MC's Whispers

Whispering Silences

Archive for the month “October, 2013”

Things that go “boo” in the night

HalloweenThe preparations had today reached their peak in the Presidential mansion.  Everyone was jostling around excited about tonight. It was All Hallows’ eve (or Halloween if you so wish) and everyone knew this was the scariest yet most exciting night of the year. Because tonight you could be anything you want. You could dress up as your greatest fantasy or biggest nightmare. But for one night you could be someone different. Someone just not you.

At least most people thought so.

Because for Humphrey, today he could be exactly himself and not care. And it was liberating.

As the sun set and preparations for “treat-or-tricking” continued in earnest, Humphrey set off to mingle in the corridors of the orange-lighted mansion.

Everyone, no literally everyone was dressed in costume. The chamber maids were dressed as cabaret girls, the chauffer as the Joker, the gardener as the Riddler, the cooks as circus freaks, the waiters as Minions and even the chef was dressed up as Freddy Krueger. Everyone was getting into the mood. The First Lady who had so elegantly dressed up as a Belle Époque woman had even managed to convince the President to dress up – as a clown…and a scary one for that matter…

“Woa! Cool costume dude!”

“Awesome! So real!”

Humphrey continued to walk the halls, among the rising adrenaline, receiving all the more compliments for his “totally like crazy cool” costume.

He smiled and continued. He kept far away from the kitchen though. Chef Jean-Jacque had declared that his center-piece plate for this year’s Presidential Halloween would be a perfectly round pumpkin carved with eyes, mouth, nose and all! It would be priceless and as he said “unmissable”.

But Humphrey did not care.

He enjoyed all this anticipation, the laughter, the fun in dressing up, the rushing to the door every time the bell rang to give out candy from a filled-up basket lest a trick would be played on the host.  And in general he loved the atmosphere it all created. For one night everyone left everything behind, they were all friends, no foes, united in having a good time. Everything else could wait.

“Aaaaaaaaaaaah!” a scream came from the kitchen, but as it was in the spirit of the night, no one paid particular attention that Chef Jean-Jacque was anxiously searching the kitchen, a large sharpened kitchen knife waving in his right hand. Where on earth had his pumpkin gone? And what would he put now as his centerpiece? His own head? Or another boring vegetable arrangement?  But where did that beautiful pumpkin go?

Humphrey sped up now having reached the wing opposite to the kitchen. He felt safer as far away from there as possible.

“Hiya kid! Great costume!” said the President. Humphrey blushed as he turned around and saw he was in the President’s chambers.

The President buttoned up his clown shirt, straightened his nose and said, “come on, are you ready to go treat-or-tricking?”

Humphrey grabbed his hand and smiled as he looked back in the mirror at his perfectly round pumpkin figure accompanying the President of the US…

Happy Halloween!

 

Also part of Daily Prompt: Trick or Treat?

Seven Wonders of the Word

flickr-wordsKhalil Gibran once said that people will never understand one another unless language is reduced to seven words. What would your seven words be?

This is a funny exercise. Funny in more than one way. Because, can you really reduce an entire language to only seven words? And could those seven words you choose be utilised in a conversation on their own?

Well, there’s a challenge!

The interesting part in these words is that each can mean something different depending on the tone of voice you use, and the circumstances of course.

I chose to include seven words which are widely used and broadly understood to even non-English speakers. And as all ‘good’ vocabulary has it, they include a term of endearment, a term of profanity, an adjective, an abbreviation and…well, words that seemingly mean nothing but are used in pretty much any conversation you have… Just pay attention next time and you’ll see it’s true!

So here are these seven words:

Like – used in for example “it’s like totally awesome!” usually accompanied by twirling of hair around a finger and chewing of gum

Whatever – in like, saying this to avoid continuing a conversation you don’t want to or can’t win

Hello – because it’s easy to have you at it, and everyone in the world knows what it means

F*ck – in many uses, another widely comprehended word

Nice – can be used ironically or truthfully depending on your exclamation and tone

Sweetie – Snoopy’s favourite, it adds a, well, sweetness to anything you say

OK – because everyone knows what this means, and it can apparently never be used too much

But wait, there is something more that can be used in every occasion and in every language, it’s not exactly a word, rather than a sound: “mmmm”, and no, it is not the sound a cow makes (that’s moo), it is a very legitimate sound that if accompanied by a nod and a smile can get you pretty much out of any situation. OK, sweetie?

Nice, huh?

Whatever!

 

Part of Daily Prompt: Seven Wonders

A year without you

DSC00209cropped

 

 

 

 

 

One year has gone by and I miss you

more than words can ever say,

more and more each day.

My life without you seems so dull and grey.

I miss your purr, your miaow,

even your claws if your ‘hiss’ didn’t work.

I miss you crawling beside me,

chasing my troubles away.

I miss you lying with me,

when no one else would stay.

I miss how we could not say a word,

but you knew exactly what I wanted to say.

I miss having you in my life,

sharing every smile, every tear, every moment with you.

I will love you forever

and forever in my heart you will remain…

Flying out

california-condor-flying-out-of-the-darkness-max-allenIt’s funny how whenever you are in a foreign country time flies by so quickly and well, so differently. Be it for work or pleasure traveling is wonderful. And being in another country is marvellous, regardless of the stress and anxiety you may have. It is always an adventure being somewhere you don’t really know. Exploring new places, observing new customs and meeting new people is in essence part of our sociable human nature. And above all it’s fun.

It is a chance to break out of reality and for a few days (maybe for a few hours) fly on your own little cloud. As if you are entering a trance, a dream if you wish, that very often you don’t want to wake up from. Because really, who wants to return to routine and reality when flying out of it is so much more exciting?

But as money cannot last forever, at some point you must return.

In order to plan for the next time you fly out.

And who knows maybe you will even encounter the place that will capture your heart and keep you there…

Living in a bubble

Photo 16-10-13 18 46 23The signs in Brussels Airport say “Welcome to Europe”; because let’s face it, you think of Brussels and European Union (EU) springs to mind.

I was over there for a two-and-a-half day workshop for young journalists, hosted by the European Parliament. It was stressful and hard work, but it was an amazing experience and the contacts and friendships made were more than worth it. To be honest the amount and quality of work we managed to produce in such a short time is indeed impressive. Especially given all the challenges we faced.

For starters there was the adventure of finding your way in Brussels and to the EU institutions. For first-timers it was no piece of cake. Three years after my first time in Brussels and there are still construction works going on all around the EU Quarter. Something which makes orientating yourself so much harder. And for people (like myself) who have a bit of trouble with orientation, it means getting lost countless of times. But hey, that’s how you learn a place better. At least that’s what they say. Because I’ve seen beautiful places that I have no idea how to get back to!

So, after walking in circles between the Schuman and Maelbeek metro stations, that is between the Commission, Council and Parliament buildings, there on one side of rue Belliard appears the impressive esplanade of the European Parliament (EP), with the fancy digital screen of the Parlamentarium inviting you in, and this period calling you to vote in the 2014 EU elections.

So all is well, and having already burnt the calories you had for breakfast, you’ve passed the security checks and you’re in! You’re in this huge (I mean really huge) building that hosts representatives from 28 European countries and serves (or at least claims to do so) as the ‘voice of EU citizens’. Being inside is impressive. But there are so many offices, rooms, floors, towers, buildings, that it is almost impossible not to get lost. Yet everyone who works there seems so comfortable in moving (actually rushing) around that it makes you wonder: do they have a secret map embedded in their brain that we do not know of? Personally, I had to ask for directions a handful of times while going around and up and down that building. It seems like a maze. And one person who kindly directed me to the right elevator (yes, I had trouble finding these too!) told me that ‘this building is so confusing it’s as if it is designed to trap people inside’. For example, did you know that there is an exit on the third floor?

Even finding the canteen required asking for directions. And then actually getting the food was itself a complex process, or so it seemed to us, because everyone else pretty much knew what they were doing and where to go. We were just in their way.

This EP mall, as it is called, is exactly that. Fully equipped with a sports centre, hairdresser’s, banks, cafés, restaurants, shops, florists, and I’m sure there is a ‘nap-pad’ hidden somewhere. It’s like the Google playground in The Internship, only for EU civil servants. And I’m sure the buildings of the other EU institutions are similar to this.

But seeing and experiencing all this from the inside, you are left to wonder: do these EU officials live in their own world? They don’t even need to go outside. Heck, by the time a visitor would manage to find the exit, it would be time to go back in again to resume their work! But it seems that after all, the EU does live in a bubble. Detached from reality, distant from what people’s lives are really like. They make decisions, reports and dossiers, all drowning in bureaucracy, but they seem to be unaware of how all these policies affect people’s lives in practice. Just ask any citizen of a Memorandum country and you’ll see the negative view that prevails of the EU, its officials and its policies.

If the confusion and disorder that reigns in the EU Quarter and is encountered by visitors is in any way symbolic of the ‘Europe’ that Brussels proclaims it represents, then it is no surprise why the EU is in such chaos and is constantly losing credibility and trust in the eyes of its citizens.

EU officials should exit their bubble once in a while and see for themselves how their decisions affect the people they claim to represent. After all, isn’t that their job? They’re supposed to be accessible and close to their constituents. Not locked in an office, a building or a mall. Particularly one in which you need a map, comfortable shoes, security badges, and a lot of patience, in order to find your way around.

Brussels is a beautiful city, but if you’re isolated inside what in essence can only be described as a ‘small state’, you don’t really get to experience it.  And if you’re in there too long, when you do get out in the real world, you should cover your ears at the deafening sound of your bubble bursting.

18 October 2013, Brussels

Jobless, Hopeless and Divided

Is European Labour Mobility dividing the EU?

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It’s a hard time to be young. It’s even worse if you come from the periphery of Europe. Unemployment has reached unprecedented levels, and youngsters are forced to migrate northbound for a better future. But how is this ‘great escape’ affecting the unity of the EU project?

On 9 May 1950, Robert Schuman said that Europe cannot be built in a day, but rather through events that require solidarity. Today’s European Union (EU) seems too distant from this vision. “We are doing everything in the wrong way,” says Portuguese MEP Inês Cristina Zuber (GUE/NGL), Vice President of the European Parliament’s (EP) Employment and Social Affairs Committee. She explained that the biggest problem qualified youth face today is that they are in jobs without quality contracts, no job security and no social benefits. They may even live precariously like this for years. In fact, youth unemployment has reached unprecedented levels, averaging 23% in the EU and reaching 63% in Greece, and with increasing long-term unemployment, the youth of today risk becoming the unemployable adults of tomorrow.

“We have to change these kind of labour relations,” stated Zuber, “we must create safer labour relations with guarantees and rights in order to keep people in their country. It is impossible to develop a country without these qualified people,” she said.

Her co-vice president for the EP Employment Committee, German MEP Thomas Mann (EPP), said that the EU’s Youth Employment Initiative is very important in this sense, and particularly the Youth Guarantee Scheme through which member states committed to ensure that within four months of becoming unemployed or leaving formal education all young people up to 25 years receive a high-quality offer for a job, an apprenticeship or traineeship. But can this really work?

EURES Adviser in Cyprus Antonis Kafouros appeared pessimistic. He said that even this is targeted to specific groups, as it cannot help everyone. “Such schemes often simply serve to keep unemployment figures at a steady level,” he explained. “There is no real investment in infrastructure or job creation. Demand levels do not increase. The programme is simply adding more qualified people into the supply end. If there are no jobs in which to use the skills/experience gained then it is futile”.

The EU has earmarked €6 billion for 2014-2016 for this scheme. But even though that sounds impressive, Joachim Weidemann, head of “Insight EU” at Deutsche Presse Agentur (dpa), calculated that this amounts to a mere €500 per unemployed person per year. “In order to have the minimum effect this programme would require €21 billion,” he noted.

