MC's Whispers

Whispering Silences

The refuge that we seek

sycamore-treeThere is a tree in the back garden of Mrs Wilson’s house. A sycamore tree that has been growing tall for decades. I have always remembered it there. Offering its shade in the stifling summer heat, and its protection from the gushing winter hail. It has always been there. An ever-present protector.

Mrs Wilson says it was her grandfather that planted the tree. But she herself isn’t so sure about it either. How many generations have sat on its branches, pulled its leaves, climbed up its thick trunk and even hung from it self-made swings to play with. The incidents and life-experiences this tree could have witnessed are beyond measure.

Gemini, Mrs Wilson’s small Yorkshire dog was attached to this tree. No-one realized why. Ever since he was a puppy he would crawl up by its trunk and fall asleep. Whenever he was scolded for something he would run outside and hide under the shade and large, falling leaves of the tree. It was his haven. And even in the rain and thunder, he would stare outside the window at the tree and howl, upset that it was suffering the bad weather all alone when he was stuck inside.

It is amazing how creatures become attached to one another so intensely, so absolutely, so tightly. Things that some may consider so unimportant, things such as a tree that people simply cut down if it is in their way, things that do not offer some apparent benefit. It is these things though that provide the refuge, the protection, the support that we so often need.

Gemini found it in a great, old, sycamore tree.

Mrs Wilson found it in a photo of her husband who recently passed away.

And I, I find it anywhere, depending on the place and circumstance – in a soft-toy given by a loved one, in a picture of happier times, in a letter of love, in places that come from the heart.

Enchantment by the river

DSC08009There are few cities in the world that enrapture you from the moment you enter their borders. Cities that overwhelm you with their distinct architecture, their harmonious environment and their cultural warmth. Strasbourg is one such city.

The capital of the Alsace region is situated on the borders between France and Germany and has over the years been the subject of dispute between these two great powers. IMG_0487Its historic city centre – the Grande Île– is surrounded by the river Ill flowing beneath the stunning 18th century bridges that are found throughout. It was classified a World Heritage site by UNESCO in 1988, the first time such an honour was placed on an entire city centre.With its picturesque buildings, the city combines Germanic discipline and French finesse. It is a city that keeps you mesmerised with its stunning architecture, its scenic landscapes, and its breathtaking skylines.

DSC08121_CathedralThe Cathedral dominating over the city with its 142 metre spire was described by Victor Hugo as a “giant and delicate marvel”. Its appearance of carved-like stone make it a magnificent sight right in the heart of the centre in one of the busiest squares all year round.
Inside it is just as elegant with its colourful stained glass windows, and its Madonna vitro with a crown of stars on a blue background which inspired the European Union flag.

DSC08176_Astronomical ClockAnd there is the skillfully carved Pillar of Angels standing right next to the Astronomical Clock – a wonder of craftsmanship that every day at 12.30 features the twelve Apostles passing in front of Christ to receive His blessing, while a cock crows thrice.

DSC08575_Panoramic ViewAfter taking a spiralling 332 steps up the tower that literally take your breath away, you discover a view of the city that makes it all worth it.
DSC08102_Palais Rohan

Situated just opposite the Cathedral is the imposing Palais Rohan, formally an episcopal residence, which now hosts three museums: the State Apartments and Decorative Arts, the Fine Arts, and the Archaelogical Museum.

DSC08621_State ApartmentsWith Louis XV being the royal apartments’ first guest in the 18th century, the palace was built along the lines of Versailles.

 
But that is not the only thing that is reminiscent of the rest of France in Strasbourg. Petite France is the former tanners’ quarter which originally hosted a hospital treating patients with the “French disease” (syphilis) which was spread at the end of the 15thDSC08315_Petite France century. Now it is a prominent tourist destination for a drink and a traditional dish under the shade of the large trees, admiring the timber-framed charming houses interwoven with four canals.

 

IMG_0481_Ponts CouvertsBut the most majestic view of all is at the Ponts Couverts – the four Medieval Towers that served as fortification. The towers originally guarded the entrance to the city and were linked up by wooden bridges, protected by a roof until the 18th century.

