April 30, 2011

The Philosopher and the Gladiator of Football - Messi and Ronaldo

Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi

Any football lovers out there? If you are, you know which match I was watching two nights ago. Yes, the Champions League first-semi final between Barcelona and Real Madrid. And Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo were in focus again.

If you are not a football lover, you can just scroll down and look at some of my favorite snaps of Messi and Ronaldo. Or alternatively you can still read my musings which are really not very footballish. Furthermore I can entice you with an anti-football poem I wrote some years back which will tickle your ...eh... something.

Ronaldo has always fascinated me with his Latin temperament and his extreme physical acceleration. When he runs, he is like a cheetah. Furthermore, he always gives 100%, unless he is in a bad mood for some ego-reason - which does happen, now and then. But during this game two evenings back, it was as usual Messi who caught my eye, mind and heart. The crown jewel of football. Every single coach in the world, every single supporter, would want Messi to be theirs. He is, physically, a small man. But don't be fooled. That small man punches 1000 times above his height. Messi the magician. He suddenly appears - poof - out of thin air to score one impossible goal after the other. Unlike Ronaldo he is not moody, self-centered, and arrogant, but even-tempered, polite, and simple.

As I watched the game I had a flashback to May 2009 when I watched the Champions League final where the same two players were central. At that time Ronaldo was playing for Manchester United. Yesterday I dipped into my diary to see what thoughts I had noted down after the 2009 match:

Rising a mere 169 cm above the ground, Messi is altitudinally challenged; still he was able to fly above everyone else in the Man U defense and head the second and last nail into the Manchester coffin. A glimmer of hope for all short people. Ronaldo is highly enthusiastic, but he has a pride-problem. When the journalists asked who the best player was, he or Messi, he got irritated. I'm sure Messi would have smiled. He is simply more sympathetic - rather than engaging in quarrels he dons a profound smile. The Mona Lisa of football. That's what I would write about if I were a football-blogger. When I see Messi, I want to enter his head and heart to see what's going on. When I see Ronaldo, I'm not even curious. Messi is the philosopher - trying to perfect his game of chess on grass; Ronaldo is the gladiator wanting applause and recognition.
                                                                       (Excerpt, The Pirate Diaries)

I really don't dislike Ronaldo. He has his boyish charm and wild animal acceleration, and often he inspires me with his assertiveness. I do indeed have something to learn from him. But if I were forced to choose between Messi and Ronaldo, there is little doubt as to who I would bring with me to a desolate island.

See, Ronaldo is rumored to be committed to 3000 sit-ups per day; I am not sure he would be of much help when gathering roots and picking coconuts and building the camp fire. Secondly, I don't think our desolate island will have any mirrors and he might have some violent outbursts when he cannot do his five daily "mirror mirror on the wall, who is the handsomest of them all?" sessions. And really, how can I spend my days with a man who has called his first and only son the same as himself, Cristiano?  It reminds me of the legendary American Boxer George Foreman who called all five of his sons and two of his daughters for George. What's the deal?!?

No, Messi and I would cooperate and share all responsibilities. In the daytime we would surf the waves on our handmade bamboo surf boards or explore the caves on the island or befriend some local animals with whom we could play a refreshing game of football. In the evening we would drink our own coconut wine and let the sun retire slowly until the stars descend upon us like fireworks. We would live happily and thankfully without mirrors.

Football is chess on grass - it is beautiful. When I was little there seemed to be more gentlemen-players. Like my first hero, the Brazilian footballer Socrates, whom I named my dog after. But now with all the money in football the gladiators dominate. That is why I admire Messi so much more - not only does he survive but he thrives among the wolves. It's as if he is telling us all to believe in the power of civility - that the world is not bound to be tied up in wars and violence.

Because if you watched the game between Barca and Real you would see how football often is a game between two teams saturated with muscle-packed, self-centered, testosterone-pumped young males with ego-management problems. It doesn't exactly show humanity at its best.

Perhaps that is why my sister sighs every time my brother-in-law turns on the TV to watch a game. And now, dear reader, comes the poem I promised - with my sister as the protagonist. I think I wrote it during the World Cup in 2004 when many women become football widows for a month. I've called it Lethal Wish:
She sighed
Burdened with a heavy wish
That football
Would have a massive heart attack
And die
If only my sister would come to know about Messi, she might see the light. Perhaps Messi is the Messiahs of football we have all been waiting for. May the future generations of footballers with a soft, beautiful heart and a simple, civil attitude - who play for the love of the game and not for fast cars and models - drink in his inspiration and never give up for the gladiators. The world is at stake.

