(Antwerp, Belgium; January 2016)
It always rained in Antwerp. The cold was the kind of wet central European cold that penetrates any warm clothing and settles in the bones. The cobblestones were uneven to walk at and I felt sorry for generations of horses that had to negotiate them day after day until the day they died.
The old town was quiet. Most bars and restaurants were closed. I wondered where they got their business from, and when. Antwerp used to be a bustling diamond merchant city (and it still is to a sense). But nothing can be seen on the streets. The diamonds have always been hidden.
Hobbling on the damned cobblestone streets in my heels I thought of the kilometers of water running in channels underneath the city. Antwerp used to be like Amsterdam. Someone thought more cobblestones were a more practical solution than smooth waterways.
I passed the cathedral and thought of Rubens’ fleshy naked angels inside. In the dark and rain it seemed that Antwerp would benefit from pink fat little angels outside the cathedral as well, scattered in the city.
When I finally slipped through the doors of the hotel I thought how lovely it was that one man who lived 400 years ago is remembered by the world for his pink fat little angels. There is much love for life in the work of Rubens, something this cold, edgy world never seems to have enough of. Perhaps some angels and bare warm skin would be an effective remedy against its cold and troubles?(Antwerp, Belgium; January 2016)
The Nepalese know it: when it is cold outside (and inside for that matter!), hot ginger lemon with honey warms better than booze. And what could be better company than a tale of faraway places, written as if it were whispered in one’s ear? A true tale about an artist and an anthropologist; two poles of the same soul, and a relationship where a planet was too small to forget about the friend, and too large to be apart.
More hot ginger lemon, please. I think I will dwell in this moment for quite a while.
(Helsinki, Finland; January 2016)
Between the airmiles and meetings and deadlines it is imperative to find the baseline, to sleep, and to enjoy waking up late. My idol is Cassandra the Russian Blue, who sleeps about 20 hours a day, usually curled up against her friend Ramses the Bombay. And when she is not sleeping she is all concentration: from the tip of her nose to the tip of her tail she focuses on one thing only at a time. No sidesteps. Just results. And then more sleep.
Cats are masters of mindfulness.
(Helsinki, Finland; January 2016)
For years I pulled my own existence out of emptiness.
Then one swoop, one swing of the arm
that work is over.
Free of who I was, free of presence, free of
dangerous fear, hope,
free of mountainous wanting.
The here-and-now mountain is a tiny piece of a piece
blown off into emptiness.
These words I’m saying so much begin to lose meaning:
existence, emptiness, mountain, straw: words
and what they try to say swept
out the window, down the slant of the roof.
We slipped quietly in, sat dow on the cushions, and listened to the chanting monk. And I found myself unable to close my eyes; the snow-capped mountains and fluttering prayer flags were too beautiful a sight. How can one sense emptiness with eyes open and filled with beauty? (Shedrub Choekhor Ling monastery, Saléve, France; January 2016)
The light flickers on. A golden glow washes the white walls, and I am standing in the middle of Noah’s Ark running by. Deer, bison, dozens of horses great and small, ibexes, and felines rush by and I am standing in the middle of this migration. The light flickers again and turns off. An eerie black light glow lights up a completely different set of animals, carved underneath the painted ones. Hordes of running horses swish past.But why did our early ancestors paint animals that were not hunted every day for survival? Why did they choose to focus on these magnificent creatures that they perhaps knew less well, and from a distance? What do the geometric signs painted on and around the animals mean? The stripes on the horses, the square pattern underneath the cow?
And what was the purpose of the art? Was there any purpose, or was it for everybody’s education and joy just like an art exhibition and a museum are today? Or was this place sacred? Were people singing when painting? Is it possible to recover the ancient words and tunes from the sound vibrations transmitted from the throat to the hand holding the brush and to the painting, just like a gramophone needle reads grooves in the clay disc?
