This blue marble

– and yet it spins


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In Genoa

IMG_6643Genoa is not an ordinary city. The old town has a certain coherence, but it is cut off the port by an expressway and viaducts. The port in itself has been revamped to look modern to the extent of futuristic. But it is all part of the charm.

Genoa claims to be the birthplace of Christopher Columbus – although how much of his life he actually spent here is not well known. Green pesto Genovese was of course also born here. It is delicious and sampled everywhere – as long as you adhere to the strict meal hours of the restaurants; lunch 12 noon to 2 pm and dinner 7.30 pm onwards. Oh woe if you are hungry anywhere between 2 pm and 7.30 pm: your only choice is to order a drink (with alcohol of course, even if your stomach growls), in order to obtain the sizeable platter of antipasto that comes along (for free!).

And some less ordinary things just make sense here. For example, why not build a cathedral in black-and-white striped marble? It looks absolutely classy. And I am sure it was a shocker when it was unveiled.

Take  day – or preferably at least four or five. Explore the Centro Storico, the museums, the aquarium, the hills accessible by cable cars, and the grand palazzos. genoa-3(Genoa, Italy; July 2018)


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Italian Riviera in July? Why not!

genoa-1“An underrated treasure”. “A gem worth discovering”. So begin many descriptions about the old port city Genoa, smack in the middle of the Italian Riviera. It was on a whim that we ended up here: having dinner and drinks one Sunday at my place, and on the phone with Finnair the next moment. The idea was to explore the Italian western Riviera, all the way to the French border. But how to get there, and cheaply?

It turned out that the best option was to book a return ticket to Milan (of all places!), with airmiles. The grand total ended up at 15 EUR per ticket. Because Genoa and the Ligurian coast is reachable by train from Milan, just a few hours away. genoa-2And what a gem it was! So much history, so many layers, and so much to see. Palazzos and churches and shops; an aquarium, an old port area, and the old city walls up on the hills.

We encountered very few non-Italian speaking fellow travelers on the streets. We ended up having to dust off our elementary Italian quite quickly. But there were streets lined with gorgeous marble palazzos. And other streets lined with colorful umbrellas. And back in July, there still was a tall bridge elevated up above the city, and the fatal collapse was an unforeseeable future.
genoa-4(Genoa, Italy; July 2018)


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106 books of pretension

ramsesbookLovely ones, do you remember the meme doing rounds on blogs in 2008, called “The 106 Books of Pretension”? It was a list of the top 106 (why one-hundred-and-six?) books marked “undread” by Librarything users. The “pretension” referred to books considered classics, or modern classics, that were actually unread by many avid readers and literary aficionados.

Out of the 106 books I had perhaps read around 35. I saved the list, and started reading the remaining 70+ books. I told myself, this is a list of books a civilized person should have read during a lifetime. There were books I had managed to skip during high school English classes. Books that had recently been made into movies. Books that many talked about the moment they were published – and the talk never ceased.

I discovered the curious stories of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell; and of Cavalier and Clay. I found I loved Dostoyevsky and Neil Gaiman, and that the great Grapes of Wrath bored the wits out of me. But most importantly, I exposed myself to once-revolutionary thoughts; great stories; and incredible minds. Book after book I explored thought-worlds that changed the world we perceive as real. Censored books like Madame Bovary. Slandered books like Lolita. Shocking books like In Cold Blood. Classics like Homer’s Odyssey. And I realized that often we repel insurgent views because we hate to be told by a visionary storyteller. Books much hated have become books much respected. It was not the book that changed, but the collective mind and the world around it.

Only four books I could not finish: the Iliad (an account of who fought whom and how they died); Gravity’s Rainbow (I thought I would love this one! Did not get past 150 pages); The Silmarillion (come on, can you really blame me?); and Tess of the d’Urbervilles (what is wrong with me??).

Finishing off this list of 106 books was part of my Day Zero Project. I can now tick this goal off the list, after 10 years of reading (not with perfect adherence to this goal). The list of the top 106 books tagged “unread” at Librarything has changed surprisingly little: 95 are still on the list today. What a great shame as most of these books really are gems worth the effort.

For your reading pleasure, here is the original list from 2008. Have fun exploring 106 new worlds.

