This blue marble

– and yet it spins


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Interlude: true colors

Processed with Snapseed.Coloring is good for a jet-lagged brain. Especially with my favorite souvenir from last summer: a box of Faber-Castell Polychromos, purchased from a lovely lady in a huge mall in Kuala Lumpur.

They say coloring brings the brain into the same state as meditation. In addition, one creates something beautiful and tangible. No better excuse to invest in new pencils.Processed with Snapseed.(Helsinki, Finland; September 2016)


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Ubud street art

streetartWhat a marvelous sense for beauty the Balinese have. Everything on Bali is beautiful, right down to the pavements. Why would anybody settle for boring asphalt or concrete, when one can scatter little flowers of beach pebbles here and there, or decorate one’s runway with an intricate flower mosaic pattern? Scandinavian simplicity my a**. I prefer flowers.

(Ubud, Bali, Indonesia; August 2016)


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Random ramblings from Paris

Paris-6When I said I was going to Paris, my friend stated that we were probably the one ones going to France without going to see the soccer Euro Cup. We don’t follow soccer, so how could we have known about it? Perhaps we live in another culture bubble, one that does not engage with soccer? Blissfully ignorant, we booked our tickets in March, for 10 days in France. I was certain that we would end up in the middle of at least an attempt of terrorism. But we did not. We left 2 days before a crazy person drove a rented truck through a crowd in Nice. Yet another relatively tight call. One of many for me.

But Paris is always Paris. And this time with some American flair at the Centre Pompidou. Wandering among so many private photos and film clips of the famous Beat bunch, I could not help but wonder how Kerouac, Ginsberg, Burroughs, et al. were both so lost and so focused at the same time. “On the road” is a book about being aimless and lost, but yet Kerouac sat down, started typing on a paper scroll, and kept typing on the same scroll until his story was finished. “On the road” is 37 meters long.
Paris-7Oh, how very serious the Beat people must have been. Just aimlessness, lostness, unemployment, boheme poverty, and so much angst. Except for Lawrence Ferlinghetti, who decided to open a bookstore in San Francisco and call it City Lights Books. No, Ferlinghetti was less lost, and he laughed at life. He also laughed at the painter Marc Chagall, who for some reason always painted violins. So he wrote a poem about it. Something definitely not Beat or Lost. I read it at the Pompidou and laughed, too. And I wondered why Ferlinghetti decided to write about the horse eating the violin instead of the lady on the horse with her beau, wearing an evening dress that ended right underneath her naked breasts.

Don’t let that horse
                              eat that violin
    cried Chagall’s mother
                                     But he   
                      kept right on
                                     painting
And became famous
And kept on painting
                              The Horse With Violin In Mouth
And when he finally finished it
he jumped up upon the horse
                                        and rode away   
          waving the violin
And then with a low bow gave it
to the first naked nude he ran across
And there were no strings   
                                     attached

Paris-8(Paris, France; July 2016)


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Houses like wedding cakes

riga-8Who knew that Latvia had the most Art Nouveau buildings in all of Europe? I surely didn’t. How lovely would it be to live in a wedding-cake house: pastel-colored building decorated with soft shapes, vine leaves, theatrical masks, or lions and angels? Until one steps inside to discover that while the narrow, tall windows are beautiful, they do not let in much light at all. The outside matters more than the inside. And while the inside may be dark, it is certainly decorated.riga-6I wonder who lived in all of these houses? Were there enough wealthy Latvians in Riga in the turn of the century, or were most inhabitants of foreign ethnic origin? And what does it feel like to live in a blue-white building watched over by two huge bored long faces? Who ever saw them during a post-opium-laced-tea dream and decided, “I know, I will put them on the roof of my next house – what a grand idea!”?riga-4To the contemporary mind, Art Nouveau seems less like new art and more like old art. Perhaps the shapes and the wholeness of the style, from architecture to art, was fresh. But covering a house in white cream the shape of seashells, lions, statues, and vine leaves sounds more rococo than new. Perhaps it was art nouveau that Ayn Rand’s hero architect could not stand in the Fountainhead? I cannot blame him – but I can state that today’s buildings are a bore compared to the whimsy of art nouveau, new art a century old.rigaartnouveau(Riga, Latvia; February 2016)


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Rubens’ angels and Antwerp’s angles

antwerp-3It 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.

antwerp-1Hobbling 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-2(Antwerp, Belgium; January 2016)


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An ancient animal parade

lascaux-2The 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.lascaux-3But 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. lascaux-1(Palexpo, Geneva, Switzerland; January 2016)


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From a bird’s nest to a war zone

genevaconventionI did not know the Geneva Convention actually exists on paper, with seals and signatures. Well, it does, and it is displayed at the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum in Geneva.

