Wednesday, September 28, 2011
Tuesday, September 20, 2011
Thursday, September 08, 2011
Tuesday, August 23, 2011
Sometimes I like to use my blog to share with you inspiring things that I have seen or heard. This documentary, which many of you may already have seen, really struck a chord in me, somewhere so deeply hidden that I had forgotten it was there, and I have only seen the trailer thus far... I am now frantically looking for a place where I can see it or (legally!) download it. I leave you with the official description of the film, the trailer and the hope you will go and see it, pass it on, and that it will change your lives too. Happy trails, Bart.
I AM is an utterly engaging and entertaining non-fiction film that poses two practical and provocative questions: what’s wrong with our world, and what can we do to make it better? The filmmaker behind the inquiry is Tom Shadyac, one of Hollywood’s leading comedy practitioners and the creative force behind such blockbusters as “Ace Ventura,” “Liar Liar,” “The Nutty Professor,” and “Bruce Almighty.” However, in I AM, Shadyac steps in front of the camera to recount what happened to him after a cycling accident left him incapacitated, possibly for good. Though he ultimately recovered, he emerged with a new sense of purpose, determined to share his own awakening to his prior life of excess and greed, and to investigate how he as an individual, and we as a race, could improve the way we live and walk in the world.
Armed with nothing but his innate curiosity and a small crew to film his adventures, Shadyac set out on a twenty-first century quest for enlightenment. Meeting with a variety of thinkers and doers–remarkable men and women from the worlds of science, philosophy, academia, and faith–including such luminaries as David Suzuki, Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Lynne McTaggart, Ray Anderson, John Francis, Coleman Barks, and Marc Ian Barasch – Shadyac appears on-screen as character, commentator, guide, and even, at times, guinea pig. An irrepressible “Everyman” who asks tough questions, but offers no easy answers, he takes the audience to places it has never been before, and presents even familiar phenomena in completely new and different ways. The result is a fresh, energetic, and life-affirming film that challenges our preconceptions about human behavior while simultaneously celebrating the indomitable human spirit.
The pursuit of truth has been a lifelong passion for Shadyac. “As early as I can remember I simply wanted to know what was true,” he recalls, “and somehow I perceived at a very early age that what I was being taught was not the whole truth and nothing but the truth.” He humorously describes himself as “questioning and searching and stumbling and fumbling toward the light.” The “truth” may have been elusive, but success wasn’t. Shadyac’s films grossed nearly two billion dollars and afforded him the glamorous and extravagent A-List lifestyle of the Hollywood blockbuster filmmaker. Yet Shadyac found that more – in his case, a 17,000-square foot art-filled mansion, exotic antiques, and private jets — was definitely less. “What I discovered, when I began to look deeply, was that the world I was living in was a lie,” he explains. “Much to my surprise, the accumulation of material wealth was a neutral phenomenon, neither good or bad, and certainly did not buy happiness.” Gradually, with much consideration and contemplation, he changed his lifestyle. He sold his house, moved to a mobile home community, and started life—a simpler and more responsible life – anew.
But, at this critical juncture, Shadyac suffered an injury that changed everything. “In 2007, I got into a bike accident which left me with Post Concussion Syndrome, a condition where the symptoms of the original concussion don’t go away.” These symptoms include intense and painful reactions to light and sound, severe mood swings, and a constant ringing sound in the head. Shadyac tried every manner of treatment, traditional and alternative, but nothing worked. He suffered months of isolation and pain, and finally reached a point where he welcomed death as a release. “I simply didn’t think I was going to make it,” he admits.
But, as Shadyac wisely points out, “Death can be a very powerful motivator.” Confronting his own mortality, he asked himself, “If this is it for me – if I really am going to die – what do I want to say before I go? What will be my last testament?” It was Shadyac’s modern day dark night of soul and out of it, I AM was born. Thankfully, almost miraculously, his PCS symptoms began to recede, allowing him to travel and use his movie-making skills to explore the philosophical questions that inhabited him, and to communicate his findings in a lively, humorous, intellectually-challenging, and emotionally-charged film.
