Cholula and Puebla

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Camera: iPhone 8

Locations: Cholula de Rivadavia, Puebla, Mexico; Puebla de Zaragoza, Puebla, Mexico

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Hay Vida En Las Calles

During my visit to Salento, Colombia, a beautiful town located in the foothills below the Andes Mountains and adjacent to the famous Cocora Valley, I picked up on a slogan that I found very endearing and memorable. “Hay vida en las calles” was posted on an advertisement on one of the vendors there who was dishing out ice cream, snacks, and other goodies. “Hay vida en las calles” translates to the English language as “There is life in the streets” and I found that to be a very positive sign and one that gets people out of their homes and into the parks, squares, and plazas where the basis of all community life is formed. While life in the streets cannot be found everywhere, I found this prevalent attitude consistent in many towns and cities during my travels in Latin America.

The emphasis on communal spaces and public gathering places is something I really admire about Latin culture and I find it to be a healthy feature of any society, which has strong communities and families. Being able to leave your homes every now and then to walk five minutes away to be in a public park or a town square should be natural and available to more and more of us.

As is well known in psychology and sociology, Human beings are social creatures and we want to be around other people even after we have had some alone time. In order to do so, responsible local, state, and national governments should provide that to their peoples in order to build more trusting and kind societies. In societies where people are isolated, lonely, and without opportunities to meet people and build new friendships, problems related to anxiety, depression, and even violence are likely to rise.

In countries such as the United States and other Western countries, statistics related to anxiety, depression, and loneliness are rising and part of the reason I think for the rise in these issues is related to not being able to gather and socialize in a public place. The atomization related to suburban living, the lack of public transportation options, and the decline of shopping centers all help to contribute to this rise in loneliness. I mention the closing of shopping malls because due to technology giants like Amazon, small businesses and large companies alike are closing their doors causing people to order anything from food to clothes to Amazon Echo from their homes.

While shopping malls and outlet stores aren’t an optimal way to build a sense of community, they still brought people together and were a place to hang out. The question remains regarding how will we replace these stores, strip malls, and outlet centers if they all go out of business? A revitalization of public places from small towns to big cities will not just be a prudent step forward but help societies deal with rising anxiety and loneliness rates. There should be life in the streets.

Whose responsibility should it be to encourage this kind of ‘life in the streets’? I believe it’s the local government combined with local businesses who can really make it work. Also, local community groups and organizations can play a big role in making sure everybody feels welcome and to promote activities, discussion groups, and issues in the community that need to be resolved. The average citizen living in the town or city can contribute to by hosting ‘block parties’ or contributing food or drinks. We ask our taxes to pay for roads, schools, and parks, but why not also a community gathering place, indoors or outdoors, where people can be social, discuss issues, and make new friends.

Without investing in our citizens by providing a ‘public square’, we are really selling ourselves short and it could hurt the fabric of our communities, towns, and cities in the long run. Without a way for people to interact and socialize with each other for free and without needing to buy anything, society as a whole can really benefit. It may sound like a ‘utopian’ idea to some but I think it makes a lot of sense in terms of the potential benefits to people’s mental health.

When I was in Salento, Colombia, for example, there were numerous food vendors, there was live music, and people were chatting with each other on benches. Children were playing in a nearby playground and the air was fresh and clean. The noise of the cars and the buses was off in the distance and it was a sea of calm where there were plentiful trees, flowers, and you could hear the birds chirping. People need that kind of space to gather, talk, listen to music, eat food, and watch their children play peacefully.

In my travels through Latin America in the past few years, I have seen this in multiple towns and cities where there is an emphasis on using the public squares for the public’s benefit. While this may not be a universal thing across the entire region, it is a priority here and one that I really appreciate coming from a culture where these gatherings are in decline. The good news should be that with greater effort and investment, we can bring the public spaces back again in the United States and elsewhere.

