Snow in Paris

There is something magical about the snow. About the dance of snowflakes, the winter cold and the bright light of the winter sun. The snow brings the peace and quiet to think. Time to rest and recuperate. Like the nature that sleeps in its cold embrace. But at first it brings the chaos and restlessness. Everything stops and life gets a whole new pace. Different thoughts come to mind. The wheel of life changes speed and direction. You get a new perspective. Or an entirely different impression of a place.

An interesting turn of events brought me to Paris in February The city of lights. One of the most admired cities on the planet.And there I was standing on the streets of Paris after nearly twenty years. This time they were covered with a thin layer of snow. The first time after nearly thirty years. And this time around… well, it was enchanting. The first time I was in Paris I felt like it was being a little snob and a little full of itself. But this time, the second time, I was hooked. The people of Paris were like little kids, excited about the snow. Their eyes were glowing. Young women from Paris told me that they had never seen the snow in Paris before. And asked me if we had snow back home. “Yes, we have snow. Quiet a lot right now actually.” I explained to them. A little in French and a little in English.The looked so chic. The women of Paris. They walk with their head high and their posture is just full of pride and confidence. And I caught myself correcting my posture and walking with my head held high. So thank you Paris, for reminding me. Thank you for that lesson.

And I admit, I admired the men of Paris as well. Their self-confidence. When they actually caught your eye, looked at you for a brief moment and smiled at you as they walked by. And just like the women, they had this great posture and self-confidence. They were so sure of themselves and it was refreshing. Because lately we don’t look each other in the eyes anymore. We walk the streets like robots, caught in our own thoughts, staring at our phones. Not looking in each other in the eyes. And I realised I miss that. The eye-contact. I am curious. I want to see the color of your eyes and if you smile at a girl walking by. Just like that. Just for the sake of it. Even though I don’t know you. So thank you Paris, for reminding me. Thank you for that lesson.

This time around, on my second visit, I looked at Paris from a brand new perspective. In my mind I was reliving the scenes I read in books. The adventures of Angelique in Toulouse, Paris, Mediterranean, Morocco and Quebec. The adventures of Robert Langdon and Sophie Neveu. I looked for the shadows of Anais Nin and Henry Miller. I finally understood why Paris inspired them so much.

This time around the beauty of Paris seemed warm. It was vibrant and full of life even though it was covered in a thin layer of snow. I forgot about the cold wind and freezing temperatures when the city lit up. When the sun set and it was dark, Paris became the city of lights. Bathing in thousands of lights. Just as I watched it from the plane at its descent on the airport. I remembered seeing the Eiffel tower covered in lights. And suddenly life became bright and playful. Like their sweets and candies in display windows. Paris brought back the colors and awakened long forgotten dreams. It brought back the joy life brings. That genuine one you feel when you take the first bite of a fragile, colorful and sweet macaroon. So thank you Paris, for reminding me. Thank you for that lesson.

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There are places where I get that special feeling. The feeling that it doesn’t matter. That it’s not important. That the only thing that matters is here and now. Places, where you don’t reflect on the past and you don’t think about the future. Places where you simply exist.

In Trinidad, I didn’t care. Trinidad was relaxed and peaceful. Days were hot and sunny. Nights had a soft breeze from the ocean. The streets came alive after sunset. Bars and restaurants were open to the streets. With people living for the here and now. Living in the present. Cuban music… just so vibrant. With a touch of romance and nostalgia. No stress, no expectations.

The company was just right, there were mojitos and cigars. Long talks, laughing and dancing on the streets. No stress, no worries. Maybe the best farewell to the old and the best welcome of the new year so far. No stress, no expectations.

In the end, it’s the expectations that kill us. Quietly and from the inside. What should have happened, what we should have done, what we cannot live without. Scenarios we write for ourselves in our heads. That surprise surprise… in reality, never really work out. It’s the expectations that fuck us up the most in life. How our life should be, what we should be doing with it and what paths we should take. How people should behave towards us and the boundaries we should never cross.

Expectations are maybe the worst kind of dictatorship. They take away the magic of life. The magic of the moment, of time and of place. The simple pleasure of closing your eyes and feeling the music. Its vibrations on your skin and the flow of energy pumping through your veins. They take away the joy you find in the little things. The music that makes you smile and dance through the night. The taste of mojito in your mouth. The cigars that make you look oh so nonchalant.

It’s the expectations that kill us from the inside.Because we forget what really counts. The life itself. That’s why I need places like Trinidad. Places that make me remember that life is what really counts. Without expectations.

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Santiago de Cuba

The second largest city in Cuba, Santiago de Cuba, is known of many things. This is where Hernan Cortez started his march towards Mexico in 1518. It’s the hometown of Bacardi rum. This is where Fidel Castro started the revolution in 1953.

Some of the most famous Cuban musicians were born here. Compay Segundo, Ibrahim Ferrer and Eliades Ochoa – members of The Buena Vista Social Club. They are also buried here, in the Cementerio Santa Efigenia. Where Fidel is buried too. Although I’m not sure whose grave has more visitors. There is also the Bacardi family tomb, even though this family left Cuba in the sixties.

