot – although he was self-centred and not a great planner. My mother loved him in her own deep and quiet ways. They had very different personalities, he a scientist/musician who went to work in management later, with a past in athletics and the arts and a straightforward candor; she a composed, complex woman who loved books and solitude, and had studied philosophy & mathematics only because due to the sexist Victorian attitude of her own father she’d been deeply disappointed for life that she was not allowed to enter Medical school despite acing in her school board exams…..

But somehow they made it work – first out of love and the rush of romance in their early years, next for their two children and raising a family; and finally out of the bond and habit that form in couples who have spent several decades together, and no longer can think of other options, but have become more like best friends. She still remains one of the calmest women I have known – stoic, pragmatic and perhaps too emotionally reserved and withholding, an incisive nag at times but very rare and far out in between. Drama and hysteria are as alien to her nature as the color blue to the planet Mars.  Sometimes I wish she would not be so detached and reserved, with a nigh-smugness at her own ability to be so.

My father – on the other hand – was warm, animated, gregarious, accident-prone, dramatic – a bit of a braggart – but a heart that was almost naive in a somewhat childish way of guileless goodness, and a simple, uncomplicated way of thinking. With a Frank Costanza-ish style of overtly hyperbolic gestures, there was never a dull moment around him. My mother’s smugness at her own calmness was matched only by my father’s joy for his own flair of unintended comedy and drama.

I realize now that I was raised by a math-whiz mother who was like a female Mr. Spock – a Ms. Spock, and a father who was a lot like Captain Haddock (from Tintin) minus the swearing and drinking mixed with a generous dose of Seinfeld’s Frank Costanza (minus the “bro” or the “stopping short” antics). He was a teetotaler, as alcoholic drinks gave him non-stop hiccups – much like me – except I can manage a good glass of wine, and an occasional cocktail, but anything else, including aerated drinks sets off those damned and comical hiccups.

My father playing his Stradivarius. My first memories of him, perhaps even from the womb, are of him playing his violin. The Dad with the Strad. When I visited my parents in 2009 I made them tell me their entire story of love, courtship, elopement, marriage, trials, tribulations, togetherness. And it was beautiful how happy and excited they got as they narrated their tale full of plot twists and turns. He had wooed my mother by fiddling music for her when he first met her some fifty years ago. It was love at first sight, he said.

My father playing his Stradivarius. My first memories of him, perhaps even from the womb, are of him playing his violin. The Dad with the Strad. When I visited my parents in 2009 I made them tell me their entire story of love, courtship, elopement, marriage, trials, tribulations, togetherness. And it was beautiful how happy and excited they got as they narrated their tale full of plot twists and turns. He had wooed my mother by fiddling music for her when he first met her some fifty years ago. It was love at first sight, he said.

On the night of his death, I was attending a concert by Anoushka Shankar in New York City – whose father’s music had been introduced to me at a young age by my own father.

On the first anniversary of his death – I am enclosing this mesmerizing concert – the one she played at Lyon, France. It was her exploration of the Indian gypsy roots of Spanish Flamenco music. Unquestioningly one of the most elegant, exotic and beautiful series of compositions I have ever listened to.

Lyon – a city not far from the one from where I am writing this…..

Strangely, just as my dad passed away a couple of days around Ravi Shankar’s birthday, the latter passed away that same year in December a couple of days before what would have been my father’s birthday. I had met both of them a few years back in Montreal, and coincidentally share the same birthday as Anoushka – June 9th. 

To a rainy evening in Paris, the timeless winding streets of Montmartre,  to flickering lights against a wet dark Spring sky, to love and loss, to friends and family, to life and travel; to new beginnings and forever-goodbyes……..

To closure and to letting go.

To memories – which can never be forgotten. And to the seeds from whence we come from – before we disperse like nomads into the sands of time or scatter like dandelion clocks unto the winds of change……….

