All posts by Sofía Vélez Calderón (sofiavelezcalderon.com)

Writing, Spain, starting over, paleontology, and archaeology

Starting Over: Friday, August 23, 2019

One of the main reasons why I moved to Spain, in addition to the fact that I will be studying at one of the best paleo programs in the world right now, is to start over. From scratch. No strings attached from a previous life. No unresolved conflicts following me from my past. Here, in a place where no one knows me, I can be myself or I can reinvent myself, and no one would know the difference nor be the wiser.

Starting over holds a deep fascination for all of us. But if you really want to start over, you need to take a good, honest look at yourself and see who you have been and where you’ve been. A good, honest look. No rose-colored glasses. A good, very good look. Don’t only see but recognize your mistakes. And instead of seeing them as mistakes, see them as learning opportunities. What can I do better in case a similar situation arises again? Seeing failures as learning opportunities, and not as failures–which is such a negative word–is the first step to starting over. This is something I had to learn in order to not have my mind ruminating about “failures.”

The next step is to imagine what your best self can look like. Imagine it fully. Can you be more organized? Can you be more punctual? Can you deliver on what you promise? Can you say “no” more often, thereby avoiding too much and spreading yourself too thin? Can you love yourself more and criticize yourself less? Can you finish a project that’s been lingering on forever? Can you be more fully present to your loved ones? Can you listen more and talk less? Can you listen attentively and not be thinking about the next thing you’re going to say right after someone stops talking? These are a few questions that you can ask yourself as you envision the kind of person that you want to become.

But you must believe that you have the potential of transformation, no matter what other people have told you and no matter what you have told yourself. Some people like to put you down before you even start to blossom. These are the people that in your new life you must avoid as you start over. And they can put you down in multifarious ways: in being emotional vampires and sucking all of your energy; in being so chatty you can’t get a word in edgewise; in narcissistically talking only about themselves but when you talk about you they invalidate you and your experience; in blissfully ignoring your talents and telling that to your face in backhanded ways. People can be subtle and not so subtle in their attempts at aborting your potential to blossom. Don’t let them. These people are troubled, and they are not your responsibility, no matter what they claim.

So that’s the third step, avoid people who constantly invalidate you and surround yourself with people who love you and are actually there for you when you need them. Start discarding negative people, start accumulating positive, gentle souls.

The fourth, and final step, is to live as if you’re already the person you envision. Start right now. If that entails dressing differently, do so now. If that entails setting boundaries with people who constantly overstep them, do so now. If that entails worrying less and practicing mindfulness, do so now. If that entails stopping procrastination at some project, do so now. If that entails going on a diet that works, I suggest going on the keto diet, and doing so now. If that entails exercising more, start right now in your own home. You don’t need a gym. You can start right now in your own home. Just simple, gentle stretches. Start slow and be gentle with yourself.

And reward yourself in your road to starting over and don’t punish yourself if you’re not getting there as fast as you’d like. There’s no better proven system than the action-and-reward system. Think of the popularity of clicker-training with dogs. Think about why this technique of positive reinforcement is so good and fast at training them. There’s no punishment, just positive reinforcement when a desired behavior is obtained. Negative behavior is ignored, and not rewarded. In that way, that negative behavior is extinguished. Clicker-training is so popular it’s even done with horses and dolphins!

This morning I went for a walk with a new friend I made at Bonaparte. She showed me the neighborhood of the town that is next to the university, and now that I know it, I can start walking in the mornings. Back when I was living in Boston, I was walking between 10,000 to 15,000 steps a day, which was great because it kept my anxiety at bay while keeping me in shape. Walking here has been a bit more difficult because of the heatwave, but now that I know that the temperature is under 25 C very early in the morning, I can walk all I want and regain my walking routine.

And that’s the only thing I’m bringing from my “past” with me: my walking routine. Walking for me has always served as a meditation. The constant cascade of thoughts becomes more of a gentle stream, I get answers to questions I have on what to add or delete from a creative writing piece, my intuitive understanding of a subject I’m studying becomes deeper and fuller. Even writers have talked about what they think about while they walk or run. For instance, Haruki Murakami’s excellent What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. Everything else I leave behind. Everything else I choose to leave behind because it no longer serves me.

Because I’m starting over.

Make sure to check out the song lyrics of A Quiet Life by Teho Teardo on the Web site’s right-sided content bar. It’s a beautiful song about starting over.

Skeleton Lake: Thursday, August 22, 2019

Roopkund Lake, which sits atop the Himalayas at 16,500 feet above sea level, is also known as Skeleton Lake and for good but macabre reasons. The lake is frozen most of the year but when it thaws, hundreds of skeletons emerge.

