The Seven Seas

Do we look for stressfull environments out of conditioning and familiarity? Is it like looking for painful relationships because we are used at being abused or at abusing the other? It reminds me of the lyrics of The Eurythmic’s Seven Seas.

Sweet dreams are made of this

Who am I to disagree

I travel the world

and the seven seas

Everybody is looking for something

Some of them want to use you

Some of them want to get used by you

Some of them want to abuse you

Some of them want to be abused

Familar pain or stress outrule a new situation by numbers, if you leave it up to your mind to do the thinking. The mind much prefers to ‘know’ the situation. Knowing equals being prepared for what it takes to survive. The mind is a clever organ. Ultimately savy in how to survive. No new territories please. New territories take survival instinct to discover, explore and master. Better to gear on auto pilot. Even if that involves enduring pain or stress. Because auto pilot enables us to still pay attention to something else. Like looking after children or work or what our friends think of us. Which increases our chance of survival.

Why am I writing this? Because I am intrigued by the purpose of negative thoughts. Nature’s design is infinetely complex and we don’t know much about it’s inner dynamics. Maybe because we focus on outer appaerances, symptoms and results more then what drives the engine. Why and how our minds bring us down (negative thoughts) can be easily discarted as illnesses. But that doesn’t pay much hommage to our clever design. Do we simply judge negative thoughts as an annoyance to say the least? Or maybe even as outright ‘wrong’ and on call to be changed, altered and cured for the better at once. This remedy sounds like when someone is being thirsty, instead of giving that person something to drink, his or her craving for water is questioned. When I’ve got a negative thought I should be triggered to find out where it comes from and what it wants to tell me. Instead of being ashamed of it or embarrased to burden other people with it. When I am thirsty I fetch myself a drink. Don’t you?

In Gozo now the summer season is over. The locals resort to their silent and simple lives. The lack of stress slows me down. I have been looking for down time after one and a half years down under in Australia. Up here in Gozo, contrary to what happens in Australia, there is less incentive to work for material gain. The prospect of and familiarity with prosperity is much lower here in humble Gozo then it is in promising wealthy Australia. A week ago I visited the UK. My familiar incentive to achieve came back to me. It’s a bit stressful to be honest. I like my mode in Gozo, isolated from the result orientated busy-ness of Northern Europe. But we take ourselves with us wherever we go. Hence we do not rest until we have found our same old groove. This might be in a new direction and in different conditions. But still. It’s what we are familiar with, conditioned for survival, no escaping from it. Meanwhile it rains here, it rains constantly. I like the rain.

Emptiness versus Belief

Yoga is like a bottle of wine. Yoga is visualized as an oasis of tranquility. Promised through pictures of beautiful bodies in lotus positions. A deep red sun setting behind meditative timeless moments. Harmonious natural colors blending soundlessly with placid faces. The Martini Bianco commercials from the eighties fade in the shadow of yoga-imaging. The Martini Bianco ads used to be the epitome of a James Bond like decadent leisure’s life style, including beautiful women, sailing yachts and everlasting sunset drinks.

My very own Yoga on The Rocks alludes with a wink to these seductive artifacts of our society; yoga like an uplifting desirable sunset drink with a sparkle poured over the crystal luster of dancing ice cubes or, in other words and the American way to describe such thing straightforward: ‘On The Rocks’. Wearing a cool yoga designer outfit, doing our cool yoga thing. There were also those other fabulous impressive cinema commercials. Produced by Marlboro. Tough and tanned cowboys wearing leather hats and checkered ponchos, riding strong horses in vast North American landscapes, offering the audience to dream away. Away from retained little worlds where everything and everyone is the same, always and forever.

Demerit goods are taxed by a Western European government with a much higher levy percentage then essential basics like food and also higher then regular products like furniture or a taxi ride. I say a Western European government because a trip through several Central European countries recently unveiled high alcoholic drinks like vodka in the supermarket to be cheaper then orange juice and a pint or half a liter of beer to be cheaper then tea at a renowned old school terme near Lake Balaton in Slovenia; a place we’re conveniently used at calling a health spa.

