A day with Francisco afuera de Merida (Mexico)

A rock on the road makes our rental car ( Fiat Panda ) jolt and it wakes me up. A quick look on the phone to see our GPS location and I still couldn’t believe where I was… (for the entire 2 weeks I kept pinching myself because I couldn’t believe was finally in Mexico).

My arm was burning under the Mexican January sun. Far from Europe and any sort of issues, the biggest worry was to not forget the sunscreen lotion. And of course I forgot the lotion.

What was Mexico for me, before visiting it?

I’ll admit that for my whole life, I never considered myself a fan of Mexico. All I can say now is that: Life can teach you many little things, but only if you are willed enough, you will climb the wall of knowledge and see what’s on the other side. If you never experienced Mexico and its people firsthand, then you know nothing about Mexico and the Mexicans.

Mexico had the power to find a special place in my heart…

I don’t even want to start a sentence like:

“I thought Mexico wasn’t safe because of crime”

or

“I need to be careful not to be cheated with the money”

Only adding those words as important facts to be aware of when travelling to Mexico, would be a HUGE and SAD INSULT to all the amazing people I met during my time there.

Please don’t think that I want to exaggerate with the facts and seem a liar. Mexico gave me the opportunity to meet only great people…

Now I can smell your doubts about if you should keep reading my article.

I promise you that you will enjoy the entire amazing story about our best MotoTaxiDriverTouristGuide, Francisco.

Remember the part about me burning my arm under the sun? Well before we start the story, I would like you to know that I’m one of those people who are trying their best to talk in the local language during trips. It was after I realized that my arm was burning, when I coined a new English / Spanish term to define somebody in a certain situation: IDIHOMBRE (from the English word IDIOT and the Spanish word HOMBRE).

Our car almost hit this young man who was trying to stop us and sell a tourism package: A guided tour of 5 different Cenotes on a MotoTaxi.

It didn’t take too much of his charm and warm soul to win our curiosity and make us accept the deal. Half day of his work for only trescientos pesos ( fifteen bucks ).

Crazy right?

For those of you who haven’t had the chance to learn much about Cenotes, this natural phenomenon found in only a few places around the world, here is a Wikipedia explanation:

Cenote is a natural pit, or sinkhole, resulting from the collapse of limestone bedrock that exposes groundwater underneath. Especially associated with the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico, Cenotes were sometimes used by the ancient Mayan people for sacrificial offerings.

 

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Cenotes are surface connections to subterranean water bodies. While the best-known cenotes are large open water pools measuring tens of meters in diameter, such as those at Chicken Itza in Mexico the greatest number of cenotes are smaller sheltered sites and do not necessarily have any surface exposed water. There are over 6000 different cenotes in the Yucatan Pensinsula in Mexico alone.

 

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An explanation alone cannot describe how incredibly beautiful these Cenotes are. For all the tropical fans of European destinations (like me), after visiting this superb Peninsula, I bet you will pleasantly think differently.

We parked our car and jumped onto this MotoTaxi: a regular motorcycle without the front wheel. In order to obtain a good MotoTaxi, you need to remove the front wheel and the fork. Then add a two-wheeled cabin with a bench and a roof. Bingo! Then start your low investment business.

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photo: Francisco’s MotoTaxi

The amazing thing about this original transportation is that you have the wind that hits you and cools you on a warm Mexican day.

The first cenote had a scary ladder that we needed to climb down to reach a wooden platform over the water. I didn’t need too much prompting. I took my fiancée’s hand and we pushed each other into that crystalline and fresh water. Our guide Francisco explained to us all he knew about those cenotes…

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Amazing, just amazing.

Back to the MotoTaxi, Francisco was singing a song and I thought his voice was even better than Julio Igleasis’.

He was singing and we were enjoying the ride with goose bumps on our skin. And it was too warm for goose bumps.

Francisco is a father and husband. A simple man with a strong passion for his lands, he became the man of our trip. When I think of Mexico’s people, I think of people like him.

I will not even try to use words to describe the rest of the cenotes. I think the pictures will be more than enough…

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At the end of our trip, Francisco became nothing more than a beautiful memory that I will always remember with a huge smile on my face.

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Gracias Francisco!

Listoke Garden

 

Listoke Garden

“Birds will flock to a fruitful tree.” – Senegalese proverb

I lied down on the blanket and I closed my eyes. The last thing I saw, before I closed my eyes, were those beautifully colored blossoms. The fresh scent of the grass that I’d cut moments before, penetrated my nose, reaching my soul and heart.

Under that pretty tree, I heard and smelled for the first time in my life the sound of Heaven. The humming birds and nature’s perfume were allowing me to forget about the tough moments I was going through in that moment of my life.

That day was the first time in my life that I didn’t feel any sort of fatigue after a day’s work.

