Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Pedro Zerolo, in memoriam

Pedro Zerolo, a Socialist politician and gay rights activist who helped get same-sex marriage approved in Spain, died in his Madrid home on Tuesday morning after a year-and-a-half battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 55 years old.
Born in the Venezuelan capital of Caracas in 1960, Zerolo had been a Madrid city councilor since 2007 and went on to become head of the Madrid Socialist Party (PSM) in February of this year.
But his public reputation had been cemented earlier, as president of the Spanish Federation of Lesbians, Gays, Transsexuals and Bisexuals (FELGTB), an influential advocacy group that he headed between 1998 and 2003.
It was at this time that he worked to help get same-sex marriage passed in Spain’s parliament – a personal dream that came true in 2005, under the Socialist administration of José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero.
Revolutionary in Spain, the new law also had a great impact in Latin America. For the first time, a nation recognized the full equality of same-sex and heterosexual marriages. Before this, the Netherlands and Scandinavian countries had passed legislation recognizing some rights for same-sex couples.
Zerolo – a lawyer by trade who gave up his profession to enter politics – was one of the people in charge of reviewing Spain’s legislative system to change all mentions of “husband and wife” to “spouses.” The Spanish law also made no difference between heterosexual and same-sex couples for adoption purposes, forcing a change from “mother and father” to “parents.”
Pedro Zerolo (right) married Jesús Santos in 2005. / ULY MARTÍN
The same year it was passed, Zerolo made use of the legislation to marry his partner Jesús Santos, who was with him to the end. Soon after, he also contributed to the sexual identity law that recognized many rights for transsexual individuals.
Then-Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero convinced Zerolo to join the Socialist executive as head of non-profit groups and social movements, a topic with which he was very familiar.
A Madrid city councilor since 2003, he continued to fight for the gay community but became increasingly involved in politics. Zerolo tried to get himself appointed as the Socialist mayoral candidate for the 2007 elections, but failed to garner enough support within the party, which instead backed Miguel Sebastián – who ultimately lost to conservative Popular Party candidate Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón. Party sources said his open homosexuality played against him.
In January 2014, Pedro Zerolo announced that he had pancreatic cancer. That was the first year that he failed to take part in the Madrid Gay Pride march. It was one of his few signs of weakness. Always one to keep a high profile, he regularly updated the picture he used on social networking sites to reflect his changing appearance. Chemotherapy caused him to lose his trademark mop of curly hair, but his bald head became a new symbol of the man.
In the last interview he granted to EL PAÍS, Zerolo said that he was still feeling full of life despite his illness.“I am ill, you know that,” he said. “Illness has taught me that you reap what you sow. I have been surprised at all the sympathy I’ve been getting from strangers. I think that, in order to beat this, you cannot be afraid. Fear is defeated through calm, by being calm with yourself. Without fear, you feel that life is on your side
The attitude went down well with cancer patient groups, who, like the gay community, found in Zerolo a visible symbol. But the publicity also had its negative side. A Roman Catholic priest, Jesús Calvo, stated that his illness was punishment from God.
Zerolo spent his last months going to the movies in Madrid in the company of his husband, sister and friends, and taking strolls around Chueca, the city’s gay neighborhood. A self-declared atheist, republican, gay man, feminist and socialist, he decided to die at home. On Monday, his closest friends were called in to say goodbye one last time. Madrid City Hall will hold a wake on Tuesday afternoon. (El País in English)
This is the last image he posted on his Twitter @Perdo_Zerolo:

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

Ice Lake on Mars

On this day in 2003, Europe launched its first voyage to another planet, Mars. The European Space Agency’s Mars Express began its six-month journey from the Baikonur space center in Kazakhstan. To celebrate the 12th anniversary of the Mars Express mission, we have gathered together some of our favorite images of this fascinating planet taken by the Mars Express’ camera. You can enjoy all the images on the European Space Agency and German Aerospace Center Flickr pages.


The Mars Express is so called because of the speed with which it was built. The lander, called Beagle 2, was named after the ship in which Charles Darwin sailed when formulating his ideas about evolution. With the Mars Express mission, Europe hopes to gain knowledge about the Martian surface and search for life or hints about the evolutionary processes on Earth.

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

Alain de Botton on The Benefits of Being Away From Home

Though we tend to love our homes and think of them as anchors of identity, there are also disturbing ways in which they can fix us unhelpfully to a version of ourselves we no longer wish to side with. The familiar curtains and pictures subtly insist that we should not change because they do not, our well-known rooms can anaesthetise us from a more urgent, necessary relationship with particular questions.

It may not be until we have moved across an ocean, until we are in a hotel room with peculiar new furniture and a view onto a motorway and a supermarket full of products we don't recognise that we start to have the strength to probe at certain assumptions. We gain freedom from watching the take-offs and landings of planes in a departure lounge or from following a line of distant electricity pylons from a train making its way across barren steppes. In the middle of a foreign landscape, thoughts come to us that would have been reluctant to emerge in our own beds. We are able to take implausible but important leaps, encouraged by the changes around us, from the new lightswitches to the cyrillic letters blinking in illuminated signs all around us.

Being cut loose from the habitual is the essential gift of travel, as uncomfortable as it may be psychogically fruitful. Christianity once took our feelings of dislocation and placed them at the heart of a thesis as to the spiritual benefit of pilgrimages. Without accepting the church's analysis, we may nevertheless be inspired by its approach to the value of feeling like a lonely outsider. As much as any destination, it is isolated periods in untried hotel rooms, in paleozoic canyons, in disintegrating palaces and empty service station restaurants that facilitate an underlying psychological or spiritual point of our journeys. (The Observer, Sunday, June 6th, 2010)

Alain de Botton is the author of many books including 'How Proust Can Change Your Life' , 'The Art of Travel' and 'Essays in Love'.  His most recent work 'A Week at the Airport: A Heathrow Diary' is published by Profile Books.