What impressed me the most about Cuba? The music, no doubt. Maybe that’s why I thought I heard the Buena Vista Social Club’s tunes lingering around the cemetery. Or the tunes of Omara Portuondo. And not the tunes inspired by the Revolution. I was impressed by the talent, the music and the art of Cuba. But not of its Revolution. Because even though revolutions sometimes are inevitable and bring progress to the people, they always come with a price. The suffering of many innocent people.

I don’t know why, but I need music in my life. It interests me more than politics. Music has that positive vibe I look for everywhere I go. Maybe that’s why I always find it. It’s my happy place, my shelter from the storms in my life. And not a day goes by that I’m not singing a song. Even if it is only in my head.

The sun was high in the sky when I was strolling around the cemetery. It was blinding me and I had no choice but to put my sunglasses on. My hair was braided and I had my travel hat on. The music of the Buena Vista Social Club was playing in my head. Blue skies with a few puffy white clouds. Hot, no wind. Almost perfect.

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Remains of the Day

Magic is all around us. Of that I’m sure. I’m sure we see it as children. But then, with time, we lose the ability to see it and feel it. As we grow older, it starts dying slowly and painfully. If we let it, of course.

This world of ours is full of magic. We just have to see it. Find out what magic is for us. Maybe it is the start of a new day, the early morning. When the sun starts caressing the Earth and you feel like everything is possible. That there is everything ahead of you. Or maybe, it is the sunset. That is unique and different every time around. When the sun is slowly going down, the light of the day starts to fade and right there, shortly before the dark, there are these amazing reds and yellows and pinks and oranges. The beauty of the colours of the sunset. Knowing that the day has come to an end and that it will never come back… it is kind of magic. The magic of the time passing.

The magic of the remains of the day. When you realise that you, in fact, do not have time. To wait for that perfect moment. When you have enough money. Enough time for travels and hobbies. That you have enough time to tell someone you love him. To hang out with your friends after you finish that project at work. To talk to that elderly neighbour of yours some other time because you are in such a hurry today and you have so much errands to run. That you think that tomorrow, next week, next month, next year… you will, in fact, have time.

And then, life happens. The reality strikes and you realise that, in fact, you don’t have the time. That today is everything you have. That carpe diem is not just a popular phrase. That all you have is today, this precise moment. Because tomorrow may never come.

Life has this funny way of getting its own way. And, fuck it, you have to adjust and just go with the flow. You have to have dreams, aspirations, wishes. Because without them, you are already dead inside. And you have to start working towards achieving them. Make the first baby step. Because tomorrow may never come. And all you have are the remains of the day. That is slowly fading away.

For me, realising that I do not have time, was the greatest magic of them all. Because in that moment you truly start living. Life is the greatest gift we have ever received. That’s why we have to live it to the fullest. Today and every day. Find the magic in our lives. Because tomorrow may never come.

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Street Art #2

The sun was high that day. I was walking around the messy and wrecked streets of Havana. But there was something special about one street. This street was special. Maybe the most beautiful thing I have ever seen in my life. Made by people, that is. The colours, shapes, materials… intertwined so delicately. Art everywhere. On every corner. A well of creativity…sunlit by the hot Cuban sun.

We, humans, we have a lot of flaws. But also many virtues and talents. Which are, when used correctly, immortal in inspiring. We are capable of such greatness and incredible baseness. But still there are places where you feel that everything is possible in this world. That street was so peaceful in the late morning sunlight. It impressed me on every step, every corner. Making me smile. Seducing me.

it was my shelter. A place of colours. Of the dramatic dance of the sun and the shadows. The colours, the shapes, the materials. A place where you forget that the time and place exist. And nothing else matters – except for the surprise the art has in store for you. That awaits around the next corner.

Cuba is a lot more than just the Revolution, the rhum, cigars and old cars. it’s an oasis of art, defying the narrow mindness and smallness of men. It opens new horizons and inspires. With art.

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Street Art

What impressed me the most about Havana? The art, for sure. It’s everywhere – on every step, in every pore of its streets. Before I came here, I expected to be full of music and dancing. And it was… and so much more. It’s the art that impressed me the most. Street artists. Acrobats, dancers, singers, mimes. Living statues. That came alive when you came close to them.

Havana is so much more than just a bunch of colonial ruins. It’s more than the Revolution, the rum and the cigars. And they are exquisite, by the way. The cigars and the rum, I mean.

It is the place where you get inspired by art. That you discover where you least expect it. The streets painted with crazy colours, shapes and materials. The statues that move you with their expressiveness, creativity and amazing aesthetics. And I faced a great challenge: how to capture all of this on my photographs. Only time will tell, if I succeeded. I think.

Maybe it is true. That the rebellion fuels art. Pushes its boundaries, forces it to progress and evolve. Because often art is rebellion. Revolt against the system, the time we are living in, the superficiality of people. And it’s a sweet shelter. From the madness of the word. And the people.

