Memories of a watermelon-filled summer

I’m savouring a crunchy and juicy morsel of a slice of watermelon. Looking at the glistening red fruit the memory takes me back to my carefree childhood: there was a stall a short distance away from where I lived where they sold watermelons and sweet melons/cantaloupes. It was often set on a grassy aisle between the two lanes on the road, large enough to allow for a pick-up truck and an array of mismatched old wooden tables and chairs (in some other places they were in plastic of cheap and kitsch style), and a large canopy (or various umbrellas) to shade patrons from the hot afternoon summer sun. At night rows and rows of white and colourful lights lit up the place, and suave folk ballades softly played in the background, its music discernible in the proximity but quiet so not to disturb the neighbourhood who wanted to sleep.
It was in the Seventies, and time moved at a different pace back then.
There were less cars on the road, and the nights were quieter than the present. Many people rode their bicycles or strolled to the ‘anguraio‘ (the watermelon seller); a few drivers stopped the car on the side of the street, didn’t bother to lock the vehicle and eagerly walked across, with an expectation not dissimilar to a person lost in the desert when sighting an oasis.
It’s in those sultry summer evenings my father treated us to enjoy some watermelon at one of these stands. We arrived, father wearing a vest and orange stripy shorts over his burly body of an amateur boxer, mother in a flowery dress that she could have fitted perfectly at the music festival of Woodstock in 1969, my sister and I also wearing shorts over our skinny legs, the knees bruised and encrusted from the too many falls off the bicycle.
We didn’t stand out, we were just an average middle class family among others: farmers, shop owners, factory workers, mechanics… humble people who cherished life for what it offered. Often, my father saw one or another person he knew and abundant smiles and laughs filled the air, with plenty handshakes and jovial pats on the back. Chairs were brought closer and tables assembled together to make a long one, while we children and the friends’ children cackled and poked each other. That, before my mother or some other mother scolded us telling to keep the voice down. The reprimand didn’t stop us, we only giggled softer.
My father eventually went to the counter and bought a watermelon, kept cold in a tub full of icy water; the owner knocked on the skin of a few floating green round balls and handed my father the presumably ripest fruit. Finally, the sweet prize got to the table! With the seriousness and dedication of the man of the house carving a turkey at Thanksgiving dinner, he proceeded to slice up the fruit, while my mother was distributing the slices. The fun for us children wasn’t merely in shoving our faces in the slices and chowing away faster than we could (with the mothers scolding again about not gulping down the cold juice, because ‘it’s bad for the stomach!’) but, more so, collecting the black pips in the mouth to then shoot them out machine gun- style. Winner was the child who spat the pips the farthest. Winning was very subjective and opinionated, because it was near impossible to see where the pips landed.
We were happy. That was a time void of #eatingout, #watermelon, #fruit; nobody knew about selfies, fame-seeking youtubing vloggers, Facebook or Instagram; children were still innocent and untroubled, and looked at each other in the face – not through the screen of a mobile phone.
It was another era.

To be fat is a taboo

The only taboo in the western world is a fat belly. One can be unable to read, but it’s imperative that he shows the washboard waist of a top model.” – Carlo Calenda, Italian manager and politician.

In fact, it’s true. You can be a criminal, be as ugly as sin, be a complete moron, be totally incompetent at anything or be illiterate, and nobody will raise a single brow.
But, happen to be overweight and/or sport a pot belly and the world will scream in horror: dozens of strangers, friends and acquaintances will advise you in depth about the benefits of trimming down, tell you about one or another diet (which don’t include gluten, wheat, sugar, fats, dairy, meat, fruits, alcohol – essentially, to eat only sand), or merely stare at you in veiled commiseration.

I wonder if anyone ever went to Buddha and told him, “Yo, mate, it’s quicker to jump over you than running around you“… 

The uncanny mystery of Generation Y

If I didn’t know better, I would think Generation Y is the title of a sci-fi movie. Instead no, it refers to a demographic of people born in a period between the early 80s to the late 90s. They are also known as Millennials.

