[Autumn stories 2] K2, when a dream falls away

K2

On that day of the 31st of July 1954, Dr Charles Houston completely forgot who he was. For as much as he tried, he could not remember a single thing about his identity. His name, his profession, the reason why he was in the small town forty kilometers from where he lived. All of this appeared to have simply gone from his mind.

Charles was a strong men, of that he was sure. There was something in him telling him that he had what it takes to survive, although he could not be sure of where that conviction was coming from. It was perhaps for this conviction that Charles was feeling almost dizzy as he was walking around in that suburban town.

“What a strange feeling not to remember one’s own identity”, this was the thought that accompanied Charles as he was distinctively perceiving the different phases of his amnesia. At the end of the day he was still a doctor, although he had no memory of it!

At first Charles could feel a sense of astonishment, just like when one forgets what he was meant to say. To that followed a feeling of being out of place (we are not meant to forget who we are!). The last feeling was a desire to discovery, to find out the name attached to that familiar face.

It was precisely this feeling that moved Dr Houston’s next steps in his quest for his identity. He wanted to find out who he was and why he was there.

A first, natural move was to look into his own pockets. Perhaps he might have been so lucky to find an ID card, a diary, a note, or at least a clue of his name. Nothing, nothing at all. All of his pockets were as empty as his mind.

It was with a strange sense of hope that he decided to go to the local hospital to find out more about who he was, or at least a little bit of human sympathy for his condition.

The receptionist of the hospital had been particularly kind to Dr Houston. She was perhaps used to people attending the hospital in altered states. Besides, Dr Houston appeared to be a composed and elegant man in his forties. There was nothing in his appearance that could make her judge him badly for what she could tell.

The diagnoses made by the doctor who check Charles Houston spoke clearly: global amnesia due to a stressful event. An hospital would have been of little use in a case like that. What was needed was somebody who could help the patient remembering who he was. Somebody like a parent or a police man.

The engine of the police car was still warm when the young deputy found a clue to help the poor Charles to find out more about his name. A label on Charles’ tie, told the young officer that the man in front of him was an esteemed medical practitioner from Exeter, New Hampshire. What was needed was now just a short car ride to get get Dr Houston to his familiar environment.

As Charles was approaching his hometown his mind, just like the sky after a storm, appeared to becoming clear again and his memories started to surface back again. First slowly, then all in a rush, just like overflowing river.

It did not take it long for Charles to remember it all. The storm, the frost, the hunger. The desire to go back, to get down from that icy, beautiful hell. The fight for life. The hate for his German leader in his first attempt to the peak. The bereavement of his friend Art Gilkey who fell down the mountain despite the friends’ attempt to bring him down after Charles diagnosed thrombophlebitic leg. The hope to make it the next time, when the new expedition would have finally been ready to reach Pakistan.

More than else Charles remembered the fierce sense of disappointment when he heard the names of those two Italian men who took away the trophy for which Charles risked his life just the year before.

Achille Compagnoni and Lino Lacedelli. These were the names who took away Dr Houston’s life dream: to be the first one to climb the K2.

Little was left to Dr Charles Houston in that summer day. “Been there, done that”, this was the thought that was reverberating in his mind as he was finally able to recall who he was. The man who almost made it to the K2.

This story has been inspired by the BBC documentary Mountain Men: The Ghosts of K2. I encourage you to watch it if you like stories of expeditions. I believe Dr Charles Houston and his fellows have been incredibly brave in trying their second attempt to conquer the K2. They just have been the unlucky subjects to a series of unfortunate events.

Also, I have met Mario Lacedelli, the grandson of one of the two men who conquered K2, in person. A strong mountain man indeed!

 

No next

empty2

I have recently contemplated a thought: what if there was no next?

This question might seem detached, distant, or fatalist if you want, but it is not. Or at least, not in the way I mean it.

My question is a genuine investigation of how we perceive things.

In almost everything we do we search for a next. While travelling we fantasise the next city, when learning a new skill we want to see improvement, when starting a new project we to picture its completion, or perhaps we already think at the next one.

There is nothing bad in all of that. This is just the normality of a dynamic life. But, just for a second, I would like to ask what would it feel like to have no next?

