Makeover!

After 183 posts and 44 months of blogging – Lantern Post has well and truly deserved a makeover!

And so one has been duly administered to ensure the old girl remains, if not exactly in the vogue, at least not completely dishevelled either -:)!

Makover

New, more up-to-date garments have been obtained and matron squeezed into them with rather much less ceremony than it was the case in her youth!

Sleepy streets of old Zagreb she nestled against in the background for almost four years, have been replaced by Wellington’s sunset.

It is, after all, what we see every day … sun setting over the harbour, shaded lamps casting glows over benches in Botanic Garden.

Where we sit and smile sentimentally to the images of a city we once knew, gliding across our inner vision, briefly; like a snow-flakes drifting across frozen glass-pane in the winter morning.

Then we walk to the ‘Room with a Balcony’ thinking nothing at all.

Just the two of us;

The Lantern and

The Keeper.

In a new City.

Joy for the New Year!

I know … after not blogging for few months – here I come with a second post in three days!

Between you and me – consistency has never been my strong suit. I blame me it on restless and relentless mind! That in addition to a holiday season, meaning – some free time at last!

Now to the real reason for this post – in a word – sheer joy!

Yep – that’s right! As the popular song goes – ‘don’t believe me just watch!’ Or in our case – read, since, luckily, you can’t see me (luckily because I am typing this in my nighty and no it is not the one suitable for audiences!).

So why joy you may ask!

Shall I tell you? Oh, ok then here goes:

New Year has arrived to New Zealand’s shores already and with the spectacular fireworks over the Wellington harbour which I watched from my balcony with a glass of chilled Riesling in hand while trying to establish any kind of conversation with my daughter who was (judging by the noises over the phone) having hell of a good time with her mates in Queenstown (the suspicion has since been confirmed as true – good on her I say and can’t wait to see her tomorrow and hear all about it!).

Today (1 January 2016) was an absolutely amazing summer day! Living in Wellington you learn to appreciate and treasure such days like your family’s most precious heirlooms! So, just like everyone else, I trotted down to the beach and here is what I found there:

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Well half of Wellington at least!

We all (that is to say who ever was perched on the sand next to you/passing by, etc) wished each other happy New Year and thank God (Yahweh, Allah, Buddha, etc.) for the weather. In our hearts of hearts, we all knew it would not last – so offering sincere gratefulness to our respective gods was in hope to prolong it even if just for a few more days!

Everyone ventured or was coaxed to swim (yours truly included -:)! As soon as sea reaches your ankles – shivering starts! Never mind that minor annoyance; with assorted degrees of speed and variations of; ‘oh isn’t it lovely once you get in’ – we all made it! Yours truly even swam past floating pontoons and small boats which, I will have you know, almost qualifies as swimming in the open sea!

On the way back from this glorious escapade, I climbed on the tiny space still available on the pontoon and indulged in listening sounds. Yes, sounds – not words or snippets of conversations. No one person spoke in English! Amongst lively conversations and laughter, I could recognize German, Italian, Spanish, French and most likely Chinese.

I will take the risk of sounding rather cheese here – but I truly felt overwhelmed by joy and gratefulness in that moment … for so much;

For being alive and reasonably healthy,

For New Zealand … this tiny speck of dirt in the mighty Pacific ocean;

  • where total strangers will ask you to come ‘over for a drink’ for no other reason but because it is Christmas/New Year,
  • where you can leave your belongings safely on the beach for hours without a fear of losing them,
  • where people from all over the world come to stay and are made welcome regardless of their religion, race, sexual orientation,
  • where there are no drone strikes,
  • no crazed members of Islamic State threatening to cut my, or anyone’s else head off,
  • no famine (ocean is brimming with fish if all else fails),
  • no recession (not like seen elsewhere in any case),
  • no Donald Trump trying to take the country over and, rumour has it – Vladimir Putin may not even know we are on the planet (thank God),
  • where my daughter can go to University without fear of being taken hostage or killed.

I do love you New Zealand!

Have a Happy, Safe and Peaceful 2016 Everyone!