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Havana #2

Walking down the streets of Havana, I felt like I was in a different, parallel world. There are beautiful buildings from colonial era, but they are slowly on the verge of destruction. Sometimes they are already in ruins. I felt like everything was taken from them. All they had left was: their pride. Their stoical and aristocratical posture amazed me every time and got me thinking. Maybe they can take away everything, break everything, destroy everything. But they can never take away who you really are, they can never take away your pride. And force you to bow your head forever. These buildings are a sign of resistance against, sometimes unbearable, need of humans to destroy. A resistance against vanity of people.

And then, Havana surprises you. With its rich, inspiring, beautiful art. That grows and evolves no matter what. It surprises with its creativity, colourfulness and playfulness. With the eclectic mixture of colours, styles and materials. It is oh so inspiring. Forcing you to go deep down, deep into your soul. It forces you to look for it. Because sometimes great artworks hide in plain sight. In patios or in the middle of vibrant city squares. They invite you to try, to catch their beauty in this moment in time. Before it’s gone forever.

And this too is Havana.

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Ravages of Time

Recent decades have not been very kind to Havana. It really didn’t grow old gracefully. Bluntly speaking. I have seen cities, that with time, get that special charm. The charm that only comes with years passing by.

But Havana… it ages fast. At the speed of sound. Bluntly speaking. It has lost a piece of itself. But still believes that one day its glory days will return. And this naïvety is… charming. A mindset like this can one day take it there. Or take it straight to… madness. But maybe it was only my impression. My imagination.

And right there, in the middle of the ruins of Havana, it hit me. Going forward, pushing the boundaries, being just a little crazy, thinking outside the box…this is heaven for me. Jimmy Hendricks knew that. And this is what travel gives you. Different perspective. Different point of view. But Havana gives you something else… something you rarely get to experience: a place where time really passes by very slowly. The illusion that the time has stopped, gives you a rare gift: time to contemplate. Before the ravages of time destroy you from the inside.

At first glance, you get the impression that Havana doesn’t care. That it has made peace with the fact that it has lost itself. But if you look closely, you will see that it still hopes. That one day it will find its missing pieces again. Before the ravages of time destroy it. But then again, maybe I’m wrong. And it’s just my imagination.

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“I’m the one you find deep in that move, that drives your body and your senses, I’m the heat inside, when rhythm and love collide, Cuba, let me introduce myself Cubaaaaaaaaaaa!”

I had this chorus in my mind, playing over and over again. This one song… over and over again. I was walking down the beach front. The sky was clustered with gigantic clouds. Every once in a while the sun peeked through. Just for a brief moment. I felt like in the movie Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights. Not really sure why. Because there were no clouds in the movie. In the movie the sun was shining and the ocean was sparkling. But there was this feeling of melancholy. And it was still there. I felt it walking down the beach front.

Now I know that this is what quietly crawls into your subconscious in Havana. The melancholy, hiding deep in the heart of Cuba, weaved in its essence. The essence of Cuba. Once you feel it, you start seeing it. It’s everywhere. In the ruins of Havana. In the ruins of once mighty houses. That still make her so unique and special. The melancholy you feel in ruined streets of this once magnificent colonial beauty. That dazzles and inspires.

The melancholy you feel when you notice that there are no ships, yachts and boats. Even though you are on an island. The melancholy you feel when you realise that people can create unbelievable things and destroy them in a heartbeat. The melancholy you feel in their songs and dance.

The wind starts blowing from the ocean. The waves splash on the front. The wet and salty drops of the Caribbean sea wake me up from my daydream. The sun spikes the clouds and I snap yet another dramatic photo. And there is that chorus again. “I’m the one you find deep in that move, that drives your body and your senses, I’m the heat inside, when rhythm and love collide, Cuba, let me introduce myself Cubaaaaaaaaaaa!” Oh, this beautiful melancholy.

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Feeling for Cuba

I confess. I had to wait. I had to think. I had to let it unfold in its own pace. I had to go through my photos, notes I during my time in Cuba and let the feeling unfold. The feeling for Cuba.

When I first saw the streets of Havana, a thought crossed my mind. Maybe my intuition was playing tricks on me. But this feeling or this thought never left my subconscious.I thought to myself it was hurt. Deeply wounded, torn apart, stuck in a time warp.Torn between its former glamorous beauty and an uncertain future. A little pain snuck in my heart.

Heavy gray clouds were hanging over Havana that day. The wind was blowing and there was tension in the air. The ocean seemed angry. The waves were slamming against the shore. The wide avenue along the town promenade was wet because of them. Every now and then the sun came out to play. But the clouds were stronger that day. Only the cars chased away the grayness of the day. You know, the old American ones. Pink, red, golden, turquoise,… Every now and then a Russian Lada or Fiat 126 raced by.

Time goes by differently in Cuba. Slower and in its own pace. You start drifting along with its flow. And that feeling starts to unfold. The feeling for Cuba.

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