Dec 26, 2012

Why I didn't like Christmas

I must confess Christmas holidays was a time I literally hated. I never enjoyed it, as a matter of fact, during most of my childhood I was scared of Christmas and New Year's celebrations, and later when I became a teenager it became a time of very uncomfortable decisions.

The main reason why I was scared of Christmas was the fireworks. There were two kind of them that I was particularly scared of, the first one is known in Colombia as carpeta (meaning literally: a folder). This was a small amount of gunpowder wrapped in paper in the shape of a triangle. Once ignited it exploded with an incredibly loud BANG! The second one of these scary things was called volador (meaning: flier). This was a rocket that exploded in the air with multiple BANGS! There was absolutely nothing pretty about them, no colorful lights to awe the spectators, just one loud horrifying bang. Well, my gentle soul was terrified of such type of fireworks and during Christmas there were more carpetas and voladores that could be exploded in one single night. Every single Christmas my drunk uncle came home with bags full of those, and there they went happily to blow these things up at the balcony for hours until sunrise. I had not choice but to find the most distant and dark corner of my house to hide terrified of the incessant explosions. Until this day the smell of gunpowder still sends shivers through my back and set me on alert, ready to take flight.

As I grew older and became a teenager I might have been able to tolerate the fireworks better, but with it came an equally displeasing discomfort. My parents separated when I was still a baby, and during most of my childhood I spent the holidays with my mother and her family. When I became a teenager my father returned to my hometown, at least during holidays, so I was put in the awkward situation of having to chose with whom I wanted to spend the holidays: with my dad's family or my mom's family. This was terribly uncomfortable for me because even though I had a choice, I knew that my mom didn't want me to go with my dad's family. She never said it but I could clearly feel it. On the other hand, I didn't get to see my dad so often so he expected me to spend the holidays with him. It was extremely uncomfortable having to decide whether I was going to be on Christmas Eve with one family or the other one, without hurting anyone's feelings. It was never easy, and that completely ruined my holidays every time. Nowadays that I have been living in Europe, I have had the chance to spend very peaceful Christmas. And even though I wish I could spend it with both my mom and dad, and even though I miss them so much... I'm kind of glad I don't have to make that choice or relive those uncomfortable situations any longer.

Trafalgar Square Christmas tree
 Merry Christmas to all and a Prosperous 2013!!

Dec 8, 2012

Six months in London and two poems on the Underground

Ice Rink Christmas Tree
Ice Rink at the Natural History Museum

It's exactly six months since I arrived to London. To commemorate I'll leave you with two poems I saw on the Tube some of those days.

A Song for England

An' a so de rain a-fall
An' a so de snow a-rain

An' a so de fog a-fall
An' a so de sun a-fail

An' a so de seasons mix
An' a so de bag-o'-tricks

But a so me understan'
De misery o' de Englishman

By Andrew Salkey

Two Fragments
Love holds me captive again
and I tremble with bittersweet longing

As a gale on the mountainside bends the oak tree
I am rocked by my love

Sappho translated by Cicely Herbert

Dec 4, 2012

Tax avoidance in the UK?

The other day I was happy on the second floor of the double decker bus, on my way to work, when I saw on a bus stop the following poster:

It reads in small letter: if you have declared all your income tax you have nothing to fear. What is that supposed to mean?

Just to find out a few days later that companies like Starbucks using the loop-holes in the tax system, have paid no taxes on their entire revenues EVER in the UK!

And they try to put fear in the hearts of the populace? What hypocrisy.

Way to go Britain... way to go!

Nov 17, 2012

Golden Thistle

I am fire
I am an ardent sun in the winter
A cool breeze in the summer
A golden thistle in the spring
A scarlet oak leaf in the fall
I am the sound of brass, flutes, and clarinets
A dancer in the night of storms
A creator underneath the sun

Nov 10, 2012

Colombian samurai – Chapter 1: man and sword

Slash! Slash! Swish! Slash!

The ancient blade was blood thirsty, hungry for muscle, vein, bone. One thousand years of slumber. Awaken Kyōkimon, kill. Cut evil. Cursed blade of madness. Bath in the warm blood of your enemies like you once did.

A man of unlikely origins at an unlikely place with an unlikely destiny. A no one, a shadow in the wall, a wingless mosquito, once barely a man. This man was born in a small city of Colombia. This man became a samurai and it is the hero of this epic tale, this tragic tale, this sad tale of insanity. For being a hero is the most unfortunate of fates. An unfortunate tale that must be told indeed.

It was the 1st of July of 2012 when our hero, Tito Córdoba, and the one thousand years-old sword, Kyōkimon, met for the first time. Tito was at the British Museum strolling around a Sunday afternoon, fascinated with the sight of the Rosetta Stone and the Mosaic Mask of Quetzalcoatl. A day like no other. It was 17.00 when Tito entered the Japanese gallery.

You see, when men or women have been trained in the art of war since childhood their mind, body, and senses are finely tuned with the intent of people. Tito felt an aggressive intent, a killing intent. Was it a subtle smell, a fingerprint molecule expelled by an evil creature? An infinitesimal anomalous disturbance in the room's temperature caused by this creature excitation? Who knows, but Tito felt the presence of a murderous being, hidden, lurking.

Too late. A head rolled on the floor to rest at Tito's feet. A child's head still with a smile on its little pink chubby face. ROAR! ROAR! SMASH! Shattering glass, screams, shrieks. The alarm went off. People ran but some could not scape death.

