A Room with a View (Guest Post)

January 20, 2012

The following is a guest post from Martin of the S&M Motel.  Thank-you Martin!  This is Martin’s second guest post on DreamBigLiveBoldly.com.  If you’d like to be a guest contributor, please contact me.

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There’s a niche in the corner of King Charles’ palace in Alhambra, Spain, where you can look across an 800 year old building void, through some Moorish lattice work, into another world.

Alhambra, (Arabic meaning ‘The Red’) sits on a hilltop overlooking modern Granada in south-eastern Spain. This famous city fortress palace has a thought provoking history.

In 312 AD Emperor Constantine legalised Christianity throughout the Roman Empire (i.e. most of present day Europe). By 390 AD Christianity was the only religion permitted in the empire. However, the 1000 year old empire could no longer sustain itself against external attack and internal decay.  In 476 the last Roman emperor sold his title and moved to his retirement home in what is now Split in Croatia.

The collapse of the Roman Empire left much of Western Europe without education, civil construction projects, employment, economic activity, law enforcement and, crucially, defence against attack.

One hundred years later, the tide of Islam that had been sweeping through northern Africa crossed the straits of Gibraltar into a vulnerable Spain. The invaders were ‘Moors’, relatively recently converted Muslim tribes from north Africa . They quickly occupied virtually all of Spain and stayed in charge for 700 years.

Alhambra architecture reflected in rectangular pool

In about 1250 the Moors began to build the fabulous fortified palace, Alhambra. For 200 years the palace grew in splendour; every inch of the staterooms, private apartments and bathing complexes was decorated with intricate carving, ceramics or gold leaf. Water features were installed everywhere. The latest technology was utilized to provide stunning pools, decorative fountains and cascades woven into stairs and walkways.

Mosaic of coloured tiles separated by white bands with small starsAn important aspect of Islamic art is its abstract nature. Muslims avoid images of people in order to avoid creating ‘graven images’ which are forbidden by their religion. As a result, abstract patterns using bold colours and shapes decorate the walls, ceilings and floors of Alhambra. These striking and original ceramics have inspired artists down through the centuries.

The period of Muslim rule in Spain is known for tolerance and cooperation between the three religions (Islam, Judaism and Christianity). However, outside of Spain, the Christian world was not terribly happy with this state of affairs, and began to re-take Spain for their own faith.  Alhambra fell to Christian forces in 1492, ending Islamic rule over Spain.

The Catholics were now in charge at Alhambra.  The first thing the Catholic King (Charles the 5th) did was to build himself a palace within the existing complex.

Did Charles have his palace sympathetically placed among the Moorish architecture? Was he magnanimous in victory? Did he want to leave the previous palace complete for future generations to admire and learn from? Not really. He built his new palace right across the old one cutting off an entire wing, leaving just the façade of the south wing standing beside the central pool of the old Moorish palace.

In 1922 the artist M C Esher visited Alhambra and, like others before him, was inspired by the Moorish abstract ceramics. Escher’s art explores the space between objects. Characteristically he would fill a space between repeated images to form another series of repeated images, challenging the viewer with a choice of which series of objects to focus on.

Escher abstract with grey, white, and black repeated images

A sample of Escher's work

The viewer has to decide what to look at, the primary objects or the space in between which holds a significance of its own.

Today there is an exhibition of Esher’s work installed in King Charles’ palace. In the corner of the exhibition is a niche for those inquisitive enough to duck through its darkened entrance. In the far end of the niche is a window with a view into the building void between King Charles’ palace and the rear of the surviving south façade of the old palace. Through the lattice work in the façade can be seen the sunlit grandeur of the surviving Moorish architecture.

Looking across the void prompts thoughts of the time and space between the Christian and Muslim worlds, between medieval and modern Europe — thoughts of history, power and politics. It’s an interesting place to sit.  I’d recommend it.

Happy New Year!

S&M

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My Dreams List

January 17, 2012

"I have a dream" printed on sign on a bulletin board
I have a Dreams List. It is what has become known in recent years as a ‘bucket list’, a list of things to experience before I ‘kick the bucket’. Over the years, my list has become an important tool to help me achieve my dreams. More information about why I choose to Dream Big and Live Boldly is available in earlier posts.

My Dreams List is an evolving thing. I review it several times a year. I incorporate it into my annual planning, selecting some dreams to pursue each year. I add new dreams to the list from time to time. I change priorities. To guard against ever giving up on a dream, I never remove anything from the list. Lower priority items remain there to remind me of what I once thought was important. As a result, I will probably never fulfill all of the dreams on the list, which is fine with me.

