Thursday, January 15, 2009

Once upon a time in Slovakia

(To Lea Lipková, forever my princess)

Once upon a time, so many centuries ago, there was a castle near the Low Tatras in Slovakia where a beautiful princess lived with her father. She was bright and beautiful, and every day, at dusk, she came to the window of her room to comb her beautiful long red hair, and she sang… One of those days, when the sun was almost setting behind the mountains, spreading the last orange rays over the earth, she came to the window as usual, singing, and she started combing her magnificent red hair. As she was looking to the horizon, far away, she saw a little black dot in the sky over the snowy mountains. She kept staring at that strange black dot and she realized it was growing slowly, and then faster, and faster, until it wasn’t a black dot no more. It looked like some sort of bird, and she smiled. But suddenly she realized it wasn’t a bird! Oh, no! It was growing too much to be a bird, and she felt a chill down her spine. When she realized what it really was she ran away inside her room to hide behind her closet. But, at the same time, she was terribly curious. She could hear the flapping of his wings outside, around her tower, and also the screaming of the villagers. Yes, it was a dragon! A big, black, scary and lonely dragon was outside, surrounding her castle and being hit by her father archers. She had heard about them, but never actually seen one. For some minutes she could hear all the noise and screaming outside, but eventually he went away, leaving the place silent as it was before.

Next day, as usual, she went to comb her hair again at the window at dusk, and again she saw the little black dot on the horizon, over the mountains. Again she fled inside, but this time her curiosity made her take a peek. And that was when she saw the dragon’s beautiful brown eyes, tender, gentle, sweet, looking at her as he tried to escape the arrows! She even smiled a little, but then she ran away inside, until again she could hear no murmurs anymore. He was gone once more! And the next day again it happened, and the day after, and the other one. And the princess grew attached to that dragon, she sat at the window combing her hair and smiling at him while he escaped the arrows and rocks… He was gentle to her, and she could tell he loved her deeply! Until one day her father called her to say he decided to marry her with some count of the region who claimed he would kill the dragon as a sign of appreciation and as a wedding gift for her father and the villagers. She was in panic! That could not happen! She didn’t want to marry no count, and especially she didn’t want the dragon killed. She realized she loved him too for all his constant visits at dusk when she was so alone… What could she do? What?

The days went on and the dragon kept coming, and she told him about his fathers’ intentions. He was very sad. She was going to marry? But she told him she didn’t want to, and also that she was falling in love with him… He smiled, full of passion, and gave a strong roar that chilled the entire valley and went straight up into the mountains. But then the day of the wedding came, and the count arrived at the castle with all his court and a huge machine to kill the dragon. The girl was in panic, and she kept crying the all day. The dragon didn’t show up, and she didn’t knew what to do no more. She didn’t wanted marry, but all the ceremony was ready and set for that evening. The count was outside by his machine, waiting, looking at the horizon. She didn’t knew if she wanted the dragon to come and take her from there, or if he should stay away not to be killed. She was anxious! But as always, at dusk, the dragon came from the mountains. First a small black dot, and then growing over the land and the ones who were waiting to kill him, he came. And he came in full power spreading flames everywhere he could see a threat. And before the count could set his machine on him he took the princess from her window for good, and no-one from that region has ever see them both again. Some travelers, years later, reported that they were still living together up in the High Tatras mountains and that they even had descendants already. And so the story went on…

Nowadays in Slovakia, in the very same village, there is still a girl who combs her red hair looking at the mountains at dusk. She doesn’t expect a dragon no more, that time is well gone now. She expects everyday an airplane. First a little dot on the horizon over the snowy mountains, and then its wings glowing from the last rays of light. Each day she expects the plane that can bring her love to her forever. Maybe, just maybe, she is a princess too. And, although not likely, maybe one day her dragon will come.

(Photography: Banska Bystricá, Slovakia, December 26th, 2008 / Text: Coimbra, Portugal, January 15th, 2009)

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Wednesday, January 14, 2009

What happened to Edna?

It was just another cold day with temperatures reaching 17º below zero. But it was just like so many other freezing days in there. It was sunny, though, with a completely clear blue sky. It was one of those days when people had to wear sunglasses to protect their eyes from the brightness of sunrays reflecting in the snow. The sun was especially painful that day. For some instants, several of the friends and old acquaintances reunited there - some after being away from each other for many years - took off the sunglasses to wipe away some tears. But immediately they'd put them on again, for protection, against the sun and exposure to too much emotion. I had put mine back too, although tears kept coming.

All the brightness of that day was in total disagreement with that event, or with what each of us felt about it. A little farther, away from the group but at eyes reach, near a small garden, some of our children played with the snow, totally indifferent to our black procession, totally unaware of what it meant to each one of us. My kids had stayed home with a cousin. Only my wife and me had come, because I didn’t want them to notice Edna’s picture on the cemetery gates. Edna had left us here: it was just like that. She decided to abandon us to our own fortunes after so many years, although all of us loved her so, in so many ways, for so many years. So there we were finally, at the end of one more road, paying our last respects. She had let go of the rope and our boats begun sailing away by themselves.

