Sunday, February 06, 2011

Lessons learned from the IFFR at 80km/h winds

IFFR stands for International Film Festival Rotterdam. This is the Dutch version of the Madison's Wisconsin Film Festival. Movies from all around the world are shown for a week in various cinemas and it's a buzz event in Rotterdam. This year, for the first time, they had additional showings in Groningen too. On Saturday I went to see a couple of movies in Rotterdam with a CouchSurfer friend of mine.

The first movie we saw was The Eighth - it was advertised as a 'Bulgarian Western'. Having lived in Bulgaria for my first 26 year, I would not call it an 'western'. It was the typical 'partisan' movie from my teen years - the 'good' guys(the communist partisans), the 'bad' guys (the fascists), one minute long love story, and a lot of shooting followed by the good guy's victory. Seeing this movie in my late thirties, after living in US, UK and now the Netherlands, made me sad - we grew up so brain-washed, with a sickening sense for guilt and drama. Who needed it? Who was it good for? Why did we believe it? Questions I don't plan to answer here... but now I know better why I am the way I am...self-criticism and drama were big in the time of totaliarinism...and they still linger in my life! Well, time to change!!!

The second movie - Le trésor des îles chiennes. A Frech production. Well...we left mid-way through the showing. Enough said! One black and white movie was enough for the day! And not another depressing pointless plot - hunger for money, people manipulation...Eeeuw! With monotonic music boring into your brain to the point you want to scream! WTF! Who would enjoy that???

Lesson 1 learned - pick carefully the movies you are about to see (AND PAY FOR!!!)

The rest of the day was luckily a lovely time! My Rotterdam host gave me a very nice walking tour, and intro into Rotterdam's story and history, incorporating my favorite Erasmusen bridge, a few interesting monuments, a great Italian restaurant and a cozy bar when we chatted for a long time.
Thanks Erwin!
The 80km/h gales of wind did not stop us, they were strong, but warm and gentle too. I actually liked them being playful, messing my hair, blowing up my (rather short) dress, and blowing far and away the disturbing thoughts the movies brought up.

Lesson 2 learned - pick carefully your company!

Finally, to tell you the truth, I had already seen a couple of IFFR movies - Never let me go, Black swan, Another year...and they were much better choices...and free!

Lesson 3 learned - stick to what you know, stick to what you like, stick to who you are!

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

My 2010 (a late Christmas missive)

If 2009 was all about travel - any length, any destination, any means of transportation, any fashion, just so to escape the 'killing me softy' English reality, 2010 was all about being THE SOCIAL BUTTERFLY. Being present, out and about, enjoying the reality I ended up in, a grand social feast for my body and soul, an abundance of new people, new friendships, new challenges, new job, new country…everything new and enticing! Every time I move, I get that kick of extra liveliness, extra curiosity, extra sturdiness, extra optimism…and this time all went well (for the most part!)

I started 2010 with a resignation letter. Three months of relocation buzz went by quickly. Between the many phone calls and wrapping up projects, in February I went to Tokyo for the Winds International Workshop - the return to Japan was such a delight. Meeting the good old faces of the winds community - awesome! Great food, great fun, unforgettable karaoke night!!! Asia always touches me in a very special way!

The last two weeks of March were an ongoing going away party - the nice speech from my boss, the attention and the presents from my colleagues, it was sweet to discover that despite my barely-there social live in UK, I had somehow managed to make a number of friends over only 18 months.

On the 26th of March, after a very special good bye dinner with my friends Maria and Tomas I hit the road , direction East, having slept very little, but energy-filled by the sense of freedom, and the enthusiasm, the happiness that I am moving to Holland, a country that had fascinated me all the way back since my time in college.
A couple of days on the road with my Toyota Aygo, crossing three borders and I get the message 'Welcome to the frog-land!' - a welcome sms from a Dutch friend :-)
Sunny lovely morning, 28th of March - I am at the door of my new home, Jan Van Der Heijdenstraat 27, Utrecht.
Let the new life begin! And it does! Full throttle!!!

