This blue marble

– and yet it spins

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About books and worship

vienna-22There are people who travel just to see famous libraries. I should like to be one of those people. There ought to be a Michelin guide for libraries: where one star is an honor, two stars recommend a detour to have the experience, and three stars a special journey out just to see the place. The Austrian National Library truly is one worthy of traveling to just to see the place. vienna-21The Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI surely thought of a library worth three stars, as he constructed a State Hall in the shape of a cathedral and placed himself, surrounded by the sun-pattern on the floor, in the middle to be worshiped. One should better worship the books and knowledge and poetry, but with the Baroque splendor all around, one might just forget about the content and stand in awe before the building itself.
vienna-20Even books used to be so much more beautiful back then: golden inscriptions and delicate sizes, favoring multiple volumes over the brick-size murder weapons that some pocket books are today.vienna-18Should one’s eyes wander all the way up to the ceiling, they will most likely remain stuck there for quite some time. And no, the images are not about Christian Bible legends or Paradise, but about the great Habsburg dynasty, as if it were god-like.

Walking toward the radiantly depicted Holy Roman Emperor statue, below the fresco of Habsburg heavens, in a building designed like a cathedral, I was not quite sure if the said Emperor really had constructed the library as a haven for knowledge, or as a deification of himself. Perhaps not the humblest of perspectives, but then again, who expects an Emperor to be humble?
vienna-25(Vienna, Austria; February 2017)

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The end of me

booksEnglish bookstores will be the end of me. I think it runs in the family. Once my sister and I spent a week in London and lugged home 10 kilos of books. Another time she spent 3 hours in Heffers in Cambridge. I was not bored, either.

This time we spent a week in Oxford and London and I managed to come home with only 5 books (yes, one missing from the photo). But where else can one find an entire book about nightly walks of artists and literary figures in historical, sometimes dangerous nocturnal London? Or a book on quantum mechanics in biology? Or books and books about trees, the ocean, and naturalism?

Help. I may need help. If not for any other purpose, then to expand the entire wall of books I have at home. Just as soon as I’ve finished this book I am reading.

(Helsinki, Finland; January 2017)

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What makes a city a writers’ city?

Paris-2As I browsed through the stock-full shelves of the Shakespeare and Company book shop, I pondered what it is that makes a city a writers’ and artists’ city. Why is it that in the 1920s Paris was the place to be, and perhaps today one should be in Berlin? Why did so many artists congregate on the French Riviera in the end of the 19th century (was it just the peculiar light?)?

So I did what everybody does today when they have a question: I typed in Google, “What makes a city a writers’ city?” The top 5 search hits were about New York City: half of them listing why New York City is a writers’ city, and the other half telling writers to leave for better cities than New York City. Odd, however, that all the cities mentioned as great writers’ cities were located in the United States. Paris-3Google made me none the wiser, except for one important factor: money and cafés. A writer thrives in a location which is esthetically pleasing and has good cafés where one can observe life – but that even a poor creative soul can afford. Places like Brooklyn and San Francisco, and St Germain-des-Pres in Paris, used to be hot hangarounds for creative people – until so many came that the area became “too hipster” (now define it if you please) and the poorest but also coolest full-time aspiring artists had to move out to find yet another inspiring haunt.Paris-1Perhaps it does not matter where one writes, as long as one is surrounded by things that inspire. Or perhaps it does help to be allowed to crash at for example Shakespeare and Company, to punch away on the age-old typewriter in the corner, or to bounce around ideas and angst with fellow aspiring writers in-between shop duty.

In any case, a picnic at Luxembourg gardens may help. Many have tried and succeeded.Paris-4
(Shakespeare and Company bookshop; the ceiling at La Coupole restaurant; Oscar Wilde’s tombstone; and Luxembourg gardens. Paris, France; July 2016)

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Stillness, hot ginger lemon, and Lord Nevermore

lordnevermoreThe Nepalese know it: when it is cold outside (and inside for that matter!), hot ginger lemon with honey warms better than booze. And what could be better company than a tale of faraway places, written as if it were whispered in one’s ear? A true tale about an artist and an anthropologist; two poles of the same soul, and a relationship where a planet was too small to forget about the friend, and too large to be apart.

