This blue marble

– and yet it spins


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Bridges across Denmark

storabaltSteaming across the Great Belt Bridge, I cannot help but think of how progressive and practical the Danes must be. And that they love bridges. There is the Øresund bridge (the one featured in the TV show; nearly 8 km long), the two Great Belt Bridges (each nearly 7 km long), the Storstrøm Bridge (over 3 km long), and 7 other bridges each spanning more than one kilometer in length.

Yes, it is difficult to get ship traffic through. Yes, some even collide with the bridges. But in the end they make people’s lives so much easier – and the content for a hit television show too, apparently.

(Store Bælt Bridge, Denmark; May 2018)


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Interlude: primroses gone wild

springflowersThis is what happens when you buy a couple of yellow primroses for your garden and leave them to flourish over 20 years, remembering each year not to mow the lawn until their bloom is over. Among the primroses are white wood anemones, blue scillas, and the offspring of a few purple corydalis that I planted as a kid. I found them in the local woodland and knew they were endangered – but I wanted them anyway. Well guess what, they are far from endangered in the garden of my parents.

(Helsinki, Finland; May 2018)


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What it takes to appease the divine

offeringTens of thousands of baby chickens died last night. Each Balinese house sacrificed one along with a bigger evening offering placed outside of the gate, by the road. Some houses had deemed pierced eggs to be enough, but most houses slaughtered a baby chicken. A holy man dressed in a white gown and turban squatted by the offerings at each house, making hand gestures and plucking fluff from the scared, cheeping chick and spreading it over the offering. Then he splashed holy water around. I did not see how the chickens met their fates but as I walked to yoga class this morning I had to dodge a tiny, dead, decapitated chicken by nearly every house.

I understood the ceremony was to pacify the gods after the earthquake. Unfortunately the lives of the poor innocent chicks were not sufficient, as we experienced another substantial quake today: M6.2 or 5.9 depending on who measured it, and Lombok was again the epicenter. The gods are obviously not content. My heart hurts for the scared baby chickens – as it also hurts for the 300+ people who were lost in the quake and the tens of thousands left homeless.

Balinese Hinduism is strongly influenced by animism and animal sacrifices are common. It is even in the name of this island: the word “bali” actually means animal sacrifice. Indonesia is a Muslim country and Muslim law does not allow animal sacrifices (or gambling for that matter) but here on Bali it is allowed as a way to keep people satisfied.  All sacrifices are linked to highly ritualistic practices, including one cockfight per year per temple (this is oftentimes not the case as cockfights and betting are a blooming practice for example in Ubud). Most of the times, smaller animals such as dogs and chickens are sacrificed, but sometimes the gravity of the situation calls for goats and even buffalo. The Balinese believe that animals sacrificed in the name of gods will be rewarded and reborn into a higher order of being as their way of departure from this life was sacred.

Once one has got to know the peaceful nature of the Balinese today, it is difficult to imagine that their ancestors were fierce tribal warriors, a little like the maoris of New Zealand. Sometimes even human blood was shed. Not always an enemy’s, either, as a successful cremation ceremony for the dead of the village would include nothing less than the sacrifice of a few women. Thankfully cremation was (and is) arranged only once every few years, and collectively for all deceased ones.

When it comes to life and death, Bali strips one to the core of the matter.

(Bali, Indonesia; August 2018)


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Walking the High Line

NYC-8In New York City, there was a train track that once felt important. And rightly so, as it was needed. Proudly it stretched its shiny steel tracks from the West into town, carrying loads and loads of freight trains every day between the city and a growing industrial area. Being ready for any kind of transportation was its sole purpose. For sixty years it felt necessary, and cared for.

Then, one morning just like any other morning, there were no more trains. No more light signals and no more buzz at the end station. Nobody showed up. Nobody showed up for such a long time that the shiny steel began to rust. Then nobody showed up to care for the always-ready, hard-working track. There were roads, you see. Alternate routes. Changes in urban planning. The poor track was not needed anymore. Nobody even needed the steel or the ground for anything, so people just forgot about it in a New York minute (snap).

Weed started to push through between the ballast and the wooden sleepers. Just a few curious herbs at first – followed by a bunch of others. And then, slowly, a sapling tree found itself growing in the middle of New York City, in a sky garden above the ground.

What to do with all that green in the middle of NYC? With campaigning and some luck, some spirited people converted it into a protected park. In doing so they did not uproot the tough little weeds and plants and trees, but kept much of the original flora. For kids growing up in the City it is inspiring to know that when Nature manages to push through, these are the plants and flowers and trees that grab foothold. And the old train track is proudly stretching itself again, covered in lush greenery.