“The sound of the drum depends on the drummer” – Mozambican proverb

More than 2 years ago, the destiny brought me to live in the Republic of Ireland. As many of you might already know, Ireland is mostly known for its pubs, Saint Patrick’s Day, Celtic step dance, the color green everywhere, and the Cliffs of Moher…

Well, Ireland is much more than that. Ireland is a land of hard working people that made the difference in the whole world. Ireland is not only beer and partying in the pubs. Ireland is a land of good-hearted, genuine people. If you’re lucky enough to enter and win their hearts, then you will be blessed forever.

I know it’s hard to understand…

It all began here:

In a turbulent moment of my life, I had the opportunity to taste the real Ireland. Even if it was for a short period of time, that life experience at the Listoke Garden in Drogheda (Ireland), gave me the opportunity to meet amazing Irish people and be welcomed into the heart of their family. In that moment of my life, I had the blessing to meet a wonderful family that didn’t need much more than a smile in order to offer me a chair at their dinner table.

The rule is simple: Always be a good person, and the good people will recognize that!

I guarantee that this is all true…but first:

Have you ever seen a movie or read a book where you can meet the character of an English woman with the gardener hat, the amazing loving husband, the fruitful garden, the sweet dog, the animals and the glass greenhouse?

I bet you have!

Here’s Part 1 of my story:

In late Spring of 2016, I was blessed by an Irish family. I didn’t need to read a book or see a movie. I had the amazing chance (maybe once in a lifetime) to live a real experience of full immersion into an Irish family, some 50 km north of Dublin.

The fact that my amazing wife, Sarah, was volunteering at this pretty Irish farm, through the non-profit WWOOF Program, gave me the ability to spend some time in that Heavenly place with her.

WWOOF volunteering means to be part of that family. You do whatever they do. Basically you do your best in order to take care of the place.

Those days during my time there, I worked with that family and I reached the real happiness. Everything I did for them, as work, was something I did with all my heart and with a huge smile.

The lovely host Patricia, half Maltese and half English, surprised me in many ways. Her fluent Italian made my days even easier. She is that lovely English lady, well-educated with the clothes always dirty because of her passion for gardening.

 

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Her husband, Patrick, is full-pride Irish. He is so kind and sweet, especially with his wife. I will never forget the day when we went with him to do the groceries. As he took a chocolate from the shelf, he said: “This is for my wife, she loves chocolate”

 

I don’t remember them talking about politics, or life related problems. All their worries were:

 

Understanding how the hamsters escaped from their secured cages (until we figured out where the problem was) or nursing a baby black bird to health.

 

Living there was like living in your favorite place on the planet. That place and those activities charged my soul and body with only positive energies. Every single time I needed to leave that place, I always returned back as a different person, a better person.

 

The simplicity of those people is something incredible. The fact that they always used words like Please and Thanks was something that put them in a special place in my heart.

 

In our lives we meet angels and devils. In that tough moment of my life I met two angels. God bless you Patricia and Patrick!

 

More to come…

Watching the Aurora Borealis through a Subaru’s sunroof

 

 

As I was watching the amazing nature display, that small newspaper clipping from back in 1998 comes back into my memories.

It was the middle of a chillingly cold winter back in Northern Romania. I came back in the house after a long Saturday afternoon outside playing with my friends in the snow. I remember how hard it was for my mother to change my clothes. I was frozen and my clothes were hard as ice. The reason we used to return home with wet clothes, starved and frozen, is because once you’re home you cannot return outside.

The rules were simple and clear:

  • If you’re wet (and a mother knows she has to wash your clothes) you’re out.
  • If you return home for a glass of water or a sandwich, and your clothes are wet, you’re out.
  • If you scream way too much and your mother hears you from the condo’s windows, you’re out.

God knows how many times we need to go through all these experiences in order to learn the secret:

If you obtain the freedom on a cold and snowy day, then you’re like a soldier during the battle. That means you cannot be thirsty, hungry or tired. Enjoy the time with your fellow friends till your mom comes on the condo’s roof top to call you inside.

I know what you might think in this moment. I bet you think we were just simple children “submissive” to our mother’s “supreme power”.

You’re wrong buddy!

We studied and we learned something important that really works in every single issue in this world:

Your individual voice is powerless, but when you’re in many, you can change minds and the rules. You can change history.

The power of unity always worked…

We used to form the begging group.

We used to go and knock at our fellow “imprisoned” friends’ door and ask for a meeting with their mother. Once she was in front of us, we would kneel in front of her and beg to let our friend outside with us. Who knows how many things we promised to those women and we didn’t follow through with. Something was always sure though: Always being respectful.

That night it didn’t work though. It didn’t work maybe because everything happens for a reason?