With most of the moving boxes still unpacked, I am having my first visitors from US - Leslie and Judy. Two days later my Russian friend Nadia joins. We explore A'dam, Den Haag, the Hoog-Velweve and Antwerp. We also stroll and admire Utrecht for a day and celebrated Leslie's BDay. Despite the bit chilly weather, we are having a blast.

On the second w/end I went to my first MeetUp event - 'Gazing at the stars'. Stars we did not see, but I met my new friends there - Mette, Markus, Vero and Paul - the fantastic four! And some more friends…But what's most important … I met Bart. He was the tipping point of 2010! The following two and a half months were roses and honey. Party after party, going out on town, driving to the beaches, lazy afternoons in the park, exploring the country, enjoyng the city, learning to live the Dutch way, cooking, leisurely weekend brunches…yes, we dated for a while and it was a blissful time! But then we ended it, because it felt like it.

All along I did not drop off the face of the Earth for my other friends though - it was lovely to get visits from Roel, Francis, Kirsten, Liz, Stuart and Frances, Simeon, Maria and Tomas, my uncle George and Nasia, Nico, Matt… did I miss anyone? I experienced my first Queen's Day, which was a madness, but fun! I also did not stop traveling, but shorter distances - Rotterdam, Den Bosch, Amsterdam, Gouda, Cologne. In Cologne we had a tiny family reunion - my uncle and his girlfriend, my three German cousins and me - always so heartwarming!

The second half of the years came with a twist…
In the middle of a hot July night someone climbed my window attempting breaking into it…I woke up and screamed, he ran. Nevertheless, it was quite an experience - one that I was not prepared for. And it's interesting how fear kills logic, because the first person I called in that moment was my best friend Leslie … who lives in Washington, DC!!! Then my friend Bart came over, helped me deal with the police, etc., kept me company for a couple of evenings…and that's when I met Erik - Bart's best friend. It was an incredible night, perhaps the best night ever, although parts of it are still blurred in my memory. But as Shakespeare says, All's Well That Ends Well…and I believe we made the best of it…

On the next day my sister, who lives in Spain, came for a visit - and this was big! It was the first time an immediate family member is visiting me ever since I left Bulgaria back in 1999. We had a blast - old time memories were brought to life, we laughed out loud, we biked in the countryside, we let the rain get us all soaked like being little girls again…we shared stories…it was amazing! With her in town, we watched the final World Cup game in one of Utrecht's pubs. Spain won. We almost got into a fight about it…how funny!

The rest of the summer remained very social and busy. I flew to the States for a reunion with my closest friends, in a summer house, up in Minnesota…happy happy times! Another couple of days in Madison and Chicago with more friends made me feel so lucky, so blessed! Leslie and Eric, Pat, Nadia, Paul, Judy, Yeti, Rosi and Erik, Rumi and Itso, Paul and Nancy, Kate and Stephen, Steve, Chris…if words could only tell how much you mean to me! Right after the States I flew to Bulgaria to visit my parents and friends from college. It was great! Upon returning I found out my bike was stolen, but that's Holland, so that's the usual.

Back in Utrecht I had two weeks of visitors, from all over - US, Germany, Bulgaria…back to back. It was a bit hard to balance work and free time, but I managed. And in the middle of this social extravaganza, on September 1st… I turned 38.
It was by far, the most special, most intimate, most real Birthday I have ever had!!! Because I was in love, and my loved one was there with me!!! Thanks, E.! I was so happy! And my best friends were there too!

Later in September I went to Cordoba, Spain for a conference. Nice location, good presentations, fruitful networking, seeing some old colleagues and friends, 30 deg C warmth…Nice!!!
Visiting the Cordoba Cathedral was a magical experience…a place that gave me so much peace, a place where I felt so much love, where positive energy was all around… I promised to go back one day, with the man who made me feel alive this year - Erik. I also spent a very special day in Malaga with my friend Maria, I wish we had more time together.