Why am I writing about a generation that follows mine, the Generation X? Because I find them very difficult to understand. They are people who are more entrepreneurial than me, more prone to take a risk for an idea or project they believe in, and are generally better educated – sometimes savvy – and more mature. Maturity that I also experience when talking with the current younger generation (the Generation Z), as I feel I’m conversing with an adult, instead with a 10 years old child.

I’m still reeling under the shadow of uncertainties and fears trickled down from the post-war generation of my parents — people who endured tough times and worked hard to achieve and build a life for themselves and their families. The education I received has been the traditional path of ‘study and get a degree, find a steady and secure job in which to remain until retirement, marry and have children. Save money, don’t waste’. Security, stability, living in the comfort zone were of upmost priority. I can’t blame the Baby Boomers (my parents’ generation), as they lived their youths unsure if they would eat a meal the next day (yes, indeed, there have been rich people too, but they were few and far apart).
I have been lucky as, thanks to my parents’ efforts, I never suffered (hardship). But parsimony, cautious thinking and spending were the order and instruction of the day.

The offspring of the 80s-90s rarely experienced hardship, and have been free to explore, to try new things and ventures, to be creative and free in mind and spirit. So, what is that I don’t understand of them, then? It’s their ability to easily step out of a comfort zone and leave the proverbial nest, contrary to my reticence in doing so. What for them could be a snap of the fingers, for me it becomes a massive task. Generation Y are people who have grown up with the Internet, with mobile phones, with social media, and who are living into a global village that immediately connects one person to another. They are those whom the world is their oyster, and who are busy setting the foundation of our tomorrow.

I’m at an age where any Millennial could be my own child, so I imagine that the generational gap I feel about them is of the same type I experienced with my parents. Does history repeat itself?

I would love to read in the comments what parents are experiencing with their own children. You could also read an excellent book on the Generation Y topic: “Bridge the Generation-Y Gap” by Demyan Rossouw, which will provide parents and employers with invaluable tools to understand and work with them. You can buy the book at this link:
Bridge the Gen Y Gap

Food, glorious food

I have a tongue-in-cheek topic that might ruffle feathers, in vernacular terms expressed as ‘stirring shit’ [smile]. Here we go.

Diets. There are hundreds, each claiming to be THE panacea for a better living and a long life. All of them different from one another, but all agreeing on one single statement: “You’re fat. Do you really want to be fat and unhealthy for the rest of your life? Now, if you follow THIS diet (which is the ONLY right one), you’ll be thriving. And that’s a fact!”

Pity that there are different opinions to what constitutes as to being the ‘right’ one:

Paleo will say that I must eat more lean meats and little to no carbs, similarly to Banting which promotes a high fat intake. They’re not diets for the cash-strapped: meat prices have risen to unaffordable costs – even meat cuts that used to be the ‘poor people’ variety have now price tags that make your eyes water with desperation; butter is now bartered for gold; almonds (used to make breads or cakes, instead of regular flour) are ridiculously expensive; cauliflower is traded at the stock market…
Any product that has a ‘Banting’ label on it, suddenly becomes a jewellery item. Heck, even a plank of wood with a Banting label slapped on it can be sold at 10 times the former price.
Some followers of the Banting diet here in South Africa went frothing at the mouth with glee: fat is often attached to meat – which, essentially, means they assume they’re allowed to eat as much meat as their bodies can take. The ‘perfect’ diet, in full accordance to what they always ate! And then all washed down with copious amounts of beer… “Yes, beer IS a carb, but in that form it doesn’t count”. Nobody can tell what the long-term effect of a high fat diet will be on the human body; it will take more than a generation to obtain sufficient data.

Vegetarians and Vegans vouch for a meat-free diet, and include carbs and soya. This, for better health reasons and, of course, to save all the sentient beings in the animal kingdom. Which would be all good and fine, if it wasn’t that they buy avocados, macadamias, plantain etc., which are foods produced in other countries, often packed in plastic and styrofoam, loaded onto ships and trucks that consume fuel and exhaust CO2, and finally delivered to the nearby grocery store where vegetarians will relaxingly stroll to to select the best produce – in their minds convinced they have made Earth a better and cleaner place.
Some hypocrite vegetarians are those who assert they only eat grains, fruits and vegetables… but they include fish in their diet – because fish don’t suffer nor scream when killed (yes, I heard that one too).

