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a V@g's diary

Writing of witches and women

Hydra, an Aphrodite in white and blue

“Hydra is almost a bare rock of an island (…) There are only two colors: blue and white, and the white is whitewashed every day, down to the cobblestones in the street (…)”. In his book, “The Colossus of Maroussi” Henry Miller describes Greece as “a voyage into the light”, into the Earth inner blaze. An image, a collection of impressions aesthetically perfect, like “the very epitome of that flawless anarchy which supersedes (…) all the formal arrangements of the imagination (…)” And Hydra, with its wild beauty, embodies this perfection, like a pause, entered “in the musical score of creation by an expert calligrapher (…) one of those divine pauses which permit the musician, when he resumes the melody, to go forth again in a totally new direction”.

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Henry Miller’s Hydra is a naked Aphrodite born from the foam of the sea, hidden in the never ending back and for of the waves.
The island is detached from Peloponnesus only by a spoonful of water. His past is long, like everything else in Greece. Known since the Third Millennium BC, was probably a maritime base for the kingdom of the peninsula. Abandoned during the Dorians invasions, came back to life in the 8 Century BC, repopulated by farmers and herders and since then – besides being mention a couple of times by Herodotus and Pausanias – remained at the margins of History.

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Today, the island is a touristic destination, thanks to Miller and especially to Leonard Cohen that in the Sixties moved there falling in love with its peace and nature.
Its main town, simply known as Hydra Port, clusters about the harbor like an arena, a metaphor perhaps which looks at the not so distant – in space and time – theater of Epidaurus. Hydra is another amphitheater, made of squared little houses among which the voices of the fishermen get lost while leaving the shores to sail into the big blue of the Aegean Sea. There are no cars in Hydra but boats and donkeys. The island’s rocky and harsh beaches are often concealed behind small inlets of water, connected to the main town by meandered goat paths.
Hydra takes time: time to walk from the village to the banks, time to follow the line of the coast and the ups and downs of the hills, time to enjoy the nature and the wilderness of the place. And then, above all, Hydra is silence. A deep, ancient whisper of absence, like a song that is not forgotten nor completely recalled. A melody that is something in between. A feeling of belonging and deep, quiet happiness. “Just that feeling of being grown up, with somebody beautiful that you’re happy to be beside and all the world is in front of you.” as Leonard Cohen said in an interview by Kari Hesthamar of 2015.

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There is a sense of freedom in Hydra, a peaceful abandonment, there is that longing of stillness that takes the sailor when he is far and that remains unfulfilled even when he goes back home, as a never-ending wanderlust. Cause the sea is there, with its deep blue and its mysteries: it calls us, whispering us to leave, to depart, to sail away. Maybe this is the magic of Hydra: there, for a moment, this murmur silences, letting the traveler gazing at the dawn from the sand. But it is just a moment, cause soon enough when the night will fall the urge to leave will come back again. “Like a bird on the wire, like a drunk in a midnight choir, I have tried in my way to be free”, sang Cohen. We all are like birds: looking at the sun and flying away, just to come back one day with even more story to recall. Hydra will be there, as it has always been.

Love
V@g

The Pnyx: a tale of the ancient Gods

“I remind you of this, Athenians, because I want you to know and realize that, as no danger can assail you while you are on your guard, so if you are remiss no success can attend you.”

Demosthenes stated these words standing on the Speakers’ staircase of the Pnyx Hill 2400 years ago when he harangued the people of the city with his Philippics.
The place was mythical since his time.

On this sacred Hill Pericles, Aristides and Alcibiades, all spoke during the golden age of Athens. A small rocky place, right outside the city wall, facing the ancient Acropolis and the Agora as well, so that whoever was addressing to the people was also giving his word to the Gods.