It was already late, but we needed to finish our toboggan track for the next day. I was the first of the team who was called inside by my mom. My fellow friends came at the eighth level where I was living, and did what needed to be done. It was dinner time and my mother was preparing it. Actually she was burning it because of my friends. They started to beg her. I was behind her.

And?

She closed the door in their face. And I was shocked. I knew that nothing would change her mind. I walked towards my room. In my head everything was wrong and unfair. Now that I think a little better, a song might be perfect for that situation:

I was alone in the dark, in my room. I was sad with the world. I was thinking, What is going to happen to our hard work?

About ten minutes later, my dad came in my room. He turned on the light. He launched an old magazine on my bed and he left.

The front page was showing this amazing picture with an amazing Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis) photograph. I don’t remember where that photo was taken or what the words meant. It was in German. All I could read was Aurora Borealis. I was sbalordito!…(amazed)…

I grew up with that picture in my head. For precisely 18 years. Until 5 months ago when I finally saw my first Aurora Borealis.

On that night, the woman of my life surprised me. We took our memory foam mattress for the back of her Subaru XV Crosstrek, a blanket, and some food. She told me she had a surprise. We drove North towards the infamous and formidable Sleeping Bear Dunes. We took a trail and we found the perfect parking spot. We had this amazing view in front of us. I couldn’t find a cloud on that clear sky full of stars.

I confess though…

I was a little bit scared. In that place, one could find only myself, this amazing woman of my life, and a bunch of still awake wild animals.

I couldn’t figure out why we were there. I thought that it might be one of those nights when we go stargazing and try to identify some of them.

What happened later?

She opened her Subaru’s sunroof so we were able to go safely outside to watch the waters of Lake Michigan. She looked at me and told me:

“Alex, not the stars…”

“Look at the horizon line over the water!”

I was amazed, folks! I couldn’t believe my eyes. That night we had the Aurora Borealis in front of us. What a pretty nature show. It was like when the wind blows the sand. That night the wind was blowing that amazing green light over the water. Thinking back on that night I get goose bumps. All we needed was an amazing and scary-romantic spot, a cozy car where to sleep, nature at its best, alongside the woman of my life. Without knowing, she made my dream come true.

We fell asleep with the phones close to us. We had almost 12 alarms between 10 PM and 5AM to witness the various light shows of the sky…

I’m so happy that I met you that day in Manarola, Sarah! I’m so glad my mother didn’t let me go outside that evening of 1998. I’m so happy that my father shared with me that magazine.

Does everything happen for a reason? Maybe not but what if it does happen for a reason? Anyway life is good!

The Heidelberg Project

 

… and he passed me talking to those two kids showing them which spot they could paint on. As he looked over the kids’ shoulders, he said:

“Show me the power of your creativity folks!”

Correct, the Power of Creativity is the mix of words that the people around the world use to describe the Heidelberg Project:

The Heidelberg Project, created by the US veteran Tyree Guyton and his Grandpa Sam, more than 30 years ago, is a demonstration of the power of creativity in creating hope and a bright vision for the future”.

 

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I saw an old and broken watch on a tree and it was indicating the same hour as the watch on my arm. A paint-splattered hand touched my shoulder and almost scared me, to be honest with you. I was in the McDougall-Hunt neighborhood, the city’s East Side, which is in one of the well-known American hard-core inner city neighborhoods where people are afraid to walk even in daytime. I turned my head and I saw him, Tyree Guyton, the sunny man who taught me something new:

Never stop fighting for something you love

 

He wasn’t too impressed by my reaction. People like me are probably not a big deal for him anymore. While still watching the kids expressing their art, he asked me:

“What brings you here today?”

I was speechless. I couldn’t simply say that I was pulled there out of curiosity. I wanted to seem more interested and more of an expert. I didn’t want to tell him that I couldn’t understand his art. I couldn’t give a name or a title or a simple explanation at a question:

Why?

He was reading my face. I couldn’t hide it though. It was an impossible mission and I failed. He thanked the kids and then he returned to me:

“Before judging, you should walk around for a complete visit. Then come back to me and answer my question.”

Again, I didn’t know what to say. I just followed his tip and I started to walk along the street. I took a brochure and I started to read while I was wandering around the block.

The Heidelberg Project is an outdoor art project in Detroit, Michigan. It is in part a political protest, which started as Tyree Guyton’s childhood neighborhood began to deteriorate after the 1967 riots. Many sources describe Tyree’s reaction when he returned to Heidelberg Street after serving in the army.

He was astonished to see that surrounding neighborhood looked as if a bomb went off.”

 

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At first, the project consisted of him painting a series of houses on Detroit’s Heidelberg Street with bright dots of many colors. The added oddity was the salvaged items affixed to the houses. His creative vision was 30+ years of constantly evolving work.

