This blue marble

– and yet it spins


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The rock salt palace

Wieliczka-5 I thought Wieliczka would be just a salt mine. Kilometers upon kilometers with dark passages. Dirt floors and railways and pickaxes and helmets. Little did I know that there would be chapels underground, with huge statues of kings and religious motifs. Little did I know there would be lakes with bridges over, and boats ferrying guests into underground grottos. I had no idea that royalty held balls underground, 300 years ago. And that you could make crystal chandeliers out of rock salt.Wieliczka-6Wieliczka salt mine is not a salt mine but a crazy work of art, carved by people throughout its 700 years of existence. Some people were bored (and loved to make gnome statues and pigs). Many were afraid, and made chapels with altars and religious reliefs in which to pray. And the royalty wanted to show off, so they arranged excursions and dances and dinners 130 meters underground, on floors that looked like they were tiled but were in fact rock salt carved to look like floor tiles.

Beside the heydays, there were gas leaks. Explosions. Cavings-in. Accidents with heavy lifting. People died. Horses spent 20 years deep down and died without seeing the sunlight again. There is a reason for the chapels and religious statues. But we got out of there in a wink of an eye, with a tiny, unlit, modern mine elevator. So many before us were not that lucky.Wieliczka-3(Wieliczka, Poland; July 2015)


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Wawel castle

Wawel-1How formidable Wawel castle looked like on the outside! Walls after walls, high up on a hill, as if nothing could ever get past it. And yet, when we did find a gate and wandered in, there was splendor and grandeur. It was as if each generation of rulers and architects had wanted to cram in another tower or another cupola just to leave a mark – regardless of whether the style fit or not.

But who cares about architectural pissing contests when there is Chopin’s music in the courtyard? Who cares about the battles and the intrigues, when there is a plastic (?!) piano and sweeping crystal-clear reveries floating among the pillars and porticoes?Wawel-2(Wawel castle, Krakow, Poland; July 2015)


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When “today” has turned into “once”

Krakow-7“Never follow”, the text says in the sea of heads (down to the left). Never give in when someone imposes their beliefs and ways over yours. Never follow a voice just because it is loud.

As I strolled the leafy green, sunny, quiet streets of the Kazimierz quarters, it was impossible to understand that out of 67,000 Jewish people once living there, only a few survived. Today in Kazimierz, those of Jewish faith amount to 1,000. 

But the old synagogue still stands, and so do the gravestones. The stones were briefly buried under, to protect the sacred site. On a sunny day like today it is incredible that anything else ever happened here except for birds singing and people slowly walking between the graves, sometimes leaving a scrap of paper with scribbles, or a little pebble, on a loved one’s memory place.

When “today” has turned into “once, a long time ago”, it should stay that way, too. While we still remember and hopefully have learned how to build a better future, grass has literally grown over the graves and it is a good thing, too.Kazimierz-1(Kazimierz, Krakow, Poland; July 2015)


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This is life

Krakow-2 After all that passed, Krakow is still splendid.  There are still gorgeous houses, a formidable castle, and beautifully dressed horses with feathers and tassels, pulling shining, white carriages.Krakow-6A lot of beautiful horses in feathers and tassels. And jazz music at the market square at night.Krakow-1After all that passed, Krakow also has a rough edge to the splendor. So many houses awaiting for their turn to be cared for, many with broken windows and holes in the walls, reminders of grenade shrapnel or gun shots. This edge is not ugliness – it is endurance and battle scars. My home town has them as well, albeit not so prominent anymore.Kazimierz-2After all that passed, people have the time to draw art on house walls again.Kazimierz-3And despite (or because?) of all that passed, people still celebrate love, by attaching padlocks to the bridge over the river Wisla.

And perhaps because of all that passed, people also celebrate separation, in the dead of night, by cutting the mesh open to remove the lock and throwing it into the river. Time will tell whether there will be more padlocks than gaping holes on the bridge.Kazimierz-4(Krakow, Poland; July 2015)


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When the cat is gone the mouse….grows leaves??

cycad-1It was a cold morning in late June, and she was packing her bags, fretting about sunhats and hiking boots and cocktail dresses. By the size of the bags she would be away for a while. “Finally some peace of mind – and space all to myself”, the cycad on the kitchen windowsill sighed, relieved. She did not even say goodbye to her cycad friend. She rarely spoke to it. She thought that since its relatives had been around since the dinosaurs and they are known to push out one leaf per year when they choose to show signs of life, perhaps a word or two every five years would suffice.

The front door banged close and everything grew silent. For days. Until the sun broke out and the room filled up with song. Did you not know? If you listen carefully to the sunlight you will hear a faint tune, like a sun-fairy happily humming into your ear.

“Today is a good day to stretch my leaves” the cycad thought, with the sun-song whirling around the room. And it stretched, and stretched, reaching into all directions, until suddenly, two new fronds popped out. And a third one, still with its curlers on.

cycad-3“Whoops”, said the cycad. “Oops. I was going to save those for the moment when she chose to speak to me again.” In vain it tried to curl and roll and stuff them back into the cone. Oh well, maybe I can make a point of protest with them instead.” And it continued stretching and reaching and pushing in the sound of sunlight, until its new fronds were twice the length of the old ones, standing out like giant whiskers. “Now let’s see if she notices me at all” it said to itself, grooming the fresh, still curly leaves until they were sure to stand out.

Finally she came home. Unloaded her bag and busied herself with laundry, work, and cats for three days. On the fourth day she, an unlawfully bad plant owner indeed, remembered her green friends that might need water. And stared at the cycad, which stubbornly, insultedly showed her it had outgrown both its pot and its windowsill.

“You crazy dinosaur, you have gone cuckoo, you!” she exclaimed. And watered the cycad. And made a note of finding a bigger pot. And made a promise to speak to the cycad at least twice a week, if it promised her to make at least two fronds per year, and try to still fit that windowsill so the cats would leave it alone. Because in this household there is heart-space for both cats and a dinosaur mouse with giant whiskers.

cycad-2

(Helsinki, Finland; July 2015)