Fruitarians go a step further than vegans, stating that also plants are sentient and sacred – therefore picking a carrot or cutting lettuce is akin to murder; or, at the very least, badly injuring the plants. Consequently, only fruits are allowed in the diet, because the plant is not killed at harvesting. I’m not even starting to talk about what long-term damage a high-fructose diet can do to body and teeth.

One step even further than fruitarians are the Appletarians, who consume only and strictly apples. According to their own findings (which, in my possibly uneducated opinion, are limited in knowledge and education), an apple is the perfect fruit that gives all the balanced nutrition for a daily need. The more extreme followers sustain that an Appletarian doesn’t even need to drink water, as the apple supplies the correct amount of liquid. Don’t get me wrong: I love apples – they’re refreshing, often satiating, and a great healthy snack. But I won’t substitute it for a meal.

It doesn’t stop here. Even more extreme than the Appletarians, the Breatharians claim that food and water are not necessary for survival, and that human existence can be sustained solely by Prana, the life force in Hinduism. Which brings me to think that the people in nazi concentration camps were either stupid or not enlightened enough. Not to mention the starving children of Africa, who should be the poster image of health, considering the huge amounts of fresh and clean air they can breathe. At the very least, a good aspect of the Breatharians is that they have zero impact on the planet’s food resources.

One extremely positive view promulgated by all diets is to avoid eating all junk foods, sugary drinks, snacks and biscuits – and this is a remarkable strong point to make, in a society that’s sadly becoming increasingly obese, unhealthy and diseased.

Diets have become the nutrition equivalent to religion staunchness and fanaticism, with their ‘god’ being the only one who will open the gates of heaven to you; and, as per every religion, their followers tend to see only one facet of the whole picture – which is the one that mostly resonates with their brain’s tenet – and merrily trash the rest.

Followers of one or another diet will proclaim that our prehistoric ancestors were – without a doubt – hunters. No! grain farmers. No! Vegetarians. No! Frugivores.
But, let’s face it, we weren’t there and we can’t absolutely be sure of one or another type of nutrition they followed. Chances are it could have been a bit of all, depending on the areas our ancestors lived, and on the change of the living conditions. And they were very harsh conditions, not as easy-going as our current times: exception made for the Breatharians, all other diet followers rely on finding products at the supermarket – often beautifully packed and sometimes even pre-prepared ready-to-eat. The core beliefs would be difficult to follow if we lived in the wild, and had to hunt and kill for meat, find or grow edible fruits and vegetables (not to mention understanding the difference between an edible berry or mushroom versus a poisonous one)
Myself, had I to kill an animal I wouldn’t be able to, so I’d have to turn vegetarian; but I’m practically inept to tending a vegetable garden (years and years of my father teaching me how completely thrown out of the window…) that I would end up starving to death. Could ‘death’ be the best diet to salvage our planet?

All that said, nowadays we all waste food. Lots of it. According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), a specialised agency of the United Nations that works towards defeating hunger, one third of the food produced annually – over one billion tonnes – is wasted. Assuming that one sustainable daily meal is 1kg-1.8kg, I obtain… dunno… 7 septillion plates of food? Each. Single. Day.
I tried to do the calculation but, trust me, I lost count and gained a massive headache. If you are more math-proficient than me, feel free to get the right number and let me know. Irrespective, it’s a LOT of food; which, if it didn’t go to waste, it would feed humanity five times over, and solve world hunger in the blink of an eye.

Food reality shows and competitions, and gourmet restaurants, anger and sadden me: in the constant strive to prepare the Mona Lisa equivalent on a plate, they ruin and trash food which would otherwise be perfectly edible even in a not-perfect presentation. All in the name of success, reputation, and of the greedy ‘money god’.