I walked the High Line in its entirety: over 2 km of urban garden. If greenery is not incorporated into the original urban plan (like it wasn’t in most of NYC), creative rescue solutions like the High Line are probably the best second alternative. And I was happy to walk on the old rails and know they had a purpose once again – and this time hopefully for longer than just sixty years.NYC-6(New York City, USA; May 2018)


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Ground Zero, ten years later

NYC-4I never saw the famous World Trade Center Twin Towers, except for in photos. They defined the lower Manhattan skyline – until the day they didn’t. I first visited Ground Zero in 2008. It was one big hole, part concrete and soil and part construction crews. Visitors were lead around on boardwalks and held back by ropes. There were only a few smartphones and certainly no selfies or selfie-sticks. The atmosphere was somber, even if the attack on the twin towers was seven years in the past.

Ten years later, the site is unrecognizable. Where the crumbled towers stood lie large square holes in the ground, with water flowing down around the rim and disappearing into a sinister, dark, bottomless pit. Two voids, just like the towers left a physical void in the city, and the terrorist attack left a mental and spiritual void in the people.

The USA is always stretching for extremes, and so it is befitting that the new main building of the World Trade Center  disappears into the clouds. Naturally, it is taller than its two predecessors. How could one otherwise symbolize perseverance and pride without fear?

Today, smartphones and selfie-sticks are everywhere on the Memorial Plaza. Perhaps it could be viewed as too light and ignoring the weight of the dramatic events. Or, just perhaps, our somewhat silly selfie-culture is an even better way to show perseverance and no fear? NYC-7(9/11 Memorial Plaza, New York City, USA; May 2018)


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What is the soul of a city?

NYC-1What are cities made of? What is the essence of a city? We humans are funnily egocentric: we like to anthropomorphize everything. We talk about the “beat” of a city or it’s “soul”. In a way we evoke a primeval streak of animism when we claim to sense the essence of a city as if it were inhabited by a spirit.

Well, here is a bold thought: concrete, steel, asphalt, dust, dirt, glass, electricity. This is what for example New York City is made of. Perhaps you adore it, disagree, and claim NYC is made of buzz, life, ambition, and hope for the future. That the soul of a city is the people and human life.

The problem is, human life is transient and ever-changing. Without it, New York City would be a big pile of rust, concrete, and rats (rats are life, too!). And water. Apparently there used to be over 40 streams of water running across Manhattan, and the original land colonialized by Europeans was to a large extent swampland (around a few hills).

I wandered around NYC in early May, imagining from time to time what the city would look like stripped from all neon lights, cars, electronic billboards, and human life. A few months later I was given a book to read which presents scientific conclusions on what would actually happen to it should we people all disappear. Since the City is actively fighting back water in its subway systems, flooding would be the first, immediate effect. At some point the city would combust and burn, probably several times, due to all the faulty electricity and fuel sources available. The rats would probably have a feast. Then, slowly, trout and other fish would return to the river; with great difficulty over the few first generations, owing to the leaking nuclear power plant nearby. But they would come. And so would other animals.

Nature is the entropy humanity tries to fight against. The moment we stop, Nature conquers us. It has no rush as it knows it will always win in the end. Eventually. My claim is that a city is nothing but a container, a vessel, for life. And so, would it not be fair to say that the city is actually soul-less and an anomaly in the order of things? That what we mistake as the “beat” or the “soul” of the city is, in fact, our primeval collective pulse as a human community – and the city has nothing to do with it?NYC-2(New York City, USA; May 2018)


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When the earth shook (and about human resilience)

canggubeach-2Dear guesthouse, thank you for proving yourself earthquake-worthy. Dear Canggu beach, thank you for no tsunami. Dear Bali, thank you for softening the shockwaves shooting off your sister island. We had a proper scare here on West Bali, but it was nothing compared to those in Ubud and on the East Coast. Not to mention the unfortunate ones on Lombok and Gili Islands, who bore the main burden of our planet rearranging its scales.

After less than five hours of sleep (fully dressed, the door to my apartment unlocked and key in lock) I gave up on the idea of rising with the sun to go to mysore class at 7 am. Instead I chased slumber for another hour and a half, when I began to feel I have an earthquake in my head: surely the bed and my hands holding my iPhone were not shaking. Ridiculous, I told myself, and got up. It turned out to be yet another aftershock all the way from Lombok, over 12 hours after the primary quake.

Nothing broke here in Canggu but locals thought the quake was bigger than anything felt on Bali in the past 13-15 years. Yet by 10 pm last night, two hours after the primary quake, the bars were booming with music and people again. This morning the shops were open like no window glass would ever shatter. Surf school was on, like no tsunami warning ever was last night. And people lived on, like nearly a hundred people never died last night on Lombok.

It is not our adaptability that is our greatest salvation; it is our short memory and our quick ignorance of danger that passed. Unless we witness true direct horror and trauma, it is as if our minds are like those of children: we forget so quickly and go about playing again. Or sleeping. Or doing what we always do. Perhaps this is how we stay alive: not remembering all the dangers that might occur? Especially, if one lives on the Ring of Fire, with a handful of moderate earthquakes felt every year.

I truly hope those who lost their loved ones and their houses on Lombok will be remembered long enough to be helped on their feet again.
canggubeach-1(Canggu, Bali, Indonesia; August 2018)