A Small Blue Robot Backpack

“We stood with Sally in front of the corner arts store and then my 2 year old threw his half eaten cookie to the pigeon. For a while after that, every time we passed that street corner, my son would point his finger and say, “Pigeon”. And I would think of Sally,” he finished the sentence and looked across the room where Steve was sitting.

“And you have not seen her since then?”

“Almost not,” he waited for a while then continued. “Well, I saw her one more time, at a fair. It was crowded and we almost did not get time to talk. She was thirsty and I accompanied her outside to get a bottle of water. She got two. We stood for a minute at the building entrance not knowing what to do, then somebody from her team saw her and she got pulled inside. I waited a little bit and walked to the parking lot. It would not make any sense to go in again,” he felt silent.

“I know,” said Steve. “Well, that was a while ago. Tell me what’s going in your life now.”

“I do not know. Everything is fine. You know,” and he pointed his chin towards the kids’ room. “Nick is healthy and growing, all of us are fine, and I think that at the end this is all that matters. Right?”

“Well, yes. A lot of times I think the same. How is work?”

“It is good. Very good, actually. I like our team and, also I have been meeting some amazing people lately. Really, met couple of other guys involved in what we do and they turned out to be smart. We became kind of friends. What else? I guess I am really into the projects we are running. Keeps me busy. Keeps me thinking about things that matter,” he felt silent.

“Well, this is really cool,” Steve nodded and stretched on the sofa.

It was raining and every time there was silence in the room they could hear the raindrops hit the windows and the cars on the street. It was late. After a while Steve took his sweater and walked to the guest-room. He was staying over. He was his best friend and they have not seen each other for a while.

Next morning Steve left. He had to catch his plane back home. They had breakfast together, he watched him pack. He stood in the middle of the doorway and tried to be helpful. Then he opened the door, hugged Steve, they both said how great it was to see each other after all this time. Steve left. He closed the door and turned the key twice.

He walked across  the hall, stopped at the window. He looked at the rain for a while not hearing anything, just watching. Then he shook his head and tried to put his mind back to work. Talking about Sally the day before did not do him any good. “Never share anything with anybody,” he thought to himself. Steve asked and he talked. That was it. Steve was his best friend and he wanted to talk. He did not know it would be painful. Not until now. “This is life. And there is nothing else to it.” No. He did not smile this time. He said it very quietly, watching the raindrops fall.

This was on Sunday. And now it was Thursday and it was raining again. Almost a week has passed. Lot’s of work got done, meetings, planning, talking, writing. And now it was Thursday night and he was tired. He walked to the dining table in the middle of the room and looked at the paperwork that was piled on it. His son’s enrollment to the preschool on the top. He signed the forms and put them inside a brand-new envelope. He placed the envelope on the kitchen table. He should not forget to mail it tomorrow. Then he opened his laptop and looked at the sites he used to read. He went through a new article about compassion and judgment and then switched to the conversion rates review. Then, he looked for the store where he and his wife bought all the things for Nick, and searched for backpacks. Nick will need a backpack for preschool. He liked the one with the orange robots on it, but the small size was out of stock. He called the customer service and they gave him the number of the store that still had it. He called the store and placed an order for the backpack. A small blue robot backpack. All in all it took about 15 minutes. He kept looking at the image of the backpack on his computer screen hoping for a vague feeling of satisfaction. He tried to imagine the excitement that Nick would feel when he sees the backpack. And he felt silent.

The rain was falling heavily outside of the window panes. Its noise distracted him. He looked outside, peacefully, and after a while thought to himself, “This can’t be all there is to life. I know life is much more than that. It really is.”

He moved closer to the window and lightly pressed his forehead against the cold glass. “Do not ever share anything with anybody or you will end up buying a small blue robot backpack on a Thursday night.”

Barcelona, February 28th 2013

Write What You Think

Last week I had a skype call with Kevin about the customer development interviews. Towards the end of the call Kevin said, “I am sorry I did not give you any advice. All I did, was to voice my opinion”.

Opinion vs. advice. Advice is generally directed towards the listener and it is about the speaker. The person giving the advice will try to place himself in your shoes and give you a hypothetical guidelines on what should be done in the situation. The advice is not about the speaker, he has not been there, and it is not about the listener, he is not the one talking. It is somewhere in between and it is about nobody in particular. Advice is entertaining to listen to, it does not lead us to the painful truth and most of the times it is, well, useless. How many great things have been done by following an advice? Probably not too many. Advice lacks personality.