I always get somehow pleased when going to a Chinese sushi restaurant: most establishments have written in the menu, “don’t order more than what you can eat. Any food wasted will be surcharged for.” And it’s right, every restaurant should have such disclaimer, printed in bold and red letter. We often have our eyes ‘bigger than the stomach’, and tend to over-order – be to our perceived famished hunger or be due to the fact that the food appears to be really tasty. Oddly enough, the stomach is a funny beast: we stuff our faces to near burst (brings to mind that scene in Monty Python’s ‘The Meaning of Life’, where Mr. Creosote, a grotesquely obese character morbidly overeating at a restaurant, explodes after eating an after-dinner mint), and we are unaware we’re over-indulging because it takes the brain between 10 to 20 minutes before registering the satiety signal. And that’s one dreadful result of gluttony.
There’s a little Italian café/restaurant in my area who serves pizzas sized barely bigger than a hand; perfectly tasty without any doubt, but (over)priced the same as a regular round pizza in other establishments. The owner justifies it in that the customer enjoys the flavours, finishes it all, and has no need to leave leftovers – thus minimising wastage. Commendable indeed but, buddy, unless your pizzas have gold leaves sprinkled on top, your prices are too high. Italian or not Italian.
Apologies, I digressed a bit.

My verbose essay is essentially to say that we’re living in an age dominated by reckless social media, YouTube, and conspiracy theory websites, places where the most ignorant persons can express unfounded opinions (and yes, that includes me), which sometimes are taken for undebatable truths and thus gather followers like ducks follow a farmer who’s throwing corn on a field path. Without follow-up research, removing the rose-tinted glasses and looking at all facets of the whole, blind faith risks to become dangerous. With this, I happily conclude in saying that, if the dietary regime you follow makes you content and you feel healthy and energised, then it’s indeed the right diet for you.
And now I’m blissfully and ignorantly going to make myself some lunch. Heh.

Cheers, and keep living fantastically!

salad-food-diet

[photo is © copyright Engin_Akyurt]

African Life

“Why did you move to Africa?” – some compatriots asked me way too many times, their voices betraying a veiled disdain, as if I had committed high treason to king and country.

Twenty years after relocating at the southern tip of the African continent I keep asking myself the very same question to which I find it difficult to answer, for there isn’t a specific reason.
Luck, I imagine.

During my childhood I played with plastic toy animals, dreaming of the vast grasslands soaking in the warm sunset. Growing up, I subconsciously felt that, one day, i would take my physical being where my mind already travelled before.
That one day ultimately arrived: perhaps carelessly, or maybe guided by my soul, I packed a bag and left my motherland. I landed in Cape Town one afternoon in late November; disembarking from the airplane the African heat and the stark brightness of the daylight, different from the European one, welcomed me. My first thought had been ‘I’m home’.

Cape Town is a city of a multitude of faces, a place that vibrates with a thousand voices. A melting pot of people and activities.
There are minibus taxi vans – many still held together with wire and a promise; through their often-too-loud speakers blares music of a genre which can sometimes be both pleasant and overbearing — all depending on a subjective taste to it; sometimes, however, their radio plays African choral songs, and its sound is soothing and inviting to meditation.
Hawkers, noisily calling out at passers-by for their goods to sell, greet me with their toothless grins displaying absolute honesty (that they have or want you to believe). 
There are beggars who approach me and concoct a story, worth of an Hollywood production, explaining that they are just back from a job interview and need some help in cash so to travel back home. Tired faces of people who own nothing except their will to live.
Voluptuous mamas slowly walk home after a hard day’s work, chatting away to each other and chirping like birds on a tree; their skin smelling of fresh soap, and wearing unpretentious and flowery dresses. They are wives and mothers, carrying an inner dignity – women who wordlessly teach us about modesty and serenity.