I started my Dreams List in 1991. I was 25 years old, recently graduated from university and working at my first professional job. My first list was hand-written, done as an exercise at a personal finance seminar that I attended. When I started my list, it seemed like a purely mental exercise, a bit of fun that would put aside and soon forgotten like the notes from virtually every other seminar I’ve ever intended. I was not particularly invested in it. The downside risk of writing down my dreams and never achieving them seemed more likely and more intimidating than the chances of ever fulfilling them. But I wrote them down nonetheless. In the following years, my awareness of my dreams ebbed and flowed. I was focused on my career. I got married. We bought our first house. Interestingly, none of these things was specifically on my Dreams List, but they were important to me (results speak) and essential to achieving my other dreams.

It was 9 years before my first dream came true. Two years later, I completed 5 more. Encouraged by my positive results, I began to focus more on my dreams. I reviewed them more frequently. I began to target specific dreams to pursue. With greater awareness came even greater results. I have already fulfilled more of my dreams than I ever would have imagined when I began.

Over the years, my Dreams List has grown and changed dramatically. It currently has 162 items on it. Of these, 56 have been completed. I plan to fulfill 14 more dreams in 2012, although the actual number will probably be less (I tend to bite off more than I can chew). There is something very satisfying about returning to my list to check off a dream that I added 20 years earlier, but the list is just a tool, a means to my goal of living a greater life.

I believe that having dreams and remaining conscious of them will increase the likelihood that they will occur. Writing down my dreams helps me with both of these. It also helps me to believe that I’m capable of fulfilling my dreams. I choose to believe that I can do virtually anything that I set my mind to.

I do not believe in magic nor pseudoscience and am therefore skeptical of the notion that intention alone can manifest certain things in my life. I have difficulty buying into Law of Attraction ideas such as those postulated in the books The Secret (Ronda Byrne), Think and Grow Rich (Napolean Hill), and The Power of Positive Thinking (Normal Vincent Peale), although I have read all three. But it is my actual experience that if I get clear and remain conscious of the things that I want, they are more likely to happen. Although the mechanism is unclear, it makes sense to me that this should be the case.

The first step is daring to dream in the first place (Dream Big). The second is to remain focused on my vision and to deal with whatever comes up (Live Boldly).

“A #2 pencil and a dream can take you anywhere.” — Joyce A. Myers

The word "Dream" written in the sand with water


El Gato Con Botas

January 14, 2012

We arrived in Madrid in mid-afternoon and booked into the only open campsite near the city. Although it was later in the day, it was only a short walk and metro ride to the center of the city. We arrived at the Plaza del Callao station after dark and ascended into a crowd. There were lots of people and bright lights. As our eyes adjusted, we saw a crowd barrier cordoning off a movie theatre that opened on to the square. Curious, we responded to that intrinsic human instinct to see what all the fuss is about, and made our way forward through the crowd. We were able to get within a few feet of the barrier with only a couple of people in front of us. Only then did we piece together what was happening.

Large screen above Cines Callao showing advertising for Madrid Premiere WeekWe had arrived in the midst of a movie premiere, part of the Madrid Premiere week. The crowd was gathering in anticipation of the stars walking the red carpet, which was right in front of us, just on the other side of the barrier. Television crews were forming up on the other side of the carpet.

Male & female flamenco dancers poised to begin a number on the red carpet

Flamenco dancers warming up the crowd

To keep the crowd entertained and the energy up, a large screen high on the front of the theatre showed clips from the movie. Music played on loudspeakers. Costumed characters from the movie walked the red carpet. Two flamenco dancers performed periodically. It was lively, but we really had no idea what to expect. As we waited we were able to sidle closer, within arm’s reach of the barrier, but still not at the front.

The film was in Spanish so we figured the actors were probably not ones that we knew. Beautiful and interesting people in fine clothes started to arrive to the great interest of the media and excitement of the crowd, which began jostling about and pushing forward for a closer look. I didn’t feel comfortable mounting the person ahead of me, so I tightened my core and held my ground, holding back the people behind me. After a while, my calves began to burn as they resisted the leverage caused by the steady pressure from behind. By the time the main stars arrived, I was almost cramping. Who knew that star gazing would be such a workout!

It turns out we were wrong about not knowing the actors. Walking down the aisle, flirting with the flamenco dancer, came Antonio Banderas. He was taking his time, talking to the crowd and signing autographs.

Antonio Banderas with flamenco dancer on red carpet

Antonio Banderas flirting with flamenco dancer

Despite his short hair, which isn’t his best look, Diane was ecstatic.

Close up of Diane in crowd looking at Antonio

Diane did NOT approve this less than flattering picture!


She was close enough to touch him. A woman passed her camera forward to Diane, asking her to take a picture of Antonio..

Antonio Banderas on red carpet

Following closely behind Antonio was another star that I almost overlooked in the excitement. Salma Hayek waltzed down the carpet gracefully. Though not as flamboyant and crowd pleasing as Antonio, she looked beautiful.

