The Second Half

Anything goes. Within the bounds of propriety, of course. Welcome and behave, please!

Why not? — October 27, 2017

Why not?

It’s been a month since my last post so you could say I’ve been slacking. Am I ashamed? Erm…not really.

And you won’t really be getting an article today. I mean, it IS an article but not the type I write for my own pleasure. It wasn’t intended for this blog but what’s the harm in sharing? Might as well use it to inject some life into this place. I’ll be back tomorrow with a proper article (I think). Cheerio!

http://appiral.com/how-to-fail-at-freelancing/

 

 

Special birthday girls, Part 3: B.B. — September 28, 2017

Special birthday girls, Part 3: B.B.

On this day, a silver screen legend turns 83. But what does it matter? They say myths are ageless and Brigitte Bardot is every inch a myth and then some!

I thought for a moment there to say “the quintessential silver screen goddess” but it immediately felt wrong. Oh, Bri-Bri is a goddess – no argument there or at least none that I care to hear. But she is too unique to fit into the confines of any description. Silver screen goddesses were thick on the ground during the golden years of cinema, but Bardot was in a league of her own. Besides, she never thought much of the profession and never sought the adulation.

What was the hysteria about then? Sure, she was insanely gorgeous, physical perfection personified. But then again, there was a horde of other actresses beautiful beyond words.

It certainly had nothing to do with her acting abilities either. Bardot herself once declared, “I started out as a lousy actress and I have remained one.” Film critics say she did well in a couple of films (Le Mepris and La Verite), but she is generally considered a mediocre actress at best.

I have to agree: she usually seemed disinterested and somewhat disdainful on screen, as if the whole thing was an annoying chore. This inevitably translated into wooden, forced performances. Bardot never claimed to love acting. On the contrary, she consistently voiced her dislike for the profession and vowed to leave it when she’d truly had enough. B.B. kept her word and bid cinema adieu in 1973, devoting her life entirely to the animal rights cause.

But this woman had a presence so powerful that you couldn’t tear your eyes away from her! She could just sit in a corner and sulk, stare vacantly at a wall, or smoke with a supreme air of boredom and you would still feel compelled to gaze at her, entranced and spellbound.

The magic of Bardot has virtually nothing to do with the quality of her cinematic work. Her films are mostly light fare, sometimes downright silly and occasionally boring to tears. But people kept flocking to watch her. Why the abiding fascination?

The pursuit of the answer made Brigitte the subject of cultural, sociological and feminist studies. Another French icon, Simone de Beauvoir, explored the appeal of B.B. way back in 1959 in an essay titled “Brigitte Bardot and the Lolita Syndrome.” Here is an excerpt from that work:

“When Marlene Dietrich exhibited her silk-wrapped thighs while singing in her husky voice, she was casting a spell . . . Brigitte Bardot doesn’t cast spells; she acts. Her flesh doesn’t have the generosity that symbolizes passivity. Her clothes are not fetishes and when she undresses, she reveals no mystery. She simply shows off her body, which is in constant movement. She walks, she dances, she moves. In the hunting game, she is both hunter and prey. Males are an object for her, as much as she is an object for them. This is precisely what hurts males’ pride.”

Another prominent woman of French letters, Françoise Sagan, made Bardot the focus of a book in 1975. “She was success, money, love incarnated and she didn’t see why and who she should reimburse. She wasn’t ashamed of herself, she didn’t apologize for her absolute triumph whereas so many others apologized for their half-victories. And this is why she scandalized everyone,” Sagan wrote.

Brigitte refused to bow to conventions at a time when such dissent sparked public outrage and moralistic diatribes. This is a woman that the Vatican once denounced as the personification of evil by using her image at the 1958 World Expo in Brussels in its pavilion hall to depict suffering, hell and the devil, and lasciviousness. There’s an irony somewhere here because Brigitte remained a conservative at heart throughout her life. She was, after all, brought up in a wealthy Catholic family that upheld tradition.

Controversy has always surrounded Brigitte, nowadays mostly for her far-right inclinations and nationalistic views. Many in France revile her for her stance on immigration in general and anti-Muslim sentiments in particular. She’s been convicted several times of inciting racial or religious hatred. And while claiming to have many gay friends, Bardot has spoken some ugly words about homosexuals.

