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miercuri, octombrie 17
sâmbătă, august 18
Words for all world leaders to live by - but alas - egos get in the way.
These are to be savored...
The most important skill nobody taught you
Before dying at the age of 39, Blaise Pascal made huge contributions to both physics and mathematics, notably in fluids, geometry, and probability.
This work, however, would influence more than just the realm of the natural sciences. Many fields that we now classify under the heading of social science did, in fact, also grow out of the foundation he helped lay.
Interestingly enough, much of this was done in his teen years, with some of it coming in his twenties. As an adult, inspired by a religious experience, he actually started to move towards philosophy and theology.
Right before his death, he was hashing out fragments of private thoughts that would later be released as a collection by the name of Pensées.
While the book is mostly a mathematician's case for choosing a life of faith and belief, the more curious thing about it is its clear and lucid ruminations on what it means to be human. It's a blueprint of our psychology long before psychology was deemed a formal discipline.
There is enough thought-provoking material in it to quote, and it attacks human nature from a variety of different angles, but one of its most famous thoughts aptly sums up the core of his argument:
"All of humanity's problems stem from man's inability to sit quietly in a room alone."
According to Pascal, we fear the silence of existence, we dread boredom and instead choose aimless distraction, and we can't help but run from the problems of our emotions into the false comforts of the mind.
The issue at the root, essentially, is that we never learn the art of solitude.
The perils of being connected
Today, more than ever, Pascal's message rings true. If there is one word to describe the progress made in the last 100 years, it's connectedness.
Information technologies have dominated our cultural direction. From the telephone to the radio to the TV to the internet, we have found ways to bring us all closer together, enabling constant worldly access.
I can sit in my office in Canada and transport myself to practically anywhere I want through Skype. I can be on the other side of the world and still know what is going on at home with a quick browse.
I don't think I need to highlight the benefits of all this. But the downsides are also beginning to show. Beyond the current talk about privacy and data collection, there is perhaps an even more detrimental side-effect here.
We now live in a world where we're connected to everything except ourselves.
If Pascal's observation about our inability to sit quietly in a room by ourselves is true of the human condition in general, then the issue has certainly been augmented by an order of magnitude due to the options available today.
The logic is, of course, seductive. Why be alone when you never have to?
Well, the answer is that never being alone is not the same thing as never feeling alone. Worse yet, the less comfortable you are with solitude, the more likely it is that you won't know yourself. And then, you'll spend even more time avoiding it to focus elsewhere. In the process, you'll become addicted to the same technologies that were meant to set you free.
Just because we can use the noise of the world to block out the discomfort of dealing with ourselves doesn't mean that this discomfort goes away.
Almost everybody thinks of themselves as self-aware. They think they know how they feel and what they want and what their problems are. But the truth is that very few people really do. And those that do will be the first to tell how fickle self-awareness is and how much alone time it takes to get there.
In today's world, people can go their whole lives without truly digging beyond the surface-level masks they wear; in fact, many do.
We are increasingly out of touch with who we are, and that's a problem.
Boredom as a mode of stimulation
If we take it back to the fundamentals—and this is something Pascal touches on, too—our aversion to solitude is really an aversion to boredom.
At its core, it's not necessarily that we are addicted to a TV set because there is something uniquely satisfying about it, just like we are not addicted to most stimulants because the benefits outweigh the downsides. Rather, what we are really addicted to is a state of not-being-bored.
Almost anything else that controls our life in an unhealthy way finds its root in our realization that we dread the nothingness of nothing. We can't imagine just being rather than doing. And therefore, we look for entertainment, we seek company, and if those fail, we chase even higher highs.
We ignore the fact that never facing this nothingness is the same as never facing ourselves. And never facing ourselves is why we feel lonely and anxious in spite of being so intimately connected to everything else around us.
Fortunately, there is a solution. The only way to avoid being ruined by this fear—like any fear—is to face it. It's to let the boredom take you where it wants so you can deal with whatever it is that is really going on with your sense of self. That's when you'll hear yourself think, and that's when you'll learn to engage the parts of you that are masked by distraction.
The beauty of this is that, once you cross that initial barrier, you realize that being alone isn't so bad. Boredom can provide its own stimulation.
When you surround yourself with moments of solitude and stillness, you become intimately familiar with your environment in a way that forced stimulation doesn't allow. The world becomes richer, the layers start to peel back, and you see things for what they really are, in all their wholeness, in all their contradictions, and in all their unfamiliarity.
You learn that there are other things you are capable of paying attention to than just what makes the most noise on the surface. Just because a quiet room doesn't scream with excitement like the idea of immersing yourself in a movie or a TV show doesn't mean that there isn't depth to explore there.