But this would not be a high-octane Hollywood production. The director whose last film had a crew of 400, assembled a streamlined crew of four, and set out to find, and film, the thinkers who had helped to change his life, and to seek a better understanding of the world, its inhabitants, their past, and their future. Thus, Shadyac interviews scientists, psychologists, artists, environmentalists, authors, activists, philosophers, entrepreneurs, and others in his quest for truth. Bishop Desmond Tutu, Dr. Noam Chomsky, historian Dr. Howard Zinn, physicist Lynne McTaggart, and poet Coleman Banks are some of the subjects who engage in fascinating dialogue with Shadyac.
Shadyac was very specific about what he was after, wanting I AM to identify the underlying cause of the world’s ills – “I didn’t want to hear the usual answers, like war, hunger, poverty, the environmental crisis, or even greed,” he explains. “These are not the problems, they are the symptoms of a larger endemic problem. In I AM, I wanted to talk about the root cause of the ills of the world, because if there is a common cause, and we can talk about it, air it out in a public forum, then we have a chance to solve it.”
Ironically, in the process of trying to figure out what’s wrong with the world, Shadyac discovered there’s more right than he ever imagined. He learned that the heart, not the brain, may be man’s primary organ of intelligence, and that human consciousness and emotions can actually affect the physical world, a point Shadyac makes with great humor by demonstrating the impact of his feelings on a bowl of yogurt. And, as Shadyac’s own story illustrates, money is not a pathway to happiness. In fact, he even learns that in some native cultures, gross materialism is equated with insanity.
Shadyac also discovers that, contrary to conventional thinking, cooperation and not competition, may be nature’s most fundamental operating principle. Thus, I AM shows consensus decision-making is the norm amongst many species, from insects and birds to deer and primates. The film further discovers that humans actually function better and remain healthier when expressing positive emotions, such as love, care, compassion, and gratitude, versus their negative counterparts, anxiety, frustration, anger and fear. Charles Darwin may be best known for popularizing the notion that nature is red in tooth and claw, but, as Shadyac points out, he used the word love 95 times in The Descent of Man, while his most famous phrase,survival of the fittest, appears only twice.
“It was a revelation to me that for tens of thousands of years, indigenous cultures taught a very different story about our inherent goodness,” Shadyac marvels. “Now, following this ancient wisdom, science is discovering a plethora of evidence about our hardwiring for connection and compassion, from the Vagus Nerve which releases oxytocin at simply witnessing a compassionate act, to the Mirror Neuron which causes us to literally feel another person’s pain. Darwin himself, who was misunderstood to believe exclusively in our competitiveness, actually noted that humankind’s real power comes in their ability to perform complex tasks together, to sympathize and cooperate.”
Shadyac’s enthusiastic depiction of the brighter side of human nature and reality, itself, is what distinguishes I AM from so many well-intentioned, yet ultimately pessimistic, non-fiction films. And while he does explore what’s wrong with the world, the film’s overwhelming emphasis is focused on what we can do to make it better. Watching I AM is ultimately, for many, a transformative experience, yet Shadyac is reluctant to give specific steps for viewers who have been energized by the film. “What can I do?” “I get asked that a lot,” he says. “But the solution begins with a deeper transformation that must occur in each of us. I AM isn’t as much about what you can do, as who you can be. And from that transformation of being, action will naturally follow.”
Shadyac’s transformation remains in process. He still lives simply, is back on his bicycle, riding to work, and teaching at a local college, another venue for sharing his life-affirming discoveries. Reflecting Shadyac’s philosophy is the economic structure of the film’s release; all proceeds from I AM will go to The Foundation for I AM, a non-profit established by Shadyac to fund various worthy causes and to educate the next generation about the issues and challenges explored in the film. When he directs another Hollywood movie, the bulk of his usual eight-figure fee will be deposited into a charitable account, as well. “St. Augustine said, ‘Determine what God has given you, and take from it what you need; the remainder is needed by others.’ That’s my philosophy in a nutshell,” Shadyac says, “Or as Gandhi put it, ‘Live simply, so others may simply live.’”