On the whole, the French have mixed feelings about their erstwhile screen goddess. Many hate her for the things mentioned above but many also praise highly her immense contribution to the fight for animal rights. Quite a few admire her refusal to follow in the footsteps of actresses her age who desperately fight the passage of time by resorting to cosmetic surgery and often end up looking ridiculous. Bardot looks every year of her age, all wrinkled and frail, limping along propped on crutches.

The woman has endured, that’s for sure. Her style has been copied avidly through the years, but no-one has even come close to the original. She was a being apart, floating in her own universe: an incomparable body moving with animal grace, a shock of blond tousled hair, a pout the likes of which the world had never seen and has yet to see, an unapologetic attitude, and a total disregard for the trappings of fame.

She has symbolized many things in her life, among them France, sexual freedom and women’s liberation. It didn’t seem as if she cared much about all of that. Brigitte often claimed she was happiest in La Madrague, her villa in Saint-Tropez, next to the sea, surrounded by her swarm of animals and away from people. They say that Saint-Tropez became the jewel of the French Riviera after word spread that Brigitte had taken up residence there. The city is now honoring its famed denizen by unveiling a statue of Bri-Bri on her birthday.

Bon anniversaire, Brigitte! Be well and stay happy doing your thing, even if that happens to be nothing more than feeding the animals in your yard and puttering in the garden.

 

 

(Featured image comes from Brigitte’s official Facebook page.)

 

WTF, Switzerland?! — September 19, 2017

WTF, Switzerland?!

Somebody in Switzerland can shit money!!! Like, literally! So far, the unidentified individual has pushed tens of thousands of euro out of their craphole!

Don’t suppose that fooled ya, did it? No, of course not. This is what a four-year-old might be inclined to accept as fact. There’s no excuse for grown-ups unless they are partial to mind-altering substances, in which case the idea of people shitting money wouldn’t appear out of the ordinary. So, let me tell you what all this is about and what happened in the aftermath.

Bloomberg (love you, guys!) reported this week that Geneva prosecutors were investigating how wads of 500-euro bills found their way into the toilet pipes of three restaurants in the vicinity of a UBS branch. For those not particularly interested in financial matters and the institutions that rule the market, UBS is Switzerland’s biggest bank and one of the world’s top sector players: it has operations in more than 50 countries and a global workforce of close to 60,000.

It might also be appropriate to mention that UBS has been involved in a fair share of controversies, some of them resulting in criminal charges. It was one of the financial institutions that held on to Holocaust victims’ assets and claimed them as its own. In more recent years, the bank has been accused of aiding tax evasion in several countries, violating US trade embargoes, colluding with certain peers to manipulate Libor and currency benchmarks, and quite a few other transgressions.

But it’s not my intention to hate on UBS. To prove that, I’ll also tell you that it consistently gets recognized by industry bodies, especially for its wealth management services, equity research, and employment practices. On the other hand, I didn’t set out to produce an article about UBS so let’s move on.

The bank had to be mentioned because the first discarded bills turned up in a bathroom close to a UBS vault full of safe deposit boxes. Within a few days, banknotes had made their way into the toilet pipes of those restaurants, the result being thousands of francs blown on plumbing repairs. Switzerland has no law against destroying banknotes but Geneva prosecutors believe the incident merits an investigation. UBS has yet to issue an official statement on the matter.

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It figures that melted cheese (fondue) would be Switzerland’s most famous dish.

All right now, we know Switzerland is a rich country but come on!!! This was one of the first things to cross my mind when I read that piece of news. Then I got to thinking this is one frigging weirdo of a country. Cuckoo clocks, mountains, cows, cheese, fondue, chocolate, bank secrecy laws, neutrality during World War 2 – that more or less exhausts my knowledge about Switzerland.

Then the usual happened. You see, when I read something and it intrigues me for whatever reason, I want to find out more. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not always in pursuit of quality information – sometimes I just want to be entertained. I was leaning towards levity on the day I read Bloomberg’s article so I set out to unearth weird things about Switzerland.

