This blue marble

– and yet it spins

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Once upon a time there was a monastery


800 years ago she stood as a safe haven and retreat for those wishing to know God and themselves. She was created to bring the Christian God closer to the people, to open their hearts with the help of Dominican monks. She also had business sense: in the heydays she provided shelter to produce up to four kinds of beer for the good Blackfriars.

But the greatest wars on Earth are always about religion. Faith is another word for subjective truth. Congregations loyal to Rome were not in fashion when the Reform spread northward from Germany.

Reform in the 16th century meant also reform of the buildings of worship. And so she was dismantled, piece by piece. Some of her brick was incorporated into the great cathedrals of Tallinn. Other pieces were scattered into buildings and city infrastructure around the Old Town.

But the vault of Power remains. As I stood still in the center of the room I could hear my own rambling mind. Why, I think heard something else, quietly swirling by the tip of my ear. Centuries later, the echoes of the chanting monks still bounce off the walls. The worn stone floors invited for a moment of tranquility in this crazy hurried world.

And then a lady tourist in great awe of the ceilings kicked the candle on the floor. It flew a good meter, splashing stearine as it went.  No more echoes of monks and no more impressions of power in the air. Amidst minor confusion, apologies, and good intentions we relit the toppled candle with a miniature matchbox strangely enough provided by the lunch restaurant just an hour ago as a gift to all customers.

Coincidence, perhaps, or perhaps not? One thing is certain: regardless of temples of worship and candle-lit moments, tranquility is a state of mind.


(Dominican monastery, Tallinn, Estonia; July 2014)

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And left behind was a red hotline telephone

In 1991 the Soviet intelligence left Estonia in a hurry. Walls had come down, both in divided cities and in the minds of those who built them. Just a few weeks earlier, in some places the walls had had ears. And eyes, enhanced by wide-angle cameras. Ashtrays were bugged and 60 rooms of the one and only Viru Hotel in Tallinn were tapped. If you exclaimed aloud that you were out of toilet paper it was delivered to your door within 5 minutes. In-room breakfast was served when the hotel heard you were awake. The radio to KGB headquarters and Moscow was running hot.

Conversations between hotel guests were listened to by bugged ashtrays and dinner plates. Oh, the fate and woes of the kitchen staff who by mistake put such a plate in the dishwasher!

Spying on Western guests was not considered an offense but a pure business matter. Stealing from hotel guests was, however, quite another matter. Grabbing and opening this lovely red purse triggered a paint bomb: whoosh out came a puff of red powdery paint, in your face. Contact with water just made the paint stick better, so washing off your sin was not an option.

And then change arrived: a new world, and the old world was locked and left behind for decades to come. Papers scattered across the table. A few radios ripped off, others left where they once stood. The red telephone with no dial was deemed useless: nobody would ever pick up again at the KGB Tallinn headquarters.

Nothing lasts forever. And when it is time to go we show our true colors and single out those objects we wish to keep. The radios went with the spies but not the poor lonely red telephone. Yet 20 years later it is the center of the room and attention once again. The world turns in wild loops and we can only guess the fate of the once so important radios.

(KGB Museum at Viru Hotel, Tallinn, Estonia; July 2014)

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Joining the Estonian madness

30secondstomarsShe only recently discovered them (“I’m slow to catch on” she admitted), and this experience junkie is always up for a good show and adventure. And so we chased 30 Seconds to Mars across the pond to Tallinn, Estonia. “Are you ready for a sing-along?” my sister asked. Yes, I was ready for some chanting of radio hits, but not this kind of sing-along. With mike or without mike. With band or with just a guitar. With fans on the stage and crazy giant balloon party in the audience.


Tonight was not a concert from the band to the fans and audience. It was a concert with the band and fans and audience and an inspired, happy frenzy among Estonians, Finns, Russians, Latvians, Lithuanians, and a few other united nations gathered in Saku Suurhall.

The strangest thing happens when dark, moody lyrics are transformed by the spirit of a few thousand souls into a glowing ball of elated energy. It is a source of primeval core strength we rarely tap into in our sophisticated times. And colorful balloons are never wrong.


(Saku Suurhall, Tallinn, Estonia; July 2014. Tour image courtesy of

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The last leg


One last stop in Oslo before the summer break calls for a little luxury. Some sushi by the fjord, and a fantastic breakfast at the Grand Hotel café. Quality time at the office, and a little more sushi at the airport.

And then I could see my home from the air through the haze of a hot day over the sea and summer had truly arrived.