Sometimes, the direction that this solitude leads you in can be unpleasant, especially when it comes to introspection—your thoughts and your feelings, your doubts and your hopes—but in the long-term, it's far more pleasant than running away from it all without even realizing that you are.
Embracing boredom allows you to discover novelty in things you didn't know were novel; it's like being an unconditioned child seeing the world for the first time. It also resolves the majority of internal conflicts.
The more the world advances, the more stimulation it will provide as an incentive for us to get outside of our own mind to engage with it.
While Pascal's generalization that a lack of comfort with solitude is the root of all our problems may be an exaggeration, it's isn't an entirely unmerited one.
Everything that has done so much to connect us has simultaneously isolated us. We are so busy being distracted that we are forgetting to tend to ourselves, which is consequently making us feel more and more alone.
Interestingly, the main culprit isn't our obsession with any particular worldly stimulation. It's the fear of nothingness—our addiction to a state of not-being-bored. We have an instinctive aversion to simply being.
Without realizing the value of solitude, we are overlooking the fact that, once the fear of boredom is faced, it can actually provide its own stimulation. And the only way to face it is to make time, whether every day or every week, to just sit—with our thoughts, our feelings, with a moment of stillness.
The oldest philosophical wisdom in the world has one piece of advice for us: know yourself. And there is a good reason why that is.
Without knowing ourselves, it's almost impossible to find a healthy way to interact with the world around us. Without taking time to figure it out, we don't have a foundation to built the rest of our lives on.
Being alone and connecting inwardly is a skill nobody ever teaches us. That's ironic because it's more important than most of the ones they do.
Solitude may not be the solution to everything, but it certainly is a start.
marți, aprilie 24
The Bailiff: “Oyez, Oyez, the Court is now in session. The Honorable Judge Charles Highblossom presiding. On the docket, The People v. Amarige, Case # 13-92745B. The charge is olfactory assault and battery. State your name and business before the Court.”
[A small, balding man rises]: “I am the District Attorney, Luke Sneering.”
[A tiny, dark woman rises]: “I am the Public Defender, Grace Hopeless-Causes, representing the Defendant, Amarige de Givenchy.” [She points to the table where Amarige sits. She is enveloped in the most luxurious white furs, drips gleaming diamonds, and wears the largest, frothiest hat this side of a royal wedding. The defendant’s chin is raised defiantly, her eyes staring straight ahead, but she nervously fingers her diamond choker.]
[The white-wigged judge bangs his gavel]: “The Prosecution may proceed.”
[The D.A., Mr. Sneering]: “Ladies and gentlemen of the jury. We are here to convict Amarige, from the house of Givenchy, with being the most heinous perfume in the world. Countless have fallen prey to her horrors. You will hear testimony from asthmatics whom we will wheel in from the Intensive Care Unit where they landed after a mere whiff of her olfactory napalm. You will hear of her ubiquity in the 1990s, assaulting you from every magazine perfume strip, invading your home through your mailbox, until there was no escape. You will hear from Luca Turin, the perfume expert, on how she is “truly loathsome,” a perfume he rated one-star, and which he hates the most in all the world. And, in the end, you will do the right thing: you will convict her of assault and battery, even though what we really should be charging her with are crimes against humanity!
Let us start at the beginning. Amarige was let loose upon the unsuspecting public in 1991, a fruity-floral Frankenstein created by the legendary nose, Dominique Ropion, who really should have known better! Her parts, according to Fragrantica, consist of:
top notes are composed of fresh fruit: peach, plum, orange, mandarin, with the sweetness of rose wood and neroli. The floral bouquet, very intense and luscious, is created of mimosa, neroli, tuberose, gardenia and acacia with a gourmand hint of black currant. The warm woody base is composed of musk, sandalwood, vanilla, amber, Tonka bean and cedar.In those long-ago days, as the perfume blogger The Non-Blonde states so well, there was no escape from her fumed tentacles. You didn’t have to buy it to wear it.
[You] didn’t have to: you could go into a public building, a friend’s home or get on a bus and emerge with your hair and clothes smelling of it. Amarige was so recognizable and obvious that even I, lover of assertive perfumes, couldn’t deal with it. Not to mention the fact that it’s so very peachy you could feel the juice dribble on your chin.The Non-Blonde may have had a baffling change of heart on Amarige, but she was right when she said that “women who maintain the old habit of marinating themselves in Amarige should have their noses and sanity examined.” (Frankly, I think the Non-Blonde should have her sanity examined for her sudden appreciation of Amarige. No, time does not heal all olfactory wounds!)