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Although only a handful of rocks is what remains of that forgotten arena, there you can still feel a deep sense of reverence and fealty. The old heroes are alive on the Pnyx: their presence lingers around the steps of the speakers’ stairs, into the veining of the ancient stones, among the thick branches of the olives trees that follow down the slope of the pike. They wait to be remembered or to be dismissed, while they attend the life of their city, yesterday as today as well, hidden in the shadows stretching slowly when the sun sets behind a glimpse of the shimmering Aegean Sea, peaking out in the distance.
Surrounded by parks, enclosed in the ring of the Classic Ancient Ruins of Athens, the Pnyx today is mostly reached by the locals climbing up there to admire the sunset far away from the hordes of tourists crowding together on the most known hill of Mars.
Still, if you reach the peak of the Pnyx at sunset, you will always meet some small groups of people sitting in silence with their back at the Acropolis, waiting for the dusk. A metaphor, maybe, of the place itself: where men in those ancient times were speaking to the city and to gods while facing the city as saying they were living their present and honoring their duties, but after all the harangues and the discussions, they were silently looking West, at the sea on which shores Athens made its fortune, built its past and hopefully will find its future.
Love
V@g

Discipline is the bridge between goals and accomplishments, and no… it doesn’t come easy

Yesterday I read an article about success. The topic was well known: the writer stated that, instead of following our passions, to reach success, we should fall in love with the process. Passion is cheap. True, I agree. Passion alone is never enough. A mindful and focused attitude is what’s needed. Problem is, that even if this brain- frame is fundamental, if it’s alone,  in the long run, is not enough.
Let me explain. Falling in love with the process, whatever the process could be, is a kind of easy. Success (a career or whatever we want in the long term) is like a steep stair to climb. Falling in love with the process is like reaching the first floor. But by itself, it is not going to lead us up to the top. It is the stamina we need to break the sweat and keep going. Important? Yes, but not the only thing we need to fulfill whatever dream we have. Consistency is what we have to build right after. Not the kind of steadiness of going through the first 30 minutes on a running track. The one that gets you at the end of the race. The stubbornness of ignoring the pain, the decision of making fatigue your best friend. Consistency is hard to build. And it is even harder to keep. It is more or less like deciding to quit something (cigarette, alcohol, sugar or whatever). You can be consistent for one year, two or even more. Until the day you decide “I skip it this time”, but you already know, that it is never “just once”.
Reaching a goal is never easy. It takes time, hard work, patience, and stubbornness. And when I say time, I do not mean one or two months, but more often than not one or two decades. Perfection takes long hours working on a skill, improving strength and stamina as long as creativity and agility. Bolt did not win his first Olympic Medal after training a couple of months, the same thing for Muhammad Ali or whatever champion comes to your mind. Leonard Cohen practiced for years, until the day he died.
They all fall in love with the process and at the same time, they all decided to embrace the fatigue they were experiencing, that uncomfortable itch at the back of our head that hits us every time we start an activity requiring mental strength.
We could say consistency in the long term is accepting we will go through hard times, it is the opposite of following our passions actually: it is shutting our emotions out and reacting to whatever problems would come up only with logic and determination. To move forward along the path of success we have to welcome the downsides of the learning process and whatever loss, crisis, blues, frustration comes with them.
And we have to understand and accept that even if we do all that mentioned above, even if we embrace the pain of every effort we make, even if we keep going, there is still the possibility of not getting what we want. We could fail, and for reasons not connected to our performances at all.

To quote Winston Churchill: “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts”.
Love
V@g

There is no such a place as Budapest

The peaceful flowing of the Danube, carrying along its stories and moods, is the main character of Budapest. This double city, incorporating the towns of Buda, on the West side of the river, and Pest, on the East side, is considered one of the best places to live in Europe, for culture, art, and services. To me, Budapest is the music of Bela Bartok, the portrait of Emerence, beloved character of Magda Szabo’s novel, “The door”, and also the blues of the “Paul Street Boys”, youth novel written by Ferenc Molnar, one of the very first books I read during my childhood.
Furthermore, Budapest holds a special place in my heart because was the destination of my very first solo trip. An experience that today I regret I didn’t make before.