The skeletons were initially discovered by a forest ranger in 1942, who concluded they were invading Japanese soldiers from World War II. But local folklore has a more colorful explanation. There is a nearby shrine for the mountain goddess Nanda Devi. A king and his queen led a pilgrimage with their attendants, but when Nanda Devi saw how raucous they were in their exultant celebratios, she decided to strike them down. A few years ago, a group of archaeologists concluded that the skeletons belonged to a group of travelers from the ninth century who were struck down by a lethal hailstorm, since many of the skulls show blows to the head.

But a new study has yielded even more puzzling results. The skeletons belong to travelers spread over a 1000 years. There are individuals of South Asian origin dating from the 7th to the 10th century. But then, there are individuals of eastern Mediterranean origin–along with an individual of East Asian origin–dating from the 17th to the 20th century. The natural question is: what were individuals from the eastern Mediterranean doing so far from home and why?

One answer is early ecological tourism. Perhaps news of Roopkund Lake had traveled all the way to Europe and some people decided to pay it a visit.

This explanation, however, does not sit well with Kathleen Morrison, chair of the department of anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania. She calls attention to the fact that a Hellenic kingom existed in India for about 200 years, beginning in 180 B.C. She also points out that radiocarbon dating gets less and less accurate the closer we get to the present day, implying that the date between the 17th to the 20th century of the eastern Mediterranean individuals is wrong. To her, this massive amount of skeletons can only mean one thing: it’s a graveyard.

Regardless of whether the site was a massive dumping ground for the dead, the recent study also discovered that the individuals included both children and the elderly, but mysteriously, none were family relatives. To me, this is evidence that the skeletons belong to pilgrims. However, a search for travelogues and written accounts of journeys or pilgrimages has proved unfruitful. And the mystery remains and deepens.

Featured image was taken by Atish Waghwase.

Photograph by Awanish Tirkey.



Blue Hour and W. B. Yeats: Tuesday, August 20, 2019

It is now one of my two favorite times of the day: twilight. Celtic lore holds that the “veil” between the human world and the fairy world “lifts” during these magical times of day, allowing for fairies to be seen by humans. I’ve investigated what gives twilight its magical blue color in the sky. It turns out that during morning and evening twilight, the Sun is from 4 to 8 degrees beneath the horizon. During these times, the Sun’s blue wavelengths dominate because the ozone layer absorbs the  yellow, orange, and red parts of the light spectrum. This kind of absorption is known as the Chappuis absorption, named after the French chemist James Chappuis. As a result, a magical teal color dominates the sky. The sun sets pretty late here in Barcelona, at aroun 9 p.m. I say late because I’m used to the sun setting at 6:30 p.m. in Puerto Rico, where I’m from. Photographers love to take photos during the blue hour because the blue light is magnificent, as you can see here. It’s almost as if they’re hoping to catch a fairy.

W.B. Yeats once wrote: “At Howth, a great colony of otherworld creatures travel nightly.” The Irish Times has a great article about fairies still living in the Irish imagination. From the article and being quoted from Irish Fairies (1890) by W.B. Yeats:

“When I tell people that the Irish peasantry still believe in fairies, I am often doubted. They think that I am merely trying to weave a forlorn piece of gilt thread into the dull grey worsted of this century. They do not imagine it possible that our highly thought of philosophies so soon grow silent outside the walls of the lecture room, or that any kind of ghost or goblin can live within the range of our daily papers. If the papers and the lectures have not done it, they think, surely at any rate the steam-whistle has scared the whole tribe out of the world. They are quite wrong. The ghosts and goblins do still live and rule in the imaginations of the innumerable Irish men and women, and not merely in remote places, but close even to big cities. 

At Howth, for instance, ten miles from Dublin, there is a ‘fairies path’, whereon a great colony of otherworld creatures travel nightly from the hill to the sea and home again.”
 



Bonaparte: Tuesday, August 20, 2019, P.M.

I have discovered a new place to hang out and it’s called Bonaparte Pa i Dolç. It is a franchise bakery located in Bellaterra. It opens early (7:30 a.m.) an closes late (8:30 p.m.). Imagine that right in the middle of vacation month. The personnel is very sweet and the people who frequent it are very nice. Just this morning I met Manuel, a professor of literature at the University of Barcelona. He casually mentioned to someone that he was looking for someone to teach him English and that caught my attention. Since the culture here in Spain is just like in Latin America, I decided to volunteer that I knew English. He was thrilled! He also told me that he visited the bakery every morning, and I was thrilled. I can completely envision this place being my local hangout. The girl behind the counter was also very helpful in suggesting ways I could learn Catalan, and we talked about our love for novels by the Barcelonan Carlos Ruiz Zafón. She even told me about a plaza near the Cathedral of Barcelona that appears in one of his novels. All in all a good day so far. I’m awaiting the coming storm with rotund joy.

Ancient Church: Tuesday, August 20, 2019, A.M.

