Keep silent when you are looking at the stars

While I was fixing our dinner tonight,  it occurred to me that if somebody just popped up out of nowhere and asked me what I find beautiful right now, I would probably name the following things: First, I like the blog my friend Noelia wrote. Specially the last three posts. I like the pictures and everything else about her and her blog. I had just read her last post and it is still in my head, this is why I named it first. Second, I like the song I listened to yesterday, my heart still holds its rhythm and makes me breath one extra time every now and then. Third, I like the Lambrusco Dell’Emilia wine, as it works perfectly well with the hot and humid Barcelona weather. Also, it is amazingly light and it is almost like drinking rose sparkling water. It keeps you lean and fresh. Fourth, I like that my hands and legs are still tired from swimming. I like to swim, athletically, making an effort. And I also like to watch people swim, as I find it highly aesthetic and beautiful. It is as if your whole body became just one single muscle: your heart.  And you feel its rhythm on the tips of your fingers. You have no soul then, or at least you never think about soul when you swim. You think about nothing. You just concentrate all your physical strength on making one solid rhythmic move after another, focusing only on the end of the swimming line, but knowing you will make at least twenty of them. The effort holds the beauty. Fifth, I like people’s faces when they are engaged in thinking. I observed some at the cafe this afternoon. It makes their eyes deeper and their smiles invisible. And it is up to one’s intuition to catch the beauty of this smile through the corners of people’s eyes.

Beauty is not a set of attributes. Beauty is the lack of vulgarity. The more I  think about all the things that I find beautiful, the more I see that lack of vulgarity is what they all hold in common. And I am not talking about all these three million big and little things that we label as beautiful in front of others to make them feel good or to play our role. I am talking about that rarely labeled beauty that we feel with our throats, lungs and skin. When something strikes us as beautiful we forget how to breath for half a second. We swallow our words like a heart shaped ice cube, and it sometimes gets stuck half way in our throats, leaving a cold metallic taste of wishful bravery in our mouths. And only our skin knows the whole story of paying tribute to the beauty. But we rarely follow the intuition of our skin.

We do not say out loud that something is beautiful when we truly feel so. The sounds will be wasted. We fall silent. This silence and the enlarged pupils of our eyes are the only signs that beauty is about to touch the courage of our hearts. Any words would be vulgar. May be music would be able to express it. But sometimes I doubt even that.

Beauty is the lack of vulgarity.  Looking at the stars makes me fall silent too.

Barcelona, August 15th 2012

One Hundred Smiles

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We took a sightseeing tour in Santiago de Compostela. I got to sit with the three kids, my son and daughter and my daughter’s friend. We sat in the small white train that runs through the city for 45 minutes. My daughter and her friend decided to say “Hola!” to the people on the streets. I did not stop them, even though their enthusiastic waving and saluting prevented me from diving into the city´s past. To my surprise almost everybody on the streets smiled at the happy kids and waved back. The waiters, the hotel service workers, the old men sitting on the plaza, the woman walking two small dogs, students on the bikes, a couple with a Great Dane, men and women inside their cars stopped in the evening traffic, the lottery vendor, the beggar, the souvenir vendors, people chilling out at the cafés, people checking out their maps… and everybody else we passed by on the train. They heard the happy “Hola! Hola!” coming from the train, they saw the two five year olds waving and smiling at them and for a second or two they forgot about their own worries and routines. The simple childhood smile rippled through their lips. I think that during our 45 minutes ride we encountered around one hundred people, and all of those who heard “Hola!”, waved back and smiled. The kids enjoyed saying “Hi” to strangers. Their enthusiastic “Hi” was an invitation to share that moment of childhood happiness. Simple, unrestricted, unattached, abstract and light.  It was that unexpected smile that lands on our lips when we are busy with something else and did not intend to smile. It felt good that so many people suddenly smiled back at us. As they smiled their steps became lighter, their words kinder and their eyes looked shinier. I am learning from my kids how to smile openly and say “Hola!” to strangers. And the amazing thing is that people are grateful for that light in our eyes.

Mature people intimidate me. Greatly. I am thrown aback by their seriousness and feel like a child talking to a busy grown up who does not have time for my words. I nod to their assumptions because they are so secure of the stability of their own words and their rightness. And with years I became good at this game of grown ups. I make a serious face, follow up their thoughts with a nod and do not interrupt them with abstract question weather or not they like butterflies and what color of the butterflies’ wings they are attracted by the most. Nope, I don’t collect butterflies. I shiver at a thought of it. But I like the lightness of their flight and the transparency of their wings and their ability to color the fields in spring. It was well after midnight and I was talking to a friend of mine in a small bar in Santiago over a pitcher of Sangria. And we were talking like grown ups, about life, people and thoughts. About work and travel and money, and everything else that mature people normally talk about. And somebody overhearing our words would be sure that we were two grown ups having a night out over a pitcher of summer fruity alcohol drink. But I knew that butterflies were not out of question. Should I start talking about butterflies, stars or dreams, I would be heard, understood and smiled back at. The conversation would not stop there, and it would take an amazing new turn. But it was late, we were the last people in the bar, the waiter had already cleaned the floor, put all the stools on the tables and was occupying himself with something just not to disturb us. We paid the bill and left.

