Oh! Towers of butter cookies and tins of fragrant tea! Boxfuls of florentines and heaps of marzipan fruit. That’s marzipan shaped to look like fruit, not the other way around. Tea rooms and picnic hampers and lovely flowers. I am glad to be back at Fortnum & Mason, the candy land for adults.Tea is healthy so I will have some. And marzipan crafted into perfect disguise as an apple cannot be anything but healthy, right? Now where could I hide until the lights go out and I have these treasures all to myself all night? (Fortnum & Mason, London, United Kingdom; June 2015)
London I missed you! Where else in Europe can one have fresh sushi and peeled edamame beans every day for lunch at every street corner? Where else can one have Korean food in a restaurant filled with Koreans, and a choice of 30+ stylish rooftop bars and restaurants, and get lost in Central Park? Or always find comfortable high-heeled shoes for sale at Clark’s, and afternoon tea with scones and clotted cream and jam in any fancy hotel or restaurant?
And where else do I feel tired after dragging my suitcase through the tube stairs and escalators, get mud on my pants because of oily rainwater splashes from the street, and feel underdressed at a City restaurant where everybody else is a slick banker?
And most of all, which other European city lives under severe immiment terror threat, with machine-gun armed guards at railway stations, police everywhere, and people going on with their busy lives as usual? Not because they do not think of the realities, but because many are a generation grown up under the frequent IRA bombings and attacks lasting from 1970 to 2001. That’s 31 years of fear and uncertainty.
And yet, like it has been for 150 years, Claridge’s is serving afternoon tea from bone china every day. This imperturbable attitude is quintessential for the English. Keep calm and have a scone.
(London, United Kingdom; June 2015)
The phantom of the opera: what an exciting book from a different world for a 17-year-old! History, ghost story, and romance all entwined. Half a lifetime later I finally saw the original production in London, at Her Majesty’s Theatre. Oh the glitz and glamour, the mystery, the troubles of love! Also, oh the numbers of Asian tourists taking selfies in an eerie glow produced by cell phones in the dark theater. And what class: a play in its 29th year could be bland, worn out, a conveyer belt production. But not the Phantom: spotless, gorgeous scenery and costumes, a Christine with an angel’s voice, and a Phantom with true acting skills.
Two hours later, as I walked back to the hotel, I could not help but wonder how Gaston Leroux would have felt, had he known that his book was being staged and acted out still 100 years after it was written? Would he have written a different kind of ending, knowing that 100 years later, to have a crippled, deformed face does not lead to a loveless life spent in hiding and desperation?
(Top image courtesy of The Phantom of the Opera).
(London, United Kingdom; June 2015)
On summer nights it is easy to forget that we are barely below the Arctic circle. That just six months ago the day was less than 6 hours long on Helsinki latitude, and not many minutes longer on Oslo latitude. That the Oslo fjord was frozen, Holmenkollen ski jumps busy with daredevils, and there were no ice cream stands and flower arrangements on Aker Brygge.
The Nordic summer is short and bright, and the Nordic people live, live, live through the summer to sleep, sleep, sleep through the winter. There is no in-between. It is do or die, and on this summer night we did do: a splendid sunset dinner on Tjuvholmen.
And what a surprise when the hotel key fit the Arctic Room at the Ladies’ Floor of the Grand Hotel. There were reindeer hides and horns, a dream catcher on the wall, and Sami yoik music in the CD player. There were the lovely Sami poet Nils Aslak Valkeapää’s writings waiting by my bedside. Sleep swept me away and I did not even have the time to count the reindeer on the wall.
the landis differentwhen you have lived therewandered
seen the sunset risedisappear return
the land is differentwhen you knowhere arerootsancestors
(Nils Aslak Valkeapää)
(Oslo, Norway; June 2015)
Nothing in life is ever one single thing or perspective. Just like Schrödinger’s famous cat: placed in a sealed box along with a toxin that can at any random time kill the cat, the cat is equally dead and alive at the same time. Until we dare to open the box to look. Schrödinger’s thought experiment is also called the “observer’s paradox”: we cannot know the outcome unless we dare to look. And by looking we influence the outcome.
There is no security on this Earth. Only challenge. Or opportunity. The choice is yours.
(Helsinki, Finland; June 2015)
Thousands of airmiles, hundreds of hours on teleconference, as many hours sitting on my behind in a chair, a handful of airport lounges, and a nonstop game of chess which is how it feels to launch a new cancer medicine in 5 Nordic countries almost at the same time. Replay of last fall’s craziness times ten. And then last Thursday night, just before my last official day in this job, a little black swan swam in, said hello with a wink, and turned everything upside down – in a good way. I am now convinced that not all black swans are bad. Some come with white wings.
How downcast and yet liberating it will be to wrap up and move on towards a completely new kind of challenge. And to be able to finally have the time to step out and feel the summer on my skin. And to open the two travel guides that have been patiently waiting for their turn. Somehow the tulips managed to bloom and wither and the birch leaves break out and the swallows arrive without me noticing at all.
Time to take a mindful moment to recall what mindfulness was all about, and to carefully observe the wonderful appearance and scent of a patch of flowering lily-of-the-valley.
(All over the place; May 2015)