At the end of the room a human-like creature stood with what might have been a stomach and some intestines from a person in its mouth. It was twice the size of a man, thrice the speed, ten times the strength, a hundred times the savagery. Dripped ruby blood. Where it came from? What was it doing at the British Museum? It will all make sense later, I promise. The beast, swallowed the guts and found them delicious.

In a glass case, Kyōkimon. Black scabbard, night of ends. Sleeping within, the purest steel, silvery, tears of the moon. And madness, raw and undistilled madness made metal.

Behind the glass case and at the other side of the room, Tito stood, a samurai without sword, without master.

In between him and it, a mother knelt clutching the headless body of her child. True terror was the only expression on her face.

The creature was known to science as Homoabiectus terribilis. A monster that might have diverged from Homo erectus five hundred thousand years ago, or might have not. A monster nonetheless. Like an avalanche, it sprinted toward the woman, propelled by irrational anger and an appetite for death. Sharp blackened teeth, open jaws seeking flesh.

Slash! Slash! Swish! Slash!

“Three steps to madness.”

Blood gushed out a chest, a neck, an arm dropped to the ground. Homoabiectus found eternal peace.

Tito did not know, but Kyōkimon had brought the ultimate punishment to five thousand and one enemies. Tito did not know the blade's name nor its history, yet he could feel its voracious thirst. Tito did not know but the more Kyōkimon cut, the sharper its edge became, the greater the horror that would befall the bearer. A samurai without a sword any longer, a samurai without a master.

Nov 6, 2012

My political compass

With all the noise about the presidential elections in the USA, and after talking a bit about politics with my girlfriend inspired by the recent municipal elections in Finland... I ended up wondering what were truly my political tendencies. I don't think about politics that much, as in parties or '-isms', so I didn't really know, or wasn't really sure, how my sets of believes and ideas about society would align with certain political views. I had a slight suspicion at best.

I found an online test called the Political Compass, and after answering a bunch of questions I think the results are not too far off. I have added a chart... I'm close to Gandhi in political views, a bit more extreme though.

That's my placement in the chart

This is how I compare with some leaders

 This is how I compare with the USA 2012 presidential candidates

So, according to this it wouldn't make much of a difference whether Obama or Romney won the elections; they are pretty much the same. I'm the complete opposite.

These are the UK parties as of 2010. I'm closer to the Green Party

The great composers, I'm closer to Bartòk

You learn new things about yourself every day. 

How do you score?

May 31, 2012

Celebrating 100 blog posts!

Dear readers,

With this one, a hundred blog posts have been written. That deserves celebration! I started my blog almost two years ago on a whim, inspired by a couple of friends who also have blogs: Las Vainas de Juan Pablo (in Spanish) and Ego Sum Daniel, a science blog. My own soon became my canvas, a place to create and share. So far, I do not have any intentions to stop writing and I hope to keep it until I die, unless an apocalyptic catastrophe destroys the internet in the decades to come. In this canvas I will paint my happiness and my sorrow, my victories and defeats, my tales, my poems...

Would you like to see my very first blog post? It is very short, click here.

I do not really like to think much about the why of this blog. I know that this blog is in great part very personal—not exclusively though. So why do I choose to share such private aspects of my life for all the world to see? Besides friends and family, who cares what the hell happened or did not happen in my life? Who the hell cares what I did or did not do, what I felt or did not feel, what I thought or did not think? Well, in part, my brain is hardwired to give of myself and share, that is how my personality is... by blogging and retelling my life and sharing my writings, the reward centers of my brain are activated. In consequence, I feel great pleasure every time I hit the publish button. I may also want the attention, I must confess, I do not doubt there is in my personality a lot of attention seeking behaviors, maybe a dash of narcissism. But I do not really mind that, as long as no one is getting hurt and it has some positive source: my loving heart! I am all in for a good time, even if it is just the reading of a blog post, I do not mean harm or shame to anyone. Now on the other hand, I think people may identify themselves with something I write, someone, perhaps you may see yourself in a part of my life. I think I may inspire you in a moment of doubt, I think my life could teach you something, it does not matter whether I fail or I succeed. I think I am able to, at least, give some good advice based solely on my own experience. I think every body has something to teach; how you overcame a difficulty, how you succeeded at a project, how somebody hurt you and you got over it, how you made a mistake and you want no one else to repeat that... there is great knowledge in everyone's life, just if people choose to share rather than hide their own life experiences. Nevertheless, I do not mean either to be very serious about this blog, I also want to entertain with my purely literary attempts at a masterpiece and with my funny anecdotes, because for some reason funny stuff happens to me almost at a daily basis. Could that be also related to the nature of my personality?

I thank immensely all my loyal visitors, those who come back to read: friends, family, secret admirers, and subscribers. I know that at least 25% of the visitors are people returning to read the blog: to you the people who care, I truly thank you from the bottom of my heart. If you were here I would hug you and kiss you, but just on the cheek. I can also tell you that every day more and more people are finding the blog, there have been already more than 13000 views. In this last month, I have had more than 1500 visits from all over the world. It is a record compared to any month since I started it. It is not much compared to popular blogs, but to me it is more precious than gold.

Now a new chapter begins. Next Sunday I fly to London after much wait and great uncertainty, I will join the Department of Biosciences at Imperial College London where I will keep saving the world with science. I will live in a new city and inevitably I will meet new people and make new friends. London seems the right environment to facilitate the experiencing of adventures, I will also change London into a better place with the advent of the Pelvic Strike to the UK.

Everything is a source of inspiration for this great painting called life. Expect.

And thanks again for reading.