Salma Hayek walking the red carpet with her handlers

Salma was harder to get a good picture of because she is vertically challenged!]

Head shot of Salma Hayek bing interviewed by young reporter

If you haven’t guessed it by now, the movie being premiered was El Gato con Botas 3D. This literally translates from Spanish as ‘The Cat with Boots’, but is known in English as Puss in Boots.

El Gato Con Boas advertisement showing on screen above the theatre

This unexpected little adventure was complete in less than 2 hours. As soon as the stars entered the theatre, the crowd dispersed and we moved on to enjoy an evening promenade through the town squares followed by tapas and wine for dinner. When traveling, one never knows when something interesting is going to happen. It’s great to be open to the opportunities that present themselves and to enjoy what life brings my way.

Mascot of El Gato Con Botas on the red carpet having his picture taken

El Gato con Botas himself!


Why Live Boldly?

January 9, 2012

I chose the name Dream Big Live Boldly for this blog thoughtfully. In a previous post, I wrote about why I choose to Dream Big. This post is about the second part, living boldly.

Having dared to dream, some action is required. Clear intention is important but not sufficient.

If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them. – Henry David Thoreau

Taking action is often the hardest step. It can be so frightening and confusing that many people never risk it. Their dreams are suppressed or forgotten or something that they try to pursue only when death is imminent, but by then it is often too late. There is nothing sadder than a life unlived.

Don’t put pressure on yourself. Pick one dream and take the first small step towards making it happen. Congratulate yourself. Then, take the next step.

Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. – Anonymous

Almost by definition, big dreams don’t come easily. Otherwise they wouldn’t be big dreams. We often start out with the best of intentions, but are inevitably met by challenges. The road is neither clear nor straight. Sometimes we don’t even know where to start. Life gets in the way. Faced with an obstacle, it is often easier to retreat, but what lays behind is only shadows. A pale reflection of what my life could be. It takes courage to continue to press forward (Live Boldly). Great things can and do happen if I find the courage to pursue them.

All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them. – Walt Disney

Some common barriers on the road are a lack of money or shortage of time for which there will always be hundreds of competing interests. There will be people who don’t support me or who undermine me (consciously or otherwise). I will certainly meet my insecurities along the way, the belief that I’m too old, too young, not smart enough, not strong enough, under qualified, over qualified, etc. This list is almost endless. It’s important to know that all of these are mental barriers or things that can be overcome.

We create barriers for ourselves. We have our own mental barriers. And that keeps us from becoming all we can be, because we say “Well, I can’t do that”. But in the end… you can’t do it unless you can imagine it. And you can’t do it unless you can imagine yourself succeeding at it. – George Lucas

Any life endeavor worth pursuing involves some risk. We take risks every day when we drive a car, go to work, take a vacation, and fall in love. The correct response to life’s risks is not to run away from living, but to feel the fear and do it anyway. In the face of all the risks, I choose to live my life with courage (Live Boldly). Living a life of fear is no life at all.

A lot of people do not muster the courage to live their dreams because they are afraid to die.  – Les Brown

The key is to always keep moving forward. I hold the vision of the dream and deal with whatever is ahead of me. It helps me to focus on where I want to go, not where I’m frightened to go. We all face challenges. What defines us is how we respond to them. I find it useful to believe that things will work out in the end. In my experience, they generally do, and it helps me to get out of bed in the morning when things aren’t going well.

It’s very important that I always remember to enjoy the journey. What’s better than pursuing my dreams? I can’t wait until I have fulfilled my dreams to be happy. That day may never happen, but I can be happy right here, right now.

Note — If you haven’t seen it (or haven’t seen it recently), I highly recommend watching Randy Pausch’s Last Lecture.  Randy was a brilliant professor at Carnegie Mellon University who touched the lives of many, even when his own was ending.


Why Dream Big?

January 6, 2012

I chose the name for this blog Dream Big Live Boldly thoughtfully. What does it mean to me?

Life is short, way too short to sit back and wait for something good to happen. This is not a dress rehearsal. I want to live the best life that I can. I don’t want to settle for mediocrity.

Neon sign with the words "you only live once"

There are two essential components to experiencing my best life. The first is dreaming big, and the second, having the courage to continue to pursue those dreams despite all obstacles. This posting will address the first of these.

Why Dream?

When we were children, we all had dreams. Ask a child what they want when they grow up and they’ll quickly volunteer lots of ideas. But something happens on the way to adulthood. We put away our childhood dreams. We lower our expectations. We compromise. We give up. As adults many of us have forgotten how to dream or don’t dare to for risk of disappointment.

Everyone has a default script for our lives (parents, employer, spouse, kids, the government). Although they are generally well meaning, if I don’t have dreams of my own, these scripts will become mine. I’d rather be the master of my own destiny.

