Feb 28, 2010

a blacksmith, brew and spirit

a blacksmith, brew and spirit
Detail of window display + reflection: La Fontana de Oro on Calle de la Victoria, 1 in Madrid.

This Guinness Official Irish pub, which serves a variety of Irish beer and spirits, is housed in one of the oldest taverns in Madrid. Legend has it that this pub may also be home to spirits of a more elusive nature than whiskey. The decor is mix of antique dark wood, Celtic flourishes, medieval doodads, dusty bottles, pool table, barrels and a dangling disco ball.

In the past the tavern has been a hotspot for Spanish intellectuals and the Spanish writer, Benito Perez Galdós (1843- 1920) was even inspired to set his first novel (La Fontana de Oro) in this pub.

Photography by Shehani Kay. Scratchy texture by les brumes

Feb 26, 2010

Adversity is just change we haven't adapted ourselves to yet

These past few weeks have been dark and uncertain ones. Things haven't been working out for me. The storm has been raging on relentlessly. No economic recovery in the forecast for Spain. My boat (teaching hours) has holes which I patch up only to have new leaks appear. The wolves have gathered by the shore. Sinking seems a real threat and I'm having trouble making ends meet. My mind has been racing around contingency plans and I've been plotting and rowing towards new growth. As I struggle to adapt to all this change, one of the inspirations I've been using to keep from drowning is a quote I wrote on a yellow post it note last week and stuck to the wall above my macbook.

It reads: "Adversity is just change we haven't adapted ourselves to yet."

Some weeks ago I watched a passionate talk by Aimee Mullins, a woman who was born without shin bones. Instead of allowing this early adversity to relegate her to the sidelines of life, she became a record-breaker at the Paralympic Games in 1996, and has built a career as a model, actor and activist for women, sports and the next generation of prosthetics. She compares her designer prosthetic legs to designer eyeglasses - she wore 4-inch stiletto heels during her TedMed talk!
Today I'd like to share her inspiring talk about finding opportunities in adversity.

Excerpts of Aimee's talk, transcribed by me:
"The human ability to adapt is our greatest asset...people continually ask me about overcoming adversity and I'm gonna make an admission, this phrase never sat right with me and I always felt uneasy trying to answer people's questions about it and I think I'm starting to figure out why. Implicit in this phrase of overcoming adversity is the idea that success or happiness is about emerging on the other side of a challenging experience unscathed or unmarked by the experience. As if my successes in life have come about from an ability to sidestep and circumnavigate the pitfalls of a life with prosthetics which people perceive as my disability. But in fact we are changed. We are marked, of course, by a challenge whether physically, emotionally or both and I'm gonna suggest that this is a good thing. Adversity isn't an obstacle we need to get around in order to resume living our life. It's part of our life and I tend to think of it like my shadow, sometimes I see a lot of it and sometimes there's very little but it's always with me. Certainly, I'm not trying to diminish the impact, the weight of a person's struggle. There is adversity and challenge in life and it's all very real and relative to every single person but the question isn't whether or not you're going to meet adversity but how you're going to meet it. Our responsibility is not simply to shield those we care for from adversity but preparing them to meet it well...

There is a partnership between those perceived deficiencies and our greatest creative ability. So it's not about devaluing or negating these more trying times as something we want to avoid or sweep under the rug but instead to find those opportunities wrapped in the adversity. So maybe the idea I want to put out there is not so much overcoming adversity as it is opening ourselves up to it, embracing it, grappling with it (to use a wrestling term), maybe even dancing with it. And perhaps if we see adversity as natural, consistent and useful, we're less burdened by the presence of it...

Conflict is the genesis of creation...the human ability to survive and flourish is driven by the struggle of the human spirit through conflict into transformation. So again transformation, adaptation is our greatest human skill. And perhaps until we're tested we don't know what we're made of. Maybe that's what adversity gives us, a sense of self, a sense of our own power. So we can give ourselves a gift, we can re-imagine adversity as something more than tough times. Maybe we can see it as change. Adversity is just change we haven't adapted ourselves to yet. I think the greatest adversity we've created for ourselves is this idea of normalcy. I mean who is normal? There is no normal. There's common, there's typical, but there's no normal and would you want to meet that poor beige person if they existed? I don't think so." Aimee Mullins

While I was slowly transcribing (due to my poor typing skills) these bits that resonated most for me, her words had time to sink in deep. I've decided to take her advice to heart and give myself a gift; the gift of a dance with adversity. As I write this, I'm tossing away my old metaphors of the leaky boat, wolves and bad weather; I'm instead imagining myself in a tight tango to the tune of Por una Cabeza.

