The Queen of Espirit d’escalier

One cold January morning, I clutched at my tea for life giving support. I was sitting through the kind of gathering that happens across Corporate America when a calendar year rolls over. Executives suddenly pep up, and sit up looking important, and feeling purposeful. Like a pup in spring, who thinks he can play with the ball if only folks would toss it instead of gadding about.

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I sometimes like to watch these events. The actors change every so often, and the ones who remain have subtle changes in their motivations and ambitions too. The varieties of personalities we surround ourselves with is an ever fascinating experience, and we only really have the luxury of sitting back and watching occasionally. I suppose that is why the Dalai Lama is full of the milk of human kindness – he meditates, and observes.

Anyway, the gathering reached a place where credits were rolled and I noticed happily how people brightened when they were given credit for their work. It is true one should do the work without expectation of the reward, but how nice it was to see people get the credit where it is due. The meadow suddenly seemed spotted with frisking happy pups.

There was an amusing interjection when one team was accidentally left out of the credits, and claimed what was their due.

I smiled to myself thinking of this normal human tendency to crave recognition. We all do it. Just the other day, I bragged about how clean the kitchen floor looked: ‘gleaming like glass’ as I said, till I was reminded by the family almost gleefully that I had better stump it given that I had to clean up the glass I had broken, and therefore ‘gleaming like glass’ doesn’t really count.
“I am neither Jocelyn Bell Burner nor Alfred Russell Wallace. When I clean the floor, I want credit! “ is the quip that I would have liked to come up with.

But I didn’t.

I came up with the inelegant, “Well…I am eating the potato fry then!”, and stuck my tongue out at the children.

I am a queen of that phenomenon where you think of the perfect verbal comeback too late. I was delighted to note there is a word for that: Espirit d’escalier.(Wiki Link for the word, Esprit De Escalier) The link writes about the amusing origins of the word, please read it.

Where am I going with all this spirited Espirit d’espalier, potato fry stuff? One moment. Yes, Credit and Work and Meaning and all that.

Sitting there at the corporate meeting, and watching the team claim credit for their small part in the puzzle, I was reminded of Jocelyn Bell Burner and Alfred Russell Wallace.

Wallace, independently arrived at natural selection for the mechanism for evolution before Darwin did, but he jointly published the paper with Darwin. Darwin’s Origin of Species is vastly credited with the theory though. Did that make Wallace spout and keep the potatoes? No, he continued to travel the world, writing about injustice and social causes. He never stopped exploring or lost the joy of wonder or ceased writing on the causes that deeply appealed to him.

Jocelyn Bell Burner is another scientist whom I find admirable for this very reason. She was passed over for the Nobel Prize. Credited with detecting the first Pulsars in the universe ( she should have been a Nobel Prize recipient for Astrophysics in 1974). When asked how she felt that her Professor got the prize, and did not adequately exert himself to get her name on the nomination, she shrugged and said, “If you get a prize, it’s not your job to explain why you got the prize. ”

I read about these two stalwart scientists in the books, Lands of Lost Borders by Kate Harris and Black Hole Blues by Janna Levin. Every book teaches us different things. Even queens of Espirit d’escaliers can find a way to come back with Jocelyn Bell Burner & Alfred Russell Wallace and their phenomenal attitude towards recognition as it related to their work.

 

It makes me realize now what my stellar teachers were saying on those cold Assembly mornings when they dangled tantalizing pieces of wisdom in their morning speeches.

Bhagawad Gita on work without reward

Karmanye Vadhikaraste, Ma phaleshou kada chana,

Ma Karma Phala Hetur Bhurmatey Sangostva Akarmani

कर्मण्- ेवाधिकारस- ते मा फलेषु कदाचन।

मा कर्मफलहेतु- र्भूर्मा ते सङ्गोऽस्त्- वकर्मणि॥

Loosely meaning: Do not anticipate fruits while doing the labor, this was oft quoted by teachers trying to inculcate the importance of work.