Opinion. Opinion always belongs to the person talking. Thus, it is personal. It is about the one. It does not require speaker to talk about any hypothetical situation. Opinion is real. A lot of times it is vertical (meaning, it does not spread out all over the place). It is sometimes painful. It is always powerful. The listener is not an active subject. Thus, at the receiving end we learn to listen. Period. We learn to listen. I want to make sure we all get this. Listen. Not talk. And we learn to be open to change our point of view based on what we hear. From this change sprouts our growth. Btw, have you noticed, advice often does the contrary, it closes us up?

We value opinions. They propel the change. The good ones are based on thoughts, not on cliches. The best are powered by passion.

Next time, please, write what you really think, your opinion.

Barcelona, February 26th 2013

Just Copy It

Foto de Noelia Hernandez

Recently my friend from Bulgaria asked me to give her a few tips on how to make great pictures of her baby daughter. And she is not the only one. I get asked this question a lot. I sent her a link to my friend’s photography site and told her to just copy what she sees. Of course, it is not that simple, this is why I decided to write a post on this topic.

First of all, you do not need to go to a photography school to create great images. It is all about just making pictures. You learn while you do it. Here are a few tips I want to share with those interested in the subject.

1. Find pictures you like and plainly copy them. Select the background, surroundings, objects similar to the ones that are on the picture you like. Copy the light, the positioning of the person or object, the gestures, the expression. Copy as much as you can.

2. Find the right picture to copy. For example, if you are planning to make a picture of your boyfriend, find a picture of a man. Make sure the man has certain similarities with your boyfriend and that your boyfriend will feel comfortable with the pose, surroundings, light and the overall situation. The same goes for babies and for everything else.

3. Not all the “copies” will turn out great. Some of the shots you will make will look completely different from the original and will not be all that inspiring. And this is ok. Try it again. Change the original picture if needed. Learn to work with what you have. Shoot a lot. You will get it right after a few tries. I promise!

4. Pay attention to the details. For example, if the picture you are copying has a forest in the background and the person appears full length on the shoot, occupying approximately one forth of the image on the righthand side, please copy it all. Pay attention to what the person is holding in her hands. Look at the clothing, at the extras, at the hair. The better you are at noticing and copying the details, the better your pictures will be.

5. Expression is important. Make sure your subject thinks about what you want him to think when making the picture. The right expression makes the shot. We appear different when we think about different things.  Depending on the mood of the image you may ask your subject to think about a delicious meal, to imagine seeing someone he has been long in love with or to fantasize himself relaxing on the beach. Once you see the right expression in his eyes, then shoot. And, yes, make sure the eyes are in focus and given the priority in terms of sharpness.

6. Do not forget the 10.000 hours rule. It says that to be an expert in something you need to have spent 10.000 hours practicing it. Go ahead and shoot. Spend the hours copying the pictures you like and that inspire you. Use your kids, spouse, friends as the main subjects. They will love the experience. You will create some amazing memories for them. And yes, you will become a pro very soon.

7. Copying is creative. Trust me, it is. Just select great pictures to copy. After becoming good at copying you will see new angles that you can shoot from. You will discover new details in the scene. You will play with the focus. You will create art starting from a copy.

8. The last one: just remember it is ok to copy. Do not be afraid of it. It is actually great. This is how all of us learn a new skill. A skill that can later become a talent, a gift. Take any field and you will see that copying is the beginning of learning.

Take camera, select pictures you like and go for it. Copy. Learn. Create.

I would like to give credit to my friend Noelia for the pictures used in this post.

Barcelona, February 25th 2013

Love Me For Who You Are

Castle in Arques

Many times I hear people say, “Love me for who I am”.

Driving along the Languedoc austere roads in the silence of the hills made me think of the rightness of those words. Does it mean that if you do something unexpected, something that goes against your nature, I should stop loving you? No, I should not. I love you for who I am. Not for who you are.

I thought about it. I do not believe that we love people for who they are. We love them for who we are. It is our ability to love, to pardon, to be sensitive, to be compassionate that matters. To certain point it really does not count that much how the other person is. I will love you as much as my own belief in nobleness of human nature goes. I will love you to the extent that I am able to believe in love. In the midst of loneliness I find love within me. And this makes me profoundly happy; The notion that no matter what happens there is something stronger inside of me fighting for the light. And I will love you for who I am.

What we love in others is our own ability to love. We love our own strength, our nobleness our understanding and compassion. We are attracted by the riddle of how much others will love us for who *they* are. Their love is about them, our love is about us. And there is nothing wrong with it. It is actually amazing. It gives us the power.

