I am telling you, time stands still in Romania – or in any other place in the world, if one was born there. So let’s all take kindly to it.
We have snapshots saved in our mind, of trees in autumn or summer sunsets peeking between traffic, of old buildings and tramway rides, snapshots accompanied by scents and sounds. Lindens in bloom, snow crunching underfoot, hot summer dancing over asphalt, the first tram echoing in rhythm each morning. Easy to remember, yet forgotten until we spot the same place again, hear the same chime, or a scent washes over us, two decades later. Time stands still in the spot where one was born.
A Romanian saying goes like this: eternity was born in a hamlet. And how much truth lies in it…
A hamlet, the simplest form of rural settlement whose population measures its life between sowing and plowing, its spirit still tightly woven in its ancestor’s web of traditions and beliefs. Here, life is an oasis of peace and eternity.
Sure, 21st century arrived in the form of a train station – soon abandoned for no one got off and nobody ever left. And the modern lifestyle came in the form of a cellphone tower too. For whose benefit is still a mystery, since locals don’t use such modern technology and no tourists set foot along their main road either. Only the cows stir its dirt in the morning, and again in the evening when each one knows exactly through which gate to push to arrive home.
With kerchiefs over their heads, a habit they picked it up as children, and blouses with hand stitched flowers motifs, spirals and crosses too, women here smile a lot, speak little, cook finger licking, simple meals, and worry and pray. And their men look after them, and after their crops and their herds, are quick in temper, yet soft in the look they give you, guarded by thick eyebrows.
And, with their cows coming and going, with the sun rising at the rooster’s call and setting in the hushing of the leaves and the singing of the crickets, these people live for today.
For today is eternal, as much as the clouds are overhead and the land underfoot. Yesterday is gone like the storm, taking its thunder with it. Tomorrow might never come, although it is a promise from God. And He always keeps His word. But today, today is eternal, and because of this time stands still in a hamlet in Romania.
I snapped the picture above while we drove from Sinaia to Bran. Very near this spot was the medieval border of Bran Castle, close to the Bran Pass, that was the 14th century toll gate between Transylvania and Wallachia.
It was through here that caravans loaded with merchants’ goods passed between the two principalities. The mountainous and rugged terrain, the relatively narrow pass and the vast coniferous forests, made the route quite risky for caravans.
But Bran Castle was also a point of defense – especially against Turk invasions – and therefore the establishment of a border point here was necessary and soon became profitable for the entire area.
Prince Mircea the Elder, Voivode of Wallachia, was the one who, through a privilege granted to Brasov merchants, established the customs of Wallachia in 1413 atTurciu (today Bran). The medieval Bran customs point was defended against robbers by guards that were backed-up by guards from Bran Castle. Due to their importance, the customs buildings will be rebuilt and consolidated over centuries. It was at the end of the 15th century that Bran border point became the responsibility of merchants from Brasov, Transylvania.
Just imagine, it was through these woods that Vlad Tepes and his brave men, his Viteji, rode back and forth.
But more about this in my next book 🙂
Time Stands Still in Romania and Taking Kindly to It is my contribution to Becky’s incredible October Squares #KindaSquare blog feature. Do have a look 🙂
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Reading about Romanian Monsters of Myth and Folklore is a fun way of learning about a civilization strengthened by historical battles, enriched by its insight into the forces of nature, enchanting through its narratives.
I believe that at the source of each myth, folktale or superstition is the seed of a true story. Told from one generation to the next with the aim to explain, elucidate, aid the daily harshness of life or simply subdue; these stories snowballed, like any captivating story does, becoming myths (explaining creation), legends (inspiring through heroic figures), and folklore (explaining everyday life).
Monsters from Romanian Myths
Fârtat, Nefârtat and Apa Sâmbetei (The Wasted Water, Long Gone and Wasted)
One of the creation stories in Romanian folklore explains the Genesis.
Once upon a time, at the very beginning of the world, there was nothing but water. A boundless ocean called Apa Sâmbetei. The water soon foamed, perhaps under a gust of wind, and from that foam grew a flower. Inside the flower a worm took birth, but also a butterfly. Side by side.
And the butterfly morphed further into a young man. Nobody knew if he was handsome or not, for he was the very first one. Yet he brightened everything around him and everything He touched, for he was God, or Fârtat.