The nights in Santiago are cool, a breeze maneuvers through the narrow streets and lightly nudges you on the back. Its good that old houses protect you. You and your silence and the unspoken words on butterflies. Only knowing that you can also talk about butterflies, you suddenly become a nice mature person for an hour or two on a cloudy night in Santiago.

I do not like street music. I mean, I do not notice all these people who play their guitars, accordions, flutes and violins on the streets in front of the restaurants. They do not annoy me generally, but they do not make me smile either. Yesterday we had lunch in a nice white restaurant out of the touristic downtown. The food was good and cheap. You always know that the restaurant in Spain is good when it does not look polished and expensive. The best food I had is in those cheap and busy places, where the waiters are always running pass your table. Still they remember your order and start by putting a ceramic pitcher of wine and rough Galician bread on your table before asking the food order. In these places the word “drink” includes wine too, whether you ask for water or wine the price is the same. We just had ordered the food when we heard the music. It was gentle and nice. It had no vulgarity among it sounds and when the food was served, I could not eat it. It felt like eating in a music hall. If I hear music I like I can´t do other things except listen. And so I listened. Two men played an oboe and a guitar on a corner of a nearby plaza. And I stood up and crossed the plaza and put some money in their guitar case (they did not have the hat or bag for collecting money in front of them). They smiled kindly back at me. And somehow I felt very grateful. It was a gift to hear that music. After a while they moved closer to our tables and to my surprise played my favorite music piece, the Turkish Rondo. They played it in a very unusual way. Instruments talked gently, like the most humble person I know, and even humbler than that. The sound was so light that it barely touched you. The music, like a gauze cape over your shoulders did not protect you from anything, did not keep you warm, had no weight. But you, like everybody else, felt the essence of beauty that lay within the folds of its transparent weave.  It radiated light akin to a child´s smile and to the flight of a butterfly.

When you land in Barcelona at night the runway looks like a field ready for some magical game. Red and green lights signal awkward rules to the unknown players. Whether we know it or not, we are a part of it. And I was wondering if others also see the runway in the night as a field ready for some magical, unfair, unrestricted, unknown, but still amazingly beautiful game.

There are certain things that we do not forget easily. And so I will carry these hundred smiles that our children provoked, the midnight Sangria talk and the unasked question about butterflies and the gauze cape weaved by the oboe and guitar “improvising” on the Turkish Rondo. And earthy thick wine in a terracotta pitcher and the rough bread, all done by sunburned and kind hands of village people on Galician fields.  The simplicity of it all sneaks into your heart like a child´s smile. And the moment later you turn the corner and carry it with you for the rest of your life. And you give back. And you give it away. As it would be impossible and too painful to save all these feelings just for oneself.

Santiago de Compostela, July 22nd 2012

Notes from Rome: beauty and kindness

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Fan. Fan. Fan is not a just a decorative item here. We started using fans. It is very hot in Rome. No trees. Lots of ruins. Lots of columns. Doric and Roman columns. Lots of cafes and restaurants. And it is very hot. Many places do not have A/C. Thus, we ended up getting those souvenir fans and using them. They work! And when our kids started quarrelling over one fan that we got for our daughter, a street vendor gave our son a similar one as a present, for free. Unexpected kindness is stronger than beauty. Or may be it is the essence beauty. And our son’s fan is a small reminder of this human beauty called kindness.

Streets are beautiful. Distances are huge, but the buildings are so beautiful, that it makes walking very attractive. Everybody walks on one side of the street, on the shady one. Thus, if you are fine with the hot Italian sun, you may walk freely on the sunny side of the streets.

Colors! The houses are all painted in terracotta, blue, yellow and orange color. It makes the city look yellowish. Yellowish with white or green or blue shutters and sharp shadows. This and the sun give Rome the dusty feel of an ancient beautiful city.

People. People. People. I am wondering if Rome is just for tourists. Tourists, like us seem to be everywhere. The city is full of souvenir shops and restaurants for tourists. However, tourists here look more elegant than in the rest of the places I have been. They dress better, they have nicer manners, and they are smiling and pleasant to look at. Ok, they just look darn elegant. Rome must have some magic; is this what magic dust is? The city makes us all dress nicer than we would otherwise. You look around and all you see are dresses, nice, colorful, beautiful dresses, straw hats, sunglasses, heels, suits, and shirts. Men address you as “bella signiora” and it sounds as a complement, even coming from a waiter or a bus driver. Italian sounds enchanting, as people who speak it. Even carabinieri looked impressive and I unwillingly straightened my back when eight of them walked by.  It feels good to be a part of this colorful and aesthetical city for a week. Maybe longer in the future.

When you enter a church or a cathedral you intuitively look up. And your eyes are magnetized by the mosaic or painting of the cupolas. Never before have I looked up for so long. The altar is invisible comparing to the quiet radiance of the scenes above your head. I am wondering if people were supposed to look right up when they enter a church… I hope they were. It makes you be part of this beauty and kindness.

Rome, July 5th 2012