Independently of how great, awesome or successful we may be, let’s be honest, we do care when other people love us. Yes, we may not care what others think or talk about us. I personally do not care what people around me say, I am sure my life in their words sounds more extravagant than it really is. A smile goes here. But I do care when people love me. At least when certain people that are important to me love me. We all care. You care too. It is the most natural human feeling.

Thus, when it comes to love, do not love me for who I am. Love me for who you are. And I will do so too.

Arques CastleBoth pictures in this post are of Le château d’Arques (Southern France). The château itself has little to do with what is written here. It was the silence of the hills that surrounded it and the cold February air that influenced my thoughts while driving slowly along the Languedoc roads.

Barcelona, February 18th 2013

Street Signs in France

Street signs CarcassonneNot sure if it is the fact that even the street signs are in French here, but I find them very attractive. I like how they look on the corners of the buildings, how they sound when you pronounce them and how they are a part of the city.

CarcassonneThe streets have names and those names have as much personality as the old buildings with wooden shutters.

Carcassonne streetsMany of the streets have two names. The old and the new name.

Carcassonne buildingI love French language. I am probably just a romantic, however, I easily imagine how people lived in those houses hundred years ago. When I see the castles, I see the cavaliers and the merchants trotting in and out; I feel the passion, the wisdom and the villainy of the people. What a world to live in! Do you also think of yourself as a cavalier on a horse galloping along the castle walls with your right hand resting on your spade before falling asleep at night?

Chateau Villerouge Termenes

Castle and houses in southern FranceSome of the castles were converted into housing complexes. Like the one you see above, Chateau Villerouge Termenes. Till 1980s people lived there, there were stairs and couple of apartments inside this castle.

A bookstore in CarcassonneIt is true that French people love books. There are lots of bookstores in France, in each town, city and village you stumble upon bookstores. And people enter bookstores, buy books, read books in the cafes and on the streets. I love the humming of low voices in the bookstores. Makes it very homely. In spirit I am at least one third French, I entered almost all the bookstores I saw on my way and got books.

Bookstore in CarcassonneThere are very few things better than books in French. And among those are the houses with blue shutters and people talking in French around you.

House in CarcassonneWell, and the street signs in the Southern France.

Street signs in ToulouseFrance, February 17th 2013

Attached to Languedoc

Fabrics for saleThere are couple of things that I really like about Southern France. One of them is the table cloths and the fabrics. Yeap, I am very much into nice table cloth patterns, the kind you can find at Williams-Sonoma in US, and seeing them in Carcassonne made the ones I had more real.

Cassoulet

Le Cassoulet, the typical dish of the region, was really good. In all restaurants in Aude they serve Cassoulet. In some restaurants it is one of the options, in others that’s the only thing they serve. It is made of white beans, sausage and duck. As Mr. Fawlty (from Fawlty Towers) said in the famous series “If you do not like duck, you will get stuck”. Well, something similar here. BTW, it is really good. This was the first time I tried duck and all I can say is that the way French do it, it tastes much better than chicken.

CarcassonneI love how even on cloudy days people are drinking their coffee outside. When it is raining people are still sitting outside; With their umbrellas open, with the their newspaper and their cafe.

a Store in Carcassonne

I also love that everything is in French. Yes, I know we are in France, it is supposed to be in French. Still, it makes me smile and fall in love with French language over and over again.

CarcassonnePlazas are beautiful in Carcassonne. There are lots of trees, cafes, stores. This one holds a lot of charm and we ended every day on this plaza drinking coffee, walking or visiting farmers market.

cups in FranceRed and white cups. I had those at home for a while, but seeing them in a store window in France made me smile wide. The color combination and the quality of the ceramic enhance my morning coffee experience every day. This multiplied by three morning coffees daily means really enhanced mornings.

pastries in France Pastries in Cathare region reminded me of Russian bakery. As a kid my mom tried to bake those peaches, but they never came out nicely. Then, we used to buy them in the pastry shop sometimes or friends would bake them and bring them over. Seeing them in France brought some sweet memories. And yes, we got a box of those!

CannelésThose small things in the middle row are called Cannelés. Yeap, the ones that are 1.40E, they are also refereed to as humble French little cakes from Gironde & Bordeaux. Now I know that there must be a way to make them ok inside without burning the outside. And well done they taste very good.

LimouxThe houses in Limoux: Everything looks old, but cared for. It is real, people still use what was built hundreds of years ago. They live there, they do their business there. These long lasting relationships with things and land hold the real magic.

