This blue marble

– and yet it spins


Leave a comment

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)


Leave a comment

The future was great

atomium-1Once upon a time the future was all about space, both outside of planet Earth and in the minds of people. It was about scientific progress, with a joyful look at the future of humankind. This time was before anybody spoke of acid rains, holes in the ozone layer, the end of oil, and how tobacco kills. atomium-2Future would be great, and the progress of science was great. It was as if the human mind was too youthful to worry about the heavy responsibility we carry towards our planet and every living thing on it.

Sixty years later, in the world of uncertainties regarding nuclear threat, fossil fuel, and the use of the power of genetics, stepping into the Atomium in Brussels feels like a happy memory from a time I never experienced, left behind by people with an unwavering faith in the future, and total ignorance about the effects of their actions.atomium-3(Brussels, Belgium; May 2017)


Leave a comment

Gilded ceilings and electric lights

hallwyl-2Imagine the splendor and style of Versailles – with original electric light fittings. The bustle of a country castle downstairs kitchen – with modern, white tiles stretching over the walls and the ceiling. And an electric kitchen elevator, and three water faucets: one for hot, one for cold, and one for rain water.hallwyl-1This was all highly unusual in any wealthy, traditional-style house in Stockholm at the turn of the 20th century. But the Hallwyl couple seem to have been unusual, too: they built a palace with all the modern, sometimes experimental, luxuries of the turn of the century. They then proceeded to decorate it in the style of what can only be described as flitting from good taste to extravagant kitsch. During that time, who really chose their salon decor to mimic French gilded rococo?

The lady of the house sure did not hesitate when she bought 15th century tapestries before she even had a house, and designed the living room to fit the tapestries. She also did not hesitate in general, as she collected almost anything and everything she considered art: from china to paintings and to swords and pistols. She then proceeded to convert her newly built house to a museum for future generations, and produced a set of 78 printed books cataloguing all her possessions.

One cannot help but wonder whether this was truly the passion of a lady interested in beauty and the world, or a well-planned project to gain power through magnanimity? And how did she fit into society? Her house surely must have been the cause of many curious rumors and stories. Perhaps this was just as she liked it?hallwyl-4(Hallwyl House, Stockholm; April 2017)


Leave a comment

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)


Leave a comment

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)