Turtlish Thoughts

When the children are hanging out nearby, I am amused to see they take the phrase literally. I find them hanging upside down from trees looking like bats wondering why the world cannot be more topsy-turvy on occasion. One day, I found them on the monkey bars like this: one fellow upside down, the other swinging wildly. One child cart-wheeling on the floor, (hop, skip, jump, cartwheel),and chatting about Turtles. I don’t think they realize how the scene must seem to adults who have long given in to the expectations of the adult world, and walk upright at a reasonable speed and acceptable gait. I grinned at the unusual scene and they smiled and waved, before resuming their chats.

The scene reminded me of the Kung Fu Panda movie. Thoughts of Monkey, Mantis, Viper, Crane, Tigress , Shifu, Po and Oogway are always welcome.

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Sometimes, when a bunch of stuffed shirts are droning on in self-important tones at the tail-end of an exhausting meeting, I think wanly how much more fun it would have been if we had jumped up and down, cart-wheeled a few times and hung from tree branches while discussing ‘Strategic Improvements to Aid And Abet The Committee’. Every bit helps.

That night, with the wind whipping up a mean rhythm outside, I suggested visiting our old friends in the Valley of Peace, and embrace the challenges of the Jade Palace again. The Kung Fu Panda series has long been a favorite in the household, and we all nodded. Movie nights are never an easy democratic process, but I was glad we all agreed on ‘Kung Fu Panda‘ that night.

Oogway, the turtle, holds a special place in our hearts, partly because, measured and slow is not something we do – we are forever racing from one place to another, hanging upside down with friends on monkey bars, competing to deliver the quickest quips and generally making quick pests of ourselves in the home. Oogway, on the other hand is the coolest dude. The turtles: Oogway of Kung Fu Panda fame, Crush of Finding Nemo fame and Toby of Kindergarten fame, have all been much loved and have taught us so much.

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It was no surprise then that we reached for the ‘Always Remember’ book by Cece Meng and Illustrated by Jago.

It is a beautiful book that talks about an old turtle. After the turtle dies, all of his friends remember him lovingly in their own way. It is a lovely book showing us how far and wide our impacts can be by living a fruitful and useful life, sticking to simple tenets of compassion, loyalty and friendship.

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The marine worlds always make for the best illustrations, but even so, Jago’s work in he book is mesmerizing. The characters (dolphins, starfish, baby turtles, whales, sea otters) remember Old Turtle, the compassionate companion, the adventurer, the teacher, the explorer. We, by our very being, mean different things to different people and this beautiful multifaceted aspect is illustrated in pictures splashed across the ocean in hues of blue and green.

Side note: For adults, a similar book about the far and wide reaching impacts we have on others, is a book by Miss Read, Emily Davis. A school teacher by profession, her life is remembered fondly by those whose lives she affected. Often times, we think of these large sized impacts but the most powerful ones are right by us all the time.

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Our companions on Earth have always fascinated us. I remembered fondly watching a baby turtle sun itself on the rocks in Spring  a few months ago. A friend once told me that once we start paying attention to the world around us, it tells us in so many ways what we need to hear and how.

So, what does it mean when a turtle enters your thoughts so apparently suddenly and steadily? Does it mean that we need to synchronize our movements with the animal companions that are paying us visits? In this case, s..l..o..w……d..o..w..n ? Well, my turtle teachers will be proud of me indeed to see me following their example so well. I am sitting cosily in bed as I write about these dear creatures, and look forward to slowly drifting into a world of quiet contemplation, and gently falling asleep while the Earth slowly but steadily hums and thrums on outside. The flowers may bloom or they may not, the shoots may grow or they may not.

 

“Your mind is like this water my friend. When it is agitated, it becomes difficult to see. But if you allow it to settle, the answer becomes clear. “ – Oogway

Nature’s Shows

This article was published in The Hindu Open Page: The Art & Charm of Shoshin

If anyone has spent time watching pebbles make ripples across ponds, they will know what I am talking about. If not, I encourage you to take on your person a couple of pebbles and hike up the high hills and mountains, or cut through the pristine forests, in search of a puddle, pond or lake of reasonable size to cause ripples. Then, with the hand held flat, proceed to skip the pebbles into the water. The skillful amongst you may get the pebble to skip and skim the waters in the first few attempts causing beautiful rippling waves as they go along. I did not. Watch for the word skilled in the sentence – pebble throwing is an art that isn’t appreciated enough.