In a words of an old Greek: ‘Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.’ (Epicurus)

Thank you everyone for reading the Lantern!

Tides of change

It has been a long time since I last wrote.

It was a winter of my fiftieth birthday.

It is summer now.

Outside my windows night cradles round-faced moon into a bed of stars.

No breath of wind to upset the delicate operation.

As in attendance – air stands still and warm.

And if I am now to think about all that has come to pass in those last few months – it seems every new season brought some changes to my life.

Perhaps it all started with that shy, early autumn when I wrote ‘Visitor

After,

Winter arrived and lingered for quite some time – bleak and colourless. There were days when wind was merciless. There were days when breathing was too.

In the midst of it all, and quite unexpectedly – I was offered a new job. One I never really thought about. Initially I was unsure what to do. Not that I was sure of much at the time.

And then, as often is the case – we are nudged towards the road we need to take, even if, or especially when we cannot see it ourselves.

From the distance of almost six months – I understand that it was the right, almost necessary step to take.

The new job brought new challenges and new responsibilities – all of which ensured that, by the end of each day, neither desire nor energy were left for another thought let alone reflection.

I sometimes wondered whether I would ever write for pleasure again.

Instead of quiet contemplation and writing – I was challenged to learn on the go and come up with solutions on demand. And through it all I realized that solving problems and caring for others is still what I love doing and, so they tell me – am good at it. Which is to say – I work hard and care genuinely, all of which comes naturally once we are engaged with purpose and meaning.

As winter neared its end and spring reluctantly knocked on the door – I moved the house too.

The ‘Writer’s Den’ which was nestled amongst trees and shrubs gave way to a ‘Room with a Balcony’ – no more than ten minutes’ walk to downtown and my office, or twenty minutes to the closest beach.

Once I moved in – I remembered the little piece I titled ‘A Wish List’ and wrote some three years ago, for one of the wishes was ‘to own the room with a balcony’ …  and this is what I now

WP_20151223_001.jpg see from my balcony.

Someday I watch boats sailing in and out of the harbour and hear

Cries of seagulls before the day-break.

As sun fills the ‘Room with a Balcony’ every morning and lingers over it in in evenings, I read Daniel Klain for he ponders such wisdom as: ‘Every Time I found the Meaning of Life They Change It’, Clive James as he wrote; ‘Cultural Amnesia’ and Anna Akhmatove for she wrote

I Taught Myself To Live Simply:

I taught myself to live simply and wisely,

to look at the sky and pray to God,

and to wander long before evening

to tire my superfluous worries.

When the burdocks rustle in the ravine

and the yellow-red rowanberry cluster droops

I compose happy verses about life’s decay, decay and beauty.

I come back. The fluffy cat licks my palm, purrs so sweetly

and the fire flares bright

on the saw-mill turret by the lake.

Only the cry of a stork landing on the roof

occasionally breaks the silence.

If you knock on my door

I may not even hear.

 

 

 

Fifth decade

CakeFew days ago I turned 50.

Travelled down South to celebrate with my lovely daughter and some of my best friends. Party for my North Island friends is scheduled for the coming weekend. Twenty-one years in the ‘God’s Zone’ forged some great friendships that span length of both islands. For all of them I am deeply grateful.

In between partying I managed to look in the mirror. Carefully. Nothing. I came closer to the mirror – nope, still nothing. Looking pretty much the same. Either that or suffering from some serious self-delusion. I am told it is not uncommon.

Apparently the said affliction selects  its victims exclusively from the middle-age population. Which in itself presents conundrum since, courtesy of cosmetic surgery and endless beautification procedures, is fast becoming an obscure term. Fifty is new thirty I hear. Nice. So thirty is what … new ten?

Well if that is not bad enough; the peculiar form of self-delusion provides no warning signs and, yes you have guessed it – there is no cure or even remedy to ease the symptoms. So how to recognize the poor sufferers?

Apparently there are few clear clues, one of which I am afraid to have suffered morning after my significant birthday party!

Still for the benefit of fellow suffers here they are;

Your mirror turns into a time machine; the reflection is no longer of reality but of memory – the image of yourself as you remember it.