There are moments when I dislike the arrogance, the laid-back attitude so typical of some Capetonians, the sense of entitlement and the lack of respect; I however look inwards and wonder if the disregard I feel is merely a reflection of some aspects of myself.
I meet genuinely happy people, those who carry a smile in their pocket; shop owners opening their business for the day; busy workers providing a service who are happy to share some words. Most people wondering why my accent – after two decades – is still so hard I could chop wood with it.
There’s the constant buzz, the shouts, the hooting and the screeching of a city that talks to us and we’re better talk back, for she won’t let us be quiet.
Through the years I lived easily and sometimes I jostled; I rested and also have worked hard; I loved and have been loved; I ignored and have been ignored.
And I settled down.

So, as to why I moved to Africa, perhaps the best answer I can give is “because I can”.

[photo is © copyright MartinaH79]

The Art of the Game

Grifters. Con Artists. Scammers: plenty are the definitions associated to persons whose sole purpose in life is to relieve us from our money and possessions.

In the realm of fiction, countless are the books and comics, TV series and movies centered on the figure of a grifter. Probably the earliest fiction con job was when the snake convinced eve to eat the forbidden fruit (if you are into bible stuff). After that, we fell in love with various characters who stimulated our imagination; from the rocambolesque adventures of Arsène Lupin, to Fantômas, to the Italian Diabolik; in the TV series White Collar, Leverage, the Imposters, Hustle; in the movies Ocean 11 (and 12, and 13), Now You See Me, and so on, we take sides with these anti-heroes, secretly hoping that they will succeed in their deception.

In real life, con artists are instead the bane of our existence: imagine the sinking feeling of finding that someone we trusted stole everything from under our feet, or that a contract deal we believed to be solid doesn’t exist at all — nor does exist the firm we allegedly entered into business with. We feel robbed—and almost raped in the soul; not to mention the shame of having to tell others about it, like reporting the theft to the police; at the best of cases we are treated with arrogant pity, at the worse with plain out disdain. We have to admit with great embarrassment that we let our guard down and allowed others to take advantage of our gullibility. That’s why many crimes don’t even get reported, because we don’t want to be told how stupid we’ve been to fall for such scams.
If it’s of any consolation, don’t. Don’t feel stupid or gullible. Certainly, maybe too trusting, but keep in mind that you have dealt with professionals, people who are experts in their field.
Con artists are, without a doubt, despicable people who prey onto others whose only fault is to be too trusting towards other human beings.

But (yes, ‘BUT’) what are the positive lessons we can learn from grifters? I listed a few that can apply to our everyday’s life:
1. Plan everything and in detail
2. Prepare for the unexpected
3. Know your mark (in our ‘honest life’ case he would be called ‘a client’)
4. Have a side plan should the first one fail
5. Be creative
6. Think ‘out of the box’
7. Timing is the key
8. Let your mark think it was HIS idea
9. If giving a mark the idea they won because it serves your purpose, let them have it. Then go back and read point 4.
10. Know your tools
11. Be agile and flexible
12. In every plan things might go wrong
13. Cover all your bases
14. Assume nothing
15. Be a great communicator 
16. Hold your cards to the chest
17. Be able to “tell a story”
18. Never go unprepared
19. You will make mistakes: learn from them
20. Men are more emotional than women: use that to your advantage
21. Think quick, but think well and carefully
22. Be prepared to go the extra mile
23. Always reach your goal

Long story short: anybody can teach us something valuable.

Cheers, and keep being fantastic!

On Reading

I meet some people from all walks of life who give reading a book the same disregard and anguish as they would to the thought of crossing the Sahara Desert with no food or water.

Reading is far more than just a ‘boring pastime’ — as a young fellow once pointed out: it’s a way to stimulate brain cells and to improve our vocabulary. I dread the thought of having to meet someone for a drink and – five minutes into the conversation – be limited to the boundary of ‘So, where do you go clubbing?’ topic. Possibly a valid one, sure – however, I value my life to be more meaningful and fulfilling than knowing about someone’s weekend performances on a dance floor.

