As I was decorating my home for the holidays this weekend, some of the shapes and colours brought back a wave of memories of Christmas celebrations of my past.
It made me contemplate with a hint of nostalgia the fact that I have adopted and gone through so many different traditions, stretching some forty years back in time. Having lived in so many places in my life, it is inevitable that even the celebration of my Christmas today is a product of my cosmopolitan past.
I have decided to reminiscence over my past celebrations in two posts; today and next Monday. I hope you will enjoy this sentimental walk down the memory lane with me.
I was already born into a family that combined traditions of two cultures; the Czech and the Slovak. I do not remember much from my early years, while we lived under the Tatra mountains in Slovakia. That time seems so far removed from my consciousness today, it comes across almost as an entirely different life. Still, a few odd and amusing details enter my thoughts as I recall these Christmas celebrations during the communist era.
Such as my parents covert attempts to trim the tree the day before Christmas Eve, while my sister and me still believed in the enchanted Christmas in which the tree and the gifts magically appear out of nowhere.
The carp, that used to swim around in our bathtub a few days before the 24th, bought live at a marked, to fulfill its grand destiny and be served at the dinner table, according to a long lived Czech Christmas tradition. Although my parents very quickly abandoned this custom, feeling sorry for the poor creature, unable to inflict it any pain.
I recall our pre Christmas visits to the Tuzex store, located in the stunning and beautiful Tatra mountains. Its concept was the irony of the communism regime, selling western merchandise in exchange for hard currency, to those who were privileged and could afford foreign bills.
The drive would always be a very enchanted one, and always in snow, taking us on deserted roads through breathtaking natural scenery and today I smile with amusement as I recall how we would say that "the trees were covered with whipped cream"...
Finally, the enchantment I felt when watching Cinderella on television, when the broadcast of this famous fairytale in a Slavic version became a tradition during Christmas. The Czech adaptation is still today one of my favorite films, due to its stunning visual and infinitely romantic feel.
Thus I leave you with the final scene of this cinematographic gem, one that still today keeps me spellbound, even though I should long have outgrown the allure of make believe and naive fantasy...
We have been in snow for the past four days. An arctic cold front has ventured as far down as southern Scandinavia and its grip is firm, severe and extensive. Our temperatures plummeted in midweek and we have been in subzero ever since.
Last night an extensive snowstorm passed over us and this morning I woke up to a heavy blanket of white, covering everything in sight.
November and December snow is very unusual in my part of the world, as we are positioned in southern Scandinavia, where the Gulf Stream keeps our winters temperate. Still, intense snowfall can at times occur in the beginning of the year.
Thus this year Queen Winter seems to be arriving way ahead of time. Unexpectedly and in all her icy fury, she is determined to demand her reign without mercy.
When the snow started to fall, I was trying my very best not to give into a certain kind of irritation, or almost sorrow. Usually the first snow is magical, however this year initially it came across as oppressive, annoying and tiring. It arrived simply too soon, as vivid memories of our last never ending winter still linger in my perception.
But then unexpectedly, something changed today.
Standing in my living room early this morning, I was taking in the view of our snow covered scenery, feeling the stillness reign over my surroundings. Later, after I lit the fire, I watched it flicker, listening to its crackling noise, and suddenly I felt at ease; I felt safe and comfortable. Almost happy.
As I leaned my gaze against the silvery white cover outside my windows, a certain kind of transition took place within me. Looking at the sugar coated trees and the spellbound, white landscape, while I decorated my house with red, green, silver and golden colours of Christmas, my heart could not help but feel a certain kind of joy.
Surrendering to that universal spirit of celebration, which seems to have suddenly settled over my city - while I soon light the first out of four advent candles - made me realize in no uncertain terms that the Holiday Season has truly began.
And the snow cover made this onset feel incredibly enchanting and alluring, just like it is suppose to be...
It is more than a decade since I returned back to Europe, but I still recall with joy and longing the American Thanksgiving celebration, which I took part in for so many years while living in North Carolina.
Today, even though I no longer observe this lovely tradition, I do get reminded of the approaching Christmas through one beuatiful, subtle sign.
Each year, as precisely as clockwork, my Christmas Cactus stands in full bloom around this time. Its stunning, almost flamboyant veil of pink flowers - cascading down like a magenta waterfall, adorning my bedroom window - signals in no uncertain terms that the onset of the enchanted and most beuatiful time of the year is indeed imminent.