I wish you all the very best,


May 28, 2012

99 reasons why my life is beautiful

This is blog no. 99, and to celebrate I have decided to list 99 reasons why my life is beautiful. I hope, like me, you can find every excuse to give meaning and beauty to your own life. They are roughly in chronological order... what are your reasons?

99. I was born 29 years ago, healthy, complete, and with a good set of genes.

Baby Tanai

98. I had a loving mother and a loving father, although they do not love each other anymore, their love for me knows no limits.

97. I was named Tanai.

96. I speak Spanish.

95. When I was just a little boy I got this red and yellow bike for Christmas, so beautiful my first bike was.

94. I owned this amazing jaguar custom that I wore for almost a month, never a kid looked so awesome.

Best Halloween custom ever!

93. I had two pet turtles.

92. I had this cool transformer toy of Starscream.

91. I had no siblings but plenty of cousins to distract me.

90. I had a close group of friend when I was 9 or 10 years old. We were four boys then, one of them is still one of my best friends.

89. I learnt to play chess until I could defeat my dad.

88. I used to play wrestling with my mom.

87. I was never a bad student at school; except for swimming lessons, never got it quite right.

86. In high school I asked a friend to find the phone number of some girl I liked from another course, I called her and talked to her even thought we have never met before. My very first approach to love.

85. I was in love with this little blond girl, and I wrote her poems and tales, which I sent to her anonymously.

84. I made a wonderful group of friends, we were 9. The happy band we were called.

The happy band

83. I learnt to speak English.

82. I learnt to love classical music and the great composers since I was a teenager.

81. I tried to teach myself how to play the piano, I did not succeed at it, but I learnt a lot about music.

80. I went to the best university in Colombia to study Biology, the year 2000.

79. I fell in love with writing. I started writing a lot, poetry and fiction.

78. I wrote two sonnets, I have lost all copies of those though.

77. I composed two minutes of a concert for piano.

76. I took a biology course called "Invertebrates" when I was in second semester, I understood evolution. Life would never be the same.

75. I took and advanced course called "Origin of Life and Early Evolution", there I discovered my love for enzymes that contains metals.

74. I learnt about Photosystem II, the water oxidizing enzyme. My career path was defined then...

73. There were two professors that gave me great support and well-timed advice.

72. I got my first girlfriend when I was 21... my first kiss!

71. I graduated as a biologist, September 2004.

70. I was accepted to a PhD program at Uppsala University.

69. I arrived to Sweden, the 2nd of November of 2004.

Uppsala's Spring

68. I experienced the beauty of snow and winter.

67. I started my training as a scientist.

My lovely Notoc punctifurme PCC 73102

66. I experienced below zero temperatures, saw icicles hanging down from three branches, and frozen rivers and lakes.

65. I kissed an 18 years old Italian girl (second girl I kissed ever, a memorable moment indeed). Not the last Italian girl I was going to kiss.

64. I got dreadlocks! And had them for 5 years.

63. I crossed to the North side of the polar circle, and saw the Aurora Borealis, it was kind of faint that day, but whatever.

62. I experienced -40°C and the water on my eyes freezing over my eyelashes.

The North Pole

61. I got a Swedish girlfriend with dreadlocks.

60. Then I experienced spring time for the very first time, and summer, and fall... (and sex).

59. I learnt to dance and to party.

58. I saw tulips for the very first time.

57. I played bowling for the very first time, in Latvia!

56. Beers, wine, tequila shots!

55. I visited the Dalí Museum in Spain.

54. I travelled to Finland to learn advanced biochemical techniques.

53. I went to Milan for 10 days to visit my good friend.

52. I got showered in Champagne many times during Valborg.

51. I published my first scientific article in 2007. Since then I have published seven more...

50. I fell in love a few times, some times I was loved in return, sometimes I was not.

49. I trained myself on the arts of seduction to amazing results.

48. I did snowboarding.

47. And skinny-dipped in the sea of Gotland, Sweden.

In Gotland, Sweden

46. And I went to Montreal to a conference. I almost missed my flight back to Sweden because I partied way too much the last day.

45. I visited Glasgow for the International Photosynthesis congress... and they gave me too little food and too much wine to terrible consequences.

44. I visited America two times, the last time I went to New York with my good friend to celebrate Christmas and New Year's.

43. I made the most wonderful loving friends in Sweden.

42. I owned four bikes in Uppsala, one of them was stolen, two of them I got for free.

41. I belonged to Norlands and Stockholms nation.

40. I ate sushi for the first time ever in Sweden.

39. I went four times to Uppsala Reggae Festival where I saw the greatest legends of Reggae!

38. I created the Pelvic Strike and changed the world into a better place by doing so.

Do the Pelvic Strike to warm the coldest nights!

37. I obtained a PhD in Chemistry with emphasis in molecular biomimetics, at the end of 2009.

My PhD thesis

36. My mom and aunt visited Sweden for my graduation, we traveled to Rome for holidays.

 The Saint Peter's Basilica behind me in Rome

35. My dissertation party was the best party in history.

Defending my thesis

34. I got a job at the CEA, the Commission for Atomic and Alternative Energies in France.

33. Traveled to Paris in February 2010.

Under the Eiffel Tower

32. I had a pretty awesome little apartment in the center of Paris.

31. I went to the Louvre Museum two times with great friends, I saw the Monalisa and some other famous masterpieces.

30. I went to the top of the Eiffel Tower with a hot Russian girl.

29. I was sexually harassed by a not very good looking Polish woman, and a French one too. Traumatizing, but you learn from mistakes.