Further automation and loss of jobs in the retail and manufacturing sector is a tragedy and one worth acknowledging. My hope is that the loss of these retail and commercial spaces can be put to some good use and even lead to different kinds of jobs to take root, ones that are more social and that benefit people more, especially young children and the elderly. Being able to revitalize certain neighborhoods with greener public spacers where people can gather, eat, play, talk, and even dance would help curb the loneliness epidemic that we are seeing in Western societies. If there is life in the streets, people will show up and they will be better for it.

Part of the beauty of travel is seeing how other cultures value family and community life and make it a high priority. I believe that you can take these positive values from other cultures and place them within your own. It must involve buy-in though from the people themselves and they have to feel that it was the next step forward in improving their community. With the rise of automation and the closing of large shopping centers, we may be at the point in time where we can turn these empty buildings and useless parking lots into real gathering places in the future.

Without social interaction and a sense of community, people will suffer as a result mentally. This has been shown in many studies and in many surveys. I think it is part of who we are as social animals and being isolated in our homes and in our cars for 90% of the day will not make us healthier. For what I saw in Salento, Colombia a few years ago and what I have seen in other towns in Latin America, placing a high value on social life within these communities will make people feel a sense of togetherness and cohesion. A greater emphasis on community gatherings and social spaces would create a large ripple effect that would drastically improve the greater society, the country you’re in, and the world.

Teotihuacan

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Camera: iPhone 8

Location: San Juan Teotihuacan de Arista, México State, Mexico

‘Limitless’ – Film Review and Analysis

What if there was a special pill out there that you could take once a day that would suddenly allow you to tap into all your brain’s potential? What if you were able to recall everything you had ever learned, every language you had ever studied, and every fight move you ever watched? How would your life change if you able to fully actualize your abilities to your full potential, both physically and mentally? Now, you may think of these as silly questions but Limitless as a film does so in an entertaining and thought-provoking manner.

Instead of working hard, taking risks, and pushing ourselves to be better people, Limitless proposes a fictional scenario where a special pill, taken just once a day, can make all the difference. You don’t have to do any heavy lifting as the pill you take while unlock all your hidden potential allowing you to be free to pursue your dreams and goals. Sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it? Well, Limitless lets the audience decides if this illustrious pill is worth the risk involved and whether you would even truly need a pill to become the best version of yourself.

Released in 2011 by Director Neil Burger, Limitless is a mixture of genres blending together to be quite a unique concoction including science fiction, drama, and even some action. The star actor in the film, Bradley Cooper, plays Eddie Morra, who is a struggling author living in New York City who is going through a serious case of writer’s block. Eddie is your typical Average Joe kind of character struggling to make his dreams and goals a reality. The viewer of the film is meant to feel a bit bad for Eddie’s situation since he seems to be doing his best to become a successful author.

However, from Eddie’s unkempt appearance including shaggy hair and heavy bags under his eyes, one’s sympathy for Eddie is undermined by the fact that he can’t even take care of himself physically let alone his apartment, which is a mess filled with strewn about clothes and dirty dishes. The main problem that we learn about Eddie is that he is a well-meaning guy, but he looks for shortcuts and is undisciplined to the point where he is behind on rent payments and his girlfriend is about to leave him.

Instead of changing his ways internally by looking at ways to make himself have more self-discipline and willpower, he instead looks for a shortcut to get himself out of his career, relationship, and financial woes. Eddie runs into Vernon, the brother of his ex-wife, who deals him a strange, new nootropic drug named NZT-48, which Vernon says will help Eddie unlock his brain’s capacity at 100%. Eddie is skeptical at first until he takes one pill and realizes that it is not just a joke and that he is now able to remember everything through enhanced memory and is able to write for hours without losing his concentration. He can also clean his messy apartment, befriend the landlord’s wife, and start to get his life in order.

Because of what this one pill did for him, Eddie goes back to Vernon for more NZT to keep his peak mental capacity going. Horrifically, he discovers Vernon murdered by people also looking for the NZT as well. Eddie is able to find Vernon’s secret stash, which allows him to keep using the nootropic drug to make his life bigger and better. While concerned about what just happened, Eddie becomes addicted to the NZT because of how effortlessly it improves his life and how much more successful he can be without really putting hard work into it.