(Ha, I think I'm starting to sound like a great football prophet! Go, Little Dragon, Go! Wait - can somebody hand me a mirror?)

Football's King Philosopher. A penny for your thoughts?

Primal Scream - taking off one's shirt is illegal during a match. But who can blame a gladiator for wanting to show his body after a goal? I mean, 3000 sit-ups a day must surely give him some rights...

A glimmer of hope for the short people of the world - altitudinally challenged Messi flies high.

Celebrating a goal - the classy way
The Ronaldo Way

Mona Lisa Smile at press conference
Are you talkin' to me?!?

The art of joyfully sitting on one's butt
Sitting on your butt with pride

Messi in Black
Tongue in check
The God Father next?

Funny Faced Messi

Corny Cristiano

A Humble Free Kick

Gladiator Free Kick

Ooopss...sorry, guys...

My hair!

Joyful Heart

Prince Charming

The misery of injury

The pain of crushed ambition

Mischievous Messi

Cheeky Cristiano

Decent Jeans Advertisement

Indecent Jeans Advertisement

Too sexy for my clothes

Too modest to take off my shirt
Lionel - who tricked you into this?
Gentlemen will be victorious

April 26, 2011

Being a guest house for feelings

Some emotions that might visit our house

I have not fully recovered from the arrival of spring. My mind seems to lose some function during this critical period - feelings seem to take over. Spring, I believe is a time for feeling. I have never been very good at understanding my own feelings. Thinking is my strongest card, by far. I sympathize with my good friend Raging Lion who although filled to the brim with feelings can't easily identify them. Once he had to fill out a questionnaire about his emotional life and the interviewer couldn't believe his eyes when Raging Lion took out a pendulum to answer the questions. Being a shallow thinking person the interviewer probably labeled Raging Lion as crazy right there on the spot. I thought that Raging Lion had found a very efficient way to aid himself in exploring his own feelings - he knew his own weakness and dealt with it.

When I was little and lived in America I used to love watching the Sesame Street Show. I watched from the floor where I sat enthralled. My mom also bought Sesame Street sheets for my bed, so I was steeped in Sesame Street and the beautiful characters. Later in life I could appreciate the elegant design and pedagogy behind Sesame Street  - the show nurtured both the cognitive and the emotional skills of children. The show was also free of commercials and consumptive pressures - at the end of each program a voice would say something like: "This program was sponsored by the letter K and H and the number 12." Well, today it is quite a bit tougher being a child and watching TV. Let me bring you back to some of my childhood TV memories:

Here you can watch Ernie trying to involve Bert in the "Feelings Game":

Here Kermit is talking about feelings and is serendipitously interrupted by the Cookie Monster:

According to the World Health Organization, depression will be the second leading cause of death and disability worldwide by 2020 (after cardiovascular disease). The scale of depression is already staggering.

A person who is depressed is often prone to rumination - self-critical, self-focused, repetitive negative thinking- driven by a desire to "solve" the unhappy state, and experiential avoidance -wanting to be out of touch with painful thoughts, emotions and bodily sensations.

Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) is increasingly used in therapeutic practice, as it is very effective and inexpensive. Mindfulness is simply about being aware of what is going on and attending events with curiosity and kindness instead of hostility and rejection. By increasing our ability to identify our feelings and by exercising tolerance and even curiosity and kindness towards our feelings, it is suggested that we will be able to see moods and thoughts as passing events and not a physical part of our identity.

I think one of the best poems ever written about how to deal with dark moods is The Guest House, by Rumi. I would like to share it here:

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing 
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

-- Jelaluddin Rumi,
    translation by Coleman Barks

April 17, 2011

Ode to Spring!

My Ship Sailing Into the Spring Sun

Spring has finally arrived in Norway - the mornings and evenings are getting lighter and lighter and I am woken by birds in the morning. The winter has been very long this year. When I sail around the peninsula where I have my cabin, I see so many people have recently felled trees on their properties. It seems almost like an attack of craziness - the only thought in their head is now sun, sun, sun.

