Category Archives: My life

Thought #51. The sweets of an uphill struggle.

It is not rocket science that the pursuit of happiness is virtually universal. From a tribe of Amazonian Indians to the dwellers of a megacity like Tokyo, each individual has his own idea of what happiness looks like. Sometimes though, we are on the wrong path and do not realise that making subtle changes in our daily life, could considerably improve our chances for success.

Biologically, the release of endorphins, triggered by various human activities, is responsible for euphoric sensations and, moreover, has a protective effect against pain. But, however hard you try to invoke the power of endorphins, it would be ineffective unless you knew what makes you happy.

It is little wonder that trial and error is the most effective method to find out about your source of happiness. Every individual evolves throughout his life and, consequently, what works today may fall by the wayside tomorrow. It seems to be quite probable that, in this pursuit, you are prone to face a neverending struggle.

In my opinion, motivation is the force to be reckoned with. The keenness and willingness to always try and do your best is what makes a difference between the impossible and the feasible. I have a broad range of things that I am eager to know more about: classical music, photography, human behaviour and English are some examples. None of them are second nature to me and yet I have been working hard to improve my skills in those subjects.

I know full well that I would probably never be a professional musician or photographer. However, my personal battle against the odds to learn more about my hobbies, is a continuous source of happiness – only comparable with my happy marriage.

I spent hours and hours in front of my piano, trying to bring musicality out of little childish pieces. I would walk the streets of Castellon, three hours a day, camera and dog alongside, trying to capture the beauty of day-to-day life. I am writing an English blog, on a daily basis, in order to master the basics of communicating thoughts via words. I come into my own when I do my own thing and, despite not knowing the score, I am happy with this uphill struggle.

Thought #49. On folk memory.

I still remember with heartfelt emotion the enticing prospect of a summer’s fortnight at my grandparents’ cottage. They would boast about what they had achieved, not without a great deal of hard work though. Had it not been for their financial ingenuity in hard times, my mother, aunts and uncles would have not been who they are. Mum is the eldest of six children and although she was widowed at the early age of 42, she already had five children.

My grandfather, Fermin, born on July 7th, 1919, fought in the Spanish Civil War on the Republican side. Fortunately, he survived it and became a forest guard on January 26th, 1946. He devoted his life to preserve the mounts of Castellon province, on the eastern coast of Spain. He would worship nature during the rest of his life, only coming into his own when trees and plants were literally surrounding him.

When my father died, we were living in a small suburb of Tarragona. As we did not have family there, my mother took us to Castellon, where her brothers and sisters lived. I was then eight years old and the elder brother of my baby sister. My grandparents lived between two places, their city flat in Castellon and a cottage near a small village that used to be a windmill. It was there, in that country house, where I hold so many treasured memories.

My grandmother, Adelina, was remarkably cheerful and always displayed a strong character. She was a good person, sometimes a little innocent. I would not go so far as to say that her patience hardly ever snapped but, most of the time, her company was extremely pleasant. I would play cards with her  till the small hours by candlelight, and tried to cheat her by using devious tactics. It was at those moments when she would snap fiercely.

Games apart, every summer with them was outstanding. Picking cherries and loquats, collecting apples and pears, watering tomato plants, I passed the time of those long days. We often made marmalade out of any ripe fruit. Food was never thrown away. A famine-stricken youth had taught them the lesson. A lesson inherited, as many others, from generations. Bits and pieces of a folk memory that we must not forget.

To Adelina and Fermin, from his grandson Alberto,  still captivated by your eternal humility, generosity and humanity.

Thought #47. On selfies.

The self-portrait is not a latest craze. Art history, ancient and modern, gives comprehensive accounts of this genre as a common means of expression among artists. The question is what is the motivation, if any, for an artist to depict himself.

As an aficionado of photography, I have always been amazed at the power of images. Perhaps in pursuit of an aesthetic value, or maybe out of the need of expressing feelings; no wonder I ended up taking pictures of myself. But I hardly ever shared them with friends or family.