That is until;

  • You accidentally caught sight of yourself in the shop-window from where a middle-age stranger is staring back at you wearing your clothes; sneakers with rainbow coloured laces and all. Or
  • Unsuspected youth wearing regulation uniform of respectable school offers you a seat on the public bus. You look around for the older person the seat was intended for. There aren’t any. Or
  • Twenty something shop-assistant at the cosmetic counter tells you that you have a great skin for your age. And what age is that you would have asked if you can be bothered. But you can’t. Or
  • When the regular twenty/thirty-something ‘might get lucky tonight’ enthusiasts attempt to chat you up you experience powerful urge to launch for their ears by which to drag them home and put them into the naughty corner. Only firm clasp of hands behind your back stops you. Or
  • Your wardrobe starts to resemble cold-war firmly divided between ‘comfortable’ and ‘uncomfortable’ zones. Comfortable zone expends each day (cotton nighty and fluffy slippers are in it -:)). Or
  • Your doctor explains to you in some details about such things as knee cartilage wear and tear and comfortable shoes. You make mental note to hold onto the last pair of stilettos you bought no matter what. Or
  • You notice onset of an interesting and never before experienced phenomenon – you need longer hands to read small print! The mental note to visit an optometrist follows. Or
  • Your internal heating works overtime. Never before have you thrown blankets off the bed in the middle of a cold night. Your wonder whether you can save on heating bill! Or
  • You are surprised to find that Tinder is actually not what you thought it is – an app helping owners find their lost pets. Or
  • You are unable to decide whether ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ is a comedy or a horror movie. Most of it seems either laughable or painfully uncomfortable. Or
  • Your hairdresser nudges you ever-so-gently towards mature styles and colours. You consider changing a hairdresser but remember cost. Or
  • You resolve to try one more and this time guaranteed to work diet that promises to make you ‘slim and trim’ in no time but cannot remember the rules while shopping for groceries. You buy your favourite chocolate cake anyway to devour with your favourite TV show.  Or
  • You listen to your well-meaning friends and brows on-line dating sites only to find that men of your age are looking for ‘women under 50 only’. For a brief moment you wonder whether they have ‘too young’ rule as well but get bored soon and abandon the whole exercise.

Then;

One day you wake up and look into the same mirror … and whola – it is you. At that very moment.

With all your cry/smile lines, and not-so-firm skin or bright eyes or bouncing step … and you smile at your image with grace and acceptance that only living for five decades brings!

 

Winter Vignette

Autumn descended into winter since I last wrote.

There is a still certain light in the evenings of May and June,

Like a dusty hurricane lamp hanging haphazardly over an empty porch,

Thrown by the winds this way and that,

Until the last of scattered leaves departs,

And air stiffens with cold and silence,

Winter.

You might dream of home;

Hot soup bubbling on the stove,

Smell of thyme and onion and melting candlewax,

Old dog lying in front of the fire-place,

Pine logs sizzling.

You might hear your mother calling you to supper,

Cutting wedges from round bread she baked at the crack of dawn,

Scratching frost from the kitchen window with her fingers, and

Blowing gently into the mouth of an ancient stove stacked neatly,

With newspapers and dray wood shavings.

Until you can no longer bear any of it;

Then, like me, you walk downtown;

Into alleyways where certain establishments let you stay, and

Mix with stage-folk,

Until they make you laugh, and

You forget all of it;

Cold of winter,

Your mother and

The last bastard that broke your heart.

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Visitor

It was well past midday when she reached the airport. Taxi drivers stood in batches smoking and chatting in mixture of exotic languages. African, Arabic, Russian. World at your service.

She walked into the bathroom and stood in front of a large mirror. A tiny Vietnamese woman was mopping the floor. She smoothed her dress over and smiled at the Vietnamese woman. The woman did not smile back.

In the arrival lounge people were gathering around the luggage-belts. A toddler was trying to climb on it. She was trying not to look nervous.

She saw his forehead first. He was walking towards her with the long strides of tall-people. And then the eyes. As blue as she imagined them to be. Smiling. He greeted her with the embrace that was friendly rather than longing. But then she could never be sure. The words of the poem she wrote months ago whispered into the air around her lips.  Dust silvered into stars.