  1. Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
  2. Anna Karenina
  3. Crime and Punishment
  4. Catch-22
  5. One Hundred Years of Solitude
  6. Wuthering Heights
  7. The Silmarillion
  8. Life of Pi
  9. The Name of the Rose
  10. Don Quixote
  11. Moby Dick
  12. Ulysses
  13. Madame Bovary
  14. The Odyssey
  15. Pride and Prejudice
  16. Jane Eyre
  17. The Tale of Two Cities
  18. The Brothers Karamazov
  19. Guns, Germs, and Steel: the fates of human societies
  20. War and Peace
  21. Vanity Fair
  22. The Time Traveler’s Wife
  23. The Iliad
  24. Emma
  25. The Blind Assassin
  26. The Kite Runner
  27. Mrs. Dalloway
  28. Great Expectations
  29. American Gods
  30. A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius
  31. Atlas Shrugged
  32. Reading Lolita in Tehran : a memoir in books
  33. Memoirs of a Geisha
  34. Middlesex
  35. Quicksilver
  36. Wicked : the life and times of the wicked witch of the West
  37. The Canterbury tales
  38. The Historian : a novel
  39. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
  40. Love in the Time of Cholera
  41. Brave New world
  42. The Fountainhead
  43. Foucault’s Pendulum
  44. Middlemarch
  45. Frankenstein
  46. The Count of Monte Cristo
  47. Dracula
  48. A Clockwork Orange
  49. Anansi Boys
  50. The Once and Future King
  51. The Grapes of Wrath
  52. The Poisonwood Bible : a novel
  53. 1984
  54. Angels & Demons
  55. The Inferno
  56. The Satanic Verses
  57. Sense and Sensibility
  58. The Picture of Dorian Gray
  59. Mansfield Park
  60. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
  61. To the Lighthouse
  62. Tess of the D’Urbervilles
  63. Oliver Twist
  64. Gulliver’s Travels
  65. Les Misérables
  66. The Corrections
  67. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay
  68. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
  69. Dune
  70. The Prince
  71. The Sound and the Fury
  72. Angela’s Ashes : a memoir
  73. The God of Small Things
  74. A People’s History of the United States : 1492-present
  75. Cryptonomicon
  76. Neverwhere
  77. A Confederacy of Dunces
  78. A Short History of Nearly Everything
  79. Dubliners
  80. The Unbearable Lightness of Being
  81. Beloved
  82. Slaughterhouse-five
  83. The Scarlet Letter
  84. Eats, Shoots & Leaves
  85. The Mists of Avalon
  86. Oryx and Crake : a novel
  87. Collapse : how societies choose to fail or succeed
  88. Cloud Atlas
  89. The Confusion
  90. Lolita
  91. Persuasion
  92. Northanger Abbey
  93. The Catcher in the Rye
  94. On the Road
  95. The Hunchback of Notre Dame
  96. Freakonomics : a rogue economist explores the hidden side of everything
  97. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance : an inquiry into values
  98. The Aeneid
  99. Watership Down
  100. Gravity’s Rainbow
  101. The Hobbit
  102. In Cold Blood : a true account of a multiple murder and its consequences
  103. Treasure Island
  104. White teeth
  105. David Copperfield
  106. The Three Musketeers

(Brande, Denmark; September 2018)


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In the garden

Loviisa

As I listened from a beach-chair in the shade
To all the noises that my garden made,
It seemed to me only proper that words
Should be withheld from vegetables and birds.

A robin with no Christian name ran through
The Robin-Anthem which was all it knew,
And rustling flowers for some third party waited
To say which pairs, if any, should get mated.

Not one of them was capable of lying,
There was not one which knew that it was dying
Or could have with a rhythm or a rhyme
Assumed responsibility for time.

Let them leave language to their lonely betters
Who count some days and long for certain letters;
We, too, make noises when we laugh or weep:
Words are for those with promises to keep.

(W. H. Auden)

(Loviisa, Finland; June 2018)


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8 am, in Vilnius

Vilnius8 am in Vilnius and the last leg of work travel for the summer was soon to be complete. As I write this it is September and I have so many things to show you between now and then.

Pilies street was nearly empty. Void of tourists; void of shop signs and terrace chairs. Only me and delivery trucks out and about. I stopped to breathe in the fresh early summer air. The next time I flew for business it would be from my new home airport in Denmark.

But first, let summer come.

(Vilnius, Lithuania; June 2018)