*

Related post:

“In memory of my Dad’s birthday”

And still my sitar gently weeps.”

and “The Four Mothers”

Overdosing on Facebook

I recently saw this thoughtful, minimalist and well-done little video made by a young  Scottish English teacher addressing ‘Facebook addiction’ from which he himself ‘recovered’ and is now traveling to various countries instead of being sucked by the social network Giant. Facebook addiction (along with texting of course) has become prevalent amongst many teenagers (and adults as well.) Pass it on to those who might need it or to concerned parents of  teens who did not even know of life before Facebook existed. Pass it on. Without judging though.

Although it is ironic that the cameraman (but not the protagonist) of this video has a facebook page, this is a relevant little video, especially at a time when online narcissism has been glamourized to mind-blowing proportions. And unless they are truly marketing, like some older professionals use facebook to do, an average young adult now without even having traveled or worked much has on an average anything between 500 to 5000 “friends.”

I do have an account under my real name.  Joined very late comparatively, though I used to walk past  for over 18 months along the streets and  wrought-iron fences of Cambridge that Jesse Eisenberg in The Social Network ran across in the film’s opening sequences. I only befriend those I know, those who I have met in the real world and those who are my real  friends and well-wishers or at most have common friends I know who are working in architecture or music. After all, how can you deny when architect  Ben Van Berkel himself sends you a friend request?  (On the other hand, okay, there are about 10 people on my list I haven’t ‘met’  in person but responded to their requests as they were architects and composers, with whom I shared common friends and we exchanged mails first so we were not total strangers. 10 ‘unmet’ on a list of 180 is not bad.) Yes, I do turn down many ‘requests’ but send a polite mail first to explain why – it is not personal, just a silly principle I’ve to follow to keep privacy and to an extent online security. I will also admit that I have not befriended those who were mean or bullied me back in school and now suddenly send me requests after years goodness knows for what reason.  (It is not because I hold any grudge, far from it since there’s nothing more liberating than forgiveness and equanimity –  it is because I believe that my private profile and photos are meant for real friends, not nosy priers or voyeurs or those who never cared in the first place but now are curious to find out about my life.) They are free to see my professional work site, but the personal is private.

It is okay to be all open too, perhaps to keep all your personal content public as many do on FB and I commend those who are brave or inclined enough to do so – privacy, spamming and security concerns be damned. Come to think of it, even this blog is in many ways a personal muse but one I willingly share in public. But for some reason, I draw the line for Facebook. FB is a convenient invention, but it is not our Master nor our tell-all diary. And one always has the choice on how one wishes to use or not use that networking tool. Perhaps there is something alluring to have the freedom to suddenly ‘befriend’ anyone from anywhere on this planet, to be on a network that has over 500 million people (and several fake profiles on it as well,) and no one should be judged on their choices – but every person is different and every person has a choice on how much they want to share.

And as this video rightly reminds – announcing every little mundane detail of your life as a ‘status update’ that millions of facebook users do is something the world has lived without for centuries and still can. True, FB is a great connecting tool, it has both pros and cons and is a great way to share information, but really – saying what you eat, when you pooped, how long you slept are details we can do without.

There is a whole big wide wondrous world out there that is not virtual. Yes, I do get the irony of writing this through a virtual medium. But still…..

Go out and see that world before it is too late.

Live. Laugh. Love. Learn.

Really.

You do not have to follow Ross or the message he gives in this simple  effective little video. You do not have to focus on how many times he licked his finger. But you can stop an addiction with determination, any unhealthy addiction if you have one.

Enjoy!

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“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”

– Ralph Waldo Emerson (May 25, 1803 – April 27, 1882)
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“The World is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.”

– St. Augustine (November 13, 354 – August 28, 430)

(Hey – if this dude Augustine could travel waaaaay back then, what’s your excuse to not get out into the world and away from that computer screen? And by ‘travel’ I don’t mean package tours in Disney resorts, but real, visceral, tangible travel. Good for the bones, good for the brain.)

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Related post: (1) Mountain Madness and  Thinking in Pictures

(2) Is Facebook making some people sadder with too much unrealistic ‘comparing and judging’ or an online version of ‘keeping up with the Joneses’? A Stanford University studyA Slate online article – Here.