28. I lived with one of my best friends for several months in Paris, which resulted in great adventures.

27. I ate ramen for the very first time in Paris, and Japanese curry too.

26. I sailed the Seine (and the Fyris river too).

25. I did not learnt to speak French (nor Swedish, as a matter of fact).

24. I started a blog the 10th of August 2010. Tanai's Amazing Blog.

23. I went to China to the International Photosynthesis Congress, and I had the chance to present my science to an international audience.

22. I saw the Forbidden City and climbed the Great Wall of China.

Climbing up the Wall

21. I had Pekin duck and feasted several times on authentic Chinese food.

20. The French duck was even greater, cooked in all of its forms.

19. I bought Tin Tin comics in Belgium and had super strong and delicious Belgium beers in Brussels (while I attended a Metals in Biological Chemistry course).

18. I visited Hungary, had frog legs for dinner, too much palinka, and flirted with this cute French girl (while I attended a course in Photosynthesis)

17. I met Elina, a summer night in Paris.

16. I met Elina in Helsinki for an special romantic adventure.

15. She visited me in Paris to celebrate Chirstmas and New Year's and we went to ballet at the Palais Garnier.

14. I fell in love with Elina.

13. The first time I went to England was for a job interview.

12. I visited Tenerife with my good friend and stood up at 3500 meters above the sea level on a volcano summit.

Highest point in Spain

11. And I lived with Elina in Lima Perú for almost a month.

Tanai and Elina in Lima

10. I had Pisco Sour for the very first time and climbed to the top of a pre-inca pyramid... with Elina.

9. I feasted on Peruvian choufa and sea food, so fucking good.

8. I came back to Colombia, and I had the chance to spend a good time with my relatives.

With my mom in Bogotá

7. I have taken pictures of more than 130 different flowers, just in Bogotá alone.

I don't know the name of this flower

6. I got a job at Imperial College London (one of the top 10 universities in the world).

5. I have never broken a bone or being hospitalized.

4. I am still young and the world is full of possibilities.

3. I have written 99 blog posts.

2. I look forward to my future.

1. I am alive.

May 26, 2012

Flogsta memories

When I entered the lobby of the building I found lying on the floor a girl that had tried to commit suicide. She shuddered in fear... death was coming! She was crying black tears. Her friend was there too, a little girlish boy in panic. He was sobbing like it was the end of his very own life, absurdly out of control and disoriented. He was holding her left wrist up, where she had cut herself, tightly with his hands to stop the blood flow. A third person was there, a man on his mid thirties, who was in control of the situation and, thanks god, did know what to do. Once I stepped in the lobby he said with a commanding voice, “take your jacket off and put it on her,” then he called the ambulance. It was about 4.00 in the morning of a Saturday or Sunday, I do not remember. A few minutes later, the ambulance came, the paramedics asked the boy to release her arm, and at that moment I saw the cut, remembering it gives me the creeps. She had lost a lot of blood, but by the look on the paramedics' faces it seemed there was not a risk of her dying.

Welcome to Flogsta baby!

I lived in Flogsta during all my stay in Sweden, about five years, from the 1st of December of 2004 until the beginning of February of 2010. It was my first time living alone and I was 21 when I moved in. Living there was pretty crazy, crazy people and crazy parties, that's what Flogsta is all about. Also known as the student ghetto, it is a neighborhood of Uppsala about fifteen minutes by bike from the city center. The entire neighborhood could be divided in two, the 'high houses' (at Sernanders väg) and the 'lower houses' (at Flogstavägen). The former are sixteen tall buildings where the majority of the students lives, the lower houses are for those students that are looking for a quieter social experience. From the sixteen buildings, houses 1 to 10 have 'corridors', that means a long corridor with twelve rooms, each room with its own toilet, but kitchen and living room are common spaces. Each floor has two corridors connected by a small balcony and the room where the freezers are. Houses 11 and 12 are for students too, but each room has its own little kitchenette, with no common spaces. Houses 13 to 16 are private accommodation, mostly inhabited by immigrants. They are called houses because each building is called in Swedish hus, which is translated as house. I lived two years in house 9 and the rest in building 11.

A picture of house 10 from my room in house 9

The crowd at my corridor was very picturesque. There was the semi-hippie bearded Italian womanizer, the forty years old “student” that had been there for twenty years, the hot Swedish smuggler girl of Russian parents and with personality disorders, the Belgium nineteen years old girl exchange student tasting freedom for the first time, the socially awkward computer geek, the lonely philosopher metal guy, among other less remarkable people. All of them very nice in their own way and all of them mad in their own way. Then, the Colombian Rastafarian scientist arrived to add some spice to the mix.

 Sharing in the kitchen with my corridor mates, how many memories!

When I first went in the corridor I was hit directly by the stench of garbage. Since in Sweden recycling is very important we had two supermarket carts, one for tetrapacks and cardboard (mostly from milk boxes) and the other for newspapers and paper advertisements. We also had common baskets for metallic cans, colored glass, and non-colored glass, one type of plastic and another type of plastic, and some other categories that I can not remember anymore... all of them lying on the corridor contributing to the reeks. In theory someone had to take the trash once a week, but in reality we emptied the carts when they were overflowing with trash and the bottles were starting to hinder the free passage through the corridor. Eventually, I stop feeling the stench, so I guess it was OK.