The son attempted a large stone throw and I held onto him lest he launch himself with the stone. Size matters: large stones and small boys could cause the cannon to fly with the missile. This is the kind of thing that would have made Newton come up with complex mathematical calculations to support the theory of pebbles and ripples, missiles and cannons, and extend it to comets and stars. We, on the other hand laughed, and substituted a flattish stone is his hand. Father and son threw pebbles and I sat watching mesmerized at the beautiful rippling effect it had on the water.

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It was a lovely bright day, one of those gems that present itself in the midst of a rainy stormy week. Much as I adore watching the storm rage around me, and the wind whip the bare branches to breaking point, it doesn’t make conducive walking environments. I tried. I went out for a walk during the raging storm that had flights circling the air space multiple times before attempting to land, and I must say that I was wetter than water. It took 3 days for my shoes to start feeling damp again. The daughter shook her head sternly and said I was going to come down with a pneumonia if I continued on this idiotic path of loving the rain. “Are Pluviophiles Pneumoniophiles?” I asked her, and told her to be crazy and feel the rain, love the rain and watch the rain. She watched me with love, and a strong feeling that I was crazy. Oh well.

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I raised my face upwards towards the sun and my thoughts drifted once again. As I sat there thinking of this and that, a beautiful thing happened. The mind snapped out of the mundane and omnipresent things that occupied it, and went into a lovely, meditative state. Watching the sun sparkles drift meditatively on the waters was marvelous. The world seemed to be throwing these tiny diamonds into the water for our enjoyment and they drifted obligingly with the tiny waves, Little shimmers bobbing up and down, dancing and shining in the sun’s rays, set to the perfect rhythm of the breeze rustling through the bare winter branches of the trees nearby. The earth was bursting with new shoots and moss lined pathways.

Ducks, coots pelicans and geese were bobbing on the waters in the distance. Birds were chirping and swooping -I enjoyed the swift elegant swoops of swallows as much as the impressive regal swoops of the hawks overhead. Some people were biking, some others walking. The clouds – white today, drifted lazily across the skies, as though they too enjoyed the sunshine and did not want to hide the sun. The air smelt fresh and clean with little wafts of eucalyptus and fir scented drifts.

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Nature’s shows are marvelous. For a moment I forgot about the to-do lists, the worries and tensions that a concept of a New Year brings, and enjoyed the free show in front of me feeling revived and refreshed in spirit with every passing moment. All my senses keen, alert and marveling at the wonder around me. I looked at the little fellow enjoying himself by the waters, and hoped that he would remember these simple pleasures as he grows and takes his place in this frenetic world.

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Edit: After I wrote this post, I saw this excerpt by Mary Oliver on one of my social media feeds: it is from the book, Upstream, and I look forward to reading the book, but this piece of writing spoke to my heart (bolding my own):

Teach the children. We don’t matter so much, but the children do. Show them daisies and the pale hepatia . Teach them the taste of sassafras and wintergreen. The lives of blue sailors, mallow, sunbursts, the moccasin flowers. And the frisky ones-inkberry, lamb’s quarters, blueberries. And the aromatic ones-rosemary, oregano. Given them peppermint to put in their pockets as they go to school. Give them the fields and the woods and the possibility of the world salvaged from the lords of profit. Stand them in the stream, head them upstream, rejoice as they learn to love this green space they live in, its sticks and leaves, and then the silent, beautiful blossoms.

Attention is the beginning of devotion.

My hope is for everyone to savor a moment like that every now and then, to keep the capacity to wonder alive in us. The beauty of Shoshin.

Existential Angst or Gelato?

Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.
“Michelangelo Quotes on BrainyQuote”

As we walked past the thousands of statues displayed in the Roman corridors and roadsides, it is astounding and humbling to see the thousands of hours of creative labor that survives. The Vatican alone houses so many art forms and pieces of art, that we were quite naturally hurrying along if we did not wish to spend a good decade in there admiring every piece.