I said at the start that what we should be charging Amarige with are crimes against humanity. The world agrees with me. I present as witnesses, some posters from Basenotes.
[The court security guards wheel in the witnesses that they have ferried over from the Intensive Care Unit. From their gurneys, they feebly lift their heads to take the vow to ‘tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth,’ so help them God. And then they testify.]
The final witness comes from Fragrantica:
- Tuberose’s reputation has been damaged almost irrepairably by this most horrid affair. If I were her I would sue.
- Truly, truly awful. Radiates out to the orbit of Neptune. Causes asthma, retching and a stampede for the exit. Frightens children and pets, ruins dinner-parties, restaurant meals and plane journeys. Could be used to eradicate vermin from silos and warehouses. [..] Please people, stop buying this hideous juice so Givenchy will stop making it. It’s an abomination, a crime against humanity. I can’t understand why any woman would want to smell like this, or why her significant other would want to smell it on her. A chemical disaster of Chernobyl proportions.
- this Perfume is a migraine in a bottle. […] The absolute worst fragrance I’ve ever smelled.
- I own a bottle of it due to my initial attraction to its smell in small quantities. Wearing it, I feel nauseous and completely unable to eat anything. I tried to scrub it off in the shower but it won’t die. I haven’t eaten anything all day. I think this toxic odor could be useful as a diet aid.
- Horrible, HORRIBLE soapy smell broadcasting out to the planet at gigawatt levels. I made the mistake of spraying this onto my wrist and I thought I’d never be able to remove it. This smell made me feel nauseous and headachey.
If I had to describe this perfume in one word it would be ‘haunting’ because it’s unpleasant and, like the eerie warnings written in blood on the walls, impossible to scrub off.‘Blood on the walls.’ Blood on the walls, people! The eerie warnings come, in part, from tuberose, one of the most indolic flowers around. What is an idole, you ask? I draw your attention to Exhibit 3, the Glossary of perfume terms. It is something found naturally in many heady, white flowers — like tuberose. In excessive amounts, it can lead to a feel of extreme full-blown, over-ripeness. In cases of fragrances like Amarige, it can turn to an aroma of sourness, even cat litter feces, plastic flowers, urine, garbage heaps of rotting fruit, or all of the above. At best, Amarige is a fetid, rotting stinker that will turn from over-blown flowers to pure sourness and cat urine. At worst, it will choke up your airways, prevent all breathing and render you utterly unconscious. All in just 2 small whiffs.
You don’t believe me, I can see it in your eyes. Well, we shall prove it to you. Guards! Bring in the testers!”
[The guards set up two, tiny canisters at each end of the room. The jury shifts in their chairs nervously. A cordon of security blocks the doors. The District Attorney dramatically puts on a giant gas mask, akin to those used by soldiers in the first Persian Gulf War when there were fears of Saddam Hussein using chemical warfare — or Amarige — against American troops. Mr. Sneering points to the guards and nods.
Pfft. Pfft. Pfft.
Three small whiffs of scent are released from each of the two canisters. White flower after white flower suddenly fills the room. They flit here, they flit there. They are omnipresent. There is a smell of orange, orange blossom, more orange blossom, and still more. It spreads its powerful molecules around the room like a carpet unfurling a wave. Little spectres of happy yellow mimosa flowers dance along the orange carpet. There is a shadow of some silken amber rising up, peeking its eyes above the wave of orange. Peach makes an appearance, adding to the orange haze filling the room and cocooning the white ghosts of tuberose and gardenia. The powerful ghosts dance merrily up to the District Attorney and punch him in his gas-masked nose. He falls back, but rises with a glare.
There is an audible gasp. A woman in the far back of the visitor’s gallery clutches her throat and gasps for air. Juror #4 faints completely. Jurors #6 and #9 have a look of rapt enchantment and glazed joy on their faces, much to the disgust of the District Attorney who sneers at them. In her seat, Amarige smiles faintly. With an almost imperceptible flick of her dainty chin, she tells the ever-growing, large white ghosts of tuberose and gardenia to move near Juror #5 who told of her upcoming wedding in Voir Dire. They move and the Juror suddenly sits up straighter in her chair, dreams of her wedding day and of Amarige trailing behind her in a billowing cloud of white.