Do you have any idea how many things are against the law in this country after 10 pm? I mean routine, run-of-the-mill things, not some outlandish activities. Check this out: flushing the toilet, taking a shower, washing your car, slamming a car door, or peeing standing up. Apparently, the first two are encoded in laws that allow interpretation. Come Sunday, don’t you dare hang your laundry out to dry, wash your car (yourself, that is; going to a car wash is perfectly legal), mow your lawn, or dump bottles and cans in public recycling bins. And forget about reciting poetry while you ski down a mountain slope!

You wouldn’t believe the passion Switzerland has for animal rights! In case you are considering a guinea pig, a mouse or a ferret as pets, you’ll have to get at least two or you’ll be guilty of animal abuse because these are social species. On the other hand, the country doesn’t seem to care all that much about cats, which definitely gets my goat!

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No guinea pig is lonely in Switzerland (unless its owner is a law-breaker)

Most of its weird laws are intended to keep Switzerland clean and safe. That it is and then some! It may be the only country in the world where heads of state and government members use public transport and do so without any bodyguards in tow. Mind you, this is a country where men have to keep their rifles after their compulsory military service. So, lots of firearms around but no itchy trigger fingers.

What else made me go “WTF”? Switzerland allows discrimination on the basis of gender, age, or nationality, as well as assisted suicide. It also has no problem with illegal downloads but sharing the content is a no-no (huh?). You can go nude or start a campfire in public without fear of legal repercussions. And if you happen to be a wealthy foreigner, you can haggle with the authorities to get a flat tax rate.

So, dear readers, I now have a wealth of more or less useless information about this interesting country. Allow me to take a minute to thank Bloomberg and Reuters, whose daily newsletters keep me amply supplied with all sorts of information. Some of them carry serious stories, like world, business, and financial news. Some deal with plain goofy stuff. But you know what? They keep my curiosity alive and very often provide me with writing material. Granted, this article may not have much of a worth but I enjoyed the research and the actual writing. And I think I now want to visit Switzerland one day and cavort in the mountains among the cows, munching on a chunk of cheese and reciting poetry. Since I won’t be skiing, I don’t expect to run afoul of the law.

P.S. Remember how the Internet went ga-ga recently over the “[insert country] Second” campaign? With Trump stomping his feet and screeching it will be “America First,” a swarm of countries began jostling for the second position. The Netherlands produced the first video, setting the tone and style for the rest. Not all of them are good, but Switzerland’s is, without any doubt in my mind, one of the top three. In case you’ve let this hilarity slip unnoticed, grab a spare set of undies and then check out how the country sought to win over POTUS.

Special birthday girls, Part 2: Mona — September 10, 2017

Special birthday girls, Part 2: Mona

Buckle up now because a human tornado is coming this way! That would be the other birthday chica, whose name is Simona.

Most call her Mony but she looks and feels like a Mona to me. Mony is fine and all, but it’s kind of a girly, wimpy sobriquet. Mona, on the other hand, packs a solid punch and perfectly reflects the pluck and pep of the person. Of course, the association could be in my head alone. Whatever…moving on.

To this very day, it remains a mystery to me why Mona thinks so highly of yours truly. We used to work for the same company before plunging into freelance waters and she goes on about having learned a lot from me or some such. You know what I think? Beer is at the bottom of it all. Our shared passion for the frothy, golden elixir (we favor lager) tuned out to be a great foundation for our bond. Laugh all you want, but far crazier things have brought people together.

How should I start my introduction to Mona? Maybe by telling you that she is an acquired taste. I didn’t take to her right away and her intensity and oomph still send me running for cover sometimes.

You wouldn’t believe the force of nature this girl is! She fears nothing and no-one and pursues her goals with dogged determination, even if said goals are no loftier than procuring the latest pair of sneakers that have got her all a-tingle (she’s a sneakers fanatic, this one).

 

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You do realize that’s just a teeny-tiny fraction of her collection, right?

 

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How deep does her passion for sneakers run? She calls her favorite pairs “my precious”…Need I say more?

 

 

Mona is also clever, witty, loud, obsessively neat and frighteningly determined. Yeah, yeah, I know I mentioned her determination, but I really need to drive the message home!

Mona keeps going on about how lazy she is, but I allege that’s all a massive ruse. If she’s not working, she’s cleaning her flat or her car, reading, out doing stuff with friends, traveling to some place, having quality time with her angelically cute little girl, or sorting out family messes. I swear to you I get dizzy and exhausted just by listening to the accounts of her activities!