Reading helps also towards writing sentences that are hopefully spelling and grammatically correct, and to avoid amusing misunderstandings. Such as a profile I read on a dating website, where the user is “good-looking, with over-abundance of muscles, ‘decease’ free searching for ‘other guys also decease free’”. There I was, pondering about our mortality and of someone aiming to begin a love affair with immortal beings only.
I’m quite sure he meant he doesn’t want to encounter anybody infected with HIV+ or STDs, considering that the Oxford dictionary still lists them as diseases; but one never really knows what unattainable desires harbour in people’s hearts.

That said, I’m perfectly convinced I’m making atrocious mistakes in my own writing, but I take shelter under the excuse of English being my second language (it however brings back painful memories of my childhood teacher hitting my knuckles with a ruler any time I messed up — but this will be for another story.)
Another man writes he ‘is not in the reading phase of his life’. When would that phase begin, pray tell?
I am certainly not saying that we should all read Shakespeare and Oscar Wilde, or recite War and Peace by heart, to qualify as effective ‘readers’ — although it would help, merely for the cultural aspect of it.
Some people may argue, ‘I don’t have time to read!’. Sure, between work, gym, travelling, meeting friends, sex, pilates and yoga, and whatever else, the idea of opening a book seems to be a task of mammoth proportions. Break it down, then: read a short story, something that begins and ends within a few pages. Suggestions I can give could be a collection of short narrative I’m fond of: “Family Dancing” by David Leavitt. Like many of Leavitt’s subsequent books, ‘’Family Dancing’’ tells stories of people coming to terms with their own identity and capture the essence of family relationships, and of subtle dramas in everyday life.
Or, while a bit more wordy, “A Haunted House, and other short stories”, by Virginia Woolf.
I am no literature authority, so feel free to agree or disagree with me.

The point I’m trying to make is that, cultural enrichment aside, reading is an enticing private and personal experience. When I read I retreat to my own world, reality disappears, words come alive and my imagination turns into a 3D Blue-ray stereo-surround movie. If a book can provide you with such feeling don’t put it down; lose yourself into it instead. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a JK Rowling or a Nathaniel Hawthorne. Or, if you keep reading the same first page for the tenth time — it happened to me many times — maybe that’s not the right book: it might be you not understanding, or it might be the author that can’t grab the reader’s attention. Then choose something else — life is too short for a badly-written book — and pick something else you’re keen on exploring. I recently read a delightful novel: The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield. It’s the story of a biographer hired by a famous novelist to write her biography. It’s an engrossing dark gothic suspence piece of fiction.

What I’m saying is that by reading anything – from a newspaper to a comic book to a novel – we improve our chances of social and business skills; as well as finding and keeping that long-term relationships — either a romantic or platonic ones — that many of us seek and cherish.

On the web, you can find free eBooks at
Gutenberg
Planet PDF

[This post is a revised version of an article I published time ago on Triangle Project newsletter]

Cheers, and keep being fantastic!

Fiction versus Reality

In the first episode of The O.C. – a TV series from the early 2000s – we meet a wealthy family living on the Californian coastline and the character playing the part of the forty-something years old father and businessman. He wakes up – a beautiful and warm sunny morning greeting him through the partly opened bedroom curtains; he stretches and kisses his half-asleep wife, then grabs the surfboard and quietly makes his way to the beach, steps into the wet suit and goes to surf the amazing waves of the Pacific Ocean that soundly crash on the shores. After some time of this invigorating exercise he drives back home, has a shower and a shave, and chooses the formal suit to wear for the day; then steps downstairs to have a healthy and luxurious breakfast with his family. At the end of this daily routine, he finally steps into the Jeep and drives to the office.
Ok… hit the brakes and hold the horses.
I read again the summary about the show, should I have missed something: it states “A troubled youth becomes embroiled in the lives of a close-knit group of people in the wealthy, upper-class neighborhood of Newport Beach, Orange County, California.” And it’s supposed to be a lighthearted comedy slash drama.
Drama? That was pure science fiction! Failing the introduction of some sort of a gadget/gizmo/thingamabob that creates a temporal dilation, who in this time and age has such luxury of ‘me’ time in the mornings, and sometimes neither in the weekends?