The old adage of ‘Be careful what you wish for’ is prevalent throughout Limitless as Eddie increasingly puts himself and his girlfriend, Lindy (Abbie Cornish), into greater and greater danger. By needing to use more and more of the drug, Eddie gets addicted to both the potential and the power he gains from enhancing his mental abilities. He become stubborn enough to put himself in harm’s way all to risk it for a chance to becoming a powerful, successful, and wealthy man. Despite being at odds with an finance and investment tycoon, Carl van Loon (played by the legendary Robert De Niro), and being chased around New York City by loan sharks affiliated with the Russian mafia, Eddie’s life is doing a complete 360.

Because of the NZT, he has no shyness or doubts in his interpersonal skills. He gets Lindy, his girlfriend back into his life, he picks up multiple foreign languages including Italian and Mandarin Chinese, and he is able to build up his body through working out and martial arts. In addition, he can concentrate for hours on end and remembers everything he’s ever read, seen, or heard making him a mathematics whiz and an investment genius overnight.

The accumulation of wealth, power, and status can take a lifetime for some people with most never achieving the level that Eddie does in the film. NZT allows him to do it overnight but at a seemingly great risk to his health and survival. The NZT pill is wanted by van Loon and the Russian mafia with Eddie standing in their way. The climax of the film focuses on whether he will be able to use the pill and its abilities to outsmart those around him who would take it from him and leave him to die.

Eddie Mora is a flawed character who is seduced by a powerful nootropic that slowly but surely takes over his life. Actions have consequences and Eddie started mixing with the wrong people. Due to his frustrations with his life and not wanting to suffer to reach his goals, you could argue that he took the easy way out and it could cost him dearly. Had he persevered with his writing and started to take personal responsibility for where he was in life, perhaps he would have never gone to a drug dealer for the NZT in the first place.

This movie may not be one of the best movies of all-time but it is entertaining and carries a few nuggets regarding how any of us should not look for shortcuts in life when things get hard. Taking the easy way out comes with unintended consequences that may be more severe than we realize even when the payoff is really tempting. Eddie, instead of doubling down on his goals and becoming more disciplined and utilizing greater willpower in order to better his life, took the easy way out because he was not built of strong moral fiber. As a result, Eddie gets mixed in with the wrong people and risks his life for a drug that he can not live without.

Any of us, if we are not careful, can be seduced by quick wins and five-minute solutions when true personal development, both mentally and physically, takes years and even decades to get to a high level. While luck can help us along the way to shorten the road to success, it is perseverance, willpower, and the right mindset that can take us further in the long run.

You don’t need any kind of pill to produce a novel (strong shots of espresso maybe), to learn multiple languages, or to get into great physical shape. What’s holding you back are your excuses and your lack of action. With consistent effort and hard work, the goals that Eddie achieves because of NZT in this film can be achieved by the average person without needing what he needed. First, you need to believe in yourself and then you need to write down your goals and come with a plan of action to become successful. As mentioned earlier, true progress in personal development does not happen overnight but can take months and even years. With sustained effort and hard work, you’ll reach your goals and you’ll do it in the right way.

While far from a perfect film, Limitless is entertaining and thought-provoking regarding human nature and what the average person will do to change their lives by taking the easy way out. The story of ‘Limitless’ is a referendum on hoping for a magic pill to solve your problems rather than working through them by your own grit, sweat, and toughness.

The character of Eddie Morra fell to his own short-sighted belief in wanting success by any means necessary but I hope you, if you watch this film realize that it’s far more satisfying to achieve your dreams and your goals through your own hard work rather than looking for an easy fix in the form of a magic solution peddled by others, which may not work or get you into trouble.

I do want to recommend Limitless for the impressive visuals, the acting by Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro, and the important life lessons that it imparts on the audience by the time the final credits of the film begin to roll.