Demerit goods offer a passive, non aggressive escape or temporary relief from reality. As opposed to their quick-fit-psychological-relief quality, they impact our general health negatively and produce negative external effects even for non-consumers. Since the individual consumer craves them and basically pays whatever it takes to obtain them, in the long run they cost national governments more if it comes to health care, justifying a higher levy.

So how do I dare compare yoga to a bottle of wine?

Yoga is addictive, like wine
Yoga offers a temporal escape from reality, like wine
Yoga eases stressed out brain cells, like wine 
Yoga offers a studio to go to, like wine offers a bar to visit
Yoga is surrounded by promises of peace of mind and happiness, like wine is surrounded by promises of a Burgundy life style, leisure and joy
Yoga is socially accepted as an escape, like wine is socially accepted as a sedative

So far for the comparisons. The above omits completely that yoga is good for your health and alcohol not so much. Having said that, the longer term cultural dynamic leading towards a socially acceptable life style including yoga and meditation versus the good old duo of a church with a bar outside, fascinates me. While biding my days in the most Catholic country of Europe and therefore presumably the most Christian country of the world since one year now. Yoga isn’t the new big thing here. In Gozo, part of the Maltese archipelago consisting of three small isles. Here locals visit the church and cafés. There’s as many churches as there’s days in a year. One different church to go to every single day of the year. I wonder how many yoga studios Amsterdam counts. I am sure it ain’t eight hundred thousands but translated into square meters of yoga studio space, eight hundred thousand might actually not even be too far off. At least so it seems. The concerns of the Gozitan life style are certainly different from the ones of countless yoga studio members in the bigger cities around the world. I am struck by the controversy between belief and sedating the mind versus emptiness and feeding the body. A new dogma is born. We are gladly seduced by the new enchanting escape. 

Island of Joy

The early morning light in October is beautiful. It glows softly at the limestone houses. The typical Maltese balconies strike me again with their classic elegance. I like the busi-ness of the people here. Old women walk the narrow streets, dressed in a classic way, almost French. They wear a pleaded skirt with a blouse or a checkered dress with a neat light jacket. And occasionally a shopping bag. They look timeless. As timeless as their age.

I park the car at Saint Francis square to have tea at the Beeheeve. It’s like a chapter from a book. I am the observer, the narrator. I am not part of the scene. The Beeheeve and Tapies bar next to it, have plastic tables and chairs outside. The weather is great. Mid October, Saturday morning 7.30 am. There’s only men sitting here. Timeless men. Countless men. I walk inside and order a tea. I am the outsider. This strange bewildered feeling is what I need right now, right here. Gozo is beautiful. If it’s not this island, what is it then?

I Like It When You Call Me Baby

Boarding is forty minutes delayed and we’ve not been allocated seats next to each other. However the good news is that a generous ‘real airline’ luggage allowance applies for our flight today with Iberia operated by the low cost airline Vueling. Our bag filled with a fair amount of port from Porto gets checked without any questions. Flying in Europe is a bit of Russian roulette. Sometimes you die. Sometimes you win. 

After waking up very early this morning Brian puts on ‘Sugar how you Get so fly’. It’s 5 am. We are flying from Lisbon to Barcelona today. But first we make love. Like a man and a woman. Sweet whispers in my ear: “Baby…”. I say:”I like it when you call me baby”.

One of our allocated seats is a middle seat. The other one, two rows further down, is a window seat with extra leg space. I ask the older woman with blonde dyed hair and dressed in a sporty fluoriscent yellow fitness jacket, seated at the aile next to our middle seat, if she minds swapping seats. So that Brian and I can sit together and she can enjoy extra leg space at a window seat two rows further down. With an American accent she replies “No”. Then I ask a young woman who’s comfortably seated at the other side, the window side, of our middle seat. Her head rests in a nowadays indispensable in flight accessoir wrapped around her neck. “Do you mind?…”.  Fortunately she replies “sure”, also with an American accent. I am grateful. Both for Brian choosing to sit next to me over a seat with additional leg space and for the empathy of the younger woman.  

A bit later the older American lady who now is our neighbor reads into her tourist guide about tapas bars. Sure thing with destination Barcelona. It brings me back to Guimet y Guimet six years ago. At the time advertised in a lists of ‘the ten best..’. A very traditional tapas bar in a back then by tourists lesser known neighborhood of Barcelona called Gracia. It’s here where I got to talk and listen to Brian. We didn’t fall in love because we didn’t know we could. We did what we could. Talking endlessly, laughing, talking more and more sincere. Until we left. With our friend. At the time we spent less then twenty four hours in each other’s presence. Which was initiated and facilitated by our best friend. Six years later we’re on a flight bringing him and me back to Barcelona. Where it all began baby. I like it when you call me baby.