 

 

The Roman Empire is probably the most famously chronicled and studied empires in the world. The human condition across millennia has sought peace, temperance, a cultivation for the finer aesthetics even while battling the evils of war, famine and barbaric practices, and nowhere is that more apparent than in Ancient Rome.

Many portraits and statues were commissioned by the noble wanting to cast a sliver of their mortal presence into the immortal. The legacy of their lives as they might have seen it. But in works such as these, who endures? The person whose statue was carved, or the work of the sculptor whose ability enabled it? (See this picture drawn by my friend, of a statue)

Is it the Artist or the Object of the Art who endures?

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Image by Suresh (SureshSketches)

It isn’t hard to imagine the artist with a philosophical bent of mind when one sees the thousands of head busts carved out of stone. The busts themselves may be of emperors and powerful men, but they were carved by the skilled artisans who were not all famous. I’d like to imagine that the artisan who carved Caligula’s head had his laugh by secretly carving a statue of Caligula’s favorite horse, Incitatus. (Incitatus was made a senator, and was granted a place at the royal dinner table. ) Claudius, the one everyone assumed to be the local fool turned out to the successor to Caligula in the end. His head bust stands right next to Caligula’s in the hall of head busts in the Uffizi gallery.

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So, who endures and who doesn’t? It was Claudius’ writing that showed us all about the dangerous, mad tyranny of Caligula after all. ( The book, I, Claudius by Robert Graves is an excellent peek into Ancient Rome)

Walking past the arrays of the head statues, I could not help thinking of the Tamil poem by Bharathiyar that the husband quotes often:

Pirappal pala pizhaigal seidhu …
narai koodi kizhaparuvam eidhi …
Verum kootrukku eraiyagum pala vedikkai manidharai polae
Naanum vizhuvaen endru ninaithaayo?

“பிரப்பால் பல பிழைகல் செய்து
நரை கூடிக் கிழப்பருவ மெய்தி
கொடுங் கூற்றுக் கிரையெனப்பின் மாயும்
பல வேடிக்கை மனிதரைப் போலே
நானும் விழுவேன் என்று நினைதாயொ?”

Loosely translated it means:
Did you think I too would live the life that wracks ordinary human beings?
That I would sport grey hair, grow old, be small enough to talk pettily about people, and fall at the hands of fate?

The angst that has wracked mankind for centuries is apparent in the poem, and in the head busts and portraits by which I was surrounded. So, what is it we hope to leave as our legacy and for whom? We should aspire to be a thread holding the tapestry of life together while alive, but beyond it, what do we crave?

After the 160th picture of non-smiling faces, 100 head busts, and the n-th depiction of the crucifixion and the nativity scene, I knew what we craved for: Gelato.

“Before we go though, let’s go to the next floor. There is a gallery of musical instruments of the time.” said the husband. The children groaned, but I was intrigued. Music is a beautiful anthropological constant. We even sent a recording of whale song, Beethoven, Bulgarian folksongs and so much more on  the Golden Record  when we sent it out into space aboard the Voyager. NASA did not want to waste the space, but Carl Sagan, saw the poetic touch to it. The need for space exploration was to learn and connect, and what better mode to connect than through music?

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The image of a man playing the harp in a city square, as people walked by tingled in my brain, and I rose happily, urging the children on. “That man playing a harp could be from the 12th century or the 16th or the present. How beautiful is that?” I said to musical groans.

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After we climbed up the flight of steep stairs, however, we found ourselves peeking into another floor of more paintings. I looked around confused. The husband pointed to the sign there: Piano Secondo:

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‘Piano’ in Italian means ‘Floor’, and not a collection of pianos. He looked sheepish, but happy to be the person who relieved the tension, and off we went in an indecent hurry looking for gelato. Anthropological musings and existential angst can wait, Gelato cannot.

Una buona immagine

“Amma – you were sleep talking so much last night – it was hilarious!” said the daughter. The children and the husband giggled. In my defense, it had been a rather long few days. Roaming around in Rome had taken the wind out of my sails.