Shadyac’s enthusiasm and optimism are contagious. Whether conducting an interview with an intellectual giant, or offering himself as a flawed character in the narrative of the film, Shadyac is an engaging and persuasive guide as we experience the remarkable journey that is I AM. With great wit, warmth, curiosity, and masterful storytelling skills, he reveals what science now tells us is one of the principal truths of the universe, a message that is as simple as it is significant: We are all connected – connected to each other and to everything around us. “My hope is that I AM is a window into Truth, a glimpse into the miracle, the mystery and magic of who we really are, and of the basic nature of the connection and unity of all things. In a way,” says Shadyac, a seasoned Hollywood professional who has retained his unerring eye for a great story, “I think of I AM as the ultimate reality show.”
Written & Directed by: Tom Shadyac
Producer: Dagan Handy
Editor: Jennifer Abbott
Co-Producer: Jacquelyn Zampella
Associate Producer :: Nicole Pritchett
Director of Photography: Roko Belic
Executive Producers: Jennifer Abbott, Jonathan Watson
Media and PR Coordinator: Harold Mintz
Graphic Designers: Yusuke Nagano, Barry Thompson
Release Dates: March 11, 2011 – Los Angeles, March 18, 2011 – New York
Running Time: 80 minutes
Rating: Not rated
Monday, August 08, 2011
I really, really, really like driving through South America. This is one of my favorite things to do. Lately, since we have children now and my life has changed somewhat, this does not happen as much as I would like, but every now and then I get to hit the road again. Last December I got lucky, a good friend of mine, Johan van Rijswijck, asked me if I would like to come on a trip with him to scout out part of a rally he was planning. Johan owns Sapapana Travel, a Dutch tour operator specializing in Latin America. We often work together, however, on this particular rally we had decided not to (Class Adventure Travel have a large Dakar Rally event at roughly the same time), but of course I was more than happy to help out and be Johan’s co-driver on the journey from Lima to Cartagena.
The trip was supposed to take place at the end of September, but during the previous stretch (Buenos Aires-Lima) Johan and his other co-driver had had a streak of bad luck ending in a blown-up engine some 300 miles before arriving in the City of Kings. Both he and I had to fly back home (I was already waiting for him in Lima) as repairing the engine of his 1968 Volvo Amazon was going to take quite some time. Parts are not really available in Latin America these days and most had to come from Germany and Sweden. Luckily there is a Volvo Club in Lima and its then president, Karl Spihlman, himself a totalVolvo aficionado, was of enormous help and rebuilt the engine from scratch. At the beginning of December we both flew back to Lima to begin our journey.
The new engine also meant that we had to take it easy for the first 1,000 km: 80kph max. While the almost perfectly asphalted open roads really invited us to drive faster. But there was no way around it - we weren’t going to break the engine again - so we settled for a nice long drive in the Peruvian sun. The coastal desert road we were following sometimes gave way to stunning views of the Pacific Ocean and other times took us over impressive sand dunes. We were already driving in the dark before we reached Trujillo, but we weren’t at our destination yet. The driving was good, but after Trujillo we entered a more populated area so the traffic increased and made it difficult to push on through to Chiclayo, our planned destination for that day. We finally arrived past midnight, found our hotel, checked in and hit the sack immediately. We had a 9am start the next day.
Sunday started like a breeze, we had Chiclayo behind us and were back on the Pan-American Highway in no time. The road was in perfect condition, but we still couldn’t drive over 80kph and could only change the oil and filters after a minimum of 1,000km. Still, we managed to reach Piura in the early afternoon, picked up some snacks for the road, filled the tank and found a garage to change the oil, before hitting the road again. We decided to push the engine a little and see how fast we could go, so we made some good mileage. We left the coast behind us and drove northeast. Slowly but surely the landscape changed; the desert morphed into more tropical surroundings and we even passed some rice-fields. Around 4pm we reached the Ecuadorian border. It was a great setting, a river meandering down from the mountains, crossed by an old bridge, bordered on one side by a large gate saying ‘Peru’ and on the other by a huge sign indicating one was entering Ecuador. Formalities on the Peruvian side only took 15 minutes and it seemed we would have a similarly easy entry into Ecuador, but that turned out a little bit differently. The customs officers were as charmed by the old automobile as everyone we had passed along the way and the stamps in our passports were arranged within minutes. Only when we tried to check in the car it turned out that there was only one officer that was allowed to give clearance, and the said gentleman was out for lunch with his girlfriend in a village nearby… So, there was nothing to do but wait and we started up a conversation with an Argentine couple from Mendoza on their way to Caracas (Why not? Nice drive!). Luckily it only took half an hour for the officer to return to his post and formalities here turned out to actually be as easy as on the other side; after 15 minutes we were back on track.