And Mona is a fighter! She fights for everything and everyone that matters. She fought like a champ for what matters most: life. Mona grabbed breast cancer by the privates and squeezed until the vile thing screamed for mercy and slunk away! You can’t help but be awed by such willpower and lust for life.

This girl is 18 years younger than me but I often feel like an immature brat around her. And don’t get me started on the debt of gratitude I owe her: Mona was the one who delivered the precisely timed, vigorous kick in the derriere that sent me flying from a dead-end job into a whole new work dimension.

Mona is a giver, plain and simple. She generously shares her time, energy and money, rushing to the rescue and tackling your problem with the abandon that characterizes everything she does. Trust me, you want Mona in your camp when tough times come a-knocking. Actually, you want her in your camp no matter what: this one is also great fun and a party animal the likes of which you rarely see.

 

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Striking a “moody, cool dudess” pose

 

Let me wrap it up by saying this: You overwhelm me, girl, and I mean that in the good sense! Sending you love, kisses, hugs and the best of wishes on your special day! Don’t ever let up because the world might go down the crapper if you do!

Special birthday girls, Part 1: Ina — September 9, 2017

Special birthday girls, Part 1: Ina

Yaaay, it’s September! Why the jubilation, eh? To begin with, this is the month that ushers in my favorite season. Besides, it will provide me with some writing material as quite a few special people were born in September. Some of them move in a different world, like French film icon Brigitte Bardot – the most captivating woman to ever walk the Earth!

However, I won’t be taking you into the realm of decadent luxury, swoon-worthy men, ravishing women and jet-setting lifestyles. Nope, we’ll remain firmly planted in real life. But who says special people don’t cross our path every day? In their inconspicuous way, they achieve extraordinary things, touching the lives of those around them.

I’m lucky to count two such not-quite-regular people among my friends. These girls were born in September within a day of each other, both turning 33. I got to know them as colleagues first. Sadly, we don’t meet in person very often as they live in another city, but that doesn’t make them any less important for me. Anyway, enough of the preambles, let’s get down to the essential bits.

Today is Ina’s birthday. Everything about this girl is delicate. She’s slender and soft-spoken and her presence breeds serenity. Ina radiates tenderness and kindness. When I’m around her, I feel at peace and all is right with the world. Even when we indulge in gossiping, bitching and venting, she does it in a way that makes these vulgar pastimes seem almost decorous.

Ina often tells me she has a short fuse and sometimes flies into rages worthy of a Homeric narrative. I’m yet to witness such an outburst but I’m sure she remains every bit the lady even in those tempestuous moments.

 

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Aren’t they just dazzling??!

 

You only need to observe her little boy for a while to see the impact Ina has on people. Yoni is a sunny child; he was constantly smiling and gurgling happily from the moment he became aware of his surroundings. It’s a joy to watch the video clips she sends me: the two just make you want to smother them with kisses and hugs!

Hey, don’t you make the mistake of thinking that Ina is some meek lamb who walks about with a beatific smile plastered on her face, rainbows and unicorns shooting out of her orifices. Hell no! There is a steely layer beneath that velvety facade. Ina will tell you in no uncertain terms what she thinks and will stand her ground with iron resolve. Yes, there’s a tigress lurking inside this delicate doe.

And just to dispel any doubts that Ina is a great gal, I’ll tell you that she’s heaps of fun to be around. You can sit down with her for a few beers and laugh the evening away, talking about anything and everything, acting as imbecilic as you want without fear of being judged or frowned upon.

Ina is the type who would give people the benefit of the doubt and is quick to focus on their strengths, never missing the chance to praise and encourage. I can’t count the number of times she’s boosted my confidence, be it with lavish compliments on an article, peals of laughter over some lousy joke I’ve cracked, or relentless insistence that I look amazing even when I’m actually in one of my fat periods.  It may not sound like much, but who doesn’t want to hear nice things when they most need them? Ina dispenses them generously and her natural goodness precludes those whiffs of insincerity we often catch when others say the same things.

My love and best wishes for your birthday, you lovely girl, and may it be a memorable one! Keep smiling, be happy and never change because you’re perfect just as you are!

