Today was just a day


The waiter placed the coffee and the desert on the table and I smiled widely and said “Merci”. This is what you say in Catalonia as “Thank you”. Why did I smile so widely? I looked at myself in the mirror this afternoon and smiled, just to see my face smiling. Lots of wrinkles all over my face when I smile. Also the smile does not look natural on my face. I should not smile if I do not feel like it. Looking without smiling is ok too. At least there are no wrinkles and I like my face then.

I turned 35. Today. I also turned to be a depressed person. Nope, not today, but over the past year or two. Depressed does not mean that I sit home and cry. On the contrary, I am always busy, doing something, taking care of something, talking, walking, meeting, drinking coffee and making plans. But when I am on my own I do not smile. And I do not like it. I used to smile to myself before all the time.  And the only line that comes to my mind right now is “Life is not a walk across a field”, which is from my favorite poem by Pasternak.

We went with my family to Velodromo. It is by far my favorite place in Barcelona. I come here two or three times a week. It is thirty minutes walking distance from my house and a lot of times I walk here in order to do some kind of exercise. Thirty minutes here and thirty minutes back home is already something. I walk to the place even when it rains. And it is raining now.

Today was just a day. For some reason everybody expects you to be super happy and excited on your birthday. And I felt it was just a day. It was as good as any other day and I wished people would leave me alone and stop asking me to smile all the time. If I felt like smiling, I would have smiled myself.  Thus, we went to Velodromo. Even if I feel sad, I come to this place and I start feeling better. There is something about the space and the food that makes me feel relaxed and be part of the people around. As always, the food was very good and the desert and coffee even better. They have one of my favorite Catalonian deserts El postre del musico (The musician desert). It is a selection of nuts and dried fruits and a glass of muscatel.

When the waiter left the desert and the coffee on the table I smiled widely and said “Merci”. And my family asked me what happy thoughts I was thinking to suddenly smile so nicely. And the truth is no thoughts. I just smiled back without thinking. It did feel really good to smile without any reason. I love this place.

Velodromo Barcelona

Velodromo Barcelona

Velodromo Restaurant

Velodromo Barcelona

Velodromo restaurant

El postre del musicoEl postre del musico (The musician desert) and an americano.

Ron BabaRon Baba

Pear in chocolateA pear dipped in the hot chocolate and an espresso.

Menu en Velodromo The menu in Velodromo had birds on the back. Which was great as the kids and me are working on a bird project at home. Those are single-use menus and people are welcome to take them (we asked). Last time we were here they had girls in bikinis with Spanish football club logos! We took some copies for our football loving friends in US.

Velodromo MenuPart of the Velodromo menu.

Velodromo restaurant Velodromo. Tables on the second floor.

Sant Jordi, Barcelona

Plaza Bonanova on Sant Jordi

Yesterday was a very beautiful holiday here in Barcelona: Sant Jordi. It goes back to the legend of the cavalier Jordi that slaughtered a dragon to save a princess. From the dragon’s blood red roses grew and Jordi gave one to the princess. Since then on the April 23rd all men give roses to women. And women give men a book, to never forget the history and the legend.

Since I was a teen I found this holiday wonderful. The city is full of flowers and bookstands, everybody is cheerful, you give and receive roses. Somehow people are very happy. It is spring and there is no better way to feel it than seeing so many smiles and flowers around.

Downtown Barcelona is decorated and beautiful on that day. We did not have a chance to go to the downtown this year. We were busy with the kids, taking them to their Sant Jordi activities. However, we were glad to see that our part of Barcelona was beautiful and full of flowers too. Kids were dressed as princesses and cavaliers on that day, there were theater plays in their respective schools. My son’s daycare held hot chocolate and coca (Catalonia cake with sugar and pine nuts) for the kids and their families. And at our daughter’s art school they had an open-door day, inviting all the families to participate in making roses and decorating the walls with paintings. Here are some pictures from yesterday. It is Sarria / Sant Gervasi area of Barcelona.