The answer is probably locked away forever. And so are the Lascaux caves, too, in a time capsule intended to preserve the art from mold and moisture. Fortunately lovely paleo-lovers have created both a real-life replica of the Lascaux right next door, as well as the marvelous exhibition showcasing the work as if on a real cave wall. It has just left Geneva but do catch it if you can, where ever it goes next. Spending a moment in the world of our ancestors 20,000 years ago is an interesting experience. (Palexpo, Geneva, Switzerland; January 2016)
I did not really ever think of what happens to families after the war. What happened to the children who got involuntarily separated from their parents in Rwanda during the genocide, or what happens to families when new borders are drawn between homes of relatives. I did not know about all the people working resiliently to restore family links.I did not really know how the Red Cross and UN operate when visiting prisons, prisoner camps, and other conflict areas where humanity is at risk. I had no idea what a prison visit report could look like – or the lengthy discussions that took place during World War II about whether or not to react. And I did not know the International Committee of the Red Cross recently considered its inability to act as a moral failure.
I come from a country which is neutral and safe – for now. It has not always been, and it has not yet reached 100 years of independence, but safety is all my generation knows. We call our cozy country the “bird’s nest.” Even if I travel much I have never ended up in serious conflict areas. Even if I have worked with charity I have never worked with people in conflict or post-conflict zones.
I do not know much of the protective and humanitarian actions that happen behind the curtains of the 10 o’clock news. But after visiting the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum I know a little bit more – and I am deeply touched. (Geneva, Switzerland; January 2016)
Can a lake be the end of the world? It is round, with shores, and shores mean there is something thelse beyond the water.
Yet this morning, Lake Léman looked like the end of the world. It is large enough to feel like it, too. As if the water that gushes down from the Jura mountains and the Alps continue straight over the edge behind the horizon.There were no children playing in the water. One crazy lady braved the cold and dove in. Her swim made no sound, and almost no ripples on the water. It was the end of 2015 and the last swim of the year.
When one is sorry in French, one “suis désolé”. When something is desolate in French, it is “désolé”, too. It was a cold morning, but the lady was not desolate about plunging into the desolate waters.At the end of the world even the swans are hungy. Just like everywhere else. Also the gulls and the ducks are hungry, but they are simply less rude. At the end of the world one needs to be rude in order to be fed.
At the end of a year one can throw oneself in the water and flow with the current over the edge of the world. Alternatively, one can stay ashore and look out for the next year. All it takes is a sliver of curiosity regarding what is right beneath the horizon. White swans and a good friend are also excellent company when one must choose to welcome yet another year.(Geneva, Switzerland; December 2015)
Continuing the streak of more personal notes and the conundrum that each new year poses us. Ever tried to make a New Year’s resolution that failed? Ever wished you could do this and try that and go there – without any of the wishes ever coming true? Why do we spend more time dreaming than making dreams reality? Why do we speak of wishes “coming true” instead of “being made true”?
Sometimes it can be much quicker to make a dream come true than dreaming of it – especially if it comes to sending out that dinner invite or booking that flight or concert ticket.
Last spring I spent my nights coloring a coloring book. I also went to the Helsinki Music Center, had an Indian head massage, and finally went to the French Riviera. During this year I have managed to realize my dream of practicing yoga on Bali, of spending a weekend at a spa by myself, and going through my wardrobe. The challenge is called 101 things in 1001 days and is the core of the Day Zero Project.
My list is far from done – but it’s a good start for the first year. Having a list is certainly not the only way to experience new things, but I hope I can inspire you to start realizing your dreams and goals instead of just dreaming of them. Here are mine marked as “done”, one year in:
- Host a board games night
- Learn to knit socks
- Spend a rainy day watching films in my PJ’s
- Spend a weekend at a spa by myself
- Make jam
- Travel to New England
- Crochet a quilt
- Find a career mentor
- Get an Indian head massage
- Install a mirror in the hallway
- Have a hot stone massage
- Go back to Kathmandu
- Read my old journals
- Clean out my wardrobe
- Go to the French Riviera
- Complete a coloring book
- See a performance at the Helsinki Music Center
- Hire a cleaning maid
- See a play at the Shakespeare Globe Theatre in London
- Find a penpal and write real letters
- Eat at a Korean restaurant
- See a Broadway musical in London
- Read all moomin books
- Practice yoga on Bali
- Make candles
- Get in touch with 2 old friends
+ about 15 other things in progress, such as joining Earth Hour every year, learning how to make limoncello, going to the dentist every year, and paying off my study debt.
Life is not a rehearsal. You are the star of your show, every day, regardless of whether you are up for it or not. Trust me, the past few years I have mainly not been up for it. Yet life has happened anyway. It tends to do that, every day.
Do you believe in New Year’s resolutions? I do not. I personally never seem to be able to keep them. A year is too short and there are so many things I want to do that I never seem to manage to keep track of just a few. And life happens, too. Priorities shift. But more about my alternative to resolutions in another post. Today let’s talk about what did happen during 2015. What was planned, and what was not planned, but improvement nonetheless. And so, in spirit of looking backward before looking forward, here are a few things that I made come true during last year:
- I went from vegetarian to 95% vegan.
I have been mainly vegetarian since I was 15 years old. At home I never eat fish but I may choose fish in a restaurant or tell friends who cook for me to prepare fish just because it makes things easier. On Bali I ended up eating vegan food (mainly raw or Indonesian) for 3 weeks just because that was the main fare – and realized what digestion should feel like when you can’t feel it. It was when I got back home and added dairy to my diet that I noticed the difference. I switched from milk to almond milk, from coffee milk in my tea to soy milk prepared for barista use, and left out yoghurts and the occasional pudding. Cheese is the only thing I refuse to quit – but I eat it perhaps once a month only.
- I tried Gwyneth Paltrow’s detoxes – and found I loved the food.
I don’t believe in the concept of detoxes or cleanses – but I do believe in resetting one’s digestive system, portion size, and eating habits. Paltrow’s detox recipes are expensive on the wallet, at least here in Finland, but I found many new favorites that I incorporated into my cooking, such as kale, nutritious smoothies for breakfast, and creative lunch salads.
- I found a yoga shala abroad.
I love my yoga teacher here in Finland. She is a direct student of Sharath Jois, the lineage holder of ashtanga yoga. Yet sometimes it is good to have a second view – and a reason to travel to an awesome place. Prem Carlisi’s and Radha Duplex’s shala in Ubud, Bali, felt just right. A second view was highly useful to help construct a practice suited for a recently injured knee. And well – Bali is absolutely fabulous. I aim to go back in 2016.
- I aimed to be more assertive as a leader.
My family may laugh, but at work I often get the feedback that I am too nice. In the whirlpool that was last year, juggling two jobs and a drug launch, a budget with risk swings in the millions, and 4 countries to lead, I was pushed against the wall to become more sharp in my leadership and succinct in communicating. I think I managed, without becoming unkind. It was a revelation to receive positive feedback from people about how they in fact liked being challenged.
- I took the next step in my career and in moving abroad again.
I was not supposed to stay in Finland for more than 2 years. It has now been over 4 years. Every time I visited London I would sigh and ask myself why, oh why have I not moved back already? So far I have let things happen at their own pace, but in November 2014 I made it clear to my London colleagues that I wanted a job in their office. Only thing was, London office wants me to stay in the Nordics. So now I report to London and consider them my main team, but I still live in the Nordics. I hope the next step in a year or two will be to move back to the UK. Time will tell but I will keep working on this.
Look back before you look forward. It is so easy to ignore one’s accomplishments and only remember failures, as well as focus on new goals. 2015 is closed. How did you live its 365 days?
(Helsinki, Finland; January 2016)