I have an endless record of sites and places which I would love to share, but, to be honest, I am afraid it will be long and boring, especially for you reading it. So, I opted for a shorter solution, a bucket list, almost a pocket index of experiences that somehow made my staying in Budapest one of the best travel for me so far.

 

  • The Danube with its bridges, its banks, its promenades, and parks
    Walking along the Danube is magical, I spent hours admiring the glare of the neoclassic buildings mirrored on the water, the lights of the bridges, the silhouettes of the boats going back and for, disclosed by the outburst of the cameras’ flashes. The Danube is the very soul of Budapest and its main glorified citizen.

 

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  •  The Great Synagogue and the ruin bars of District VII, the old Jewish Quarter    Now, those seem opposite topics, but I really enjoyed the contrast. The magnificence of the Great Synagogue, the silence of the gardens, and the peacefully solemn atmosphere held inside, among chandeliers and shiny wooden benches, opposed to the bohemian mood of the neighborhood with the chaotic, messy and colorful jumbles piled up in the ruins bars, today a hot – spot of the city nightlife.

 

  • The hills
    Two easy strolls: the first one, on the Buda Hill, famous for the old funicular of the city, up to the Fisherman Bastion and, further on, to the castle. The second, from the Danube, up to the top of the Gellert Hill, a longer but nicer path not too steep, surrounded by the shade of trees covering the slope of the ridge. And as a resting point, the Gellert Bath garden, with its arcade, fountains, and staircases.

 

  • Last but not least, the Great City Market
    Now, I have a thing for markets: they are usually one of the very first sites I go check when I visit a new city. I love the goodies, the spices, the smell of fruits and veggies, the colors covering the stalls. And in Budapest I wasn’t disappointed at all: the Great City Market is majestic. Realized between 1894 and 1896, is a neo-gothic building not too far from Liberty Bridge. Inside the market’s great hall, is coated in an elegant iron skeleton, encased in glass and red bricks, surrounded by boardwalks wrapped up with bars, street= food restaurants, and souvenir shops. The chitchatting of the tourists mingled with the locals is its final touch.

 

Love
V@g

Common human denominator? Confused… and it’s absolutely cool

When it comes to the biggest question of all (no, I am not talking about how to eat like pigs without gaining weight), people know nothing. Imagine if we could ask to 1000 random men and women, which is the secret of their happiness. The answers we’d get, will be something between a gigantic patch of confusing ideas and a shit-pie.

Talking about expectations, we are all the same: confused. We are all confused in the same way. We do our best to find our way in the maze of possibilities, challenges and fears we will find ourselves in, but we cannot be sure of the results. How could we? We haven’t finished our journey yet. And if we look at those that have already finished it, well… they are not much talkative. To be honest, even when they are loquacious, cause for instance they have left something behind like books or works of arts, their words are not really a “how-to-do” manual, but more a collections of ideas. Something to inspire us, to lead the way, to give us the instruments – the tools – we need to build our own path.

So when it comes to our life, is up to us. You all know that positive, sweet attitude that seems so popular nowadays. Like: stay cool, keep smile! Never mind if there is a freaking Apocalypse going on outside! Picture your success in your mind! Well, I have tried that, but… to be honest I felt like a fat idiot all the time. But that’s me. That path is not working for me, but it could work for you. We all have our own way to look at life. And we all have different challenges to face.

And talking about challenges, there is one in particular that we are all doomed to face sooner or later (no, not the waxing time before beach season). I am talking about rejection.

Rejection is part of the process. And it is not something we will experience only when we are 20 something. But it is a phase that will come back into our lives until the day we die. As failure, rejection is hard to swallow, but it is fundamental. How? It will make us stronger. It will make us survivors. And out there, those that manage to fulfill their dreams are survivors.

In a way or in the other. Still survivors. How you react, again is up to you. You could use your anger, or your stubbornness or even both. You could stay positive and keep trying with a smile. You could go for sarcasm. There is not a right way, but many different approach. And there is nobody that can tell you that one is better than the other for sure. It depends from situations, social context and personal character.
Success is personal. And it comes in different form, but it is rarely immediate. It comes with time and work. In other words, tiny, little, accomplished, daily goals are the steps we need in the long run to build our big dreams.

