“The Unberable Lightness of Being”

“What shall we choose? Weight or lightness?”

In the VI century BC, Parmenides saw the world divided into pairs of opposites, a positive and a negative: for instance, being/non-being, light/darkness or warmth/cold. But when we are talking about our own existence, in “The Unbearable lightness of Being”, Milan Kundera invites the reader to reflect, which one is positive: weight or lightness?Image

In the first pages of the novel, Kundera briefly shows that both weight and lightness have their positive and negative aspects in the human existence:

“The heaviest of burdens crushes us, we sink beneath it, it pins us to the ground. But in love poetry of every age, the woman longs to be weighed down by the man’s body. The heaviest of burdens is therefore simultaneously an image of life’s most intense fulfillment. The heavier the burden, the closer our lives come to the earth, the more real and truthful they become. Conversely, the absolute absence of a burden causes man to be lighter than air, to soar into the heights, take leave of the earth and his earthly being, and become only half real, his movements as free as they are insignificant.” (Kundera, 1984)

But the more the reader dives into the story of the main five characters (two women, two men and a dog), the more s/he realizes that the author looks at the human existence as temporary lightness. Our humble existence is light because of its transitory, ephemeral nature. We only have the moment, we are simple passersby in this world and we shouldn’t take ourselves too serious, not even when it comes to things holding great significance for humans (like love, death, sex, commitment). Love for instance is portrayed as the result of endless strings of coincidences which leaves no room for the magic of falling in love or being in love. As for sex and intimacy, it can happen anywhere with anyone, without holding great importance for the actors involved and, of course, sometimes having little or nothing to do with love.

The story of the characters reveals that each person has only one life to live and our existence will not repeat itself ad infinitum as we once experienced it. We will never be able to get back again to the crossroad of a choice, to test the untaken road, because living only one life, we can neither compare it with our previous lives nor perfect it in our lives to come. “There is no means of testing which decision is better, because there is no basis for comparison.” Thus, Kundera challenges Nietzsche’s concept of “eternal recurrence” according to which everything recurs as we once experienced it, and that recurrence itself recurs ad infinitum.” (Kundera, 1984)

As a life philosophy, I prefer the eternal return to the “unbearable lightness of being”. I am one of the people who choose to mop in their drama. And instead of mobilizing myself to get over sadness, I like to touch its muddy sticky deepest bottom and see how I feel there. I prefer to believe in the recurrence of my experiences and of my existence as a whole. However, not only that I enjoyed Kundera’s novel, but I could often see bits of myself in Sabina, find myself in Tereza’s anguish of being cheated, sympathize with Tomas or Franz, pity and envy Karenin’s existence. Each character is alive, well drawn and complex. And it was an intense reflective journey to walk along with them for a while.

Bright side of life. Just a cliche?

I thought Copenhagen was not really my cup of tea: the grey days in here were so many and so long that I could feel their heaviness pressing on my lungs; it was not just the sun and the light that I missed but also the warmth of people, the small chat while waiting in a queue, the easy going friendship I made while waiting in the bus stop; on top of everything, converting the prices in the cheapest supermarkets from DKK to RON would always question my competences in math (“Wow, is that really the price!”) and installed the feeling that I have to learn to live only with dark bread, milk, vegetables and tap water.

Grey day, ha?

Last week, I met a Portuguese guy during one of my low skilled shifts in DPU who, in a few sentences, made me realized that my whiny attitude towards Copenhagen has to end.

We had a moment of respiro before the people arrived at the event, so I took the initiative of socializing in my clumsy usual way, asking him where was he from and how did he cope with the weather in Copenhagen. From a Portuguese, growing up under the friendly pleasant sun rays, I was expecting to hear a lot of complains about the weather here. I was already imagining our discussion turning into a critique of this grey place and I was ready to put my own hostilities towards this city into words.

Then I heard the guy saying: “I love the weather here, I can see the seasons changing and it was here that I had experienced my first snow.”

Pfuuu, what?! And the “what?!” must have been readable on my face, because the guy went on:

“You know, people always complain no matter what they get. In Portugal, during winter, there are about +10 C and people complain it’s cold. Then, in summer, they complain about the burning warmth.”

