Italian Connection

 Italian connection

I woke up this morning thinking about a portrait I did a few years back; I was still married then, and I remember my hubby returning from a conference in New Lanark, telling me about this interesting guy he met there. Born in Edinburgh with an Italian heritage. His parents migrated to Scotland after the war, he was part of the first generation of Italian migrants’ children born in Scotland. He was trying to describe him to give me an idea of the type of character he was and then he simply said: “ Och!…you would like him a lot! He’s full of charisma and had such an interesting life. He has so many wonderful stories to tell!”


I was intrigued by the charismatic man I just heard of, but of course, life moves on and the opportunity to meet him, never presented itself, so I forgot about him. 


Many months later, my hubby again, brought home a book that this same guy had just published, a quick glance at the book, then it sat on a bookshelf for a few more months, till one night before going to bed I picked it up and started reading it. I was hooked!

I remember looking forward to reading Laurences musings before falling asleep, they were so inspiring, full of wit, humour, and felt so real, so genuine. The book is like a diary, and each story is about normal day-life events that happened and the people he met. They are told in such an amusing way, and they are full of wisdom, and they clearly state a deep search for the self.


I found it enchanting and charming. I often found myself laughing at some of his stories. I loved them because there was a sense of vulnerability and fragility in his stories too. I had a feeling that he was getting to understand more and more the importance of being open and vulnerable towards all life experiences, and he was doing so together with an infinite curiosity for life beyond the physical. The spiritual realm seems to be a new discovery, one that was really appealing to him at that point in his life! From a wild past, then many years dedicated to working with less advantaged communities to a peaceful retired life. A small cottage in the green Scottish countryside, with lots of time and tranquillity to reflect on less physical matters in between cutting wood for the fire and landscaping the wee garden around the cottage. 


I just loved that wee book, the stories were so full of life that my mind was turning them into short movies inside my head, where all the characters and places were suddenly so real! 

I love when books do that to me!


At that point, I knew I wanted to meet him because such a person inspired me and I wanted to make a portrait of this charming man that started shaping his form in my fantasy filled mind.


I managed to find his email address and wrote to him. Actually, I wrote twice, since my first email got forgotten under a pile of other emails, but eventually, he was happy to meet me in Edinburgh for a coffee. I felt as if I was transported in his book when we met in one of his favourite cafes, I knew of from the stories he wrote! 

Suddenly I was inside one of his stories too, and we were the characters for that morning! In fact, I have sometime wondered if he ever wrote about this strange meeting with me!?


As soon as I saw him, I noticed that the lines on his face were carrying the weight of pain and sadness, he had a stern and serious expression that somehow didn’t fit the image of the man I created in my mind.

We told each other the tales of our lives and we both relaxed in each others company.

He admitted that he wanted to make sure I wasn’t a total “nutcase”! 

I would have probably done the same if someone contacted me out of the blue wanting to do a portrait of me! 


I love listening to people’s stories, especially when you find good story-tellers like Laurence. There are some amazing people out there, and photography gives me the opportunity to discover them and learn about their wonderful lives. Then I work around their portraits, to create an image that expresses how I see them.


It is not how they see themselves, it is how … I see them.

And everyone is always more interesting than what they think they are. 

I suppose I do what a writer of novels does with his characters, the only difference is, I use a camera and photos instead.


 Anyway, by the end of our meeting, he invited me to visit him to his cottage in the countryside where we could do his portrait. 


A few weeks later, I was there! 

We spent the morning together. He welcomed me with a lovely breakfast with tea, coffee, freshly baked muffins, butter and homemade jam. I had to travel a fair distance to get to his place from where I live, and he was so thoughtful and caring, totally aware of that.  After breakfast, we started looking around for places that would best suit his portrait. Indoor, window light; outdoor, around the cottage and garden. It was there that I discovered some hidden gems. We went for a walk and he showed me some historical places around the estate where the cottage is situated and we even saw a big earthy mound where a badger lives nearby.  Like always, posing for a portrait requires a bit of warm-up exercise. It is like dancing, where the photographer and the model are the dancers who need to get used to each other ways of being and moving before a flowing rhythm is finally established. It is then, that the magic starts happening. I was shooting for about one hour, but it was only when I took the last picture that I knew that it was going to be the “One” I would have chosen out of all. The last step of our dance turned out to be the most important of all, the one that carried the soul and spirit of the dance!


I was still puzzled though!

How is it possible for a person with with such a fine sense of humour not to have a happier face!? 

EXPECTATIONS

My mind pictured him to be in a certain way and created some realistic expectations of how he would look. I already had his character printed inside my story. 


Was his wee cottage the way I imagined it? No! 