A Time magazine article on the same – Here

Be happy, not envious, for others’ joys. Just. Stop. Comparing. And see how liberating it is. (I haven’t for years after a wise teacher in my school once told the class in junior high – ” Self-improvement starts when you do not compare with others, but compare your self with yourself.”)

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Once in a lifetime

ONCE IN A LIFETIME

“That it will never come again is what makes life so sweet.”

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That it will never come again

Is what makes life so sweet.

Believing what you don’t believe

Does not exhilarate.

– Emily Dickinson (1830 – 1886)

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New York. 20. 10. 2010. If you ever get a chance, please take the Amtrak train from Montreal to New York in mid-October. It is certainly one of the most picturesque and magical rides you will ever take in this lifetime (or $ 60 well spent) – it is literally like winding through a painting enriched by spectacular fall colours and the breath-taking beauty of Lake Champlain along the shoreline of which and the Adirondack mountains the tracks traverse by. A long ride, but one that leaves you fulfilled and overwhelmed by the gorgeousness of nature’s colours and serenity; and the fragile-but-oh-so-beautiful gift of human life. As I’ve oft-repeated, it is one of those journeys that is a reminder once again that “We all have the right to feel sad at times, but we do not have the right to feel ungrateful.” Because, compared to what luck could have handed us, we are so, so fortunate………

The sweetness of life comes from days lived well, with the decision to follow the best of  rational ethics and integrity one is possible of practicing; of acts of love and kindness to others without losing wisdom or the logic to analyse and create and to think independently and not fall prey to hypocrites; the sweetness of life comes from the knowledge that at the end of each day the only person you need to stand before and answer to is your own conscience; to look back at a life led without hypocrisy, where you adhere to integrity if only for your own sake; and to know before you fall asleep each night that you have never knowingly hurt anyone for it takes very little to be kind, to think before you speak; to know that we are so lucky in comparison to far larger problems, injustices and sadness in the world and therefore to complain a little less and at times, a lot less; to know the truth of global realities and the reality of our own  strengths and weaknesses; to give a thank-you to the inventors and minds which made our infrastructures and taken-for-granted comforts possible; to thank the hearts of the gentle souls amongst us who are capable of healthy love; and to always remember that because life comes, but only once, to make the most of it.

Trust me on this one, for I’m on my fifth life now through four brushes with death in my past, and every day lived reminds me of life’s sweetness. We go through trials and troubles, fight back or climb out of abysses, but at the end it is only those who love the gift of Life and the responsibility of integrity and authenticity that gift entails, who know the pleasure of the sweetest of slumbers: the true exhilaration of a clear conscience and a life led without regrets. And with the strength to take full responsibility for every action you have committed or will commit once you have left the realm of childhood. The peace of mind for staying on-track on that one single choice? Priceless.

A typical view from the Montreal-New York train in Autumn. (photo by Kevin Ebi. livingwildnreness.com)

The Montreal to New York Amtrak route

Bicycle Alert: On the topic of land travel, check out the tales of an interesting and friendly young Franco-Swiss adventurer I met in Old Montreal who has been traveling along various continents of the world since the age of 32 on his bicycle for the last several years. He had just finished a tour across Central and South Asia and was setting off across America. Marco Ausderau : http://acrosscontinents.ch/Navigation/histoire-d-un-reve?set_language=fr&cl=fr

One of  the quotes that inspired him to embark on this long journey is Antoine de St. Exupery’s words: “Fait de ta vie un rêve et de ton rêve une réalité.”

Memories of Montreal – un petit film

Montreal, Canada. 10-10-’10. I have been busy with my travels these past  several days and shall be traveling for a few more to come…..and Internet access has been sporadic and minuscule, at best. One of the joys of traveling and reconnecting with old friends and places in general is the humane factor of touch, sight, sound and smell which the virtual world, no matter how rich it can be, can never equal. The virtual at the end, serves only as the medium – the conduit through which the essence of the real can be captured only in bits and pieces on a two-dimensional plane.