Corner of Muntaner and Reus on Sant JordiCorner of Muntaner and Reus streets in Barcelona on the April 23rd

carrer MuntanerMuntaner street close to the plaza Bonanova

Traditional roses sold on Sant JordiSant Jordi red roses

the church on Plaza BonanovaThe church on plaza Bonanova

Pan de la diada, Sant JordiPan de la diada. Catalonian bread for Sant Jordi Holiday. It is made of cheddar and morcilla (blood sausage).

book stands on plaza BonanovaBook stands on the plaza Bonanova

plaza Bonanova and Muntaner streetPlaza Bonanova and Muntaner Street on Sant Jordi

Red roses done by the kids of the Sienna art schoolRed roses from paper and cloth done by the kids at the Siena Art School on Sant Jordi day

Sant Jordi mural in Sienna Art schoolSant Jordi mural done by the kids at the Siena Art School on Sant Jordi

Red roses painted on the wall at Sienna art schoolThe last roses of the day were the ones painted by the kids on the walls of the Siena Art School.

This was one beautiful day of spring! And the festivities are going on for the rest of the week. It feels like every day is a holiday in Barcelona.

Between Love and Selfishness

Red roses on Sant Jordi

When we talk about love a lot of times it comes down about satisfying one’s needs. Yeap, in the down to earth approach people are looking to satisfy their needs and desires. They want to hear nice words, receive gifts, be treated like someone special, be the one and the only, be respected, be comforted, be assured. In one word be loved.

This is not love. This is selfishness. And it is completely opposite to what love is.

Love in its essence is giving. Is the ability to give, to be generous, not to expect anything in return. To love is to be vulnerable. To be vulnerable over and over again, even if the other deceives us. To love is to hope. It is to hope that what we give will be accepted and appreciated. It is not about the hope to receive the same gifts in return. Love is never fair. This is why it is wonderful. It is our amazing ability to hope beyond our rationality. And as the life shows, this hope is stronger and more powerful than any rational thoughts or acts. Real love always wins (if one can use the word win here). You just have to ask yourself if what you feel is love (i.e. an impulse to give) or is it a desire to satisfy your needs, to validate your feeling and to get the same in return. These are the two ends of the same line. You have to figure out where you stand. Is it 80/20 or 50/50 or 20/80? The greater is the first number the happier you will be, as the first one depends totally on you.

This morning started at 6am with my son and daughter running around the house. They were excited to give roses to their teachers and friends. It is the Sant Jordi Holiday in Catalonia. As the legend says on that day a cavalier named Jordi slaughtered a dragon to save a princess. From the dragon’s blood red roses grew and Jordi gave one to the princess. Since then, every year on the April 23rd the men give red roses to the women. Not just to the women they are in love with or married to, but to many women that are part of their lives. And women give men a book (sometimes), to remind them of the legend and the cavaliers. It is a beautiful tradition, because it is based on giving. My 3 year old son jumped his way to the daycare with two red roses in his hands. One for his teacher and one for his 2 year old friend Paula. He was extremely happy all the way there and he was extremely shy when he gave the roses to the ladies. It is ok to be shy. This is what to be a cavalier means, to do good things to others even if you are shy or afraid or unsure. As parents I feel we should learn to give with love. This is the only way our children will be able to do so too.

Love (and giving) shows itself in small details, in our everyday life. It is not always easy to practice it. A lot of times we do not notice where we could give, we are too busy, too shy, too self-conscious, too rational. We also have to protect ourselves from the outside world, from others, and we wear our “street” clothing (our selfish selves) with a great smile and encouraging greetings.  We become waterproof. We are aware of our needs and desires more than we are of love and giving.

Once I take my waterproof jacket off, I know that there is one single feeling that is able to illuminate me from inside. It is also the most important thing is life Love.

Note: As the author of this post, I have to add that this very morning I have been mean at least six times and more that I do not remember. To love and to give is not simple at all, it is natural for us to be selfish, but I think we should try to be better when we have a chance and can. If you consciously realize that you can change somebody’s day by giving (a smile, a rose, a nice word, an orange, a gift, some help), then do not shy away, do it! Sort of as a monthly experiment! I will do so too.

Love is an Intensifier

Pan de la diada de Sant Jordi 2013This is just a regular piece of bread, however, as the Sant Jordi holiday is approaching all the bakeries in Barcelona sell El Pan de la Diada (on the picture above). It is done with cheddar and morcilla (blood sausage). Overall it has a sweetish taste and if you close your eyes you will eat it as any other piece of bread.

Here is a random thought about love. I was searching for an old email in my mailbox this morning, and reread one that ended with the word love. This simple word at the end made the whole email intense and warm. When we add love to something we intensify the meaning, we make each word count more, we offer the feeling of home to the person on the other end. It is interesting to see how the meaning of the message changes if we sign it with hugs, yours, take care or just with our name.