I kind of regret the American blonde older woman will not know about this story. It could enrich her Barcelona experience in a lovely way. Me telling her about a special night at Guimet y Guimet. She hearing inside stories about how two people’s lives changed completely. Both of us impressed by the connective power of love. But I don’t think she’d understand.

The Art of Happiness

She takes a sip from her BPA free plastic water bottle, puts on some lip moisturizer, takes an Orbit chewing gum and opens an intensely used paperback somewhere in the middle. It reads The Art of Happiness. I momentarily envy her for having found that title and the state her paperback is in. I imagine picking up the story in that ragged paperback feels like lowering my buttocks down in the seat of an old but well kept leather Chesterfield chair, comfortably leaning back, sucking in peace of mind. I glance at her from my window seat 21D over to her window seat 21A which is across the aisle in the small Polish Airways aircraft that brings us from Lubljana in Slovenia via Warsaw in Poland to Amsterdam. I sit next to the love of my life after we drove around Central Europe during two weeks. The trip has been wonderful. We are very happy.

The woman’s gestures make me pick a Stimerol and put Labello on my lips before I realize it and become consciously aware of the fact that I do not really need to make these additions to my state of well being. I do not need to read about the Art of Happiness nor apply lip moisturizer. I do not care for to chew gum nor hydrate myself with purified water. I am so lucky to be happy. I am so lucky I feel blessed. And although I am curious to know what is said about The Art of Happiness, I don’t want to read about how to be happy. The woman knows about how to add fragments to her state of well being by hydrating her body with water, refreshing the taste in her mouth with chewing gum and moisturizing her lips. Don’t we all search for to feel good? Security covered, achievements fulfilled and individualism outspoken. Now what is left to be conquered is happiness.

Alpine Fly Fishing

Miro is showing casting maneuvers. He has got something special to teach. Not to teach really. It’s more about transference and sharing. Technique easily slides into habit and patterns after many years of fishing. Miro seems to review style and skill of the fisherman who joins him for the day. In fact every new location a fisherman goes needs a reset or even an adaption of technique. It’s refreshing to go over the basics. The Soca river in Slovenia is not like any other river. Actually no river is like any other river. Rivers flow. It’s waters finding the way of least resistance. Exemplary for us, our lives. Slowly to slowly learning to flow like water. Practicing as the Japanese call it, Wu Wei. 

The more rivers one wades the more skilled one becomes. Or not? Is one more skilled having fished rivers in Japan, New Zealand, Tasmania, the Pyrenees, Montana and Alaska? Yes and no. Yes because one learns how important it is to constantly adapt techniques. No because the knowledge how to adapt them doesn’t rise like the sun does. It comes with learning, sharing and transference. Today is a fishing primeur in the Alps. The fishing guide Miro is a Slovenian fly fishing champion who posseses a wealth of Alpine fishing secrets. The acquaintance momentarily feels like the beginning of a new fly fishing chapter. Like so many other chapters passed by and to follow.

Your enthusiasm is beautiful. You could be a teenager. Like your sons are. At the same time Miro looks like he could be your father. He tells us he doesn’t have children ‘yet’. He is fifty five. His character reminds me of you; soft and articulate, hiding strength and boltness. 

The two of you are fishing the Soca River. There’s dogs and children playing around and never before I saw torrents as light and bright turquoise as here. The sun happily casting it’s bright silver shine. Sun rays seem to chemically crystalize completely translucent clear water. Girls on holiday are walking down stream with inflatable swimming toys. I don’t think we’ll be here at this seriously trodden section of the river much longer. But that depends on Miro. If he’ll let you pass and move on to deep down Slovenian fly fishing. He’s initiating you into some of it’s rites called European nymphing. It involves fluorescent paint on the fishing line as an indicator where the nymph is dropped in the water, rather then having a marker floating on the surface of the water with the nymph dangling underneath at the end of the fishing line. The last one being the default method at places outside this peculiar continent.