So start working. And if you find yourself at the bottom, do not lose hope. First, the valley is a starting point: you can’t go deeper than that. Second, embrace your failure, try to understand why and how you finish down there. Look at yourself: do you need more strength to climb the mountain? Did you choose a wrong path? Do you need more stamina? Look at your mistakes and note them down to avoid them in the future. Then, when you are ready: take your backpack and start the climb again. And remember: the peak is not the final goal. The journey is much more important.

And for the second biggest question of all, eating like pigs without gaining weight. Well, I guess it is a matter of mathematics. If you are eating for 3000 calories, just make sure you burn 3001. How, once again, is up to you.

Love

V@g

Athens: an introduction

A throng of chitchatting strollers covered in bags packing Ermou Street, an overwhelming cinnamon smell filling the air, grey and beaten- up buildings following one another like tired soldiers going to fight a lost battle, and then – out of the blue – the opened, vast beauty of Monastiraki square with the wonderful view of the Acropolis in the distance. This was my first impression of Athens, a city where time is almost something real, another inhabitant, another puzzled face staring at you in the crowd.

Athens is a place in and on its own. Five million people live there today, the 50% of the entire Greece’s population. The city became the Country Capital in 1834, its history, however, dates back thousands of years: Athens, the queen of the Attica has a personal record spanning over 3400 years in total, and it is considered one of the oldest human’s settlements of the entire World.

The centuries, the wars, the crisis, the heroes and the myths Athens piled up during its long life, are all there to be seen, like scars and marks on an old woman’s face: wrinkles of a past that especially in Athens is never forgotten. Beauty, there, is often hidden. You need to look for it. The city has its own character, it is like a moody and grumpy cat, which may or may not be pleasant. It won’t trust you at first. The stunning beauty of the Akropolis and Plaka, are not the only gifts it can offer. There are many others. But if you want to see them, you have to deserve it.

There is Thissio with its rooftops bars and open cinemas, Psiri, an entangled labyrinth of battered but fascinating buildings, little taverns and street lights made of kitchen lamps. The flea market, with all its junkie goodies left on the street, almost abandoned. There is Omonia’s market, crowded, loud and colorful; Piraeus, a strange mix of markets, taverns facing the shores and smoky boats ready to depart. These are only a few, many are waiting there, hidden in unexpected neighborhoods, all of them ready be discovered.

Multicultural, creative, loud and messy, Athens is a city to live in, not to visit only. The tourist, rushing among the Akropolis and the souvenir shops, running on a schedule with museums and ancient sites, may miss the real wonder of this place, that is simplicity. Like sipping a coffee under the shade of the trees, while looking at the sea. Cause you never know, in Athens, if the Gods will be forgiving or not. And in a minute, the most stunning summer day could turn into a nightmare of waves and rain. Won’t last long. Won’t be forever. Like heroes and foes. Happiness and desperation. Nothing last, only Athens. The city will always be there, to welcome old and newcomers with the glazing beauty of its stones.