And here comes the best part…

On two occasions, the Heidelberg Project faced complete destructions by the City of Detroit. The first time was in 1991 under Mayor Coleman Young, and the second time in 1999 under Mayor Dennis Archer.

Do you want more?

Not even the massive fires of 2013 and 2014 stopped this man and his mission:

Fight for what you believe in!

After my walk around the block I started to build a thought. I realized how important it is to understand the art. I finally found the answer I had always been looking for:

The art needs to be explained. The art needs its artist in order to survive.

 

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As I was returning back to the car I saw him again. He was doing the same thing. He was inviting the people to go take a look around and then share with him their thoughts and reaction.

I walked towards him, but this time he was the one without words. I looked at him and with all my heart and honestly convinced I told him: “I’m honored to have met a special man like you Tyree!”

I was so happy to shake the hand of a man that one would be lucky to meet only once in his life.

Thanks Heidelberg Project for believing in a possible brighter future! I truly hope you will change your idea about closing the Project.

I don’t know why but as I was walking towards the car I had a song in my head and I hope you will enjoy!

 

“A Change Is Gonna Come” by Sam Cooke

 

I was born by the river in a little tent

Oh, and just like the river I’ve been running ever since

 

It’s been a long, a long time coming

But I know a change gon’ come, oh yes it will

 

It’s been too hard living, but I’m afraid to die

‘Cause I don’t know what’s up there beyond the sky

 

It’s been a long, a long time coming

But I know a change gon’ come, oh yes it will

 

I go to the movie and I go down town

Somebody keep telling me don’t hang around

 

It’s been a long, a long time coming

But I know a change gon’ come, oh yes it will

 

Then I go to my brother

And I say, “Brother, help me please.”

But he winds up knockin’ me

Back down on my knees

 

There been times that I thought I couldn’t last for long

But now I think I’m able to carry on

 

It’s been a long, a long time coming

But I know a change gon’ come, oh yes it will

 

That’s “Merica” and it’s hidden curiosities…

Spaghetti alla Carbonara

I remember the first time I stepped on Italian soil almost 15 years ago. There was a restaurant along the highway called Autogrill.

The first thing I saw was this incredible plate with this delicious spaghetti perfectly served on a plate like a bird nests. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Below a poster showing this incredible spaghetti mixed with eggs and pancetta, a guy was sitting there ready to burn his tongue and mouth in order to scarf down that identical dish.

When I heard my father suggest for us to go inside to have lunch, I became excited of the idea. My brain started to guess about the flavor. My taste buds were ready and my concerns of handling the fork and long spaghetti were vanished.

As we walked inside, I looked outside quickly. I turned my head while listening to what my dad was telling me, but the view I had seen captured my attention: the incredible Alto-Adige’s mountains.

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photo: internet

I remember I was so enchanted by the mountains that I didn’t even hear when the waitress asked me for my lunch order.

My dad called my name, and the idea of ordering that pasta plate took possession on my mind and belly.

Before I go further, I would like to mention that my Italian was so bad. I was barely able to count till 10 or say “Buongiorno” or “Ciao”.

I tried my best with my thick Romanian accent, but the lady wasn’t able to understand. Now that I analyze it better, I think I was the one who didn’t have any idea of what that poor lady was trying to explain to me.

My dad left me to see if I was able to manage ordering the lunch on my own but…he came in to my rescue and explained that they closed the kitchen at 5 minutes to 2:00. Looking at my watch, it was 2:07. I was so disappointed as I was eating the fried chicken, the only thing they had left. All the drive back home I was craving that plate of pasta. In that moment, I hated that place and their cook. I was ready to spend even fifty euro in order to have that plate. I remember I wasn’t a friendly journey mate and the silence started to dominate the car.

The sad thing, or if we want to call it the coincidence, wanted me to not have that plate for a long time.

It took to me almost 9 years before finally having my first plate of Spaghetti alla Carbonara. I remember that day I was visiting a small Borgo on the Apennines’s mountains back in Italy.

I was visiting this beautiful Borgo when I stopped for an Italian caffee ristretto in glass when I was talking with the owner of this small Trattoria. I don’t know how we started to talk about his life. He was narrating to me how he met his wife and their first pregnancy. After 45 minutes, I was ready to start a fake phone call in order to escape. The funny thing is that he wasn’t even a person who let you join the conversation and add episodes about your own life…

After other 20 minutes of talking (him) and listening (me), he got into the restaurant side and he started to talk about his steps of becoming a chef and his early life in Rome. I remember I was surprisingly interested and engaged.

He touched the subject of Spaghetti alla Carbonara. Right away I confessed to him my early life experience in that highway restaurant. He jumped from his chair and exclaimed:

“Mo ti ci porto io in cucina e ti preparo il vero ed autentico piatto di Spaghetti alla Carbonara.”