Norway is a bi-polar nation. As one of my professors at the Norwegian Pirate University told the international pirates when they arrived in this strange country: There is one thing you should know about Norwegians. In the winter time they exist; in the summer time they live. Yes, it is true, dear reader. In the summer time you can find Norwegians who actually talk without having drunk alcohol. In the summer time you will even hear Norwegians laugh and see them smile. So for those of you who have never been here to this land of the midnight sun, you know when to come.

A photophobic pirate armed for the sun
Actually I am no fan of spring. Maybe it is because I don't like the color yellow (although this yellow post by Shanthi bent my feelings a bit towards positive). But it is also the exploding light that accompanies spring. I am photophobic - so I love the dark. In addition to my pirate self, I have a vampire character.  I have eyes that easily hyperdilate - my blue eyes transform into black in the dark. This means my night vision is excellent, so I am always the helmsman at night.

Yesterday I made a mistake. I was landlocked and spent four hours walking in the sun. Although I was heavily armed with sunglasses, I could feel fatigue getting the better part of me. Finally only the worst part of me was left and I returned exhausted to the ship. I was so done in that I could hardly crack a joke or lift my bottle. I vowed to myself not to repeat that mistake again. I decided to crawl into bed and contemplate my agitation towards the sun and spring.

Spring, I thought to myself, is so self-oriented - so cocky. Why couldn't spring be more mellow, less painfully exuberant? Even though I was tired I felt an urge to write a poem about the madness of spring - but my oomph only lasted for a haiku:

The boisterous sun came raging
The calm winter faded shyly
My blue feelings jumping

No, I was not satisfied. I could not sleep until I had captured my agitation. I got out of bed and paced by my bookshelf, letting my fingers spider along the leathery backs. I knew there was a poem lurking somewhere in my youth. Finally I found what I was looking for. A poem by Karin Boye called Yes, of course it hurts. So without further ado - here it is (for the original, Swedish version, click here): 

A Himalayan Poppy bud about to break

Yes, of course it hurts when buds are breaking.
Why else would the springtime falter?
Why would all our ardent longing
bind itself in frozen, bitter pallor?
After all, the bud was covered all the winter.
What new thing is it that bursts and wears?
Yes, of course it hurts when buds are breaking,
hurts for that which grows
and that which bars.

Yes, it is hard when drops are falling.
Trembling with fear, and heavy hanging,
cleaving to the twig, and swelling, sliding -
weight draws them down, though they go on clinging.
Hard to be uncertain, afraid and divided,
hard to feel the depths attract and call,
yet sit fast and merely tremble -
hard to want to stay
and want to fall.

Then, when things are worst and nothing helps
the tree's buds break as in rejoicing,
then, when no fear holds back any longer,
down in glitter go the twig's drops plunging,
forget that they were frightened by the new,
forget their fear before the flight unfurled -
feel for a second their greatest safety,
rest in that trust
that creates the world.

          -Karin Boye, 1935

April 10, 2011

The Power of Blue

The ultimate national color therapy: The Men in Blue

Don't run away - this is not another cricket post! 

And no, although I was specially invited, I did not go around the country with the Indian team on their victory tour - or perhaps that is why they are still waiting to go. I told them clearly that I had bigger and better things to do; like this very important blog. Millions of people (roughly) are waiting for my weekly post - thank you, dear reader, for making it easy to keep my priorities straight. Thanks in particular to my charismatic reader Sol who gave me special strength to sit by my post when so many other temptations were lurking.

In my last post I wrote about my preference for the Indian cricket team, partially due to the team's magnificent jersey color of ultramarine blue. I am a blue person. Perhaps it is a vocational injury - after all I spend long hours at sea, admittedly often drunk on rum, but more often drunk on the plethora of blue hues of the ocean. In fact I am so clearly a Blue Person that one of my men, Sobrio, gets irritated with me if I wear anything else. Let me tell you about one such time.