Why are you so kind? You make a small waving movement with your hand, looking at me. Maybe to make sure I am okay. Maybe to share your joy with me. I don’t know. I get tears in my eyes. You impact me deeper then anyone or anything else. I look at you while you let the rod slowly hoover over the river upstream to downstream. You’re fishing with a dry fly now. It’s quickly gliding over the surface of the strong mountain current. You are happy. And so am I.

We end up spending the whole morning at the heavily trodden spot in the Soca river where the fish are too lazy to bite and the water is too bright to resist. This nice and warm Slovenian summer’s day in August the world is too glorious to conquer.

After lunch at another beautiful spot where it’s very quiet you catch the first rainbow trout of the day, alive and kicking both the trout and you. It’s catch and release. I remember your words, you liking the catch more then the chase. You say it about girls when I think I need the playing hard to get game better. Three more rainbow trouts follow before it starts raining from heaven heavily. A good omen as usual. At the first cast in a river steaming from damp heath on this nice and warm Slovenian summer’s day you catch a Marble Trout, the special indigenous species you’d come all the way to the Soca river for. The purpose and destination of this Slovenian trip. Which at the same time we call our honeymoon. The Slovenian’s fishing champion Miro and four hours of his Alpine fishing technique teachings is what it takes to catch the Marble trout. The whole experience is overwhelming and deeply satisfying.

Via Warsaw

Ljubljana Airport

The multiple lanes leading to and beyond Departures 1, 2, 3 and 4 at Schiphol Amsterdam Airport are clogged with cars driving very slowly searching for a spot to pull over in order to deposit passengers to the different departure halls. Quick or lengthy farewells are showcased by a hug, a kiss, a firm hand shake or a proud wave. It’s an early Saturday morning in August. Today holiday people rent their holiday house until the next Saturday. I had not thought of traffic this busy on a weekend day in summer. We should have left the house earlier, I tell myself and once more when we get to Polish Airlines check-in counters seeing a long line of people, waiting, not moving. At the economy counter there’s no staff. Only at the business class counter people are being attended to. We wait, try to get feed back as to why the economy class counter is uninhabited and wait some more. After quite a bit it’s our turn. We’d already checked in online and have been waiting only to drop off our suitcase. For which we are being asked if we paid the supplement. Apparently this is not noted. The ground stewardess of the now open economy class counter looks a bit confused but she kindly prints out our boarding passes upon asking her to do so. Fortunately we pass Schiphol security quickly. To discover some fifteen minutes after check-in that the departure gate mentioned at our boarding passes doesn’t  correspond with the information advertised on the digital departures boards. We find our way to the correct gate. Also here people are waiting. Boarding hasn’t begon. When we eventually get in the Polish aircraft we wait even longer, at least an hour. Finally permission to take off follows and one and a half hours after the scheduled departure time we are on our way to Warsaw. It means that upon our arrival we will not have a minute to loose for our transit at Warsaw Airport, going to Ljubljana, Slovenia. But the LOT stewardesses are pretty, fuzzy and informal and our two weeks trip through Central Europe has started. The trip I dreamingly label as a fairy tale come true. Recounting of love, transition and inner truth.

The Warsaw connection is successful and five hours afterwards we land at Ljubljana airport. Our suitcase takes a day longer to make it there. Leaving us to make our way into town feeling as light hearted as we like to travel light. That first evening we melt together in a soft Slovenian bed hidden behind an upmarket and neatly renovated historic centre street of a quaint little semi Alpine town.

Little Fish Spa

Five years ago, maybe six, my brother sent my daughters and me to one of the little fish spa’s that sprouted like mushrooms in the alleys and narrow streets around his neighborhood, location Bario Gotico, down town Barcelona, enclosed by the popular Picasso-Museum-neighborhood called Borne and the street-artist’s-Ramblas de Catalunia. Who hasn’t been there? In a single day there’s more tourists then cobble stones paving the medieval streets. After African people selling sunglasses to be chastisized by the guardia civil, wealthy European youngsters investing in real estate to open up Airbnb places and less wealthy Europeans opening up funny cafés, Asian people started spreading out from their whole sale-retail-everything-for-1-euro places into more popular signature Catalan streets opening up one massage salon after the other. At some point these massage salons competed in original ways to attract the millions of pedestrians strolling often aimlessly, the oh so trodden old streets where once a long time ago, time had stood still. Sit down in an electric massage chair and dip your toes, feet and lower legs into a water bassin in front of your chair. Black little fish study your legs for a little time before they attack your skin, nibbling on it, making you giggle, supposedly eating away the dead cells of the top layer of your skin. The experience is a happy one. After fifteen or twenty minutes you pay €25 and continue the aimless wandering most probably quickly interrupted by downing a few beers or a caraf of sangria.