So incredible to think how words trigger our imagination in such strange ways, that create visual and sensory experiences of something we are not really living ourselves, and that is different from reader to reader. 


Each mind, with its collection of life memories stored in an invisible computer, makes up its own stories about what we see, hear and feel daily and throughout life.

I imagine this invisible computer connected by invisible cables to our bodies sending signals back and forward. All these signals containing the information we have gathered. 

Are we feeding our own mind or are we feeding something much bigger and separate from us? 

Is it really separate? 


Are we just small individual computers collecting information through our own experiences that are stored in a gigantic/infinite motherboard (computer) somewhere else in the Universe?!?!


Is it why we created computers and Artificial Intelligence? To duplicate exactly what we are??!! 


Is this the thought that inspired men to build such machines?!


Wow….where did I go with my free-flowing writing this morning?

I never planned to get to this place! 

I had no idea that writing about Laurence would have brought me to this kind of thinking. 

Oh well….thoughts run off in so many directions and yet they are linked together still.


Here is my favourite portrait I took that day! 

This is how I see Laurence Demarco ….. a dreamer, a philosopher, a visionary. 

Someone who deeply inspired me!


Candida…Friend or Foe!


Candida Albicans is one specific type of the “opportunistic group” of Candida fungi that can cause intestinal Candida overgrowth. It is usually found in our intestines, where it forms part of our ‘gut flora,’ the community of microorganisms that helps us digest food, detoxify, protect against pathogenic bacterial overgrowth, and support our immune system. Candida overgrowth occurs when this balance in our intestines is disturbed and the Candida fungus starts to overwhelm the rest of these microorganisms. This weakens our immune system and affects our ability to properly digest food. Additionally, the Candida cells release waste products, like the neurotoxin acetaldehyde, that can cause symptoms across the rest of our body.

The main causes for such disruption are a prolonged high-sugar diet, antibiotics and of course STRESS!!

Of course, there are others factors that can be added to the above list, but those three are the BIG ONES…and are so much a part of our modern and convenient lifestyle.

(Since this is a fairly long article…if you don’t want to read the whole story behind the point I’m trying to make just skip to the line further down that begins with…..”Candida loves sugars, yeast…”)

Our modern, comfortable lives were supposed to keep us safe from infections and dis-eases but the opposite is happening and it seems that cancer and more immune system related conditions are becoming an epidemic. Everywhere I turn, I hear of someone who has been affected by either one or the other. 

Under the label of convenience, we are actually disrupting, even more, our physical, mental and of course spiritual health. And when I use the word spiritual, I never refer to a religious belief, because that, I consider being a totally different category from spirituality.

Stress is a normal chemical reaction that our bodies have inbuilt that help us in a situation of danger. It gives us that extra energy to escape and find quick solutions.

Today we live in constant stress. Our bodies release these same chemicals on a daily basis to the point that their circulation become a norm and we don’t know how to stop it. Stress becomes the real danger. 

We’ve created a society that is adding more and more burdens on our lives. We have trapped ourselves inside a vicious circle of comforts, commodities and convenience but also where we expect everything to happen fast. Such choices force everyone to act fast, at home, at work, and even when we spend time doing things we love. We often seem to be in a hurry to move onto the next thing, in our never-ending list of “TO DOs”. We have reached a point where we need to force ourselves to slow down, and often with great difficulties. It feels as if the art of relaxation has been lost and we don’t know how to simply be. 

I recently watched a documentary called ‘Happy’. It was shown that there only very few happy countries in the world. They are places where people live more balanced lives, and society is built in a way that provides a great support system for everyone. There, people are not overworked, stressed, worried about how they are going to pay their bills or put food on their table, neither is difficult to find a job. They have plenty of free time to do the things they love to do, they have time to live, to be with friends and family and time to just BREATH and BE!

On the contrary a country like Japan, where the society is so much based on production and economic growth (money), people are actually dying because of physical exhaustion! How crazy is that!?

We are working more and earning less, which forces us to have to work even longer hours or have more than one job, and for many, just to have enough to “SURVIVE”. Most people live under a constant pressure of having to be in a certain way, overwhelmed by those powerful external influences brought on us by the media, politics and religions that expect us to conform to their ways. 

We depend on everything external to us.

Our nutrition depends on big companies producing and delivering the food to our doorsteps. Do you really believe our health is important to them?

Lots of people today, buy food online with a simple click of a button or a touch on a screen.

Do we ever wonder about what’s inside the food we eat? Totally trusting those big companies whose main objective is profit, not in the means of our health but in the means of MONEY!