Outside, the Indian summer was cradling the day into afternoon. A breeze lifted the skirt of her dress. She quickly apologised and held it down with both hands. She knew she was blushing under the make-up so she kept on chatting.

In the shuttle they sat next to each other and their hands brushed for the first time. Her fingers touched the skin where it brushed against his. She was hoping he would not notice. She kept on chatting and smiling. Talking about the city unfolding outside the shuttle window. Tall houses with ornate verandas dotted along narrow streets. A speck of harbour in the distance.

His brother lived in that city many years ago. Before he went back to Ireland, the original home-land.  Eire. She remembered the name in Irish from a book she was reading. She thought how the country she came from also has the original name used only by its people. But she did not say anything.

They disembarked in the city’s centre and she showed him the tall building where she worked. With its large entrance and marbled corridors it looked important. She wanted him to know that she could keep a job in such a building. In a city she hardly knew.

The sun was high above the streets lulled into a temporary stillness between the lunch-hour walkers and after-work commuters.

They walked towards the waterfront. A couple of students and a young woman pushing a stroller with a sleeping baby passed by. A lone seagull cried over the glistening water and swooped down to snatch scraps of food off the rocks.

Galeb

Her hands were starting to sweat. She was worried about walking too close to him and talking too much. And not finding the popular café with expansive harbour views she has chosen weeks ago. He told her there was a flower with that name.

Foxglove

The place was almost empty. She regretted choosing it at once. It seemed wrong for the time of the day. They ordered drinks and chatted about how lovely the city is on a nice day. She noticed how his face lit up when he smiles. He told her she is beautiful and she felt as shy as a girl of 16.

Along the outside deck a few lounge chairs and coffee tables were arranged in small semi-circles. Young couple sitting in one were laughing and feeding each other French fries.

She wanted to ask him whether he remembered the letters she wrote to him the last summer and the summer before. But she reminded herself that it is getting late and he is probably tired and hungry.

They walked a few blocks to an Italian restaurant where they serve pasta and red wine on the plain wooden tables with a single candle and water decanter placed in the middle. The waitress could not speak a word of Italian.

Their table was beneath a framed map of Italy. The Adriatic Sea behind his eyes. The image of a small, white-stone church hanging from the cliff rising from that same sea entered her vision. She thought she might cry and excused herself to go to the ladies’.

The night was rich and warm when they walked to a late-night cocktail bar with soft leather couches and green card-tables. Before they reached the place he took her hand in his. It was a strong, safe hand. She was hoping her hand would not tremble.

It was almost midnight by the time they reached her place. The full moon was hanging over the wattle tree in her garden. The last train to his destination long gone. She felt embarrassed for not keeping a better watch on the time. And because her place was so small. She opened the bottle of wine thanking God she had saved one.

When he kissed her, tiny particles of her soul started to grow wings. She read somewhere that dreams are unfinished wings of our souls. She dreamt of that kiss for so long that all she could think was whether he now feels compelled to kiss her. In such a small space where limbs practically touch each other. In a city far away from open skies of his home. ‘Back home’ he calls it. She worried whether she somehow tricked him into her dream. Unwittingly.

He touched her hair and thanked her for letting him touch it. She placed her head on his chest and when large, salty tears arrived she said she was very sorry. For exposing him to her crying.

The whole night she listened his heart-beat and slow, steady breath of a man in a deep sleep. Long ago she wrote that it is all she wanted. She slipped away silently to make sure he has enough space.

When morning arrived she worried about his business and how late he was going to be. She made him breakfast of what was there which, she knew, was not much and noticed his shirt needed ironing. She was glad of it. He let her do it. She pressed each part of it for as long as possible. It had been years since she ironed a man’s shirt.

She thought he looks very handsome in his suit and tie.

His taxi was waiting.

She returned to her room and saw it all; breakfast dishes, the still warm iron, unmade bed. Her legs felt like they were made of iron ore. Slowly she slipped into the bed and pulled the covers over her head. The scent of him was bursting her lungs open.

