This blue marble

– and yet it spins

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Morning in Gothenburg

After a magical moonrise there was an almost equally magical sunrise, in Gothenburg.

After the silence I stood on a stage in front of a conference room filled with people. Through the bright lights on stage I could sense the confusion, the questions, and the timidity of an organization that has gone through a dismantling and rebuilding in the past year. While I did not know the people in the room I sensed the need for a purpose.

And I thought of how professional organizations are more like collective individuals than families. A family’s main purpose is to support each member, but an individual or an organization needs a higher, more defined purpose to reach for.

If we have no purpose to strive for together, we will not be brought together in union. And if there is no union there is discord, or dullness.

Some say that the second best may be to improve the world, but the highest best is to improve oneself from the inside. Yet, when people work together with a noble purpose, they improve both the world as well as themselves in ways they never thought possible.

The sun was high when I left the conference room and my new friends. I look forward to keeping closer contact and observing them recreate a new, fresh sense of purpose.

(Gothenburg, Sweden; August 2016)

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Day escape

It was the last real summer’s day in Helsinki, as it turned out later. And sadly, this day came already early in August. But our timing was perfect, and so was the tabbouleh and the cheese cake and the temperature of the prosecco in the coolbox. Is there a better way to celebrate a family birthday than by having a picnic by the shore, with this view of the Helsinki skyline? 
(Vasikkasaari, Helsinki, Finland; August 2016)

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Interlude: in Tallinn

 There was a day off. And visitors from far away. A fast ferry across the Gulf of Finland to Tallinn, some rain, and lots of walking.

There was talk about food culture, and a restaurant owned in Manila. And great food of course. There was talk about making an international career as a woman……And there was talk about the world of men, old wars and new wars, and how recent changes in Russian relationships with some European countries are similar to China’s relationships to small Asian countries like the Philippines.

But most importantly there was time for another random get-together in a random European country. And the sun came out, too.

(Tallinn, Estonia; August 2016)

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Yogi toes

Nobody spends so much time staring on his or her toes as do those who practise yoga asana. How sad it is, then, that we tend to neglect these parts of our body that patiently carry us all day, every day. Usually in shoes that demand the impossible. And feet are the ones that ground us – or lift us up. They are just too far from our nose for us to acknowledge and respect them properly. Which is often closer than another person.

It is only when one spends a good hour staring at one’s feet several times a week, that one discovers how they really are doing and feeling. And even if they are doing fine, isn’t it nice to stare at something pretty and green? Or interesting – I have been entertaining the thought of having someone draw a miniature comic strip on my toes, for that extra drishti concentration.

(Helsinki, Finland; August 2016)

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Sleepover at the Queen’s

windsorQuestion of the day: how does one get an invite to the Queen’s PJ party, also called Dine and Sleep? I hear she throws an occasional bash according to a strict schedule: the guests always arrange and depart by the same trains. And after-dinner discussions are short, but they are with the Queen of England after all. In gone times one could be invited to stay for days, but as our daily pace has quickened, so has the pace at Windsor castle.

But oh, how lovely would it not be to spend one night walking the magnificent halls and gardens? And then perhaps hide in a greenhouse until the train has left, and keep walking…

(Above Windsor castle, United Kingdom; July 2016)

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Summertime and the living is easy

blueberrypieSometimes there are too many telephones, televisions (but none at my place), and people in the world. And too little flowers, dragonflies, and songbirds. And if one must work in July, what is better than to work in a summer house by the corner of a pea field? What is relaxing for humans is exciting for cats, so moving home and office into the countryside is never a bad choice.tarzan

(Loviisa, Finland; July 2016)

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In Grantchester

grantchesterI only know that you may lie
Day long and watch the Cambridge sky,
And, flower-lulled in sleepy grass,
Hear the cool lapse of hours pass,
Until the centuries blend and blur
In Grantchester, in Grantchester. . . .

(From Rupert Brooke’s “The Old Vicarage”)

The old church clock may no longer stand ten to three; Jeffrey and Mary Archer live in Rupert Brooke’s old vicarage; and swimming is no longer allowed in the all-around-fenced Byron’s pool. But there is always honey for tea in the Grantchester Orchard tea garden. Just like it was at the turn of the 20th century when a group of Cambridge students bothered the lady owning the orchard for tea so many times she opened a café (teaé perhaps, for here it’s all about the tea and scones) under the shade of her trees.

“And Cambridgeshire, of all England, the shire for Men who Understand”, wrote Rupert Brooke and longed for home while feeling stuck in Berlin. Under the shade of the fruit trees one could imagine the world a better place “and feel the Classics are not dead”, especially if one was in the company of Virginia Woolf, Rupert Brooke, Ludwig Wittgenstein, John Maynard Keynes, Bertrand Russell, and EM Forster.