So until I find the time to write a more reflective or analytical post, I’m re-posting an older article and video which had been, in essence, a quick ode to a city that has always remained dear to my  heart. On this trip, as I packed up the remnants of my existence here and found closure on many levels, I understood with some poignancy that it was indeed “Goodbye Montreal” and “Hello New York” for good. Time flies, people change, precocious girls we knew from our work days get married, have children; men we knew who carried an intense fire for living look beaten and broken in the grind of work life and compromises….those who thought they would live a ‘James Bond’ existence wake up to a reality of  ‘The Office’ (ah! mid-life crisis, or should I say mid-life acceptance, for many a man.)  A girl who was a sworn spinster is now married in a big Greek wedding with a baby on the way. A good architect friend who had the worst year of his life in 2008, is now not only on his best year but has become a successful theatre-actor on the side. Another who I thought would forever remain timid and servile has broken free and has his own firm.  A man who I thought had crazy intensity  ended up truly being intensely mentally crazy when I saw him again after two years. A girl I thought would never lose her integrity, I found, has now sold her soul in the name of society’s cliched definition of success……

We meet many, we lose a few, we remain static with some, we grow for, with and at times, away from others.  And for some like myself, sometimes looking back I have to confess (as a private joke that a few friends will understand) by fluke, I certainly was ‘Saved by the Bell’  in October 2008 in Montreal. Had it not been so, I certainly might not have perhaps found myself in Cambridge and subsequently in New York City. Thank you, Antonio Stradivari!

Life goes on, time never waits and all that is left behind are memories…….Yet for some places and people looking back at them never quite brings clarity – like looking at one’s past and hoping to get a balanced vision – yet instead it feels akin to when you open an old book and find inside its pages a pressed exotic flower from long ago and its faint scents and faded colours prevent detached objectivity.

But: We move on, thus. We must. We look back – sometimes with 20-20 vision, and at times with visions still blurred and foggy. Yet we move on. Or at least try our best. Or hobble on. Or, if we are lucky, sail smoothly away.

And oh yes – one more thing – xkcd-style. Just for the heck of it (or maybe it’s just all these cafes selling baguettes here.)  Either way:

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MÉMOIRES DE MON MONTRÉAL

(originally posted on May 25, 2010)

This is a short and quick film I made to capture some moments at my favourite city where I lived and worked for many years as an architect. I made this to celebrate both Montreal’s unique poignancy AND vibrancy.

Location: The film is based on my photographs through my years in Montreal. The apartment featured is on Ridgewood Avenue where my balcony and windows opened out into the forest of the Mont Royal Summit, behind the gigantic St. Joseph’s Oratory featured both in the early part and in the closing shot of the film. The ‘summit forest’ is the highest point of the city at the bifurcating median of the eastern traditionally ‘French side’ from the western ‘English side’ though of course in reality the city is entirely mixed and diverse. My apartment’s location enabled an incomparable view of the surroundings as well as the seasonal changes of the magnificent trees in its forested backyard. I lived in two different apartments over the years on the same street though I lived in other areas of the city as well, including the Plateau Mont Royal neighbourhood, in downtown Montreal, on the east side near the Village and also in the historic suburb of Vieux Longueuil. I’ve had 7 addresses during my years in the city.

The office featured in the film is of my architecture mentor Dan Hanganu on Rue Dizier.  Its arched windows looked out into the art galleries of Rue St. Paul. The three friends in the ‘four architects’ photo are Anca, Lucia and Athena (and no, we are quite the opposite of the self-absorbed, shoe-crazy, man-hungry, navel-gazing ‘sex and the city’ hyper-materialistic girls.) I met them while working at the historic multi-disciplinary and multi-national architecture firm Le Groupe Arcop one of whose founding fathers had a fellowship in his name at McGill university which I had been awarded more than a decade ago, not knowing then that some day I would go on to work at the firm he had founded. There are other pictures here of friends who are dear to me. I have added quite a few well-known streets and landmarks of the city as well as those places that are personally meaningful and memorable.

