Monday, August 7, 2017

A modified Renaissance - ITALY – Part 2

Holidays to different locales provide sustenance in different ways. Some vacations de-clutter and relax the mind, while others fill a sense of adventure or accomplishment. Some holidays provide time for families to enjoy each others company and play together uninhibited whilst others are more solitary and feed the inner-self. Italy did it all.
In all honesty, I wasn’t sure what kind of holiday this was going to turn out to become.  11 people. 3 generations.  7 adults and 4 kids all with verbose opinions.  I’m sure we provide a lot of fodder for the likes of Russell Peters and similar artists.
All kidding aside however, the most unexpected and ergo marvelous part of this trip was my serendipitous love-affair with all things Michelangelo. I knew very little of this artist. Probably no more than my what I remembered from Mrs. Lloyd’s Modern Western Civilization class back in High School.  But let’s be honest, Grade 12 was over 20 years ago and details on these types of stuff were at best, fuzzy. 
So let me fill you in on my own transformation or ‘re-birth’ if you will thanks to Michelangelo.  Reason 1. DAVID.  Yes, I know we’ve seen pictures of this on postcards and advertisements and I’m not sure about you but I (and this is really opening up about how ignorant I was prior to this trip) had NO idea that the DAVID that Michelangelo sculpted more than 500 years ago, was the David from David and Goliath. His stance with the slingshot over his left shoulder and stones cradled in his right hand looking into the distance with his pensive glance is supposed to represent the moment just prior to him confronting Goliath.  If you know the story of David and Goliath, you know the meaning. It is the triumph of the Underdog over the Bully.  I’ve taken out the religious context here and really oversimplified things but to me, this is the gist. 
When I walked into the Academia and faced DAVID, I literally stopped in mid-stride in awe of this sculpture.  The only other time this has happened to me was when I was a teenager and went to see the Taj Mahal in Agra.  DAVID is a sight to see.  He is 17 feet in height and is physiologically about as descriptive as one can get with a marble medium.  Forget hair, eyes, contours of his body and facial structure, the man has veins and ripples in his chest that are so humanly accurate you have to wonder about how in the 1500’s a person was able to learn, understand and apply the anatomical elements with such scrutiny onto a marble structure.
Second. The Pieta. Again, one piece of marble to make an astonishing Mary and Christ. He was 24 by the way when he sculpted this. Not sure about you, but I was barely able to walk and chew gum at the same time when I was that age.  We pat ourselves on the back for getting a University education or landing a job.  This guy was sculpting a piece of art that together with his other works forged the course of humanity’s history.  How’s that for jaw-dropping.
Third. The Sistine Chapel and the Last Judgment.  To quote Goethe, “Without having seen the Sistine Chapel one can form no appreciable idea of what one man is capable of achieving.” His work is raw, powerful and controversial for reasons that are still argued about today. But through it all he stood by his work from start to finish and did not waver from his point of view. How can you not admire, respect and be in awe of such a person.

What Michelangelo has done for me is that he has given me hope.  He is a sign of what we can do if we choose to apply ourselves to our craft with utter conviction, hard work and love. If I can learn that lesson at this stage in my life and teach it to my kids at the tender ages of 7 and 4, I think this holiday has paid for itself multiple times over.  