Still love is just an intensifier. Without the subject, the message, the thoughts the word love by itself would not count. Well, may be it would ocassionally. Imagine you receive an email or a message with just one word love. It would make you smile and feel great at the beginning, but if there is nothing behind, the world by itself will become boring and everyday. The word love is empty by itself, however when the message is there it has an amazing effect. It becomes the most powerful, beautiful, desired and encouraging word one can give or receive.

The same goes for the picture of the bread. I sent it to a friend in Russia and she found it wonderful and loved the colors. Colors are intensifiers of our emotions. What we label as love are the new colors that wake up our imagination and curiosity. And there is nothing wrong with it.

I still believe that in a way life and love are about sharing the wine and the bread. And it is about smiling while eating.

Questions in a Personality Test

This evening I read a blog post on the personality tests. I am not a big fan of those, ok, to be honest I do not remember when was the last time I did one. I am quite skeptical about its generic approach and the results.

Today, I decided to take a different perspective on it. I need to be more self-aware of what I do well and at what I fail. There are obviously things that do not work in my life and to change those, I should do two things. First, I want to be aware of what I am doing wrong and second, I want to know how to “reduce the impact” of whatever I am doing wrong. It is difficult to change oneself and I am not aiming to change myself from one day to another. However, if we are aware about what has been causing our problems, we may look at things differently. We may try to avoid getting into the situations where our less favorable sides shine. Or we may plan ahead to reduce the impact of our wronging (to ourselves and / or to others) if we are aware of it beforehand.

Anyway, I took this test not only because of the results, but because some questions made me think. For example the question 49 is a good one. It asks if you have a good control of your desires and temptations. And I answered “no”. What it means for me, is that I can’t stop “desiring” something by just pushing my rational side forward. I can control how I act on my desires or temptations, but I can’t control what I feel or think. Is that what is causing many of the problems in my life?

Interestingly enough, it seems that questions that make us think while answering them, are the ones signaling us about the potential “pull downs” we are not aware of. The idea is not to change oneself. It is almost impossible as a goal. You will always fail at it and just get frustrated. The idea is to be self-aware of what has been causing problems so far, and how to think and act so as to reduce its impact in the future. The habit of thinking and acting with self-awareness will in longterm lead to the desired changes and outcomes. Or at least it should in an ideal world 🙂

Nights in France

at night at the hotel

The hotel room ceiling has the shape of a lemon. But you do not see the shape in the darkness. What you see is the shadows of the four hotel-room windows on the opposite walls. And the moving shadows of the trees. It is April and it is well after midnight.

In the silence you can hear two men talking on the street. They are French and they are quietly discussing something. Never-ending sounds of their voices. You can hear them from the hotel bathroom. It is big and light and your eyes get used to the white marble with the grey details. White is all your eyes can see. You lie in the tub and do not think about anything. You get absorbed by the whiteness that surrounds you and by the darkness of the night. You listen to the men talking French.

Then there is silence. And you think why your life is not more normal. Why is that you enjoy listening to two strangers talking French under your hotel window while soaking yourself in the bathtub for over an hour? Why closing your eyes and seeing everything white makes so much sense? We probably like to listen to the stories we do not understand. There is no point in understanding everything. Living the nights is different from living the days. At nights we do not have to explain, accept, comprehend, pretend, persuade. We live things that do not make sense. And shadows sometimes are truer than pictures.

Corbières Roads in Spring

Everything comes with its price. Sometimes we do not realize it, but the price is still there. We were driving along the Corbières roads in the Southern France and my husband told me that the things between us were really not working out. And I thought of the Spanish Civil war and how the guerilla fought on the other side of the Pyrenees. My only notion of it is from For Whom The Bell Tolls, and in the book it was winter and it snowed in the mountains when they fought. The same mountains we were driving through, just on its other side. How must it feel to lie in those yellow flowery fields not knowing what will happen to you? There is a high price for everything beautiful there is.

Then comes the part about understanding. It occurred to me that we push ourselves to understand people when we stop loving them. When we love somebody we do not have to consciously remind ourselves that we need to understand that person. It comes naturally. It is the part of love that we actually enjoy. It lets us live a new life through the eyes of the other. When the feelings are not there we push ourselves to understand him (or her). We can succeed at it, but the barrier already exists. We make ourselves walk through it to get the other’s point of view.