My not yet teenage daughters and I liked the little fish spa’s very much. Surprised how it suits the appetite of different generations; not a common thing while walking through hot old streets with a million fellow holiday people. 

Today six years later, my daughters find themselves, spending the first few weeks of their summer holidays in The Netherlands before the two of them come hanging out with me for a couple of weeks. Location: a tranquile island in the midst of the Mediterranean where even in July it’s hard to loose oneself in some sort of dis- or at-traction. Nature talks, often very loud, and people disperse themselves in a quest for tranquility, purity and being away from it all.

Late last night I’ve arrived back at the island which I and my youngest daughter call home since half a year. The day after the night before I seek solid grounds and to recapture my little life here. I take to the rocks at one of my favorite parts along the shore, Dahlet Qorrot bay. I leave the few other people that come out here and my car behind to hike for twenty minutes, maybe half an hour. Until I arrive at what I call my private spa. Here the sea created craters like shallow pools, different ones, connected with the open sea but only by little water ways. The water in the shallow pools is almost stagnant but not completely. It’s as clear as glass. Little fish roam. Little crab crawl. The sun shines fiercely. The extremely salty water is hotter then the electrically heated water in the bath tub at home. I carefully get in the natural health spa, cautious not to slip and slide on the the film of soft sea moss and algea that covers parts of the natural pools, making the whole experience even more of an immersion in nature. The shallow pools are not much deeper then 50 or 70 cm. I stretch myself out in the water, arms wide, legs apart, floating as if I find myself on an airbed. The water is so salty. It prevents anything from sinking. I breath slowly, adjusting my ligaments, patiently relaxing more and more. The back of my head sinks further down. Only my neck is still tensed, trying to keep my head aligned with my torso. I gradually let go. Seawater encircles my closed eyes and blocks my ears. It’s eternally silent, soft and static. And then it starts. I feel the first nibbling at my right hand, it surprises me, I unconsciously pull my hand away from what it is touching. But I realize it’s just little fish and I relax again, stretching my arm comfortably, slowly, not to agitate the placid warm water. After a bit more the little fish seem to have regained trust and courage. They start to nibble at my feet, my legs and my ears. The most unique sensation is when they start nibbling at my eyelids and my cheeks. At some point it tickles too much, just next to the opening of my ears. I move to make them stop for a moment. But I relax again and they retake their meal of savoury human skin. I smile and enjoy intensely what’s happening to me. 

Thank you overcrowded Bario Gotico for having introduced me to this peculiar intimate experience. Reality beats any sought after dis- or at-traction by miles. One of the smallest islands in the Mediterranean, the tranquile isle of Gozo, which is part of the Maltese archipelago, this place completely beats it if it comes to the experience of reality.


April 2019 high up Gozitan cliffs

Sunset over Malta colors a silver grey sky pale orange. It contrasts significantly with the deep dark blue Mediterranean water at the down side of the horizon. He has left me for now. The love of my life. Like a brilliant golden sun setting behind the thin line dividing dark from light. He leaves me with memories of endless moments. They shine like brilliant sun rays shedding light upon vibrant colors of life. Unveiling it’s essence, basically. As if life is something complete.
I use words to bridge the distance between me and painstaking moments of completeness. Maybe I shouldn’t. Maybe I shouldn’t try to put it into words, expressing individualized cut off fragments of perfectness. Like Muslims shouldn’t picture what is created by Allah. By putting divine creatures into individualized expressions through drawing, painting or picturing anything that is alive and breathing, one takes away the divine spirit of it and one assumes to be capable of recreating what only Allah can create. Beautiful abstract mosaic art is a dear result of the principle. Do words that describe something called love do the same? Does it take away the divine spirit of love? Much like we wouldn’t want to touch perfection at the risk of ruining it. In my case then, I shouldn’t touch it not even with words. 