The repetition of the sunflowers in the clip is not just a reminder of the lively kiosks and flower shops dotted around the town (and the little herb and flower corner of my balcony), but also a representation of the human potential and inclination to seek and search for joy in life despite how gray the skies may become at times and…….well, because sunflowers are my favourite blossoms. I always say that no matter how sad a moment may be, looking at a ‘happy sunflower’ brings back the smile on my face. They just seem to be such sprightly optimistic flowers, following the light of the sun….

Music: The featured musical pieces on this video are ‘Oblivion’ (violin – Joshua Bell; bandoneon – Carel Kraayenhof) & ‘All of Me’ by Jazz great Lester Young (tenor sax), Teddy Wilson (piano), Jo Jones (drums), Gene Ramey (bass). Since I wanted to capture the paradoxical ‘poignant joyousness’ of the city, the first half of the film includes a heartfelt piece ‘Oblivion’ played by the versatile virtuoso Bell (whose movie The Red Violin’s ending culminates in this city and who I met in Montreal, so I thought it would be appropriate to place his rendition.) The second half of the film picks up the tempo, rhythm and joie-de-vivre unique to this belle ville and reminiscent in a very jolly 1950s tune ‘All of Me’ (composed by Gerald Marks & Seymour Simons) played by the jazz legend  Lester Young – which captures the spirit of the famous International Jazz Festival that Montreal hosts every summer and also the ambiance of its many cafes, clubs, youth culture, its ‘book capital’ status and bicycle and pedestrian-friendly street life.

Additional photography: Almost all the photographs used here are my own. The ‘night vision’ shots though hazy, I felt captured the lights, music and movement better of the city’s nightlife and festivals than clean ‘perfect’ ones taken with a camera stand. There are around 5 pictures featured here taken from Montreal tourism. And out of the total 160 photographs used here – 12 are from the collections of two friends who are extremely talented professionals and have their own studios and should be credited – Jessica Petunia and Robin Cerutti who are both Montreal residents

http://www.flickriver.com/photos/jessicapetunia/popular-interesting/

http://robincerutti.com/

The music in the video is beautiful when heard through the right speakers since a tiny mono speaker of a laptop cannot do justice to a big jazz band nor to a 1713 Stradivarius.

This is just a little personal ode to a city that has meant so much in my life and where, in many ways, an integral part of my mind, heart, soul and body will always remain, always belong, and live on through its multifarious memories.

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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



Anthem

A flock of Anser Indicus. These birds fly the highest altitudes on the planet, even migrating in flights above Mt. Everest.

Note: I am currently on a two-month trip driving from the U.S. east coast starting from Boston through to the mid-west and the western States. I’ll be in the Chicago area for quite  a while hoping to photograph many of Frank Lloyd Wright’s buildings, have already passed through small Amish towns in rural Pennsylvania, farm fields in Indiana, waved from a float as part of a 4th of July parade in a town in Wisconsin for a lark thanks to a strong-willed lovely lady who runs a dance academy (and pictures I hope to upload later should I find time – especially of innocent children and a fantastic Star Wars float), and then at some point will hopefully be off for a trip through the mountains and national parks in the Wyoming and Montana area and further. There will be long and deliberate stretches of time when I’ll be without any internet connection, far away from the world of humans,  so the blog posts will be sporadic and infrequent this summer. Have fun all, watching the World Cup semis & finals!  I’d love to see a Dutch-German one (my mom’s maiden family name is Dutsch – if that’s a clue ;-), but any other combos would be great too!

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As I post this today my heart is heavy with the appalling news of the mother Sakineh Ashtiani in Iran who is hours away from being stoned to death by a religious and judicial system that defies logic and humanity. It is a horrible blend of anger and helplessness one feels and wonders how can actions such as these be prevented from a grassroots level? How many more innocent lives will be taken as words are spoken, protests made in faraway lands yet little action is actually taken to prevent the deed? As people go about their daily lives obsessing about Blahniks and Benzes, bashing and insulting each other on virtual message boards, or picking on old objective harmless male film critics in liberal western countries to yell ‘misogyny’, this horrendous act of jaw-dropping REAL & ACTUAL misogyny and injustice will occur today. And like ostriches, heads will be buried in sands of escapism while Ashtiani’s serene face will be battered with stones of hatred and unfathomable injustice. Any society/societies in the world that allow evil like this to occur and yet claim the presence of some almighty benevolent God/Gods should do a check-up of their core values and rational mental faculties or rather lack thereof – for acts like these seem to be nothing more than ideologies used to profit the unchecked bullying by psychopaths.