And it was Brooke who created the legend of Lord Byron’s pool: “till in the dawnlit waters cool his ghostly Lordship swims his pool, and tries the strokes, essays the tricks, long learnt on Hellespont, or Styx.”

The best thing about Grantchester is that it is never sadness to leave, because the walk along the “yet unacademic stream” back to Cambridge is pure loveliness. And each time I am left wondering, why ever did I leave Cambridgeshire?Cambridge

(Cambridge, United Kingdom; July 2016)

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Hot chocolate and returns

Biarritz-4Night caps. What a lovely concept. After a delicious dinner, when one is not really ready to go home or to bed, when one needs to linger and savor the night and one’s thoughts (or company), the answer is a night cap. There is nothing better than dipping into a quiet bar or lounge to listen to some jazz, piano music, or just the conversation of a friend. And yes, a drink is always in order. And yes, at this late hour nothing is off the etiquette, not even a hot chocolate in early July.

The hot chocolate at Hotel du Palais is famous. Liquid, sweet, melted chocolate, lightly whipped and poured into a hot jug. And there is always more, as you will not receive a cupful but indeed a jugful. Just what one needs to wrap up a perfect evening after the sun has set.

Biarritz, I will be back. I will be back when the sea rages, the whales pass by, and the lighthouse beam sweeps over the foaming water. I will let the wind work my hair into a new style and then sneak in to Hotel du Palais, bury myself into the corner of a couch, and sip hot chocolate in silence with a good book. Until then, you have a tiny piece of my heart.biarritz-2(Biarritz, France; July 2016)

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Bordeaux Bordeaux

Lovely ones, I have a confession to make. Before this trip, I did not even know Bordeaux was a city. I simply thought it was a region that produces wines. I cover my shame with the thought that I’m not quite as bad as my American friend who thought Amsterdam was a country. Yet, what a gaping hole in all-round education, at least according to the French!

Surprisingly, thus, Bordeaux turned out to be a decently sized city – with awful traffic jams. Aside from the hopeless journeying through rush hour streets, Bordeaux seems to embrace progressive ideas almost in a hippy fashion – and most have to do with wine. For example, no pesticides or herbicides are allowed in Bordeaux, so one sees very few lawns and much overgrown weeds and flowery meadow-like patches. If you have a garden you have three choices: pluck the weeds by hand, pour boiling water over them, or let them be.

In old times, sheep would graze between the rows of vines. Now one either has sheep, plows the ground, or, again, lets the weeds be. Instead of poisons, Bordeaux and its farmers and wine growers grow forests and ensure biodiversity of those animals that eat insects and worms. Bats were reintroduced for this reason. During vine flowering season, the vines are sprayed with female pheromones that confuse male butterflies and insects who cannot find the females based on a scent gradient. They end up going into the meadows and forests where the eggs are also laid. Hopefully.

Surprisingly, with all focus on quality of the terroir and the wine, only very few Bordeaux wines bear an Organic or Biodynamic certificate. The winemakers must comply with about a million different stipulations in order to be able to call a wine Bordeaux + sub-appellations, and therefore they wish no further compliance to difficult rules. And if the harvest is at risk, many want to retain the option of taking to sturdier measures. In a world of high-performance farming and synthetic and short-term culture, it is refreshing to see that when it comes to quality wines, the market drive is for organic, natural solutions simply because people can taste the difference and are ready to pay for it. Thus, any Bordeaux wine bought in the store is most likely nearly if not completely organically produced. If only the same were true for most groceries!

Bordeaux winemakers make the wine their ancestors made. The regulations to follow to be allowed to use appellations on the bottle are an incredible catalogue of rules to adhere to. Crudely put, the end result should be that as a customer you know approximately what you get, year after year. Since the system is mainly for preserving tradition and maintaining quality and therefore brand equity, there is not much room for creativity in making a Bordeaux wine. Some bend the rules by for example adding only 1% of the second wine in the first (a Bordeaux is always a blend). Others make wines that only bear a Bordeaux label or break the rules so the bottle only says the wine is from France. We fell in love with a delicious little rosé from Chateau de la Grave that was bigger than its body: it had been matured in oak barrels like a white wine. This wine was not a typical Bordeaux but, oh, it stole my heart for as long as I had it in my glass.

The intricate system of what one is and is not allowed to do in order to make a Bordeaux wine got me lost, especially after the first glass. Fortunately, most of us only need to know where to find a bottle, and how to open it. Easy peasy, thank goodness.

(Bordeaux, France; July 2016)