With the imminence of the Thanksgiving Holiday and the fact that November is often viewed as a month in which many express their gratitude, I decided to acknowledge my two very dear companions; my two dear friends of perhaps the unusual kind, but with whose help I am able to express myself in pictures and words.
These are perhaps not friends as such, but they are my tools, they are almost extensions of myself, allowing me to use my own capabilities to their full potential; my small 'point and shoot' camera and my laptop computer.
I simply can not live without these two items any longer.
They are invaluable and priceless, as they follow me everywhere I go, helping me document what I see and feel at any given moment.
The camera is a Nikon Coolpix. It is very simple and very small, fitting in the palm of my hand easily, or in almost any pocket, making it so effortless to carry. Of course it has its limitations, nevertheless it has taken some stunning images, as it enables me to eternalize moments in time. Capturing unforgettable natural wonders, the beauty of seasons and sunsets, the faces of family and friends, highlighting special occasions in my life.
My laptop is an Apple MacBook. I am a devoted apple fan and have been a mac user since I first saw a Macintosh commercial in the cinema in the early eighties. Even though it has a few years on its back and we all know the light speed with which computers evolve today, this is by far the best computer I have ever own. I have my life on its hard-drive, pretty much. I use in my writing, I use to it surf the net, to organize and store my photographs. I use it in my work, I use it to pay bills, to watch movies, to listen to music. I keep in touch with family and friends through its software.
And I am able to be online and share my sentiments, thoughts and reflections with all of you, a fact that will forever entice and fascinate me.
Even though there is so much more that I am grateful for and even though I know that the quality of my life is not solely based on technology or material items, I still do recognize the incredible potential that modern technology does provide.
Used wisely and with good intentions, it enriches our life in the most profound way possible.
As we stand between seasons, late fall melancholy becomes ever so palpable in the air. The sense of conclusion leaves its imprint in our surroundings, while Lady Autumn prepares to pass over her reign to the cold season.
In my mind, this part of the year plays out as a solemn symphony, in strokes of violins and piano, the likes of Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 21. In images, the misty landscape seems to be saturated by a sense of gentle sorrow, as drops of rain adorn the last, shriveled remains of foliage, like bittersweet tears.
This is the time of November Nostalgia, filled with sweet remembrance and contemplation of moments passed. It comes across almost as a stillness, a moment of tranquility that lingers for a while, while we prepare to say our farewell to the flamboyant fall.
Nature is winding down and this decline is certainly contagious. There is an atmosphere of rest in my surroundings, a sense of odd harmony instigated by the endless circle of renewal and growth that a year comprises. Each season is a part of nature's master plan and the consistency in this progress is curiously reassuring.
Very soon, the shift to the reign of Winter will occur and replace the sense of twilight with the brilliance of illumination - and in it its turn - late fall melancholy with the time of expectations and joy, while the Holiday Season truly begins.
Even though overall I prefer to be around people, such as my friends and my family, I will not deny that I also like being on my own. I enjoy my own company and I need - almost crave - moments of solitude.
Being alone is at times essential I believe to every human being. What I dislike however is the sensation of being lonely. This can become very palpable for many as we near the Holiday Season, which at all times instigates the idea of family and companionship and is often perceived as a difficult period for those who lack both...
I have many favorite places in my home where I like to sit and daydream my hours away, relaxing, reading, writing or just contemplating life's grand purpose, while getting lost in scents and sounds around me.
Currently, with the onset of late fall and the imminence of winter, this place is near my fireplace. The crackling of the fire, the scent of burning wood and the comfortable atmosphere generated by candle lights convey tranquility and a sense of rest, which invigorates my mind and soul, despite the twilight that rules my days.
Ever since I can remember, I used to daydream. I did this a lot as a young girl and at times my dreams spilled into my drawings and paintings.
Being a child of immigrants, I constantly yearned for items my parents could not afford. Thus, not being able to own or posses them, I drew them.
It was a wonderful escapism and my imaginary world supplied me with a relatively adequate substitute, when reality failed to provide what I needed.
Later, as a teenager I continue depicting my dreams on paper, because my imagination was always vivid and to my dreams the sky was never the limit. I found a release in being creative, one that brought a certain amount of tranquility into my days. I relished in the idea of being able to create a world the way I wanted to see it. My romantic views came to their full potential as I drew and painted, and I most absolutely enjoyed the idea of putting my visions on paper and later on canvas.