Yesterday was a bit of a weird day. It wasn’t as hot as I thought it would be, so that was nice. But the things I wanted to do were cut short by stomach pain. I was able to visit the doctor, who was very nice but suggested I get an endoscopy done. I am very reluctant to get an endoscopy done in a country that is not my own. The procedure entails some risks I don’t want to take, and if something happens to me, no one will hear from me again, and that fills me with terror. Plus, I already know I have an ulcer and re-diagnosing an ulcer wouldn’t change the treatment plan, which is a rigorous course of antacids and Spain’s answer to Pepto Bismol. I was able to go to the supermarket to buy chicken broth and chicken soup as directed by the doctor, and I visited the church in Bellaterra.

But get this, the church was closed. They only open on Saturdays and Sundays during the month of August. Because you guessed it, it’s vacation month. Gone are the days when you could visit a church on any day of the week, even if it was not for prayer and only a respite from walking, and have it be open for people. I remember in my childhood that churches were open at all times. But in speaking to my mother, who is a fund-raiser for restoring dilapidated churches, the world has changed. Robbery and disagreeable events have made churches close unless mass is being given. She said St. Patrick’s may be one of the few churches open to the public all the time. So, in essence, I could only see the outside of the church, which was very beautiful (see photo).

I then had to go home and lay down for awhile in order for the stomach pain to go away. But I was able to catch up on my reading for my master’s and work on my Web site, which was a class on WordPress all to itself. I want to thank the anonymous person at the other end of the live support chat who was so patient with me, answering every single question I had on how to customize the site.

Today is cleaning day. My apartment comes with a weekly cleaning. Not only that but today, as promised by someone, we’re getting a storm, which will cool things down a bit. I’m excited. I’m about to make myself my first cup of decaf coffee so the ulcer doesn’t complain. I’ve never made decaf coffee because the idea is anathema to me. Coffee always makes my day exciting, though. Baby steps with that darn ulcer.

Lavazza: Monday, August 19, 2019

Today I have a busy day ahead of me. I don’t have a printer yet and I need to print out some papers that a professor sent me to read. What this means is that I have to walk 20 minutes under the hot Barcelona sun to my department and have them printed there. But I’m determined to make this as painless as possible. The earlier I get there, the less sun I will have to deal with. Luckily, I have discovered a delicious coffee that helps me wake up in the morning.

At the nearby town of Sant Quirze (only two train stops away), there is a huge commercial center called Al Campo, which is the French’s answer to Costco. But unlike Costco, it is several times bigger. It’s like 3 airplane hangars big and in there you can find *anything* you can think of. Household items, electronic equipment, soccer (sorry, fútbol) balls, sports clothing, hair tint, car coolant, jamón ibérico; you name it, they have it. It’s a little intimidating when you walk in because you get immediate choice fatigue. So when you go, you better have a list of things and a healthy sense of agency; otherwise, you can end up like some people I’ve seen there: completely dazed, wandering aimlessly through the aisles.

So back to the coffee. At Al Campo, I discovered a coffee by Lavazza called Qualità Rossa, which has to be the best coffee I have ever tasted after Puerto Rican coffee, which for me continues to be the best thing in the world. Qualità Rossa has flavor notes of chocolate. It makes for a rich brew, low in acidity. In the United States, it’s sold on Amazon, if you care to try it.

After I get those papers printed, I have to buy T-shirts, an item of clothing I haven’t owned in years, because of the heat. Finally, I want to visit a small church in Bellaterra, which is the town next to the University. It’s ancient, and I’m curious to see it.

Heat: Sunday, August 18, 2019, A.M.

Today I visited the Frankfurt, the only open café at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona. I arrived in Spain 12 days ago, and I didn’t know that August was vacation month in Spain. Everything is either understaffed, keeping odd hours, or simply closed for the time being. This makes for a challenging time in finding, for instance, a pharmacy open. The pharmacy at Bellaterra has been closed all last week due to vacation so the closest one open is two train stops away. Barcelona is also experiencing terribly hot weather. Right now, it’s 31 C with a RealFeel® of 33 C thanks to humidity (87 F with a RealFeel® of 92 F). So walking underneath the hot sun, with no cloudy cover in the sky, has also been challenging. Even walking to the Frankfurt is painful. You can feel your skin burning as you step out into the sun. I’ve been told that things will get better during the second half of August, which should be now, when thunderstorms will cool off the heat. I’ve also been told that Barcelona has been getting progressively hotter and hotter during the last few years, corroborating that climate change is indeed real, no matter what any political leaders might say. I am currently esconced in my apartment with A/C since staying at the Frankfurt was too hot for me. But staying in your apartment with nowhere to go also gives you cabin fever, so I’m keeping busy with various projects, this Web site being one of them!