Princesses and Cavaliers

Princess and cavalier

Kids were running around on the Bonanova plaza. “I am a princess, I am a princess,” shouted the girls. “Monster, monster,” cried my almost three-year-old son, and with his imaginary sword started to fight an imaginary monster. “I am a princess, and the cavalier is defending me,” said one of the girls. “You can’t be a princess, because I am a princess,” said the other girl. “No, no, I am a princess,” said the third one. “Then I will be a queen, and you will be the two princesses.” After a three minute argument it was decided that one of the girls would be a pink-dressed princess and another one would be a purple-dressed princess. “What are you going to be,” they asked my daughter. “I will be a horse,” and my daughter started to trot like a horse around the plaza not paying any attention to the princesses. “If my brother is a cavalier, then I will be his horse. A cavalier needs a horse. Can I be your horse?” she asked her brother. The little cavalier nodded without stopping his imaginary fight with the monster and told his sister that her name will be Titan. Titan is my son’s favorite pony, sometimes we take him back-riding in a local pony club and he always wants to ride Titan.

There we were, a group of parents watching our kids play on a sunny afternoon after school. My three-year-old imagining himself to be a cavalier and fighting imaginary monsters. My five-year-old trotting around the plaza like a horse and making all the adequate noises. She was totally absorbed by her horse character. And her five-year-old friends were grouped in the middle of the plaza discussing what kind of princesses they would be.

I am wondering if all the girls naturally want to be princesses or is it something that the society heavily pushes on them and their parents support? I honestly do not think that eighty percent of the girls prefer pink and purple to all other colors, and that they mainly want to play princesses. It is the media and the society that tells our daughters that this is what the girls should like and be like. And we as a parents are just lazy. We do not use our own judgment  because it is always easier to go with the flow. Do not get me wrong, there is nothing bad in wanting to be a princess. But is it really pink that makes one?

I think that we greatly misunderstand what being a princess or a cavalier means. It is not about dresses, it is not about owing a spade or a knife, it is not about wearing pink. It is about patience, it is about education, it is about manners, it is about deep feelings, honesty and integrity. Occasionally I saw girls, that appeared to me real princesses. I saw them at the cafe or at  a party. And by the way they hold their cup, by the way they wait their turn to speak, by they way they can ask you a question or give you a compliment, and be honest and fresh in their words, by all that they remained me of real princesses. And by their genuine and open smiles too. And I, like everybody else, felt lucky to be around them. I even stole some tips from those children, and tried to pass them to my own.

There is nothing wrong with wanting our sons to be cavaliers and our daughters to be princesses. Not in words or color of the dress though, but in the essence of the concept.

I often question myself how to teach our children to be patient, to use their own judgment and to be able to think for themselves. To meditate, and to stop and breath through difficult situations, and not to be guided only by their emotions. I wonder how to encourage in them the deep feelings and attachment towards others, towards the people that surround them. We read books that talk about honesty and beauty. I tell them stories and I talk to them about what surrounds us. Yes, I also try to teach them manners, to show them how to be genuinely interested in others. And, no, I do not think that manners are old-fashioned. I ask myself how to encourage them to learn to listen and to ask questions about others. To always look tidy and clean. To never say “I want” or “Buy me this”. And, finally, words do not matter that much. Kids learn from us, from how we behave, from what they are exposed to in their everyday life. And my yardstick as a parent is to watch myself more than I ever did before, to be a good example to them. To never be lazy. And, of course, to offer them all existent colors to dress in, to like and to play with.

And then, if my daughter decides that she prefers pink, I am fine with that.

Barcelona, January 31st 2013

Others cannot Imagine Your Dreams

Sagrada Familia Inside

This week I went to the Sagrada Familia for the first time. What I got from this experience is the notion that it is impossible to imagine somebody else’s dreams. Impossible till those dreams become reality. Like everybody else, I saw the images of the Sagrada Familia from inside and outside at least hundred times. I looked at it in the tourists books, I made pictures of the facade and even mailed a dozen of cards with its details to my friends. Yet, I have never realized how that space can change one’s understanding of reality.

Sagrada Familia

If somebody shows me a suburban house from outside, I can imagine how this house will look inside. Square from outside, it will be shaped in square units inside, may be it will have an arch in the hall or an arched window. The space in predictable, how you will feel inside is somewhat predictable too. When I saw the Sagrada Familia from outside, I never imagined how it will look inside. The fact that it is a church, made me think that it would have something of a church in it. I could not have been further from the truth.