Just two weeks ago I had been at her place with my family, for one of those Sunday lunches that last throughout the whole day and into the night. We talked for hours about research projects and the necessary funds that should be raised, about our next holidays, about our day-to-day lives and worries. My kids were growing fast and she loved teasing and provoking them, and they loved her like a grandmother for all the cinnamon biscuits she made and all the love and respect she devoted them ever since they were born. As usual, we ended up remembering old days of when she was my teacher, and of how sometimes I got into her nerves. Of course by then I was the centre of all the jokes, and had to put up with mockery coming even from my own kids. I remember she having even said she was thinking about taking a trip to Namibia next summer, to visit an old friend of hers who had went to live there many years ago. It was a simple, normal Sunday, and everything was just OK. Life was where it was supposed to be and nothing could predict what would come later.

It was winter, just a winter like so many others in our lives. I would get up in the morning for a shower every day, followed by my wife, who would prepare some coffee, and then as my wife showered I would wake the children up and give them breakfast and prepare them for school. The kids were growing fast and healthy, full of energy, and my marriage was a very good one. We would get out everyday for work, me for the publishing house and my wife for the elementary school where she was a teacher, and we lived our lives like that, happily, peacefully. Everything was all right, or maybe not. Maybe it was just our way of not caring too much with the conditions of our lives, not caring about little details. We all know that sometimes too many questions can be suffocating and exhausting. Too many considerations can be a burden, and in a way maybe our lives are lived for the most part with the autopilot on, human intervention being required only in specific emergency occasions. The thing is we don’t have any device to warn us with a siren when something begins to go wrong with our lives, or with the lives of our loved ones, of our friends, colleagues, or simply strangers passing us by on the street. And sometimes when we realise there is a problem it's already too late to change the course of events. In other occasions, when we suspect something might not be the way it should be, people tend to dissimulate, they tend to hide feelings and emotions and just say everything is just fine when in fact it is not. We feel, we think things over, we imagine and dream about the future, we have conscience of our actions and surroundings, and therefore it is inevitable to be affected by this world, by specific circumstances of our daily lives and existences. To be alive is to be permeable to outer and inner conditions. We interact constantly with so many factors that it eventually causes us to suffer. And we also suffer sometimes for not having someone who could listen to what we have to say, someone who could understand, although we try less and less to communicate with others. We just have to be strong and deal with our own idiosyncrasies and problems by ourselves, trying not to bother others around us so much with our petty existences. I can also see myself in this wide picture. I’m so far from perfection… Maybe things I should have told others I left to be said and kept them to myself. And what good did it made me? None whatsoever. But I think we’re all like that, although this is far from being an excuse. What I mean is that it’s not just me, and I can’t be responsible for all bad things in this world. But that doesn't make this feeling go away...

The thing is that Edna is gone now, and nobody really knows or understands why. What happened to Edna? In all the faces attending the funeral I recognize old friends, old colleagues from school, old teachers… I see their families in there too. I look at my wife, I think of my kids, and in a very devious way I feel kind of happy to be here in this world, to be allowed to remain for some more time. Having said that, let me just say that all of us cried today, even in the absence of tears. No one knows why she gave up. No one saw any sign. But in all of us I realize now how much love we can expect from life: nothing bigger than the love Edna had for us all.

(Photography: Hronsek, Slovakia, December 30th, 2008 / Text: Coimbra, Portugal, January 14th, 2009)

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A clown

(To Lea Lipková, forever my princess)

Now as I walk my feet don't touch the ground no more! I'm a clown. By now everybody knows that I love you...

(Photography: Banska Stiavnica, Slovakia, December 28th, 2008 / Text: Coimbra, Portugal, January 14th, 2008)

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Saturday, January 10, 2009

Where the heart is

(To Lea Lipkova, forever my Princess)

If you think we’re far apart, and that everything is much too impossible for our unprepared hands and eyes, look closer, my love... If, at night, you dream of the time I used to be there lying by your side, and you resting your face on my chest, and our hands travelling through each others’ bodies, just to awake suddenly in the dark, lonely, cold, look closer... If you remember all those kisses and conversations, of holding hands in the snow and all those emotions, just look closer, hold on... Try to think of all the distance separating us as a measure of what we feel, because what we feel for each other is so real that we will not be this distant forever. It couldn’t be easy for us... Look closer! I’m in you. It’s like with real snow, I just know I will feel it over me one day...

(Photography: Banska Bystricá, Slovakia, December 26th, 2008 / Text: Coimbra, Portugal, January 10th, 2008)

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