Posted tagged ‘stars’

The Cards of Life

January 6, 2012

I love all kinds of celebrations and New Year’s Eve is one of them. I am almost superstitious, believing that not celebrating that night might bring you bad luck.

Last year such a celebration took the form of a large party in our home with plenty of friends to warm up the coldest night of the year in Tucson. This year, after several months of racing with time to meet some important deadlines, I had the mood to celebrate the end of this year in “a bit” more glitzy way. So I persuaded David and a couple of friends to go (elegantly dressed) to one of the plushy resorts hidden in the foothills of Tucson’s Catalina Mountains that offered such a possibility. The fact that it promised to be a relatively inexpensive event and that one of my new “Jazz” friends, jazz musician George Howard, and his group would perform was a decisive factor.

The resort was surrounded with cool lights and we walked into the “Parisian night” theme of its lounge where the tables were decorated with red roses. The waiters in black and wearing characteristic French berets were cruising among the guests. Wow, that was exciting! I felt like a little kid ready for fun and adventure.

Lights for New Year's Eve

Lights and water, and Hello Paris

It was a night with the moon high in the sky and big stars on the ground (including George).

Stars, moon, George Howard

It was a night of elegant details in the clothing, which I found to be delightful.

Elegant details: shoes and stockings

It was crowded, it was noisy and it was fun — in my book.

Alicja Mann and George Howard

That was New Year’s Eve, but then came New Year’s Day and a predictable reflective mood arrived dimming my sunny morning. That happens usually after some important celebrations like anniversaries, Christmases or birthdays.

My reflective mood usually brings some dark thoughts for a while. Memories of tragic events, images of people I miss, thoughts about unfulfilled promises or dreams that did not materialize crowd my mind. An image of myself emerges — identical to the real me, but much darker. That darkness is similar to the reflection of any image on a shiny surface (except a mirror) — a pool of water, a window or a very shiny table like the one I was sitting at on New Year’s Eve.

Thinking about this, playing cards came to my mind and I created one for myself. I made the choice of an ace of hearts. I like the hearts on it. I also like that it is the highest card, but can also be the lowest one! There is a challenging duality in it, just as in real life.

The playing cards for bridge or poker have mirror images on them — so identical that the way one holds a card does not matter. However, the cards of life, like mine, have to be handled with great care. If not, they might flip around and their dark side would be up and dominate.

Have a good year of 2012 — play your cards of life the best you can!

Two Ace of Hearts cards from Alicja Mann

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Text and images copyright © 2012 by Alicja Mann.

Havel’s Star

December 22, 2011

Bright stars of the night… a strange idea was planted in my imagination a long time ago (in my childhood, I guess) that when a star is falling across the sky, it is a sign that someone is dying in a faraway place. It was a sad image and after some thought I decided to believe in a contrary concept—that when a person dies, their spirit goes up into the sky and… a star is born. So that’s why there are so many stars in the sky!

With a great sorrow I learned last Sunday that Václav Havel had died. My thoughts traveled immediately to beautiful Prague, to the starry sky above that city he loved. Although he died in his country house away from Prague, it is Prague that contains memories of Havel as a playwright, an intellectual, and as a leading dissident against the Communist system which consequently forced him to five years “residency” in prison.

Years later, after the Berlin wall fell—as the result of a hard won peaceful revolution by Eastern Europeans—Prague gained memories of Havel’s 14 years “residency” in a very different place, a presidential palace. He first became President of Czechoslovakia and later President of the Czech Republic.

Photos of Prague with communist flags and without

Prague wrapped in the red power of Communism & Prague, a durable beauty of yesterday and tomorrow.

I am writing this today because I have been greatly influenced by Václav Havel’s writings — not so much as the playwright, but as the political activist and thinker. Coming from the same corner of the world, dealing with the same political and social issues, I have a special respect and adoration for the political activists and writers like Havel and Adam Michnik (of Poland) — for their vision, their passion and their intellectual leadership.

Three books by Vaclav Havel

The only comfort one might have after Havel’s death is that his spirit is captured in his writings. So I spent an entire night re-reading pages and pages of Havel’s words.

Although I like Letters to Olga very much — it is a collection of Havel’s letters from prison to his first wife Olga Splichalova — I opted for some quotes from The Art of the Impossible, which is my favorite book by Havel. In this collection of speeches from the time of his presidency, Havel shares his views on today’s social and political issues.

Here I have the privilege to quote the words that resonate with me the most.

Vaclav HavelAbout Communism

Communism was not defeated by military force, but by life, by the human spirit….It was defeated by a revolt of color, authenticity, history in all its variety, and human individuality against imprisonment within a uniform ideology.

The totalitarian system of the communist type, as established in the former Soviet Union and subsequently imposed on all countries in the Soviet sphere of influence, not only destroyed political pluralism and the prospects of real political opposition, but annihilated politics itself as a field of practical human activity.

About politics

Despite the political distress I face every day, I am still deeply convinced that politics is not an essentially disreputable business; and to the extent that it is, it is only disreputable people who make it so….But it is simply that a politician must lie or intrigue. That is an utter nonsense, put about by people who—for whatever reasons—want to discourage others from taking an interest in public affairs.

When I look around the world today I feel strongly that contemporary politics needs a new impulse, one that would add a badly needed spiritual dimension. Perhaps this impulse will come from some place other than the postcommunist countries. Yet it seems to me that come it must.

The modern era has reached a point of culmination, and if we are not to perish of our modernness we have to rehabilitate the human dimension of citizenship as well as of politics. This is what I consider to be the principal challenge of our time, a challenge for the third millennium.

About democracy

Democracy is an open system, and thus is capable of improvement. Among other things, freedom provides room for responsibility. If that room is not sufficiently used, the fault does not lie with democracy, but it does present democracy with a challenge. Dictatorship offers no room for responsibility, and thus it can generate no genuine authority.

About power

It is obvious that those who have the greatest power and influence also bear the greatest responsibility. Like it or not, the United States of America now bears the greatest responsibility for the direction our world will take. The United States, therefore, should reflect most deeply on this responsibility.

About death

With a little exaggeration we might say that death, or the awareness of death—this most extraordinary dimension of man’s stay on this earth, inspiring dread, fear, and awe—is at the same time a key to the fulfillment of human life in the best sense of the word….Death gives us a chance to overcome it—not by refusing to recognize its existence, but through our ability to look beyond it, or to defy it by purposeful action.

Knowing that Havel liked jazz, I chose Jan Garbarek’s composition titled We are the Stars to honor him. I am pretty sure that he would like it and I hope you will like it too. Click on the title above to hear the music and here are the words.

For we are the stars. For we sing.
For we sing with our light.
For we are birds made of fire.
For we spread our wings over the sky.
Our light is a voice.
We cut a road for the soul
for its journey through death.

Have a peaceful Holiday — Alicja

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Please don’t forget the special offer at the end of my previous post.

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Text copyright © 2011 by Alicja Mann.
Photos of the book covers: first- Prague Time Life Books © 1980, second- Prazsky Hrad by Karel Plicka © 1962.


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