In October I hit a bump in the road - I broke a foot. Had to spent a month at home and in bed. For an energetic person like me this was the worst of times. If it wasn't for my friends to come by and help, and keep my spirit up, every day, I would have gone nuts! Luckily it didn't happen and by mid-November I was back on track. I was having guests - Tom and Ivan, Robin, Sue, meeting with my friends - Roel and the others, making new friends - Cristiana, David, Steph, going out for a drink, taking the train to Groningen.

Even with the cast on I threw two big parties - a wine tasting and a beer tasting! In between catching up with work and my social life…Christmas season was here.

In December I ventured on a trip to London, for some Christmas shopping and to see my friends. Snow tried to rain on my parade, but I won! I'll spare you the canceled flights, delays trains and the frustration stories. Because despite of it all, I had a perfect time! It was actually many times better because of all the chaos!

My initial idea of a having a quiet Christmas spent in solitude failed. Surprised? Off I went to a few parties with new people, new experiences and new fun! But when it was time to put a proper end to a very very bubbly year, and to welcome the new 2011… I followed my heart and spent the last days of 2010 with the ones that matter the most - the man I love and the friends who were always there for me… Our plan was to have a cozy and quiet New Year's Eve dinner, with bubbles and nice conversations. But… once the fireworks started… it was a party time all over again :-) The Dutch folks love their firework!!!

To wrap it up…it was a wonderful year!!! A year to remember…with sweet times and with challenges, with real friends, with real love, with passion beyond control, with music, with discovering new worlds, trying new things, counting stars on two continents, dancing many nights away, waking up in the arms of your loved one…being yourself!

Having all these happy memories, I am facing the new 2011 and wonder…could it get any better? Of course it could :)
Happy New 2011 Year!!!

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Beauty and inner tranquility

I had quite a month - a flamboyant January!
Normally to me, a month is a mere representation of the time encompassed by 30 days.
But this January had a life on its own! A wild animal which I failed to tame...
Absolutely cracking New Year festivities with dear friends were followed by some so intimate and heart warming conversations with my loved one, bonding culminating with the Solar eclipse on 4th of January. I was on the top of the world!

Then I found my apartment broken into and all of my high-tech gear gone. It took a few days to shake off the terror from the invasion of my privacy. Insurance is still handling my claim.
Another stressful week followed - should I stay or should I go...NL or UK...I exhausted my brain from weighting the pros and the cons. And I stayed.

The yoga marathon I wrote about a couple of blogs ago was a lifesaver. I switched to 'an anti-social mode', to save some energy, but I was already running on 'reserve battery power'. Nevertheless, true to the 'seize the moment' attitude, I enjoyed a couple of small social events when presented with the opportunity.

Next on the list - annual performance review at work. I passed, I even got a tiny pay raise.

And every evening, checking my email one last time before I go to bed, iCal will remind me that one more day has gone...for good. And all I could say I had done was to admit that I was falling inevitably behind - with everything. At the end, I got sick. Been with a cold for more than a week now...what a way to learn that sometimes one just has to stop and rest - rest my body, my thoughts, my emotions...

After a few days of sleep, my brain finally showed signs of life...I needed beauty!

Beautiful conversations with friends, beautiful thoughts about the future, even the beauty of all brings me inner tranquility. Thank you B., W. and E. for being part of today!

I can not express the beauty of a conversation or someone's presence. So, instead I will share with you the beauty of three buildings to illustrate the inner tranquility I found today.

Santiago Calatrava is one of my favorite architects.
I have seen three of his works:
- Sondica Airport, Bilbao, Spain (photo by José Miguel Hernández)

- Twisted Torso Tower, Malmo, Sweden

- Milwaukee Art Museum, Milwaukee, WI, USA

I think they are incredibly beautiful...and I can't wait for the Chicago Spire to join the skyline of the Windy City - my most favorite city, ever!

Does beauty bring you tranquility? :)