Short lived insect, often less than a day, it flies along the river, mates, lays eggs and dies.

On the river Hypanis in the Cimmerian Bosphorus, about the time of the summer solstice, there are brought down towards the sea by the stream what look like little sacks rather bigger than grapes, out of which at their bursting issues a winged quadruped. The insect lives and flies about until the evening, but as the sun goes down it pines away, and dies at sunset having lived just one day, from which circumstance it is called the ephemeron.” Aristotle, History of Animals, Book V, Chap. 19.

Like mayflies, we fly too between the previous darkness and dusk. During the fly, besides eating and mating, we can contemplate , delighted, the buildings below, the trees, the shapes of clouds in the sky, conversation with other mayflies, listen to birds singing, or a radio broadcast.

El Rec Comtal. March 2018

From an article in the ARA newspaper about Rec Comtal (the ditch of the city of counts) I found Enric H. March blog. There is a wealth of information on this hydraulic infrastructure that has carried water from Besos river to Barcelona since the Middle Ages and which may have been preceded by an aqueduct in Roman times.

From Montcada to the orchards of Vallbona you can still follow the route of the ditch until it disappears before reaching the Trinitat neighbourhood.

The Water House in Montcada

Besos river at the beginning of the ditch

Vallbona neighbourhood

The Ponderosa orchards

This narrow stretch, between the C58 freeway and a fence, is like a secret, humble garden, out of time. Nothing would suggest that we are just 300 meters away from the huge Trinitat roundabout in the big city of Barcelona.

Here the ditch disappears. From now on we will have to make an effort of imagination to visualize the outskirts of Barcelona in the Middle Ages, when all the area were farming fields.

Water House in Trinitat Vella. The old pictures collected by Enric March show the Trinitat neighbourhood without buildings. You can try to follow the ditch track through Sant Andreu, La Sagrera and El Clot until you reach Arc de Triomf, where we would have found the entrance to medieval Barcelona in the Sant Pere district.

The names of the streets reveal the past of the Rec Comtal ditch.

And finally a fragment preserved in the Born CCM.

Here, the track at wikiloc, not accurate, as I was not able to follow always the detailed directions of Enric March’s blog.


Christ in distress. Warsaw National Museum

In the Warsaw National Museum, in the medieval collection, there is a wood sculpture representing Christ sitting, with his head resting in his hand, thoughtful. A big head, the skin covered with what looks like tears. The author is unknown, the date, 1502. The vast majority of the sculptures of Christ show him on the cross and, in the pietàs, dead cradled by the Virgin Mary. I had never seen one depicting Him sitting, pensive, with no signs of divine power, profoundly human, perhaps afflicted by what he expected to come, or by doubt.

It resembles Rodin’s “The Thinker” of 1880, preceeding it by almost 400 years. “Le penseur” was conceived as Dante in front of the hell’s gates. However, despite the similarity in stance, Rodin’s man is strong and muscled; it evokes a hero who has stopped just a moment before resuming action rather than a man overwhelmed by thought and sadness.

Perhaps it is more related to Dürer’s engraving “Melencolia I“, of some years later, 1514, where the female angel has the same gesture of resting the head on her hand. With symbols of mathematics and building around her, she looks dispirited as not knowing what to do next. (Around the time of producing this engraving Dürer wrote “But what beauty is, I know not”).

Four weeks before “discovering” this work in Warsaw, in Oslo and Bergen, I saw two versions of “Melankoli” by expressionist Edvard Munch. In this case, the pensive figure, also with the same characteristic gesture was inspired by an unhappy romantic experience of a painter’s friend.

Melancholy as a state of sorrow when we realize the gap between what we want and what we can, whether it is the redemption of humanity, the creation of beauty, or our personal dreams, melancholy as discouragement when, looking back, we see the gap between what we wanted or could have been, and what has actually become, these are suffering emotions that Buddhism, in its different versions, proposes to eliminate; we should give give up living identifying ourselves with a self that that dreams, wishes, expects, or regrets its past. While being obsessed by future expectations or past events obviously leads to unnecessary suffering, I can not help but think that the ability to dream, imagine different futures or alternative pasts is part of the human condition and something very valuable would be lost if it would disappear. Somehow I would agree with Theophrastus when he suggests in Problemata XXX.I that genius is associated with melancholy and madness.

