This blue marble

– and yet it spins


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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)


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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)