“I must have been tired!” I said. “ I had dreams of the weirdest nature. I dreamt the horses ran out of the picture, and out into the gardens that had the whomping willow type of tree.” (Pitti Palace & Boboli Gardens which are perfectly delightful to behold: A lovely spot of nature in Florence)

“Yes we know. And you sat up in bed sending Sabrina to get the horses back! Poor lady doesn’t have enough work in the reception, you have to send her galloping behind horses!”  I laughed with them. Sabrina had saved us considerable time by getting us a slot of time to visit the Uffizi Gallery.

I was trying to extricate the strands of weave from the coagulated mess in the brain. A number of galleries collapsed in the various chambers of the brain leaving the paintings smushed together. Waddling through the galleries with a coat hanging off one hand, a child off another and a bag on my shoulders, I wandered through the works of Leonardo Da Vinci, Michelangelo and Raphael – entire galleries devoted to Renaissance artists. I naturally gravitated towards pictures featuring the rich myths, with a whiff of the beautiful Italian countryside in the background. The Birth of Venus, Primavera et al were as beautiful as everybody said, and had I known the nuances of art could have enjoyed it more.

 

I felt like one of those canvases that inspired the starry night by Van Gogh. All the different colors flowing into each other, forming a confused mess of colors, but having a unique kind of beauty in itself.

Art can never exist without naked beauty displayed - William Blake.

The first time we spotted a picture featuring a nude, the son tugged at my hand, and giggled, “Why isn’t he wearing any clothes?”

I giggled with him. Do you think this is what William Blake had in mind? The renaissance era with its developments in the anatomy and study of the human figure really did go overboard on the whole human body thing. Considering that it was winter in Italy, there we were dressed in thermals, sweaters, jackets, caps, gloves and socks, looking upon the stone cold statues of apparently virile, strong men with muscles exploding out of their bodies, and not a thread of clothing on them. It was amusing, and the pair of us giggled like children in the pristine halls of the museums.

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Standing outside a fountain on the way from one gallery to another, I posed for a photograph. I smiled and asked if the picture was okay. Apparently, it wasn’t.

The teenaged daughter took a deep breath and with the air of explaining basics to an idiot child started instructing me on the best method to pose for a photograph. Apparently, smiling like I am happy to be in the photograph is out.
“Go for this look.” she said, and looked morose, angry, pensive all at once. “And those shots of you standing in front of a place is so third century! Look at this one, “ said she showing me a picture of a person with a sharp nose in a red coat overlooking a ruin.

If it weren’t for the fact that she was looking stylish in my coat, I could barely have recognized her, and that, she said, was the angle you have to go for.

I am not sure I will get it entirely. I come from a generation that saw as many people crowded together in one frame as possible, and all of us smiled at the the count of three – with at least one blinking at the opportune moment. From there to this sort of “Don’t even show your best face, and please don’t smile” slide is a bit quick.

But after looking at the numerous pictures in the galleries across Rome, Florence & Venice, I can see the impulse. I mean this trend probably came from too many pictures. It is probably why Madonna looks apathetic holding a babe Jesus in her hands, who displays no curiosity in his surroundings or joy or mischief. It was quite disquieting to see picture after picture like this with frozen expressions. Was the smile frowned upon so much? I can understand the looks of anguish in the scenes of the crucifixion, but even in the more joyous pictures of Madonna and Child, can one not introduce a motif of joy?

 

That’s what our million pictures must look like isn’t it? Frozen expressions  “capturing the moment”. If we are capturing frozen expressions, I don’t mind jumping on those galloping horses out into the gardens from the painting with a wild look of freedom and joy on my face any day.

So that brings me back to the basic question of what constitutes a good picture (una buona immagine). Does every picture need to tell a story? Why is Mona Lisa so famous, and not the beautiful pictures of these ladies?

 

Please recommend books on the art of appreciating Art.

The Roman Holiday

“Can you believe we are going to roam around in Rome?” said the excited son. He was very proud of his homophone.

“Isn’t it funny? Roaming around in Rome?”