I feel like telling something with my photography and that may prevent my output from being much of a muchness. I would not have published my work unless I had been sure that each picture’s message came across as intended. I know full well that my work is not suitable for anyone, though. I am quite comfortable with detractors too.

Why did I take the picture above? Within those four edges I found a way to represent a question mark. But, deep inside I really wanted to spark, at least, criticism. I remember the remark that a photographer, whose work is a model for me, made when I first showed him this photo. He could have disapproved of the lack of compositional rules, the overuse of negative space (which refers to showing a lot of empty space), and many other technicalities. Instead, he said “I’m puzzled”. Bravo, I murmured to myself.

After that short remark, he told me that by hiding my mouth I was leaving the viewer totally clueless. Without any reference but a pair of eyes wide open, he was unable to tell whether I was laughing, making fun of him or simply scared.

Maybe this story leads the way and the reader will follow. When an opportunity of taking a selfie arouses, it is highly advisable to approach it with the willingness to tell something. People are jaded with meaningless imagery, you too.

Thought #27. On ageism.

I do not believe in innate wisdom. Wisdom is the accumulation of experience and knowledge, which ironically can only be acquired by growing old, and yet the elderly is too often a burden on families and society. Human condition leaves a lot to be desired. This unfair treatment makes me feel an unutterable sadness. I cannot help but be filled with anger and rage against these parasitic leeches that sucked everything out of their elders.

Aunt Lola lived an unconventional life. She was a maiden aunt until her seventy-somethings, except that she had no nieces or nephews. Her only brother died aged 18. Lola was married for five years and hers was not a marriage of convenience. She waited for 50 long years until Mariano turned up because he did not even consider going off with Lola. He patiently awaited his first wife’s death. Then, he moved to Lola’s town and called her. They met. They got married. Five years later, he died.

No close relatives, no kinship was left after Mariano’s death. Lola only had herself to blame, except that she had a family. Because you are not dead whilst your name is still spoken. Lola had a flat with four rooms, three of which were occupied by renters. They were always men, yet she never had even a brief romance with any of them. Rafa, my father-in-law, was one of her renters.

Rafa, Reme and their children were guests at Lola’s marriage and also acted as witnesses. A handful of friends, including acquaintances, were the rest of the lot. Lola’s family were Rafa and Reme, especially Reme and her daughter Marta, who is now my wife. I met Lola shortly after meeting Marta. Lola was her aunt, except she was not.

We used to visit Lola periodically. Maybe not as often as we should have done. Anyway, Lola was also my aunt. Lola could be somewhat annoying at times. She needed care, attention, protection. She needed a shoulder to cry on. She had us, her family. I cannot blame her for lacking a family, except that she had us.

In her last days Lola could not stay at home. Despite having two caregivers, her wisdom was fading away. We arranged a nursing home because of that. She had been suffering from depression and other medical conditions. Some years before, when she was still in good health, she tried to stay in a retirement home, but it did not work. She ironically felt that her mates were too old, almost geriatric. She blissfully decided to return home, not knowing that she was about to face her worst days.

Already in the nursing home a suddenly unexpected and dramatic event took place. We received a phone call. By the muffled voice of the woman on the phone we knew full well that something was going wrong. A man, well in his sixties, had showed up asking for his mother. We could not believe it. That was utterly impossible. She had never had children. She had never had a romantic relationship, except that she had. He was probably in search of money. She had no will, she had no money left. A week later, Lola died.

A poem…

Tell me whether the seashore
has caressed your feet
Tell me whether the foam
has kissed them yet
Tell me whether the sea waves
have followed your trudge
Tell me whether the swirling clouds
have even touched you
Tell me whether the warm wind
has murmured sweet nothings
Tell me whether the sun
has emerged to play with you
Tell me whether the rainbow
has heard your song
Tell me whether you notice
my hearth’s warmth
Think that you are not alone
my thoughts are with you

…by my Aunt Lola

 

Thought #24. Keep calm and take life philosophically.

