Monthly Archives: June 2007

Coincidence or selective attention?

It’s funny how you go the longest time without thinking of someone or something, and all of a sudden it hits you at once, and it’s everywhere.I found out today that Leonard Cohen (about whom I wrote earlier this month, but hadn’t thought much about before) lived for a while in the island of Hydra (where I was earlier this month (see picture), but whose existence I didn’t know of before). I’d known Cohen was born in Montreal, but didn’t know that he’d been an undergraduate at McGill (where I too was an undergraduate back when).

Today I saw a documentary about Leonard Cohen, which wasn’t the greatest documentary I’ve ever seen. But the scene where Bono comments on “Hallellujah” really made me go, “Woah! I was just talking about that!” (the scene where Leonard Cohen himself sings “Tower of Song” with U2 as supporting band wasn’t bad either).

I also liked what Bono said about Cohen going to work on his writings as a carpenter works on his furniture. Very humbling. Not like some of us that just hope that the inspiration will hit us. Or maybe it will, if at least we keep working at it…Was it Einstein who said something about genius being 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration?Another thing I also didn’t know was that Cohen had been ordained a buddhist monk. Maybe at any other point of my life this fact might have passed unnoticed. But when I was in Greece a couple of weeks ago, I saw a friend of mine who I hadn’t seen in years, and who was ordained a buddhist monk last March… The coincidences just keep getting more and more tangled, like a brilliant, though highly implausible, short-story.

Maybe it’s just me, ready to find coincidences just because I’ve been thinking about all these things, like Freud’s story about selective attention. I don’t know. But there is something unsettling about not seeing something that is right in front of your nose, until you’re ready to see it, and then you wonder how you never saw it before. Is it that we don’t try hard enough? Or is it really 99% inspiration and 1% perspiration?

If it can happen there, it can happen anywhere

Warning: this post is rated R for reference to sexual body parts and mild violence content (gotta call a spade “a spade”). Completely based on true facts.

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After a post on being childish, here’s a serious one.

Lately I’ve been thinking about a lot about violence against women, which was something I knew about, but never really knew about. Until now. I always knew it was something that could happen to any woman, but for some reason (presumption? arrogance?), in some subconscious level I tended to think I was immune to it. Not anymore.

The text below is copied and pasted from an email I sent to a friend of mine when I was in Athens last June 7th.

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Ok. A very pleasant and then a very unpleasant thing just happened to me, after I wrote to you a couple of hours ago.

The pleasant thing was that I climbed Lykavittos Hill, the highest point in Athens, to have to most amazing view of the city, the Acropolis, the sea, the islands. Unbelivably pretty! The path leading up there reminded me a bit of the paths in Mont Royal, but not as not as well taken care of, or wide, or busy.

I took the back way up. On the top, where there is a little chapel, a lookout point, where there were a handful of tourists, an old man sleeping on the steps to a little belltower, two policemen. Going around the chapel, then a little further downhill, there was a fancy restaurant and a tram. After taking a couple of pictures, I retraced my steps from the restaurant entrance back to the top where the policemen were now talking to the previously-sleeping man.

On the way down, I decided to take the main path, which was more structured, shorter, wider, with a bit more tourist traffic. And here’s where the unpleasant thing happened.

A passer-by overtook me and tried to start chatting with me. Between Greek, English and Italian I gathered that his name was Eric. After three minutes of trying to get me to sit down and smoke a cigarrette, to which I kept replying (as I walked as fast as I could) that I couldn’t stop because there was someone waiting for me and I was late, he simply unzipped his pants and pulled out his penis as he said something about making bambini, standing there in the middle of the pathway, in broad daylight, 4pm, at the main access to a major tourist attraction in Athens. Definitely not very attractive to this humble tourist writing to you.

I just kept on going with quadruple speed (from my centre of gravity, belly button and whole being), at which point he ran after me saying “sorry sorry” and grabbed my bum. At this point, I turned around (it was actually the first time I stopped and/or turned around), raised my fist, looked very fierce and said something like “don’t you dare!”

To my great surprise, he froze and turned pale. As I suddenly realized that I couldn’t remember how to break any of his bones, and shouting for help would probably be useless, I turned on my heels and ran. Within 15 seconds I passed by another passer-by (by this point, I’m not trusting passers-by that are male, unaccompanied and look in their thirties). In another 10 seconds I got to the bottom of the hill, back to civilization.