Most of the food we buy today contains a high percentage of different chemicals that have been used during their production (fertilizers, pest-killers) and then to prolong their shelf-life. Only a small amount of that can be washed off with water, the rest remains inside the food we eat. Fruits, veggies, grains, they all have porous skin, which means what goes on top is also partly absorbed. 

The wheel of life spins round and round with all its elements deeply interconnected with each other and we are all part of that too.

When we buy convenience foods, such as ready-meals, partially ready-meals or refined products, that come with long lists of additives and unnatural flavours, we add even more chemicals in our already battered bodies. 

How dysfunctional is all this? To the point that is destructive to life.

More dis-eases are created, more people are getting sick and more children are born with genetic disorders and screwed up immune systems. 

(For those who have decided to skip reading the above….continue from here!)

Candida loves sugars, yeast, moist and warmth. Western diet and shall we now dare to say…world diet is today based on sugar and yeast, especially sugars.

Sugar is present everywhere, it’s in grains, fruits, vegetables, pulses but….these…are the natural sugars! Then, there are all other kinds of processed, refined sugars that we add to the above ingredients to add more flavour. This is the big selection of products that most of the population consumes daily, week after week, month after month and year after year. We have even given the sweetest name of all to some of these wonderful products!

…we call them “comfort food”, “feel good food”!! 

Really?!?!

Do we really, truly, feel so good afterwards?!

Our mind seems to think so, but our bodies (if we listen carefully!) say the opposite!

They turn us into “sugar addicts” and “sugar cravers” and slowly but surely they mess up and upset our delicate balance of the gut flora. For sure they did it to me! …and I can only vouch for myself!   I didn’t think I had a sugar addiction because I believed I had control over it… but did I? Obviously not.

Our vital organs and body cells need proper nutrition to function properly, and for sure don’t need such an excess of chemicals and sugars if we want to experience a real sense of happy health and general well-being. 

So, a long-term sugar injection that began in childhood, lots of worries, stress, and hormonal changes with the menopause have all brought me to the place I am today, having now to re-learn how to truly take care of myself and this mysterious and wonderful body I have. 

So, I understand how I got here, but the “Why?” has been the question that has been puzzling me for a long time. If I look at it on a purely physical level…nobody taught me the true meaning of ‘loving myself’ and what to do to achieve that. 

How do we love ourselves?

Well! It all depends where we look for answers. 

Some recommend us to eat dark chocolate because it contains antioxidants that are good for our bodies! Ok, I can agree with that if the chocolate had no sugar, in which case most of us really won’t go near that darn thing because without some kind of sweetener is not that appealing to our taste buds! 

Aaah! But it makes us feel good!!

…for a little while, only! 

The feel-good factor comes mainly from two main compounds contained in cocoa: Tryptophan (an amino acid found in small quantities in chocolate, that is used by the brain to make serotonin, the neurotransmitter that can produce feelings of happiness) and Phenylethylalanine a chemical that arouses feelings similar to those that occur when one is in love. It has been called the “Love Drug”. This chemical also acts as an anti-depressant by combining with dopamine that is naturally present in the brain. 

The point is, comfort food, chocolate, alcohol, sugar, drugs …are just palliatives and are the opposite of what self-love is because these are the factors that in the end cause us to feel unhappy and unhealthy. 

So what it is this “love yourself thing”?!

Well, Miss Candida is teaching me this lesson that neither my parents nor society could. It is teaching me how to take care of my self, love and heal my body and consequently my mind too. It is showing me how to be kind, gentle and compassionate with myself and not just towards others.

Candida is forcing me to look at my whole lifestyle. Eating habits, thinking habits, work ethics, relationships and old believe patterns, all need to be rebuilt from scratch. It’s teaching me to put myself first, not in a selfish manner but with the realisation that if I don’t take care of my health first how can I ever take care of everything else. I’m the bright sun of my own little universe and I need to shine and stay strong so that all that is orbiting around me can function harmoniously.  

As a conceptual photographer, this experience like many others before and many more to come has given me the opportunity to explore it on a creative level too.

This process is making me strong and helping me finding other positive solutions to what otherwise could be perceived as a miserable time in my life. Instead, I choose to embrace it all with a positive and happy outlook and the excitement these changes have already started bringing into my life. 

A new beginning and a new photographic project. 


Judging without knowing, giving opinions when nobody has asked.

Judging without knowing, giving opinions when nobody has asked.

Standing by the Stobo road, peacefully getting on with my own work…I have just found another carcass, another victim of the road! So many animals die on our roads hit by cars, some of which are often driven too fast on these country lanes not allowing enough time to  slow down and stop to let the animals cross to the other side, safe once more.