Sagrada Familia Church

I entered a forest. An open space. A space without walls. The columns were trees. I walked in this enchanted forest and the afternoon sun was playing light tricks through the colored maple leaves.  It did not feel like a safe place. It did not feel like one was walking in the right direction. There was no direction. A place to get lost amidst the light spots and the shadowed passages. Exactly as in the deep woods. With the shades of all shapes and sizes. With the wind weaving through the branches of the trees. With the lights sliding over the trunks.

Shades in the Sagrada Familia

What impressed me so much was the magic of being lost, of not having any answers. The fact that I could never have imagined how this space would look and feel. This space is its creator’s dream. And we can never imagine somebody else’s dream. We can foresee how the square building will be structured inside. We will not be surprised when we enter it. We will align our expectations with what we see and go with it. It will not change the way we see and understand things. Only the spaces born from the dreams have this power.

Sagrada Familia

Others cannot imagine your dreams. You need to make them come true. You need to build something very true to its stem. Very true to the essence of the impossible. Do not let go even an inch. Forget about expectations, predictions, reality. Do not look for the path, do not long for the safe. Forget what others would like to see. Entering this open space made me realize that others cannot imagine your dreams.

I am talking to you. I am talking to myself too.

Sagrada Familia

Barcelona, January 27th 2013

Leaving the Room

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Two days ago I was walking back home after a team meeting. It was raining and, as it happens sometimes, I was thinking whether or not I should just abandon my crazy startup ideas and get a regular well-paying job.

I was struck by the fact that I am committed to my vision and the startup because seventeen years ago I stood up in front of sixty people and left the room.

It was the first day of my student life, the first day of college, the first day of class. The auditory was filled with nervous students and we all listened to the aged professor who talked in general terms about our future. Thirty minutes in to the speech I stood up and asked the professor, if that was the only topic we were going to talk about for the next two and a half hours. The professor admitted that we were not supposed to talk about anything in particular on the first day of school. Then I said that I had more important things to do and could not lose my time in that way. I picked up my backpack and left the auditory. In front of all sixty something students.

I have to give credit to the professor. He turned out to be an interesting man and we had many insightful discussions on medieval poetry and prose later on. That first day of school he was just doing what he was supposed to do: cater to his auditory. Right now I understand that Spanish students did not expect to learn anything on the first day of class.

Since then I followed my path. I worked for others and I created my own projects. Majority of them failed, some of them survived. All these years my motivation has remained the same, my venues have changed. I work to make people more powerful, to show them the chances that lay in front of them, to encourage them to make their lives better. Our latest project Ticketshuttle (the website will go live in March) is an expression of this vision.

I believe in what we do. Even so, twice a day, I think that I am just messing up with my life and I should get a good job and help within the system. I know am capable of it. I can follow the directions. I run my own company not because I cannot work for others. I do it because I am committed to the vision of a better society and I have the urgency to play my part in *making* it better. And because when I was seventeen years old I stood up in front of sixty people and was able to leave the room as it was boring and not productive to be sitting there.

Barcelona, January 23rd 2013

Ten Things About Turkey

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In October we spent a week in Istanbul, Turkey. It is a very crowded and restless city. You can get a lot out of your visit if you are not afraid to explore the city on your own. Here are some things that I did not expect (and loved):

1. Pomegranate juice. Almost everywhere in the city there are pomegranate juice vendors. They carry with them their carts full of pomegranates, and squeeze the juice right when you purchase your drink.

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2. Cats. Istanbul is full of cats. We saw cats at mosques, restaurants, shops, museums. Everywhere you go, you see cats. Cats are sleeping, walking, eating among the people. Those tourists who did not like cats had hard time in Istanbul. However, if you are fine with the felines, you will enjoy it.

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3. People and kids. Turks are very friendly to children. If my son was crying on the street Turks would stop and ask what was wrong and if they could help. Some offered him a cookie or a candy. The waiters at the restaurants would kiss the kids on both cheeks when they delivered the food. I do not think that my children had so much attention on any other of our trips.

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4. Mosques. Mosques are very beautiful. Being raised in a Christian family I never thought that I would experience the same feeling of peace and quietness at a mosque that I do at a church. But I did. Since my very first visit to a mosque I was enchanted by the light and cleanness that invaded my mind and spirit. I think that the passion, art and purpose that people put into the construction of a mosque were the same ones that were put into the building of a church or a cathedral. Thus, the feelings it provokes in one are the same.  We are much closer to one another than we imagine.

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5. Taxis. If you are in Istanbul use taxi. The experience of driving in a taxi through Istanbul is unforgettable. The drivers do not follow any signs, only their intuition and drive at 60 mph through the one way narrow streets. One way, does not mean one direction, it means one direction at a time, as two cars would not fit next to each other there. During one week the kids and me took taxis every day to move through the city and you end up feeling a little bit like in a James Bond movies driving with those crazy cab drivers.