And I had to agree: people always complain no matter what they get. And it is not just about weather we are talking about here.Sunny Day

There are so many things I love about Copenhagen, from using my bike as the only means of transport in the city, the joy of opening the job portal and seeing that there are vacancies I can apply to, the big windows of the houses that would let me peep into their Danish life, the colored buildings or their cozy brick structure, the freedom of jogging wherever and whenever, to the healthy fresh air, great education system, supportive social system, the embracing feeling of safety on public spaces and much more…But on top of my mind, there were the complains about the weather, the coldness of Danes and the prices in the supermarkets…

You may not be in the perfect place. You may not be in a the perfect relationship or not get the job of your dream, or your ideal lifestyle… But you can always ask and train your mind to be aware of the advantages during your life journey. Or else your mind would make your life miserable. Because the Portuguese guy may be right: people usually complain no matter what they get.

Coincidences or interconnections?

For those who believe in coincidences, this story is just an amalgam of facts, scattered on a white page of a silly blog.

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The facts go as simple and reasonable as this: on New Year’s Eve, I biked towards the City Hall square to see the New Year fireworks show; when I biked back after my first beer of 2013 (and last one, I promise), it was dark and there were many broken glasses on the bike lane from the early drinking stars of 2012 and the late drunkers of 2013; I got myself with an absolutely flat tire before I got home; I felt sad, as it was the first “happening” that the New Year brought to me; knowing that today, on the 2nd of January, I was supposed to bike more than 30 km to DPU, then to Charlottenlund and then back home to Amager, the first thing I did on the 1st of January was to go and make an inventory of all the bike service shops in the neighbourhood which open as early as possible for the next day; today in the morning, I took my bike to the only bike service in Amager that opens at 9 AM; the guy from the bike service told me that the earliest my bike will be ready tomorrow; so I walked towards the bus stop, disappointed that my yesterday’s inventory efforts were useless and I still have to pay for transportation tickets today; all of a sudden, 5 metres away from me, a biker girl stopped; she was having a flat tire; she saw me coming and asked me if I knew a bike service somewhere near. I didn’t know ONE, I knew them ALL and their opening times on top.

For those who believe in coincidences, these are just scattered facts put in a post. But I don’t believe in such thing. I know I was down that my year started badly with unpredictable expenses for my new tire and transportation tickets. But my bad luck is somebody else’s good luck. For me, it was not a coincidence that I got a flat tire on New Year night, that I went to search for all the bike services in the neighbourhood  that I hadn’t had my bike repaired the same day so I walked towards the bus stop at a particular time of the day, on a particular street…I had to meet this girl and tell her where to go to get her bike repaired.

Your life is not just your life. It is interconnected with so many others’.

Istanbul

Istanbul?! Oh, Lord, to catch the uniqueness of this city into words, I find it absolutely impossible!

It is rather a city I would feel: I would embrace and squeeze Istanbul so strongly that it melted into a river flowing in my veins. Thus I could always carry it with me and never miss it again. In the morning, I would step quietly and gently on the sunny narrow cobblestone streets with my eyes closed. In Istanbul’s sun, even when your eyes are widely closed, you see yellow-reddish playful lights. I would touch the hard irregularly-shaped ground with my bare feet and my palms, like a lunatic who never before had seen pavement. At lunch, I would touch Istanbullus’ faces: maybe melancholic, maybe smiling, maybe proud, or maybe flirting with a long-legged blonde tourist. I would touch their chubby cheeks when they chew a kebab, I would smile if I felt a black hedgehoged–mustache. In the evening I would feel the soft warm Turkish carpets, petting the dim light of the street lamps and the harsh stones of the crumbling walls. I would have baklava for dinner. And not just one piece. Then lick the sticky sweetness off my fingers: one by one. Late in the night, I would feel Bosporus, touching the curly waves in a windy night. I would go to sleep at the very first praying call, curling up in a corner of a leaning warm house.

It is rather an infinite city I would describe into pictures: grandiose mosques, trees and bushes covering blackened houses, abandoned collapsing houses, hundreds of colorful scarfs on a line blew in the wind on Bosporus bank, huge amount of merchandise resting chaotically in the middle of the streets.

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It is a city I could better catch into my nostrils than into words. To me, it smells like vitality, like mysterious lively energy. There must be some sort of chemistry how a perfume transforms under the piety of a headscarf. There must be some sort of sorcery that makes you hungry every time your nostrils feel the mix of fish and smoke on the Galata Bridge. Plus, they must be putting happiness in your cup of coffee, as one coffee pot keeps you walking for hours, thinking about the smell of wood, of wetness, of women, of men, of love.