 

IMG_0473_Barrage VaubanExactly opposite the bridge stands the Barrage Vauban, a barrage and lock designed in the 18th century to inundate the waterways of Strasbourg and defend the city in the event of a siege. In 1966 a panoramic terrace was built on top granting access to one of the most beautiful views of the city.

 
A walk along the river bank is essential as it reinvigorates the sense of nature that is usually lacking in big cities. Swans and ducks glide gracefully in the tranquil water, disturbed only by the occasional boat tour around the city.
DSC08507_Place de la Republique
The regal neo-Renaissance buildings around Place de la Republique – the Palais du Rhin, the National and University Library – appear all the more beautiful viewed among the colourful spring flowers, while the hundreds of youth in the city rush to the parks to absorb the cloudless sunlight.

Strasbourg encompasses the beauty of the countryside with the prestige of a DSC08033European capital as many EU institutions are situated here – most notably the European Parliament, the Court of Human Rights, the Ombudsman and the Council of Europe.

With only 273,000 inhabitants Strasbourg draws people of all ages from all around the world. A vibrant city and a lively atmosphere, it embraces you to its core and invites you to explore every corner of its fascinating culture. There is always something more to see from a European capital. And when it is as elegant, heart-warming and enchanting as Strasbourg, there is no doubt it will have you back sooner than you know it!

 

N.B. All photos are mine taken in Strasbourg on 9-13 April 2014.

How to spend 8 hours in an airport

photoAirports are supposed to be interesting places to spend time in. There are so many people to observe and so much to absorb. Yet sometimes spending too much time in an airport is not that exciting, no matter how big it is and how many shops there are. Especially if you spend a third of your day in there and arrive so early that your flight does not even appear on the boards. Nonetheless, here are some things I learnt while waiting for a flight home:

-   Airports are perhaps the busiest places there are, with people all yelling in their own languages as though no one else can understand them, to the extent that you can hear every word they are saying (particularly when you understand the language) even despite the loud music coming from your headphones.

-   There are rude and kind people everywhere. You would just expect an airport to have more of the latter. Not everything is so obvious in a huge airport with a global population moving around in there – like for example the fact that you need to search for the right machine to issue your boarding pass before checking in your baggage.

-   Some security checks are just over-exaggerated. Especially if the security control is borderline molestation. Next thing you know they’ll be x-raying underwear for explosives…

-   Airports that are as huge as those in Central Europe have the luxury of offering guided tours. Because that is the way to spend your time there. And your money.

-   Some airports advertise “duty free for all”. What they don’t tell you is that the prices are all increased so you think they are cheaper than outside…

-   The shop windows at airports are extremely enticing. Then you go in and they tell you they don’t have the items advertised.

-   Why is water in Germany so expensive? – half a litre is €3. It is as if they don’t have a great river flowing through the country…

-   The time I spent wandering in the airport, my friend who left five hours before me could have actually caught another flight to his home and have landed before I even boarded the plane.

-   Having slept for 20 hours over the past five days, you realise this was not enough. And you start thinking in French, talking in German while everyone thinks you are either Italian or Spanish (but never Greek which you are). At least you’re European.

-   In this digital age everyone is constantly looking at a screen. And a place to charge it. Even when walking in the middle of a very busy airport.

 

This post was written and posted while at the gate before boarding. By the time I arrive I will have completed 14 hours travel time. Or rather, waiting time.

 

Written at Frankfurt airport on 13 April 2014.

Wake up and smell the lemons

lifegiveslemons_fullpic_artworkI like Disney movies. I do. They are sweet, funny, romantic, and have a very idealistic view of the world. Every one of them has a happy ending.

It’s like those fairy tales we read as children. They all end with the phrase “and they all lived happily ever after”.

But do they?

We never know. We don’t really know what happens afterwards (and the sequels never catch-on).