While the worm became Nefârtat, the Devil, a creature in human form but without inner light, without spirit.
Now the water was everywhere, so both brothers were floating about. Fârtat called to his brother to dive together and gather handfuls of sand from the bottom of the ocean and throw it in the air, in his name, so Earth will form so they could both rest and catch their breath.
Nefârtat said nay.
From the little sand Fârtat gathered he created a stretch of of earth where both of them went to rest, glad it felt solid, although their fingers were still dipped into Apa Sâmbetei, for it was narrow. Now Nefârtat, evil ashe was, tried to take possession of earth, pushing his brother into the waves. Yet the earth kept on growing to reach and protect Fârtat, and thus Earth came to be.
Fârtat – NefârtatEtymology:
Worth mentioning is the root of the word “Fârtat” coming from ‘frate” = brother. But “fârtat” also means prieten = (precious) friend.
Strigoii and Moroii are believed to drink not only the blood of a human, but to feed on its energy too. Moreover, Strigoii can cause many illnesses and eve shape-shift into were-wolfs. Like the Strigoi, Pricolici are undead monsters (violent criminals returned fom the grave) looking like a giant wolf. Remmeber, Romania has the largest population of canis lupus (wolves) in Europe.
Muma Pădurii, The Forest Crone Mother (synonym with Gaia, he ancestral mother of all life in Greek mythology)
Muma Pădurii is a mythological representation of a long ago civilization, mainly focused on woods as she personifies everything that comes out of a forest and you can read more about her in my blog post here.
Monsters from Romanian Folklore
With mountains as sky-high as the Carpathians is easy to understand why Giants were the first people ever created on the Romanian land.
In the historical county of Maramures, famous for its Merry Cemetery Sapanta as well as its picturesque wooden churches, folk legend says that giant, huge people inhabited its hills, thousands of years ago. Signs of their existence are still noticeable, local people claim.
Once upon a time…
It is said that Rozalinda, the Giant’s daughter, discovered some people on the banks of Someș river and she took them home, thinking they are tiny dolls. Yet she fell in love with one of them, the head of the Dacian – Roman city of Turda (where my Mother was born 🙂 His name was Robonban.
Rozalind‘s fatherand the last head of the Giants, Old Cingalau (not the moth, perhaps a nickname, like Wide-Belt), feeling that his time has come, arranged for the two to get married. He only wanted his daughter to be happy.
But what to do with the difference in size? Rozalinda agreed to be turned into a human and so the two lived happily ever after…
And after old Cingalau died, his grave became the hill of Gogasa, and the place where Rozalinda found the group of people she took home is today the village of Rozavlea, its inhabitants being descendants from Rozalinda and Robonban.
Another legend says that old Urias’ burial mounds hides a massive horde of riches that can only be discovered on Christmas Eve, at Easter, or on St. George’s Day, when magical fires burn above his grave. Or it could have been Decebal, one of the first rulers of the Dacians, Romanian’s ancestors, who ordered these Giants to protect the Dacian treasures he’d hidden in a cave when Romans attacked, 1st century AD.
Capcaun, The Ogre
I do remember being scared of this mosnter, for he was supposed to eat naughty children (which I was not!). Sometimes he has two heads, other times a head of a dog on the body of a man, it appears that he is also a shape-shifter, being able to transform itself in other animals too.
In legends Capcaunul has his own land, usually dark, arid and populated with strange creatures.
Ielele are charmstresses, women of forests and waters with magic powers living in Romania and populating its folklore. Better keep away for they are irresitable, especially to men, and they will make youlooseyour way through the forest. And be gone!
Blessed, alluring IELELE, Mistresses of breeze, Ladies of the earth and mist, Through the air you rise, On the grass you slide, And on waves you glide.
(translated by Patricia Furstenberg)
A sly and repulsive antagonist, the Omul Spân, Bold Man, Glabrous Man, is a character of treacherous intelligence, yet he has the role of initiating Harap-Alb, the hero of the Romanian fairytale with the same title, thus representing, together with the Red Emperor, a necessary evil for the growth of the protagonist.
I discovered this picture I took looking out of the Kinda Old, Corvin Castle, and remembered the question that haunted me, what story do these old stones tell?