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6. Food. Food is superb in Istanbul. I have not eaten so well anywhere else except Spain. Turks really know how to cook meet and fish. It tastes good, it looks good and you feel good after you have finished your dinner. Ok, sometimes we overate. However, there are very few places in the world where you can eat like this.

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7. Coffee. Ok, I had to write something about coffee. I am generally not into Turkish coffee.  Nevertheless in Istanbul I drunk it for the whole week from 10am till midnight. Yes, every night we took the kids for coffee and Turkish sweets at Mado. It was one of the best experiences during our stay there. They have really good coffee, the chairs are comfortable and the stuff is friendly. What else can you ask from life?

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8. Ceramics at Rustem Pasa mosque. I am not going to describe it, but here are some pictures from that mosque. It takes your breath away for couple of seconds when you enter the space. Well, blue and white are two of my favorite colors. However, it is not only the colors, but the absence of vulgarity and gentleness of the art, that touches ones spirit in that squared space.

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9. People. People are very friendly in Istanbul. They are respectful, generous, open and kind. And their hospitality is unique. I have never had so much attention as in Istanbul. Vendors do not just sell you the product, they pass you a part of their knowledge, they share something more then a mere physical object. We spent an hour drinking tea and trying sweets at the spice booth. We were not shopping for tea or sweets. I was buying spices. The vendor invited us for tea, offered lokum to the kids and engaged into an hour conversation. I enjoyed it. Well, not so much the part when he offered the marriage. Yeap, he did not believe that I was married, because I was without my husband at that moment. The rings and the kids were not enough proof for him. But if you can stay firm about your marital status you will enjoy your Istanbul experience greatly. The people and their stories are definitely the best part of the city.

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10. The last and the best thing about Turkey is my friend who lives there. Without her my experience in Istanbul would have been very different. It means a lot to have a friend in a place you visit as a tourist. It makes you a little bit local.

World is a funny place after all. You meet people, you like them, you never talk too much, but you still like them and trust them. The life goes on. You take the next step, then another one and one more. You move to a new country, have a new job, speak another language and, finally, make new friends.  However, when I met my friend in Istanbul this fall, I realized that I have been sharing with her something invaluable all this time. The silence was not indifference. It was patience. Thank you for being there Ozlem.

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Barcelona, January 13th 2013

Walking Against the Light

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Living in Barcelona and loving good coffee you end up discovering the best places to enjoy it. Xavier, the owner of the Doctor Coffee, my regular stop for morning coffee and newspaper, recommended me to try El Magnifico. And I did.

Cafe El Magnifico

I went to El Magnifico for the first time couple of weeks ago. It turned out to be one of the few coffee-roasters in Barcelona, as most places that sell coffee are distributors and do not roast the beans themselves. El Magnifico does. The coffee at El Magnifico smells magically and it tastes even better. It is comparable to the coffee at Verve in Santa Cruz, CA.

The roaster at El Magnifico

The place is very small, and it does not have tables, which is unusual for Spain. However it offers couple of benches to those who prefer to enjoy their drink in the real ceramic coffee cup. I tried it both ways, in ceramic and in paper versions. This morning it was paper and the coffee tasted as good as ever. Walking through the narrow streets of Barcelona with the morning coffee in your right hand is empowering. It means that you will accomplish what you have proposed for that day. It also makes you smile.

Santa Maria del Mar

The cafe is located in the Born neighbor, very close to the church of Santa Maria del Mar. First time I visited the cafe I was surprised to discover that my favorite church was only thirty feet away from where I paid for my coffee. For me, Santa Maria del Mar is the most beautiful church in Barcelona, and it played an interesting role in my life during my student years. Not being of any religion at all, and in my desire to change and to be a better person, I decided to become a Catholic. Crazy, I know. However, the priest of Santa Maria del Mar was able to talk me out of it. He gently told me that he believed, that I would be fine and would follow my path independently of the religion I undertook. I am thankful to him even now for his wiseness. Then I was young, and this was many years ago. Time have passed. Living in USA and in Norway, and being always fairly busy, I got to forget about that church. I have not been there in the past ten years. Thus, three weeks ago, holding in my hand the cup with the best coffee in Barcelona, I felt certain enchantment walking against the light towards Santa Maria del Mar. When I entered the church the bell rung five times. Five o’clock. And the lights were turned on.

At the cafe next to the church I was meeting an old college friend. When the coffee is good the conversation is good too. Both require art, passion and involvement. Life in these simple terms.

Coffee at El Magnifico

Barcelona, January 11th, 2013