One Sunday I wore a bright magenta pirate bandanna instead of my normal blue one (even pirates need to wash their bandannas once in a blue moon). I was standing in the bow gazing into the horizon through my monocular, minding my own business, when Sobrio approached, disturbing my delicious solitude. Even though I am his captain he looked at me with a certain degree of loathing. This is what transpired between us:   
-What's 'n yar skull? Pink, arr?!?  Where yar blu mind sailed way to, arrrr!?! Sobrio gruffed.
-Actually, it is magenta, I corrected him, disliking his lack of refinement.
-Maybe it's non me buzness, but that pink rag makes ya look like 'n old wench, he said with an air of finality as he turned to walk away.
-Watch yar words, arr, Sobrio - ya pompous gasbag - or ya'll wag yar way down the plank, I hissed, trying my best to sound pirately. That is my weakest spot - my father totally neglected my pirate jargon classes as I was growing up. But pompus gasbag was pretty good, really. I self-gratiously took a swig of rum and left all thoughts of Sobrio behind.
I admit - I am not the captain with the most forceful punch; some times I think my men keep me just for amusement. At any rate, I have stopped wearing that magenta bandanna. Personally I don't mind looking like an old wench, but I can't afford to irritate my men to the point where they might feel forced to mutiny. I have noticed that if I wear a dark magenta vest on the outside of my ultramarine blue pirate shirt, they don't mind. Balance is key, it seems.

Although apparently magenta is not an actual color - but leave the science for now. As a very fair-skinned Scandinavian, my choice of colors is limited. I can't wear red, yellow, orange, brown, white, or black. I stick mostly to shades of blue and magenta. Maybe that is why those two colors excite me most.

So, getting back to ultramarine blue. In its natural form it is a component of the semi-precious stone Lapis lazuli - that is why it is called Ultramarine - from the Latin azurrum ultramarinum, meaning "blue from beyond the sea". Lapis lazuli was mostly exported from the Badakhshan areas of what is today northeastern Afghanistan, where Lapis has been mined for 6000 years (!) In medieval times the Lapis would travel the Silk Road to Europe via the ports of Venice. Contracts from that time show its value to rival that of gold.

I have a friend who responds strongly to colors. She is highly intelligent, emotionally stable, of fine pedigree, and not even a tiny bit new-agish. She is convinced that colors have power, and told me that some colors even leave her feeling drugged. It is no wonder that in ancient cultures colors were believed to have therapeutic qualities. Today even to mention the concept color therapy - or chromotherapy - can cause hypertension in the scientific medical establishment. In fact, any mention of alternative medicine will get the serious doctors puffed up. At best serious doctors will credit any betterment in health from alternative medicine to the "placebo effect" - the step child of the medical establishment. However, the placebo effect is the crown jewel of psychosomatic medicine as it strongly suggests that psychosocial factors are heavily at play in matters of health. So, if colors can affect moods, then why not health? Let the experts disagree, but these are the suggestions about blue:

The Color Blue:
Cools down inflammations, fever, high blood pressure, stops bleeding, reliefs the bursting headaches, calms strong emotions like anger, aggression or hysteria. Brings tranquility. Anti-itching. Anti-irritation, anti-stress. Soothes suffering. The blue rays have also been called one of the greatest antiseptics in the world.
Source:  http://www.deeptrancenow.com/colortherapy.htm
The Medicine Buddha - the Stress Master Blaster

The ultramarine or Lapis lazuli blue is especially attractive and calming color known for its healing qualities. In Buddhism the Medicine Buddha, or Sangye Menla in Tibetan, is soaked in ultramarine blue. Blue light apparently has a demonstrable healing or relaxing effect on those who use it in visualization practice. To visualize a Blue Buddha will thus be the ultimate calming and relaxing practice, allowing the immune system to work its wonders. There are even powerful mantras one can recite to invoke calmness - click here to listen to one rendition of the mantra that goes (roughly):

May all beings benefit from the sublime love and power of Sangye Menla

In one of the main Buddhist sutras, Shakyamuni says about the Medicine Buddha:

I beseech you, Blessed Medicine Guru,
Whose sky-colored, holy body of lapis lazuli
Signifies omniscient wisdom and compassion
As vast as limitless space,
Please grant me your blessings.

     Source: http://www.religionfacts.com/buddhism/symbols/blue.htm

So, there you have it. My men keep me as a captain as they know I have a blue mind. Who wouldn't want to keep a captain who although low-scoring in gruffness and pirate jargon radiates omniscient wisdom and compassion?

Yours truly.

ps. Ok. So I'm going to sneak in one more cricket thing after all. The whole compassionate, wise captain rant got me back to it. If you want to see the epitome of a gracious, wise captain, please watch Sri Lanka's captain Sangakara's comments after the lost final:

April 4, 2011

Cricket World Cup Final in Norway

Indian batsman Sachin Tendulkar - the Master Blaster

Congratulations, India! I have a few readers from South Asia and Britain, so you know what I am referring to. The World Cup Final in 50-50 cricket between India and Sri Lanka.