In the days that followed dreams arrived in waves.

Sometimes she dreamed a horse as black as the deepest summer night was galloping over the sun-drenched meadows at the bottom of an island. The horse had a white star on its forehead and was trying to tell her something but she could not understand it.

The other time it was a bride walking into an old wooden church dressed in the palest yellow silk carrying a large bouquet of mimosas and spring snowflakes. Before each step she felt the space before her and flowers slipped from her hands like a floral water-fall. She was blind.

Visibabe

Each morning she touched her face wet from tears and prayed. The morning she found her face covered in tiny crystals the colour of blood, she knew he is not coming back.

Night train to Lisbon

I watched this movie as a last resistance to silence that descended around midnight after the honey-coloured day of an early autumn went to sleep. Sun is always ripest at this time of year, just before to shrivel into the rigidity of winter. Like a women crossing the bridge between the youth and old age. The light within her is the most reflective just before to go out.

There is a beautiful bridge in the city of Bern in one of the first scenes of the movie.  A young woman in a red coat is standing on its railing ready to throw herself into the dark waters below, under the persistent autumn’s rain. Until a middle age professor of ancient languages, wearing old-fashion glasses and in a habit of playing chess with himself before to leave for school every morning, drops his briefcase and pulls her down. The teacher is Raimund Gregorius (Jeremy Irons).

JI

She helps him to gather papers that have spilled from his briefcase and they walk to his school. He takes her to his class and let her sit in the corner while he teaches as he usually does. But she does not wait for the class to finish so they can talk. She quietly leaves the classroom leaving her red coat behind.

Concerned, Raimund grabs the coat and runs after her, but in vain. He checks her pockets for identification. All he finds is a small book, a memoir of sorts, by Amadeu do Prado. It is stamped with the address of the bookstore, so he goes there. The bookseller remembers the girl’s purchasing this obscure book and, as he leafs through it, a train ticket to Lisbon falls out. The train is, in fact, leaving in 15 minutes. Confused and doubtful, Raimund rushes to the station, but the woman is nowhere in sight. At the last moment he decides to use the ticket himself, and during the journey he reads the book.

Amadeu

It was a decision that will change his life forever as it sometimes happens when inexplicable events found us, and without a warning or a prelude, alter our reality in a way we could have never imagined.

Some call it a chance. Others divine intervention. I settle for mystery since I believe that not all things need to be explained. Or given a name or cause or origin. The most important ones just need to be felt.

Reading the book, Raimund found that Amadeu do Prado lived in Lisbon and that the thoughts, fears and dilemmas he expressed in the book fascinate him. Once he reaches Lisbon, Raimund is determined to find Amadeu not only in hope that this will lead him to the woman in a red coat, but also to speak with the writer.

He finds Amadeu’s home, where his sister, Adriana, welcomes Raimund. She also gives the impression her brother still lives there. Raimund learns that Amadeu was a doctor, and that only 100 copies of his book were printed. When Raimund asks what happened to their father, Adriana’s reaction is hostile. As Raimund is leaving, the elderly maid tells him that he can find Amadeu in the town’s cemetery. Raimund finds the tomb: Amadeu died in 1974.

In the street, a bicyclist runs into Raimund and smashes his glasses. While obtaining new glasses from a local optician, Mariana, Raimund narrates his experiences. When he returns to collect the glasses, Mariana tells Raimund her uncle knew Amadeu de Prado well and is willing to talk to Raimund.

Raimund and Mariana both go to the nursing home where her uncle João Eça resides, and Raimund learns João and Amadeu were both in the resistance against the Salazar dictatorship. João, who dislikes the atmosphere of nursing home and remains fond or smoking cigarettes, tells the story in a serious of flashbacks. His hands, once subtle enough to play piano, are disfigured by the torture he endured under Mendez, one of the most notorious agents of Salazar regime.

Over dinner Raimund tells Mariana about his life and the wife that left him five years ago because she found him boring. Mariana tells Raimund that he is not boring.

dinner

Later, Raimund visits the priest who taught and later buried Amadeu de Prado. The priest explains that Amadeu, a smart young boy from an aristocratic background, befriended Jorge O’Kelly, another bright boy in the school though of lowly means. The boys bonded through their love for knowledge, particularly the philosophical and political knowledge not permitted under Salazar. Amadeu gave a graduation speech that reflected his contempt for the regime, much to the chagrin of his father, a well-respected judge.

Raimund returns to Adriana and asks for her side of the story, and then he revisits João to obtain more information.

Raimund learns that Amadeu died of an aneurysm, which he knew he had, but had not told Adriana about. As a doctor, Amadeu never refused a patient, and when Mendez, a powerful member of the Salazar regime, called ‘the Butcher of Lisbon’, was brought to Amadeu’s clinic, he saved the man’s life. Amadeu’s friends were shocked by this, especially Jorge, who at that time was already in the resistance. Later, Amadeu confronted Jorge and declared that he too would join the resistance. João, young man at the time, voiced his concern that Amadeu is joining resistance out of guilt for saving Mendez’s life. However, as an old man talking to Raimund, he simply observes that Amadeu was ‘too soft for resistance’.

Resistances and revolutions cannot be executed by those who resist killing their own if necessary; it is for that reason that ‘every revolution devours its children’ (Jacques Mallet du Pan).

Jorge introduced Amadeu to João and to Estefânia, a beautiful woman who helped the resistance by memorizing people’s names and contact information, and with whom Jorge was deeply in love.

Es

But the moment Amadeu’s and Estefânia’s eyes met, they were powerfully drawn to each other. When Estefânia’s asked Amadeu whether he could kill his own father if he becomes danger to resistance, Amadeu cannot answer. He also cannot let himself love Estefânia because of his life-long friendship with Jorge. But Jorge did find out and was crushed by discovery. His first thought was to kill Estefânia and he takes João’s gun for that purpose.

The night Amadeu and Estefânia decide to escape together, Jorge confronted them with the gun pointed at Estefânia. But Amadeu persuded him to drop the gun and they drove to safety to Spain.

When Raimund find Jorge, he is an old man who still works in the same pharmacy Amadeu set up for him after they graduated from University. He still lives alone and enjoys his drink. He also lives lights on at night in his old pharmacy, just like he did all those years ago when they were young and plotting resistance.

Jorge (1)It is Jorge who tells Raimund that Estefânia is still alive and living in Spain as a history teacher. Raimund goes to visit her and she tells him that Amadeu did manage to smuggle her over the border in the boot of his Mercedes and with the assistance of Menzel who felt in debt to Amadeu for saving his life.

They travelled together all night and Amadeu was ‘hungry for me, for life, for everything’. His love for her was so intense, so all encompassing that nothing was left, not a thought or a breath. By the time the morning came, she asked him to drop her off at her friends. Few weeks later Amadeu died. She never stopped feeling that she killed him. Raimund explained that Amadeu had aneurysm and knew about it. It had nothing to do with her. He left her his book.

There are indeed times when the love we feel is so powerful and passionate, so all consuming, to leave us no choice but to let it go.

Back in Lisbon, Raimund is ready to leave his hotel and return to his old life in Bern. Just before to pick up his bill, the woman whose life he saved appeared at the reception. She was waiting for him. She wanted to thank him and explain that she felt suicidal because she had just learned from the book she found in the book shop that her grandfather was the ‘Butcher of Lisbon’. The grandfather whom she loved, and cried bitterly at his funeral unable to understand why so many others did not.

One of the hardest tasks we face is to accept that those capable of great evil can be also capable of great love.

While João’s granddaughter, Mariana drives him to the train station, Raimund calls his school to tell them that he is returning to his old job. But at the train station Mariana suggests to Raimund that, rather than returning to his old life, he could simply stay. And she smiles at him.

trainThe movie moved me deeply not so much because of the philosophical questions, ideas and dilemmas it opens, but more so because of the gentle way it approaches them; how fragile our perceptions of self and life we construct is.

‘Human beings can’t bear silence. It would mean that they would bear themselves.’ (Pascal Mercier, ‘Night Train to Lisbon’).