Thus daydreaming occupied many spare moments of my teenage years and continued long after I turned into a young adult.
Today I no longer feel the need to draw my dreams, instead my contemplation about life, past, present and future is channeled into my writing and my photography. Nevertheless, my thoughts still do wonder from time to time. That momentarily reality escape, as my gaze is drawn to an invisible point in the air, instigating a flight in time and space, where anything is possible...
Over time I came to the realization that the magic of my teenage dreams and the way I depicted them on paper had very little to do with them coming true. It had to do with the idea and the anticipation of them doing so. As I have traveled through life's up and downs, I have come to the enlightenment that true joy and happiness lies in the pursuit. However grand and satisfactory it is to reach one goals, the euphoria we feel is temporary.
The enchantment and the absolutely unforgettable experience is hidden in the expectations and in the journey itself. Too often we are so blinded by the efforts of reaching our destination, that we forget to enjoy the trip.
We forget to enjoy the magic of detours and wrong turns and we let the best pass us by...
Recently, I went for a walk in my immediate surroundings. I live in a hilly area, in the outskirts of a major Danish city. My house is built on a hill and in my south, the hills stretch even higher, giving me wonderful south bound views out of my westerly windows, but shielding my late autumn and winter sunsets.
To my north and east, I have an unrestricted view of the city below, with a glimpse of the ocean from my kitchen window. The image above illustrates the position of my house, as it can be seen from the hills above it. The blue sea is clearly visible, lining the horizon above the red roofs.
Within just a few minutes of walking, views out of this world are presented to me. The area where I live is situated near a bronze age burial mound, dating some 1000 to 1800 years BC. The panoramic outlook from its top is at all times breath taking, as seen on the pictures below. The vistas expose magnificent landscape, outstretched in all directions. Layers of hills, fields and green woods intertwined with small villages lie to the south. To the north, the skyline of a bustling metropolis can be observed, a major port and a millennium old city, established by the Vikings.
All of this is lined by an incredible open sky, dramatic and wide, varying in colours during the seasons, but always instigating a sense of unrestricted freedom and grand beauty.
At this point, most of the foliage is found on the ground, as it piles up in heaps everywhere, creating a colourful blanket for a short, brilliant while. Before long, it will start decaying, becoming a warm cover for the plant and animal life concealed beneath it, in search of the anticipated winter sleep.
The frequency of frosty nights is increasing and with it, a new kind of art is to be found in nature. A gentle, still only very delicate icing, defining the image of leaves, at times resembling sprinkled sugar coat.
Signaling in no uncertain terms that the arrival of winter is imminent.
Note: To those of you have some spare time and interest, I am a featured as a guest blogger today on my friends Laura's blog. She is a wonderful writer and genuinely kind woman and a true inspiration to me and I am deeply honored she asked me to contribute with a post this month.
Due to the company I used to keep, in the past I found myself being a creature of the night, often involuntarily. It did not bother me though and I enjoyed late morning sleep ins; however on regular bases they failed to make me feel refreshed and invigorated.
As much as the stillness of the night can be soothing and tranquil, it seems also to carry a certain feel of distress with it. A sensation of being late, or being behind. As if one is trying to catch up with the world that seems to move a few hours ahead of oneself. Besides, it has been suggested that sleep initiated on the other side of midnight never fully restores the body and mind.
Early morning however carries a different kind of tranquility. The one that instigates a feel of being ahead, being the first one to experience an enchanting moment, way before anyone even knows it is there. The privilege of facing a new day, with all its pristine glory and unblemished beauty, while the rest of the population is still sound asleep, unaware of the natural wonder that is taking place just outside their windows.
As of lately, my body naturally prefers rising early and I have never felt more energetic. This past weekend, as I was up just after the day break, watching a late autumn sunrise, offered views filled with colours and nuances that contrast the ones surrounding our sunsets. Gone is the saturated golden, red and orange. Instead, the air is light and misty, defined by transparent colours; pale yellow, turquoise and baby blue, with a touch of pink, which can turn violet as the winter nears ever so close.
There is a certain magic hidden within the morning glory, which carries with it hope and sense of renewal, as well as promises of fresh beginnings. Anything has the potential to yet occur. It is infused with a sensation of momentarily stillness, almost an anticipation of something grand - it is as if time lingers for an instant, belonging to no one else but me...