To be continued...
Thursday, June 23, 2011
The people inhabiting what today is called the Republic of Peru have lived in various states of occupation over the past 600 years. Initially conquered by the Incas (for about 100 years, from say 1400AD) and subsequently suppressed by the Spaniards as their crown colony until way into the last century. Peru ‘s political reality in the more recent past has been characterized by the Roman “Panem et circenses”, basically coming down to corrupt governments keeping the majority of the Peruvian people poor and uneducated in order to more easily exploit them as a cheap force of labor. This is in many ways still the case, and in my honest opinion what has happened in Peru this month has more to do with the current government not doing its job correctly - in terms of making sure all Peruvians have an opportunity to share in the riches of their land (education, job creation, etc.) - than with the populist, mass-manipulation of which the upcoming president and his team are currently being accused.
As a matter of fact, to a certain extent, what has happened in Peru shows that the democratic system actually works. A majority (albeit a small one) of the Peruvian people did not agree with the way the current government handled its power (and the country’s wealth) and they chose to go in another direction. A direction they hope will eventually give them and their children a better chance to become equal, well-educated citizens with similar opportunities to their fellow country-men.
This is not to say that I have faith that Mr. Humala will do a better job than Mr. Garcia. That still needs to be proven and it is definitely not my place to predict anything. Sadly it is difficult to find an exemplary president in the country’s past, and neither Mr. Garcia, nor Mr. Humala really fit the bill. I tried to read Mr. Humala’s plan (If you read Spanish and feel like it, please give it a try: http://especiales.rpp.com.pe/elecciones2011/2011/01/21/conozca-el-plan-de-gobierno-de-ollanta-humala/) and all I can say at this point is that if he really can stick to most of what is outlined there, then he could actually make a good president.
However, his past does not speak for him. He allegedly supported a coup by his brother Antauro in 2005 against then president Alejandro Toledo, and apparently circulated a bi-weekly paper calling for the Peruvian people to rise-up against the Toledo government. Both while in active duty as lieutenant-colonel of the Peruvian Armed Forces. Also, his recently hidden friendship with, and support for, Venezuela’s Mr. Chavez do not inspire the trust that one would expect a people to have in a candidate they just elected to represent them for the coming 5 years. The fact that a couple of months before the elections he switched his allegiance to Brazil’s former president Ignacio “Lula” da Silva and hired some of his former executives to help him reshape his campaign can, up to this point, only be seen as a smug move to throw his competitors off course and win the elections. Ms. Keiko Fujimori, daughter of one of Peru’s former presidents and Mr. Humala’s closest contender, unsuccessfully tried the same approach to shed some of her more right-wing public image.
What is happening in Peru today seems similar to what has happened, is happening and will probably be happening for quite some time, throughout the rest of the continent. After centuries of Spanish/Portuguese rule and a series of make-believe republics followed by, or mixed with, military dictatorships, most Latin American countries have only seen modern democracy very recently. Action causes reaction and sadly many of Latin America’s democracies do not really function the way they should. This is simply because large parts of the population do not receive sufficient education to be able to make up their minds about which presidential candidate would best represent them. It takes a people choosing a president who will invest in their education to get that ball rolling. Depending on the outcome of Mr. Humala’s upcoming presidency we will see if this time that choice was right or not. It will depend on Mr. Humala’s decency; will it be his wish to go into history as the man that saved his people, or will he turn out to be just another charlatan lying to his people in exchange for an easy squeeze? I guess we’ll see soon enough.
I do not pretend to be a political analyst, nor do I want to share my personal political opinions here, but I do want to try to figure out what is happening in Peru and why politics in general seem to have become more and more about the well-being of the politician instead of that of the people he/she is chosen to represent. Peru sees similar factors to Brazil at the base of its economic growth of the past 10 years, and if managed well, could potentially follow this example on a social level. In my eyes, Mr. Humala has a chance here to wipe the slate clean and be remembered as the president Peru never had before. If he sticks to his word and really manages to combine Peru’s economic growth with sufficient education and job opportunities for its people, he might not only be remembered as Peru’s favorite president, but as the one that helped a new Latin American socio-political model come into existence.