It was a great match - exciting to the very last. I'd never thought I'd say that about cricket. For the first time in my life I followed a full cricket match - by the time Indian captain MS Dhoni hit the last 6 pointer after 8 hours of battle, I felt I was as tired as the sweat-soaked cricketers in the hot, humid weather of Mumbai.

I had the great fortune of watching the game with Indian and Sri Lankan friends. Both parties claimed that it didn't really matter who won; that the real final had already been played (the semi-final between India and Pakistan) so now they would just enjoy.

A safe bet! A face painted with both flags. Photo: V. R

 Although I tried to paint my heart with the flags of both teams, it was difficult. India has been a source of great joy ever since I fell in love with Vikram Seth in august 1995 when I read A Suitable Boy. Come to think of it, the first cricketer I fell in love with was Kabir Durrani, the hero of the book who is oh so unsuitable as a match for a Hindu daughter because he is a Muslim.

The Color of My Heart: Ultramarine Blue
So I must admit that although I was sitting in my Sri Lankan friend's house, and feeling sorry for him being surrounded by a group of Indian supporters, my heart was as blue as the ultramarine blue color of the Indian national team jerseys. I probably would have supported the Indian team for their jersey color alone. Although Sri Lanka's jerseys also are blue, they are a deeper navy blue and with yellow stripes - a very close resemblance to the Swedish national jerseys. No self-respecting Norwegian could cheer for the Sri Lankan team as long as they insist on wearing navy blue and yellow jerseys.

My Indian friend S early on started to worry about the Sri Lankan bowler Malinga, also known as "Slinga Malinga" due to his very special roundarm bowling (watch his exceptional bowling style in a hat trick against Kenya here). Whenever Malinga bowled S would leap from her chair and shout with indignation: "What is that fellow playing?!? It is at least not cricket!" My Sri Lankan friend N would suppress a gleeful smile. 

Sri Lankan bowler Malinga in the air

When Malinga proceeds to take out Indian star batsman Sachin Tendulkar - close to shattering the Indian dream of a victory - N calmly says, his chest swelling with pride: Oh, there is still a long way to go; India stands a very good chance...a very good chance...  From this point onwards S is not sure who to target with her fiery eyes - N or Malinga. So she turns to her laptop and appeals to the stars - that is, fate, as predicted by the astrologists. Sitting with one evil eye glued to Malinga she uses the other to google astrology predictions for the match.  Loud and clear we all get to hear Destiny read out:

Based on the Date and Time of the India Vs Sri Lanka Final Match: The ascendant is cancer and its lord Moon is well placed in the 9th house with yogadhipathi Mars. This indicates strong possibility for India to win the world cup final match; however, the chart also indicates that the match is going to be a tough one. Moreover, Jupiter and Sun are also favoring India by their placement in Pisces along with Moon. Lot of expectations is there from Sachin and he will be able to meet the expectations to a certain extent....
N smirks from the corner: Yes, yes - Sachin is capable; unfortunately he is now OUT!

But S plays her trump card:

Based on the Prasna Chart: - The charts are indicating that the final will be a tough encounter. Dhoni will have to use his tactics, presence of mind and his experience well in this world cup encounter to gift India their 2nd World Cup Trophy. So, according to our astrologers, the final match will be a tough one; however, the planets are strongly favoring India to gift us our 2nd world Cup trophy.
See, N, S says with determination - if Sri Lanka wins, they are not only winning over India, they have also defeated the planetary constellations. So if you manage that, surely you will deserve to win the World Cup and I will be at peace.

It has been around 40 hours since the fireworks lit up the sky of Mumbai - the people of India are most likely still running on a high of positive emotions. But - be aware. I have some advice based on Norway's recent gold rush in the World Championships in Nordic Skiing. As our skiers were sweeping in buckets of gold our government was busy quietly releasing as much bad news as they could - knowing bitterness is a much easier pill to swallow with something sweet. So people of India - now is the time to be vigilant! Don't let the politicians take advantage of the Men in Blue.

I want to end my post with a beautiful video. It is a saying that the smaller the country, the longer the national anthem. I think it must be something related to the Napoleon complex. As a case in point, Norway's anthem is pretty long whereas India's is short and sweet. Rabindranath Tagore wrote the anthem Jana Gana Mana and I find this rendition moving - the Silent Indian National Anthem, signed by a group of Indian children: