‘The Trip of a Lifetime’ – Echoes of the Past (Part 3)

If you close your eyes and listen – I mean REALLY listen – you can hear the throbbing heartbeat of life, pounding out the rhythm upon which we all dance.

You can hear it in the whisper of a breeze, in the captivity of the stars, in the dust at our feet and in the mighty shadow of a cliff face. All around us is life, built upon the echo of what came before and the promise of what lies ahead.

* * *

When travelling, I believe it can be tantamount to a sin to not go out of your comfort zone and explore. How can you turn your back on undiscovered land and walk away, claiming to know a place better than when you arrived? So in the middle of the holiday, we journeyed up to the capital of the island.

In the Old City of Rhodes, people live wrapped in the blanket of history; they tiptoe around it and bow to the majesty of their past – and it is beautiful.

Surrounded by walls 40feet thick, it is like a hidden gem encrusted in rock. Though giant cannonballs litter the ground outside, they are merely marked failures of invasion: proud proof of the strength of the city within.

And what a city!

Every street you walk upon is built directly above the original walkways of the past. Each house is connected to the next, the only prevention from caving in fine archways spanning overhead. Cats lounge on doorsteps and grapes hug ancient trees. The market trickles through the alleyways and spills out to the harbour where boats bob in contented surety that their travels are not done. It transports you to a different time; one where community is the root of all life and children’s laughter is piercing and true.

The history is what gives this place such intense character. For years, it was guarded by Christian Knights of all ethnicities until it crumbled under invasions from the Turks. Intricate churches were transformed into sturdy mosques; palaces were turned into prisons; and a severe physical divide was driven through the city by the constructing of a fearsome wall.

However, I am not here to give you a history lesson (although I can recommend an excellent guide who can oblige). The city bears its scars with dignity: in the face of all this turmoil, it has emerged years later with its original Christian beliefs intact and its destroyed streets built anew.

This, to me, seems to be the very point of life itself. This city is a living breathing reminder of who we are and who we have been. It has come face to face with utter devastation and lived on as a cultural jewel. It thrums fiercely with spirit and rejoices in that which it holds dear.

* * *

Some people go away to another country and come back knowing a hotel complex like the back of their hand. By experiencing the heat and the pool, they think they have experienced the country.

Other people create their own adventures whilst away and start to listen to the earth around them.

The history within the Old City seemed to be saying that whatever is thrown at you, whoever pulls down the walls you have put up around yourself and challenges you with malice…

Stand tall.

Display your beauty.

Buoy yourself up on the heartbeat of life.

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A tale as old as time…

It is the question asked on first dates; the debate between friends; and (occasionally) the source of mockery for those who disagree:

What is your favourite film?

And who can blame us? With so many genres, an abundance of special effects and intriguing plot lines that leave us on the edge of our seats, cinematography has become one of the main fields of entertainment.

I am no expert by any means, but there are iconic movies in the life of every person, ones that burn into our memories and stay with us as we grow old. For me, there is no film that brings a smile to my face quite like that of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast.

As no doubt you know, it tells the tale of a Prince, cursed due to his foolishness and arrogance, who must find love and be loved in return before his twenty first birthday. Just when all hope seems lost, he meets his Beauty and, over time, he learns the error of his ways and they fall in love. (A happy ending is, after all, one of the defining characteristics of a Disney film.)

I fully accept the ridicule thrown my way when I announce this preference. It is, after all, a children’s film. But at the same time, it speaks of truths that are eternal and essential.

On the one hand, Belle teaches girls not to settle for a life that bores them, or to succumb to the wishes of a man who desires you only for your beauty and not for love. She values her family over everything else, sacrificing her freedom for her fathers’ sake. And, above all, she falls in love with the personality of a man, and not his outer shell.

And standing opposite her is the Beast. He’s a living reminder of the consequences of greed and disregard for others: a lonely life full of disdain and anger. He may have the form of something ugly and terrifying, but as his soul brightens with the love of another, he becomes gentler and vulnerable. He teaches us that it is not what is on the outside, but what reigns within, that defines who we are. It is our personality that makes us beautiful.

Not only does the film whisper truths at you from a young age, it is also wonderfully drawn (although my attempt above is nothing in comparison). The characters seem larger than life and yet as human as you or I. The balance between magic and heartbreak is tentative but successful and brings a smile to even the most miserable of faces.

Because the tale of love conquering all odds…well, it’s a tale as old as time.

When lost for new words, look to the old ones

Usually, I would have thousands of words awaiting the breath of life whispering at my fingertips and yet today…well, I’ll be honest with you, today it feels as if I have no new words.

I have instead a brain that is packed so full with notes and topics and philosophers’ names for my upcoming exam that I can’t quite remember what it feels like to think as myself and not as Thomas Aquinas. Which, since he was writing in the 4th Century B.C., is quite an exhausting man to emulate.

Not much happens during the exam period, have you noticed? It’s as if Drama takes a step back and leaves everyone alone for a bit, which, let’s face it, is perfectly acceptable seeing as we’re all so fantastic at creating our own. Public domains such as Facebook melt down and become an announcement page for anyone about to walk into an exam hall, hoping for someone to ‘like’ their status and give them reassurance that, if they do fail, at least they’re still popular in the virtual world. Any fashion awareness goes completely out the window, because no one has the time or the limbs to juggle extra outfits or accessories because they’re already carrying five folders and a laptop bag. And to top it all off, communication with family and friends dissolves into a constant stream of comparisons on how many hours of revision each person has done, what grades they hope to achieve and how this will affect them FOR THE REST OF THEIR LIVES.

Now, I am beyond compassionate to the drama Kings and Queens out there, what with me being one myself, but I don’t understand the panic in this scenario. This does not mean that I haven’t panicked before…but even whilst panicking, it felt like a bit of a waste of energy. An exam is an exam. You have spent years preparing, days cramming and yet no matter how hard you work at it, you’re not going to be able to change what questions turn up on that paper. You can just give it your best shot (or do the best darn bullshitting you can manage).

In the meantime, find some comfort-something or someone to bring you back down to earth and remind you of what else there is in life. Take a break from the books and settle in front of the TV to watch your favourite movie; stride out of those library doors and take a walk in the real world; run to the newsagents and buy the most expensive ice lolly, just because you can. For me, I find the sun is a beautiful distraction. Just sitting in the garden and listening to the birds makes me feel smaller, and then-in the grand scheme of things-writing an essay or solving an equation or two doesn’t seem so bad.

Because, who really cares if you get it wrong at the end of the day?

What I guess I’m trying to say is, if I don’t have any new words for you today, I sure as hell have some pretty reliable old ones:

CALM. DOWN.