 

 

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Yep, the whole bunch are too adorable for words 🙂

 

 

The rule of cat (and a delusion shattered) — August 25, 2017

The rule of cat (and a delusion shattered)

I have three cats!

So what, I can hear a chorus of voices shouting back at me. I knooow, that in itself is not impressive or anything. But I’ve just realized that I have three cats and I’ve had this blog running for four months and it hasn’t even occurred to me until now to introduce my cats to the world! OK, to the three and a half people (not counting friends) who are likely to read this post. I really have no idea what prompted it but here we go. So, prepare to meet my puddies: my boy Dodo and my girls, Mookie and Poofie.

The start of cat reign

It all began in 2011, when my son returned from a visit to his grandpa (that would be my father). He came home late in the evening, dumped his travel bag on the floor and unzipped it. Out came a tiny, fluffy, gray ball that was promptly furnished with the name Dodo.

Until then, I had lived under the delusion that I was a dog person. Sure, I love dogs, they are cuddly and playful and devoted to a fault. I spent my childhood dreaming that my mother would one day allow me to get a dog. I was too young to realize that such ebullient creatures would be too much for the adult version of me. Training, socializing, early morning walks and then strolls in the evening? Forget about it!

Now, keep in mind that my felines totally lack discipline. This, of course, speaks volumes about me as a pet owner. Not that I care. They sleep in my bed and roll around on the desk while I work, frequently taking shortcuts through the keyboard and wreaking havoc on my texts. Now and then, they jump on the kitchen table, which I suspect they do simply to vex me. This is one of the few things I don’t allow but then again, I’m not much of an authority figure with this bunch.

 

Dodo
That’s mah boy 🙂

 

Back to Dodo. As cats go, he’s a very cuddlesome one. He is the first to plonk down next to me when bed time comes and is always looking for an opportunity to snuggle. A very sweet creature, all in all.

Dearly as I love him, I can’t close my eyes to the fact that Dodo may just be the biggest coward in the feline kingdom! This cat will get spooked by anything: the doorbell, the washing machine, loud laughter, gushing water, whatever! And he’s a prize mumbler – the dude rarely shuts up! He just walks about the place, an incessant stream of catspeak coming out of his mouth. Yes, it does get annoying, but sometimes it’s just plain hilarious.

A lady takes over

Dodo ruled supreme in our place for a year. One autumn day in 2012, I was on my way home after doing the grocery shopping. Passing by a neighboring block of flats, I saw a black kitten and stopped to pet it. I played with it for a minute or so and resumed my walk home. I had about 50 meters left to my building and, for some reason, I turned around. There the tiny kitty was, trotting behind me.

What could I do? I took it as a sign that this adorable little thing was meant for me. Nooo, I didn’t steal her! She was a stray baby cat, lots of them in the neighborhood. This ball of cuteness was christened Mookie and became ruler of the household, winning over Dodo from the get-go.

 

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My little black panther, Mookie

 

Now, Mookie is a proper cat – aloof, regal, willful, and somewhat hostile to others of her kind. Oh, she does get silly and isn’t inclined to go for long without petting sessions. In fact, she is the one who owns my lap – every couple of hours or so, she comes sprinting into the room and jumps on my lap to get her fix of hugs and adoration.

You know how cats are very protective of their tummies, right? My little black panther seems to have missed that lesson. She is always sprawled on her back, her limbs sticking out as far as they would go. This cat loves having her belly rubbed, something must be seriously wrong with her.

Girls get house majority

Thus we continued with our lives until the summer of 2015. On my daily trips to the store, I had noticed that two kittens were living in the basement area of a block of flats I pass by. How did I notice? Well, there are barred windows at ground level and the pair used to sit there, observing the world as it went about its business. People in the neighborhood fed and watered them. I usually bought a pouch of cat food or some dry kibble and left it for them on my way home. One of the kittens was particularly friendly and always climbed up to the window when I called. Yes, this black-and-white darling became my third cat and received the name Poofie.

I took her in because her sibling just disappeared one day. I couldn’t stand the thought of this sweet, friendly kitten living in the dank basement all alone. So one day I just grabbed her and took her home and I’ve never regretted it for one second!