Thanks Aimee for being an amazing woman of great spirit.

How will you re-imagine your adversity today?

Feb 19, 2010

I need a hero

Click on the image to enlarge.

Original mash up (photography, compilation, digital manipulation and narrative) by Shehani Kay. Inspired by original street art on the wall of Doctor Fourquet in Lavapies, Madrid, by various street artists: Saner, Parsec, E1000ink, Ruina, Sakristan, Pincho, kid chalao, Jaime, Neko, Dier, Ring, Seon, Alberto de Pedro, suso33, vhs (kid chalao, fragil & e1000ink). Thanks to Dug for helping out with the list of credits.

Going from top left across and then down:
a1 & a2: (grupo) parsec; a3: dier; a4: e1000ink; b1: dier & ?; b2 & 3:?; c1-3:saner; d1: suso33; d2: vhs; d3: e1000ink; d4: vhs; e1-3: vhs
The ? indicates that I'm sure of the artist's name but he's one of the artists listed above. If you can identify him, please comment and let me know.

Note to the urban artists:
I love making mash ups of found street art because it imposes limits and a framework. I can't just draw whatever I need to move along my narrative. I have to work within the confines of what I have photographed and what the artists have drawn. Doing this challenges my skills, creativity and imagination as a storyteller and weaver of narratives. The images are like a puzzle and I have to figure out how to piece together a tale. To those whose works I compile, rearrange and manipulate, I hope you understand that I do it with the highest respect for your art. Your work inspires me to invent stories! Thank you.

Photos from the wall:
Wall on Doctor Fourquet, Abuela and her little doggie
Wall on Doctor Fourquet
Wall on Doctor Fourquet
Wall on Doctor Fourquet
You can see more photos of the original wall here and here.

Behind the wall is a public place where the group "Operarios del Espacio Público” in collaboration with many area neighbors have been developing a garden called "Esta es una plaza". The potential green space is open to the neighborhood. The space fosters meetings between different generations and cultures in an attempt to enhance local resources and weave relationships between the residents.

All photography by Shehani Kay

Feb 17, 2010

Sometimes I crave a little colour...

rey del flores meets a spotted mound
An original mash up (digital manipulation, text, and photography) by Shehani Kay; based on a mix of street art found on a wall on Calle de Torrecilla del Leal in Lavapies, Madrid. The plant is the work of Planton Kracia and I've been told that Ring painted the yellow blob.

Feb 13, 2010

The Flavor of Miajón de los Castúos

El Miajón de los Castúos
El Miajón de los Castúos
El Miajón de los Castúos
El Miajón de los Castúos

Restaurante El Miajón de los Castúos on Calle Infanta Mercedes, 56 is a tapa spot dedicated to Iberian pork (jamón ibérico de bellota), sausages, cheeses, wines and packaged products from Extremadura.

The name El Miajón de los Castúos comes from the title of a book of 12 poems by Spanish writer, Luis Chamizo. The book, published in 1921, is a tribute to the people of Extremadura and highlights the miajón (the essence, the juice, the core) of being and identifying as Castúos (someone from Extremadura).

Last year I wrote of my discovery of pata negra and the difference in flavor quality, free-range, acorn fed piggies make on the tongue. Well this place specializes in jamón ibérico de bellota. Yum. Our waiter was super helpful and friendly, which is a little unusual for Spain so I recommend this place wholeheartedly. If this is the "juice" de los Castúos then it is very pleasant indeed.

All photography by Shehani Kay

Feb 9, 2010

A Friday Night in Madrid

Photography by Shehani Kay

My latest experiments working with textures and mood.