Nonetheless, it is still refreshing to experience the story of Jasmine and Aladdin, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, Pinocchio, Robin Hood, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella and so many others. They are all stories of something good happening out of unfortunate situations. It sort of revives in you a belief that no matter what everything will be ok.

But in the real world, these fairy tales would never exist. We all know that. Because we live in a world where if you lose your shoe, people will most probably look for the other half of the pair, not try to find the person whom it belongs to.

Life is not as bittersweet as fairy tales make it out to be. Sometimes it’s just sour. Like lemons.

Then all you have to do is take those lemons and make the best lemonade you can out of them!

Celebrity VIP to run for US President

false-advertisingWho? When? Why? Who?!

See what happened there? You got all excited and intrigued by the title you wanted to read more, didn’t you? Curiosity is a pain!

I hate to tell you this though, but you were tricked into reading this blog post.

Pretty much like every misleading headline or advertisement does to you.

The majority are misleading, false and have nothing to do with what they really mean.

News headlines that promise to reveal something shocking and a “worldwide exclusive” (as if the whole world is sitting at the edge of its seat waiting for a development in e.g. a royal wedding or the end of a year-long television series).

Advertisements that promise one thing and deliver another. Things like “half-off anything from this shelf”, but when you reach the counter you are told that you had to get two of the same items in order to benefit from the offer.

Airlines advertising low-price tickets but when you are about to book you see the price rising sky high due to added taxes, administrative costs etc etc. Even the “change without charge” is not true, as the only thing you don’t pay is the administrative costs.

Every day we face situations such as these. Things that mislead us and in essence deceive us into believing their marketing crafts.

Then we are left feeling cheated and make a racket out of it to anyone who dares listen.

We just need to develop the sense of reading beyond the “charming” lines, judge what the reality would be and pay attention to avoid being duped (again)!

What people say and what they mean is usually different. We just need to learn to understand what they mean despite what they say.

 

The material we wear

AirstewardessHave you ever noticed how people in uniform have a different “air” about them? It is as if all of a sudden that piece of clothing they wear adds elegance and status to them. Be it soldiers, firemen, policemen, astronauts, nurses, pilots, even scouts, waiters and pupils, uniforms make the bearer feel all important.

It is no wonder that one of the most popular romantic fantasies involves the use of uniform.

But why does this specific clothing makes us all feel bigger, better and brighter?

It is not actually the clothing itself – although uniforms usually are made of better quality material. It is the significance attributed to the uniform. It is the discipline that is associated with it. The fact that in order to properly wear the uniform it means you will be clean, shaven, hair combed, and almost doll-like perfect. It is the entire image it purports. And particularly the fact that to wear the uniform you must usually gain the right to, by proving your worth through exams or physical tests of some sort.

It is interesting to note how when we’re young at school we usually despise wearing uniforms, but when we grow up we often strive to become part of a uniform-wearing team or profession. It is the sense of belonging, the camaraderie, the prestige associated with the clothing that makes it all the more enticing.

We just need to remember, it is not the clothing that makes us important, it’s the other way around.

This is not a Cinderella story

flower-fly-twoGrizelda, who also went by Grizzie, was one of those girls that gave “bitches” their name. She was tall and sturdy, almost manly in some light. But she was also a femme fatale when circumstances called for it. She was determined to get what she wanted no matter the cost, and rarely cared about what other people think. She had one weapon in her purse and never failed to use it: her rich father’s gold credit card.

Cindy on the other hand was exactly the opposite. She did care what other people thought and felt, often too much. She put the good of others before her own and that led to many a heartbreak. But she lived to love life and not money. She wanted to succeed on her own and refused to live beyond her means. She worked hard and strived to accomplish her ambitions in life. Her weapon was her dreams and the strength she mustered in her soul to fulfill them one day.

Cindy was the type of person many would see as a “push-over”. But in reality she wasn’t. She fought for what she wanted and stood up to others no matter their rank or status. Even to Grizzie.

You could never tell these two were sisters. Let alone twins.

They were nothing alike.