 

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The baby in our family, Poofie

 

Poofie has the sweetest disposition of the three. It’s a bit strange because she sports this sullen, somewhat hostile expression, possibly due to her being slightly cross-eyed. She is a passionate kneader and the only one who actually answers when you call out her name. I mean, really answers and quite shrilly, too! When she hears me calling her, she lets loose a piercing shriek and comes running.

Prayer

It’s not always a picnic living with three cats. There are days when one of them gets too cranky, which results in hissing matches, chases, and household items broken. Dodo nearly died four years ago from a urinary infection, while Poofie fell from the seventh floor last summer. And it now seems that Mookie may be asthmatic.

Despite the petty and not-so-petty grievances, I dread the day when I will start losing them. All I can hope for is that it will be to old age, not some horrible accident or disease. Please, let it be so and make it far, far in the future!

workspace invasion

 

 

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The way my desk looks on a typical working day

 

 

 

 

The last article — July 21, 2017

The last article

Today is a day of special significance for me. It marks the end of a business relationship that I was extremely lucky to build. I’m sad, of course, but happy at the same time to have known Randy and worked for him.

Why devote an article to a job, of all things? If you are a freelancer, you will know how important your first client is. Much of your perception about freelance work will be shaped by that person. OK, maybe not for long, but it will definitely leave a mark.

I couldn’t have been luckier for Randy is an amazing person. The man is a financial expert. That in itself is impressive enough, but only a fraction of the whole picture. He is also an accomplished poet, with several books to his name. He knows Japanese and, if I’m not mistaken, Chinese as well. He is engaged in all sorts of projects and it never ceases to amaze me how he finds the time and energy for them.

I can’t really tell you more about Randy because, frankly, I don’t know him all that well. You could say I don’t know him at all. I just have some random facts and my impressions from our work interaction. He’s also a very private person so I’d better shut up.

But there are things I can tell you without fear of crossing any boundaries. Last November, I decided I’d had enough of my corporate job and would pursue a freelancing career. This is the point where I should thank my friend Mona, who had already embraced the self-employed lifestyle. She was working for Randy, who was then in need of writers for his website. Mona recommended me, I got a job offer and my life took a different course. About bloody time, I’d say!

It’s not my intention to bore you with details of my work. I merely wanted to pay a tribute of sorts to Randy. People pass through our life and most fade into oblivion. Others remain firmly planted in our memory. I’m certain I will always remember the first client I got as a freelancer.

It gives me pleasure to think that I exited the stage in style (or so I believe). I chose carefully the subject of my last article and put extra effort into it. I’m sharing it with you now to celebrate a great business partnership, a wonderful client, old successes, new beginnings and whatever else you think appropriate in this case. A word of caution: this is not exactly light reading and targets a specific audience. Still, it’s not snooze-inducing stuff and may actually hold your attention. Enjoy!

https://incomeinvestor.com/walmart-lord-retail-holds-firm/

 

The call of my wild — June 24, 2017

The call of my wild

I’m living it up in the bosom of nature, people!

Well…not quite. But I am sort of there, in a place where old-fashioned ways are alive and positively thriving. Where the stars shine blindingly bright at night and the quiet is so pervasive you can hear your brain cells working.

Do I like it? In general – not that much. Not that I mind the clear night sky, the stars and the quiet. But I’m not a village person at heart. I’m also not a big city girl. I gravitate towards the middle ground so I feel happy in the town where I currently live. It’s modest in size and you get all the conveniences of modern life minus the crowds, the traffic jams, the overwhelming distances and the general feeling of isolation we associate with big cities.

But this place where I’m at right now…It’s special for me. This is where I spent the best summer of my life. My heart still aches when I remember those days. It’s partly because the person who kept me company all those years ago is dead. It was my grandma, who needed constant care because of her poor health. The two of us spent three months here, with family members visiting once a week or so. I was essentially tasked with looking after her but I think I got the better deal.

So, a quarter of a century later I’m back here, all by myself this time. The assignment: housesit for my parents. Oh, I think I forgot to mention this. Yes, the house belongs to my parents, who are in Italy right now. Being a freelancer, I have no problem packing and relocating temporarily. As long as I have an Internet connection, I can work anywhere. Lucky for my parents, I guess.

I should explain a couple of things. I’m not a people person. No, I’m not some rude cow who delights in insulting people and behaving like a jerk in general. No, I have proper manners and I’m perfectly civil to strangers. It’s just that I’ve always been a reserved person and I don’t make friends easily. I am quite content to spend time alone and I never get bored.

