Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Baring it all

In locker rooms of gyms nationwide, there is a strict, unyielding rule: do not look at other locker room dwellers when they are not wearing clothes.

I experience tremendous difficulty sticking to this rule.

I always steal glances from the corner of my eye.

First of all, I'm fascinated by how different women's bodies are. I know and you know we all have the same equipment, but really, variety is so vast. I can't believe we have such a narrow concept of beauty when most women look great in the buff.

I'm also quite intrigued by how different a woman looks when she walks out of the shower compared to when she's dressed and ready to walk out of the gym. It's a complete, magical transformation that goes way beyond her appearance. It gives me a disembodied sense of pride that the female species is so gifted at pulling together a look.

Finally, I'm completely shocked by how much longer it takes most women to get ready in comparison to how long it takes me to get ready. I've never had such a large number of subjects to compare myself to, and it's been quite a revelation.

I jump out of the shower, wrap a towel around my head and get dressed. I have short hair and it's curly so I let it be. And, I don't wear any makeup. So, while I'm thorough when I dry off, specially between my toes, and apply yummy smelling body cream, face cream and leave-in conditioner, I notice other women spend hours parting their hair and blow-drying sections of it with brushes of different shapes and sizes. And, they carry around huge bags filled with makeup, which they proceed to apply meticulously – and, to my deep admiration, quite expertly.

I take, on average, about half the time others do. And, I'd be much faster if I wasn't so busy noticing all of this in while pretending not to look.

I could go on with other things I've noticed about large numbers of naked people of my gender, but I think I've gone as far as I can without making anyone too terribly uncomfortable.

(Photo from Sephora.com)

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Mystery, solved

A large volume of you, my thorough blog readers, have asked me why on Earth I was packing all my things and putting them in boxes.

O.K. Two of you have asked me why on Earth I was packing all my things and putting them in boxes. Was I moving, perhaps to London?

The truth is not all that exciting. (Well, not to you, anyway.)

I finally decided to make a seven-year-old dream of mine come true: to rip out the carpet in my house and replace it with hardwood floors.

I initially managed, with an artfully conniving blend of bald-faced lies and sprinkles of strategically timed denial, to delude myself into thinking it would be a piece of cake. And then I got hit with the very things people tell you are going to happen when you do any kind of remodel: complications.

The carpet could be ripped out, and wood put in, but I’d have to pack up the house. No, I wouldn’t be able to move things from one room into the other, but rather would have to remove them entirely. And, of course, I’d have to strip out the floorboards and replace them. I’d need a painter, obviously, to retouch them once that job was done. So, eureka, I’d freshen the paint in the whole house, while I was at it. And, once the aforementioned, undesired carpet was yanked out, it was revealed, in an alarming twist of fate, that the entrance to the house from the garage was concrete – not wood – and therefore I’d have to use tile, which I’d need to select, along with the right color of sanded grout.

So, initially I convincingly persuaded myself that the job would take about two weeks, three at the most, and instead our things have been in boxes for almost a month – and we have at least another few weeks to go, since the varnish on the floors has to dry, and the floors themselves have to rest, take naps, settle and go through a curing period before painters can traipse through with their drop cloths, blue tape and heavy boots.

So you’re wondering, am I at all repentant for embarking on a complicated venture of these proportions so soon into a New Year? Do I feel guilty for dragging my unsuspecting husband into this mess?

No. I feel ecstatic. The father and son team of contractors who are working on the floor is dreamy: punctual, respectful, courteous, talented and best of all, they argue with each other loudly and in Polish (while Luca and I liberally contribute with commentary in Italian). The place looks amazing in bamboo (Luca would not hear of anything that was not ecologically responsible, the scoundrel).

When I come home in the evening, I open the door and, despite the fact that everything is covered in the finest veil of dust and the project is not even finished, I feel as if the house were the architectural equivalent of a loving dog, luminous, welcoming and happy to see me. Which is, I’ve decided, the least you can expect from the place you live.

I was, in addition, very disciplined about what went into those boxes I packed, throwing out and giving away many things (despite protests of a certain someone who shall remain nameless but who lives with me), so I feel cleansed and purified after having concluded a pretty drastic re-haul. As an added bonus, our bed is currently in the kitchen, which gives new meaning to the words “breakfast in bed”.

So, is making the extra effort to be happy with your space worth it? Yes. Never underestimate the power of surrounding yourself with something beautiful.

Friday, January 18, 2008

And the miracle of Greg Mortenson

Greg Mortenson was a climber who became a nurse just to do something between one climb and another. An unsuccessful attempt to summit K2 almost killed him. He got lost (or so it felt at the time), taking the wrong turn and ending up in an isolated village in Pakistan called Korphe.

Grateful to the people there for their graciousness, their generosity, and for nursing him back to health, he promised he’d return to build a school. He has dedicated the rest of his life to doing just that. He's built 50 schools in an area often considered the most dangerous place in the world for an American to be; not to mention, a location where the most unimaginable obstacles have to be overcome in order to get anything accomplished.

You can learn more about Greg Mortenson if you read his book "Three Cups of Tea". An inspiration, because:

- It proves Luca's theory that your destiny will come find you even if it has to nearly kill you to get you to pay attention.
- It demonstrates that a single person can (and does) change the world.
- It reminds you that there is a little bit of Greg Mortenson in all of us.

