La Dolce Vita

La Dolce Vita

I’m writing this sitting in my rented apartment in Florence. It’s beautiful and handily placed to walk to all of the attractions and usefully has a roof terrace with views across the city, just the place for a glass of chianti and a smoke.

Central Food Market, Firenze

Central Food Market, Firenze

I seem to go for city breaks, I’m not sure why, surrounded as you are by throngs of tourists sweatily jostling you as they swarm from one attraction to the next. I’m not a big one for queues either which explains why I’ve never been to the Louvre in Paris to see the Mona Lisa, despite having visited there several times. In fact I don’t really get art. The only painting I’ve ever really wanted to see is Picasso’s Guernica in Madrid, but the planned visit on the last day of a short stay was thwarted by the Museum being closed.

I did queue for an hour today though, at the Accedemia Galleria, to see the iconic Michaelangelo statue of David. Now that is something! How anyone can bring to life a cold slab of marble like that is quite simply breathtaking.

Duomo

Duomo Cathedral, Firenze

I don’t get churches/cathedrals either. Sure they can be beautiful, as the Duomo undoubtedly is, but I can’t ever get over enamoured of them and in some cases, like the Sistine chapel in Rome, they actually make me feel a little queasy, so opulent are they.

Ever so slightly at odds with the essential message from the son of a carpenter from Nazareth I would say.

I guess what I do like about city breaks is being surrounded by different sights and smells, the food, the cuisine, the sense of anonymity from being in a strange city, and, of course, the people watching, I need to watch that though as my daughter pointed out whilst we were having dinner at a little trattoria, Il Contaldino (highly recommended), that it’s more like agressive staring at times!

I’ve even managed to engage with a few locals with my smattering of bad Italian although I did manage to say Buono Sera (Good Evening) to a shop assistant this morning.

There’s a lot of beautiful and elegant women here (my daughter says the same for the men), but I feel their beauty like a bereavement (borrowed that phrase), as I’m as far removed from a meaningful relationship than when I was a spotty, hormone fuelled teenager. I have tried over the last 18 months or so to try and develop relationships, but with very, very indifferent results.

Oh well. at least the wine’s cheap here!

Ciao, ciao!

Freeing the child within

Freeing the child within

Although through force of circumstance I am very much a peripheral figure in their lives I’m fascinated by my two grandchildren, Charlie who is 3½ and Jack who is 1½. They love to play and have fun and Charlie is a proper boy, boisterous and fearless, Jack has yet to find his feet, but is certainly beginning to find his voice.

Walking with Charlie, I am struck that, whilst I am always conscious of the dangers that might befall him, for him it’s an endless parade of fascinating sights and sounds, friendly strangers, police cars, tractors and buses. And play, play is a series of inventive scenarios, often without any physical props, just the product of his vivid imagination which he expects you to wholeheartedly embrace. To him the world is fun!

At some point we become jaded and world weary and lose our sense of childish fun. Admittedly, as adults, childish behaviour is not going to be appropriate in most situations, but there are some useful lessons we can learn from observing children at play.

1. Live life in the here and now.

Probably the most important lesson we can learn from children is to enjoy the here and now. They are really good at it and are rarely thinking about anything but, so absorbed they are with all that’s happening now. How many of us can claim the same? Enjoy the present. The past is gone and can’t be changed, the future, you can’t predict it and it hasn’t happened yet.

2. Free your creative side

Children love to paint, make cupcakes, make play dough, build Lego. Creativity is not only fulfilling, it’s fun!

3. Lift your head

Most adults go through the day consumed by their own thoughts, rarely noticing or appreciating their surroundings in much detail. If you’ve ever observed a child examine a leaf, an insect, a frog you can see that their fascination with the world around them is endless. Lift your head and enjoy the world around you.

4. Take risks

Children have no barriers when they’re growing up, very little fear of failure, they will explore new things, take risks and are rarely self conscious. What’s stopping you learning something new, taking a few risks too?

5. Be Silly!

Children are the past masters of silly! A simple word can be repeated time and time again to fits of giggles, trucks smashed endlessly together – just for fun. Let your silly side out now and then, be unpredictable once in a while, break a few ‘rules’!


The plight of the reindeer people

The plight of the reindeer people

My Mum always used to say that things have changed far too much. She was born in 1925, so she did see some dramatic changes in her life time.

Most of those changes have been positive, but the explosion of the world’s population from an estimated 2 billion in 1925 to an estimated 7 billion plus now, has had a profound effect on the demand for the world’s resources and, in turn, on groups who have traditionally lived their lives much like their ancestors.

One such people are the reindeer herders, known as the Tsaschin, or Dukha, who for thousands of years, have roamed the taiga of northern Mongolia, a wilderness of mountains, forest, rock and ice which straddles the country’s border with Siberia. The herders rely on their animals for hunting and transportation, and for the staples of their diet: milk, cheese, yogurt and dried milk curds.

For months on end they move around, looking for fresh pastures for their reindeer, hunting and camping on open ground, relying on their dogs to alert them of wolves. They do go in to town, to buy flour, bullets and salt. Apparently reindeer love salt and the Tsaschin round up their herd by rustling an empty salt packet.