Love

V@g

Who’s to blame when it comes to the Media? Let’s talk about common sense

Today I read an interesting article about homeopathy or, as I call it, Mainstreaming Placebo for Dummies. A little context first: it was a follow-up to a tragic story. A child in Italy died because after he got sick, his parents decided to cure him only with homeopathy instead of taking him to a hospital. Now, the article I read was not discussing the tragedy itself but was handling the media coverage of it. It was basically saying that the same media that today are blaming Homeopathy for what happened are those that before used this kind of news as a click bait to attract readers and followers. And for this reason, they share responsibility for what happened. Now, I agree about the fact that the Media wrote (and they still do) junks about silly mumbo jumbo trends. Yesterday was homeopathy, today who know? The power of Pineapple for cellulite, maybe? And I also agree about the fact they should use some common sense, do some serious report and stop bending to the newest trend or to the narcissistic addictions of reporting the latest gossip. Cause it is seriously and honestly embarrassing. This said I do not agree with the idea they are responsible in some degrees for someone else decision. As my Nana was saying… “You got a brain? Good, use it”.
See, we should all be aware of the fact that magazines and newspapers are not a textbook, especially when it comes to healthcare. I mean, if I have the flu and I read an article about the power of oranges, I don’t go straight to the market instead of seeing a doctor! I still go for a check.up with a physician, especially if I have the fever, I am turning blue and I am growing a tail… Doctors study medicine, for years… their job is finding out why I got a tail and I am turning blue. End of the story.
Journalists are good with words, but they are not a “know-it-all” kind of God writing articles for us poor dummies. Ophra is not the supreme dominatrix of the universe… I love her too but… if one morning I wake up with 12 legs and a hole in my stomach, I am going straight to the hospital (for mine and everybody else safety, cause whatever I have may be contagious) instead of browsing Doctor Oz web page looking for clues (besides, if you ask the Internet about any symptoms you may have, you know the answer already: you are going to die).
Journalists – tv host, YouTubers, bloggers – they all write about whatever new trend – story or idea catches their eyes. And it is fine. This is their job. The readers’ one is approaching any kind of article with a critical mindset. I mean: If after reading an article about, let’s say, aliens hiding at Ikea’s “fun balls” daycare, I go there believing every single word of it and instead of finding any alien whatsoever, the only thing I am left with is a bunch of angry parents pissed off with me cause I kicked their kids out from daycare… I don’t blame the journalist, I blame only myself cause I did not apply a serious fact-checking process to the source of information I consumed.
Same thing for everything. I am responsible for whatever information I choose to believe. And I am responsible for the consequences of my actions if I do not apply logic and critical thinking to whatever I add to my internal library. That’s all. If I hurt someone while trying to find hidden aliens, or if anybody gets sick because I did not apply a simple and rational use of my brain to any given situation, I take the blame: the fault is mine because I acted like an idiot. Neither the journalist nor Ikea is responsible. Only me.
I am scared of this “I am not guilty whatever happened” position. I am terrified by its- spreading, even for topic – like healthcare or money managing – that people used to consider very carefully.  I suppose it is laziness. I mean, apparently, for a lot of us, fact-checking is boring, as it is applying a certain degree of critical thinking. Delegating is easier. And when you delegate you do not have to take the blame, you just impute someone else. Personally, I prefer keeping my judgmental power and accepting the responsibility for my actions, whatever they may be. In conclusion, yes: the Media should start doing their job more professionally. But at the same time, we should all consider any information we read… “cum grano salis”.
Love,
V@g

Troubles, beginnings and an old Roman God with two faces…

Today I realized a funny and quite obvious truth. We are never the first one in doing something apparently unachievable. And this made me recall the old, dear Giano…

The Ancient Romans worshiped a God I really like (one that was not “copied” from the Greek pantheon). His name was Giano Bifronte (Literally Giano the one looking in front and behind at the same time). He was represented as a bearded man with two faces looking into opposite directions. Giano was the God of every beginning, material or spiritual whatsoever; he was the one born without a father, the doorkeeper of every entrance, every threshold, and every bridge. His two faces, according to the Roman mythology, were looking at the entrance –the beginning – and at the exit – the end – of every passage, of every human adventure. And as every decent doorkeeper of the old times (Ianitores, in Latin) he was carrying a key and a walking stick: to open the door and lead the way.There have been many before us that faced great challenges. Many that maybe, even overcame worst situations. Everything changes in life, nothing lasts forever and as