He started the fire and put some water in a pot. Then he took out The Pecorino Romano Cheese (50 Grams), Parmesan Cheese (50 Grams), Pancetta (150 Grams), and 3 Eggs.

Then he started to watch me while he was preparing it. He knew what he was doing:

He browned the diced Pancetta in a pan with 2 Tablespoons of authentic Italian olive oil and 2 cloves of garlic. He opened 3 eggs and beat them thoroughly, adding a pinch of salt, pepper and the Parmesan. He boiled around 350 grams of spaghetti with salt. When the spaghetti was ready (al dente) he drained the pasta and added it to the pancetta. After around 4 seconds he turned off the heat, and immediately poured in the beaten eggs, mixing it well. To top it off, he sprinkled with the Pecorino Romano cheese. Then he made that Spaghetti nest like the one from that Highway restaurant. I was crying and I gave him a hug…

Wait, I didn’t cry and I didn’t give him a hug. I tried not to be too excited.

“Ale, vieni qua li mortacci tua!”

We walked in the restaurant. He opened a bottle of Spumante di Franciacorta wine saying:

“La Carbonara va mangiata insieme allo spumante di Franciacorta! La Carbonara si fa solamente con la pancetta!”

I looked at him and I jumped on that plate. My tongue and my brain were crying and singing victory. I was the luckiest guy because I had the authentic Spaghetti alla Carbonara plate.

Maybe not having that plate of pasta 14 years ago was the right thing. Maybe the destiny wanted to bring me in the right place where to enjoy the Eighth Wonder of the World.

Don’t you think that the things are happening for a reason?

Elba Island and its legendary Acqua dell’Elba

Far from my second country, Italy, my thoughts are flying to one of my favorite places in the world I had the opportunity to visit early in my life…

More than 5 years ago I had the opportunity to spend my vacation on one of my favorite places in this world: Elba Island in Italy.

Almost 3,000 miles away at east from here, aside the Tuscan archipelago, you can find this amazing Island. Most of the Tuscans call it “the Italian Hawaii”.

Cheaper than Hawaii, you can step on one of the most magical places on Earth. This island is that place where after 1 minute you fall in love (like I did) with it. A place you might keep in the surface of your beautiful memories. That place where you truly forget about your daily issues. An angle of paradise that even your worst day cannot delete from your brain.

When I was a young man, I used to daydream of the moment when I will step on a paradisiac soil. I was the prey of many magazines and TV commercials that build your head with all these unattainable goals.

Isola d’Elba changed completely my way to see the world.

 

How? I am not trying to sell you something and I might sound like a simple Simon guy. That’s what I was thinking as well. After I left the ferryboat, I finally realized what the brochures were talking about, regard to Elba Island.

Isola d’Elba is that piece of paradise that doesn’t need a promo to become well-known in the whole world. Isola d’Elba wins your heart and takes a deep spot in it. You cannot stop thinking of it.

Porto-Azzurro-Elba

After visiting many well-published places on the earth, it is hard for me to express all of them as places where a piece of my heart is left. Elba Island’s smell wins your olfaction memories. Elban people win your Friendship. Elba’s kitchen miracle’s makes you become a culinary expert for your whole life.

I will always keep this special place in my heart. It reminds me of what it means to be carefree. Every time I want to touch the Island again, I go to my secret bottle of Acqua dell’Elba Eau de Parfum . As the Island keeps me far from sad thoughts, it’s special cologne reminds me of the happiness; reminds me of the woman I love and how I met her. I indirectly associate the cologne’s fragrance to her personality.

Indirectly in the late 90’s, Fabio, Chiara and Marco, made their dream come true:

Give the island a smell and an identity within the world by creating the Acqua Dell’Elba perfume. They probably will never know about something important: Their perfume is reflecting the personality of somebody’s lover.

As I respect and appreciate the people of Elba, I have a huge estimation of what a familiar small company was able to create among huge multi-national corporation competitors. I estimate how they mixed the passion and wisdom to Island high quality materials, transforming a small artisan workshop in a unique product: Acqua Dell’Elba.

Indirectly I’m connected with this entity and I would like to thank them for impacting my life!

 

WORK SETS YOU FREE – ARBEIT MACHT FREI Dachau Munich

 

60 years after the inhumane imprisonment of one hundred and eighty-eight thousand inmates and the execution of almost thirty-two thousand, a young (me) crossed that “factory” line. The line in which:

 

  • A person loses all rights but one: to beg the warders to execute you.
  • Your father is no longer yours, and your mother cannot hug you or dry your tears.
  • All your posessions will feed the expenses of the bloody war machine.
  • You go to sleep without having dinner, and instead “enjoy” a peace of old, moldy bread or simply water as a meal.