As an artist I get inspired by life, and everyday experiences. These days  is mostly my own personal experiences that spark a light, and give birth to the idea for a new project, allowing me the creative space to explore and reflect on life, and in this particular case is about my own reflections on death.

Since I hit my forties, death became a constant presence, and for many years it caused fears and anxieties. I dreamt it, I felt it rushing through my veins mixed with my blood and there were times when death felt more alive than my blood. 

No I wasn’t suicidal or had any desire to die, in fact it was the exact opposite, I didn’t want to die! I was so scared of my own physical disappearance from this world…but was it truly about the physical death? I didn’t know!

So, being me, my inner work along the new path of discovery and getting to understand death began. I cannot tell you how, or what I did….all I know is that I was walking on it, and I was going for sure to understand the whys and whats in my own way, as we all have our own ways to understand such things and none is wrong or right, they are just different languages that each one of us speak, maybe to refine it even more I would say they are like lots of different dialects spoken within the infinite regions of our unconscious mind.

Death was asking me to face it, to look at it in the eyes without trembling, and I was trembling for sure….a lot in fact. I always admired those people who were not afraid of it, I even had the fortune to meet children who were not afraid of death. They were like little gentle and peaceful warriors that just accept it without any resistance for what simply is.

Today, I’m still on that journey, but not as scared as I was, I’m a lot more relaxed about it, but still exploring it, and slowly making acquaintance with this other aspect of life which we call death. In the past few years, I’ve explored it through my creative work as a photographer, and taking portraits of “road kills”, is one of them. I don’t do it because I enjoy blood or the sight of it. For me, it is one way to look at death in close proximities, I need to see what it looks like and most importantly I need to feel it. 

Well, yesterday I was just doing that…I’ve noticed a fresh carcass of a beautiful badger that got killed on that road and I had to stop, I wanted to go back and take some portraits of its empty carcass, no soul, no heart beat, no blood running in its veins to keep that body warm any longer, it was the end of its physical experience….where is its spirit gone now?…I wondered!

I was very aware of the traffic, and cars passing fast, and I was very careful not to cause any problems to those drivers, so made sure I kept off the road, as I didn’t want to end up like the badger. Suddenly a funky red car with flowers stickers all over, came almost to a stop; I noticed a blond, young girl at the wheel, she passed me, than stopped, then reversed back to where I was standing well away from the road. She looked at me and she said: “That is sick and wrong what you are doing! What are you doing that for? Taking photos of a poor badger, would you like someone to come and take photos of you dead on the side of the road? You are sick, your mind is sick! “

I was surprised and shocked and replied that she had no idea who I was, or what I was doing exactly, neither she knew the reason for what I was doing…but she just continued judging me for what she saw and perceived in her own state of mind. Then she left with more foul insults!! 

At that point, I did something wrong, because in that particular moment I lost control over my own upset-ego and showed her my middle finger that she could clearly see in the mirror, and I wanted her to see it…Oh yes!

In retrospective, that was wrong, because that action brought me down to the same level, so there was no difference between me and her in our actions; I lost my coolness and focus there and then while instead I could have simply put the palms of my hands together in a sign of peace, like they do in Bhuddism and in Hindu culture. A beautiful gesture of greetings and go in peace I always loved…but totally forgot it in that moment, because I allowed myself to become upset after her commentary. 

Few minutes later, an older couple, in a big car, stopped. The man could not resist, asking what I was doing there photographing a dead badger!? I gave a very brief explanation and explained I was a photographer, and my concern about roads, fast driving and animals getting killed. He just couldn’t wait to tell me his opinion…but he asked me first if I wanted to hear it! I said yes, don’t know why…because I wasn’t really interested in his opinion or anyone else opinion, I wasn’t there to ask people’s opinions about the death of the badger or about what i was doing there….I wasn’t really interfering with anyone else life. Anyway, since I accepted hearing what he had to say, there he went: “ Do you know how many people get killed on the roads?” he said.

“These badgers are a vermin!” I would worry about people but you would not go and take photos of people who died on the road?!” - Then I thought that actually police most probably take photos of accidents and people who have died, to add to the paper reports…but maybe not, and that was an irrelevant thought.

They left.

I re-focus and finished what I was doing, admiring the beautiful fur of the badger, the breeze was caressing it gently, and the late afternoon sun was shining on the carcass, I saw ‘Beauty’! 

There was nothing sick or ugly or tabu that my eyes could see, only the beauty of that moment, and a small farewell prayer to such a beautiful creature who for a while inhabited the earth adding its natural contribution to all life! 

Life and Death are intertwined and never separate!

Life and Death are just two aspects of life! 

How wonderful and beautiful is this!

Peace & Love to all (Blond girl in red flowery car and older couple in big car are included)

Hanisa

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