Holy socks to wear faith on feet?

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When travelling you sometimes can see what crazy gifts are offered for worshipers. Usually it is in gift shops in the neighbourhood of famous sanctuaries. This time it was a simple display at a door of a gift shop offering books, candles, magnet stickers and other rather serious stuff in one of Scottish cathedrals. But holy socks to wear faith on feet???

Enjoying sabbatical

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From time to time psychologists advise on taking sabbatical to cope with a professional burnout. The idea always seemed quite logical to me (provided that one has the financial resources to take a real downtime). Today, I cannot say about myself that I am burned out. But I was, six or seven years ago. That time I did not even think of taking downtime. I moved however to another country for some time, a step which for an academic was not that difficult to arrange. You could call it sabbatical, as I changed fully the surroundings and people around me. My lecturing work was limited. I focused more on research. The altogether year and a half change made my thoughts more clear. Ultimately it did not however work as a cure for the burning out syndrome. I needed a true change.

As I realised the academic life was no longer appealing to me, I changed job. I managed the change within a time span of one year altogether. It was not easy. Although I did not change my profession, my new job was of totally different nature. From an academic, who felt too alone sitting in the study reading and writing, and only twice a week meeting students while lecturing I turned into a leader of an expert team, with only few time left for research. But we still did the research. We even published. With some ups and downs, mainly connected to managing a bunch of expert brains with strong personalities, it did work out. I regained my life balance. Today, I realise it was not the job, it was the balance. I needed to truly work in a community of people with daily personal contact.

Three months ago however, willingly or not I sent myself on a true sabbatical. I decided to end things at work no longer eager to cope with a glass ceiling. The company, to which I was to switch, went however through some turmoil the same week as I made my mind. As I still want to join the team, I decided to wait. It was not that difficult, provided that now for almost a year I am studying coaching and mentoring. And each two weeks I spent a weekend learning from professional coaches, psychologists and psychotherapists. As we do many practical exercises, I simply coached myself into a downtime.

The funny thing is that after two months of me having disappeared people, with whom I used to work with started to quietly ask me, or those close to me, whether everything was all right with me. Not working professionally for a person with strong professional background seems to be odd, or something similar? Even a good friend of mine, a board member of several companies asked me: ‘just so?’ Only my family (they see what I do with my downtime) and my fellow psychology students (naturally we talk about our experiences) seem not to be worried. But I am OK. Yes I am. And finally, I am starting to understand the sabbatical theory.

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During our psychology courses we often work with metaphors. Something like, how do you feel right now, do not intellectualize, just tell me in pictures. This time I have chosen a photo out of my quite big collection. In fact this is offices of a very serious international financial institution. I took this picture lying on a bench close to entrance, made it upside down, and put a filter on it. Reflection of my sabbatical. Sort of. 

As professionally I have from time to time to deal with theoretical economics, first I focused, naturally (for me), on time as a resource. Time I can spent as I want vs. time I have to devote to earning money. My personal indifference curve. Of course I did not draw the curve, but quite quickly I realised that there were many things around me that I neglected just being short of time working and commuting for ten to eleven hours a day. (To clarify, my indifference curve may differ from that of many others as I do not have a mortgage to repay and all my fixed costs are covered by a rent).

Today it is almost one hundred days since I physically left the office. I am lying on a bench on my balcony. The weather is great. I just have had a chocolate ice cream.

My small garden below me does not require more work than only grass cutting. My apartment does not require much work either. Filling in the dishwasher, maybe. Just a daily routine. Only to arrange my garden as I wanted to I needed more than fifty hours of pure physical work. I did it myself. In my apartment, all my personal documents are sorted out. All those that did not require being stored went through a shredder machine. I pushed the matter away through years, but with much free time it somehow worked, step by step. I also managed to arrange for the vast majority of official matters I had to attend to, but earlier they were not on a priority list due to time constraints. To achieve that I planned one day per week to arrange for at least one official matter or if possible two or three. Step by step, week by week. At first, and it lasted for at least two months I worked on photos from my previous journeys, took a short trip to Madrid, and posted like crazy on this blog and social media. But a month ago I stopped. I think, it was too intensive. I even stopped looking through ideas for new destinations. All of it will come (back) in due time.

Almost everyday I meet or I am on the phone with people important to me. I attended a couple of parties, too. To be frank, there was even one, with my fellow psychology students, that was just it, nothing other mattered that evening. (Beside writing a short comment on practical use of psychoanalytical theory in daily life, for which the deadline was the midnight. I finished and dispatched it before taking the first drink. Like in old student times, just before the deadline. Ups!). After long years of decision making I bought me a car, and improved my driving skills, driving both on my own and with a professional trainer. All of that without a time constraint. And finally, I started to work out again. I looked around in a big sports shop for a training bike that would suit me, and arranged for its delivery. My workout is still at home, but I am able to make around fifty km on my training bike a day and add around one hour of light exercises on top of it (with a day or two of necessary rest time if needed). If my sabbatical lasts longer, I will add something else. The closest swimming pool is reachable by bike within fifteen minutes or so. With all of it I lost some pounds and I cannot recall even when was the last time I needed a pain killer for a headache. I would not call it necessary the new me. It is certainly not. But things changed.

A couple of weeks ago one of the psychologists, with whom we had a training told us that most people accustom to new routines after from nineteen to sixty three days, but some require more time. When I think of the past one hundred days and try to recollect the moment as it really changed, as I regained the quiet, I would say it was last week. Ninety days after I left my office. I caught myself waking up, enjoying the morning sun (it was 7 am, quite early for a person who does not have to leave for work), quietly took my morning coffee and watered my garden, selected a Harry Potter DVD to watch and before noon I had already thirty km on my home bike meter. All without planning, but with inner will. A kind of a new me.

Out of curiosity (still an academic in me) I am only thinking to myself ‘how will this end?’ Right now the answer is, we shall see. 

Jūnihitoe, the robe

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While in Japan, we noticed women dressed in kimonos just walking the streets. Quite quickly our guide corrected us explaining that the traditional dresses we see are simple yukatas. For a foreigner it seems to be a kimono, but it is not. But still even a simple yukata made of cotton or synthetic silk is considered a casual but elegant dress.

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The main feature of a true kimono is many layers. In Gijon, the Geisha district we saw women, whose dresses or robes were more complex and much more decorated. You could have seen they consisted of many layers. Their faces were painted, their hair carefully dressed. These were professional geishas or geikos (or women learning to become one).

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Seen in Gion, the geisha district.

There are of course simpler kinds of kimonos worn on special occasions. Like in the Western tradition, different kinds of dresses and robes are worn on different occasions. The best example in every country is the wedding dresses.

A newly married couple dressed Japanese traditional way posing to a photographer in the bamboo forest in Arashiyama.

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And yet another beautiful bride in a beautiful robe.

But the absolute highlight was dresses, robes, costumes and apparel we saw during the Aoi Matsuri Festival. It is a traditional procession of a couple of hundred people dressed according to VIII-XII century court code alongside streets of Kyoto. In the middle of procession there is an unmarried woman, who performs the role of Saiō-Dai. In past times, she was a lady chosen from the sisters and daughters of the Emperor to dedicate herself to the Shimogamo shrine (another shrine on the way of the procession). According to the tradition she is dressed in jūnihitoe that is the most elegant kind of a kimono. It consists in fact of 12 twelve layers of silk garments (hence its name ‘a twelve-layer robe’). The colours of layers depend (or rather depended in the past) on the woman’s position. As the Sao Dai was carried is some kind of a litter it was not possible to see the whole robe. It would be however difficult for the performer to walk in the procession as the junihitoe may weight up to 20 kg.

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Sao Dai dressed in jūnihitoe, the twelve layers robe.

Today, only members of the imperial house wear jūnihitoe on very important occasions.

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Still of beautiful dresses and robes at the Aoi Matsuri festival.

Index of posts on Japan >>>

Just a ceiling

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Galeria Borghese, Rome, the marvelous interiors.

The view you may admire if you look up entering the great hall of the Villa Borghese Pinciana in Rome >>>.  I will not speculate on its size, but the fresco is for sure more than 100 meter big. 

Frescoes was a very popular technique used to decorate ceilings and walls in Rome, in ancient times as well as during the Renaissance. It was adopted in many other places  and countries usually in churches, palaces and villas belonging to the rich. The technique was also applied in China and India.

The true fresco technique involves painting with a water colour on the wet plaster. If the painter did not manage to put colour onto the plaster before it dried up, the plaster had to be removed and put on once again. Frescoes were also painted with a technique called fresco secco, where the painting was applied on a dry plaster. (Secco stands in Italian for dry, fresco – for fresh).

The major difference between a true fresco and the fresco secco is its durability. In case of a true fresco during the drying process the colour becomes part of the plastered wall and this way the fresco painting may preserve longer. True frescoes are not suitable as a painting technique for countries where the climate is wet and cold.

Index of posts on Rome >>>  and Vatican  >>>

Liberty Leading the People. A short recollection of historical events in revolutionary France

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While visiting Louvre, as usually I do in museums I photographed a number of paintings just to remember the visit. One of them was the famous Liberty Leading the People by Eugène Delacroix depicting events that took place in Paris in 1830. I remembered having seen the painting many times during history lessons, as being symbolic for the French revolution it is usually reprinted in school books.

A topless woman being a French symbol for the Liberty is leading Parisians under the tricolor banner that stands for liberty (blue), equality (white), and fraternity (red) during the July revolution of 1830.

There is also an alternate symbolism behind the French national colours: blue stands for bourgeoisie, white for clergy and red for the nobility. The division corresponds to the three estate classification that preserved for centuries in historical Europe. Clergy was the First Estate, nobles were the Second Estate and peasants and bourgeoisie were the Third Estate.

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The painting is that well known that it is easy to forget that it depicts the second wave of the French revolution (of 1830) and not the events that took place forty years earlier.

  • The French revolution (known as the First French Revolution) commonly associated among others with storming and demolition of the Bastille took place in 1789. The Bastille Day, which is the 14th of July, is celebrated today as the French National Day. The Revolution began as during a political impasse the Third Estate (bourgeoisie) formed into a National Assembly (13 June 1789).
  • It took however more than three years of political turmoil till the French proclaimed the First Republic (21 September 1792) abolishing the monarchy. The act was undertaken by a National Convention elected under the first male universal suffrage in France. This did not however end the political turmoil.
  • In 1799 Napoleon Bonaparte took power in the Republic and finally turned France into the French Empire. With his defeat and the Congress of Vienna (1815) >>> the monarchy was reestablished in France with another Bourbon king on the French throne.
  • Bourbons were overthrown by the July revolution of 1830, the one that was depicted by Delacroix. One king was however replaced by another. (By the way, the events of July revolution inspired Belgians who after years of struggle finally got their independence in 1830. >>>)
  • The monarchy under the House of Orleans lasted till 1848, when after removal of an unpopular king, the Second Republic was proclaimed.
  • The Second Republic was yet again seized by yet another Bonaparte, Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte, who was Napoleon Bonaparte’s nephew. Once again France turned into an Empire (1852).
  • Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte was removed in 1870 in times of Franco-Prussian war that was fought further by the Government of National Defence under the auspices of the Third Republic. The times of monarchies in France were finally over.

Index of posts on France  >>>