Watching the sun rise slowly, as its subtle rays embrace the landscape, melting gently away the frosty blanket while the golden disc barely leaves the horizon, is a source of endless enchantment. To relish in the gentle tranquility of a newborn day, as my house becomes saturated with the scent of fresh coffee and baked bread has become one of my new found simple pleasures.
(Below a selection of recent images, depicting late autumn - early mornings, as viewed from my grand windows; please click the images for a better view)
Translated from the Czech language, the name November means Leaf-fall. How true this description rings indeed, as it is in the eleventh month that our trees loose their precious leafy possessions.
Thus everywhere I look, beautifully dyed leaves lie in heaps, in a stunning contrast to the evergreen of the grass or the black of the asphalt, garnishing the ground. While I walk or take a drive, I love to watch the wind play with these copper and golden remains of foliage. Almost as unseen sweepers, the wind gusts pick the leafy leftovers off the ground in colourful whirlpools, like discarded remains of party confetti, long after the celebration has ended. Moving them across the sidewalks and roads, creating a feeling of enchantment, but simultaneously - a certain sense of sorrow. One that can be perceived upon a conclusion of something brilliant...
To me fallen leaves are stunningly beautiful. They continue to create abstract masterpieces of art, while - and long after - the painted landscape slowly turns foggy and grey.
Momentarily, there is nothing more alluring then the rustling of the foliage beneath my feet, as I take late autumn walks on misty days, while the air grows saturated with dampness and the scent of wood burning fires.
November has arrived. A month disliked by many, none the least the Scandinavians, due to the dreary, drizzly weather, late autumn storms and most of all, darkness.
Our daylight is diminishing drastically. The sun moves lower and lower across the horizon and soon twilight will gain reign over our reality.
Thus this is - once again - the time of candle lights. It is the time of cozy evenings by the fire, the time of contemplation and remembrance. The time of long discussions with someone special while sharing a glass of wine, enjoying the time of tranquility and reflection.
This is the time of November twilight and I am looking forward to relish in its gentle melancholy.
Recently I experienced an enchanting occurrence - for the first time, ever. It was a moment that will forever stay etched in my perception, creating an unforgettable recollection to last a lifetime. And beyond.
I felt my body, heart and soul being consumed by this experience, which lingered within me, long after it was gone, to become an eternal, precious memory…
It made me realize how very few “first” we get the privilege to come across as we age and mature and it made me recall fondly all the pristine experiences we encounter as children, as we set upon the journey of life.
There are many memories in my recollection that make up for the very first steps into the unknown. The most vivid ones I can remember fully and completely. Their imprint has left behind a sensation of sounds, scents and sights.
Such as my very first day in school, walking with my parents up to the grand building, which still appears vivid in my memory. I recall the feeling of excitement as well as anxiety, feeling the onset of change, as if nothing was going to be the same ever again.
My first bike ride, the very first one when the safety was removed and I really controlled the bicycle on my own, without the supporting hands of my father or my own feet on the ground. That incredible feeling of achievement and victory.
A very similar sensation to the one I experienced when I learned to swim, in the pristine waters of the turquoise blue Mediterranean on a vacation with my family, when I was about ten. As my small body floated on the surface of the warm water, finally after I have conquered the fear of letting go of the sea bed, trusting my own capabilities and not giving into failures or giving up.
And later in life, the first time I sat behind the wheel of a car. My first flight. The first time I traveled on my own. My first pay check. The first time I moved out on my own. My first published scientific paper. My first scientific discovery. The feeling of excitement when I signed the deed to my first house…
My first kiss of course, but that came when I was six years old actually, I admit. But the one that really meant something came much later in life and I still remember every single detail about it.
There are indeed many first in my recollection, either of personal, professional or intimate nature. My recent experience though made me realize that a first can occur at any time, at any age. And often when we least expect it. The promise of new wonderful encounters is made by each sunrise.
As after all, each new day we get a privilege to experience is the first one in the rest of our life.
I was born under the Tatra Mountains, to a Czech father and a Slovak mother. I grew up in Sweden and lived almost ten years in North Carolina.
More than a decade ago my line of work took me to Denmark, where I live today. My home, which I share with the man that holds my heart, lies in the northerly part of a Danish peninsula, in the proximity of endless, wide and pristine westbound sandy beaches, surrounded by the rough and untamed North Sea.
My writing is defined by reflections on my cosmopolitan past and my intriguing present. Ultimately I try to convey in words and images my personal thoughts and feelings about life itself, with all its magic, natural splendour and the beauty of simple pleasures.