(Photo by Greg Mortenson)

Friday, January 11, 2008

The miracle of Mario Balotelli

I often wonder how people who have a calling in life go about finding it. It's practically a given for a doctor's daughter to decide she wants to dedicate her life to medicine, but what if a person's environment does not expose her to what she was meant to do? How many potential cello virtuosos are out there who have never heard of a cello, and will therefore never know that they possess an extraordinary talent?

Luca thinks that it’s inevitable; that people and their callings find each other through a cosmic, magnetic pull. Take Mario Balotelli. Mario was born in Sicily, the son of two immigrants from Ghana. He was entrusted to the Balotelli family when he was three years old, and moved with them to Brescia. Growing up in Italy, he was exposed to soccer throughout his life. He is now signed up by the Internazionale (one of the best teams in the world) in a three-year deal, the maximum allowed for a player of his age. He has scored 19 goals in 18 league matches - a football phenomenon.

On the other hand, it is my opinion that the forces of nature are indifferent towards the task of matching people with what they are supposed to be doing with themselves. There are thousands of human beings out there stumbling through life, missing their destiny entirely. Think about it: among a daunting number of passions, and an equally astounding number of places where you could end up, your calling has to match not only your surroundings but a specific moment in history. It's possible, for example, for a spectacular software developer to have been born two hundred years before computers were ever invented.

Believing that the odds are staggeringly narrow does not make me jaded but rather wide eyed to recognizing the presence of a miracle when I see the mission and the person somehow finding each other’s eyes across a crowded room.

(Photo: Mario Balotelli's home page)

Saturday, January 5, 2008

I'm a chicken

In past blog entries I’ve submitted lists of things I don’t like about myself. One of my least favorite, one that I’ve strategically neglected to mention, is that I don’t do well with any type of souvenir. I don’t take photographs (I don’t even own a camera), don’t make albums and don’t keep mementos. Whenever memories assault me – through a song, a scent, any unintended, uninvited occurrence - I feel frozen in place when what I want to do is run.

Take traveling to Mexico to see my family. I love them more than my own life (and I mean this non-melodramatically), and once I’m there I manage, but before I leave I’d rather be going anywhere else. Seeing them, their things, their habits, their spaces, overwhelms me with a sense of loss that knocks the air out of me. I don’t know what to do with a feeling like this.

Regrettably, there is no word in English for what I’m describing. It’s like being homesick at the very beginning of your trip, when home is really far away. It skids, like nostalgia. It’s dark and thick, like melancholy. It crushes your chest, like longing. Empties you out, like sorrow. It’s like an ocean of sadness that feels both full and empty, gray and bleak and somehow sweet. In Portuguese, the word is Saudade. And I think it’s one of the feelings I dislike most in the world, because it makes me feel helpless. And because it hurts like a needle to a nerve.

Based on empirical research, I sustain that I feel saudade more acutely than the average person. (Otherwise, photo-sharing sites would not be the booming business that they are.)

When we’re traveling, my husband always insists that I buy something to remind me of the place. I decline on the grounds that I won’t forget it, but really what I’m thinking is I’d rather not remember. There will be other places. Why cling to the past when the future is so full of promise?

Every year around December and January, Luca spends at least 50 hours putting together a DVD with all the photos he took throughout the previous year. He adds videos and slideshows with music that best represents each place. He has a DVD library by now, and of course I am going to look at it. Tomorrow.

(Photo: history for kids.org)

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

If I could, I wouldn't

I have a list of things I fervently wish I could do but that I know if I ever had the time and money I most probably would opt to not get around to it.

I wish I could do nothing for a year but lie around and read. I’d pick a list of books – the classics – and read one a month.

I wish I could live in a different city every year, divide it with an imaginary grid, and visit every street.

I wish I could live someone else’s life. Not forever. Not instead of mine, or because I don’t love mine. Just to see. For example, I wish I could rent a small apartment in a tiny town somewhere and find a really nice, neighborhood cafĂ© where I could be a waitress (my favorite part of the job would be to wipe the counters clean).

Or, I wish I could work in a furniture store. Or be an elementary school teacher in Peru. Or, do something in construction, where I’d start out being pretty bad at everything but would eventually learn how to build something, like how to install a hardwood floor. I’d come back to the life I have now and see it with different eyes and change the tile in my bathroom to blue.

I wish I could buy an old house in disrepair and make it more beautiful than it ever was (with my new extensive experience in construction). It would look like a barn, but only from the outside.

For a few months, I wish I could go somewhere where I don’t speak the language and take care of someone’s young children and run the house like a well-oiled machine, because I know I’d be good at it. I’d come back grateful that I don’t have kids and completely fluent in German or Japanese.

I wish I could rent a huge property somewhere further south, like Santa Barbara, and host an enormous, month long gathering of the most interesting, weird people I know (meaning, my family and closest friends). They would not all visit at once, so I could enjoy them a few at a time, but they’d somehow briefly overlap so we could all have a meal together seated at a big, round table.

So there you have it, a partial list of the things I’d like to do but never would if I really could. Wishing doesn’t have to mean you want it to come true.

(Photo: Sunset Magazine)