Finding Your Flow State

What’s one thing that all professional athletes, musicians, artists, writers, and anyone devoted to their craft have in common? They have all achieved a ‘flow state’, which is difficult to relate to unless you are fully immersed in terms of what you are pursuing and truly enjoy what you are doing. The flow state is elusive for most people because they either haven’t found their passion in life or haven’t put the time in yet to get better through consistent practice or play. The flow state is a higher state of being because for a point in time, your concentration is matched with your intensity producing a beautiful result.

When you can put other thoughts or other concerns out of your mind to focus on your craft regardless of what it is, you are utilizing your full potential and will be able to achieve a better result for yourself. To outside observers, the flow state looks nearly impossible to accomplish but when you are devoted to art, to music, to sports, or to writing, the final result is nearly guaranteed because you have put blood, sweat, and tears to produce something meaningful.

To me, the flow state is the most optimal state of mind that you can be in because it requires you to be at your best and to perform at the highest level. It’s requires being in a state of movement and using your body in some way to produce an action. You are putting your energy, your concentration, and your focus into a singular goal and it’s inspiring to those people who get to benefit in some way from what you were able to produce. It’s better to be a doer than to be an observer but it can inspire others to find their flow state when you see them do theirs and to do it extremely well.

For example, I was at a popular Jazz club in Mexico City recently and the headliner was a talented Danish guitarist along with a group of local musicians backing him up on the saxophone, the drums, and the Jazz bass. Every one of them was talented at what they do and were in sync generating a group kind of ‘flow state’ that is even more powerful. The thing with a good Jazz group is that you start to yourself get into the ‘flow’ of enjoying the music and moving your body to the rhythm as well.

As someone who played trumpet for 11 years straight and enjoyed the feeling of togetherness and comradery that playing in a Jazz Ensemble can bring, it is impressive to see a group working well together and nailing their parts to achieve their flow state together. To play a musical instrumently proficiently on your own is tough enough, but to work together with different musicians to produce a catchy tune without making any mistakes is as near to a modern-day miracle as it can get.

Musicians thrive off the energy and the drive of others as well as professional athletes and even politicians. It is much harder to achieve a flow state on your own in the solitude of one’s house especially if your craft requires some sort of public attention. Writers and artists tend to be more introverted on average and don’t need the attention of others to achieve an individual flow state. However, there’s something to be said for achieving a group flow state when you’re cheering on a ruthless dunk from a professional basketball player or listening intently in an arena to a Presidential candidate’s stump speech.

People want to believe in the achievements of others, and I know that we prefer to lift each other up rather than to tear each other down. While it’s beneficial to take part in watching other people reach and show off their flow state, you should be trying to find yours every day. You will get much more satisfaction out of life when you are in that mode where you are merging with your craft whether that’s art, music, writing, sports, etc. While it’s fun to cheer others on and take part in their joy, you should always be trying to create a little bit of your own.

Intense concentration and effort is not easy to achieve, but it is extremely rewarding to put your worries and anxieties aside to focus on a singular goal that you want to achieve. It may take hours, days, weeks, months, and even years to get to where you want to be but there is joy to be found in putting away all distractions and devoting yourself to a craft that you enjoy and are able to put serious time into. Our individual potential will not be able to be achieved unless we are able to reach a flow state relating to a kind of creative or intuitive pursuit.

Do your best to try different activities out and see what you like. If you find an activity or an interest you enjoy, continue to add more time to it and you should start to see results. Don’t start to look for monetary rewards or personal fame to keep you going with this pursuit but you should be doing it for yourself primarily and for your desire to reach that state of flow where you can fully immerse yourself in the activity whatever it may be.

You should find happiness and joy in what you do and become the best that you can be at it. If you can enjoy the activity, you’ll eventually find your ‘flow’ with it and be able to do it effortlessly. While you will have a lot of frustration and stress with practicing and doing the activity, if you like it and find it worthwhile, you won’t mind the downsides when the upsides can produce such an intense ‘flow’ where you are in the zone and are able to produce a beautiful result that others will appreciate. Being able to inspire others to reach their own ‘flow state’ creates its own ripple effect allowing our society to become more creative, intuitive, and productive as a result.