Cindy learnt life the hard way. She would take the bus and metro and train to work. She would work an unending shift, go home, cook, clean and engage in an attempt for a social life, while she tried to balance rent, necessities and fun on a meagre budget. She would count her savings at the end of the month and plan ahead if she had the luxury to go on a short trip somewhere nearby. Yet life taught her to be organized, to take into account the fact that other people are busy too, to set priorities, to comprehend when something is urgent, to foresee circumstances and to always be prepared.

But Grizzie was not like that. She seemed to be living in her own little world that was not even close to reality. She drove to work in a car that was cleaned and fueled by someone else. She worked at the family business, hence had her own office, title and paycheck without truly even knowing what the company was about. She ran around with her friends, was constantly wired up on all her e-gadgets, and could not care less that some people had to work for a living. She was the type of person that left everything until the last minute, or until it best suited herself, not caring about what that may cost the other. In fact “the other” simply did not exist. Life was for her to live and enjoy; not to worry about everything else. She couldn’t fix things anyway, so why bother?

Cindy learned a lot from observing Grizzie. She learned that she never wanted to be like her. And she felt sorry that there are so many people who are so similar to her in this world. People who spend their lives drifting, but never truly absorbing anything. People who look around but don’t really see anything. People who exist, but don’t ever live.

“Nowadays people know the price of everything and the value of nothing” – Oscar Wilde

Can you do magic?

magicfeatherCandy was a sweet little girl. She was usually dressed in a brightly coloured floral dress and had her hair either perfectly combed straight falling onto her shoulders, either in two pigtails on either side. If she stood still long enough people actually thought she was a porcelain doll.
Candy had something special about her. Something that at first she herself didn’t even know.

She could do magic.

Not magic that needed cauldrons and potions, but magic that came from the heart. She discovered it by chance when one day that she was lying sick in bed she waved her had in a “wish” feigning to close the window and draw the curtains, and all of a sudden it worked. She thought it was a hallucination at first, but the same thing happened when she wished for some more water, and when she magically produced another blanket on her bed.

It was official. Candy could do magic. She hadn’t told anyone though. Who knows what they would do to her – wire her up and treat her like a lab animal. And that is if anyone even believed her.

Candy progressively discovered she could do all sorts of things, which usually involved moving objects around without touching them, and other material stuff. She could not affect human lives, she was not Cupid or Zeus. She could just do some magic.

But she soon realized that all magic comes at a price. Hers was as simple as it was hard. For in order to practice magic, Candy had to be happy. She couldn’t do magic when she was angry or irritated. It was simply impossible. Even when she was so upset she wanted to break the glass window before her, she couldn’t do it no matter how much she tried – and she had tried pretty much everything short of getting a hammer and breaking it herself.

Then one night Candy had a dream that helped her explain all this. A bright pink butterfly in the form of a small twinkling fairy came over and sat on her nose. Staring into her eyes it told her: You only see the magic in your life when you are positive enough to be truly able to view the wonders that lie before you. Anger clouds both your view and your judgment. Try to be happy and positive. Magic will then come naturally.

What?

rude-boys-bus-stop-10300805The other day I took the bus down town. At the next stop an old lady grabbed the handle at the door and yelled to the driver if it made a certain stop. After he yelled back to affirm, she – with great difficulty – pulled herself in. There weren’t many people in the bus during that time of day. Two twin girls had taken up two seats in the front of the bus (you know, the ones that are usually assigned to people who need them the most) and their mother was sitting next to them across the aisle. I looked around and the people commuting weren’t really old. At least not as old as this lady.

She was obviously in pain from something. You could see it in her facial expression that she needed to sit down, as she was already panting from the effort to catch the bus and then actually get on it.

She looked around and I observed.

No-one seemed to care.

No-one, not even one person – anyone – even thought of giving up their seat for this woman. (I was standing, so I couldn’t really help).

You could see she was boiling inside, looking at the twin little girls who were carefreely staring out their window, and then their mother who didn’t really seem concerned about anything other than when they would reach their stop.