More hot ginger lemon, please. I think I will dwell in this moment for quite a while.

(Helsinki, Finland; January 2016)

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The Phantom of the Opera

Geronimo-Rauch-as-The-Phantom-and-Harriet-Jones-as-Christine-in-Phantom-of-the-Opera.-Photo-by-Johan-Persson The phantom of the opera: what an exciting book from a different world for a 17-year-old! History, ghost story, and romance all entwined. Half a lifetime later I finally saw the original production in London, at Her Majesty’s Theatre. Oh the glitz and glamour, the mystery, the troubles of love! Also, oh the numbers of Asian tourists taking selfies in an eerie glow produced by cell phones in the dark theater. And what class: a play in its 29th year could be bland, worn out, a conveyer belt production. But not the Phantom: spotless, gorgeous scenery and costumes, a Christine with an angel’s voice, and a Phantom with true acting skills.

Two hours later, as I walked back to the hotel, I could not help but wonder how Gaston Leroux would have felt, had he known that his book was being staged and acted out still 100 years after it was written? Would he have written a different kind of ending, knowing that 100 years later, to have a crippled, deformed face does not lead to a loveless life spent in hiding and desperation?

phantom(Top image courtesy of The Phantom of the Opera).

(London, United Kingdom; June 2015)

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Oh, who can ever be tired of Bath!

bath-2When I lived in the UK I wandered around the lovely streets of Bath for a weekend. Just like Catherine from Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey I wonder, who can ever be tired of Bath?

“A fine Sunday in Bath empties every house of its inhabitants, and all the world appears on such an occasion to walk”bath-16“they hastened away to the Crescent, to breathe the fresh air of better company”

This lovely piece of green pasture is marked on an old map as “never to be built upon”. The Bath city layout is sprinkled with circles, squares, and crescents, and even contains one circus.

bath-12They set off in good time for the Pump-room, where the ordinary course of events took place; Mr Allen, after drinking his glass of water, joined some gentlemen to talk over the politics of the day and compare the accounts of their news-papers; and the ladies walked about together, noticing every new face, and almost every new bonnet in the room”

The Pump Room is open for a delicious breakfast, lunch, or afternoon tea. Wander in at breakfast time, after 9.30 am, and the sunny room, with light tunes of violin and piano floating in the air, will be all yours. Try the spa water – it’s not half as ill-tasting as in many other places. These are the “lower rooms” of Jane Austen, where ladies and gentlemen “took the waters”, along with “Oliver bisquits” (delicious but heavy on calories), during the day, and enjoyed conversation and dance during the night.

bath-14bath-1“Edward has been pretty well this last week, and as the waters have never disagreed with him in any respect, we are inclined to hope he will derive advantage from them in the end”

The thermal waters of Bath bubble up from three springs in the Roman Baths, over a million liters per day. The baths are beautifully restored and the excellent audio tour easily keeps your wandering around for 3 hours.


bath-5Hoping to dip your toes into the famous thermal water? Finally Bath has a spa again. The Cross Bath, and the all-new Bath Thermae Spa, are located behind the Roman baths. Half a day just flows by in the hot thermal waters, aromatherapy steam rooms, spa treatments, lovely restaurant, and rooftop pool.

““I could not tell whether you would be for some meat, or only a dish of tea, after your journey, or else I would have got something ready… Perhaps you would like some tea, as soon as it can be got.” They both declared they should prefer it to anything”

Afternoon tea in Bath is not to be had without the Bath Bun, or the Sally Lunn Bun. Fluffy and round, split in half, dripping with hot butter and brown sugar syrup with a hearty dash of cinnamon… the secret recipe and the tea room have served thirsty and hungry visitors for over 300 years, which I think Sally Lunn would have been very proud to know.bath-2All quotes by Jane Austen (Northanger Abbey, Persuasion, personal letters)(Bath, United Kingdom; June 2011)