Now, let’s keep our fingers crossed, our eyes closed and pray for rain…
Thursday, June 16, 2011
I am not a very religious man and although I very much believe there is more to life than meets the eye, I have tended to stay away from institutionalized religion due to some authority issues, which sadly have stood in the way of my enlightenment. That does not mean I do not see the beauty in the history and rituals of some religious habits and festivities, and part of the attraction of Latin America certainly lies in its cultural heritage, and therefore also in its divine celebrations.
I will have to be honest and say I have never witnessed either of the two important religious festivals I am about to describe here. Not sure as to why, as I have certainly not shunned them, I’ve simply not been in the right place at the right time I guess, as is always a possibility when one tries to get to know an entire continent. I was asked to give some reflections on these two events as they are coming up, so I did a little research. I must say that after all I read, I may change my travel plans for this year and make sure to be in Cusco on June 24th and anywhere in Brazil, Peru or Ecuador roughly 50 days after Easter…
The Festival of the Sun was a religious ceremony of the Inca Empire in honor of the sun-god Inti, one of the most venerated gods in Inca religion. According to chronicler Garcilaso de la Vega, Sapa Inca Pachacuti created the Inti Raymi to celebrate the winter solstice and a new year in the Andes of the Southern Hemisphere.
Today, it's the second largest festival in South America. Hundreds of thousands of people converge on Cusco from other parts of Peru, South America and the world, for a week long celebration marking the beginning of a new year - the Inti Raymi, the Festival of the Sun.
During the Inca Empire, the Inti Raymi was the most important of four ceremonies celebrated in Cusco, as related by Inca Garcilaso de la Vega. The celebration took place in the Haukaypata or the main plaza in the city. The ceremony was also said to indicate the mythical origin of the Incas, with nine days of colorful dances and processions, as well as animal sacrifices to ensure a good cropping season. The last Inti Raymi with the Inca Emperor's presence was carried out in 1535, after which the Spanish conquest and the Catholic Church suppressed it. Some natives participated in similar ceremonies in the years after, but it was completely prohibited in 1572 by the Viceroy Francisco de Toledo, who claimed it was a pagan ceremony opposed to the Catholic faith.
In 1944, a historical reconstruction of Inti Raymi was directed by Faustino Espinoza Navarro with indigenous actors. The reconstruction was so popular that it was repeated a number of times and the Inti Raymi festival has now been reestablished as a much looked forward to yearly event.
Latin for Body of Christ, this is the holiday when Catholics commemorate the institution of the Holy Eucharist, or communion. It’s held either on a Thursday or a Sunday roughly 50 days after Easter.
The appearance of Corpus Christi as a feast in the Christian calendar was primarily due to the petitions of the thirteenth-century Augustinian nun Juliana of Liège. From her early youth Juliana revered the Blessed Sacrament, and always longed for a special feast in its honor. In 1208 she reported her first vision of Christ during which she was instructed to plead for the institution of the feast of Corpus Christi. The vision was repeated for the next 20 years but she kept it a secret. When she eventually relayed it to her confessor, he relayed it to the bishop. Sadly, the celebration of Corpus Christi became widespread only long after St. Juliana had died.
Throughout Latin America, Corpus Christi is celebrated every year and it is considered one of the most important religious holidays after Christmas and Easter. Decorating the streets with colorful carpets made from wood shavings and other materials is one of the highlights of this celebration of the faith.
I hope to have given a more or less adequate description of both festivals, which as I said I have not experienced myself thus far. I truly hope to be able to make the time this year or next to go and witness them - let me know if you’re thinking of going too! Also, if you have any first-hand stories to share about any of these festivities then I’d love to hear them.