Perhaps one of the coolest things of living in Flogsta are the infamous corridor parties. Every weekend, a corridor would organize an open party where anyone is welcomed: anyone is everybody in town. In my time, before facebook got so popular we pasted posters in the elevators of each building advertising the event; I wouldn't be surprised if posters are nowadays replaced by facebook events. The only rule was BYOB (bring your own booze). The hosting corridor moved apart the furniture and set up the music, then opened the doors and let the party begin! You arrived alone or with friends and you just had to be social, most of the people did not know each other in any case, so it was a great way to make friends. The corridor filled up until there was no space left to squeeze another student. Awesome fun and great mischief.

Yeah, that was my party in association with a corridor mate. Killer combination.

Another peculiar thing about living in Flogsta was the “Flogsta Scream”. At exactly ten o'clock in the night, you were allowed to scream to the top of your lungs. Every single day you heard someone screaming, another one answered in the neighbor building, then another and another. During final exams days the screams rose the loudest! There were many legends explaining how this tradition began, probably none was true. I thought first, someone must have been murdered, yet eventually I screamed my fair amount of times. There was always a reason to scream your lungs out.

My experience in Flogsta marked five years of my life. There I met amazing people from all over the world, there I learnt to speak English, there I learnt to flirt and to love, to dance, to be open minded... There I lived unbelievable adventures, and there I had the greatest of times as a student in Uppsala.

I will never forget those days.

May 22, 2012

The paleontologist who leapt through time

Dr. Cortés received a package from an anonymous sender. He opened it and found a time machine. He knew it was a time machine because it was written on the futuristic looking box that contained it; time machine, it read in capitals with big black glossy letters. Dr. Cortés was so incredibly excited, he had been a paleontologist for almost two decades and since he was a boy he dream with seeing dinosaurs alive. The time machine was a very simple machine indeed, it was a tablet the size of half an A4 sheet of paper, made of a transparent clear blue material, lighter than glass but heavier than plastic, a touch screen. The time machine activated with his touch. Stylish and shiny white letters appeared in the screen, input travel date, and below there was a numerical keyboard, there were also two buttons, one read to the past and the other to the future. Dr. Cortés did not give it too much thought and rapidly typed 67000000, he counted the ceros just to be sure, and pressed to the past, just two million years before the asteroid strike that marked the end of the Cretaceous. It all happened in an instant. First it came the panic, a panic like he had never known. Then, the sudden realization that he was on the seventh floor of a building in Bogotá, then it came the realization that Bogotá was 2600 meter above the sea level and that during the Cretaceous Colombia was still underneath the ocean. The universe around was a perfect blue, a darker one down below and a clearer one above, there was not a single cloud in the sky. This is it, he thought feeling the vertigo as he fell, this is how I die. Then he noticed the time machine was nowhere to be seen, probably he dropped it in the very first moment of panic. The sea got closer and closer, the waters were calm, gentle waves left a trail of white foam. A good day to die. He breathed deeply, closed his eyes, and dived into the water, feet first, like a bullet through polystyrene. He reopened his eyes despite sting and irritation, and forced himself to keep them that way. The playful reflections of the sun in the surface told him where was the way up. Then he saw a shadow in the distance, large, very very large, it looked like the silhouette of a crocodile, only thirty times bigger and fins instead of limbs. Mosasaur, he thought, this is not my lucky day. He tried to scream flailing arm and legs in desperation but salty water rushed into his lungs as if he just inhaled fire. It was darkness next, a row of three sharp teeth pierced through flesh and bone, taking Dr. Cortés' life in an instant, mercilessly. Only a purple cloud of blood and a foot with its shoe still laced tightly were left.

May 19, 2012

The Lily and the Hummingbird

“Why do you cry?” asked the white lily to the hummingbird. Her petals were immaculate ivory, pure snow, her anthers were overloaded with pollen like shiny beans of gold. Bees would play with her all day long and tickle her to laughter, she would reward them with the sweetest of nectars. “This pain is unbearable,” said the hummingbird sobbing. He was perched on a windowsill, gloomy. His feathers that once were, lapis lazuli, emerald, and jade, had suddenly turned the color of old dry moss. He was consumed by tedium, his heart ached, icicles hung down from his soul. “What happened sweet little bird?” said the lily full of compassion. “My love has withered, she's dead, and nothing could bring her back to life.”
The hummingbird cried for a morning glory that had perished to a viral infection. The remembrance of her crimson flowers with fuchsia stars and gleaming white throats made his heart throb with grief. Every morning the little bird would visit the morning glory, he hummed from flower to flower drinking the plant's nectar. Her nectar tasted like love and life, like the warm winds of summer, like a bright sun at noon and the tenderness of its beams of light upon his feathers. Her nectar tasted like peace, like the meaning to be alive, like the meaning to be in love, like happiness. The hummingbird would fly right after dawn to visit her beloved. And everyday at dusk he went to sleep with the memory of her flowers in mind and the anticipation of a new visit in the morrow.
The snow white lily understood the hummingbird's pain. “I can put you out of your misery,” she said, “I know a mystical spell passed down generations of flowering plants since the end of the cretaceous.”
“Can you... can you bring her back to life?” asked the hummingbird incredulous. “No,” answered the lily, “but I know where she is and I can take you there, if you want.”
“I do, I do!” The hummingbird felt a crumb of excitement, perhaps there was hope, perhaps not everything was lost. “What do I have to do?”
“It's very easy, you will come at midnight and you will drink of my nectar. I will do the rest.”
Exactly at midnight the hummingbird visited the lily. The night was clear and the stars shone weakly drowned by the city lights. A half moon spread its milky light and made the lily's petals appear silvery. The little bird had nothing to wait and hummed right in front of the flower, with his thin and long tongue he licked repeatedly the tip of the lily's stigma dripping with a yellowish liquid. The nectar was salty and bitter. Something was wrong, the bird suspected, but he kept licking the tip of the stigma as the drops of yellow nectar flowed. In a flash, the lily closed her ivory petals trapping the bird inside ever so tightly. The hummingbird flapped hard trying to release himself from the lily's powerful grasp, but he knew it was impossible. He started to suffocate while an extreme ardor burned his bowels, his lungs were collapsing as he struggled for air, the fire spread to his chest, then to his throat until he coughed blood. He coughed and coughed, throwing up at the same time an intense ruby blood. He knew then it was useless to fight, he understood now what the lily had meant with putting him out of his misery. Soon he will be reunited with his eternal love, his morning glory of crimson flowers. The bird died, yet the blood kept on flowing through his mouth soaking the lily's petal in that vital fluid. When the sun shone the next morning the lily released the corpse of the lovely little bird as she opened her long proud petals, now the color of love.