Giving youngsters a chance

For Mann, however, this initiative is “a small drop on a hot stone”. It is a first step to give young people a chance to become integrated into the labour force, to gain experience and have the opportunity to seek a job. Such programmes are supported by the European Social Fund (ESF) which for the 2007-2013 period amounts to some €75 billion, more than €10 billion per year.  Mann believes this would help create the conditions for young people to stay in their countries. “The decision is taken at the EU level but the realization is in the hands of member states,” he said. He stressed that the ways for southern European countries to combat increased unemployment is by changing the conditions in these countries. “They should realize reforms and this takes hard work. Some are too lazy for these reforms.” But he insisted that the best way forward is to learn from each other: “we must ask why some countries are so successful while others are waiting for money from outside.”

Qualified individuals from the periphery of Europe face more than twice as high unemployment rates than in the north and core (17.1% compared to 7.1%). Many of these seek a better future abroad. But according to a 2011 Flash Eurobarometer, 44% of EU respondents do not want to leave their country. “They are forced to go,” says Zuber, pointing out that this is not true ‘mobility’ but immigration.

“The EU is marketing its idea of Social Europe to legitimse itself before public opinion,” continued Zuber. But how the EU is actually affecting the lives of its citizens is different. “We are now living worse than our parents,” she said, reverberating EP President Martin Schulz’s statement of a lost generation. “The EU’s programmes will help the youth find jobs and traineeships, but it is not solving the problem.” She argued that a positive discrimination is required to help countries in trouble recover and develop top-quality infrastructure. “More solidarity” is needed she said.

Zuber believes that the EU must invest in these countries, otherwise the gap in development will become even greater. “There will be the countries with the know-how and the technology and then the periphery (the countries now under a Memorandum of Understanding) with the cheap labour force to work in their industries. We will create a Europe even more divergent.”

The EU’s motto is in fact united in diversity. With all the challenges and opportunities this entails. But by failing to contain this ‘brain drain’ from the periphery to the core, the situation in immigrants’ home countries deteriorates further, accentuating the division of the EU into a prosperous north and a despaired south.

Written in Brussels on 15-17 October for the European Youth Media Days (EYMD) 2013 Orange Magazine.

Escaping the cave

Green hills

 

 

 

 

There was a young man

who lived in a cave

forever away from mankind.

He thought it best

to be alone

than with the bad clan of his kind.

He was raised in the hills

in solitude

and was taught to love his life.

But without ever leaving

could he ever know

what truly lies there behind?

One day his horse ran off

beyond the hills of dismay.

He saw the valley that lay beyond

and was mesmerized by the non-decay.

His eyes met a gal

with eyes as golden as sunrays.

He was in love at first sight

and knew at once

his life now had to change.

Now they live beyond the hills

with a group of friends

that share their good and ills

and he now knows for sure

life is found out of the cave.

A galloping tale

stock___chestnut_horse_2_by_moodymand-d51rk0dIt was an amazing feeling, running free on the beach, with the waves washing up on your hooves and feeling that you’re sinking in the wet brown grains of sand. It was a feeling of freedom. Comparable only to that of running fast across an infinite field. That was what it was like. If you hadn’t lived it, you wouldn’t know.

Chestnut was lucky enough to experience it every day.

And he absolutely loved it.

Cheeeestnut! Come on boy, are you ready for a run? We’re going up the valley today. Would you like that? Max may come too with Bella, so you might get some flirting going, lucky boy!

Caroline is such a doll!” thought Chestnut. “She always cares about what I want and if I’m well. Heck, she is even setting me up with a beauty! How did she know I wanted to see her again? Did she realize we clicked? Hmmm, was it that obvious?” Chestnut almost blushed, if horses did…

He loved Caroline because she loved him. And it was like an action-reaction, you give something and they give it back. Except if they give you an apple, or sugar, then you don’t have to give anything back. Usually a gentle whisk of your long soft tail would do it. And a smooth petting of your owner (or occasional feeder if different) with your clean and freshly washed snout.