And now, less than half an hour later, I am here writing to you. My legs now have just stopped shaking, and my heart is almost back to regular speed. But now I’m thinking: I definitely have to calibrate this “adventuresome” attitude of mine: this was definitely not fun… I only wish that there were policemen at the bottom of the hill too…

You be careful,

Ester
*****

Serious fun

I used to read a lot when I was a child. A lot. In fact, I used to read so much, I wonder how much of a child I was. I would rather have books than company. I would rather read than play. More than once my parents were called into school by teachers who were disconcerted by my precocious love of reading.

In some senses, I think that this serious attitude of mine helped me grow up quickly. But, at the same time, I think it stunted my development in various other ways. It is as if I’d been a grown-up since I was little, and not always in a good way. People can be unreasonably rational sometimes.

A few weeks ago I posted something about neoteny, and I’ve been thinking about that a lot. Call it Peter Pan syndrome, call it what you will, but there’s something seriously important about being playful. Seriously. And I’m having a great time awakening my inner child (a serious child it is, but still a child).

When I was growing up, I was led to believe that one could not be good at both books and sports. And since I could not remember a time when I did not love reading, I figured that my choice had been made, and therefore it would be greedy of me to also like sports. So I got into this self-fulfilling prophecy that I was “really disastrous” at anything that involved physical movement.

It wasn’t until I was in my mid-twenties that I figured that this either/or mind-body dichotomy was a myth — one that is not only silly, but also harmful. Ever since I’ve been trying to reverse the effects of 25 years of sedentary life, not always successfully (though I’m glad I decided to do it now rather than wait another 25 years).

First it was biking, and then dancing, and then moving from my belly-button. Yesterday I hit some golf balls for the first time. And played frisbee. And jumped on a trampolin. And to my great surprise, it was not a disaster. On the contrary.

Now one self-fulfilling prophecy gives way to another one: and a much more self-fulfilling one at that! Hope my books don’t get too jealous, and if they do, well, too bad for them!

Navel-gazing

So the Ancient Greeks thought they were the navel of the world. If that is not egocentrism (literally), then I don’t know what is.

Now, in this last visit to Greece I didn’t have time to go to Delphi, the precise spot where the belly-button of the world is supposed to be. But I did do a lot of navel-gazing nevertheless.

Actually, I’ve been doing an unusual lot of navel-gazing in the last couple of months. Not that navel-gazing is that unusual for me, but this time I’ve varied not only the amount, but also the type of umbilical awareness. I’ve been thinking about my physical centre of gravity, my creative core, my storehouse of energy. Whatever that means.

7 weeks ago I made a bold decision. I enrolled in three classes I knew nothing about. I started taking Pilates, Tai Chi Chuan and Nia. I had no idea what they were, but I really needed some motivation to go to the gym, and they were the only classes that fit my schedule. Turns out all the three of them make me focus on centre of gravity. Or my creative core. My storehouse of energy. That little area around that big scar in the middle of our tummies.

Believe it or not, this has huge impact on other things in my life. Like tango. For the longest time I have been trying to figure out what my teacher means by “remember to move from your belly-button, people!”. Belly-button, belly-button, how can you move from somewhere as small as that? But now all of a sudden it makes perfect sense, and it makes such a difference! It helped me to finally figure out how to pivot when I do my ochos! I’m very excited!

This navel gazing business even makes me walk faster, without any extra effort. I usually move from with my extremities, which is why I walk so slow. And by slow I mean really slow: it’s just too much work for my poor feet. Same is true of how much weight I can lift (whether you do it from your hands or from your trunk makes a huge difference). Now I feel I have all this extra strength I didn’t know I had.

So if you’re looking for more creative, energy-producing, grounding type of navel-gazing, maybe you might like to start by paying more attention to your belly-button… Seriously, this is the kind of thing that really moves the very core of my being… Whatever that means.

It goes like this, the fourth, the fifth

People that know me might recall my tendency to listen to an album over and over and over again, sometimes for days, sometimes for weeks (and sometimes for longer: those who don´t believe this or don´t know me might want to check see my previous post “Food for the Soul”).

Well, this week´s album was “The Essential Leonard Cohen”. I bought this disc months ago, together with another half a dozen Cd´s (one of those crazy sales that promise you each disc for $0.99 if you buy this many, and then you do, and then it ends up being considerably more than the buck/a disc they used as bait, but by this time you’ve committed to the discs already, so you go with it).

Now, I have a policy against buying more than two CD’s at the same time, precisely because I need to listen to each of them over and over and over before my brain registers them as being part of my collection. It is as if I had to brand them onto my brain, memorize the titles, the order of the tracks, the lyrics, before I could come to facts that, yes, now I do have this album, I have it in me, left and right brain, left and right ear, upper and lower lip, hands and feet.