Inspired by Oscar Wilde's 'The Nightingale and the Rose'.

azucena roja

May 17, 2012

Bogotá Dreaming

The very first thing he saw in the morning when he opened the door was a freshly deposited mountain of shit in the sidewalk right in front of the building. For a moment Tanai wondered whether the excrement was human or canine, but an invisible cloud of fetid gases made him rush away. The answer came a few steps later when he saw a paper flier with a dark brown smear. Certainly, dogs do not often choose to clean their arses after doing their business. He kept on walking down Carrera 15 trying to forget such nasty images of human misery. This side of the street featured old houses with some kind of English design, mostly made of red bricks, or so his aunt used to say. He had been in London a couple of times and although there was a reminiscence, the architecture of the houses in this neighborhood were a lot less elaborated in comparison. The sight of the sidewalk made him upset, the concrete was cracked everywhere, patched hundreds of time, and every time the sidewalk was left worse than it was before, neglected for decades, the iron lids that protected the water meters from the aqueduct were missing, stolen by someone to sell them as recyclable material, and pieces of trash and broken glass were scattered everywhere. It disgusted him, a decade ago when he was permanently living in Bogotá he did not even noticed the decadence. He doubted ten years ago the sidewalk was in any better condition. 

At the end of the street there was a pharmacy and hanging from a poster by the entrance he spotted the winning lottery number. He had not bought a lottery ticket this week, the full prize was almost thirteen millions euros. What would he do if he won the lottery? He asked himself. There was a one in eight million chance of winning, he knew, a slim chance but not an impossibility. If he won, he would give one third of the money to his mother, one third to his aunt, and one third to himself. He tried to calculate in his mind how much there was left for him taking into account that there was a twenty percent tax on the full amount. Roughly three-and-a-half million euros, he calculated. He thought he would not quit his future job in London, he would buy a nice house there though, not too big. And he would take his girlfriend to holidays in Bora Bora, he imagined himself with her living in a little wooden hut built over the crystalline turquoise waters, just as they had seen online in some pictures. He missed her dearly and promised himself he will take her to Bora Bora whether he won the lottery or not.

He crossed the street, right in front of the pharmacy there was a busy bakery. Standing by the entrance there was a beggar. An old man, fifty or sixty, he had a long white bear, and although he was balding the remaining hair in his head was still black. The old man clothes were ragged and discolored, they might have been black once, now they were a sad pale green. The old man muttered to a woman that was exiting the bakery with a bag full of bread, “madrecita, a coin or a piece of bread, I'm hungry, god bless you,” his voice was barely perceptible. The woman ignored him completely and after she had passed away, the beggar started whispering a hundred different insults. Tanai was not surprised and just kept on walking east along Calle 28. When he reached Caracas Avenue he saw the giant Transmilenio buses, packed with passengers beyond maximum capacity, flying, fast like red thunder. A few million years ago our ancestors were hanging from tree branches, now we hang from bus handrails. He thought that was really funny. As he waited for the traffic lights to change he focused his sight on a gray pillar with thick bold letters that read Calle 26, by the Transmilenio station. A decade ago there had been analogue clocks in each pillar of every station, now there were none. He wondered if it had been too troublesome to keep the clocks working that they decided to get rid of them. What does that say about people in Bogotá? He reflected. The traffic light for pedestrian shifted green, he crossed but before he was on the other side of the street the pedestrian light had already changed to red. How annoying! Who the heck timed this lights? He thought.

The other side was full of street vendors. A tiny old woman was selling yogurt with cereal in plastic pint glasses, some had green yogurt and some had pink one. Thirty meters further away from the tiny lady a man was selling snail slime. The man was wearing an ancient suit and in a little table to his right a plastic box was full of lettuce and living snails the size of a fist. Hanging from the table a poster depicted images of skin aberrations, before and after the application of the potent snail slime. Tanai wondered if there was anyone crazy enough to buy and use his product. Across, a cart was selling gargantuan hot dogs. The image of Swedish hot dogs came to his mine, a tiny bread and a sausage, “ketchup, senap?” the fat vendor outside the student nightclub asked on a not so cold spring night in Uppsala. “Bara ketchup,” he used to answer handing him a twenty Swedish crowns note. That brought Tanai the memory of V-dala nation, the line of students waiting to get in, one million bikes parked everywhere. Colombian hot dogs were completely different than Swedish ones. Besides bread and sausage, there were onion chopped in little pieces, potato chips in crumbs, ground cheese, ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise, and to top it all, three quail eggs.

