This blue marble

– and yet it spins


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Roaring twenties in Riga

Riga-5Once upon a cold winter’s night there was a grand house that, if you stepped inside, whisked you back into the roaring twenties. Hot blazing torches welcomed the guests of the night. The most stylish ones arrived in horse carriages of pure light.

There were pearly white balloons floating about. There were strings of pearls cascading down from palm trees, white wispy feathers, and crystal chandeliers. And later there were neverending showers of golden confetti.

There were jazzy pearly ladies floating about. There were more feathers, black ties, and gentlemen who rivaled the great Gatsby in style. And later there was dancing in the showers of golden confetti.

It was a night of celebration and magic. As the guests stumbled back out into the frosty snowy morning, it was a night with two hours of sleep left.

Riga-6

(Ziemeļblāzma Culture Palace, Riga, Latvia; January 2015)


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Ready for tonight’s performance

Riga-4Red velvet, a huge crystal chandelier, and four kilograms of gold make worthy premises for tonight’s performance. How lovely it would be to sit up there on the first balcony when the first tunes for the Barber of Seville shoot into the air. But alas, it was not to be this time.

Upstairs was a gorgeous red room with high windows that was once used as the rehearsal room for the ballet. This time its walls heard the most soulful arias accompanied by a single piano. And this was no rehearsal but a lovely surprise. How lucky we were.

Riga-3(Latvian National Opera, Riga, Latvia; January 2015)


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Hello Latvia!

Riga-1 Hello Latvia! Hello Riga, the city of music, art nouveau, and hearty winter food. Yours is one of those artsy chique spirits that is the result of mixed heritage and merchant’s money. Poles, Swedes, Russians, Livonians, Lithuanians, and Germans all left a stroke each on your canvas. Sorry I missed most of it, but I will return soon. Perhaps when your trees are green and your beavers are playing in the river again.

Riga-2(Riga, Latvia; January 2015)


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Finnish inherited blindness

aaltohouse-2

There were white surfaces, and light wooden floors. Clean edges and no frills. There were practical tables, durable chairs, and simple lighting. And it was all so Finnish we did not think it was all too marvelous. We shrugged; of course the home we grew up in had several Savoy vases. Of course we ate our kindergarten lunches on the Stool 60 and the table with L-shaped legs. They were designed by a Finn to be used by Finns.

And so it was difficult to set our minds on the wavelength of quiet reverence of the American party that joined us on our tour of Alvar Aalto’s home. What did they see that we did not? I washed my thoughts with images of American homes, focused really hard, and stared squinting at the Tank chair. After some effort I began to catch glimpses of how different the zebra upholstery and the simple curved frame was from everything that was ordinary across the Atlantic. How our fellow tourists saw the boxy, minimalistic shape of the house so extraordinary, and how everything Aalto is both Finnish and resonates so with the Japanese. I blinked – and the magic was broken. I was back in a room that felt homely and familiar.

Aalto is wired into our cultural inheritance, and it surfaces with symptoms of inherited blindness for things others consider singular. Things we consider for granted others collect as design items.

As I stepped back out into the bleary January Saturday I wondered how much we could learn about ourselves if we could only step out of our own cultural contexts? And how much more beautiful and wonder-full the world would suddenly become?

aaltohouse-1(Alvar Aalto house, Helsinki, Finland; January 2015)