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Breathe In. ITALY Part 1

It’s 7 p.m. on a weeknight, not sure which one since I’m on holiday and I prefer to keep it that way. I’m sitting outside in the backyard on the patio with a glass of Chianti (entire bottle under 5euro by the way. One of the benefits of vacationing in the Chianti region; not by accident I assure you) and my almost 8 year old daughter beside me with her journal and a pencil recounting her day including whether or not she has ‘pooed’ (yes that is correct. Her bodily functions have become a hot topic under the hot Tuscan sun as the time difference and changes in water and food consumption have flipped her up internally.) I’m no stranger to that so there’s been a lot of re-assuring, coaching and feeding of prunes and fibre along the way. 
Holidays are different with a caravan of 11. Spontaneous trips to cafes to sip cappuccino and people watch are akin to hell freezing over as are 5 a.m. hikes up to some hilltop to watch the sunrise.  Both things for some uncanny reason I thought I’d be able to do. I say uncanny; you say ignorant. Fine. I admit it. Mea Culpa. Mea Culpa.  It might not be exactly as I imagined it but there have been a lot of pleasant surprises on the way.
Who thought I’d be on a gelato mission with 4 kids to rank Venetian gelato over Tuscan gelato? Or do a walking tour of Siena through the eyes of a babe? Siena was fascinating. I would go back. Would I say the same thing if it were a 3 hour walking tour with just a bunch of boring adults all pretending to know cute tidbits of the Paleo horse race or the 17 competing contrade’s? Probably not.
There have been some magical moments so far. Driving around in Tuscany is a sight for sore eyes.  Rolling mountains in varied shades of green. Vineyards carefully drawn out on some plots overlooking olive groves that go on for miles.  In the distance, umbrella pine trees sway gently. Strong, sturdy, Cyprus trees flag the landscape reminding you of what Van Gogh may have been inspired by while painting Starry Night. 
It is night now. Kids are all asleep. Another thing about writing nowadays…I have to do it in snippets. The sky is a blue-black freckled by tiny white sparkling specks.  They surround me and glitter as far as the eyes can see.  Above me. in front of me. Behind me. The beauty is endless.  I hear crickets and other little insects in the darkness and the silhouette of the beautiful green Cyprus trees are now a black fa├žade jutting into the night sky.
I let out a sigh and my eyes start to water. I wonder why we spend so many years of our lives shielding ourselves from nature through brick homes and city streets and metallic cars. Then we barricade ourselves in concrete buildings with windows that don’t open and eat food in boxes and drink chemicals with artificial sweeteners.  Then when we realize we are suffocating or drowning, we buy a ticket and fly away.  We seek out remote, old places with trees, and water and stars.  We visit farms and make food with the crops that are grown. 

We seek out nature don’t we? We yearn to go back to the source from where we came.  Because that is where we can breathe again.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

February: I Heart Maui

I Heart Maui

Every year we go somewhere warm for a family vacation. This includes the 4 of us, plus my brother and his family, my younger brother and my parents. On this holiday, my Dad and younger brother weren’t able to make it so it was just the 9 of us.

This year we ended up in Maui. Long story as to how it was chosen, but suffice it to say that we were all on board! It was definitely more expensive than any other one- week tropical holiday we’ve been on, so I had higher expectations going in.

Boy have I been pleasantly surprised!

This island is beautiful in every sense of the word. Picture a vast ocean with a dozen shades of blue flanked by majestic mountains on one side and a velvety blanket of golden sand surrounded by coconut trees and banyan trees on the opposite coast. It is a place where sunrises and sunsets are equally picturesque and the sound of the waves slapping the sandy shores or volcanic black rocks beat to a rhythm of it’s own, depending on the mood of the ocean of course.

There is a wonderful trinity of a laissez-faire hippie sub-culture, the classic American attention to expedient customer service, and the warmth and affection of the native Hawaiian people.  I love that irrespective of where you are driving you will see random stretches of cars parked along the coast as people jump out to walk, swim or surf on the water.  There are more beaches than shopping malls, although the shopping malls that are around are exquisite. Every designer you can think of, side by side with art galleries from National Geographic to local artisans who make their living off their craft.

There is a custard apple tree in our front yard and wild bougainvillea vines of every colour line the homes of most neighbourhoods.  We can catch the sunsets from sitting in the living room and go for a run to the nearby farmers market for fruit, vegetables and fresh ground coffee. Did I mention there’s a bakery that bakes fresh malasadas (Portuguese donuts) every morning from 6 – 9, baked to order?

We’ve been on hikes that have ended up with us swimming under a waterfall to strolls along the beach with spontaneous viewings of whale breaches.  Natural wonders surround this island like traffic surrounds the city of Toronto.

Yes, this has been my life for the past week and I am not ready to go back to -20 degrees with wind-chill that feels like -30! Ugh.

If you haven’t been to Maui, go. If you have, I’m sure you will go back.

Mahalo Maui and Aloha.

Monday, January 2, 2017

My ONE conscious change 2017 and onwards

 I’ve been giving the entire New Year's resolution idea, a lot of thought. I’ve been reading articles and blogs, talking to several people and thinking through my recap of 2016 to see if I can add any value.

The one common thread in all the literature I’ve read distills down to one simple thing.

Choose Love.

Whether it’s love for your self (which is very different than love for your ego), love for a specific person, people, community, humanity. Choose Love.

If you are at a crossroads and not sure which way to go, pick the route where the source of it is love. Non-love can be masked in several different ways to confuse us, be it ‘security’ or ‘comort-zone’ or ‘pity’, but if you look at decision making from a source of love, trust that you will make it through ok.