 

I remember I walked in a prisoner’s dormitory and my body started to sweat cold and I was shaking. I was afraid, even knowing that the days of pain and misery were far from that day. I started to loose my balance and was walking backwards and my internal compass was spinning at a dizzying speed. I was losing my equilibrium, and I could smell the urine and sweat of the prison floors. The tourists around me had vanished. I was alone. I was still stepping backwards and my hands were reaching for something to stop me. Moments later, my hands rested on something cold and damp. I regained my senses and I had control over my body once again. As I looked behind me, I found that my right hand was leaning on that bench.

the-bench

That bench with the stick of punishment, one that the Lagerordnung (Disciplinary and Penal Code written for Dachau) was inviting the SS warders to use in order to punish the workers with no names. They were called people (the trend between the Lager’s prisoners was more or less 100 pounds). I jumped when I saw that bench. I was scared. I started walking towards the door to outside and I could smell myself. It was a mix of pee and sweat, and my black and white long-sleeves were dirty. I turned my head to the left and I caught a reflection of my face full of wounds and I could feel my back was painful and red red bloody. As I ran faster, the dormitory door started to close. Behind the door started to illuminate and the dream looked like it was vanishing. I knew I didn’t belong to that day, moment, or time of history. As I was running, the handle of a gun punched me in the face and I felt myself passing out. I fell into four bony arms that stopped me. I could faintly see on their wrists 102456 and 102475. I didn’t even have the time to realize what was happening and I was kneeled with bare chest exposed, blood dripping from my face. I heard Ein (one) and felt a sharp slap with a wund (painful) stick on my back. My skin swelled up in the area where the stick hit me. Then I heard Zwei (two), again the same pain but 10 times harder. I started saying the first words of “Our Father”…Drei (three)…

Once I opened my eyes, a brown haired woman was throwing water over my face. Lots of tourists from all over the world were watching me with worry. None of my classmates were there. I was lucky not to pass out in front of them. God knows how many times they would make jokes on me.

 

Yes, the life gave me the opportunity to travel and visit this place…

 

15 minutes after that episode, I finally was able to convince the lady that I was fine. I was finally free to go out and breath in some fresh air. I was walking towards the bus parking. It was early in the morning, around 10:00 AM and it was February. I remember even now after several years, how I wasn’t able to handle that cold weather. It was fogy and wet. The jacket my parents bought for me for that school trip was really warm but it didn’t matter.

 

The walk towards the gate of freedom was tough and the remorse was killing me. My fellow classmates were taking pictures around the memorial and by the wall of inscriptions, enjoying the day trip and laughing. From within the fence, my imagination could see around me these young and old prisoners, in their black and white uniforms, watching me with sad faces. I was disappointing them. I was giving up. I was weak, but they knew something:

 

I was there with a mission…

 

As I’m writing this article I understand why they were all watching me with sad faces. They wanted me to write this article and let the world know what happened to them and other people during that war.

 

Through me, that small part of the world that doesn’t know about all these humanitarian injustices, can now know more.

 

I hope that one day, every single person on this planet (Mr. PewDiePie included) will finally understand that we cannot trivialize what the war atrocities have brought to our planet.

 

Outside the fence, I turned around and read the words over the gate: ARBEIT MACHT FREI – WORK SETS YOU FREE

 

All those 188.000 people who stepped into that place were there with a hope. Working hard, one day, will set them free again.

 

Everything was a lie

 

I decided to return back and step by step, I walked every single centimeter of that camp. I saw the showers and the crematory. I saw things that, to imagine what they were used for, would make you vomit.

 

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Crematory

 

gas-showers
Gas Chamber

Two hours later, I began walking back towards the gate. The sky now was becoming blue and the sun was coming out. Those sad faces were sunny and they were happy. The children and their parents now were wearing their époque clothes and they were greeting me. They were walking with towards the gate to freedom.

 

I wasn’t cold anymore and my heart and soul were strong. I came out of that Lager more me; I came out of that camp more human…

 

Our society has learned a lot from these errors and has changed a little bit since then, but we still have a lot of work to do. Are we going to learn from our mistakes? Let’s begin to write a non-violent history and bring freedom to all those who cannot defend themselves.

 

 

 

 

 

The streets of Maastricht were humming Ave Maria

 

The life has been really generous with me and gave me the chance to raise my head above the crowd to see how the world truly is.

A long time ago, I visited one of the pioneer electronic music festivals, driven by teenage curiosity. Everybody at the time was talking about these amazing electronic music festivals being organized around the country.

Ave Maria and electronic music collide…

Soon you will understand the connection between the Netherlands – one of those countries you have to travel to if you want to experience the most authentic and original music innovations – and the song Ave Maria.

Ready to hear what happened to me during that short trip to the Netherlands, and how much it influenced my life?

