Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The World Needs More Love Letters

It is no secret that I am a fan of hand-written snail mail, notes, post cards -- anything.  And so are the bloggers at Brown Ink; they blog about the value of putting pen to paper.

In their recent post "The Power of a Love Letter," I learned about Hannah Brencher's project The World Needs More Love Letters, and I fully support her venture.

Two years ago in NYC Hannah began writing and leaving encouraging letters around the city for strangers.  She left them on the metro, in cafes, and even in coat pockets.  Then she began blogging about it.

Soon others were requesting love letters from Hannah for people they knew who could use a pick-me-up.  And people began to write and leave "love letters" around their cities too.  She developed the site The World Needs More Love Letters so people can request a letter for someone in need, share letters that they've written and left, or share letters that they've found.


It's a simple idea.  Simple and wonderful.

Want to get involved and brighten someone's day?  Pick up a pen and start writing!  Including "moreloveletters.com" somewhere on the letter will allow the recipient to share the letter and how it affected them on Hannah's site.
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Guest short story: Sam Twick and the steed of destiny

[This is a short story written by JJ.]

Sam Twick and the Steed of Destiny

This is the story of the old man Sam Twick.

When Sam Twick, at a slightly less advanced age than present, became a widower, he looked into the ground and thought, "I should start smoking again."

At his house afterwards, his insufferable children buzzed at him like gnats.  James was going on about books and foundations and tributes to his dead mother, turning her into his project before the body was even cold.  She had died in a freak way, Sam had taken her horseback riding for their fortieth anniversary and she had contracted a horse anniversary and she had contracted a horse disease from her mare, Winnie.  The doctors were completely befuddled weeks later, as her downward canter became a trot and then a gallop to the grave.  The horse recovered.

"Do you buy the horse that killed your wife?" Sam wondered aloud.  The words hung in the air as his children absorbed them.


"What th-"


Their protests floated out the window and were perhaps visited on an unfortunate passerby, but not Sam.

"I could use another stable relationship." Sam rose from his chair and looked at his children, who had been struck dumb as if by Christ.

"Your mother loved you all very much.  I am going to sleep.  You may let yourselves out or stay here as you like." He ascended to his chambers.

Sam made the proper inquiries the next morning and was completing the transaction as the sun was dipping low in the sky.

"Any particular reason you're buying this horse sir?  Sort of an odd midlife crisis purchase." said the equine vendor.

"I want to know it.  I want to make peace with it.  I want to love it and I want it to love me.  I want to care for it and protect it." Sam sighed.

"I want to marry it.  It killed my wife."

"Guys like you come in every day."
• • •

Thursday, August 23, 2012

In Paris I saw a big fish

In Paris I saw a big fish

Swimming slowly in the Seine

Two days ago I returned from Paris, where I spent the last 10 days of my trip in France.  Paris has been on my "to visit" list for quite some time, so I was glad to finally explore the city while crossing off another Project Düsseldorf destination at the same time.

Some of the things I enjoyed about Paris:
  • Listening to people speak French
  • Fresh French croissants every morning
  • Pain au chocolat
  • Gorgeous architecture in all directions
  • View of the Eiffel Tower from my bedroom window
  • Blue and white striped shirts
  • Free parking (during the month of August)
  • Book stands along the riverside

Some of the places I visited in Paris:


Notre Dame

Arc de Triomphe

Blois de Boulogne

Book stands along the Seine

Pont Alexandre III

Place de la Concorde

Musée d'Orsay


Moulin Rouge

Tour Eiffel

Parc de Buttes Chaumont

Place de Vosges

Jardin du Luxembourg

I also spotted at least two works of Space Invader while in Paris!  I learned about the graffiti artist through the documentary Exit Through the Gift Shop (which I recommend; it's not just about graffiti like you'd think -- there's a twist!).  Even though he's put space invaders up in cities all over the world, I remembered that he was from Paris, so I kept my eyes peeled.
Space invader in Paris

Despite its length, the above list was not exhaustive.  There will be plenty more posts to come, revealing my Paris experience little by little.

It may be a while before I make any more progress on Project Düsseldorf, but now that I think about it, three cities in four months isn't too shabby. 
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Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Nefs: Good fortune table ornaments

One of the reasons I enjoy traveling is because you're exposed to so many new things.  New tastes, smells, sights, ideas, people, and information.  While at Blois Castle in France two weeks ago, a small item in a glass display case captured my attention.  It is a prime example of "the new" that surfaces to me through travel.
Photo by: F. Lauginie 2012

I was visiting Blois Castle's current exhibit about food during the Renaissance.  Beside some silverware in one of the display cases was a very decorative metal ship.

