This blue marble

– and yet it spins


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San Sebastián in August

SS-7Bronze-tanned Spaniards with perfect skin and beach hair.
Kids screaming with excitement in the surf.
Loud Spaniards shouting to each other.
Loud Spaniards laughing like seagulls.
Sailboats moored in the middle of the bay.
The afterglow-heat of a hot day on stone walls.
Ladies with big backpacks and hiking poles, on their way to Santiago de la Compostela.
Rain clouds hanging heavily over the hills.
Sangría instead of Aperol Spritz. Good.
Straw hats. They must be in.
No selfie sticks. Really.

Today still benefits from yesterday’s heat. It will rain tonight, and it might begin any moment. Yesterday was blue sky, 30 degrees Celsius, and a beach day for the thousands. The La Concha beach was a sea of crawling brown bodies and a constant droning voice. This is where Spaniards (and some French) come to vacay. Perhaps to get out of the heat and drought of Southern Spain. Or from the coolness of the mountains. The climate in San Sebastián is a comfortable in-between.

I came here for two weeks of Spanish language classes. Really only ten days of school. I have been studying Spanish since last October, and while I think my efforts have been haphazard at best, the level test somehow put me in A2. Fortunately there will be no A2 group starting this week, so I will be put in A1+. Whatever that means. If it means understanding basic spoken Spanish and being able to produce more or less useful words and nearly no complete sentences, then they got me in the right group. In two days’ time I will find out how lucky I am, or if I am bound to be feeling ashamed and frustrated for ten days.
SS-8(San Sebastián, Spain; August 2019)


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Pintxopote

GetariaBusy. Warm. Crowded. Brightly lit. This is a Donostian pintxo bar on a Wednesday or Thursday night, the night of pintxopote. The waiters (all men sweat over the counter (although thankfully not onto the pintxos). Sangria and cider flow, and I am the only solo guest.

I wonder how long I get to keep my corner table. Pintxopote is a bar-crawl tradition from the recent economic recession in Spain, where Basque bars enticed locals to spend money outdoors, by offering a pintxo and a small drink for 2-3 euro. In San Sebastián old town it is on Wednesdays, and in Gros on Thursdays. A “pintxo” is a tapa, usually on bread. A “pote” is a drink in Basque.

The pintxos are good but oil, bread, and cheese are a killer combination for dinner every day. Literally. I wish pintxos would include a side salad. I doubt the Basques eat vegetables in any other form than cooked, grilled, or pickled.

Time to crawl back out into the fresh air to find a nice seaside café for a nightcap.

(San Sebastián, and photo from Getaría, Spain; August 2019)


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Hello San Sebastián

laconchaHello San Sebastián. Last time I visited you the beach was empty. Now you have 1.5 kilometers filled with bronzed bodies. Semana Grande is quite the fiesta here, wrapping up the summer. I intend to leave swimming until the bronzed crowd has vacated back to working life, next week if I am lucky.

(San Sebastián, Spain; August 2019)


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The most wonderful bookshops

dauntbooksBookshops? you may inqure. Who goes to bookshops anymore, when you have Kindle, Amazon, and the easy kiosk bookshops at airports? Fortunately there are still people who love the smell of books and the feeling of picking an unknown but intriguing book off the shelf, knowing it may change your world if you just sit down and give it attention. Fortunately there are still people who love the excitement of discovery in 3D which is not possible if you browse Amazon, like a holiday trip but much cheaper (unless one comes out carrying one’s weight in paper).

My opinion is that every bookshop is important. And then there are bookshops which are both important and special, somehow. Perhaps because of their history, or how they are run. Or simply by the books they carry. Here below are a few of my favorites in no particular order, the ones that I easily lose an hour or two in. If it is not on the list it may be because I have not yet visited it – so please drop me a note!

Shakespeare and Company (Paris): English language books in a maze-y bookshop from the 50s on the Left Bank in Paris. That is an amazing combination in itself already, but it gets better: if you are an aspiring writer you can stay for free in any of the small beds hidden away between the shelves, writing away on any of the old typewriters ensconced in quiet nooks. All you have to do in return is help around, maybe read aloud, and read and review books. You will be one of tens of thousands of writers who stayed, and if you are lucky you will run into celebrated writers who occupy a room upstairs. This wonderful shop is named after the legendary shop which entertained Hemingway, Pound, Fizgerald, and the lot in the 1920s, until WWII broke out. In summer there is usually a line outside so come early in the day. It’s worth the wait.

City Lights Bookstore (San Francisco): The poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti founded City Lights just a few years after Shakespeare and Company was re-created in the 50s. He called it the sister of the shop in Paris, perhaps because both drew crowds of beat poets and writers. While the browsing experience is not at all like that of an old nearly derelict Parisian riverside building, I love this shop because of its history, the founder’s wonderfully hilarious poetry, and the book content. If social activism, world history and politics or poetry is your thing, this shop is for you. The most-bought book is probably the beat poem Howl by Allen Ginsberg.cassandrabook.jpgPowell’s City of Books (Portland, OR): 1970s shop specialized in vintage and rare books, but also carrying a big collection of new books (side by side with the old ones). The key to visiting Powell’s is time: the building spans an entire city block and the rooms are color-coded, to help navigate with a map you can request. Powell’s also has a café and when I visited the place 10 years ago we were invited to take our book picks and read – even if we had not paid for them just yet. The shop also has a Rare Books Room which you can request access to if rare books are your thing.