There have been many before us that faced great challenges. Many that maybe, even overcame worst situations. Everything changes in life, nothing lasts forever and as Giano points out, time is a circle, a silver line drawn by a never – ending Past that keeps returning:  sometimes better, sometimes worst, sometimes just different. How our Past returns, it is up to us. Changes, crisis and hard times are useful in the long term. Without them, we would never be able to test ourselves, our strength; we would never stretch our boundaries to become our better version. For every door that closes, there is another one opening, another threshold to pass, another adventure to begin. And no, it is never too late, if we don’t want to.
If you find yourself in a very hard situation, one of those moments that can literally destroy your life, well you are not the first one. And you won’t be the last one. And yes, you have a choice. You can let yourself go. You can give up. Or you can fight.
We have all been there, and if we haven’t yet we will sometime in the future. And let me tell you straight: it can happen more than one time, there is not a rule in this kind of situations. The only point that changes is our attitude: we just become better in facing our tough moments, we improve. The challenges don’t get easier; to be fair the opposite is true: they get worst and worst with the passing of the years (like a video game that gives you a hell of a jerk as final boss every time you level up).
This said, there is a feeling of sisterhood in realizing that no: if we look at the big picture, we are not alone. Some of us can be forerunners, but for sure others will follow and some others may have taken another way to reach the peak. Still, the mountain is the same, the challenge is the same.
Whenever you feel left with no choice, just keep in mind that thousands of years ago, human beings’ daily struggle had huge teeth and longer claws, not to mention a never-ending hunger. And if you still feel smashed and beaten by life, just consider that you are alive: the other 99 millions of your “dad effort” didn’t make it. The simple fact you breathe goes against all odds. In other words, you are a miracle. Or a freak. Or both, like me. Keep a positive attitude, and if you find yourself in troubles, start thinking of what you should improve. What do you want to do? What are your true passions? What do you like to do? What things can you fix in your life? What others do you need to let go once and for all?
Failure is around the corner. Even the Romans knew it. And it may happen as well – one, two or 100 times – with or without Giano’s help. But what the Roman myth underlines is that every end brings with itself a new beginning, a new way to reinvent the present, through the experience of the Past, to get a different future. So if failure would be the case, the only thing to do is starting over. Keep trying, keep growing. People that reach their dreams are not always the smartest: they are those that don’t give up. Furthermore, they are not even the first. As they won’t be the last.

Love, V@g

No tribe, all tribes: of living abroad

What’s homeland? Or, where is homeland? When you live abroad, the borders of this concept falter. The idea of belonging somewhere, to a place, a culture or a specific group, is not so linear. We all know that society is not natural but a social conditioning. As human being we need to live in a group, to survive the outside world. Thousands of years ago the so called group was a tribe. Now, it is a country. Bigger, for sure. Not always better. Not really changed either. Cause the mechanic of the group states that to survive, to create a bond, the group needs an opposition. It is the old ‘us’ against ‘them’. My anthropology teacher could probably state all this better, but  he would agree with me is when I say that in every language the meaning of the world we use to name us as part of a group (a tribe) is ‘human being’. Like saying that the others, those that belongs to that different group, as not so ‘human’ like we are.

As an expat, feeling like a foreigner everywhere is my second skin.  It is a weird feeling, like listening to a radio station that is not completely in sync. There are statics, the sound is not perfectly clear. When I am home, I feel I do not belong there . Not completely at least. There is a shadow of dissatisfaction. I miss my other life. My other space.  But whenever I go back (come back?) there, this subtle sense of unsuitableness is still there. Different, but there. My other life, my other space, doesn’t represent my homeland either.

I love both, but I know I cannot call “home” neither of them. I am an outsider by nature. And it is a good thing, cause I cannot say that a country, a group, a tribe, is better than the other. Actually they are really alike. We are all human; we have the same desires, the same fears. We only speak different languages and we worship different uninterested gods, to whom anyhow we ask the same things. To be safe, to have food, to protect those we love. Same wishes. Same feelings. Just different words.

For an expat this sense of community is obvious. We left a box, we live in another, and we recognize the common pattern and of course the differences. For those that live and have always lived, in one of the boxes this exercise is not so easy. What’s missing is the comparison. So maybe, the best antidote against the poison of xenophobia is travelling. As much as you can, as long as you can and as far as you can. Cause as Robert Louis Stevenson said ‘There are no foreign lands. It is the traveler only who is foreign’.

Love

V@g

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