Chestnut was always clean. He was brushed and taken care of very often. More often than usual. That’s what he was told at least, by the other horses he met on his excursions. It made him feel special. Like royalty. Only he was more than that. He was family, and that meant the world to him.

But now, now he was off to sparkle some charm on one of his own kind. Because all’s well and fun, but once in a while he does need some of his own to speak his own language. You know what he means… 😉

The little you know…

Penguin-ignoranceThey say ignorance is bliss. And sometimes it’s true. Because sometimes, there are things you don’t want to know. That you’d be much better off if you didn’t see. And just sometimes, living in your own (ignorant) little world, may simply keep you happy.

It’s like turning a blind eye to the problem of poverty and illegal immigration, which pushes people to the edge, and eventually to their drowning – like what happened on Thursday 03 October outside the island of Lampedusa, Italy, where over 100 people died in an attempt to flee from African shores into Europe. It’s the belief that if you pretend it’s not there, it never happened, and the problem doesn’t exist.

But the same thing applies to other occasions. For example, dwelling too much on the lives of others as so perfectly publicized on social media networks and getting depressed that your life is far from that. You don’t need to know all that information so openly thrown out there at…well, anyone!

People were much more sociable before the rise of social media. Before you could publicise every second of your life and so desperately try to persuade how insanely perfect and awesome everything is with you. In fact, it seems people were even happier, before the invasion of all these negative effects of technology.

So sometimes, you should close your eyes and ears to things around you, things that bother you and only serve to make you feel worse. There’s no point. Because life is what you make of it. And you don’t need to publish every second of it, to count your likes and comments, in order to feel good about what you do. That simply proves the contrary of exactly what you want to demonstrate. And the absence of self-esteem, to say the least.

Sometimes ignorance is bliss. Because, sometimes the less you know about the troubles of this world, the better you feel about living in it.

Whether this is right or wrong, is up to you to judge…

Where ignorance is bliss, ’tis folly to be wise” – Thomas Gray.

The language of hello

Parisian_Cafe_1Sébastien met Lucia in a café in Paris. Their eyes met and it was as if they clicked instantly. Sébastien didn’t know Spanish. Nor did Lucia know French.

“¡Hola!” he said timidly as he approached her table. The Parisian café was half-full this afternoon, so there was no need to shout to be heard. Sébastien could feel his cheeks firing up. He was shy after all, and it didn’t take much for him to blush.

“¡Hola! Eres español?” chirped Lucia, her eyes gleaming with excitement at the sound of her native language in a foreign place.

“Eeehh…” Sébastien stuttered, lost for words. “What do I say now?”, he thought to himself.

Lucia was the type of beauty that fit the stereotype of “being Spanish” – long brown hair, a smile that mesmerized you, and crystal brown eyes that pierced right through you.

On the other hand, Sébastien was a tall, blond timid French boy. One that was raised in a mentality of nationalism that prevented him from properly learning a foreign language.

“Em,” he continued, “moi…sit…ici?” he asked pointing at the empty chair facing Lucia.

“¡Claro!” she replied, with a welcoming gesture.

So he sat there facing her smile. And she gazed in his almond eyes that sunk in his blushing red cheeks. It made her smile even more. But he was not going to give up that easily. If you spotted them from across the room, you would think they were playing pantomime with all the hand gestures going on. But to them, it was a simple effort to communicate.

She knew one-two basic French words. He knew “hello” in Spanish. They both knew very few English.

But three years later, they were still together.

And when they returned to that same Parisian café, Lucia told her friends “this is where he had me at hello!” and they broke into laughter.

Sandrine, their daughter, can speak French, Spanish and English fluently, at 8. They call her “smart-ass” but she knows…it was true love.

 

Also part of Trifecta Writing Challenge – the prompt word was: ass

3. (adverb/adjective) often vulgar—often used as a postpositive intensive especially with words of derogatory implication <fancy-ass>

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