The women sitting next to the mother then got up to get off at the next stop and the old lady tried to squeeze in to sit in the inner side of the seat as the mother had not budged. The old lady resorted to clearly stating that she wants to sit down because her foot is hurting, and only then did the mother get up to let her sit.

I am left wondering, are there no manners anymore? Savoir-vivre and savoir-faire are obviously non-existent, and the only thing left is the savoir-moi.

We live in a society where everyone only cares about themselves. Where the mentality of “as long as I’m ok, I don’t care about anyone else” reigns. Where giving up your seat for someone who obviously needs it more than you should be a given. But it’s not. (And let’s not even talk about the example the parents give their children…)

Where the words ‘excuse me’ and ‘thank you’ are no longer part of our vocabulary, but instead they have given way to ‘what’, and all the swear words you can imagine.

Rudeness is such a part of our everyday lives that people have stopped paying attention to or being bothered by exactly how….rude it all is.

Walking on the sidewalk and trying to overpass people who are trailing along at snail’s pace, talking on the phone, while at the same time puffing chimney-loads of smoke back at your face. Trying to quickly insert all your shopping in the plastic bags at the end of the counter, so you have time to pay the bill without having to gather remaining items, when the next customer pushes his/her way over to your side and is literally breathing down your neck. Reaching a bus stop and realizing there is a person there taking up the entire bench, having comfortably adjusted themselves in the very middle of the seat with all their belongings on either side. There are numerous more examples of how everyone tries to make everything easier for themselves, without caring how much more difficult things become for everyone else.

There is no ‘we’ in our lives anymore. Only an ‘I’ which comes first.

Tragic but no comedy

vin__s_glass_dagger_by_laurorag12-d4x074dJustin looked down at the body that lay lying between the rubbish dumpster and the ladder which would have served as his escape route. It was pitch black outside still and if it weren’t for the growling cats on heat, nothing would have been heard. Not even cars rushing by. It was a peculiar night. A full moon always pre-empts something strange. Justin believed his ancestors’ belief to be true. And tonight it had become a reality.

Two hours ago he was standing there in the living room of his fourth-floor apartment drinking an Irish beer with his friend. “Friend”. He had just met him a week ago. How well can you get to know someone in such a short time? Even if you did spend an unusually large proportion of your time each day in their company?

Why? Because what they shared went beyond the ‘normal’. And the ‘legal’.

No, they weren’t smuggling, selling or growing drugs.

No, they were not into human trafficking.

No, they were not into something disgusting or perverted.

They were running around town all day, trying to do a good deed to change someone’s life.

They smiled at everyone in the street, no matter if they got sworn at or nearly hit in return. They truly believed that one single smile, one good deed, no matter how small, may one day save a life.

It was good karma if nothing else. And it certainly made them feel their day was worthwhile.

Until that moonlit night.

Justin remembered that they had even joked about the only thing missing from that “twilight” sky was a howling wolf.

It was ironic that a cat howled like a wolf when the body fell four stories down and crashed onto its tail.

He didn’t mean for it to happen. He never wished anything bad for anyone. Not even him.

It did not matter that he caught him stealing money from his wallet. He offered to give him more if he needed help.

But Justin did not understand why the aggravation and the change of tone all of a sudden. What was with this attitude? The person who said a smile would make anyone’s day now suddenly lost his own. Without reason or explanation. He didn’t use to be like this.

And then it happened. The irritation brought about a quarrel which turned bloody. And then, he asked Justin for some water. Those fatal drops of transparent liquid would seal his fate.

For as soon as Justin returned with the glass in his hand he barely managed to avert a dagger stained with blood flying towards him. And his “friend” was falling butt-first out the open window. As if he was diving in a water-park fun pool.

He just made sure he would seemingly signal the culprit.

Thirty minutes had gone by, with Justin playing the scene over and over in his head. The sirens had become louder now.

He drank the water, placed the dagger in the glass and hid it in his inside coat pocket. He would leave no trace.

Only one.

An Italian gold carnival mask.

He was not known as the Harlequin for nothing.

The victim had after all smiled at his Colombina… And things, even a smile, are never what they seem…

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