Tanai waited for another traffic light to change, yet a chubby little woman dashed across the street in a hurry. She was wearing a tight black dress that accentuated the excess of fat molecules accumulated around her waist, abdominal area, hips, and chins, all three of them. She was wearing high heels, about ten centimeters tall, yet one of them seemed to be tilted around thirty degrees to the left of where it should be. The other had dry mud. Tanai wondered if she noticed whatever was going on with her heels. He knew her feet were in pain already by the way she leaned forward as she walked. Poor lady, he thought.

He entered a small stationer's at the side of the street almost at the level of Carrera 13. “Is it possible to print some documents in here?” Tanai asked as he showed his digital camera's memory card where he had stored the pdf files. The young woman at the other side of the counter answered: “Sorry, my love, the memory card adapter is broken.” Tanai hated to be called “my love” by strangers, a very common practice in Colombia. “I'm not your goddamned love,” he wanted to say but did not. As he left the stationer's Tanai thought how only two people have earned the privilege to call him my love in this world, his mother who had being doing it since before he remembered, and his girlfriend. The thoughts of his girlfriend flooded his brain again. What is she doing right now? Is she thinking of me at this very moment? Then the image of her appeared in his brain screen. He imagined himself with her again, taking her in his arms and kissing her passionately, her hair caressing his face. He remembered that day in Helsinki when she called him my love for the very first time. It had been a month since the last time they met. It was going to be more than a month before they met again, probably in London. What if for some unexpected reason the visa for the UK was rejected, I would be stranded in Colombia unable to travel, with no money, and no job. He thought he would probably never see her again. As the thoughts filled every space in his brain, he felt a sudden emptiness in his diaphragm, “No!” he screamed in his mind, “that won't happen, be strong Tanai, you have to be patient.” The loud horn of five buses, all of them probably older than himself polluted his ears. He thought he should write a great blog post about patience, a life changing one, but he knew it was difficult, he had tried before, he had tried defining patience but the right words always eluded him, yet he was certain patience was essential in his life journey, essential to remain happy and essential to make his dreams come true. Patience, what a mysterious quality, he reflected.

May 15, 2012

Paris nightlife guide for international guys visiting alone

I lived two years in Paris and I must tell you that nightlife in Paris could be both extremely awesome and incredibly frustrating. Particularly frustrating if you are a guy alone, or a group of guys, and you are not French. This is because even the crappiest, stinkiest, and most unremarkable bars in Paris might have a bouncer that will not let you in. If you are a guy alone or if you come with a bunch of guys the main two excuses for not letting you in nightclubs and some bars are: either you do not have female company or you are not dressed “well enough” for that place, but mostly the former. However, it is not always like that, there are great places open for everyone and here I will share with you some of the places I had the chance to visit. I will focus here mostly on a few clubs and bars that are inexpensive, easy to access, and where it is easy to meet cool people, plus a couple of cheap restaurants of my liking, and some strategies and advice that could come in handy. This is not a guide to fancy and stylish places in Paris, thought I have the chance to visit a few amazing super exclusive clubs and bars too, so I might do another brief guide for the other end of the spectrum later.

There are two cool streets where I used to go out for drinks often, mostly because I used to live close by. One is Rue Mouffetard in the 5th arrondissement, also known as the Latin Quarter, and the other is Rue de la Butte-aux-cailles in the 13th arrondissement, close to Place d'Italie. Rue Mouffetard is a great place to go out for drinks and meet some cool people. If you just stroll along the entire street you will find many bars. There are a couple of those that have tiny dance floors in the basement, like Cap Rougue (23 Rue Mouffetard, 75005), but these places are not really places for dancing, this places are good to get a pint under ten euros and cheap mojitos. These are bars for students, no dress codes, just beers, laughter, and casual fun. The bars along Rue Mouffetard are small and crowded, there will be plenty of international students, so it is extremely easy to start conversations with pretty much anyone, there is absolutely no need to know French. Most young people in France do speak English and as I said, there will be many internationals. A good place for a pint is Le Requin Chagrin (10 Rue Mouffetard) and Le Mayflower (46 Rue Descartes). There are many more bars though. There are also many restaurants, creperies, sushi places, kebab places, and so on. An extremely good restaurant in the area is called Bonjour Vietnam, Vietnamese food (6 rue Thouin, 75005), it is tiny yet beautiful, I counted only 12 seats total, and the food is DELICIOUS!  Rue de la Butte-aux-cailles is also very similar to Rue Mouffetard, many little tiny bars and pubs along the street; however, it is a bit isolated, so while from Rue Mouffetard it is easy to just walk to other touristic places in Paris downtown or to move to another area for drinks, from Butte-aux-cailles you probably will have to take the metro and if it is beyond 1.30, then you will have to take the night bus or rent a bike.

Starting early at Rue Mouffetard, sitting by Le Requin Chagrin

Everywhere around the 5th arrondissement you will find bars and pubs, two fun places to go for drinks and to make new friends are The Long Hop (25 Rue Frédéric Sauton) and Le Violon Dangue (46 Rue de la Montagne Sainte-Geneviève). The first one closes at 2.00 while the second is open until sunrise; many times when The Long Hop closed, we moved to The Violon. The Long Hop is a small pub, it has a dance floor and the crowd is very international; it's a fun place to go. The Violon Dangue is a lot bigger and it has a disco in the basement, if you want to go to the disco you have to pay ten euros if you are a boy and it is free for girls.

