Weekly photo challenge: Reflection

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What is real? As I thought about the week’s photo challenge, this question floated to and fro. Because this photo, of a pond in eastern Germany, was taken with an old iPhone, the quality isn’t too crisp or clear. However, it’s easy to recognize the scenery: trees, around a pond and reflected in the water. A quiet place for reflection where everything looks normal. However, upon further inspection, you may notice that something is a little off, a bit surreal. Do you see it?

My reflections are often similarly unclear and unreal. As I get older, it’s difficult to decipher if remembrances of past events are 100% accurate or if they have been altered (like this photo) and affected by stories I have been told or stories I have read. When I was younger, things appeared so black and white; but as I age, those distinctions seem less clear and less important. What is real and what is an illusion?

What is real?

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Taking care in Rome, Hanoi and…

Take care in Rome, Hanoi and...

Trying to cross a road in Rome, where vehicular traffic streamed endlessly from all directions, I remember observing other pedestrians who boldly ran halfway across the street, frantically looking all around, only to retreat back to where they had started, when they suddenly realized they could not reach the other side of the road without getting hit. I looked for another way to get across the street, but there were no other options: no crosswalk, no overhead sidewalk (laughable, I know), no nothing. Like everybody else, I hesitated and then focused my attention on finding a suitable gap in the flow. Unfortunately, all the Italians racing motorized vehicles seemed to be in a hurry to get somewhere. Quite the opposite for the Italians sitting in cafes, sipping their wine, chatting with their neighbors, laughing at the foreigners trying to cross the road. They appeared happy to just sit and observe life. I wanted to get over to their side of the road. But how?

Crossing the road in Rome, Hanoi, or any other big city with scant semblance of order or structural enforcement can be intimidating or even deadly for even the most bravest of adventure seekers. There is something unsettling about imagining our flesh going up against man-made machines going at accelerated speeds. It’s not an inviting feeling, and it certainly didn’t entice me to step off the sidewalk almost 16 years ago. But, because I HAD to cross the road, I did the only think I could, without thinking further, I just willed my body forward and took a bold step off the sidewalk and into the suicidal stream of sacriledge. I focused my attention directly in front of me, trying to keep my tremendous fear at bay. The whizzing of Vespas and motorcycles around me blew my long hair every which way, but even when strangled strands of hair blocked my view, I maintained my steady and determined gait with no hesitation, and by putting one foot in front of the other, I reached the other side unscathed.

What I learned, on that day in Rome, was to stop trying to control things that I could not control. Rather than trying to calculate the best ‘gap’ in the frantic chaos of too-many-cappuccino-induced drivers, I just became part of it. After I succumbed to the chaos and let myself go, I just went with the flow. Amazingly, the Vespa drivers, the motorcyclists, and the cabbies all modulated their speeds, their accelerations and their maneuvers to avoid hitting me. Wow!

Can this method also be applied to other crossroads in our lives? Is it better to simply let go and take the first step, then to worry, over analyze, plan to death, or procrastinate? Is letting go better even when we have no clear direction or goal in mind?

Takin care in Rome, Hanoi and…

She’s got balls! I wish I could do that!

She's got balls!  I wish I could do that!

Living in a city offers opportunities to see things that one would rarely spot in a small town or village. As I ventured to the store to pick up some fresh milk, the exotic sounds of belly-dance beats bounced off the Zeil and lured me into its trance. As I followed the rhythms to the heart of the street, I noticed a well-endowed “woman” with belly-dance bells over her flirty skirt entertaining the crowd with her dramatic hip actions. All the shoppers, also lured by the sounds and scene, broke from their consumer frenzy to enjoy the surprising scene.

The first thought that sprang to my mind was, “Wow! She’s got balls! I could never belly dance in front of a growing group of strangers, let alone in front of my friends.” Apparently, I was not the only one piqued. A squat man in a red-striped shirt that stretched over his rotund stomach focused his eyes only on her. He sprang into action, twirling, teasingly strutting his stuff, and sashaying his body to her. The crowd cheered in excitement by clapping and hooting, encouraging them both. We all stood rooted to our places, enjoying the performance, until the band eventually ended their gig and the two dancers went their separate ways.

Still mesmerized, with bewildering thoughts going through my head, I started my journey home only to realize, when I was climbing back up the stairs to the flat, that I had forgotten to buy the milk. Doh! But then I realized “Who needs milk or substances when street performers provide nourishment and remind us of what it means to be alive and free to be who we are.” Would you ever see a performance like that in a small little town? I didn’t think so.

She’s got balls! I wish I could do that!

Better think twice about lighting up…at least in Singapore

Better think twice about lighting up

I remember my rucksack trips through Europe, back in the smoke-filled days of the ’90s, when it seemed as if EVERYBODY smoked EVERYWHERE. Now most buildings, restaurants and even bars ban smoking in many of the European countries. Much of Asia, however, reeks of smoke, as U.S. tobacco companies have shifted their aggressive marketing campaigns from here to there.

I can’t remember exactly where I took this photo (my memory must be affected from all that second-hand smoke I inhaled from too many rock concerts in my youth), but its hefty fine – 1,000SGD- identifies it easily: Singapore. Smokers beware: Lighting up in Singapore can be very expensive.

In light of the recent smoke-related news, the legalization of marijuana in several U.S. states, it will be interesting to see what the next generations decide about the decisions made today. Will marijuana smoking also become a fading fad as future generations discover something we do not yet know or understand, or will it gain more substance and last longer than the Mona Lisa’s smile?

Better think twice about lighting up…at least in Singapore

Amuse bouche, I worship thee

amuse bouche in Alba, Piemonte

amuse bouche in Alba, Piemonte

Is it your petite, bite-sized sweetness, your unexpected appearance before my hungry lips, or the gentle way you prep my eager palette for what is yet to come – more scintillating surprises and morsels of enticing deliciousness just around the corner -that keeps me addicted to you and coming back for more?  I am a willing slave to your demands.

And, to keep our affair fresh and enlivened, a suitably aged bottle or two of wine from the cellar?  Is there a better threesome than this?

Vintage bottles from Ca roma

Vintage bottles from Ca roma

Amuse bouch, I worship thee

History outside my doorsteps

Walking across the stone bridge over the Neckar River, I shot this view of the Heidelberg Castle, one of many medieval buildings, fortresses, and ruins that enrich Germany.

Reflecting on my youth I wonder if history, one of my least favorite subjects in school, could have been one of my favorites, had I been born and raised in Heidelberg or in any of the ancient cities of Europe, where history is not relegated to the pages of a thick and boring textbook, but evident everywhere you look. Could this be the reason why most Europeans are knowledgeable about history, politics, and geography while most Americans can barely pinpoint Germany on a map?

History outside my doorsteps

Pointillism in Borneo

Pointillism in Borneo

“Drawing a line”, oft used as an ultimatum between feuding sides, reminded me, instead, of this strange, natural art work I stumbled upon on an island in Borneo. Instead of lines drawn on the sand, these clearly deducible images would make Monsieur Seurat smile with pride. And then one has to wonder, did the creators of these wonders come first or did George-Pierre Seurat really invent pointillism without any other influences from nature?

Is there a sense of order, logic and purposeful intent in these abstract images. I see a bird in flight, a maple leaf, etc. What do you see?

The individual spheres of sand, no more than a few millimeters in diameter, are the artistic equivalent to the dots created by Monsieur Seurat’s small paint brush. However, to the creators of these drawings, the minuscule crabs, their elemental dots are as big as their entire bodies. And with these tiny balls of sand, the crabs create complex compositions that fascinate me with wonder and curiosity.

Pointillism in Borneo