This blue marble

– and yet it spins


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A wooden town

porvooPerhaps once this was a busy street, crowded with horse-drawn carriages, pedestrians in fine suits and long dresses, and dogs and children running around? Now it is simply quiet and idyllic, with greens shooting up between the cobblestones that get to rest most of the day.

Porvoo was founded in the 13th century but has probably burned down many times since. Most of the houses currently standing are from the 19th century. As it is once again fashionable to cherish old houses, perhaps these houses could survive longer than most wooden buildings used to do (before they happened to burn down into ashes)?

(Porvoo old town, Finland; July 2018)


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Look down

milan-3How often do you look down when you walk? Probably every day. And how often do you actually see what is right down there in front of your nose? If you are in Italy, it is highly likely you are missing out on something much more beautiful than just asphalt and pavement. Italian floors are exquisite. The one above is in the Duomo but I walked over so many beauties outdoors in Genoa.

Floors are made to last, and it is good they have no feelings: people trample over them without noticing what they walk on. Without noticing how smooth and troublefree the surface is to cross, even in high heels. Without noticing how their steps get a determined snap and echo that emphasizes the importance of their stride. Without noticing the painstakingly intricate stonework that made someone to crouch down for days or weeks while working to complete the surface.

If you think it is too much trouble to look up, look down – and if you pay attention you might be delighted. At least in Italy.milan-2(Milan, Italy; July 2018)


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Party palazzos

genoa-7No, this is not the Versailles. This is not even in France. The Italian aristocrats knew how to build palazzos, too. And in Genoa they built an entire street of palazzos. Imagine it as any other neighborhood: families living next-door to each other – except for instead of a house or an apartment each would have a gilded castle to themselves, complete with rooftop gardens large enough to serve cocktail parties and balls. genoa-6And while we are imagining: what must it have been like to know that any given night there was some dinner or ball attracting dozens of carriages into the tiny street? Oh the hubbub. And oh the shame, if one was not invited.
genoa-5(Genoa, Italy; July 2018)


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The emperor’s fishing hideaway

koskimaja-4Once upon a time, a young crown prince went salmon fishing by a whitewater surrounded by scraggly old pines and water-polished rocks. He discovered he could wade between a number of little islets, surrounded by foamy flying currents and leaping salmon. After just a day he and his princess were in love with the rugged place, one that was Nature’s own and nobody else’s. koskimaja-1Years later, the crown prince returned, now as the Emperor of Russia. He rediscovered his love for the wilderness and said, “let us build a house for us. Let it be a simple, wooden fishing cottage. Let it be a Finnish house on Finnish grand duchy soil, for the Russian emperor to be.”koskimaja-2And so the house was built as were the wishes of the crown prince. It was simple but of skilled making, and out of the best materials. There was a kitchen – and to the horror of the staff, the Empress Maria Feodorovna cooked in the kitchen with her own bare white hands. There were beds upstairs – but whether anybody slept in them overnight is not known, as the Emperor’s fleet was moored right beyond the last bend of the river, by the coast. The Emperor is rumored to have chopped his own firewood – also quite unheard of. But then again, who would hear or care? Such things are what hideaways are for. Even for the greatest of royalty.
koskimaja-3(Langinkoski, Kotka, Finland; June 2018)


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New skin on old bones

Oldhouse-1The long, wooden house stood by itself in an overgrown meadow of high grass and flowers, shyly exhibiting brand new walls painted red, sparkling white corner posts, and a sturdy, new roof. Why shyly? Because its exterior was nearly 300 years younger than its timber construction. It is not with complete comfort that one bears new clothes after loving one’s only outfit for centuries. Oldhouse-3My great-grandfather and great-grand uncle were born in this house. They were not born in this meadow though. Before the house was dressed in new clothes, it was dismantled, every log and plank numbered, carried a few dozen kilometers further, and built up again from scratch. Why? Because someone thought it was a valuable piece of history and should be kept under a watchful eye.

Other generations could be born in this house. The timber walls are dry and healthy. The moss and flax fiber insulation between the logs is only a few decades old. The windows are new. All that is needed is lots of love and care – and a little imagination.
Oldhouse-2(Pernaja, Finland; June 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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The extravagance of a soul-searching baroness

france-2The owner of this place must have been ambitious. And quirky: she had gazelles, monkeys, and a mongoose in her garden.

She was born into a banker family – and smartly married another banker at the age of 19, not caring her husband was 15 years her senior. Marriages were seldom for love and more for economy, politics, and convenience. When her husband’s business affairs went south she divorced him. They had no children and the rumor goes he not only gave her gray hairs but also a disease that made her barren.france-3She was no angel either, because just as her husband, she liked gambling, too. Her gambling room in her pink (yes of course, pink) villa is quite something. And if she was not entertaining there, she was being entertained in a casino in Monaco.

Her villa was pink, yes; and she loved to dress in blue it is said. If she had lived today she probably had dressed her pets, too. Perhaps she did. But they certainly all had their own luxurious daybeds from best silk and brocade.france-4Béatrice Ephrussi de Rotschild lived the most extravagant life a divorced woman in the turn of the 19th century could. She commissioned an incredible villa and garden – not for herself but to see and to be seen. But was she happy? Perhaps she was in some ways. Women in those days found themselves unfit for any mold if they were divorced, unmarried, and wealthy. Perhaps she was shallow and happiest when entertaining. Or perhaps she felt lost in her role and happiest doing all the things she should not: play tennis, ride horseback on a man’s saddle, drive a car, and even fly a plane. Did she find meaning in her life? Perhaps. And at least one cannot blame her for not trying hard enough.

Unfortunately the house took its time to be completed, and the baroness herself was swept away from this life just four years after its completion. But the house is still there, as are the gorgeous gardens. And if you listen really carefully you can hear the jazzy tune from the gramophone and the click-clack of cards and dice from the after-dinner parlor.
france-5(Cap Ferrat, France; April 2018)