This blue marble

– and yet it spins

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The leaves are falling, falling as if from far up,
as if orchards were dying high in space.
Each leaf falls as if it were motioning “no.”
And tonight the heavy earth is falling
away from all other stars in the loneliness.
We’re all falling. This hand here is falling.
And look at the other one. It’s in them all.
And yet there is Someone, whose hands
infinitely calm, holding up all this falling.

(Rainer Maria Rilke)

(Cambridge, UK; October 2014)

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About cities as friends

september-1Each city resonates with us in different ways. We all feel at home in one place and like a foreigner in another. We develop relationships with each city: one is a friend to have coffee with but not more than once a year. Another is a long-lost friend who instantly embraces and the past ten out-of-touch years are wiped away. A third is a contact who supports our everyday lives ambivalently like a shop clerk or a distant colleague.

And then there are the great lovestories and the great complications. Cities that love us but struggle to let us leave, amidst a thunder storm and airport strike. Cities that charm us initially but then turn to annoy us by closing the post office when we need it and ensuring everybody elbows us when we are carrying groceries.

Cambridge is for me a place of crossroads. It is a charming English cobblestoned bubble I struggled to leave, but it is also a place where I felt distress, turbulence, and where my life took a totally different turn. My Cambridge has equal measures of sunlight and darkness.

And so, as I stood in the full moonlight waiting to be let in to the chapel at King’s for evensong, I thought of a Cantabrigian friend who once said that life is bittersweet and that it is okay as long as it is more sweet than it is bitter. Surrounded by the college walls, the night air filled with wisdom of ages past and to come, I decided Cambridge weighs heavier on the sweet. And I let myself be enveloped by the city and its air that carries inspiration and intellect and science and art and life – the kind of life that is geared towards a better future.

Cambridge-1(Trinity College and King’s College chapel, Cambridge, UK; October 2014)

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Hello lovely Cambridge

Cambridge-2Back in darling Cambridge, where angels play with human skulls and doorbells look like toilet flushers. And where the best tea and scones is only accessible by wellie-clad foot over the meadows and cow turds along the river (at the Orchard, of course).

By the way, did you know one can fit two bottles of wine in each hanging, closed sleeve of the Master of Arts gown? A Newnham girl would know.

Cambridge-3 (Christ’s College, Cambridge, UK; October 2014)

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A blood-red world

Tatemodern-2Up on the third floor of Tate Modern there is a room with six blood red paintings on its walls. It is guarded by human eye by day and by mechanical eye by night. In the center stands a long bench. Those who take the time to sit down will eventually feel things. The feeling that filled me was the world pressing upon me, and it was not a pretty world. It was an oxblood world.

Mark Rothko painted the nine Seagram murals for a fancy restaurant but they made people feel shut in and trapped, which is not good for business. Who knows if this was the train of his thought or not when he took back the paintings and returned the money. Today six of the paintings hang in Tate Modern in London in a room of their own.

After a while I closed my eyes and to my surprise the same images lingered, as an imprint of fleshy negatives stuck on my retina. I gave up, opened my eyes, and gazed at the paintings again. They had transformed into a window toward a blood-red world where everything was wrong.

Oh, such a relief it was when we finally found our way back to a place where light is white and warm and not red and cold, and where the water of the Thames on this rare day reflected the blue sky. And where one could simply sit down, order a wonderful risotto with a fabulous verdeho wine, and breathe. The world isn’t doomed quite yet.

Tatemodern-1 (London, United Kingdom; October 2014)

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The riddle before the ladies’ room

botanistThe dinner debate of the evening: is the ladies’ room the one with the butterfly on the door, or the snake? Butterflies are beautiful and ladies love them, but the prettiest ones are always male. And Eve of the Bible teamed up with the snake, didn’t she?

It is advisable to retain a certain grade of sharpness when first visiting the necessary room at The Botanist on Sloane Square. Or perhaps gender is encouraged to remain only a rethorical question?

(London, UK; October 2014)

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My kind of candy land

Londonshopping-2We had a kettle; we let it leak:
Our not repairing made it worse.
We haven’t had any tea for a week…
The bottom is out of the Universe.

– Rudyard Kipling

Of course we could not spend a week in London without visiting the Twining’s tea shop, Harrod’s tea department, Fortnum & Mason’s tea shelves, and without having afternoon tea at the Dorchester. That would have simply been silly.

Londonshopping-1(Fortnum & Mason, London, UK; October 2014)

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The pink and blue bridge

Battersea-2Is it the gate to an amusement park? No, it is just the Albert Bridge, crossing from Battersea Park to Chelsea. Only the British would find a practical reason to paint a bridge pink, blue, and green and decorate it with thousands of lightbulbs. Apparently this makes it more visible to ships in bad weather. And only the British would keep a bridge that was quickly useless as a toll bridge, ill constructed to hold motor traffic, and generally rotting away only a decade after its grand opening. They fondly named it the Trembling Lady and issued strict orders that all troops must break step when marching across.

And fortunately, only the British would choose to renovate the bridge after its first 100+ difficult years, giving it a new coat of pink, blue, green, and gold, and even replacing the lightbulbs. The Albert Bridge goes on into its second century revamped and fit for a prince.

Battersea-3(London, UK; October 2014)