The Jury Foreman has been watching these proceedings with unease. When Juror # 2 keels over beside him, begging for medical help and saying she is dying, he starts to back away. Quietly, he inches towards the door and then flees outright, only to head straight into a wall of security. The gas-masked police officers grimly shake their heads. He looks at them pleading. “I can’t take it any more. Get me out of here,” he whispers. “It’s in my nose, it’s burning my skin. There is so much fruit all of a sudden. I’m surrounded by peaches and a whiff of plum. It’s cloying, synthetic and artificial. And it’s covering every inch of me, like fruited animals devouring my skin. I need a shower. Please, have mercy.” They sympathetically shake their heads again and drag him, kicking and screaming, back to his chair.
The Judge has had enough of these theatrics. He orders medical attention for the gasping or collapsed bodies, lying crumpled like rag dolls throughout the room. He orders all the windows opened and the room to be fumigated before the court will reconvene the next day. He contemplates also ordering psychiatric evaluations for those jurors who had beatific, hypnotized, enraptured smiles on their faces, but decides he cannot seem biased.
The next day, the court reconvenes and the District Attorney resumes his case.]
“Ladies and gentlemen, I apologise for subjecting you yesterday to the horrors of Amarige. But, I had to give you the chance to decide for yourself. The People’s case will conclude with our expert, Mr. Luca Turin, the most famous perfume critic in the world. Before you is Exhibit 4, an excerpt from his book with Tania Sanchez, Perfumes: the A-Z Guide. Note the categorization of Amarige as ‘Killer tuberose.’ Killer. Not extreme but ‘killer.’ The one-star review reads as follows:
We nearly gave it four stars: the soapy-green tobacco-tuberose accord Dominique Ropion designed for Amarige is unmissable, unmistakeable, and unforgettable. However, it is also truly loathsome, perceptible even at parts-per-billion levels, and at all times incompatible with others’ enjoyment of food, music, sex, and travel. If you are reading this because it is your darling fragrance, please wear it at home exclusively, and tape the windows shut.Ladies and gentlemen, the People rest their case.”
[The Public Defender, Grace Hopeless-Causes, rises and speaks]: “Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I am here for one reason and one reason only. To represent the shamed, silent, closeted minority of women who adore Amarige and feel she has been most unjustly accused of crimes against perfumery! She has been vilified for far too long and it’s time for the Amarige lovers to defend her!
The weight and power of Luca Turin’s reputation has added the final, unjust nail in Amarige’s coffin. It is not tuberose who should sue Amarige, but Amarige who should sue Luca Turin for defamatory libel!
Don’t believe the District Attorney. He has presented only one, very slanted, side to the story. Did you note how he had only one witness from Fragrantica? Why is that, do you think? I’ll tell you why: because that was the sole, truly harsh review of Amarige. He didn’t tell you of all the others which spoke of the joy, the happy, dancing aura of Amarige, the image of beautiful wedding days, or posts writing of “sumptuous” finishes, of “sophistication” and “class.” There is no mention of how it is addictive, of how you can’t stop sniffing your wrists, of how intensely feminine it can make you feel.
And there is not a word about how it can drive men wild.
No, the District Attorney has presented a very lopsided, distorted picture of Amarige. Even when he quotes Luca Turin, he leaves out the words of his co-author, Tania Sanchez, who wrote in that same book:
Amarige is a genius work of perfumery, utterly recognizable, memorable, technically polished and spectacularly loud.The D.A. quickly brushed over how they wanted to give it four stars. FOUR. And there is not a peep out of him over the fact that the very book he quotes as expert opinion actually lists Amarige in their top 10 BEST list at the back! It is in their 10 Best Loud Perfumes list, next to the 5-star Fracas, 5-star Angel, and the 5-star Lolita Lempicka perfumes. Strange for a perfume that Mr. Sneering and Luca Turin would have you believe is a crime against perfume humanity, no?
Yes, Amarige is loud and a diva. Yes, one big squirt can blow your head off. But no-one ever said you should bathe in it, for heaven’s sake! Plus, don’t let the opening blast fool you. Amarige has average sillage and longevity. After the first ten minutes, it can fade to a much tamer level. If you don’t believe me, read Fragrantica, Basenotes or MakeupAlley, and see similar comments for yourself.
To all those who have had asthmatic attacks as a result of encounters with Amarige, I apologise. She apologises. Truly. But the same thing could happen from Lolita Lempicka, Angel or a whole host of perfumes. Why have they not been brought up on charges? Why does Luca Turin adore and worship the brilliance of Angel — a scent which many have compared to toxic nerve gas — but not the admittedly “genius,” “technically polished” masterpiece of Amarige? And, in all cases, isn’t it the fault of the wearers who spray on too much? Blaming Amarige for medical injuries triggered by over-use is akin to blaming a car manufacturer for accidents that may arise from someone texting while driving.
