Starry night

I can´t say that painting is a topic that I´ve always been interested in, or that I´ve dedicated much time to it during my life, but it is true that there are certain works of art that I find especially beautiful (or interesting), and that I´m really fond of.

Among them, there are several pieces by Vincent Van Gogh.

I think this is mainly thanks to a coffee shop that existed years ago in Madrid´s city centre, Van Gogh Café, which my family and I used to visit very frequently, given its lovely atmosphere,, the superb food they offered and the fact that it was located just next to my parents´ apartment. I have very good memories of going to Van Gogh´s when the girls were still little, especially with my parents at lunchtime, and sometimes with the additional company of some of my siblings, siblings in law or nephews and nieces, whoever happened to be in Madrid on those dates. And on a couple of occasions, we also had big celebrations, with the whole family gathered together 🙂

The café was of course decorated with all things Van Gogh, with copies of his best known paintings scattered all over the walls, paper placemats printed with a collection of his many self portraits, and even a reconstruction of one of his scenes, with a real table and two chairs placed next to a big front window. Unfortunately, that venue closed down a few years ago, but the simple style and the vibrant colours of Van Gogh´s paintings stayed in my memory since then.

That´s why I was so happy when I recently got to see some of his paintings at the National Gallery, in London, including the one with the sunflowers (or to be precise, one of them, as he painted several canvases with the sunflowers theme), the chair you can see above, and this landscape with clouds that I didn´t remember seeing before, and that I also found quite cool:

But the clear winner in my opinion is the starry night, a painting that even Lego has paid homage to, and that´s also one of the pieces most highlighted in the interactive exhibition (or as it´s officially called, "the immersive experience") that we visited in Dublin this weekend:

I loved learning a bit more about the life and works of this great painter, who was gifted with very deep sensitivity and an extraordinary talent, both of which sadly came together with a great deal of suffering, as it often happens in the world or artists.

There were several of his quotes that I found really inspiring, like for example:

“If you hear a voice within you say you cannot paint, then by all means paint and that voice will be silenced.”

“Great things are not done by impulse, but by a series of small things brought together.”

“The heart of man is very much the sea, it has its storms, it has its tides and in its depths it has its pearls too.”

“What would life be if we had no courage to attempt anything?”

And I also remembered that years ago, somebody composed a beautiful song about him, "Vincent", here it is with lyrics in English and Spanish:

Christmas carols

Yesterday I spent my afternoon listening to (and singing along to) some "villancicos", which are the traditional Spanish Christmas songs. I found a Youtube compilation that was very similar to what I used to listen to when I was little, a cassette tape with carols sung by children, and it brought me many happy memories.

Old looking sheet music surrounded by Christmas tree leaves and small pink and purple baubles

Some Spanish "villancicos" are versions of Christmas carols originally written in other languages, like Silent night or The little drummer boy, with soft and harmonious melodies. Then there are the ones originally written in Spanish, like "Los peces en el río" (Fish in the river) or La marimorena .(I really don´t know how to translate this one), with lively tempos, cheerful melodies, and instruments like tambourines and "zambombas" (which Google says can be translated as "friction drum" - it´s a typical Spanish thing). Anyway, as you know, Spanish people love celebrating things by being loud 🙂

To be honest, "villancicos" are some of my most treasured Christmas memories. Now thinking about it, I believe it has to do with them being songs that are passed from generation to generation, and that we can all sing together, the whole family. I used to love singing them myself as a child, and years later, when it was time for my daughters to learn them, I really enjoyed passing them along. It was as if, for a little while, I also became a child again...

For me, Christmas carols combine the power of music, which lifts our spirit and brings us together, with the excitement of Christmas. And if you look at it this way, they´re the perfect excuse for us to allow ourselves to become children again, set aside our worries for a little while, and truly enjoy the present moment.

What about you? Do you like Christmas carols? Which one is your favourite? And what other things make you feel as excited as a child?

Banda sonora

If your life was a movie, what would its soundtrack be?

Vynil record playing in a record player

Today I remembered again a movie scene I watched a long time ago, which gave me a lot to think about back at the time. The story takes place at a university, and the camera alternatively takes the place of one of the two main characters, a boy and a girl, who are walking along the corridors, about to meet each other for the first time. They´re both wearing earphones, and listening to completely different things: the girl is listening to classical music, and the boy is listening to heavy metal or something similar. The moment arrives when they meet, they look at each other, and each of them perceives the other from their own point of view, with their own soundtrack in the background.

To me, this is a scene of incredible storytelling powers. Without needing to use words, it perfectly conveys how different the world is for each of the two main characters, and how differently they experience that exact same moment, with the same external surroundings...

Creo que todos hemos experimentado momentos en que una canción o una música en concreto nos ha hecho ver la vida de otra manera: tal vez nos ha alegrado el día, nos ha dado un chute extra de energía o nos ha traído buenos recuerdos. Otras veces, a lo mejor hemos aprovechado una música más triste o melancólica para permitirnos experimentar un ratito esas emociones. Lo mejor de todo es que podemos elegir en cada momento nuestra “banda sonora”, y no me refiero solamente a la música que escuchamos (que también, y qué suerte tan inmensa tenemos de que exista Spotify).

