Fear is a strange thing. Once we are frightened and shocked beyond our bearings we have a choice: to flee, or to fight. Yet most of us take the middle road and just get on with it. Like nothing ever happened – or so it would appear.
On the evening of November 13th this year, Paris was shocked and attacked by terrorists. People died. Others got wounded. And very many got shaken to the core. Yet few people fled as a result. Even fewer chose to openly fight – except of course for France as a country and Paris as a city. Most people just got on with it, because life goes on. Nobody forgot, but nobody allowed terror to reign. Just like London, grown up during 31 years of terror threat.
One Sunday, three weeks later, we sat in a Parisian café on Rue Montorgueil. Croissants were still being served, and steaming hot coffee poured. The marchés were open, and Champs-Élysées was one mile-long christmas market. I thought of how we had to walk through metal detectors when entering a museum. How our bags were scanned before entering a shopping center. And how many heavily armed military men were prowling the streets.
I thought about flight and fight. While most Parisians did not chose flight, perhaps they chose a French way of fight. Perhaps choosing to serve croissants on a Sunday was fight, as well as choosing to open the christmas market? Perhaps going shopping to a bustling Les Halles was fight? Perhaps persisting to the plan of hosting the climate summit was fight?
Perhaps fight is not always a physical fight; to draw one’s weapons and go to battle. Maybe fight can also be the fight of minds: to refuse to fear those cultures we are against our will being conditioned to dread; to refuse to change everyday habits; to refuse to give in to fear. And I thought of Albert Camus: “the only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion.”
I lifted my teacup in a toast to the Parisians. When I picked up my croissant I, too, felt like a rebel – if only for a second.
(Paris, France; December 2015)
It was a dark and stormy morning, one of quite a few the past weeks. In this post-apocalyptic weather where the planet seems to be forever covered by brooding black swirling clouds, one forgets that the sun exists. It is difficult to envision that the sun shines 12 hours a day, even above the clouds of Gotham City. Lack of sunlight is simply a matter of obscured circumstances, not a fact of any kind.
And so, as we rose above the clouds this stormy morning, we saw the most singular sunrise. Light battling the clouds. When it could not shine through, it shone underneath, covering the lower layers of cloud in red velvety light. And finally the clouds had to give in, and we saw a shy little lemon yellow December sunrise. (Somewhere above the Baltic Sea; December 2015)
Sometimes it is nice to share a room with someone. To share tranquility and hot tub bubbles with someone. And other times, well, other times it is nice to simply have a room of one’s own. A book, thoughts wrapped into a travel bag and let free while the hot tub warms cold bones.
And sometimes it is lovely to be the only one breakfasting by herself, with a good book. Especially at those rare moments when the breakfast is accompanied by live piano music.
(Långvik spa, Kirkkonummi, Finland; November 2015)
Is it a fluorescence image of a cell in culture? No, it is Helsinki by night. A web of lights in the dark.
(Above Helsinki, Finland; November 2015)
Good morning Stockholm! It is a cold one, but a golden one. The sun will not help much; today many warm hearts are needed to thaw up this city.
(Skeppsholmen, Stockholm, Sweden; November 2015)
Beer, pringles, sausages, and sauerkraut. Accompanied with musicians in suspenders and/or lederhosen and happy schlager music. Indeed, what a cliché. And what an unashamed reality at Hofbräuhaus in Munich.
I do not like beer. There was no wine. The beer came in one-liter pints. In order not to shame the hallowed halls of the Hofbräuhaus I had to buy a one-liter pint of beer, one of the handful portions of beer I have ever purchased myself in my life. It was actually surprisingly tasty. There is a photograph as evidence but do not think I will share it here. Eins, zwei, g’suffa.
(Hofbräuhaus, Munich, Germany; November 2015)
Sunday in Munich. The church bells toll as the ceremony is over and people flood out into the crisp November air. Inside the air is hazy from incense and candle smoke. The choir finish off their last hymn.
It is Sunday lunch time and no shops are open in Munich. Yet people stroll around on the streets. The thing to do after church in Munich is apparently coffee or lunch in the few rays shining over the rooftops before the sun sinks too low.
I join the crowd milling down towards the city gates and into little Platzl place. I am not a Municher but Schuhbeck’s bistro has a spot just for me. In the sun. Beginning with a mouthwatering risotto and ending with a steaming mug of hot chocolate.
Life could be worse on a Sunday.
Munich, Germany; November 2015)
One dark, cold night in Copenhagen there was a spur-of-the-moment reunion. Indian takeaway, memories of days in Cambridge, and touching base after 4 years.
Right afterwards there was another spur-of-the-moment crazy craving resulting in Belgian waffles with hot dripping chocolate fresh from a street stall at Stroget.
And finally, after a busy day in Lund and an adventurous train ride to the airport, there was a brand-spanking new Finnair Airbus A350 and an upgrade to business class. Champagne all around. I was not the only one taking photos – and some had brought proper equipment, too.
I could choose to remember only the hurry trying to catch the train, or the business meetings and endless powerpoint slides. Or I could choose to remember these 3 good, refreshing things in 24 hours. And the glass of champagne on the way home, under a fancy “Aurora” cabin light show.
Reality is never objective; it is always what we choose to perceive. And this starry night at 33,000 feet I chose to perceive my bubbly champagne very carefully and let everything else fade away, if just for a moment.
(Copenhagen, Denmark; October 2015)
Down below the people and animals of Skåne must still be sleeping. Look what a golden moment they are missing!
(Above Scania, Sweden; October 2015)
This is the front yard of my Stockholm crib. It also happens to be the backyard of the Crown Princess of Sweden and her prince consort and children. Catching the last daylight and some fresh air between office and dinner, it is surprisingly easy to get lost in the park. The English-style landscaping is from the mid-18th century when even a park did ideally not look like any human hand had shaped it – only God’s hand.
Take one wrong turn and you may be faced with a Chinese pagoda. Get lost in the squirming lanes again and you come face to face with a Roman tent -looking pavilion. Or a round royal lunch pavilion. Or the ruins of a castle. Or the royal castle of the Crown Princess and her family.
As I circled around the Chinese pagoda and turned back towards candlelight, tinkling cutlery, and a cozy evening meal, I thought of how lucky I was to have this place as my front yard if only for one day a week.
(Hotel Stallmästaregården in Hagaparken, Stockholm, Sweden; October 2015)