So, for some reason I didn’t get to Leonard Cohen when I bought it, and what with other discs requiring my attention, new ones to be branded on my brain, old ones claiming they’ve been neglected, constant moves across the city, I just never got to listen to Leo.

Until this week. One other thing that people that know me may or may not know about me is that every so often I need to listen to all my Cd’s in the order they’re shelved. So if this time I go alphabetically, next time I start with Woody Allen Soundtracks and U2, and hum all my way back to Abba. If this time it’s the Brazilian shelf, then next time is the non-Brazilian shelf. And if this time it was the Beatles shelf (they have a shelf of their own) then next time maybe the Legião shelf (they also have their own). And thus it was that this week I noticed Leonard Cohen sitting beside Phil Collins all neglected.

So I played it once. I liked it. I played it again. And once more. And listened to it in bed. And when I woke up. And while getting dressed for work. And when back from work. Found chords for some of my favorite tracks online. Got to do “Hallelujah” so many times I don´t even need to look anymore (cheesy, I know, everyone loves “Hallelujah”. But there is a reason everyone loves it: it is absolutely lovable: melodically, rhythmically, lyrically, gutturally, biblically, absolutely).

And days went by. My fingers, unused to the practiced, now felt we were back in high school again. So did my throat, my guitar and my heart. But I haven´t dared to ask my neighbours´ opinions on this yet.

The Lives of Others

So, I said that reading signs was one of the things I enjoyed doing in Greece. The one posted here is a perfect example. It reads:

“‘Oi Zôes tôn allôn”

‘Oi = article masculine plural = “the”

Zôes = “lives” (like in “zoology”)

tôn allôn = genitive plural = “of others” (like in “allopathy”)

I get that, and being able to get that gives me the kind of thrill a child feels when she is learning how to read.Now, I saw this movie a few weeks ago, and have been meaning to write about it for a while, and never getting to do it. It’s one of the best movies I’ve seen. The character development is fantastic, and it just left me with the type of liberating feeling that I got from Victor Hugo’s “Les Miserables”, or Charles Dickens’ “A Tale of Two Cities”.

In particular, it made me think of the distinction between justice and mercy; about self-righteousness; about observing — and judging — others as if one were invisible, or above and beyond reproach.

I have no acting experience, but I do wonder whether good critics are also good actors. It seems that in life the most perceptive critics are too busy being perceptive to do any acting of their own (and as an academic, I must say I do more than my share of this). So they (we?) kind of live through the lives of others, like the guy in the movie.

But at some point, if one is fortunate, one just gets tired of reporting on how sour the grapes are over the fence where the grass definitely looks greener (though we would never admit it). So we just jump over the fence and realize that the grass is only greener because the people take the trouble to garden, and the grapes are not sour at all.

And then all of a sudden we’re too busy with our own gardening and our own grapes to be too picky about the lives of others. At most, we’re just happy they’re there to receive and enjoy all those flowers and grapes that we wouldn’t want to go rotten after all the work and care we put into them.

Brazil-like Greece

So I’ve said that Greece is the place in the world that reminds me of Brazil the most and you, dear reader, must be wondering:

“What does she mean by that? She can’t just say ‘there’s more to this feeling than that’, as if that was self-explanatory!”

And right you are — it’s by no means self-explanatory. I’m not even sure it is explainable at all. But here’s roughly what I mean by it:

1. As I said, it’s a “feeling”, and feelings are notoriously hard to explain, or even describe. I do not know what it is about Greece that really reminds me of Brazil: whether the people, the streets, the stores, the climate, the vegetation, the colour of the earth…

But both this time and last time I was there six years ago, I repeatedly have this feeling of “not being abroad”, and that happened in the oddest places: some parts in downtown Athens reminds me of downtown Rio; the countryside reminds me of the rural part of Brazil my family is from; some beaches reminds me of some Beaches in the Brazilian northeast. And this is something I haven’t felt anywhere else, and I’ve travelled a bit.

2. I have encountered an unusual number of Brazilians in Greece (which probably contributes to my impression in point 1). This is also something that struck me both times I was in Greece. Again, I’ve travelled a bit, and I’d say I have a good radar for detecting my compatriots. But I think the only other place I’ve seen so many Brazilians was in Florida and maybe… maybe New York.

If it had been only this time, I’d attribute this fact to a soap opera that was on for a good part of last year in Brazil and had a Greek component to it. But I had felt this way before, years before the soap opera, so maybe the soap opera was the consequence, and not the cause, of the number of Brazilians in Greece.

So that’s that. The real cause for this phenomenon remains to me unexplained. And whether it is true or not that the actual proportion of Brazilians in Greece is higher than in other places I visited, in any case it remains true that I have this impression. And not even Descartes could find fault with my explanation.