What would it feel like if we knew there was no other thing to wait for, to aspire to, or to desire in any possible way? Would we feel empty? Would we feel content? Would the whole world end as we discover that we are something different from what we have thought?

I don’t think so.

To imagine that there was no next might also lead to a lot of appreciation for what has been and what is right in front of us. In a sense it can be liberating.

Having nothing to achieve might mean to have nothing to be distracted by. There would be just ourselves, our breath and the things we really value.

In the last period I have practiced letting go of expectations. It is not easy to let expectations go, for a very simple reason. We are trained to have expectations and when we feel discomfort in not having something to cling to. Yet also this is momentary.

When one expectations go there is a chance of just staying with what is in front of us. When doing the dishes there’s just the washing of dishes. When working on a job there’s just the task in front of us. When writing there’s just the stream of words in our heads. When looking in somebody’s eyes there is just the looking in the eyes.

Where would it lead to having no next? A very simple life made of thousands of beautiful moments.

This is what remains when we let the next go.

Sugar rush

Sugar.jpg

After years of living in London I became convinced of a fundamental truth: there’s nothing better than a Saturday brunch!

The week left behind might have been long, stressful, with many inputs of information we did not necessarily asked for. What is better then than taking some time to chill with a loved one or with some friends, and enjoy the best that local restaurants have to offer?

Well, I have recently came to a new conviction. Saturday brunch tastes so much better if eaten mindfully.

Think about  it. The occasion is among the best ones to practice mindfulness. One is under very low stress, in a friendly environment environment and with the chance to experiment many different tastes, particularly if one embark him/herself in a massive mediterranean breakfast. The perfect settings for an experiment!

With so many tastes available, this is the perfect chance to see our urge to want more. A fried egg is good. A fried egg with salt is awesome, at least according to the mind. But in the rush to salt the egg we might lose the occasion of enjoying the egg taste for what it is. The same applies to mushrooms, tomatoes, halloumi and tortillas.

These are all amazing tastes, but we risk to loose their uniqueness if we don’t pay attention reacting to urges (the urge to salt is only one of them, but you got the point!).

The same urge applies to many other areas of our lives: the urge to watch videos, the urge be busy, and the urge to mindlessly check our phones. All sources of distraction in search for the next sugar rush.

So, what might be a better alternative?

Well, one thing might be to slowdown, breathe and see the urges coming and going. Yes, even in during our Saturday brunch.

If we really slow down, let thoughts go and focus on the breathing the results might be amazing. We might for example enjoy what is in front of us, without the need for the next sugar rush!

Happy Saturday everybody!

Photo: Refined and raw sugar crystals

Power And Syred/Science Photo Library

 

Paris, no words

paris

I deeply sorry for this city I love.

I wanted to write,  to write a lot.

I wanted to speak about people like me,

and about the cowards who took their lives.

 

I wanted to write about the discomfort

that one can feel now in a big city

upon hearing the minimum noise.

I wanted to speak about the West

and its ability

to generates its own enemies.

I wanted to write, to write a lot.

A river of words about all,

about people I knew, even if barely,

about people who are now gone.

 

I prefer to be quiet,

at least for this time,

and let the world cry its children.

 

In Photo “Peace for Paris” by Jean Julien

Writer = Liar (?)

writer

Writing is an exceptional art, but is it an artifice, a way of searching for truth or both?

I have a confession to make, I like to make stories sound better. It is something that my girlfriend reminds me all the time.

When something happens that is alright, but nor remarkable, I like to add some details or some pathos to it to give the story some more appeal. My intent is to make other laugh or phantasise. My girlfriend hates it and to some extent she’s probably right. But does this make me a liar?

I like to write stories. Writing stories is something great in that it allows us to create a world which is not there, which is deeper, or lighter, or darker, or shining at will.

Writing is also a way to do dig deeper into one’s own self. With writing we can create characters or events that allow us to see things differently and perhaps to see parts of ourselves that we don’t fully comprehend in an environment we can control.

In this sense writing might become a mirror which, by definition, should reflect things as they are. It should, because no mirror is perfect. Even the cleanest mirror has some micro imperfection that doesn’t allow it to reflect perfectly. At the same time that same imperfection is what makes the mirror unique.