‘Follow the main tunnel,’ he’d said, ‘the widest one. Do not set foot into any of the side shafts,’ and he’d let the trap door fall. Blindness shrouding them.
She smelled wet earth, almost agricultural, the freezing temperatures blocking any other foul odors. Her stomach recoiled, a physical sign that her hippocampus, the primitive region of her brain and mother-nature’s GPS system, the same one that helped Homo sapiens navigate and orientate in space by collecting data and building a cognitive map, was protesting. She remembered reading about it, about the human brain’s natural fear of being lost, of losing all receptive signals from the sun, the moon, the stars, even from one’s shadow or the wind. Period. Of not being able to tell ahead from behind, up from down. No horizon. Only gravity to rely on.
She knew her body was telling her she was neurologically ill-equipped to be here. In an underground tunnel. Without a map to navigate by. Without cellphone reception. Only eerie silence. And darkness beyond the flashlight’s shaft. Her field of view blinkered, never reaching beyond the next twist or kink. Down here there was no way to tell time and she did not want to check her wrist watch and discover that time stood still.
No one could tell exactly what these tunnels had been used for. Nor did anyone know for sure how many such tunnels were, scattered underfoot the town. And those who did know, were long reduced to bone. Meanwhile, for centuries the tunnels had been buried. Their gaping mouths filled in after locals complained of smell, their caverns used as underground landfills. But before human junk touched them, no one knew what they’ve been used for. Oh, artifacts had been found and there were plenty of legends too. Legends told by ghosts.
The next step she took, darkness sealed her in. She shook the flashlight, hit it against the rocky wall, yet no light came through. Thoughts accelerated inside her head. She tried to slow them down, but they wouldn’t listen, racing for a way out. The tension in her neck spread to her face and she heard a wheezing noise not realizing it was her shallow breath coming in short, rapid puffs. Her limbs felt heavy to move, although her heart was racing. Like a rabbit running for its skin. Racing to find a way out. Through the dark tunnel, as far as possible, as fast as possible, till it found the exit.
She remembered a moth caught inside her bathroom, at night. Banging against the white walls when she had switched on the light. In an attempt to escape, giving into the primal surge to flee. Till it moved no more, in a corner of the bathroom wall. Dead, yet freed in its own mind, freed from the confined space.
She felt her mind spinning, like an athlete sprinting during a marathon, using all the energy his body could muster, leaving none for later. Life mattered now.
Forward was a black passage and so was backwards, but who knew if forward wasn’t backwards and back wasn’t front?
She let her legs gave way in an attempt to slow down her mind, she felt her body drop to the ground like an inanimate object.
We are two of a kind, my daughter and I, yet as time flies quietly I discover how different we are. We are like a rose bush growing alongside a grapevine. The rose, blooming all year round in this South African favorable weather, is always giving, sharing joy and quiet smiles. The grapevine takes full advantage of spring, encouraged, a miracle boosting with life from one day to the next. Take your eyes off and you miss its rarity. Time flies quietly.
Our rosebush is the climbing kind, stretching over the vineyard in an attempt to protect it. And the grape shoots reach back towards the rose’s strong branches, garbing it with their green tendrils for support. And they both stretch together towards the sun. And the stars.
I often try to separate them, these two of a kind, the rose and the grapevine, thinking they will suffocate one another. And yet, who am I to stop their friendship? Each one fragile, but stronger together.
We are beautiful through this, through our fragility.
We are live stories that cannot be categorized, a blend of beautiful threads that come from everything that made us bloom and everything that opposed to us in life, difficulties and obstacles. Threads of gentleness and kindness that sprouted from us through the gentleness and kindness we have been shown.
We are stories with chapters telling other’s life tales, those people who have shared theirs with us, taking us by the hand and into their stories, without fear that the light or the darkness in them will drive us away. Because the fragility behind it was what mattered. A fragility that taught us to walk gracefully, to thread softly.
I cannot pinpoint the moment when the rose branch and the grape shoot make contact and hold tight. It happens through sun and wind, rainy afternoons and moonlit nights. Just like the fragility that others choose to share with us, that teaches us to thread softly around a human soul. While educating us about its strength too, through light or darkness, as time flies quietly.
We are two of a kind, my daughter and I, I thought to myself this morning while we drove to school as we did for twelve years, today once more, on her last formal day of high-school.
