(Champagne Bar at Stockmann, Helsinki, Finland; May 2015)
Dusk slowly crept in over the Azure Coast as we lifted off and flew into the night. In the last hours of day the clear blue turned deep indigo, with a peach glow from the setting sun. I could not help but wonder how turn-of-the-century art would have been different had Matisse, Picasso, Renoir, Chagall, Cézanne, and the lot seen the Riviera light from up in the air.
(Nice airport, France; May 2015)
Champagne, cerulean blue waters and stolen time in the sun at La Guérite on the Lerins islands. Only revealed to those who know to follow the little dirt path down behind the Fort Royal, into the forest, and down the long stone steps to the beach. Unless you spot it from your boat of course.
Among the eucalyptus-lined paths, cypresses, cedars, and birdsong there stands a sun-tinted fortress with turquoise window panels and doors. It cannot have been a bad fate for a soldier to be positioned on the Île Ste-Marguerite, overlooking the port of Cannes.
Oh no, bad fate was reserved for the prisoners of Fort Royal. And one man had the fate of never seeing the sunlight, never even being identified, and always having to wear an iron mask. As I walked among the sun-kissed houses, now inhabited by youths on summer camp, I could not help but wonder what the man in the iron mask would have thought if he knew his story would become a legend. Perhaps he felt worthless in his cell. Or wronged. Or angry, until his last breath. Or simply forgotten. He would never know that books would be written about him, and movies made – however much digressing from his real story.
But perhaps he would not have cared that much. Perhaps all he would have cared for was to stand a moment under the trees overlooking the boat landing, enjoying simply watching the azure waters and the ships going by. Perhaps he would have thought that people who write books about prisoners instead of trying to capture the blue hue of the water in words have lost perspective of what really matters. That those who are entitled to freedom lose sight of the marvelous world right around them. That freedom makes us forget to live today.
One Thursday morning in May there was no rain. There was no cold. No miserable birch trees trying to hatch their first tender leaves against the chilling wet wind from the sea. No, this Thursday morning there was a touchdown – and light, radiance, luminosity of the sun!
A stroll down the Croisette, a glass of Provence rosé and dipping my toes in the sand – and life was slowly returning to a wrung-out body and mind. And later, as I sat perched on the wall of the Castre, I thought of the Provence light and how it has inspired painters through times. Van Gogh painted his famous cypress still life works while simply staring out of the window of a mental asylum. How wonderfully strong inspiration the scenery and light must have been to drive him to paint masterworks instead of dwell in dull misery.
Life is about choices, indeed. It is about choosing to melt away in sadness, or painting brilliant wheat fields and cypresses that are adored for generations. It is about choosing to spend a Thursday holed up in one’s office – or soaking in the Riviera sunlight. But life is also about receiving exactly how much one gives. Sometimes we give it all and nothing is enough – and we are left with a huge hole in the side where a chunk was carved away. This is life, too. It hurts.
Yet, some other times, we give it all and in the end there is a reward if we choose to take it. I chose to be worth a long weekend in Cannes in May. Every penny and every ray of sunlight.
(Cannes, France; May 2015)
And suddenly, behind the trees alongside the road, was a red-brick abbey. Built by someone who had an organized mind. An abbey where horse-pulled wagons once clattered in through the vaulted gate. Where buildings and their bricks were arranged in strict geometrical lines – except for the bell tower that looked, well, strictly like a bell tower. Where there was no way to cross a quadrant except for trampling the daisies on the lawn, and where people adhered to walking along the angled pavements. But we did dare to cross the daisy-scattered lawn and walk underneath the purple beeches, and arrived at a pond which was neither square nor circular. It was simply a pond. With black swans, no less.
And when we dared to peek into the buildings, the scent told us a story of much less square people: those who indulge in the art of making abbey beer and cheeses. And who take the time to sit among the daisies on the lawn.
(L’Abbaye de la Ramée, Jodoigne, Belgium; May 2015)
I saw them in the park, the little celandine suns. While kneeling to snap a photo I was joined by another photographer, with more serious equipment and the same intent: to snap a memory and impression of the golden and green and this particular spring day.
This is the essence of photography: it is not about taking beautiful pictures, but about recording reality. Most often it is about our human weakness of not accepting the elusive nature of time and precious moments. Photography is an incredibly technologically advanced method of attempting to store deep emotions, feelings of belonging, and moments that once were and will never return again.
As I carefully tread through the grass without trampling on the celandines, I reflected on the incredible size of market and business around clinging to past moments. I thought of how important it is to so many that share what we once saw and felt – the basis of social media. And I could not help but wonder, what would happen if we accepted that nothing is permanent? That after enjoying a moment it is time to let it go? That life is stock-full of moments and we might enjoy them more if we breathed through those moments with eyes open instead of fiddling with our smartphones?
(Helsinki, Finland; May 2015)
If there were no cherry blossoms in the world
My mind would be peaceful
When cherries bloom, the Japanese celebrate the beauty and fleeting nature of life. Not life as a continued existence, or life as an eternal soul. But life as that short moment of seven days where a cherry blossom opens, blooms, and drops its petals to the ground like snowfall. Life that, after blooming, has yielded a fruit and another life.
We Westerners mostly celebrate life without including its end, whatever it may be. Death, or transit to rebirth, is always a separate subject for attention. Standing under the pink cherry blossom boughs I wondered how it would feel to celebrate life, including the brevity of life as we know it. And yet, most of the sakura poetry I have stumbled upon is concerned with that brief moment when a cherry blossom petal falls to the ground. Life is uncertain, and the petal knows no more of its destiny than do we humans of our own fates.
A fallen blossom
Returning to the bough, I thought –
But no, a butterfly
(Hanami festival, Helsinki, Finland; May 2015)
Dear charming Bergen! Ensconced between islands and cold salt water, there is something about the light that fascinates me. Perhaps it is the steep mountainsides littered with houses, basking in warm sunset light even at high noon. Perhaps it is the heavy color and shadows, like a constant rain cloud hanging just around the corner.
Or perhaps it is the deep forests and deep blue water that cast a glow of wilderness over a stylish little town. Who knows? But I am happy to be back, if only for a day.
(Bergen, Norway; May 2015)