AugeThe houses and shutters are painted in different shades of blue. This one was one of the most beautiful combinations I saw. I know, it is old, but I still find it lovely. It made me dream of living in a house like that and seeing the hills with vineyards from the windows.

Canal du Midi, CarcassonneOne other thing I love about France is its rivers. They are wide, full of water and always moving. The rivers in France are like Russian rivers: strong, fast, dangerous and helpful. They are not a mere decoration, they are useful. Thus, it made me a little bit nostalgic crossing rivers in France. It also formed a strong attachment to the beautiful Languedoc.

France, February 17th 2013

The Roads of Languedoc-Roussillon

Roads in Corbières

One of the best things about Languedoc-Roussillon are the roads. Specially in February, when the country still looks austere and rough. France is yours while the mass tourism has not landed here yet. You drive across the mountains and hills covered by the patches of vineyards.Vineyards in Villerouge-Termenés

There are no green leaves yet, however, the first while flowers are sprinkled over the grass making the place alive. Those flowers tell you that the spring is about to touch the branches and to make it all grow and flourish.

Vineyards in Languedoc-Roussillon

I liked it very much just like that. Empty. You can sense the power of the mountains, the warmth of the land and the silence of the locals. This is beauty. And you respect it.

Languedoc-Roussillon

On the road to l’Abbaye de Saint-Hilaire we drove through the vineyards. It was an 11 km long road from Limoux to St.-Hilaire that serpentined through the roughed valley of southern France. No cars, no people around. What makes it different from a similar road in Napa Valley (California, USA) is the unity with the earth and the village. In France there are no fences. You drive and the vineyards are there. You can stop and walk along them and through them. You can touch the branches, have a picnic next to the vineyard and be part of it.

Languedoc-Roussillon

The valley of Corbières and its roads, vineyards, villages and castles are magical. The history is right there, the people are right there and you are right there and a part of it all. I love being a part of the place where I am at that moment. I am enchanted by the fact that there is only one bakery in each town, one school, one post office, one fruit stand, one grocery store and one or two cafes. And there are road signs telling you where is what. You buy bread like locals buy it. You eat when they eat. And to be able not to be a tourist is amazing.

Signs to Saint-Hilaire

It is powerful to be able to be local. It is the fact of accepting what is around you. It is the matter of truly enjoying it; To like the cold air of Languedoc-Roussillon region; not to mind that there is no sun for days; And to enjoy the rain. It is great to feel the softness of the damp and warm earth under your feet in February, even if your boots get completely dirty.

Castle Villerouge-Termenés

I am glad that Pays Cathare had almost all the stores and tourist attractions closed in February. The roughness of the country, the narrow roads and the cold air make you feel strong and happy. The silence of the villages makes it real. The hills are unattractive and the snow covered Pyrenees, that separate you from Spain, make France your home.

Castle in Languedoc-Roussillon

France, February 16th 2013

Beautiful, Relevant, Violent. Peaceful?

Carcassonne at night

A handful of mixed feelings while visiting Carcassonne fortress. It is beautiful. It is amazing. It was and it *is* relevant. And… violent. The history of Carcassonne is a history of power, fight, violence. It is also a history of bravery, nobleness, hard work and art. And beauty. And it all goes together.

Basilica in Carcassonne

Does it mean no violence no beauty? Does it mean if you are peaceful you can never be relevant?

Carcassonne fortress

Everything that is beautiful and amazing is also intense and painful. Passion and art are tied to violence and friction. Right now that I think of it, nothing that is peaceful ever made it to our days.

The mural painting in Carcassonne Castle

Religion is full of violence, art is intense, beauty is painful. Whatever amazing survived to our days made it through fight and struggle. And we admire the fruits of it now. Even when we question the value of it, we still admire the effort.

Basilica Carcassonne

Business is the same. Great companies that made it to our days, companies which products we use daily are full of modern violence and friction. Nothing relevant comes with the word peaceful (unfortunately). We long for peace, but admire the beauty.

Carcassonne

I question the value of such beauty. It is a curious mix of sorrow and admiration that I felt while walking along the Carcassonne walls. However, I can’t go against my nature. I feel deep thankfulness to those people who built these walls, who defended them, who fought, survived and died for them. In my heart I appreciate their effort. In my work, in fighting for my vision I am honoring their passion.

Carcassonne

Do not be peaceful, please. Life is intense. Beauty is relevant. Fight for what you are passionate about. Build it, defend it, live for it.