Where we concede and confess fully is the charge that Amarige is a diva. Yes. Yes, she is. Amarige is Maria Callas, the legendary opera singer, taking center stage under the bright white lights, and showered with diamonds by billionaires like Aristotle Onassis who loved her more than he ever did Jackie O. Amarige is not meant to be a simpering, quiet wallflower, sitting in the corner, awaiting a man to ask her to dance. She will push her way to the center of the floor and dance by herself, mesmerizing a room — public opinion be damned!
As for the charge that she is a cloying monster with some potentially synthetic undertones, we plead the Fifth. Even if true, and we are not saying that it is, many other perfumes are too. And, yet, do you see them in this courtroom? Speaking only for myself, I do not find Amarige to be synthetic. I think she is exactly what Givenchy and Dominique Ropion meant for her to be. As Fragrantica explains:
The name of the perfume ‘Amarige‘ is an anagram of the French word ‘Mariage.’ That is why this fragrance is as intensive as a strong feeling, merry, juicy and unforgettable as a moment of happy mariage. It is so opulent and floral that it seems like its composition includes all the beautiful flowers that exist in the world.Despite her opulence and diva status, Amarige can be a cheap date. You can find a 1 oz bottle on Kohl‘s for $50 or on Sephora for $49. A 1.6 oz bottle costs $67 on Sephora, and much less on eBay. Compare those prices to more reputable white floral or tuberose scents: Robert Piguet‘s Fracas starts at $95; while Frederic Malle‘s Carnal Flower starts at $230 at Barneys.
The Amarige woman is graceful, playful and charming, a real French woman in love. She radiates joy and gives a happy smile.
Whatever she is, I realise this is the most hopeless of all lost causes. Amarige’s reputation has been destroyed beyond all measure. I can sit here and talk to you about her lovely white femininity, her peach exuberance, that dry-down of spice and amber, and it will make no difference at all. There is simply no hope of restoring her good name.
But I make this plea to you, ladies and gentlement of the jury: do not let the perfume world’s easy, facile dismissal of Amarige influence you. They are not objective and they have followed Luca Turin like sheep. After all, they proudly admit their love for Fracas, another white flowers explosion that make people gasp for air.
Admittedly, Fracas is a much more elegant creature than the brazen hussy, Amarige. And, yes, hard as it is to believe, Fracas almost seems like almost a quiet, shy child in comparison. But are they really so different as to warrant Fracas’s triumphant twirl in the spotlight as a cult favorite and legend, while Amarige wilts in the wilds of guilty obscurity? Again, Fracas may be of slightly better quality and there is not a hint of anything synthetic about it. But it too is an over-blown indolic scent that can turn sour or lead to thoughts of rotting fruit. Amarige is more fruity than Fracas, true, but there is luscious peach, orange and amber in Hermès‘ sophisticated 24 Faubourg, after all.
Unlike 24 Faubourg’s sophisticated woman, however, Amarige is like a happy child, all yellow, orange and white dancing flowers, full of exuberance and femininity. It is not a scent for those who like discreet, quiet, unobtrusive fragrances. It’s not for those who can’t stand heady, narcotically powerful ones, either. And it is most definitely not for those who can’t bear white flowers.
But if you love Amarige, I beg of you: do not go quietly into that good night, hiding your face in shame and covering your scarlet letter, that “A” which marks you as an A-marige lover. Rise up and defend her name. Admit your folly and sins. Admit she is glorious. Don’t wear her only in the privacy of your own room with the windows duct-taped shut. And find her not guilty of crimes against perfumery!”
[The Public Defender sits down and the jury leaves for its deliberations. There is no word from them for three days. Then, finally, they return.]
[Nine jurors wanted to convict.
Three held out, utterly in love, and on their way to buy a bottle for themselves.]
sâmbătă, aprilie 21
Statia de metrou Politehnica a fost data in folosinta in 1983 si este pavata cu placi mari de marmura si granit ce contin fosile de acum 180 de milioane de ani. Mai precis, oamenii care coboara la Politehnica au sansa sa calce pe ramasitele unor vietuitoare care traiau pe Pamant atunci cand tot ce vedeai in zare era apa. Desi poate parea ca totul a fost planuit dinainte de catre constructori, adevarul este ca ei s-au grabit sa termine totul la timp si au extras materialul din Muntii Apuseni interesandu-se doar de...culoare! Bucurestenii calca, din 1983 si pana azi, pe un ocean pietrificat din Cretacic...si punem pariu ca cei mai multi nici nu stiu...