In addition to this remarkable work, the National Museum of Warsaw has many others that make worth a visit. I would mention “Strange Garden” by Józef Mehoffer, the “Bus” by Bronisław Wojciech Linke, the “Morning” of Łukasz Korolkiewicz, or the transgressing videos of Natalia LL. And last but not least, it has an excellent restaurant with a very affordable menu.

Certificate of life

A year ago, by All Saints, I posted about Death Certificates, the last document of our administrative life that began with an annotation at the register office. The Certificate of life is another document, one that confirms that an individual is still alive. I may be required in case of payment of pensions and it can be obtained producing a proof of identity to a civil servant or trusted entity.

To be “legally alive” is to be “not legally dead” and this means, basically, to check that air is entering our lungs and our heart is pumping blood trough our arteries and veins. Otherwise we would be clinically dead. Progress in life support techniques enable to maintain those functions even in case of irreversible loss of brain function and the concept of legal death has been extended to consider brain death. Remember that Death Certificates stated the immediate and subjacent causes of death according to the ICD standards; and we could track for the remote causes such as health habits, for instance, dying by a heart attack because of a sedentary life, unhealthy diet and heavy smoking.

What would it be if we were to do something similar with the certificate of life? What if the civil servant had to fill a form about the cause that keeps us alive? The immediate cause is that we breath and out heart is beating, and this means that our basic needs of food and shelter are met. In case of children or disabled people there is a subjacent cause that someone else takes care of them, whether it is family or a public welfare. What for the rest? What makes people struggle to survive finding food and shelter, whether a hunter gatherer in a Borneo forest or jumping from bed every morning to commute by subway to attend the office for a salary? What makes us feel alive (what do we say we want in social media)? In other words, what keeps us from desisting and committing suicide? If the ICD classifies the causes of death, how would one classify the subjacent causes of life?

Let’s try an educated guess.

A first group of causes is mere inertia. As biological organisms we are wired to survive and fight to overcome difficulties. Most of humankind is so exhausted just by surviving that there is no extra energy to get depressed or ask for the meaning of life. As social subjects were are programmed to follow the script or routine of the role we have been assigned or that we have chosen. And eventually, perhaps we go on living because we do not dare to commit suicide.
A second group of causes is to be useful to others, to be for other people. To take care of children, to serve a humanitarian cause, to support a political, religious option, or follow a sports team.
Another group could be “to be trough other people”, to be loved, admired, appreciated, respected, feared, to have many followers at twitter or ‘likes’ at facebook.
Of course, it could be that we want to live because we like it, because it is a rewarding experience. Some will be happy with their ordinary life, others will be frustrated if they don’t get the exceptional, the most awarded restaurant, the highest mountain, the most exclusive trip. The curious ones are going to be fascinated by exploring the world, a new kind of bug, a distant galaxy or a 17th century text.
And finally there would be those who cannot survive without the help of some chemical substances, prescribed drugs, legal drugs such as alcohol or tobacco, or illegal ones, like those who cannot live through the day without their heroin dose.

Quite probably, everybody will have a mix of all types. The Certificate of Life Causes form could be something like this:

Mark if independent and if not who is in charge
( ) Independent
( ) Dependent
    ( ) family or friends
    ( ) public welfare
Mark if it matters (1 low – 5 high)
12345 Survival instinct
12345 Social routines, follow a script, a mission
12345 Fear of suicide
12345 Taking care of someone, children, family, community
12345 Making a difference, saving the world, health research, politics
12345 Belonging to a political or religious group, supporting a sports team
12345 To be loved
12345 To be appreciated, admired, envied, desired
12345 To be respected, feared
12345 Just ordinary life
12345 The exceptional, the foodie, the fashion victim, extreme sports, exotic traveler
12345 Curiosity, exploring the world and culture
12345 Use or abuse of prescribed drugs
12345 Use or abuse of legal substances, alcohol, tobacco
12345 Use or abuse of illegal drugs

Wishes, dreams, goals in social media

Makeawish is an american association that since 1980 tries to “grant the wish of every child diagnosed with a life-threatening medical condition”. Others have appeared elsewhere. Some children would like to become a policeman, a dolphin monitor or an archaeologist. Others would like to meet someone famous, athletes like Messi, singers like Justin Bieber, actors or TV celebrities. Others would like to experience  something , travel to some place, walk on snow, board a helicopter. Some would like to have something, a pet, a piano. There are wishes that move us because they are dreams, but it is a bit sad when we see that the most cherished wish a child can imagine is just what is most popular in TV or social media. Perhaps it cannot be otherwise and no one can tell whether the scope of the imagination would have been much wider when it was grounded on books and novels rather than on TV or internet.

If there are no life-threatening diseases and you are an adult, it will be up to you to fulfill your wishes. Probably, when wishes and dreams have to become concrete goals, they will have to be adjusted. What do adults want to achieve? Facebook has compiled its user’s new year’s resolutions. They are grouped in 7 categories:

  • 30% Mental. 53% want to be a better person / be nicer 30% want to live life to the fullest 14% want to stay positive / don’t stress.
  • 20% Physical. 37% want to get fit / exercise more 22% want to lose weight 20% want to eat better / cook more.
  • 19% Other. 59% are not making a resolution 26% shared an inspirational quote about resolutions 10% already broke their resolution.
  • 15% relationships. 47% want to be closer to family 35% want to spend more time with friends 18% want to fall in love / get married.
  • 10% timemanagement. 60% want to clean more / be more organized 25% want to practice old skills or hobbies or learn new ones 9% want to spend less time online.
  • 2% professional. 45% want to get a job / keep a job 31% want to do well at school / graduate / go to college 25% want to read more books.
  • 1% financial

Basically it’s about feeling better both physically and mentally. The New Year’s resolution approach does not favor the expression of dreams, like the experiences children wanted to have, the things that make us feel alive. We could find some of this on the website 43things which closed early 2015. Users shared their projects and dreams. From the last report available I’ve collected the top 25 and tried to group them in 5 categories (in brackets how many people wanted to achieve this goal) :

1 Travel the world. Take a Road Trip. See the Northern Lights. (108233)
9 Kiss in the Rain. Go Skydiving. Swim with the Dolphins. (50781)

Job, future
2 Get a Job. Get out of Debt. Save Money. Buy a House. (74303)
7 Stop Procrastinating. Get Organized. Finish what I Start. (53720)
13 Figure out what I want to do with my life. (28461)

3 Learn a Second Language. Spanish, French, Japanese. (65764)
15 Design and Get a Tattoo. (35130)
16 Learn to Play Guitar or Piano. Write a Song. (32154)
11 Write a Book. (41939)
14 Read More. Go to College. Never stop Learning  (35445)
18 Take more Pictures. (15361)
19 Learn to Drive. (16431)
20 Learn to Sew. (12138)
21 Learn to Cook. (9952)
23 Learn to Surf. (8104)
25 Learn to Dance. (7131)

Health & wellness
4 Lose Weight. (60506)
8 Get in Shape. Run a Marathon. Practice Yoga. (51808)
10 Drink Water. Eat Healthy. Worry Less. Sleep More. (45066)
22 Quit Smoking. (9238)
24 Stop Biting my Nails (7309)

Relationships, self realization
5 Fall in Love. Get Married. Have a Baby. (54576)
6 Be Happy. Be Confident. Love Myself. (53864)
12 Make New Friends. Be a Better Friend. (39357)
17 Make a Difference. Volunteer. (16592)

More examples can be found, for instance in twitter. Everybody would like to feel better and at peace inside, and look more attractive outside.
What we dream, want, intend and, eventually, undertake is, to some extent, what determines  –self-determines- our life. This is human causality. The point where we are now is the result, partly, of the choices we made in the past. And those choices were the product of dreams and desires we projected into the future. The imagined future shaped the past.

Often, the point in the future where we end, is not the one we intended. And when it is, it can happen that it’s not what we expected. Be careful what you wish for, it might come true! Some mid-life crisis are related to this. Literature has examples about wishes gone wrong, from King Midas to Perrault’s Three wishes tale.
Depending on what we wish for we will get disappointments and frustration, because we cannot achieve what we want or because, even if we do, we are not satisfied. We will never be slim and attractive enough, we will never have enough money, we will never be praised enough for our professional, artistic or sports achievements. A good part of the different moral attitudes available aims at educating how we desire, from Epicurus ataraxia to the buddhist training to stop craving things.

What should we wish for? What makes us feel alive?