Two of a Kind, Time Flies Quietly is my contribution to Becky’s October Squares #KindaSquare
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We picture ourselves following a sinuous track, using various means of transport. Some travel as solitary cyclists, others prefer the train, with friends and family alongside. Few journey by foot. Most of us accustomed to accept fellow travelers as partners or companions in our journey.
We travel wrapped up in an image of ourselves; we carry with us experiences and memories as luggage. Some light, some overwhelming. Dull or brightly colored.
But maybe we should see ourselves as places, locations, as fixed points on a chart. Infinitely stable. Each a world of its own. Mine and yours, then ours; his or hers. Joined by roads on which dreams, plans and worries travel from one such universe to the next. While we exchange impressions about our experiences in an attempt to understand others, but mostly to understand ourselves.
What if life, as a journey, is about figuring out ourselves?
Life as a Journey, our imagination kindled, as a contribution to Becky’s October Squares #KindaSquare
Carved out of stone or wood, to defeat or hide a secret passage, the spiral staircase still stands the test of time like a question mark between symbol and mystery.
In the perfect twilight of the room the girl was waiting, her hand on the banister of a spiral staircase, her mind a tornado of thoughts. Should she go up, towards the unknown? Was the spiral she was confronted with a symbol of a destiny written in her DNA, unavoidable, or a chance encounter mystery?
Usually narrow, often tucked away in the corner of a room, carved in stone or build out of luscious wood, a spiral staircase is like a mysterious creature watching you from the shadows. Alluring. Daring. Playful. Dare you take the challenge?
A spiral staircase is a confined space that obscures from sight what lays ahead, be it above or underneath you, and offering only two options: up or down. Or an open cavity that tricks you by deceitfully offering physical support while playing with your inner sense of equilibrium, spinning you out of balance as you descent into the unknown.
Either way, be it the glimpse of a promise, of something fascinating once reaching its top, or the 50 / 50 gamble that a sinister outcome might be lurking at its bottom, proves irresistible. And you take the first step.
The spiral staircase, stairs with a purpose. Which one?
Built to reach bird-level heights while conserving space, to solve a comfort or a safety issue, the movement one follows along a spiral stairway is influenced by the location of the stair, the amount of natural light, the material (medieval stone, classic wood, or modern steel), the stair’s geometry, and the presence of handrails (if any).
The spiral staircase appeared as a key element intent to fluidity the circulation in any multi-story building, and perhaps its first intent was for private use.
Would you run up a spiral staircase? Would you tiptoe up? Would you use a candle to light your way or trust the moonlight sliding through the top?
Just don’t run up a staircase with a sword in your right hand as you will find it difficult to maneuver upwards, especially on clock-wise winding stairs. Perhaps this is why spiral staircases were used as a defense mechanism in medieval castles. Just imagine how the attackers of a tower could not storm up in a group, but had to go up one by one along a narrow path. Less defenders stood a far better chance to protect and survive.
I can’t resist a spiral staircase. The sight of it, so similar to the DNA’s double helix, reminds me of the human (sub)conscious desire to achieve higher. Its spiral, like a maze of self-discovery through movement and sight, is both a riddle and a promise. It could be a secret passage way between two levels, or the chance to evolve, to self-discover, to take a risk.
Be it an iconic structure or an architectural inner whisper, take this trip with me along spiral staircases and let’s travel the world.
A Timeline of Spiral Staircases
First ever spiral staircases were mentioned in the Hebrew Bible as existing some 3000 years ago. These two spiral staircases were part of Solomon’s Temple and used to access a sacrificial altar.
Searching for actual archaeological remains, the earliest example of a spiral staircase is in the Greek Temple A in Selinunte, Sicily, (built c. 490–460 BC). A really skillfully engineered spirals of the ancient Greco-Roman empire.
Still standing in Rome today is marble-built Trajan’s Column (built 113 AD) and this seems to be the oldest ‘preserved’ spiral staircase in the world.
Did you know that the outside of the column is covered with reliefs depicting the victories of Trajan’s army in the Dacian wars? Dacians were the forefathers of the Romanian people.