My routine mornings consist in waking up from a pleasant slumber long before any rooster come to terms that it’s time to start crowing to announce the incoming daylight; I peep outside and it’s still pitch dark — definitely, an ungodly hour to get up; and no, I don’t care if the saying goes, ‘the early bird catches the worm’ – because the early worm gets eaten. I quickly take a shower (sometimes even quicker, because I forgot to turn on the geyser the night before – and in such case the crowing-come-howling would come from me instead of the rooster); then, freezing to the bone, I rush to find something to wear.
Something.
Anything.
Whatever is clean and no, it won’t matter if it hasn’t been ironed; looking at the current trend of people wearing ragamuffin-look ripped jeans I should anyway be perfectly in line with the high street fashion of the year. The dogs keep doing loops around my legs, bright and awake since 4 a.m., demanding everything from me – from food, to play, to a biscuit, to undivided attention – not necessarily in that order, but usually food takes the priority in their ‘to get’ list. After such deed, I need to convince them to make their way outside, which they will do only when bribed with a biscuit for each dog. Back into the kitchen, I shove in the rucksack something from the fridge that resembles food which can be eaten for lunch; then find the house and car keys, they seem to live their own life disappearing from the place I put them the previous night.
Eventually, gloriously and satisfied by my achievement, I jump into the car and drive away to go fight the pre-dawn bumper-to-bumper traffic in a way not dissimilar to the one of a brave medieval knight on his horse, setting towards the battlefield to defend the kingdom.
All this I manage to accomplish in less than 15 minutes, most of them spent swearing and half asleep.
Healthy breakfast with orange juice, just-baked out-of-the-oven fresh brioche, bacon and eggs, toast and homemade jam? Who’s preparing it, Pinocchio’s Fairy Godmother?

We are so caught up in the rat race and the daily pressure to achieve and to be creative, to be brave and strong, to keep abreast with trends and to be social, that we barely have any time to enjoy the small pleasures in life. I would love to be like this father in ‘The O.C.’ and start my morning with a walk on the beachfront (no, I can’t surf, it takes a balance that I don’t have), followed by a leisure breakfast that would put me in a good mood for the day. Heck, I could even do with a mere espresso and one biscuit while lying in bed! Unfortunately, my office is located far and away from my house (not by choice: job opportunities nowadays are as rare as caviar in a poor man’s kitchen, so we take what we get) and, if I miss the minute, my 30-minute trip turns into an infernal one and a half hours’ journey at the centre of a slowly moving tsunami of vehicles driven by people who are as stressed, short-tempered and downright angry as me. The result is that I arrive to destination with the intense desire to slap the first person who gingerly greets me with a joyful ‘good morning’. Hence, it’s me leaving early so to appear human for the rest of the day, instead of a demon freshly escaped from hell.

My advice? Don’t believe anything that the TV regurgitates; even with the best intentions it’s all fake and unrealistic. Do you want to fill up your spare time in a way that relaxes and gives you peace to the mind and joy to the soul? Read a book, play ball with your dog, go for a walk, or even distract yourself looking at the clouds while sipping a cup of tea.
Sometimes any corny solution is the best panacea.

Cheers, and keep being fantastic!

Meeting friends. Or not.

We realise we’re getting older when things that were supposed to be simple turn out to be extremely difficult instead. Take something like meeting friends for a coffee or a meal: when I was younger, it was a simple matter of picking up the phone, call one friend or another (or, a whole group of friends), decide time and place and voilà, the date was set in the blink of an eye. And those were the years when we barely had any money to scrape the bottom of the bag.