This peek into my character has a point. It’s meant to tell you that I don’t mind being here alone. In fact, I relish it. I just miss my cats but I have made friends with two other felines. There are other animals around but I’ll tell you more about them in a minute. As I write this, one of the kitties is sleeping in my bed. It must have come through the window last night because I woke up with it curled at my feet.

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The two kitties keeping me company

 

I’m not telling you the name of the place because it won’t mean anything to you. Administratively speaking, it’s not a village. It was declared a town in 1984. But that’s just a label. It’s a village in every sense of the word. It’s very modest in size. I think it only has two blocks of flats and those are four or five stories high. The rest of the population live in houses. They all have vegetable gardens, animals in their barns, and hens and roosters roaming in the yards. Each house has at least one guard dog and horse-drawn carts traverse the streets. People here make their own wine and hard liquor, as is the case in every Bulgarian village and out-of-the-way town.

And you never have privacy in such places, not really. Sometimes it’s annoying. Other times, you can’t help but marvel at the bond people have in such places. You get folks dropping by every day, sometimes several times a day, to check up on you. People bring you produce, ask how you’re doing, offer to take care of this and that in the yard. You look at them and you think, “I wish they’d leave me alone!” Then they go away and you actually start feeling happy that you matter enough to these people, who are essentially strangers.

You know what I smell of right now? Donkey shit. No, I’m not joking. About an hour ago, I was shovelling donkey shit. My father has one of these animals. A friend of his takes her out in the morning, ties her somewhere (no idea where) to graze and brings her back in the evening. There is also a massive dog, another girl, who I rely on to guard me at night. The donkey is called Marussya, which seems to be a very popular name for donkeys around these parts. The dog is Maya. The cats have no names so I just call them all Kittie. Two are constantly around and a few others pass through every day, mostly to get fed.

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Marussya
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Maya

Almost three decades ago, I had my grandma for company here. Now it’s these animals. Over the years, the village has changed. Not in its essence though, just some physical upgrades. It’s cleaner, the centre has been spruced up, and some nice shops have cropped up.

 

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The fountain in the centre of town

 

But you can still sense that the spirit of the place has remained intact.  I like that. I couldn’t live here all the time, no way. Still, I’m blissfully happy right now. More important than the preserved spirit of the place is the spirit of the past I can feel. My own past. A time when I felt useful and needed because a frail human being depended on me. A time when the peace and quiet of this place were a welcome respite. A time when I was truly happy.

As melodramatic as it may sound, it feels as if traces of my past happiness still linger here. I walk around the yard at dusk and it’s as if no time at all has passed – I’m young, beautiful, free and full of hope. I look up at the clear, starry sky at night and it overwhelms me in a good way. And I can’t help but think that we really don’t need much to be happy. As long as we’re open to it, happiness will find us anywhere.

I’ll leave this place in a few days. When I visit my parents, it doesn’t feel the same. It’s not my place then; it’s theirs and I’m just a guest. But I’ll keep hoping that my future holds more of these solitary retreats. Maybe I won’t have to wait for another 26 years before it happens again…

Lost & Found — May 10, 2017

Lost & Found

It could be because I’m inexorably moving towards senior citizen status that childhood memories seem to become clearer and dearer. Sometimes I suddenly remember things so deeply buried into my mind that I almost feel a jolt when they break through the veil of oblivion.

There are, however, events and people that time never coats in the dust of forgetfulness. Like that one special childhood friend – you know, the kind that feels like an extra appendage. You go to school and play together, take turns dining and spending the night at each other’s place…in short, you skip and hop through childhood hand in hand.

Then you grow up and life often gets in the way of these precious friendships. You do your best to keep them going and sometimes you succeed. We couldn’t. The reason? The most banal of all – distance.

My childhood appendage, Mariyana, was a golden girl. Blond locks, sparkling blue eyes, a brilliant smile, a feisty and compassionate nature. We spent our early years joined at the hip. The first crush, the first cigarette, secrets and lies – we shared them all.

When my family moved to the other side of the country, I was devastated. Children are resilient, as we keep hearing, but some things you just never get over. Even though time dulls the searing pain these memories used to cause, you still feel a stab through the heart whenever you remember. The spasm goes away quickly but never stays away for long. It will likely keep coming back until the day you check out for good.