“Yes! You bobble head! I said it was funny the first time you said it.” said the teenaged daughter pulling an I-can’t believe-this little fellow face. I laughed, knowing this was only setting the stage for at least another 108 times we would have to endure the phrase in Rome, and I was not mistaken. The nourish-n-cherish household is proud of its jokes.

“Have you done your homework? Did you spend some time trying to figure out the places to see?”

The husband’s I-love-my-wife-but-I-know-what-she-doesn’t-do-well tone deepened.

Setting aside the dismal feeling of being caught in school, I told him (patiently),
“Relax – I got the itinerary from my colleague who went there for his honeymoon, and it has a pretty good list of things to do including details on where to catch a sunset.” I said winking. “I even prepared a doc and shared it with you.”

He looked surprised, but right enough, when he opened the doc, he discovered entries like:
Check out the colosseum, if there is enough time, also add Palantine hill, and the Piazza Navona.
On the way back,  spend some time on the Spanish steps, and near that is Trevi Fountain.

I am no trip advisor, and when I generally send people on their way, I give them a vague list like above, keeping a wide margin for ducking into random stores that attract one’s fancy, stopping at random spots that demand one’s attention, looking at people scurrying about their business, tucking in an extra gelato, dribbling along and finding a couple of boys play football – it is all good fun.

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I like to blame my list-making on being one of those staunch believers in the super power of Serendipity, and the gift of winging it. For instance, the taxi driver the previous night told us not to miss the Piazza Venizia.  Piazza Venizia, as it turned out, was one of the most grandiose buildings I have seen. Built recently by Roman standards, it is only a century old among ruins millennia old, but the views from up above of the sprawling city of Rome,  Colisseum and the Palantine Hill were brilliant.

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The Romans didn’t believe in skimping on the grandeur. Glancing skywards and finding flying chariots bearing regal men atop their chariots was so novel that we found ourselves gawking like fish seeing Poseidon’s horses swishing through the seas for the first time.
“Poseidon was a Greek God, his Roman equivalent, Neptune, wasn’t as powerful because the Roman Navy wasn’t very powerful then”, said the mythology expert, the teen- queen in her mythical world.

Rick Riordan has done a marvelous job in getting tens of thousands of teenagers interested in the Greek and Roman myths, and our tour guide at the Vatican, told us she wrote up a Percy Jackson tour that was hugely popular. I could well imagine it. The city burst with myths. Flying chariots, fountains of fortune, serpents of evil, winged harbingers of war or prosperity jostled along with busts of statues of philosophers, kings, and senators.

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Bengt Nyman [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
It was also slightly disconcerting to read about the forms of entertainment in early Rome. We have heard stories of the slave, Androcles, who was not mauled by the hungry lion remembering a past kindness, seen movies of the era etc, but there is something disconcerting about standing amidst the ruins of the Coliseum and reading about the manslaughter, the barbaric practice of skinning people alive etc. A place where hundred of years ago,  people watched this gore as a form of entertainment raises goosebumps.

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If that is the kind of evolution mankind has had to come through, we have come a long way, but we also still have several ways to go.

What was that poem about “Miles to go before I sleep” ? by Robert Frost.

Walking among the ruins, you are intensely aware of the fact that toga-clad Roman senators walked the same path 2000 years ago, and if you are even slightly distracted, there are thousands of tourists, their phones, and their respective tour guides to remind you of the significance. In spite of that, it felt strange to see the husband looking at the GPS to figure out directions beside a ruin that was literally thousand years old. What if a spirit from that age were to spring in our paths then and there?

Maybe one did, for the husband saw a chain lying across the road, and attempted his boyish skip across the chain. He underestimated its height and went sprawling face-down on the pavement. After the initial shock wore off, he started laughing, and the son said, “Appa tripped on the trip. Hey! Appa tripped on the trip while roaming around in Rome. Get it? Get it?”, and we all laughed.

Our jokes! Well, they need to evolve too.

The Anthropological Note – Bonjourna

Traveling from the US to any other continent is different. Continents with older civilizations hold an anthropological charm, and a cry to learn from History. Setting foot in the first city on our Italian holiday, Rome, I could palpably feel everything we have heard about Rome ringing in my years.