Nuestra “banda sonora” también son esos pensamientos que repetimos constantemente en nuestra cabeza sin darnos cuenta, esas historias que nos contamos a nosotros mismos, y que según cómo sean, puede que nos ayuden o que nos perjudiquen, que nos den energía o que nos la quiten. Por supuesto, no podemos controlar del todo los pensamientos que aparecen por nuestra mente, al igual que no podemos controlar qué canción suena en la radio. Pero sí que podemos estar atentos y cambiar de emisora cuando haga falta, saltando a otra cosa que nos guste más y nos resulte más util. Y también viene muy bien de vez en cuando editar nuestras “playlists”, y así aprovechar para quitar canciones viejas que ya no resuenan con nosotros, y añadir canciones nuevas que nos apetezca probar.

What do you think of this idea? What is your life's soundtrack at this very moment? And do you feel like keeping it, or is it maybe time for a change?

Let´s sing! (and dance)

A quote that made a huge impact on me when I discovered it years ago (thanks Gleb!) was this:

No music, no life.

Que viene a ser más o menos “sin música, no hay vida”. Muy radical… Y seguramente muy cierto.

Because, who doesn't like music? OK, we may not all have the same musical preferences, but we don't necessarily have to, and it's thanks to those differences that there's such a variety of styles. But we can't deny that music has the power to connect us, to make us vibrate, to move us. It's a universal language. And if we add some movement on top of it, even better.

I don't know how to play any instruments (unless you count a few tin whistle lessons back in school and a handful of tunes I used to play on my Casio PT-1 keyboard), but what I do like a lot is singing. At work we are lucky enough to have a choir, and this month we've started singing together again in person, so exciting! 🙂

On the first day of in-person rehearsal, after two years of singing on mute on Zoom and not being able to hear each other, we were pleasantly surprised by the fact that we didn't sound that bad. And on day two, the surprise was that we had to learn a simple choreography for our song... So there you go, double challenge for the brain: singing without looking at the lyrics, and doing the dance steps at the same time! It would have been great to have a bit more space (we were rather crammed while rehearsing) and a big mirror like in a ballet classroom, but all in all, I'd say we managed quite well.

It felt great to get to connect and enjoy the music together again, singing and moving along. We're not anywhere close to being able to perform, but that's not the point (though hopefully it will come in due course). The reward we all take away from each rehearsal is a huge boost of energy and good vibes, plus starting off the afternoon at work much more relaxed and with a big smile.

So here's an experiment for you to try, if you'd like. Next time you feel down, stuck in a problem, or in any way short of energy, just play some music, start some movement, and see what happens 🙂

Violinists in the subway

Life is full of little details, of those details that go unnoticed when we´re lost in our own thoughts, which is most of the time. More often than not, our auto-pilot is turned on, and we´re worrying about the future or ruminating about the past, thus missing the present.

And of course, ignoring as we are all those details that make each day unique and special, it´s no wonder that we feel like we´re living in groundhog day!

But if we get to slow down a little, and focus on being alert and present as the mindfulness practice teaches us, then we start noticing surprising things, amazing things, wherever we are. Because there´s beauty everywhere, as long as we know how to see it.

I recently heard a really cool story related to this (thanks Paz!), an experiment that was carried out a few years ago in the United States. A superfamous violinist, one of the best in the world, set himself up as a busker in a subway station in Washington D.C., playing with his Stradivarius violin during rush hour. He played for almost forty-five minutes, and during that time, only seven people stopped to listen to his music, and only one of them recognized him. All the rest walked by, carrying on with their daily stress and worries… Is that really the way we want to live? Always passing by, only to complain afterwards about how we´re stuck in a rut?

Lo bueno es que podemos romper ese ciclo. Cada mañana al despertarnos, podemos elegir entre poner el piloto automático y vivir otro día de la marmota, o cambiar nuestra mirada y dejarnos sorprender por los “violinistas del metro”: una puesta de sol espectacular, la alegría de tus hijos al llegar a casa, charlar con un ser querido…

Mi “violinista” de hoy es darme cuenta de que éste es el post número cincuenta del blog 🙂 ¿Y el tuyo?

Conscious songs: Imagine

This morning I heard on the radio that today would be John Lennon´s birthday, he would be 81 years old today. Let´s remember him with this song, which I find both beautiful and profound: Imagine.

And please, even if we have listened to it a thousand times, even if we think we know it by heart, today let´s give ourselves the luxury of really paying attention to the lyrics, immersing ourselves in their meaning, and closing our eyes to imagine how it would feel to live in such a world...

And then, if you feel like going a step further, I propose that you consider which sentence is the one that impacts you most, that confronts you most, and reflect on it a little, because in order to achieve that world that we imagine, everything starts within each one of us :-)

And I leave you with this quote, attributed to Mahatma Gandhi, that´s also very relevant to this topic:

Be the change you wish to see in the world.

Conscious songs: The colour of hope

Continuing with the conscious songs theme, let me tell you about another song that cheers me up and motivates me every time I listen to it, this time in Spanish.

It's Color esperanza (The colour of hope), by Diego Torres, and it's dedicated to those of you who are facing a challenge right now, whether it's something that you chose yourselves, or something that came to you for whatever reason (and there's always a reason, although we don't always see it right at that moment).

UPDATE: The video I embedded when I wrote this post is no longer available on Youtube, so I´m adding here two different videos with the written lyrics, one in Spanish and one in English. Some of the sentences I would have translated differently, but hey... Leaving perfectionism aside, I hope at least the gist of it is understandable 🙂

In Spanish:

In English:

Conscious songs: Unwritten

When you´re listening to music, do you pay attention to what the lyrics are saying? I do it sometimes, and to be honest, I find all kinds of things in there...

Every once in a while I´m going to share with your the lyrics of a song I particularly like. Let´s start with Unwritten by Natasha Bedingfield, I hope you like it:

Original lyrics in English:

Spanish translation of the lyrics: