A Perfect Day

Back to school today, right? Yes, for some. Not for me any more. 

I used to love school when I was a kid, there was something magical in learning about words and numbers, places and histories (hint: school was a solid institution those days). It also made me feel more likeable: in the culture I grew up in, getting an education was the only way you could stand up for yourself against class equality (no, I have not mis-spelled it). And if you were smart enough, parents would be proud(er) of you – so one was pretty much psychologically bullied into getting a degree of sorts. 

Many years and a few degrees later, I started to teach – I quite enjoyed it. It gave me purpose, it felt like I was contributing my knowledge to the betterment of the young. Alas, the young were less and less interested to learn… anything. Last year, I had four students who cheated on technical drawings (!!!) – basically copied them from one another which qualifies as plagiarism, while nearly a whole class of others failed to attend presentations of out-of-town professional guests who I had personally invited. Guess who was guilty in the end for students’ inability to properly perform? That’s right, me!

I fully realized it about two weeks ago. As I was just starting a trip on my own along the Columbia river gorge in Oregon, I hear my phone ding! An email from the coordinator of the program announcing dryly that there are no teaching assignments for me this fall and no winter course in drawing. It was the easiest thing to get mad – yet I looked straight at the Vista House and I forced myself to marvel at its magnificent location on top of a cliff overlooking the entire valley. The automobile enthusiasts in the 1920s had chosen well this spot for a journey halt.

The morning was simply splendid. I went on the top terrace and I slowly glanced from left to right. The picture below doesn’t even begin to describe the landscape, but what can one ask of a cell phone camera? Frankly, I think it did quite admirably at capturing some of the grandeur.

“Lord, help me to enjoy this day and this trip.” I made a mental promise to myself to let nothing spoil the joy. I let my eyes linger on the colours and my lungs get filled with the fresh air. My head was full of negative thoughts, trying to convince me how inept I had always been at making myself pleasing to the bosses, how terrible a teacher I was, what a failure of a mother I am as my children had chosen to spend their day browsing shops in downtown Portland…

“Stop!” I cried aloud. I closed my eyes tight with anger and then I looked up in the faint hope I might be able to release that. It didn’t exactly work instantly. So I looked up in the air at my imaginary (?) enemy and I said with a smile: “you shall not win today.”

With this determination in mind, I drove further into the woods and I stopped at a few of the waterfalls which make the travelers’ delight on the Historic Route 30. Sad as I kinda was, I didn’t expect the magnitude of beauty which gradually engulfed me with every stop I made.

Latourell Falls looked slim and elegant like a lady all dressed up to celebrate:

I found the Bridal Veil hidden behind tall rocks at the end of a descending trail:

Further down the road, Wahkeena Falls does justice to its Native name as the “most beautiful”:

… By now, my negativity had pretty much melted and had been carried away in the waters. From the base of Wahkeena, I decided to take the Perdition trail up to the Fairy Falls. Little did I know it would take me a good hour of rather strenuous climbing. The first half of the climb was on an asphalt trail – how the heck did they pave that and why, it really makes one wonder.

Then the Perdition lived up to its name as it did not seem to end… Not only that, but in due time I entered a strange domain looking much like Tolkien’s Rivendell.

The trail went up and up. There were only a few daring others following me or descending (and those had encouraging words of “just a few more turns and you’ll see it”). Finally, when I had almost lost hope, the Fairy Falls came into full view. Smaller than I had imagined it. But the closer I drew to it, the more fascinating and mysterious it grew to be. It had a symmetry about it which defied laws of merely physical nature. Indeed, later on that evening when I browsed the photos I had taken, I noticed a round face right in the middle of the falls… spooky!

I drank some water from the river.  People looked at me in a strange way. One said: “I wouldn’t do that.” I thought to myself: “too bad, city girl, you don’t know what clear fresh water you’re missing on – but hey, who am I to teach you anything.” I began my descent. My heart was beating fully alive with the overpouring beauty. There are no words to describe the poetry of the moment. ‘Blessed’ is the closest I can find.

The afternoon was leaving way to the evening when I made it to Multnomah. It is the second highest falls in the U.S. and it is truly magnificent.

As I stood on that bridge separating the two parts of the waterfall, I thanked God for my loneliness that day. I thanked Him for walking with me in the conscientious discovery of pure joy. And I was glad beyond all words and worlds that my own will had not let some stupid small-minded folk spoil the magnitude of the discovery which was to come.

I’ll leave you with this for tonight. Do not forget: if you want to find joy, you will. Sometimes it is a mighty fight against your own judgement – but boy, is it worth it!