Carcassonne

Carcassonne, February 14th 2013

Absolutely Biased about France

Toulouse

I am biased about France. I like it. I liked it as a kid, reading the Dumas books and imagining how the meat pie and the Burgundy wine would taste; I liked it as a teenager listening to Joe Dassin songs and having lived in France for a year; I like it as an adult so much, that I enrolled my both kids into the Lycee Francaise school system and help them learn French. Yes, I read them books in my broken French and ask my daughter to correct my pronunciation. It is a great experience of learning from my own child.

Driving in France

And here we go. Driving through région Languedoc-Roussillon towards Toulouse and stopping in the small villages on our way.

Toulouse

Toulouse is very nice and full of houses made of red bricks. Close to the basilique Saint-Sernin there are lots of book stores. Another thing that I am not impartial about, apart from France, is books. And, books in French obviously win the lot. There is nothing better than holding the books in the language you love. And, hey, I can understand almost everything. And pronunciation… well, I try!

Books in French

If you visit Toulouse, here is a thing about it: they close kitchen really early. You can’t get a warm meal after 3 pm and dinner ends towards 8. Very much like US, I guess, but opposite of Spain.

DSC_4336

However there are plenty of Tea Houses that are charming (and warm). It is February and it is cold in France in February, thus finding a warm place for coffee counts! The cakes are home made, the staff is friendly and the view, well…. we are in Toulouse!

Toulouse

Toulouse is welcoming. We walked quite a bit through the city, and its central part is full of cafes, book stores and souvenir shops that sell everything related to violets. The violet soap, the violet marmalade, the violet candies, the violet oils, the violet liquors… well you get the idea.

Violette Toulouse

I do not think there is much I can add about Toulouse. But here are some random moments of the day that I liked:

1. The menus written in FrenchCafe in Toulouse

2. The signes on the streets (in French too!)Street name in Toulouse

3. The basilique Saint-Sernin insideLa basilique Saint-Sernin de ToulouseLa basilique Saint-Sernin de Toulouse

4. The red brick buildings with blue shattersHouses in Toulouse

5. And most of all I like the fact that everybody is speaking French (and everything is in French!). Well, I started this post with the statement that I am biased about France, so there you go.Cafe in Toulouse

Toulouse, February 13th 2013

Calçots & Getting your Hands Dirty

CalcotsOne of the things I missed living out of Spain is Calçots. Calçots are a variety of onions grown inland in Catalonia. It is a seasonal food and you normally see them in February and sometimes in March. You can find them in the masias outside of Barcelona and in the surrounding villages. We drove to Montserrat yesterday to see the monastery and the famous black virgin.

MontserratIt is cold in February in the mountains. The air is fresh and the view is beautiful. After an hour walk you really want to get into the warmness of an old masia and get your hands dirty with the food. In our case, we drove to Collbató, which is located right at the foot of the mountain.

CollbatóCatalan lunch starts with bread and tomato. Do it yourself kind of thing. On the table you find olive oil, toasted bread (they call them here llescas), garlic, tomato, and salt. My three year old shows us how to rub the tomato and olive oil into the bread. They do it at his daycare and teach the kids how to prepare this starter.

tomato for the breadAnd this is how the finished bread & tomato look like. You also put salt and olive oil on it. Rubbing garlic is optional.

llesca de paAfter you are done with your bread and tomato, the waiters bring the calcots. This is where you really get your hands dirty. You have to take out the burnt shell of the onion and dip the tender part in the sauce. It is called the Romesco sauce and it is made of roasted red peppers, tomatoes, almonds, olive oil, and garlic.

calcotsAfter you have peeled and eaten some of them, your hands get really dirty and smell of burnt onions. Your wine glass also gets stained and smells alike. And you like it. You actually enjoy of how your hands smell.

hands after eating calcotsYou keep eating till the table around you looks like a complete mess. And then you really know that you are loving the food, the wine, and the company. The sauce is the best part of the dish.

calcot sauceAnd after you are done, this is how the battle field looks:

calcots and the sauceThe problem is that after you are done with the calçots the waiters bring the meat. And even though the meat looks very good, you know you can’t eat another bite. You are full. Then the desert and coffee are served. And the restaurant invites all of you for a drink. When you finally get out of the dining room it is almost 6pm. You feel like you will not be able to eat for a week.

CalçotsCalçots are the best food ever in February in Catalonia! There is nothing like getting your hands dirty with this rustic meal! I missed it so much while living in USA.

Barcelona, February 10th 2013