http://www.cnn.com/2010/WORLD/meast/07/01/iran.stoning/

I post the rest with heavy hands

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ANTHEM

This is a poem I wrote to myself when I was 19 years old. It was part of a series of poems I wrote as an answer to personal ponderings. It was long before I had any boyfriend or would even fall in love – so the words were coming purely from the ways of social dogmas, facing bullying by the ‘mean girls’ and the general ways in which following one’s own ethics or callings or work or other hobbies were perceived by many others who understood the ‘language of groups’ much better than the voices of individualism. And for the times I didn’t give up and just focused on my goals no matter how tough it was. The words of the poem constituted my anthem and elixir through which I drank in strength when I needed it. (I’d started writing poetry as a kid but the early ones were mostly about nature, the skies and quizzical observations of human characteristics viewed during social events.)

Many years have passed and through time, despite their youthful and naive determination, whenever I read these words again, they  bring back the same sense of empowerment I’d felt while writing them. Later in my mid-20s, a beloved teacher from back in school asking for contributions to fill in the alumni publication liked this poem so much that it now stays framed on the wall in the entrance lobby of my former all-girls high school.  The words were not based on fantasy but on the reality of the life I had lived till then and the world I’d observed. And these words are not just for me, I share them freely and lovingly with every girl who has strived for strength and self-reliance no matter what she has faced in life, and no matter how many times she has been pushed down for having a sense of will and self-esteem – full, unfettered and vibrant within.

This is an anthem I now dedicate several years later from the time I first wrote it to every woman in the world and through the ages  who has stood for rational ethics for humanity and the natural world; to every woman who believed in her intellect and intelligence enough to seek answers through FACTS and truths based on reality rather than blindly follow irrational myths or ideologies; To every woman who has been mocked, ridiculed, bullied, insulted, pushed down, tortured for simply being herself and trying to do good even when it seemed to be against all odds; To every woman who has never ever indulged in using vampire hooks to induce pity, shame and guilt in others to ‘rescue’ her nor bullied and controlled others to cater to her whims, but has instead lifted herself up in life through her own hard work, self-reliance, logic and confidence without using human props;

To every strong willed truly brave activist who has fought for women’s rights in countries where misogyny is intrinsic to its religion and laws; To every woman in a free country who knows these truths and counts her blessings unlike those who use hooks on good people, instead of doing real good in the world or understanding the pain of women who face REAL and not fake suffering;

To every innocent girl in more free countries who has paid the price of being misunderstood or pigeonholed due to the conniving girls in men’s pasts, even as she held out her kindness, logic and patience in return and watched it being torn to shreds but was able to walk away with her dignity and compassion intact when she realized you can give unconditionally only to those who are ready to receive; To every girl who has faced apathy or cruelty from either men or women in return for her empathy or innocence and still never became bitter nor lost her ability to laugh;

To every girl who is a realist about her own flaws and weaknesses and strives for self-improvement and is open to objective criticism instead of becoming delusional or wallowing in her weaknesses; to every girl in a free country who stands for rational goodness and knows the power of inner strength, without making herself some sacrificial lamb but rather chooses quiet non-abrasive confidence and fortitude over giving in to victimhood, no matter how hard her trials are;

To every woman in a suppressed patriarchal Islamic country who has fought for her and her sisters’ rights, for they are in many ways the toughest and bravest feminists of all, and make the cushioned-liberal-arts-type-so-called-‘feminists’ here look like self-centred jokes and rightly so;

To every woman in a science and technology field who just a few decades ago was not even allowed admissions in these fields because they were women, but who have worked hard and never given up in professions where men still dominate and the women who have made it have worked doubly, nay – triply hard; To all those silent women in science and technology and all other professions where the products of their work are seen but not their faces; nor their presence hardly ever written about;