There are over 2000 marble carvings that spiral upward depicting the Roman – Dacian Wars (there were two of them) along Trajan’s Column, but its one overlooked characteristic is definitely the winding staircase hidden inside. Windows strategically placed allow enough light for the visitors walking up the stairs, but it is well worth it as at the top there is a viewing platform overlooking the Markets of Trajan, Trajan’s Forum, Capitol Hill, and the Campus Martius. Marcus Aurelius Column (176–192 A.D.) also has a spiral staircase inside. But Romans did not commonly use spiral staircases in buildings until after the third century.
Below: stone spiral staircase at Fagaras Castle, Romania:
Other impressive spiral staircases are located at the Baths of Caracalla (212–16 A.D.), the Baths of Diocletian (298–305 A.D.) and the Mausoleum of Constantia (c. 350 A.D.) among many others.
In Spain, the oldest spiral staircase is located at the archaeological area of the Roman villa of Las Gabias (6 century A.D.), south Granada.
More great spiral staircases are found at the Abbey Church at Cluny and Cathedral Notre Dame de Paris (France); the Basilica of the Holy Apostles in Köln and the Cathedral of St. Peter in Worms (Germany); and the Cathedral in Durham and in Canterbury (England).
Perhaps it is the years of history trapped in a staircase, the symbol it stood for, as well as the excitement to climb it and the anticipation of the mystery, of the view at the top what make any spiral staircase well worth a climb. Like this spiral staircase below, located in the Clock Tower of medieval fortress of Sighisoara, Romania:
Spiral staircase design had to wait for the development of the craft guilds that took place during the Middle Ages – so that extra technical skills required in their extended construction develop. Now they were mostly used to prevent the invaders from gaining access in castles. It is of importance to know here that the Gothic stone-masonry masters ensured the stability of a stone structure by determining the right dimensions for all its different parts.
The Helical Stair – a Timeline
With regard to the helical stair, the oldest examples can be found in the well-preserved towers at Aghios Petros on Andros Island and Pyrgos Chimarrou on Naxos Island, both dating to the Hellenistic period (4 – 3 century BC). Then it went dormant.
The helical staircase was not fully developed until later, during the 16th century, when it gradually developed in proportion and decorations, mainly composed of moldings on the wall handrail. Over time, its enclosing walls dissolved, improving the use of natural light.
Around the 15th – 16th century the helical or open–eyed staircase appears in Spain as an element of late Gothic architecture. This was also known as the mallorca staircase and the first, built between 1435 and 1446, is located in the turrets of La Lonja of Palma. Other helical stairs can be found in the Vélez Chapel in Murcia Cathedral, Colegio de Arzobispo Fonseca in Salamanca, and the Concepción Chapel in Segovia Cathedral.
During Renaissance times the helical staircase becomes a significant sculptural and elemental part of design. Like the one designed by Donato Bramante for Pope Julius II at the Belvedere Palace (and known as the Bramante staircase): a double helical staircase which was intended to separate the movement of people and animals.
Helical staircases now become spacious and elegant and even a centerpieces of a building, like the one located at the exit of the Vatican Museum in Rome designed by Giuseppe Momo (1932), or the free-standing helical staircase under the Glass Pyramid at the Louvre Museum in Paris below (built 1989) or the glass one towering at the new Exhibition Hall at the Deutches Historisches Museum in Berlin (2003), both designed by Ieoh Ming Pei.
Helical staircases inside Louvre Museum, Paris:
Andrea Palladio, 16th century Italian Renaissance architect, wrote in his book of The Four Books of Architecture, referring to spiral staircases :
“They succeed very well that are void in the middle, because they can have the light from above, and those that are at the top of the stairs, see all those that come up or begin to ascend, and are likewise seen by them.”
So, what is the difference between a Spiral and a Helical Staircase?
The common design of many ancient spiral staircase structures includes a center newel, crafted out of stone, with the stone stair slabs constructed around it.
The helical staircase follows the same basic rule, the rotation of a single-slab-step around a central axis BUT the newel is replaced by a small well. Nevertheless, the newel is kept but it is not located in the geometric center of the staircase but around it.
In case you wondered or perhaps you saw one, there are outside spiral staircases too, like this stunning one below that we happened to stumble upon while visiting the Da Vinci – The Genius exhibition back in 2014, near the Maronite Catholic Church in Johannesburg, South Africa:
I hope you enjoyed our excursion along the spiral staircase, from symbol to mystery.