I was driving en route back to Italy, when I realized it was the very first time in my life being in an amazing country like the Netherlands, and that it might also be the last. I would like to think of the Netherlands as an amazing country because they truly really are. Everything positive you might hear about the flat country Nederland, is true. I am quite sure it might be really hard to find a country like that.

Before visiting the House of Orange-Nassau Kingdom, I remember all these Dutch students who were coming to Italy for a week to stay with Italian families (thanks to a high school student exchange program). I was amazed by their good English and their sunny disposition all day long. I can recall even now, several years after graduation, their narrations of their exchange programs. I was convinced, and still am, that the Dutch mentality is innovative, bringing with it many revolutionary ideas to the world.

I would like to further explain to all of you why I realized the Dutch People are revolutionary.

 First of all, they love their country, and their country loves them. While the world is worried about politics and their Bloody GDP Growth (Gross Domestic Product) , the Dutch people’s toughest problem is choosing between Italy or Spain for their next summer holiday. Exactly! Their country loves them by giving them the opportunity not to worry about their jobs.

Secondly, they bike everywhere which allows them to breathe in the fresh air and live a healthy lifestyle. Because of this, they don’t need a vacation to escape to, because they live in the best place where to enjoy your fresh and clean air.

Thirdly, when the rest of the world was still thinking of ways to produce fossil fuel, most of their houses were already powered by green and renewable resources.

Well, while I was driving, the idea of leaving the country (with only with a music festival and some pictures from the highway) was killing me. I was thinking to myself:

What if I will never be able to step back into this country…would I be happy with this experience?

It was in that moment that I exited off Highway A2 (towards Belgium, then France, then Italy) and drove to the nearest town. The sun was still strong and I remember the amazing roads they had. The cute and tidy houses made of bricks or stones, were accompanying me towards downtown.

After 5 minutes I wasn’t able to drive anymore. I needed to park and continue my adventure on foot. I left the car and was walking among other people, as I listened to music on my smartphone at a high volume.

Once I arrived at the sign indicating the City Centre, I decided to grab an espresso.

Taking off my headphones, I realized the streets of Maastricht were humming the song Ave Maria

Holly tomolly, my skin was full of Goosebumps and I couldn’t control it, not even with my (insanely expensive) espresso. That song flooded my ears with a melodic tune. I was able to recognize the various instruments. My first thought was feeling happy at not leaving the Netherlands without a final stop in this beautiful city.

In my broken English, scattered with plenty of Italian words, I asked a blond haired woman, “What is happening this evening in Maastricht?” And of course, she answered me in perfect English that night the city was hosting one of the Billboard Top 25 Tours in the world. That night, destiny gave me a huge present and brought me to the most important concert that Andre Rieu organizes every single year in Maastricht since 1988.

What? I was born in 1988, have a love of music, and I’d never heard of Andre Rieu before.

After the coffee, I kept walking through the downtown and the music grew stronger and even sweeter to our ears.

My travel buddy had his camera with him and we still had our Press Badges (which sometimes allows you not to pay for expensive events).

Guess what?

 

Yep, we snuck in and got two free tickets as free press journalists. Smart, I know!

Within minutes, I was amazed as we listened and watched this huge stage (I found out from an Italian tourist who was there that evening that Andre Rieu’s stage that year was one of the biggest ever to go on tour). There was an amazing audience with flags in hand from all over the world.

I remember my childhood orchestra concerts in my town were nothing like that. He was winning the people’s hearts (mine too) by adopting a very simple technique: He was providing a happy and smiley atmosphere with his orchestra, not a serious and somber one.

I remember when I was younger, going to an orchestra concert and I couldn’t laugh or cough without somebody from behind me touching my back and asking you to show respect.

This man was doing what a Dutch person does. He was revolutionizing the orchestra. He was surrounding his stage with youthful and enthusiastic musicians.

He was winning the attention and the heart of a young man (me) who, until that day, knew Electronic music was his favorite music. That young man was wrong.

In 1987, his revolutionary idea of creating the Johann Strauss Orchestra was really smart. Twenty years later, he was winning me, a young and musical ignorant man. With his 1667 Stradivarius violin and his 100+ musicians behind him, he was giving to the old Waltz music a perfect revival magic. The classical works were played in such a way that the chords and the sounds of the instruments were winning my ears and heart.

That night, the two times award winner of World Music Awards, Andre Leon Marie Nicolas Rieu, an ‘’old guy’’ (born 1 October 1949) was my Orchestra DJ. On that day, I was learning something else: the importance of traveling.

Traveling gives you the chance to see how everything works from multiple perspectives.

Traveling can change the person you are and sometimes for the better. Meeting people of different cultures teaches you a better way to interact with others.

Through experiencing cultures that are different than our own, we can find a way towards an international peaceful cohabitation.