Thanks again and happy trails
Wednesday, June 08, 2011
I still remember the first time I went to Galapagos. It was in 1994 and I was working at Pamir Travels & Adventures, owned by long-time friend and mentor Hugo Torres, doing a traineeship in Sales and Marketing. Those were the last days before email; I actually remember installing the first PC in Hugo’s office with an email account. For all the beauty and peace I find in the natural wonders of the continent I have called home for the past 15 years, I still get bewildered by the pace of technological development we have seen in just about the same time frame. If only we would apply more of our technological creativity to finding ways to protect the very world we live in, we would be way past trying to create paradise on earth, I bet you.
I was halfway through my traineeship when I had a meeting with Hugo and his wife Mireilla about how actual travel experience could enhance the sales process. That same afternoon, we had a group arriving from Germany. Since at the time I was the only one in the office speaking German, Hugo asked me if I wanted to accompany the driver to go and receive the group. The group consisted of Dr. Gerd and Mrs. Christel Gigler and some of their best friends, who had come to Ecuador to celebrate their 25th marriage anniversary in style. We had a nice conversation aboard the bus on the way to their hotel and they asked me to accompany them on their city tour the next day, which I did. The day after we were bringing the group to the airport for their flight to the Galapagos Islands, when Gerd all of a sudden asked me: “Bart, we have chartered a ship for our honeymoon, it has 10 beths and we are 9; would you like to join us?” I needed to ask him to repeat that twice before I really understood what he had just said, and when I looked at Mireilla who was with us that day, she nodded and gave me a look, as if to say “what are you waiting for? This is a chance in a lifetime!” So, after some (about 5 seconds) of thinking I agreed and after some practical issues (such as me not having brought anything to the airport but the clothes I was wearing and for some reason my passport) were solved, I found myself with my new friends on my way to the Galapagos…
Samba was a refurbished, formerly Dutch trawler, which today would be considered a luxury, small-group cruise vessel. With five cabins it was actually smaller than most ships one will find, but therefore that much cozier when traveling in a group of friends. We sailed the 8-day, westerly route and it was one of the most amazing trips I have made in my life, when it comes to marine wildlife. I watched, swam and played with so many different species of animals I can hardly remember them all: Giant turtles, white-tipped reef sharks, golden rays, manta, sea lions, leather back turtle hatchlings, black hawks, albatross, red- and blue-footed boobies, spinner dolphins, blue whales, frigates, finches, Galapagos lizards, and so many more that it still dazzles me thinking back on it.
The only experience to come close to this was my 6-hour boat ride on the “Golfo Nuevo” Bay near the Valdes Peninsula, when I actually had an 18m (54ft) Southern Right Whale come up alongside our zodiac, look me right in the eye, kind of asking for a tap on the back. I did and he (or she; I did not verify) started spinning slowly around his horizontal axis, allowing me to caress his skin and have one of my life’s most awesome encounters with nature.
Not that the Galapagos did not offer similar opportunities: I went snorkeling with a piece of rope to play with an abundance of sea lions, who tried not only to bite the rope, but also take off my fins and mask, which was both scary and fun; Swimming back to the surface I literally swam through a cloud of golden rays, only to surface finding a pelican perched on my head, as the ship mates had decided to have a laugh and throw some leftovers of the preparation of the fish for that evening’s feast into the sea next to the boat. I watched a Galapagos hawk spot, catch and devour a baby leather back turtle only meters away from where I was laying, observing how hundreds of its fellow hatchlings made their way into the ocean, surviving the first of many perilous episodes in their lives; I almost stepped on a blue-footed booby, who had placed her nest right on the trail designated for two-legged visitors, completely impervious to the risk I posed her; I saw thousands of spinner dolphins jumping over each other in a feeding frenzy as we followed a pair of blue whales below Isabela Island; I stood in a bay, water to my knees, with two resting reef sharks laying at my feet, while small Galapagos penguins swam across at less than 10m (30ft) distance. I did and saw all that and remember thinking: “this must be the best traineeship ever…”
Galapagos is one of those very few places on earth where we can see what the world would look like if we had not consistently hunted and killed every animal in sight, what it would feel like if man and animal were actually able to live side by side, sharing the same space. I can tell you it is beautifully humbling and if you love nature, this is a place you definitely should not miss.
For a couple of ideas on Galapagos holidays, please have a look at the following links:
Galapagos: Last minute and special offers!
Thanks again for reading, hope to see you here soon!