The blurb beside the ship told me that it was a nef.  A nef is a metal table ornament from the Middle Ages and Renaissance periods, made in the shape of a ship.  This particular nef was used to hold cutlery and napkins, though some nefs also housed spices.

I think it goes without saying that nefs were only found on tables of the wealthy.  What was not so obvious is that nefs were placed in front of the most noble at the feast.

And why in the shape of a ship?  This short paper by Doug Strong states that a ship was used "to symbolize 'good fortune and fair sailing on the uncertain seas of Life.'"  Strong quoted Georgina Reynolds Smith's Table Decoration: Yesterday Today and Tomorrow in that passage.

This object was used for centuries by the nobles in the past, yet I had never heard of such a thing.  Perhaps it is more commonly known in European history, though with my patchy history knowledge it does not surprise me that I did not know of its existence until two weeks ago.

Knowing what a nef is and how it was used is not going to cause a notable change on my perspective of life, but it does make me feel a little closer to the past.  More importantly, it keeps me thirsty and excited to find out what else I have been living without knowing during the past twenty-three years.  There is always something new to learn.

Was anyone familiar with nefs prior to reading about them here or were they new to you?

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Monday, August 6, 2012

A gift brought by the rain

On Sunday afternoon three friends and I headed to the park for some frolfing, campus style.  Just as we were arriving it started to rain -  which has maybe happened once in Madrid since April.

It was just a light rain, so we started playing.  I was distracted, knowing there must be a rainbow nearby since the sun was shining.  I was also trying to stay dry wrapped in my towel under a tree until my teammate dragged me out from under.

And then I spotted one:

It was a welcome sight that I don't see very often here.
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Friday, August 3, 2012

In Düsseldorf I met a clown

His nose, it was red!

I just got back from a two-week trip to Germany with my grandma and sister.  Since I've been living in Madrid since September, they came and visited for a few days before I went with them to Germany.  We stayed in four main cities during the trip: Königsbrunn (near Augsburg), Baden-Baden, Cologne, and... Düsseldorf!  Yes, that is indeed a destination from Project Düsseldorf.

Before we drove to Düsseldorf we had been staying in Cologne.  On our last day in Cologne my grandma was chatting with a German man in charge of the cuckoo clock shop we were in.  Apparently he really turned her off to Düsseldorf, though later on I read via wiki that there's a rivalry between the two cities.  So perhaps that's why after talking to a man from Cologne, my grandma had a bad impression of Düsseldorf.

I, on the other hand, had high hopes for Düsseldorf; despite not knowing what to expect.  And I wasn't disappointed.


One of the first sites we visited in Düsseldorf was the Rheinturm, a 240.5-meter-tall telecommunications tower.  We weren't there at night, but apparently this tower is also the largest digital clock in the world, thanks to a light-clock sculpture along the cylinder. 

Rheinturm in Düsseldorf, Germany

For 4 euros you could take an elevator 168 meters up for a great view of the city, which we did.  Many of the windows were labelled in faint white text with the buildings and landmarks that could be seen from each panel.

View from 168 meters high in Rheinturm

There was plenty of neat architecture nearby to look at from above:

Old Town (AltstadtDüsseldorf

From the Rheinturm we walked north along the river, later leaving the riverside to explore Altstadt, the old town area of Düsseldorf.

Solar clock

This area of the city is filled with restaurants and bars, so we ate in Altstadt before walking to Hofgarten.


Hofgarten was the first public park in this city, and it was a pleasure to walk through that afternoon.


The next day we only had the morning to see something more in Düsseldorf.  While searching online for things to do in Düsseldorf, I had seen a picture of Zeitfeld (Time Field) in Südpark and really wanted to see it in person.  Südpark it was!

The sculpture Zeitfeld consists of 24 railway clocks, and was made by German artist Klaus Rinke.  I haven't quite placed it yet, but something draws me to this piece.


We spent a couple of hours walking through more of the park that morning.  While walking I thought to myself, if I lived in Düsseldorf, this is a place I would go to often.  It wasn't crowded like Retiro Park, and there were pedestrian and bike paths all over - the majority shaded by trees.  A perfect place to run.

I'll close with one more photo of Zeitfeld, because I like it that much:

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