Feb 6, 2010

Gente de Lavapiés Portrait: Carmen

She strokes the photo pendant of her son around her neck as she tells me how she lost both her husband and then her son 3 months later to AIDS in 1996. Although she's also HIV positive her virus has been dormant. I ask her about the stunning professional studio black and white photographs of her on the wall. She tells me that shortly after the double deaths she was featured in an article about heroines in Marie Claire entitled, 'la fuerza de la vida' (the force of life). "I was so thin because I was too sad to eat," she explains when I tell her how guapísima she looks.
Gente de Lavapies: Carmen
Born in a small town in Cáceres to a rigid military father, she got married young to a military sub-official she wasn't in-love with so she could escape her home life. Her husband's personality changed shortly after the marriage and she divorced him some years later while he was in jail. Once he got out of jail, he kidnapped their daughter and disappeared for 15 years. Reeling from the loss of her daughter, she ended up in a relationship with a 'palmero' who took her to Barcelona and pimped her. Carmen later became a heroin addict and prostitute. Her needle use is what infected her with the virus. In 1988 she discovered she was HIV positive. She remarried in 1993 but this was not to end happily. After the deaths of her son and husband from AIDS, she began volunteering at Apoyo Positivo, an organization that supports people with AIDS. She shows me the article and a folder with clippings about Apoyo Positivo. She laughs, pointing out how big her feet look in the photo because the boots she was wearing were lent to her by Marie Claire and they were about 3 sizes too big.

While hers is a tragic story of loss, I know her as a force to be reckoned with and the president of the apartment building I used to live in. She was my next door neighbour for two and a half years and I'm visiting her to see her dog Lucy's new puppy Copola. While I knew the story about her son, I never knew the whole story until this visit. Since I've known her, she's been mugged, fallen down stairs and spent time in the hospital and yet still she exudes more raw energy and life than most people I meet. She is a survivor and an inspiring example of someone who gets knocked down repeatedly but never allows tragedy or hardship to beat her. She gets back up, she plays with her 4 little doggies and she keeps on laughing.
Gente de Lavapies: Carmen
Gente de Lavapies: Carmen
"Mira mira," she calls out to me, as I'm walking out the door into the corrala. Turning around I see her radiant face nodding towards Copola's aggressive play taunting of Chispa and Lucy, and I hear her husky laughter echoing in the courtyard.

Feb 2, 2010

Benefitting from Failure ~ Tuesday's Inspiration

A couple weeks ago I wrote about fearless failing and I supposed it was important to create without thought to the results or fear of failure. As a followup, I'd like to share a speech I saw yesterday in which JK Rowling talks about the benefits of failure:

From the transcript:
"So why do I talk about the benefits of failure? Simply because failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena I believed I truly belonged. I was set free, because my greatest fear had been realised, and I was still alive, and I still had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an old typewriter and a big idea. And so rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.

You might never fail on the scale I did, but some failure in life is inevitable. It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.

Failure gave me an inner security that I had never attained by passing examinations. Failure taught me things about myself that I could have learned no other way. " J.K Rowling

Her moving speech about the fringe benefits of failure, the power of the imagination and the value of friendship made me laugh several times and weep even more.

What does it mean to fail? I suppose, it is something each of us needs to decide for ourselves. Someone's failure could be another's success and vice versa. Sometimes, when I'm down on my life, and I think about how I failed to get a proper career job after my expensive university education, and that this makes me a 'loser'. At other times, I'm thankful I succeeded in evading corporate slavery and that this uncertain path through the dense forest is exactly where I am supposed to be. Compared to many, I am free. I still get to do the things I love. I still get to follow my bliss. I don't work in an office 12 hours a day. I live abroad in Spain, munching on olives and sipping good red wine. I may not always have enough money to pay my bills on time, travel or buy clothes but I do have time to read, think, imagine, write, take photos, explore, watch films and research whatever topic happens to catch my fancy. In many ways, I am blessed because I have been such a 'failure'! Failure has always led me in alternative directions, some delightful, others not so much. Failure has also taught me that I can survive and thrive in spite of it all. So now, as I continue to wander down my precarious trail (my January blues hopefully now behind me), I will try to keep in mind that there is indeed beauty in uncertainty and benefits in failure.

It is my hope that you will remember this too.

"As is a tale, so is life: not how long it is, but how good it is, is what matters." Seneca

"We do not need magic to change the world, we carry all the power we need inside ourselves already: we have the power to imagine better." J.K Rowling
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