Pleasantly stuck in a Tablao Sevillano

 

Stop me while you come across and ask me to tell you a reason why I love and appreciate our amazing world, and this might be my response to your question: Because I was lucky to have the opportunity to live multiple Flamenco experiences.

How did the opportunity that you’re calling “lucky” happen?

I was younger and culturally ignorant when I decided to fly to Sevilla, España (located in Andalusia, the southern Spanish region which is considered by Spain as a continent of its own). The main reason I decided on that destination was mostly because of the cheap flights, cheap food and because our holiday consultant (Google) was linking on my computer screen to a place where you can find seas and lands to explore.

What was it instead? That trip was a lot more than what I just wrote. That mini vacation completely changed my life. Sevilla made me a better version of myself by sending me home with a huge luggage full of cultural, artistic and historic memories. Memories, that after more than 6 years later, I still vividly remember in my mind and heart.

It was the first time I was happy not being in the most famous local music club. I didn’t realize I was slowly falling in love with Andalusia. I was considering myself one of the locals (well, honestly this might happen in all the Spanish places you will visit, they have this effect on the people) and I was enjoying that sensation. They love making you feel part of that place and the most amazing thing is that wherever you go, they will always share the best quality food and drinks, the same they have on their dinner tables.

Yes but how did you find yourself Pleasantly stuck in a Tablao Sevillano?

After enjoying some early afternoon tapas (small Spanish savory dishes, typically served with drinks at a bar) and an amazing Estrella beer (served in a frozen glass) I decided to walk through the Plaza De Toros de la Real Maestranza de Caballeria de Sevilla (the arena where they challenge the bulls to death) to see how it was inside. Honestly being in the middle of that arena, trying to imagine a public and a bull in front of you, makes you sweat and be nervous even if the only thing there with you is the wind blowing arena sand in your face.

After the Bull Arena I thought: And now what?

I remember walking through Paseo de Cristóbal Colón and at some point I heard (I’m always attracted to the music) a kind of music I’d never heard before. It was something like the music in this video…

 

(I apologize for the advertisement!)

As I walked in, my body already full of goosebumps, I payed $40.00 for the next show and a complimentary glass of wine.

The colorful room, full of Andalusian and Arabian architectural style, was crowded with people from all over the world. I knew I kinda liked the music and nothing else. At some point the show started and I realized I was loving that glass of likely Spanish red wine, so I asked for another one (I couldn’t watch the show without having a second complimentary drink).

Now here comes the best part

Three black suited guys, wearing black shoes and white shirts, walked in and sat at their chairs. All three men were preparing their guitars. The moment they started playing their instruments in an different way than I was used, I wasn’t the same man. I became the new me who understands the beauty of the world (me less ignorant). I transformed into a better person who appreciates those people with a hard mission (spreading the beauty of culture and the arts).

When they started to mix the sounds of the guitar chords with their masculine voices, my body was compulsively dancing. And then when the women walked on stage with their beautiful and colorful dresses and started to dance with those sensual body movements, I was amazed. Every single strong step on that floor vibrated to the depths of my soul. Their soft yet serious face while moving their arms and flowing skirts, made my feet dance on the floor. It was then that I saw a Japanese woman taking pictures of my feet. I started to laugh.

And the even sweeter part?

At some point, a good-looking man in his 50’s entered and immediately took possession of the stage with a non-stop 30 minutes of Cante (singhing), Baile (dance), Jaleo (vocalizations), Pitos (finger snapping) dance. I was amazed how he was able to dance without easing up for even a second. After his sweaty performance, he started to dance with the main female dancer El baile de la pasion. My level of happiness was at 100 % and I was whistling and applauding along with all the people.

That night was one of my best nights ever. That night I learned something new. I knew what it truly meant to love the culture and the arts. Since then I never stopped suggesting Sevilla with its Flamenco culture to whomever asked me about an amazing place to visit.

Later that night I found out amazing facts on the Internet about Flamenco that you might like to know:

  • Many flamenco dancers do not hit their peak until their thirties and will continue to perform into their fifties and beyond.
  • The young people are not considered to have the emotional maturity to adequately convey the duende (soul) of the genre.
  • The oldest record of Flamenco dates to 1774 in the book Las Cartas Marruecas by Jose Cadalso.
  • The genre originated in the music and dance styles of Andalusia and includes: Cante (singing), Toque (guitar playing), Baile (dance), Jaleo (vocalizations), Palmas (hand clapping), Pitos (finger snapping).
  • Tuesday the 16th of December 2010 by decision of Intergovernmental Committee of Unesco Intangible Heritage, Flamenco became part of the representative list of Intangible Heritage of Humanity.

I hope you will have the same luck to visit Sevilla and go to a Flamenco show. If not, I hope the passion in these words allow you to live vicariously through my travel adventure!