Daunt Books (London): Edwardian building with a glass roof, specialized in travel books, even publishing its own collection of interesting books around the world. What can be a better reason to visit London? The top photo of this post is from Daunt Books and as you can see, the shop is to be browsed according to geographical location, save for the front room which has a traditional by-topic setup of mostly non-travel books. Daunt Books owns a few other well-curated bookshops around the UK, disguised under other names, so have a look at their store listing before you visit.

Pilgrims Book House (Kathmandu): Deep in the old town maze of Thamel hides a surprisingly large bookshop, with not only books but wonderful crafts, incense, and gift items. While the company is over 25 years old, the old bookshop burnt down in 2013 and the new shop probably does not stock quite the same selection of rare books, but you can still find them here. As well as books on mountaineering, Nepalese and Tibetan history and culture, outdoors, and of course Hinduism, Buddhism, and actually pretty much any other world religion or philosophy.

Heffers (Cambridge, UK): My favorite haunt when I studied in Cambridge. The last time I visited this shop was in 2015, with the result that I together with my sister lugged home about 10 kg of books in our suitcases. Including the ones below. Heffers is catering for world-class university students and scientists, and so if you are interested in micro-topics like the social life of trees, quantum biology, or famous historical people who liked to talk walks in London at night, this shop is for you.booksBlackwell’s (Oxford, UK): As of a few years Heffers is actually part of Blackwell’s, a UK university-town bookshop chain. Like Heffer’s, Blackwell’s caters for academics and the Oxford shop is another fabulous place to get lost in, as well as the original base of Blackwell’s, founded in 1879. Part of the shop is underneath Trinity College, including the Norrington Room which holds a Guiness World Record for its 5 km of shelves of books: the largest room of books for sale in the world.

When longing to visit a most-wonderful bookshop: If you really love books, perhaps you’d like to smell like one? The scent of old books is a science in itself, and the past few years boutique perfume companies have issued scents that smell of old paper, books, and everything we like to associate with it: perhaps a little leather from the book cover, smoke from a pipe or cigar, wood from the shelves, or dried pansies from grandmother’s table. The only one I have been privileged to smell is Bibliothèque by Byredo, available both as a candle and perfume so we can all dream of bookshops when we are not in one.Paris-2(Vejle, Denmark; October 2019)


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On a Monday in London

wheelbarrowOne Monday in August I found myself shoveling dirt in a children’s playground park in London. I had got up at 4.45 am and caught a flight in, just to shovel that dirt. But it was important dirt: dirt that recreated Nature in the middle of London, including an adventure forest and permaculture gardens, to allow kids bury their fingers in the soil and get lost between the trees and shrubberies.

My London office gave the hours of its day to an after-school care center’s amazing adventure gardens.  And I quite enjoyed seeing my highly skilled colleagues displaying entirely different skills, surprised at who naturally gravitated towards carpentry and who chose to plant instead. I doubt I know my colleagues much at all.

(London, United Kingdom; August 2019)

 


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Life as a lotus

bologna-5To the buddhists, the lotus is a symbol of purity and transcendence: its feet bathe in the muddy bottom of the pond while its flowers and often leaves, too, rise into the pure air above it all. It is a reminder that one can have one’s roots entangled in mud and mess while still keeping a clear and pure mind above it all.

As I walked around the botanical gardens of Bologna I thought of how my own feet were currently so deeply embedded in the mud and mess and madness of this world. And how it seemed that the level of mud was rising dangerously close to my head. With honesty to myself I admitted that my head was probably already covered in spatters of mud, messing with my mind.

It is easy to see one is messed up. It is much more difficult to pinpoint how, and what to do about it. I almost wrote “and how to get out”, but really, getting out never helps. It is all about getting in, and working it out from the inside. bologna-6This year I have been following a personal development plan which revolves around identifying negative energy inside and around me. One of its action points is to repeat to myself when needed, “I am not my emotions”. I have found myself repeating this mantra over and over again these past few months. Another action point is to KonMari incoming energies, impressions, and matters: sort them at the door and not letting every single one in. And if needed, put the newcomers in separate rooms, close the doors, and deal with them later. I have found that my mental rooms are nearing overcrowded.
bologna-4Robin Sharma says that because a lifetime is precious and finite, there is no time for negative emotions. At all. That thinking a negative thought is to waste the time it takes to think that thought. This may sound like a highly platonically theoretic view, but when I think of all the time I spent dealing with negative emotions the past year I could probably amass a few weeks of life better spent doing other things. For example fully enjoying the botanical gardens of Bologna.

A dear friend once criticized me for being too solution-oriented. For offering my help in solving a problem when she would rather just wallow and swim in it for some time, until perhaps a solution slowly emerged. She gently told me that not all people want help, because not all things can be helped. Her words hurt me so much that I could not bear to spend time with her for two years. Some years ago I learned that not all problems can be solved. Not immediately, and perhaps not ever. Accepting the company of a deep injury for the rest of my life was possibly the toughest lesson I have learned in life so far.

And so I continue to trudge on through this life with my feet in the mud. As long as I remember to stretch upwards into the clean air, keeping my head relatively pure and sane like the lotus, I will be alright. bologna-7(Bologna, Italy; July 2019)