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.redcross-2I 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. redcross-1(Geneva, Switzerland; January 2016)


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Stands the Church clock at ten to three? And is there honey still for tea?

Grantchester-2would I were
In Grantchester, in Grantchester! –
Some, it may be, can get in touch
With Nature there, Or Earth, or such.
And clever modern men have seen
A Faun a-peeping through the green,
And felt the Classics were not dead

But these are things I do not know.
I only know that you may lie
Day-long and watch the Cambridge sky,

Until the centuries blend and blur
In Grantchester, in Grantchester ….

(Rupert Brooke)

 

Happy to be back in Cambridge. Rupert Brooke felt it, too, as he longed for Cambridge and Grantchester meadows from his apartment in Berlin in the spring of 1912.

103 years later we ditched our luggage with all their Polish dust at the hotel, grabbed Prosecco and strawberries and the picnic blanket and headed for Grantchester meadows, river Cam, and the summer sun.

Grantchester-3Hours later, heavy from soaking up the sun, we climbed over the cow fence into the Orchard at Grantchester, where Brooke and his friends Virginia Woolf, E. M. Forster, John Maynard Keynes, Bertrand Russell, and Ludwig Wittgenstein once used to sit and repair the world with the power of thought, word, and verse.

The church clock may no longer stand at ten to three, but there is always honey for tea – and fresh scones with jam and clotted cream.

Grantchester-1(The Orchard tea garden, Grantchester, United Kingdom; July 2015)


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All the world’s a stage

GlobeFacing up against tube strike, sitting in the cab for 1 h 15 minutes from South Kensington to Southwark, wolfing down a wonderful pre-theater dinner at the Swan in 45 minutes, and we made it to the play at the Shakespeare’s Globe. As You Like It was classy and wonderfully fresh, with Celia and Rosalind cracking the audience up, as two loons living to love and loving to live. Even the airplanes landing at Heathrow were given a part in a 17th century play.

Drinks and barbeque food were served outside and allowed in, to recreate the feel of Elizabethan times. Alluding to the same feel we asked if throwing food at the actors was allowed. It was, with the disclaimer that the actors might well throw some back. Seeing how they tormented some poor selected ones in the crowd we did not doubt the warning. Next time we will certainly bring both roses and rotten tomatoes. 

This time the choice towards roses would have been easy.

(London, United Kingdom; July 2015)


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Zakopane style

Zakopane-1“Zakopane, isn’t that the town with the ski jump? Is it in Poland?” This question encompassed all my knowledge about the historical Polish ski resort my sister wanted to visit. I looked it up on the map one week before departure and noticed we would be going into the Tatra mountains, towards the Slovakian border. Not sure I even knew that Poland HAD a border with Slovakia.

There may be many people as ignorant as I in Europe, but the Poles sure do know Zakopane. We joined the humongous crowd milling on Krupowki street, dazed, thinking we arrived at a festival day. “No, it is just a regular Saturday”, said the friendly hotel concierge. Indeed. And out on the hiking trails it was a regular Saturday traffic every day.

But if one manages to look past the crowds at the buildings in Zakopane, one is in for a surprise. The local style dominated in the early 20th century, born by the artist/architect Witkiewicz, who mixed Art Nouveau with folk carpentry. Zakopane-6Oh, the attention to detail! Each door post must have at least one flower carving.Zakopane-2And each house must have custom-made furniture.Zakopane-3And today the Zakopane style still inspires – for example to build hobbit houses such as this B&B. Only in Zakopane.Zakopane-4   (Zakopane, Poland; July 2015)