Tlatelolco and Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe

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Camera: iPhone 8

Location: Mexico City, Mexico

English Corner – The Utility of Commas

The Comma is an integral part of any English language sentence and while it may not come up all the time, it is likely to come up many of your sentences especially if they are longer than 10 sentences. The comma helps us to avoid run-on sentences or sentences that are too long-winded, which will distract the reader, and take away from the meaning of your sentence(s).

Commas should be used moderately to not to introduce many pauses within your sentences. You should be looking to use conjunctions in lieu of commas or with them depending upon the context. What you do not want to do is not use commas at all or use them too much. There is a key balance there that a writer in the English language must learn through trial and error as they develop their grammar proficiency.

What a comma (,) does in not just English but in other languages as well is to break down sentences into individual clauses with the comma acting a pause in the action to let the reader catch his or her breath. Commas are used in several scenarios but none as so important as forming a list of two or more items. In a list type of sentence, the comma is effective in separating the people, places, or things into an order from first to last to differentiate them.

If there are two or more items in the list, the comma will come before the conjunction (and, but, or) to finish out the sentence properly. This kind of arrangement forms the basis of the ‘oxford comma’, which is still being debated by English grammar scholars, but for which is popular with some English language students and is advocated for by certain teachers. The comma + conjunction combo is not only just for the oxford comma but for a wide variety of sentences.

If you had to summarize the main uses of commas in sentences, they function in terms of being placed between items for formal lists and they also establish separate yet interdependent clauses within a single sentence. The supplementary uses for commas involve being used between parts of speech such as adjectives, adverbs, and before quotations. Commas can also be used for dates related to days, months, and years in terms of how it is written.

Let’s break down the different uses of commas but listing a few examples for each type of popular usage:

Main Uses

1.      Building lists

·        Not only was Jenny captain of the Varsity soccer team but she was also President of the Chess club, and a member of the National Honor Society.

·        Felix had several things to get from the supermarket today: eggs, milk, bread, meat, and soft drinks for his daughter’s birthday party.

·        I think my grandmother, Jean, will be there along with my grandfather, Patrick, and my mother, Eunice.

2.      Separating the clauses

·        Jack wanted to go out with his friends to the movies, but he couldn’t do so because he had to finish his homework.

·        Lying to other people is not a good idea, and it often hurts other people’s feelings.

·        They were lost in the woods, hoping to get home by morning, but they were out of food and without a compass to guide them.

Supplementary Uses

1.      Adverbs and Adjectives

·        However, he was not guilty of the crime they thought he committed.

·        Moreover, they apologized to him and let him go free.

·        The dreary, sad day was encapsulated by the rainy weather.

·        President Franklin Roosevelt was fervent, unwavering in his belief in the American people’s ability to contribute to the war effort.

2.      Quotations and Dates

·        Mr. Johnson told his students, “You should always know how to use commas in sentences.”

·        LeBron was dismissive of the reporters stating, “I scored 50 points and did my best to help the team win the game.”

·        Abraham Lincoln was born on February 12th, 1809 in Hodgenville, Kentucky, United States.

·        Independence Day happened on July 4th, 1776 as the United States declared its independence from the British Empire.

As you can see from these examples, commas play a really important role in both English writing and in English grammar. There are several main uses and supplementary uses that the English language learner should be aware of. You must be able to practice each of these comma uses regardless of the purpose. In order to use commas properly, you must write your own sentences, make corrections if necessary, and get feedback from your teacher or your other classmates.

Each comma use is important whether its to separate sentence clauses, making a list of items, putting them with adjectives and adverbs, or using them for quotes or dates in those type of sentences. Without commas, you won’t have a complete sentence and you’ll run the risk of having a run-on sentence, which is what you want to avoid as much as possible in mastering English grammar and writing.