Finnishing late in the Latin Quarter, this is by the Pantheon

Other good area to find a few good bars and restaurants is around the old opera house, the Palais Garnier, in the the 2nd arrondissement. Very often what I and my buddies did was to start with dinner at a very authentic Japanese restaurant, actually my favorite restaurant in Paris. The place is called Sapporo Ramen and their specialty is, as the name implies, ramen. I know two Sapporo Ramen, the first one is located  very close to the Louvre Museum; 276 Rue Saint-Honoré, 75001. One huge and delicious bowl of ramen will cost from 7-10€, I recommend you to order the Sutamina Ramen. From there we walked north along Av. de l'Opéra, almost until reaching the Palais Garnier, we would turn west to Rue Daunou. This street has two remarkable bars, the first one is Footsie (10-12, Rue Daunou ,75002) and the second is Harry's New York Bar (5 Rue Daunou). I have already mentioned more in detail these two bars in another post, check this link out. The former is a tiny bar, good for a pint, the latter is a cocktail bar, pretty famous for being the place where the Bloody Mary was invented and because it was a regular hang out for Hemingway and Coco Chanel. These places are beautiful, a bit expensive but worthy, there is no dress code or anything like that... but fun for one drink. Footsie is usually crowded from Thursday to Saturday after 22.00, I recommend you to arrive earlier than that, otherwise the place will be full and you will not be able to get in. Harry's bar is a pretty calm place, awesome cocktails, great for conversations or just to check it out, not really good to strike random conversations. In this street you will also find the second Sapporo restaurant, the thing about this one is that they do not have my ramen of predilection, Sutamina.

Always start a night out with a full belly

At Harry's New York Bar, basement.

Another bar very close by is called Le DOCK (25 Rue Louis Legrand, 75002). This one has a small dance floor in a basement as it is typical from Paris. The place will be crowded during weekends, more casual and cheaper than the two I mentioned above. It is also a good place to start conversations.

An amazing restaurant in the area that I strongly recommend you to visit is called Le Paradis du Frutes (23 Bd. de Italiens, 75002). Their menu is exotic and the food is cooked with a variety of fruits. I suggest you to start with some taco with guacamole, exceedingly delicious, and then the Mamasköl for main dish! So good. The place is cool and the price is convenient. Not the cheapest but not unreasonably expenisve either.

The cheapest pint in Paris is also in this area. You should follow Bd. de Italiens towards east, it turns into Bd. Montmartre that changes a few squares later into Bd. Poissonnière. At the level of Bd. Poissonnière you will find many pubs, an Irish and an Australian one among others, the one I recommend is called James Hetfeeld's Pub (17 Bd. Poissonnière, 75002). There are two good things about this bar: it has the cheapest beer in Paris, just 3.50€ all night and you can drink outside in the sidewalk. Extremely easy to meet new people in here. During weekends it will get very crowded and they close at 2.00. The reason why the Irish (O'Sullivans) and the Australian (Café Oz) pubs suck is because they close doors, so after 21.00 there will be bouncers and if you are a guy alone or just a bunch of guys they will not let you in. There are several of these pubs in Paris, all of them work in the same way. They are big and around midnight there will be a pretty fun party until sunrise, a lot of international people, these are indeed great for socializing. If you want to party in these places the best thing is to arrive before 21.00 and wait, if you are alone or just a couple of guys it might get boring before the party actually gets good... I forgot how many times they did not let me in to these pubs; which in style, music, or crowd, are nothing remarkable at all. On the other hand Hetfeeld's has no bouncer and open doors all night, the party here also is pretty good. The place has a Rock theme, but during party hours they will mix it with regular dancing music, whatevere there is in the charts.

In this same area you find another place worth mentioning, it is a pub called Le Truskel (12 Rue Feydeau, 75002). This place is not so full of internationals as O'Sullivans, or Café Oz, but it is a fun place and a great venue to meet young French people. There are often live bands playing, and the music is mostly Indie Rock or Indie Pop. During the weekends after 22.00 or so there will be a bouncer outside, they will give you troubles if the place is too full. I recommend you to arrive there before 23.00, but they are open until sunrise.

There are two other bars I like that I think are great for meeting people. One is called Le Prohibido in Montmartre (34 rue Durantin, 75018). This is a tiny place, but it gives such positive vibes that it becomes extremely easy to start conversations with strangers. You can also drink outside in the streets, which is ideal during summertime. The other bar is even better, called Point Éphémère (200 Quai de Valmy, 75010) and this could be one of the coolest bars in Paris. Cheap beer, a lot of laid-back people, it has some kind of gallery where they feature art from cartoonist and illustrators. This space offers a unique opportunity to meet cool people, since you can easily start conversations by commenting about the exhibitons in the gallery. They also have a small dance floor and spaces for drinking outside. Another thing great about this place is that it is by the Canal Saint Martin, which makes for a good urban landscape to admire.

canal saint martin
Point Éphémère

There are many more places where you could find bars and restaurant around Paris, pretty much everywhere in the city. These were some of the once I visited most frequently and where I had pretty good times.

My last advice for you is to check out this expat group: INTERNATIONALS in Paris. This is a huge group of expats that host many events at bars and clubs in Paris, about twice a week. It is meant for internationals and locals that want to meet new people and network while you drink and party. The crowd is a little older, mostly young people that came recently to work in Paris (25 years old and above, I would say the average would be around 30-33 years old). I suggest you to join the meetup group and check out the schedules, you might be lucky and find an event during your stay in Paris. The events are usually hosted in really nice venues and you will meet new people FOR SURE. I made great friends through this meetup. It is excellent.

That's all for the moment, I hope this was useful!