Dreaming is the essential first step to living a full life. To bring something into being, I need to first imagine it.

Before your dreams can come true, you have to have those dreams. — Joyce Brothers

Dreams have a tendency to morph into reality. Dreams envisioned are more likely to occur than those that are suppressed. There is no magic here. Although it is helpful to believe that one’s dreams will come true, what is necessary is only that one remain conscious of their dreams.

Despite what we’ve been taught, we don’t have to be rich, powerful, or unique to make our dreams come true.

If you can dream it, you can do it.  Always remember that this whole thing was started by a mouse. — Walt Disney

Why Dream Big?


Yoda looking up at The Hulk

Big dreams are inspirational. They can compete with all the other things demanding my attention. I seek a dream so compelling that I can’t help but achieve it. Something attractive and powerful.

Big dreams expand my abilities. They challenge me. Why limit myself?

Big dreams attract support.

The moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. – W.H. Murray

Even if I fall short of my big dreams, I’ll still gain a lot. I doubt that I’ll achieve all of them, but it is better to fail spectacularly then to fade away without pursing them.

If you shoot for the stars and hit the moon, it’s OK. But you’ve got to shoot for something. A lot of people don’t even shoot. – Robert Townsend

The journey is the reward. I will live a greater life pursuing my dreams, even if I never achieve them.

Have you dared to dream? If so, are your dreams big enough for you?


Flamenco

January 3, 2012

Flamenco and bull-fighting are perhaps the two biggest symbols of Spain, the things that come to mind when people think of this country.  We knew that we wanted to experience flamenco, as most tourists do, and saved this event until the city of Seville in the south of Spain, the Andalusian region where flamenco originated.

After purchasing our tickets the night before, we arrived at the small Los Gallos theatre early to get good seats.  The maximum capacity is 120 people but this being a night in early December with the 2011 Davis Cup tennis tournament on television (happening right here in Seville), the audience was small, only about 20 people.  Our waitress told us that if it wasn’t for the tennis, there would be almost no tourists in town at this time of year.

The room was simple.  A small stage, about 5 meters wide by 3 meters deep.  On it, 3 wooden chairs with wicker and an anvil standing in the rear corner for decoration.  On the back wall of the stage was a course painting of a cock fight in red and black.  At the left rear of the stage, a tiny twisting staircase disappeared upwards.

We ordered Sangria, sweet and fruity, the first we’ve had in Spain, which sat on the little table in front of our small and closely packed seats.  They were lightly padded and comfortable enough given that there was nobody on either side of us due to the small crowd.

The lights dimmed.  A guitarist and two male singers dressed all in black took the stage.  It began with just guitar, only rhythm, with the strings muted.  Soon the men started to clap a tightly controlled rhythm, like a syncopated metronome.  Every clap was sharp, clear, and precise.  They emphasized certain beats by tapping or stomping their heels on the wooden floor. The guitar began to ring, alternating between pulsing strums and fast picking, always keeping to the cadence of the hands and the feet.

A beautiful young woman descended the stairs.  She was dressed in a long, green dress, tight down to the hips, then extending in a cascade to a ruffled train of over a meter.  She raised her hands in the air, assumed a striking posture, and began to move.  She was very controlled at first, with the smallest of arm movements and tiny pulses of feet barely visible beneath her dress.

Flamenco dancer in green dress on stage with singers in background

Her hands were posed, her fingers long and painted.  They transitioned meticulously from one beautiful position to the next, moving about her wrists independently.  Occasionally, her fingers would snap in rapid succession, as if she had more fingers and more snap than normal.

As the music grew, she moved across the stage, twisting and turning, always maintaining a strong stance.  Her posture was exaggerated and dramatic yet continously appealing, like an athlete transitioning powerfully from one elaborate model’s pose to the next.  With curved back, extended leg, and raised arms she seemed like lion about to pounce.  Her dress swung about her, not haphazardly, but carefully managed through a series of kicks and spins.  Sometimes the full train wrapped around her feet tightly yet she always extricated herself gracefully.  Her face changed expression to match her movements.  Sometimes so strong as to appear angry and intimidating, the next playful or warm or contented.  Her carriage, poise, and attitude exuded passion.

Flamenco dancer in green dress twirling (blurry image)

The singers grew louder.  Their voices were strong, sometimes surprisingly so, and they pushed the pitch higher, straining each breath to the end in a plaintive wail, an aching cry tinged with longing and desire.

The rhythms were complicated in structure, mesmerizing in effect.  The performance was elegant and controlled yet shocked by periodic explosions in the dance, or the rhythm, or the voice.  It gradually built towards a crescendo.  The result was powerful, exotic, and passionate.

The other guitar players, singers, and dancers were equally impressive and enticing.  We were entranced and would highly recommend this experience.

Flamenco dancer in red dress with two singers and two guitar players in background