My grandparents had and old mirror from the nineteenth century which was fantastic. Time had consumed it and only a part of it was left. The same part was also corroded and oxidized. This old mirror was not functional at all, but it was beautiful to look at. It had a character which made it unique. It was reflecting things its own way.

So, to go back to the point, are all writer liars? Yes, to some extent. Yet, even now I might be lying, so it is better if you jump to your own conclusions.

[Autumns Stories 1]: Mr Rioba’s Pub Crawl

ostaria-da-rioba

As everybody who visited Venice knows, this city is a marvellous place, where many magical things happened over the course of centuries. One of those mysterious happenings is testified by the statue of a merchant called Sior Rioba [Mr Rioba in Venetian dialect], located next to Ponte dei Mori [Bridge of the Saracens] in the borough of Cannargio in North of the old town.

The statue, a piece of white stone, one and sixty five centimetres tall, represents a local merchant who, it is told, was turned into stone by an old lady after the merchant refused to grant her a loan. The statue has always been much loved by local inhabitants. So much so that the locals decided to make him an iron nose when the original one got lost. A similar sign of love and appreciation occurred recently, when the local population gave a party to celebrate the finding of the head of the statue after it missed for three long nights.

At the time of the finding many people spoke about vandalism or robbery. Few people really know what happened on the night of the disappearance. What I am going to tell here is the whole story of Sior Rioba became a statue and of what really happened on the night when his head disappeared.

“Since young age Sior Rioba had always shown a developed business acumen. Being the oldest of three orphan brothers, Rioba had soon to put his talent into practice to ensure a livelihood. While being initially among the poorest of the families of his borough, Rioba immediately experienced a fair amount of success in his business. Following an occasion given by a batch that got lost from an Arab boat and that Rioba found, he managed to establish his first spicy business.

With the help of his two brothers his business grew and grew. It grew so much that Rioba became one of the wealthiest men of the area. He became so wealthy that he managed to start a local bank, giving credit to all the other businesses nearby.

While his initial drive for his business had been necessity, Rioba quickly recognised that what was truly leading him was the fun felt by growing his activity and by making more and more money. Despite this deep passion of him, Sior Rioba was not an evil fellow, he was in fact quite liked by his neighbours. Let’s just say that, sometimes, he had a flexible view of what was to be considered financially appropriate and what not. This was particularly true for the conditions under which he would give loans to his customers which, in his view, were only the ones who could afford his rates.

It is not well known that Venice had always been a city of magic and mystery. Despite being a touristic hub nowadays, the city has been home of many magicians, scholars of occult and especially alchemists. It is precisely an alchemist, Siora Isabella [Miss Isabella] who defined the fate of Sior Rioba.

An alchemist’s life was indeed an hard one at that time. In those days, in fact, Alchemists didn’t yet found the Sorcerer’s Stone, the magical stone able to transform metals into gold. For this reason they always struggled to find the money to pay for their expensive experiments. Siora Isabella did not reduce her struggle, after that Rioba refused her a loan.

“Te podesi sentir el peso de i to schei e che el naso te se aruginisca!” [May you feel the weight of your own money and may your nose rust!]. Those were the words that Siora Isabella used to respond to Rioba’s rejection.

Rioba did not understand the meaning of those words from the very beginning. He completely ingored that Isabella was an alchemist, had he knew he would perhaps reduced the interest rate! It was only when night came that he felt a strange noise coming from his bank. He ran out in the street and he found Isabella under a heavy column falling above her. Rioba, a stingy man when it came to money but kind when it came to help, did not think about it twice. He run towards Isabella, he rolled away the column and lifted up the heavy stone above his shoulders to give Isabella a chance to escape the inevitable fall of the house.

Isabella could not believe it, the same man who refused her the money in the morning just saved her life in the evening! Despite the surprise Isabella knew it was too late to recall the spell she casted on Rioba as he was turning into stone. Poor Rioba, who was now turning white and cold, heard from her these last words: “Che i te daga da ber almanco!” [May somebody give you a drink, at least!].

Centuries had past from that day. In those many years the statue of Rioba always brought a sense of happiness and community among the locals, perhaps as a sign of his selfless act of courage. But it took quite a while for the second spell of Siora Isabella to be finally fulfilled (again, alchemists at that time did have much of a clue on how to perform their art).