Now that we are ‘older and wiser’, meeting a friend is a mission akin to planning the Normandy Landing. The turn-downs are many and varied…
“Sorry, I can’t. The dog can’t stay home alone.”
“I don’t have the car today.”
“Wednesday? Oh gosh, sorry… I go to yoga. Thursday? Still can’t, I have book club at my place. What about Friday, you ask? Let me check… no, I go to wine tasting. And that’s in the day, as in the evening I go play bridge with my mother. Listen, let’s do it this way: I keep you in mind and will contact you in a few months when I might have more free time.”
“I’d love to, but I’m already set for bedtime.”
“I’d love to, but I have a massive migraine.”
“Today? Goodness, there’s my son’s rugby game at school. Maybe some other time.”
“Sorry, I really can’t. The new episode of Game of Thrones is out, and I can’t miss it.”
The very same people are the ones who will say, “Geez, I never hear from you! Don’t be a stranger, keep in touch.”
Definitely, we seem to be getting increasingly more cocooned into our shells. And, fair to be fair, at times I do that myself – much to my dismay in realising that I fall in the same trap.
Oftentimes, the justifications are merely a convoluted way to avoid saying a plain ‘no’. But there’s nothing wrong with it; as harsh as it may sound to others it’s more honest than finding sound excuses or, worse, unwillingly agreeing to something in order to avoid offending the interlocutor.
Below there’s an interesting article about the power of ‘no’ that you might like to read. Or not.
Cheers, and keep being fantastic!

What is love… baby don’t hurt me, don’t hurt me, no more…

Why is that, in a time and age where everything and everyone is connected to a wireless worldwide network, increasingly more people find themselves to be single – and not by their own choice? One would assume that, by throwing ourselves in the cauldron in which simmer the various Facebooks, Twitters, dating-xyz, Instagram, and so on, being single would be remembered as a ‘disease’ of the past.

The issue is that the 20th and 21st century have given us a bombarding idyllic and glamorous idea – yet false – of what it means to ‘find/have a romantic relationship’ (I sadly admit that I’m also a victim of such marketing campaign, for lack of better definition). No day goes by without my eyes resting over yet one more TV commercial of a loving and beautiful couple who are living a life made in heaven; or the magazine advert with a man who looks a hundred times better looking than what I could ever aspire to be; to a movie or TV show in which the main character (nerd or not nerd may he or she be) falls in love with someone (unsurprisingly, on the gorgeous side of the scale too), and the story ends with a tear-jerking ‘and they lived happily ever after’. Goodness, the Tinseltown machine even manages to make octogenarians appear hot/loving/amazing (not that I have a problem with it).
By having this picture-perfect image constantly slapped on my face, my senses assume that such is THE norm and, because of it, I might not notice the REAL norm, as it could be a man accidentally bumping into me while I’m rushing through the shop buying groceries for the evening, or one asking me directions on a busy street. And I would miss out on what could be a great love story.

It doesn’t stop there. Social media has now enslaved various generations of people: in it we share our precious moments and achievements; we enter into endless conversations with a person sitting right across us; we pose in front of a phone camera, take our best selfie (remember the Duckface expression, is essential for the good-looking appearance. Yes, this is sarcasm) and quickly post it everywhere in order to gain the oh-so-desired ‘likes’. But social media hasn’t made us more social – quite the opposite, instead. We have turned into remote little islands floating onto an ocean of nothingness, and we don’t realise it.
On the Net we can pretend to be anything we want, photoshop our faces to remove our blemishes and wrinkles, and show the world how gorgeous we are, post pictures of our muscles and toned bodies so there will be someone to lust after us… but it’s all a façade, a farce.

Countless websites and articles said it way too many times already, that we should really look past the appearances because they can be deceiving – and rather see into the soul of a person. Yes, sight is indeed the first sense that is involved when meeting a person who has the looks and grace of a top model, but can be shallow.

That said, there’s nothing wrong with being single, as long as you’re comfortable in your own skin. Do as you feel at ease with, and listen to no one – not even to this column.
Friends and acquaintances will profusely tell you – with conviction, “Don’t worry about being single. Single is the new black! You’re free, can do as you please and can go wherever you like without having to first touch base with a partner; there’s nothing better than being single!”
“But you’re in a relationship… why aren’t you single yourself?”
“Good lord, no! I can’t live a minute without being in a relationship, and am SO lucky I have a partner, it’s the best life ever!”
Baffling.

Cheers, and keep being fantastic!