“Unfinished India” is a personal favourite of mine. Photography is a tricky discipline not only from the point of view of the photographer but also from the viewer’s. When I took this one I had to carefully choose the framing. There were infinite options and I decided to include the minimum amount of information needed to leave it open to interpretation. Half a cow, half a man and a pool of…

To make an interpretation (artistic or not) is always extremely difficult. The aim of philosophers is to try and work out the best way to think about things. For all intents and purposes, we all try and work out how to think about things. A simple picture but also an existential question demands something more than mere observation.

In this example, the most important element is neither the framing nor any included visual clue. Interpretation is what really counts. This post is entitled “Keep calm and take life philosophically”, a message not intended to be conveyed to the reader but to myself. I know full well what was going on there when I took the photo, thus I can find meaning from this passage from my memory recollections. And as yet I prefer to devise a different story.

Premises could lead to hasty conclusions. The man and the cow were just sleeping near a pool of water in the shape of India. I often try to disavow the link between my beliefs and my thoughts; I seldom succeed. Realising how to deal with everyday problems philosophically is a tough job. Only by dismissing some of the obvious premises or facts will I be able to achieve my goal. And more often than not, I am confronted with a new situation or problem that requires a different approach.

My life baggage must have served a very useful purpose. However, little did I know that someday I would be discarding my deeply held beliefs in an uphill struggle to take it easy, to take life philosophically. But I have to, I need to, I do not have any other option.

There is only so much a person can learn through life. Fight or surrender.

Thought #19. The art of negation.

No human being is perfect. I wonder what it was about my upbringing that made my mind restless and inquiring. I can ill afford slackness, except for catnaps (or as we say in Spain siestas), which as a general rule, I enjoy day in day out. I have a marked tendency to oversleep. It must be something deeply ingrained in my idiosyncrasy as three alarm clocks are not enough to wake me up in the morning.

I also have to openly confess that I do not believe in God, at least, not yet. My wife is always telling me that I cannot answer a simple question if it does not start with the word no. Am I a negative person? Or even worse, am I the type of person who never looks on the bright side (aka a pessimistic)? No, I do not personally think so.

Having strong, subjective or even dissenting opinions does not abolish the right to articulate my own ideas or beliefs. It is widely known as freedom of speech. I can understand that brief silence could sometimes be a better substitute of overwhelming negation. Now that I think… definitely, it might be wiser. I will save it for further consideration, food for thought.

For those who will never take no as an answer I cannot enthusiastically endorse their attitude. No, I am not a dismissive person per se. It just so happens that sometimes the answer cannot be a simple yes. Can you imagine what would happen if I ask them to stop asking me the same question again and again? Learning to say no takes a long time, especially when you are either a teenager or in your twenties (or thirties, or forties).

The problem arises when you change your mind about something. You can find yourself grappling with contradictory ideas that are entirely different from those you cheaply sold in the past. You do not need to mull your new point of view over. Just speak your mind!

Considering that I am so scientific-bound a person, the evidence proves beyond doubt that I will always be prone to disavow any connection with religion. But I have the right to chew it over and eventually, I should be able to change my mind, or not.

Thought #12. My cup of tea.

Prose is thought put to page. In other words, should you have a brain, you can write. Easy-peasy. And yet, each time you face a blank sheet of paper you are in potential danger of running out of steam. It might be a lack of ideas or an excess of niggling worries. Maybe today’s dismal weather or a heavy lunch has made you sluggish. Listing all possible causes would be a never-ending task.

Take it easy. You knew perfectly well that blogging was not going to be child’s play. Nevertheless, the benefits of writing regularly can easily outweigh the difficulties and frustrations. The beauty of writing or “thinking into paper” is that there are hardly any rules to constrain you.

Some time ago, I came across a telling argument against the so-called “Writer’s Block”, a condition in which an author loses the ability to produce new work. Apparently, laziness is not the chief reason for this blockage but the disdain that authors have towards their own work. Obsessive perfectionism can eclipse the author self-awareness like deluded self-righteousness can isolate any razor-sharp mind.

Therefore, my best advice is to have a nice cup of tea or go dancing, whatever. It is perfectly normal to not feel like doing it now. Put it off. And again, take it easy because you do not need to forego your creature comforts. After all, if writing is really your cup of tea, you will eventually go back to your blank sheet of paper and start to put thought to page.