As for the beginning of school today… well, it feels to me like time for a change.

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A city of patches

There are quite a few cities which I’ve visited in my travels and I certainly cannot make definitive statements. But it may be safe to say that Calgary is one post-modernist city par excellence

I’ve been here a week. I went out with friends in various parts of the city and I’ve spent the day walking the streets of its downtown today (remember, today is Tuesday and on Tuesdays we go out, right? Right.) Man, is this a patchwork! You can literally tell that people working at the municipality have friends and family working either in the oil industries or real estate. Apart from the Plus 15 (an extensive network of pedestrian skywalks suspended at 15 feet above street level, which link the main buildings downtown so one doesn’t have to go outside in the harsh winter), there’s nothing which provides urban coherence. Bits and pieces everywhere. Historical references without much substance (I honestly wonder if those who implemented them did so conscientiously, that’s how random most things look). Mismatched colours, opulent materials, decrepit houses next to conserved heritage. This is the epitome of postmodernism, without the slightest doubt.

A picture is worth a thousand words, they say – so I’m thinking what better essay than a visual one, see below. Enjoy!

Olympic plaza

Yes, those are colourful plastic squirrels sticking their heads out of the walls. Creepy.

Former headquarters of Alberta businesses on Stephen street.

A mechanic horse – after all, this is the country of ranchers (yeah, sorry, forgot to mention that besides the oil business.  I know, unforgivable.)

The Bow tower: opened windows in curtain wall, only in Alberta. 

The stenographer: a facade detail on Stephen street

Core Shopping Centre – Cultures bowls: all Made in China…

…and the good taste of Britain – an oxymoron at Eau Claire Market

More of Eau Claire’s… love the spatial and cultural associations

The “no minors beyond this point” sign is a real killer in the context, don’t ya think?

We’re talking technology here, you dumb robots!

The Card Cave – yep, still at Eau Claire … And…

… REALLY fancy oils and vinegar. Like really! Who would have thought?

Any respectable market has a psychic reader – at least in Calgary they do.

And an information board which has the aesthetics of the “Do and Don’t” propaganda panels in communist Romania (that’s pour les connoisseurs)

Speaking of communism – best mural in the city, in my humble opinion. At Calgary Chinese Cultural Centre.

Howdy Starbucks!

Howdy Casino! (Street ad)

Howdy cars! (City transit ads)

Howdy opera house! (Heritage Park Museum)

Wire art in a wireless city…

… And happy Giacometti (who the heck was that?)

Kurokawa’s Nagakin Capsule tower meet Goldberg’s Marina City. Modernism at its best, though not in a combination.

What, you thought the oilers and ranchers wouldn’t promote shipping container architecture? Think again:

(Open selectively, for the true hipsters out west)

Po-mo popular housing design – yep, it made it to Calgary!

Last but not least: Chinook centre, the po-mo masterpiece. I guess.

When you can’t get to NYC, pray to the lucky scarabee to bring the MET to you. After all, we’re all Egyptian, more or less… ’cause otherwise, the (multicultural) connotations beat me.

And for those of you familiar with turn-of-the-century Chicago and the story of Marshall having carriages waiting for the new middle-class customers to the train station to bring them to the store… well, Chinook centre has its shuttles! No kidding. From the train station two blocks away. 

….

I’ll say just this in the end: worth a visit, this Calgary. Now is the time and this is a place to first hand experience what a Middle-Age city on the brink of heavy industrialization might have looked like – if there ever were such a thing. No, really.

CAN touch THIS!

Tuesday morning. Hi there! Back in the body business today. Sticking to that morning walk? Excellent. If you discover any fun stuff along the way, drop me a line. And if you don’t feel like walking, we’re gonna…

… dance – that’s great for your body. If you’re like me, you can easily replace gym with a dance session for day. When I was a student, I tried aerobics. It worked for a bit but I got bored with dancing on the same music just because it fit the exercises for the various muscles. Good thing I didn’t give up the parties. And man, in those days did we dance at parties… There wasn’t much booze available in the communist stores, not to mention drugs. Just before I was born, an anti-abortion law had been passed which stayed in place until 1990 – you got it, no contraceptives of any kind, sex was a tricky affair, better not. So what could you do at parties? Play the philosopher guy and hope you’ll bewitch the (more intellectual) girls, or dance. Which is why people in my generation are not only pretty good dancers and sophisticated philosophers (yes, of course they don’t say anything), but have also stayed relatively slim into old(er) age.