Every year, resolutions begin with love. We want to improve ourselves, better our lives, increase quality time, learn more, give more. And yet as the year goes on, and we are asked to make decisions from small ones like ‘should I hit the snooze button and sleep the extra 45 minutes or just go to the gym?’ we choose non-love (or instant gratification in this case), because it’s easier. And that’s just it with non-love decisions…they are the easier choice to make. Doesn’t that suck even more?

Yes, it does! So when you choose love, be prepared to make the tougher choice. The one that forces you to run faster, laugh harder, sleep deeper, plan earlier, and manage time better. It is the spray of cold water on your face that wakes you up and forces you to stop feeling sorry for yourself and the same echo that tells you to not surrender your soul. It is the big decisions, the small decisions and the everything in-between decisions.

It is the seed that delivers forgiveness, empathy, maturity and the ability to get up and move on.

I am not a poster child by any means. My life up until today has been a cosmic display of discombobulated decision making. Even I surprise myself sometimes with the decisions I've made! But I have tried my best to choose love every time. And I will continue to do so, more consciously now. 

And, I am hopeful. No, I am certain. I am certain that it will work.

If I value love and if I make decisions based on love, can I go astray?

Sunday, December 11, 2016

The cost of 'me to we'

            We throw around concepts like ‘me to we’ and it’s this global movement and the idea behind it is quite interesting, noble even.  But when you take those three words and actually parse it out, the result of ‘we’ come at a cost to ‘me’. You have to give something to get something.
            This is where I think most of us break.
In the past 30-40 years, in privileged society, from the time a baby is born, society is always telling her how special ‘she’ is. She is Daddy’s little girl, the apple of Mom’s eyes, the best daughter in the world, the fastest runner, the smartest kid, the greatest gymnast.
            Then as she hits puberty, those around her continue with these measures of positive reinforcement, because as we know, puberty is not an easy time for anybody, boys or girls. Then, when she comes into her own and goes out into the world, she is reminded that she is strong, and smart and bold and unstoppable. She is worthy of everything and if she puts her mind to it, anything is achievable. Words of wisdom!
            Then she meets a guy. He too was raised similarly and has been told all these wonderful things growing up, albeit with a slightly different flavor. Different adjectives were used and delivery methods were altered, but ultimately, the same message was drilled into his mind, body and soul. He’s great. He’s the best. He’s unstoppable.
            Herein lies the tricky part. The couple get-together and decide on starting their lives together, and part and parcel of that may be to have kids. So let’s say they do. They get married, have a great honeymoon and have children. Now they start espousing the same wonderful, positive reinforcing messages to their children. But in this evolution, the dynamic of the couple has changed, or at least the undercurrents of the relationship have shifted.
            She got a great job opportunity she might’ve said no to for him and the kids. He met a co-worker who is his carbon copy and she doesn’t talk about diapers and babies and throw-up. She talks about sports and travel and photography. She’s also a cross-fit instructor on the weekends. But he is loyal and comes home to his wife and his family.
So they both come to some sort of compromise in order to make this work.  This ‘me to we’ evolution then, comes at a hefty cost. Every time we give up a part of ourselves for the better ‘we’ we are losing ‘me’. And man have we been told to never lose ‘me’! Treasure it. Be proud of it. And now we have to shed it in order for ‘we’?!
And what if she continues to give in and give in and lose herself and he doesn’t? How long does she go making these sacrifices and compromises before she expects him to do the same? Should she even expect him to do the same? And if he doesn’t, does she call him out on it? Should she even remind him that he has to do it? And then when she does talk to him, he’s shocked! He’s been doing the same too, only she hasn’t noticed it as being very material. So both are giving up parts of themselves, parts that they may really love about themselves, and neither can believe the other hasn’t noticed.
And there are some things that he just can’t give up, just like there are some things she can’t give up.  And in fact, if she asks him to change some of whom he is for ‘we’, then she’s effectively changing him, isn’t she? Which may in turn make him resent her sometime in the future or vice-versa? Does either one want to be responsible for that? Should these changes be this difficult? Is that fair? Does the end justify the means?
The older I get the more questions I have and fewer answers. Axioms slide from black and white to grey and then to different shades of grey.
I think we each have to come up with our own coping mechanism for this. It is more an art than a science. The one thing I am sure of in all of this is that the answer is constantly changing as we try our best to grow together instead of growing apart. It’s this delicate dance that we have to perform and we have to risk our hearts every step of the way. It’s scarier than anything else I can think of, and yet when done right, it is nothing short of magic.
I’m not saying I’ve figured it out by any means. Far from it. It is a constant work in progress. A roller-coaster journey that we’ve chosen to take together through the ups and downs. And we now have to hold each other accountable.

Fingers crossed, we got this right!