All roads lead to Rome
When in Rome, be a Roman
Rome was not built in a day

The Great Roman empire, Remus and Romulus fed by a wolf. An Italian Sojourn was unfolding, and I was filled with the milk of human kindness as we made our way to the first place of stay.

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Ruins in the middle of the city – Roman Forum. A pathway over 2000 years old!

Rattling along in the taxi from Rome airport to our place of stay nearer to the tourist spots, our driver was helpful. He gave us tips on places to see, and warned us about staying away from the railway stations at night. “Many people gather there, poor people, people from other countries, it can sometimes be , eh, dangerous for tourists.” he said in his thick Italian accent. I grew to love the tune with which Italians spoke English. “Italy now, there are no jobs enough for Italians, where will these other people find jobs? But they have no place to go, no work to do also.” he said sadly.

It was a sentiment that is commonly heard across Europe these days. Across Italy and Ireland, I heard variants of the same thing: The human heart that wants to share and welcome has to work hard to find the resources to aid all. It is easier for people to take to cynicism, nationalism and protectionism.  The refugee crises has peaked because of religious tensions, economic collapse, tyrannical governments – Rohingya, Syria. Millions are being displaced (Source UNHCR) without any shot at livelihood, and this will have consequences to a planet already stretched to its limits.

Do We Belong On Earth Blog Series

Travel as a Political Act by Rick Steves is a good book to read in this context. It is a book of short essays based on his travels to the countries of turmoil. Israel-Palestine border, Serbia-Herzegovina, Syria, Iran, Honduras.

You can watch the video here

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Traveling makes me think of Mark Twain’s quote:
“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”

A broad, wholesome, charitable view of men is all well when things are going well, and when one as a traveler or tourist is sublimely soaking in another culture, being helped by strangers and so on. I have to admit though, that I had difficulty summoning up charitable views of men when I had my purse stolen a few days later. I was sore at the end of a weeklong journey, and I swore at the pickpocket who stole my purse. Charitable view forsooth!

But, it too taught me something. I had ignored the pater’s teaching about splitting your assets and had stupidly taken all my credit cards together. That learning came with a cold lesson( a painful 6 hour wait in the whipping winds outside the DMV.) Another post for another day.

 

In the Land of Dreams

I often have the privilege of reading books that require re-reading, thinking passively about the book every now and then, and then re-open and rekindle the feelings of the first reading, thereby making it a layered experience. Every once in a while, I find myself in the extremely fortunate position of having read several such books at once or in close proximity, and though the next set of books are no less interesting to the brain, I am stuck re-reading sections of the ones I have read.

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A picture of a man sitting and reading in a park

2018 was a year that started off on a promising note, and went on to delight and stretch my reading in all directions. In over 100 books, there are a few that I really did want to share. The links to the nourish-n-cherish articles in the brackets)

While I enjoy all forms of reading , and happily wade through tomes, fiction and non-fiction alike, the ones that truly uplift my spirit are Children’s books. Whether it is the magnificent imagination at work, or the illustrations, or the simple act of making one think deeply with the minimum of words, I cannot tell, but I feel a soaring of spirit every time I pick up a children’s book. A few notable ones in 2018 that I would happily pick up again to read are:

  • Louis I, King of Sheep – by Olivier Tallec
  • Here we are – Oliver Jeffers
  • Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes – Eleanor Coerr (The Cranes of Hope)
  • One Fun Day with Lewis Carroll – Kathleen Krull and Julia Sarda (Zephyr Tales)
  • Wangari Maathai – Green Belt Movement
  • Counting on Katherine – By Helene Becker and Dow Phumiruk (To All Astrophiles)
  • A Symphony of Whales – Steve Schuch

To enable all of this reading, one must have a frame of mind that works out the curious and whimsical muscle of the brain. So, of course, I had a healthy dose of P.G.Wodehouse, Miss Read, Gerald Durrell and R.K.Narayan mixed in to all of this.

Here is to another year of varied and marvelous reading.

Happy New Year!