Their way of life is increasingly under threat and the Tsaschin’s herds have fallen from more than 2,000 in the 1970s to less than one-third of that today. The reasons for this are manifold, from the lack of interest from the Tsaschin young, exposed as they are to the relentless advance of modern technology to the refusal of the Mongolian government to allow the import of of reindeer from Siberia, Canada or Scandinavia to address the inevitable consequences of inbreeding amongst the Tsaschin herds, which has meant a weakening of the overall health of the stock.

But there’s another more depressingly inevitable factor that will probably end the Tsaschin’s nomadic way of life, man’s insatiable appetite to strip the earth of it’s natural resources. Like all nomadic people, the Tsaschin roam great areas, but they have no recognisable rights to the land they’ve used for thousands of years and now the mining companies have moved in to the taiga. Mongolia is rich in copper, gold and coal and is home to one of the 10 largest copper mines in the world and the advance of these operations is denying the Tsaschin access to land they once called their own.

The fate of all nomadic peoples is precarious, as the march of technology and the demand for raw materials continues, and it looks inevitable that a way of life that has existed for millenia will slowly die. It’s hard not to feel empathy for them, after all, we were all nomads once.

The programme on BBC Radio 4 that inspired me to find out more http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01knbgg

Further reading: http://www.homelands.org/worlds/mongolia.html

How to live longer

How to live longer

Whilst reading a post debunking the Paleo Diet, I came across a link to a post on National Geographic about ‘Blue Zones’ which is a term coined by Dan Buettner for the regions on Earth with the longest life expectancy, disability-free life expectancy or concentration of persons over 100.

These Blue Zones include the interior of Sardinia, a remote peninsula in Costa Rica, a Greek island, a Japanese archipelago, and a community in southern California and according to research, the secret to longevity, apparently, has less to do with diet—or even exercise—and more to do with the social and physical environment in which people live.

Buettner identified nine powerful yet simple lessons that offer a blueprint for not only a longer, but happier life.

The Power 9 ™ from The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer From the People Who’ve Lived the Longest:

  1. Keep moving – Find ways to move naturally, such as walking and gardening, using fewer labour saving devices.
  2. Find purpose … And pursue it with passion.
  3. Slow down – Work less, rest, and take vacations.
  4. Stop eating … when you’re 80 percent full.
  5. Dine on plants – Eat more vegetables and less meat and processed foods.
  6. Drink red wine – Do it consistently but in moderation.
  7. Join a group – Create a healthy social network.
  8. Feed your soul – Engage in spiritual activities.
  9. Love your tribe – Make family a high priority.

I like the list, especially point 6, which is a habit I intend to maintain diligently. I’d add one of my own to that list – Grow your own food. Nothing beats the primal satisfaction of eating your own produce.

There is a growing movement of disillusionment with the consumer driven ethos prevalent in Western society and it comes as no surprise to me that the people within these communities are happier. They live in harmony with their families, their communities, the earth and most importantly, themselves. It’s very much in tune with my newly found personal philosophy on life.

There were other lifestyle habits found to be common practices in each blue zone society:

  • Emphasis on strong family values
  • Strong community values
  • Exclusively plant based diets (little to no animal products)
  • Whole food lifestyles focused on fruits and veggies
  • Daily benefits of physical exercise
  • Everyone knows how to deal with stress
  • All the elders and centenarians still work
  • Daily consumption of small amounts of alcohol
  • A sense of purpose in life (Ikigai is the Japanese word for this)
  • Spirituality is part of life in all of the blue zones
  • A complete absence of smoking and obesity
  • Everyone knows the benefits of a positive attitude

You can buy the book by Dan Buettner from the National Geographic website.

 

Being a Dad

Being a Dad

Becoming a Dad is a relatively simple process, being a Dad is much harder.

A chance remark from my son on father’s day when he handed me a card, led me to ponder the question, what it is to be a Dad. The remark was ‘Sorry – I couldn’t find a card that said part-time Dad!’, a playful (I hope) reference to the fact that I haven’t been ever present in his life. I have two children and I’ve lived about 150 miles apart from both of them for much of their lives.

The experience of becoming a Dad was, quite simply, the single most exquisite and wonderful moment in my life, but sadly, my marriage floundered soon after the birth of my second child. Because of the circumstances surrounding that, I’ve always carried the burden of failure with me and that’s not something I find easy to forgive myself for, being such an idealist about life.

Despite the physical distance between us, I was determined to play what part in their lives that I could. I did all of absent Dad stuff graduating from McDonalds’ ‘Happy Meals’ through Pizza Hut to proper restaurants, took them bowling and got to see a lot of truly awful films. It was far from ideal for any of us, I’m sure, but those precious moments with them were my bedrock.

I think I became a better Dad, ironically, when I became a stepfather to a teenager in my last marriage. She, through her irreverent disregard for my repressive ideal of what life should be like, taught me greater patience and a better understanding of what’s trivial. As a result I like to think I became a little less grumpy!  She’s grown up now with two wonderful children whom I adore and I hope that I will always play a part in her life too.

My own children have grown up now and have their own lives and we’re free to have a different kind of relationship. I’m still their Dad but it’s more a relationship between adults. They all learned long ago that I’m far from perfect and they know my strengths and weaknesses as I do theirs.

I can’t claim to be a great Dad, or even a good one, but remarkably, despite everything and my doubts about how good or bad a Dad I’ve been, all three love me anyway. Well, they say they do!

How did that happen?