Thought #9. Coming into your own.

I’ve always considered Cartier-Bresson’s photography awe-inspiring. Being a pioneer of Street Photography, he was the one who coined the term “decisive moment”. From then on, it has been broadly used when referring to the split second of inspiration when the photographer comes into his own. In his epoch photography was relatively a new art medium and most of the artists he was contemporary with looked down on photographers, considering the whole medium a fleeting craze, a pale imitation of the classic arts.

I clearly remember the first time I saw the picture of the cyclist, the staircase and the cobbled street. A mixture of patterns finely arranged to create a unique and special snapshot that could linger in my memory forever. And then it was the one of the man skipping a puddle. I became obsessed with lines and patterns, at times seeing the order in the chaos.

So it was little wonder that someday I would try my luck at street photography. It all began in 2012 when I bought a point-and-shoot camera and rushed into “the streets”.

At the outset, I was completely stumped by the mysteries of this art. Candidness is what sets a photograph apart and it’s quite intricate to take candid pictures when people, strangers in particular,  look at you dismissively. Impatience is not allowed. Learning to become unnoticed is the crux of the matter and it doesn’t happen overnight, this being a rather slow process.

Eventually, of course, the day comes when you become virtually invisible. It has nothing to do with the supernatural, don’t get me wrong. What happens is that you learn to anticipate what is going to happen and the camera suddenly makes an appearance during that split second I mentioned before.

Strangers become the cast, the streets are the canvas, the camera is the paintbrush and I am the invisible painter.

For the next 3 years I took nearly 50,000 pictures, discarded more than 40,000 and published nearly 900 on my Flickr account. This one was the only picture I took on 29 October, 2014. I was hanging around the city centre all the evening long, nothing worth to immortalise. Suddenly, just before nightfall, when I was going back home I stumbled across a grandmother. Still unable to comprehend why she was hiding her face, the child appeared in the doorway. I took two steps back, switched on the camera and everything just clicked into place.

Thought #8. Childhood.

Since the very instant we arrived at New Delhi’s airport I was overwhelmed with mixed feelings. I was fascinated by the display of hospitality so characteristic of these dwellers but at the same time, I knew I would have run into shocking scenes.

We were going to leave the hotel at the crack of dawn. I am not a morning person but that night I did not sleep a wink and decided to wander around the area. A flood of rickshaws ready to be pulled by skinny riders was the first reminder of how different life must be in India.

Being a child is not the same everywhere. My holiday in India, one of the biggest countries in the world, taught me a lesson. The harsh lifestyle that these human beings have to overcome every minute of their lives is miserable. Living in such conditions could undermine anyone.

Astonishingly enough, I have not seen so many children grinning from ear to ear in my whole life as I did in India. They probably have nothing but zest for life in their struggle to get by.

Later that day, I was pointing the camera through the window during the planned sightseeing in New Delhi when a little boy hidden behind a makeshift mask appeared. I had a split second to trigger the shutter. A red wall, a child, a kite.

Each time I look at this picture I see the kindness of a child that innocently helps me to keep those mixed feelings alive, forever.

Thought #6. A dog’s life.

I’d always had mixed feelings about dogs, keeping them away for fear of being bitten while aching for having one of them as a pet. Sucre is a birthday present I gave to my wife on 2010, the year before we got married. I’m lost for words when it comes to describing the strong bonds that emerged out of the blue between we and him.

Human beings have been domesticating dogs since ancient times. And their unique and special way of communicating with humans has become one of the most successful when compared to any other domestic animal.

Maybe there is no clear evidence but based on my intuition I think many of us are hardwired to love dogs. At least, I am. No matter how hard my family had been discouraging me, I finally got away with it.

Sucre was still a puppy when he joined our family. At the beginning we struggled to get him poo and wee on the street. By using positive reinforcement we managed to change some of his wayward conducts into good deeds.

His nature is true and pure, unique and special. Being a mongrel, Sucre could easily have ended up as a stray dog. Luckily, he forms an integral part of our inseparable family and we are proud of it. More than living a dog’s life, since that summer of 2010 we are in seventh heaven.