On the night of Tuesday 30th of April 2013, the night of Saint Pio V, a notorious inflexible and morally rigid Catholic saint, Sior Rioba finally started to be thirsty.

“Cio’ che se’!” [Gosh, how thirsty!] those were Rioba’s first words once he found himself awake. Rioba remembered that the weight of the whole house was relying on him, hence he had no choice but to wait for somebody to pass by to take him for a drink to the local pub. It was only at about 3 am that Marea [Tide in Venetian], a local whacky fellow, passed in front of the statue.

You could imagine the surprise on Marea’s face when he saw the statue talking to him. “Cio’, ma ti parli?” [Gosh, how come you speak?] said Marea. “Cio’! E go anca se!” [Of course! And I am very thirsty!] said Sior Rioba. [TN the word cio’ is often used in the Venetian language to indicate both stupor and assertion].

Marea always loved the sense of peace brought by Sior Rioba and he could not leave him there thirsty. Yet it was clear even to a whacky fellow that he could not take away all of his body, otherwise the whole house would have fallen. It it for this reason that Marea brought only the head of head of Sior Rioba with himself.

The only drawback of those who are a little bit crazy is that they get distracted too easily and, sometimes, they tend to forget what they carry. In this case taking the head of poor Rioba to the local pub.

As the statue was much loved by villagers the whole town was in turmoil once the morning after it saw that the head of Sior Rioba disappeared. Even the mayor, who soon after the events resigned due to a financial scandal, intervened to find the head of the beloved statue.

Despite the efforts, nobody could find the head of old statue. It took three days to poor Rioba to get out of the Hostaria and to roll towards his standing stone body before being found in Calle della Racheta [Racheta street] few days later.

Upon the finding, the villagers restored the stone head and gave a huge party in Rioba’s honour who, after this terrible event, decided not to drink no more.”

This story is reported here exactly as I’ve heard it. You might decide whether you believe it or not. I do, because I know that Venice is a magic place were anything can be real. And remember, if you will get turned into stone, decide well who to go for a drink with!

<a href=”http://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/LocationPhotoDirectLink-g187870-d1537846-i60080084-Ostaria_Da_Rioba-Venice_Veneto.html#60080084″><img alt=”” src=”http://media-cdn.tripadvisor.com/media/photo-s/03/94/bf/d4/ostaria-da-rioba.jpg”/></a><br/> The photo of Ostaria Da Rioba is courtesy of TripAdvisor

You never can tell

Created with Nokia Smart Cam

Life’s most urgent and persistent question is, what are you doing for others? Martin Luther King

There is something I have realised recently by speaking with people in my life as I was getting closer to them: You never can tell.

You never can tell what people went through in their lives. You never can tell what formed them as individuals and at what price.

There might be somebody who looks extremely strong, or confident and secure. What you can’t see, though, is what it took to that person to be who they are today.

Other times you can see somebody that appears open, loving and caring. What you can’t see in that case is the fragility they might hold inside and that might lead to act unexpectedly.

There is a girl I know from a job place I was in some time ago, let’s call her Erika, that always appeared to me as being strong, committed and irradiating a sense of authority. I was extremely surprised when I gathered that she conquered that sense of authority through the difficulties of losing some loved ones in the range of few months.

Another friend of mine, let’s call him Tim, is a big and strong guy. If you look at him he’s the emblem of strength. Muscled, secure, fun. The perfect gym buddy. Well, that same guy has fall down a mountain not so long ago. No kidding. Not even in a metaphorical sense. He actually feel down a mountain. For some five hundred meters I believe. Well that person is still on his feet, going to the gym and keeping a positive attitude about life.

Another friend, Andrea might be her name, is currently going through a break-up with a guy that didn’t deserve her. She’s feeling so bad right now, yet going through is what is right for her at the moment. I still don’t know what person she will become once she’ll find the strength to grow from the ashes.

You never can tell what people went through. For this reason we need to treat everybody with compassion. For the same reason we have to commit to never give up on others.

If you somebody going through a hard moment, never give up on them. You never can tell what lovely person they will become.