It is rather a city I would listen. I would ask my heart to stop beating for a while, my thoughts to stop running. So, I would get the perfect silence to hear the humble music of Istanbul, speaking the language of melancholy; to hear the Sufi rhythms that rarely make sense to me, to melt into the grandeur of the call of mosques that gives me goosebumbs, to listen the merchandisers proudly inviting customers in, to hear what is the sound of a woman removing a silky headscarf and combing her chestnut hair before whispering love words to her man in a room of a filthy hostel.

I cannot yet catch Istanbul into words. But I would feel it, smell it, see it, and listen to it if I had the chance at least once more in this lifetime.

Christmas in “Istanbul. Memories and the city”

Reading a novel in a quiet flat under a gloomy sky, in a room transformed into an imaginary Yoga retreat centre as soon as our flat-mates left to their families outside Copenhagen, may not appear as the most exciting way to spend Christmas day. But reading “Istanbul. Memories and the city” in the dim light of a lampImage is like instant teleportation to Istanbul, wondering around its cobblestone narrow streets through the soul of a young man. The way Istanbul and the author’s memories are described felt so real to me that I may say I spent Christmas with Dayyuman, and a few other familiar figures: with Pamuk, Pamuk’s brother, worrying for his mother spending her evenings alone in the sitting room, blaming the father for all the mistresses he had, taking part in family arguments, loving the love for Black Rose, loving the joy of painting, getting lost in Istanbul’s poor neighbourhoods and savouring every single memory and history related to this city.

My dear family back home should be aware: really, this Christmas I was not just in Denmark. I was away with another family in a far far away land which I incurably fell for.

Education is lifelong learning

A modern society cannot afford to limit its definition of education to the period of childhood and schooling.

A few decades ago, confining education to childhood was understandable. Most people were living pretty much all their lives in the same village/city were they were born. Hence, it was very likely for the individual to be able to assimilate the culture of his/her particular society in his/her childhood. Then, often people were following the profession of their parents or, if they were breaking up with their family tradition, it would have been for a life-time job…or maybe just for a half-life-time-job. But anyway, the knowledge, skills and attitudes learnt till adulthood were enough to provide the individual with a job and help him/her make a living out of it for many years without returning to education. Therefore, by the time of adulthood, the education process in their case was to a large extent accomplished: they were already socialized members of their society and qualified workers, ready to start performing on the labour market.But in the modern society, the individual has to learn “from cradle to grave”.First, the individual has to become qualified today for the jobs that will emerge tomorrow, to acquire new skills and competences for a rushed market. Qualification, re-qualification, and then re-re-qualification are the hunting concepts chasing us in a too-narrow labour market that stubbornly refuse to embrace us all. We aggressively compete for jobs. We become more and more specialized, interested in tiny fields, pieces of a lost big picture.
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Second, people get to travel and live in different corners of this small world with big differences between its societies. When an individual moves to another country, s/he has to be socialized again as a member of a different society, different from the one where his/her primary socialization took place. And the co-members have to learn to integrate him/her. Even in the case of one living in the same country, given the increase of migration and travel, there are more and more chances for him/her to be exposed to alternative interpretations of the social reality, to various cultures, to diverse groups which push the individual into learning situations.
Education has to keep the pace with these rapid social changes occurring and assist the individual to respond to these changes. Education has become a lifelong activity that may occur at any stage of life.

people in Grand Place/Grote Markt in Brussels

There are people kissing. And people making small talk: about pommes frites and Belgium Chocolate, about gauffres and the various types of Belgium beer.

There are people playing: playing with a ball, playing with words, playing with people’s feelings or simply with their postures while taking photos. A kid is screaming out: MAMA, MAMAAAAAAAA.

Some are holding hands. Some wished they were holding somebody’s hand, I assume.

A few people are trying to sell their flowers to couples. But nobody buys flowers for their beloved nowadays.

Some guys walk careless in groups. They look happy. Some are lonely  hearts. But they look happy too to me. Maybe I am happy and see happiness every where.

Some girls are obviously talking pictures to nourish their Facebook profiles with some “Brussels Albums”. Some must be taking mental pictures: they stay still in front of the beauty of the buildings, maybe trying to encapsulate the moment in their souls.

Some speak French. Some speak Flemish. Some speak loudly. Some don’t speak at all. Well, somebody has to listen… Only a few speak body language.

A guy with a trolley passes by dragging an apparently light luggage making a lot of noise on the irregular pavement. It seems he reminds all the people in the square that nothing is forever: it comes a moment in life when you have to pack light and go. And sometimes the pavement is quiet at your departure.