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The fruit trees start blossoming and the sparrows begin chirping at the break of dawn. The sunlight grows warmer and glows with care. Its fingers graze the small, pink flowers that are abuzz with bees.
C’est le printemps. Este primăvară. Dit is lente. It is spring.
The rebirth of nature, after the long icy months, is enough to open your mind to the beauty that nature seems to paint so effortlessly.
The warmer air is filled with the sweet scents of flowers and the promise of renewal.
Our hearts open hopefully to new sentiments and romance.
The seasons are not usually linked to the months of the year, but rather by the appearance of flowers on trees, or astronomy. ‘Equinox’ comes from the Latin words aequi (meaning equal) and noct (meaning night). Natural time is unstable and the lengths of day and night are usually not equal, yet on the spring equinox and autumn equinox-the angle of the Earth’s axis is positioned in such a way that daytime and night-time are equal. Spring is mostly thought of as the time between the spring equinox and the summer solstice. During the spring equinox; the sun is directly over the Earth’s equator at midday. The equal lengths of day and night (well, nearly equal) are due to the fact that the sun’s rays refract (bend) when they hit the Earth’s atmosphere.
This refracting causes the sun to appear that it is still above the horizon, when it has actually already set. Hence, the daytime is lengthened by roughly seven and a half minutes at the equator (countries like Brazil, Gabon, Kenya, Somalia, Maldives and Indonesia), eight minutes at 30 degrees latitude (places such as South Africa, southern Australia, Argentina and southern Brazil) and sixteen minutes at 60 degrees latitude (like in Sweden and Russia).
The summer solstice is the longest day of the year-this year (2020), it is on the 20th of December in the Southern hemisphere and on the 20th of June in the Northern hemisphere. So, if you don’t live on electronic time (like I do)-those are the perfect days to spend outside in the sun. Well, 20th of June was the perfect day. If you know how to build a time machine, then you know where to go!
I have always been fascinated by Egyptian history and have read up on as much as I could find on the subject since I was first introduced to it ten years ago. In those ancient times, seasons (and most things that are now explained with Science) were often explained with mythical tales. Spring often symbolised rebirth and resurrection-something which the Egyptians held at the core of their belief system. Osiris (the Egyptian god of fertility, agriculture, the afterlife, the dead, resurrection, life, and vegetation) was brutally murdered by his brother, Seth (the god of war, chaos and storms). Osiris was the first-born son to Geb (god of the earth) and Nut (goddess of the sky). As first born, he was considered the ruler of Egypt. He taught the Egyptians the proper ways to worship the gods, provided them with laws and taught them agriculture. He later took Isis (his sister) as his wife and she gifted the Egyptians equality and compassion. The paradise ensured equality among all and abundance of food. Set was jealous of his brother’s power and success. When his wife (Nephthys) became pregnant by Osiris-after disguising herself as Isis-Set’s resentment turned bitter.
He decided to eliminate his brother and had a beautiful casket made, tailored to Osiris’ exact measurements. A huge party was thrown and Set invited his brother-but with sinister motives. Set revealed the magnificent casket to the guests and told them that whoever’s body fit most perfectly inside could take the treasure home. As you can guess-Osiris’ fit perfectly. Set immediately slammed the lid shut and threw the casket-and his brother-into the Nile. Of course, this is only one version of how Set murdered his brother. Now you’re probably wondering where Spring comes in. Well, Osiris’ wife-Isis-found his body and buried him-which re-birthed Osiris as the judge of the underworld. Hence-rebirth, resurrection and the arrival of spring (with Osiris’ role as the fertility god-giving life to plants) was created in Egypt. Of course, this story also explains the annual flooding of the river Nile, as when Osiris’ casket was thrown into the river-it flooded, as it does every year since then in the spring.
Spring symbolises new beginnings: baby birds begin chirping in nests and the trees start making new leaves and beautiful blossoms.
The world is renewed and the air filled with hope. Maybe change is not as bad as everyone makes it out to be. The flooding of the Nile in Egypt still provides farmers with water for their crops-and therefore food. The changing seasons all over the world provide us with new perspectives and opportunities.
It is up to you to jump in the flood and let yourself be renewed to a more powerful version of yourself.