Tomorrow the sun will rise again. I will drink tea in the morning thinking of him. Filling the empty space he left behind with emotions, feelings and thoughts. Weird enough love is as much about perfection as it is not. Those moments of perfection are indeed not to be touched. They can be admired, respected, wished for and dreamed of. However they should be kept pristine. Like crystal clear water should not be contaminated. And then there is love and acts of love. They fill empty gaps. Love completes that which without love would be barren, cold and empty. Like beautifully engineered food, which without love misses the final touch. Love makes up for life’s missed chances. Love turns life around, back into fertile grounds where the cycle of rhythmic growth steadily continues. Love has found me. It took the shape of my American hero. I allowed him and love and therefore life to touch me. As deep and powerful as the big blue sea. And as vulnerable and ephemeral as a mayfly, who has the short life span of one single day. Love touches softly without any pressure felt. Yet mega at the same time, as in Omega, the ultimate letter of the alphabet, finishing up, completing everything that has transpired before. Love is like the sun that rises again and again, facilitating growth, fertility and continuity. Regardless of the depth of the darkest of nights, the sun comes shining again the following morning. Always and forever. The pitch black of the darkest of nights exists merely at the mercy of the purest, virgin white light of day. Sparkling brightness outshines pale stale. The deliverance of a perfect moment is celebrated with effervescent champagne and blinking diamonds reminiscent of the temporary versus the eternal. Love is as light as it is heavy and as complicated as it is loud and clear. Love is life. As much as the continuous cycle of sunsets and new dawns are.

She Rocks

Seven years ago in Amsterdam my toddler brought home from her nursery a stone the size of an adult hand palm. Painted blue, red and white and in written in black her name. The Dutch national colored stone read: Mahdee Rocks. I think that might have been the first time that I remarked a special soft spot for the concept of what we label a rock. Her rock made me smile out loud. As we speak, my memory extends to many years before that little rock for my little girl where upon I unconciously projected my own longing for steadiness.
Carl Jung writes in his Memories, Dreams and Reflections about how he sits on a rock questioning himself on matters of reality. What is real? This rock I am sitting on is real. Or is it my perception of the rock that is real? Am I the rock then? What is the rock anyway; does it only exist ‘in me’? 
Jung’s contemplations fascinated me twenty years ago because I didn’t understand at all how one could ask himself if one actually is a rock. Walking through a city parc I would once in a while ask myself ‘what does that tree mean to me?’ Hoping for the thought resurrecting ‘Am I that tree?’ because, I reasoned, if I obtain the same experience as Jung, I understand him, understanding something that I had never questioned myself. However I am curious and I just like to understand things, people, the world around me and most of all, reality. For what I understand I might be able to master and not feel threatened by.
A year ago I desperately needed a job. I was drawn to a place called The Rocks. With my by then eight years old daughter on my arm I walked in, made an enquiry and got the job.
Half a year ago I desperately lost sight of the love of my life. Everyday without him I was drawn to two rocks at the shores of a place called Safety Beach. My eight years old daughter would walk there with me every single day until we left the shores of Safety Beach to return to our own hemisphere. Sitting on those rocks, listening to the seawater embracing the stone before kissing the beach, settled me. 
We’ve passed many places since and now we have rediscovered rocky shores. We love climbing on and over them. Shortly I will initiate yoga sessions on these rocks. Winking with a twinkle to all sweet strong slightly intoxicating alcoholic drinks On The Rocks, the ice cubs in the drink sorting a similar effect as yoga in our brains. On The Rocks without the alcohol.
 A sincere friend of mine presented me a pebble for my 50tish birthday. To me that means more then any other present. I keep it in my little wallet. Each time I turn the little wallet around to shake the money out of it on a store’s counter, the pebble rolls forth between real coins. What’s the most precious one of them all? 
It brings me back to I don’t know what. I think I am trying to own rocks. Envious of their capacity to remain undisturbed by rising and wading tides, burning sun, soaking rain and freezing cold. I am trying to make rocks my own the way other people try to make their beloved ones theirs, or material security or wisdom.
As for me, I’ll keep on rocking and rolling. Way to go.