“You’re not like the others. I’ve seen a few; I know. When I talk, you look at me. When I said something about the moon, you looked at the moon, last night. The others would never do that. The others would walk off and leave me talking… No one has time any more for anyone else.” — Clarisse M. (Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury)
It was mid-afternoon, and I had been hiking for most of the day. I came around a hill and spotted two big cats at rest under the shade of a tree, most likely trying to escape from the heat of the afternoon sun. They were near enough for me to identify as cheetahs, but they were still quite some distance from where I stood. I had to get closer. I began to hike around some trees and rocks, slowly making my way toward another section of the hilly terrain. I trudged across a dry riverbed and up over a mound of dirt on the other bank. As the two big cats came back into my view, I realized that I was now at a perfect distance to capture the image that I wanted. I also realized, however, that there were no longer any topographical barriers between myself and these incredible animals. I had hiked rather deep into their territory, and I now found myself standing a mere stone’s throw away from hundreds of pounds of teeth and claws and killer instinct. Just as this thought crossed my mind, one of the cheetah’s ears perked up. He turned his head and looked directly into my eyes. It was thrilling. Adrenaline shot through my body, but for some reason, I remained calm and still. It is an intense moment for a nature photographer to realize that you have just been noticed by the fastest land predator on the planet, and that you have no place to go, no truck to jump into, no barrier to hide behind. If this cat had decided that I was dinner, I was easily within no more than four seconds reach. My heart pumped, my breath deepened. It was exhilarating to have such a direct moment of connection with such a majestic animal. I calmly raised my camera and took a photograph, and then another, both of which are in my book, Animal Spirits. I lowered my camera and took a quiet moment to feel my awe toward these amazing creatures. I then slowly turned and began to hike my way back into the hills, leaving the cheetahs to enjoy the leisure of their afternoon under the shade of a tree.
In the future, Christopher Nolan attempts to make a sequel to the film, Inception. Most people, however, conclude that he probably should have just left it alone.
It is difficult to rival the Italians when it comes to architecture as an art form. Consider the awe-inspiring Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, in Milan, Italy. It is a magnificent structure built with dramatically arching panes of glass, intricate cast iron latticework, and an interior filled with paintings, mosaics, and countless other elements of architectural and artistic style.
It was designed by Giuseppe Mengoni in 1861, and it was built between the years 1865 and 1877, also by him. The building was named after (and financed by) Vittorio Emanuele II, the first King of a newly unified Italy.
Other interesting facts:
1) It was intended to be exactly what it is, a shopping mall. And, over 100 years later, it still is.
2) Whenever you go to a modern shopping mall anywhere in the world and it is called “The Galleria,” it is a reference to this specific structure. (Whether the builders realize it or not.)
3) In an ironic turn of fate, Mengoni died soon after the Galleria’s completion. He fell off the roof of his own creation. (It is 154 feet tall.)
On a lighter note, a few years back I ate a Big Mac there. Madness, I know. A Big Mac in Italy, the land of incredible food. But there was a method to my madness. First, purely for the sake of the sheer juxtaposition of experience, it was novel and fun. Second, I have a healthy appetite, so there was no chance that one burger was going to slow me down. Third, and perhaps most significantly of all, you can’t have a Big Mac there anymore. That’s right, in 2012 the Galleria refused to renew McDonalds’ lease, and after a protracted round of legal jousting it was decided that the fast food giant would never return to the mall. That spot is now occupied by a Prada store. There was, of course, no way for me to foresee this at the time, but it definitely makes me all the more glad that I did it.
I suppose the point is, enjoy the moment. Have fun. A Big Mac is only as mundane as you allow it to be. Engage with the unique texture of wherever you find yourself. To be alive is amazing… savor it.
“Hearing me, eyes will glance upward saying, how can I reach the sea? And I will communicate, while saying nothing, the starry echoes of the wave. And thus, through me, freedom and the sea will make their answer to the shuttered heart.” – Pablo Neruda
The Laughing Buddha. What a wonderful symbol. Arising out of 8th Century China, Budai is the very image of contentment. He carries his material possessions in a simple cloth sack, and he is always depicted smiling or laughing. He is a jovial, yet profound reminder that spirituality is not meant to be a dour, somber affair. Quite to the contrary, any genuine exploration into our spiritual nature — and thereby into the nature of the universal Creative Spirit — will be a journey toward increased compassion, peace, vitality and happiness in our lives.
To strive to be your best self — in a world that seems full of reasons not to — this is truly a worthy endeavor.