I love dancing. As a kid I had asked my mom to put me in ballet lessons. At the end of the first one, she excitedly asked: “so how did you like it?” “I didn’t” – I said. “Why?” came mom’s surprised voice. “Well, they asked me to stretch and stretch and to just go around the room.” “Oh, honey, it takes some time and exercise to get into the ballerina moves…” “But I don’t want to learn those moves – I just want to wear the pretty dresses and dance.” That was my first realization that sometimes you gotta work hard for a pretty dress. So I dropped the ballerina thing, absolutely no regrets – and later on became one of those rare architects who also wear colours besides black.

Anyway, no big deal. I continued to dance whenever the occasion arose. Not to brag, but I was the soul of the parties and I did dance almost all night long. I remember once we returned home at 5 am – it would have taken forever to get the buses, so we had to go through a park. My feet were hurting so bad, I removed my white shoes and walked home barefoot. Liberating. (I probably would have done it at 1 pm, too. I’m just that kind of person.) Oh, and I danced a bit more on the way. You see, I was in love.

Dance has the amazing ability to put you in a good mood. A loving mood. And if you don’t have somebody specific in mind, how about loving yourself? Swing, baby, swing. You can put on Swan Lake and twirl through the house, or a waltz and go one-two-three, one-two-three… Or go easy with Ella & Louis and don’t wake up just yet, keep dreaming … And when you’re quite ready to start your day… full steam with M.C.Hammer – trust me on this!

Let’s dance! Happy Tuesday!

Walk the Talk

Tuesday morning. Time to do some body exercise.

I don’t know about you, but I can’t keep to a gymnastics schedule. People who know me in real life would be surprised, they will most likely think of me as a disciplined person as I manage to achieve quite a lot throughout the day, month, years. But I’m not exactly disciplined. Even Qi Gong – which I have discovered a few years ago – I do every now and then, when my organs inside hurt. Running for running sake makes no sense, I don’t need to lose calories. So I walk.

You wanna get out of depression, do some mild work out too along with thinking better of your self. I started walking last fall as a means to begin the day on a positive tone. I decided that after I see my little one to the school bus, I could go around a few streets in my neighbourhood before I have breakfast. My walk takes about 25 minutes, it’s always the same route, and I do it as often as I can (talk about strict discipline! but hey, I’m trying, see?) I love my neighbourhood, it reminds me of the one I grew up in, not in the architectural style of the houses but in the friendly atmosphere it exudes.

We live on top of a hill whose streets are lined with postwar small houses built in the mid-sixties. They may not look spectacular to some, but I like the ownership pride they show. They are so well taken care of, it gives you confidence in the solid little details which make a good life.

Some are detached bungalows or two-storeys.

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Other are split houses (the ones which have the living/dining/kitchen combo half-way between two floors making the bedroom-garage wing).

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There are also the undefined ones which look like two storey, when in fact they have an elevated main floor (a sort of Italian piano nobile – no wonder, there are many Italians in the area!) over a lower floor with bedrooms and the garage.

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As I’ve been walking by these houses almost daily, their presence has faded in the background and gave way to the seasonal details of their gardens. And so one split came alive with the flame of its yellow maple tree…

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… another one with an “ever-green” which turned golden too…

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… then you’d have pure fire coming right at you…

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…or burning your feet…

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…or just splashes of colour…

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…and weird reminders that as some die, others are born…

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And so it went, from fall into spring – admittedly, we had a lousy winter this one so I didn’t take many pictures as I wasn’t out much (yep, laziness – no, let’s call it by its nicer name “coziness” made a mess of my discipline). But hey, one Tuesday morning, as I was saying, I got back on the road and here’s what I saw:

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Some people even got their beauties out…

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… and the magnolias were simply irresistible!

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SO… what I want you to do is this: get out of the house. Just do it. If you’re somewhere in the northern hemisphere, right now chances are the weather is cooperating. (I hear it’s nice in the southern hemisphere, never been there – you figure it out and let me know.) It may be sunny or not. Get an umbrella or a jacket if it rains. Or walk out and sing in the rain as you are. Rain boots maybe? They are great ’cause you can jump into puddles – and why wouldn’t you? Be a kid. Have you noticed how happy water makes kids? It’s a miracle. You wouldn’t live three days without water, appreciate it, love it. Go out and enjoy every step, even for 5 minutes. And if it’s sunny, you really don’t have any excuse. Step out, walk, close your eyes and let the rays warm your face and soul.

Then come back inside and make yourself a tea or a coffee. You deserve it.

Happy Tuesday!