This blue marble

– and yet it spins


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All the world is a stage – but what about the backdrop?

vienna-29What we see on an opera stage truly is only what we are meant to see. The thing with stages is, what is in view is always just a tiny portion of the entirety. You see, there is a backstage. And a side-stage. And an above-stage. And a beneath-stage. vienna-30Because a single show may require five different sets, and they all need to be wheeled in and out of sight in a matter of seconds. The backdrop is hardly rolled like window-blinds – it is simply winched up – still hanging.

It is the depth in every direction that deceives. And all the ropes and props and invisible men (and some women). All the world is a stage, Shakespeare said. But he never mentioned the backdrop, and everybody in it helping us play our part. vienna-31(Vienna, Austria; February 2017)


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At the opera

vienna-32Opera houses and theaters were like bars and nightclubs today: places to see and be seen. And because cities were much smaller still in the 19th century, and the ruling class even smaller still, everybody did know everybody. Thus, going to the opera was like going to one grand party where you know all guests.

And what better than to go to a party held in a house decorated in splendid gold, mirrors, and red carpets? So thought the Emperor of Austria-Hungary as well, and commissioned the work of a new opera house in Vienna. vienna-33When the glorious building was finished, the architect and interior designer proudly showed it to the court. But their hearts were broken: the emperor thought it rather simple. He proclaimed it resembled a train station. The interior designer committed suicide before the opening night, and the architect died of a stroke not long after.

Life sucks sometimes. But the opera house is still standing. And, viewed through today’s minimalistic eyes that usually encounter bare surfaces, it is quite an extravaganza. Everything is relative.vienna-34(Vienna, Austria; February 2017)


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Perspective

vienna-24Why would one make a simple brown or gray tiled roof, when one can decorate it green and gold? And finish with a great two-headed eagle, just for the flair?

Those who lived their lives in the gutter in ancient Vienna most likely never saw this beauty. It was probably visible only for those who either could afford a penthouse apartment, or were daring enough to climb onto the roofs.

Perspective. In this case you can buy it, but in most cases it needs to be attained by struggle.

(Vienna, Austria; February 2017)


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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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Somewhere between poetry and insanity

wigmore

“Occupation is essential. And now with some pleasure I find that it’s seven; and I must cook dinner. Haddock and sausage meat. I think it is true that one gains a certain hold on sausage and haddock by writing them down”

(Virginia Woolf’s last diary entry before her suicide)

Somewhere between poetry and insanity tonight. Alice Coote sang Virginia Woolf’s diary entries, and letters from 19th century patients locked up at a mental illness asylum. “Strange Productions” was the aptly named title of the insanely poetic letters, commissioned by Wigmore Hall from Nico Muhly.

Wigmore Hall is a constant favorite. Not because of the (also insanely) beautiful venue, but because of the director and his creative team who commission modern classical pieces with a flair. Never bored here, although sometimes mindlessly enthralled.

(London, United Kingdom; January 2017)


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About breaking and healing, in Kathmandu

stupa-2Oh, the crowds! It is a Saturday picnic in the middle of Kathmandu. People sit on blankets, eating and chatting. Dogs chase each other or their tails. Children chase pigeons and each other. All the commotion is to celebrate the completion of restoration of the Boudanath stupa, after the devastating 7.8 Richter’s magnitude earthquake in April 2015. stupa-4The community celebrates because restoration was a community effort, in a country where the government is very slow in rebuilding the premises of people’s lives. stupa-3We joined the Tibetan monks in red robes in the kora, or circling of the stupa. In Nepal, every sacred Buddhist site must be circled clockwise. This means quite a lot of circumnavigations of mani stones, sacred stones with inscriptions, often sprinkled on popular trekking routes in the mountains. But this time the kora was celebratory. People spun prayer bells and walked along the shiny white wall accompanied only by their own thoughts.

In time, stupas break, and if the underlying faith they stand on still exists in the community, they are rebuilt. In time, we all break, like the Boudanath stupa: with a huge gash along the middle. But life goes on. Like it tends to do. And, even when it does not feel like it, life carries us along with it. All we need to do is remember how to breathe, and how to live together as a caring community. Different from the stupas, we can heal ourselves. But very few of us can ever completely heal when left alone. stupa-5
(Kathmandu, Nepal; November 2016)


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Liberty of London

libertyHere again. Of course. The only department store I know of with creaky wooden stairs and ancient elevators instead of modern escalators. Such a lovely place, filled with beautiful things one absolutely does not need, and that one rarely finds elsewhere. Thankfully it is usually sufficient to simply breathe in the atmosphere of days gone by.

(Liberty of London, London, United Kingdom; November 2016)