To every woman who has seeked and celebrated the inner strength of her individual being and never craved for hollow power over others; To every woman who understands the value of genuine love – glorious, enlightening, all-accepting, and the value of true kindness and empathy even when messages around her loudly scream to embrace frivolity, fakeness and shallow vacuousness;

To every woman who faced choices in life and chose her integrity and goodness each time no matter how hard or lonely that road was; To every woman who has the strength to speak up the truth, if only for her own conscience, no matter how difficult that seems because she knows that the truth does set one free;

To every woman who has never lost her sense of practicality, pragmatism and optimism no matter how hard the knocks of life may  be, no matter how many dreams have broken, and has used her experience to shape her own character and resolve and help others in return, rather than fish for excuses; and dared to dream again; To every woman who rose in life through self reliance and not by piggy-back riding or using others;

To every girl who has cried alone through a dark cruel night when there were no arms to comfort her even when she asked for help on the rare occasion; and even when it seemed the walls were collapsing till somehow with the last drop of her strength she lifted herself, battled and channeled the darkness into creativity and stood up straight holding her head up high again; To every girl who from childhood has sensed an overpowering ‘sense of Life and of love and learning’ – hard to express in words, but a soaring of one’s ‘spirit’ – as though life is important and there is much to learn and LIVE for, not merely exist; much to be curious about; much to be happy about despite all the downers life might have;

To every girl who has celebrated the beauty, innocence and goodness that lie either oblivious or obvious in the world but can be recognized and seen only by those eyes which have never nor ever will cross to the side of malice, jealousy, bitterness nor evil; To every girl who experienced an indescribable sense of joy within herself just being her own authentic self without ever giving up her tenderness or love or sense of ethical justice or a passion for knowledge – and found that that very self-assurance which is her inbuilt essence seems to incite something weird in others who go to lengths to push that down or lay traps to suck it dry; To every girl who never let those trappers clip her wings or kill her joy or lose herself to their diminishing mockery; To every girl and woman who never gave up and knew deeply and completely the immeasurable freedom and possibilities of rational goodness and inner strength;

To every girl who no matter what fears she had to confront, learned to be cautious but never, never to be afraid or cowardly.

And to every man who had the ability to recognize and love a girl like that, and was open to receive her love in return because he felt that same way inside about life as well. And felt confident in his own self-respect to know he deserved to share that sense of joy and peace. And recognized and cherished the difference between that adventure of living from the complacency of existing. And the love and strength it takes to create or fight for ethical justice rather than destroy or choose cowardice-disguised-as-apathy.

To every person who has dared.

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YOU GOT TO BE STRONG, GIRL

“You got to be strong, girl.
So dry those tears
Remove those fears,
BELIEVE in your own confidence
To reach out for the right:
For you have to be strong,
To point out the wrong,
And though you’ll be called a fool
And told to follow rules
Set by prisoned minds,
Just stay above and cool,
Don’t lose that Fire
of faith that sustains the true spirit of life in you.

You got to be strong, girl,
They’ll hurt you a lot and crush you to depths, 
But bounce back again with renewed strength, with added confidence,
Cry out your heart if you feel like, and after you’ve cleansed yourself
Surge ahead to a new tomorrow,
With a light so brilliant it can blind those who try to extinguish
that fire in your soul;

For who can keep underwater a sparkling bubble of air
With myriad colours surrounding its unbreakable shell?

For life is filled with challenges and there are those who can and who cannot overcome every hurdle
And you know you belong to the former;
And although you might be left dangling from the end of a rope or a clifftop,
So what? You can make new footholds and sprout new wings
And fly up above the hilltop.

When you know you are right and truthful
And done nothing to regret,
Why live in the past and the future – you’ve got the Present,
So make the best.
There’s a time for every wisdom
And the search for self-realization,
Or the pursuit of True freedom –
Was always frowned upon.
But you can smile at every mile –
‘cause you know, girl:
That when the road is long, you’ve got to be strong.
But when they tribe to make it longer –
You know it’s because you ARE stronger.”

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