(Oslo, Norway; and Helsinki, Finland; July 2014)

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From thick fog to brilliant blue

In brilliant sunshine began a perilous voyage. As we cast off, little did we know that mother Nature had decided to let the sun bask on the market square while shrouding the archipelago in thick mist. Soon the sea smoke rolled in and wrapped our little boat in a blanket of nothingness. No sound, no horizon, no nothing except for white stillness.

According to the charts, somewhere near us was a smattering of rocks breaking the waves. Perhaps starboard? Port? Who knows, even sufficiently deep under us fortunate souls? We wound down the engines and let the ship glide, hoping to discover our destination. Anguish, what does one do when the gadgets point to a few meters ahead but there is nothing but whiteness in sight? Hoooooonnnk the captain called with the horn, hoping for a yip, a yell, a hello, over here!

Indeed, over there it emerged from the shroud: Söderskär islet, all alone in the world between Finland and Estonia.

Once upon a time not so long ago a mariner pilot, the lighthouse master, the lighthouse guard, and their families called Söderskär home. Tempests, swells, and scorching sunlight were the bountiful bonus on the job – and off the job. Life was rough and lonely until some years ago when the light was finally extinguished forever. What once swept the horizon with a bright beam turned into a dark tower looming in the moonlight, the ghost hand that waves homebound ships welcome.

And suddenly dark towers and a gray white world were wiped away by the June winds and all that was left was a brilliant blue. On a beautiful day even a lightless lighthouse can come to life.

I stood by the lantern and looked over the cobalt vastness. Virgina Woolf’s poor heroine never made it to the lighthouse. Tove Jansson’s moomin family did complete the voyage, and spent a summer discovering themselves and the world beyond the known. At a lighthouse islet there is no escaping reality, no fleeing from the now whether it is sunshine, storm, or snow. Close your eyes and try to dream but the sea is always on the other side of your eyelids. Everything changes but the sea is constant.

“Moominpappa leaned forward and stared sternly at the fuming sea.  ‘There’s something you don’t seem to understand,’ he said.  ‘It’s your job to look after this island.  You should protect and comfort it instead of behaving as you do.  Do your understand?’

Moominpappa listened, but the sea made no answer.”

(From Tove Jansson’s Moominpappa at sea)


(Söderskär, Porvoo archipelago, Finland; July 2014)

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While we spun around in the Ferris wheel…


Helsinki looks quite different when one is hanging from the top limb of the Ferris wheel. Oh the beautiful roof terraces and detailed skylights and mansard roofs! The sun deck of the cruise liner beckons and the grass is always greener on the yacht club island. And then we look down and it is as if the sea is impossibly far below…

Fear of heights is really fear of falling. But when we are tucked safely into a cocoon like a Ferris wheel cabin, why are we afraid of falling unless we decide to open the door? Scientists claim a mild fear of falling is essential for survival and an evolutionary benefit. Guess that makes my sister the more advanced one of us two.

(Finnair SkyWheel, Helsinki, Finland; June 2014)


A different midsummer


Sometimes life throws us spins in a way that makes it impossible to fit tradition into the swerve. We reluctantly let go of unwritten rules, adapt, and survive. You may think I am going to tell you about a dramatic change in our family, and you may laugh when I let you know it is only about where to spend the midsummer – or rather, where not to spend it.

But for us Scandinavians, midsummer is sacred. Never expect anything to be open in any city or town – nor even service. Or functioning traffic lights. Helsinki is deserted. Everybody is gone to the archipelago, countryside or lakes.


Midsummer is fresh birch branches inside the cottage, a barbeque with friends and family, a hot sauna and a cool dip in the midnight sun, summer dinner, games, laughter, fishing, and sunlight at 3 am. But sometimes, when life almost throws us off-track in the bend, we end up spending midsummer in the city. Instead of a  hot sauna we have flowers, and instead of fishing and games we have time together. And there will still be summer dinner and sunlight at 3 am. The Earth will still turn.

midsummer-3(Helsinki, Finland; June 2014)

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Sunday in the Duomo


Four days of shuttling between Milano Congress and two hotels. Emails, conference calls, and on-site meetings; scattered with dashes to the shopping boulevards, late night dinners, and a crazy soccer game studio in the wee hours of the morning.

And then it was Sunday and the air was hazy and heavy from incense and slow tunes from the most grandiose organ. The Duomo does not shuffle its feet between passing centuries. It stands, never minding fashion fads, conferences, and people chasing the 25th hour of a day.

Regardless of which faith we claim, we all believe. And there are always candles to be lit in the Duomo – both in the last century and the next one. And so what is our rush really all about?

(Duomo di Milano, Milan, Italy; June 2014)