After our paths diverged, I only got to see Mariyana once in the span of a decade. Then the trail grew totally cold and stayed that way for 27 years!

As the title indicates, we have a “happy ending” story here. It features Facebook (what doesn’t these days?!) and has Mariyana in the starring role. I’m a humble extra whose only contribution consists of finally succumbing to herd behaviour and joining the Facebook swarm. This is how she found me and got in touch. Within a month, she was on her way to my place.

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Still radiant after all those years!

These are surreal moments and people usually lack the words to describe them. In moments like these, you believe that the universe is indeed on your side and there might just be such things as miracles. When I saw her there in the street, with her suitcase at her feet and that brilliant smile on her face, my heart skipped several beats and then all was right with the world. And time…No such concept exists when you find yourself in a situation like this. The years fall away and your heart can hardly contain all the joy, love and relief. The relief comes from having a hollow within close up at last.

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Parting after our second meeting in as many months (November 2016)

We got our happy new beginning, I’m thrilled to report. Life remains in the way but no longer distressingly so. She has been living in Italy for the past 12 years and we won’t be getting together very often. But you know what? It’s fine. At the very least, we have all those social platforms and messaging apps to keep in touch. The truly important thing is that we have rebuilt the bridge riven by time and circumstances. We now stand on the reinforced structure older, maybe wiser and definitely still full of the childhood wonder and devotion of all those years ago.

 

The first one – yay me! — May 2, 2017

The first one – yay me!

The “first one” would be this article but I need to make something clear right away. It’s anything but my first! As part of my last regular job, I produced anywhere between 10 and 15 articles a day. With nine years on the job, that’s a whole lotta articles!

This one is the first meant to serve my very own purposes. Hmm…now that I think about it, it doesn’t have that much of a purpose. I just thought I need something to inaugurate this site. It makes sense (or so it seems to me) to have some general piece posted first, something maybe even a bit ramble-y. And I do tend to ramble, believe you me!

Still, I think I need to anchor this text and here’s what I’m going with: Stephen Fry.

I love that man! I want him for my papa! I love watching him on screen, but it’s his writing that floors me every time. The man is a genius, right? Well, I don’t know if he’s taken one of those tests and holds the title officially. But we just know it: Mr. Fry is an Ubermensch!

I’ve caught myself thinking on several occasions that Mr. Fry should be put in charge of the world. Of course, I haven’t got the foggiest how that can be arranged; I just know that we need him ruling. Maybe we can have the United Global States some day and he’ll be president…

I’m not a fan of social media. It has nothing to do with age – I love the internet and consider it the best thing to have happened in my lifetime. Should they find a cure for cancer, I’ll revise that statement, but it holds true for the time being. Twitter plain depresses me; it’s this constant barrage of messages, most of them ridiculous or meaningless. It’s overwhelming and not in a fun way. But I finally buckled and created a Twitter account just so that I can follow Mr. Fry and a few other people I admire.

Anyway, a few days ago vile Twitter spewed the most delightful piece of news! Mr. Fry’s book The Hippopotamus has been made into a film!!! I did the happy dance, shouted from my balcony (the neighbourhood dogs didn’t like it) and treated my cats to that nasty, gooey stuff they love to distraction – you know, the one that comes in pouches and is the equivalent of human junk food.

I should point out that The Hippopotamus is my favourite book by Stephen Fry. I must have read it about ten times and it ranks at number two on my top books list, after Kingsley Amis’ Lucky Jim.

 

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The most prized shelf of my bookcase

 

So you can imagine my euphoria when I found out that The Hippo is now a film. I only wish Mr. Fry had been cast as Ted, but Roger Allam seems like an excellent choice as well. I strongly suspect that watching this film will be the highlight of the year for me. Here’s the trailer:

 

And go read the book, please! You’ll roar with laughter, cry, marvel, cringe, gasp and then scream in protest that it’s over. I don’t know how well it has translated to the screen, but even if it’s a marvellous adaptation, it can’t possibly capture all the magic and madness of the book. You know what? I’m off to read it again, must be a couple of years since I last immersed myself in this glorious maelstrom of a story.

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