The last one is beauty. So far, with all the traveling we have done, I have not seen anything ugly or anti-esthetic in the nature. The green fields, the trees, the windy ocean coast, the white snow of the nordic countries, the yellow desert, the flowers, all of them are amazingly beautiful. I look around. The strength, the light, the life are visible through each of its parts. And there is silence.

I love the roads in the Southern France. Even if the price is high for each glimpse of beauty, it is totally worth it. I could walk through those fields and mountains for many many hours.

Driving towards Limoux
Roads around Couiza
Driving on D14
Driving on D14 France
Chateau de Peyrepertuse
The village of Duilhac Sous Peyrepertuse
peyrepertuse chateau
peyrepertuse chateau
On the road around Cucugnan
The vineyards around peyrepertuse chateau

Black and White (France)

It is dark right now. At night Carcassonne is not black and white, it is brown and yellow. Yellow streetlights in front of the building and on the plazas give a tridimensional feel to the city. From my hotel window I can see the boulevard, all the trees are yellow. The houses are brown. Then, the sky is black.

During the day the city was more in black and white. In the spring the tree branches are still thin and uncovered. The sunlight is seen through the shadows. The stones and shutters under the direct sunlight.

My favorite part of the castle is on the last picture. I love this fresco. Every time I see it, the colors attract my eyes enormously. For me it is about the passion. In spring it is the most colorful spot in Carcassonne.

Carcassonne in the morning
Boulangerie Carcassonnelunch in Carcassonne
Carcassonne Castle
The tree and the cross
Fresco at the Carcassonne Castle

France in April

The world holds no magic. The things exist around us. We see some of them. We think in terms of stories. Some stories are better than others. Still they are just stories. The reality is only a part of our life.

I like stories. They may distort the truth, but my reflection in the big hotel mirror in the dark room is also far from the truth. It is almost black and white, it is real and it is not. My shadow is also not me, but if I move, it moves too. If I smile, the shadow stays the same.

The shadow is true to me. The reflection is true to me. Both are stories. Maybe the stories are good, even if they hold no truth. Sometimes I want to talk without words. In France in April, and I am slowly falling asleep. It is one hour past midnight.

Carcassonne Castle
Carcassonne Shutters
Shutters Carcassonne
Almost black and white
Carcassonne Castle

Meeting People I do not Know

Saturday morning, 10:05am and I am sort of lost in Barcelona. The bus line that I was supposed to take is temporally cancelled and there are two people trying to help me to get where I have to get. And that is to meet fifteen people I do not know. And one that I do.

It was an invitation from my former college professor to get together at his place with a bunch of other folks to talk about cultural differences, judgments and how those affect our understanding of the world. And there we were, about fifteen of us sitting around the coffee table, sharing our perception of different life situations. And we really did not know each other. Lost in names and faces, we talked and listened. I wish I would have listened more and talked less. This is my most honest feedback to myself on today’s morning. Anyway, the things we heard and said were pretty obvious. Nothing challenging or that would change the way we act or think.

Walking back home I could not pinpoint right away what the value of this meeting was. And it occurred to me that sometimes it influences us to hear others say obvious things. It creates a sort of normalcy and the ground for trust. And within this ground we see our own opportunities for growth. The opportunity to be less judgmental, to be better listeners.

Another thing that triggered my mind was the idea of being judgmental. Is there a difference between an opinion and a judgment? From what I understand, and I might be wrong, opinion is how we see things from where we stand. We always have an opinion on the things we are aware of. Judgment, in turn, means judging another person for not seeing the things as we do. It means not accepting that others are looking from a different perspective. We have opinion about ideas and things, and we are judgmental about people and how people act (or react). For example, if I say, “This coffee tastes bad,” I am voicing my opinion on the coffee and my tastes. However, if I say, “You have no taste in food. This stuff is really good,” I am being judgmental. This is a very simplistic explanation, but it escalates to many other situations. The bottom line is that we do not judge ideas, we judge people. We also give people advice, which comes right after voicing our judgment.

Opinion is about ideas and thoughts. I think that the more opinions there are, the better. Listening to the opinions of others makes us richer, it challenges us and helps us to grow. There is nothing wrong with being opinionated. I think, passion is an opinion too, a very strong one, that has the ability to sweep others off their feet. Wondering if you can be passionate without being opinionated. Just thinking.