This blue marble

– and yet it spins

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Sleepover at the Queen’s

windsorQuestion of the day: how does one get an invite to the Queen’s PJ party, also called Dine and Sleep? I hear she throws an occasional bash according to a strict schedule: the guests always arrange and depart by the same trains. And after-dinner discussions are short, but they are with the Queen of England after all. In gone times one could be invited to stay for days, but as our daily pace has quickened, so has the pace at Windsor castle.

But oh, how lovely would it not be to spend one night walking the magnificent halls and gardens? And then perhaps hide in a greenhouse until the train has left, and keep walking…

(Above Windsor castle, United Kingdom; July 2016)

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When curls, cherub looks, and heels were the height of masculinity

Versailles-4One day we ventured out to Versailles. Turns out we were not the only ones. During most of its history, Versailles has hosted a busy front yard bustling with horses, carriages, and working people. Today it can look down upon a few hundred meters of zigzagging, well-ordered lines of people waiting for entry.Versailles-3Versailles is a thing of beauty – feminine beauty by today’s standards. But a man of power and stature in the 17th century saw different ideals to aspire to. In Louis XIV’s time, the height of manliness was a soft, plump, slightly rounded middle-aged cherub face and angelic curls. A wig of course. And a man of court was to carry red or blue garments and a lace neckerchief; and wear high-heeled dancing shoes, along with shorts that left his tight-covered legs visible for admiration.

Yes. Men were admired for their curls and their legs, and their angelic appearance. Get used to it. Everything that is manly today was downplayed. Where was unruly, wild hair? A beard? A strong jaw, muscular arms, and a flat stomach? Things that are admired in men today were nonexistent in the French baroque and following rococo period. Only height carried over to today as a connecting trait. And the only manly physique displayed was legs, and ideally with strong calf muscles. Calf muscles! How fetishous should any woman be judged today if she drooled after calf muscles?Versailles-1As we watched the never-ending rows of paintings depicting some seriously flamboyant men, my sister pointed out that the function of the 17th century men’s sense of esthetics was to appear as peacocks, or those male tropical birds that show off with bright colors and dance and make decorated nests. Indeed. Louis XIV’s idea of a dream “man cave” was to decorate it with cherubs, gilded vines, Roman gods, and fountains. Not exactly a fanfare to masculinity in today’s terms. Versailles-6But men of the 17th century also saw warfare, murder, death, and violence as part of normal daily order of things. Being out in the battlefield, dirty and bloody, seeing comrades die was not too far from reality, even for the highest commander. Perhaps a balance was needed – and hence all the gilded vines and angels off-duty?Versailles-2As I walked through the flowery gardens of the Versailles, I could not help but wonder: were men of Louis XIV’s era emancipated in respect of a female identity alongside a very masculine identity? Or were they repressing their male identities in comparison to a strong, feminine-directed collective sense of esthetics? Did these men of the Sun King’s time truly consider cherubs cool interior decorations for their walls, or were they forced to think they needed to consider them befitting a man’s house?

And would I, the modern female, seem very vulgar and masculine in the eyes of the men of court of the 17th century?Versailles-5(Versailles, France; July 2016)

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hagapark-1Here up North, gardening is serious business and all about flowers. Perhaps a bench could be in order. Or, if one has courage, a teensy weensy fountain. Or, for the most brave: a little statuette.

Kings and queens, on the other hand, have larger gardens. Mostly parks. With lakes, forests, and hills. A little fountain or statuette would disappear in such a garden. Kings and queens also used to get quite easily bored – if there was no war going on that is. Or famine. One can only host so many tea parties in a park with the exact same landscape. And one can only re-landscape a park every so often.

The most trendy solution during the 18th century was “follies”. Buildings made for absolutely no need except for to look nice. Or for example to dine outside with a view over hill and lake bathing in the light of the setting sun. One could just have a table carried out – or one could build an oval gazebo in the backyard and paint the ceiling with flowers.

And if a tea party turns out to be a bearable pastime and a summer tent was needed, why not build a Turkish tent out of copper? Or host the party in a Chinese pagoda?hagapark-3And, folly of follies, should the king become utterly completely bored with his beautiful castle, well, how about building a little garden shed, with just two wings and about 30 windows, for the king to move into? A little like a boy moving into the empty toolshed in the back of the garden? The king of Sweden did exactly this. Gustav III lived his last summers in his “garden shed” – until he was shot during a Venetian style masked ball. hagapark-2(Royal Haga Park, Stockholm, Sweden; April 2016)

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Looking up

If I were a painter, I would paint the play of light in Stockholm old town. I would sit on a rooftop with a canvas and colors and paint the light of the setting spring sun hitting the ochre and sand colored walls of houses.

But because I am just a businesswoman getting a breath of fresh air after work, with no canvas or colors, I use what I have: my iPhone and my memory.

When was the last time you walked in a city and looked up? Try it. It’s worth it, especially when the sun shines.Gamlastan-3(Stockholm, Sweden; April 2016)

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Houses like wedding cakes

riga-8Who knew that Latvia had the most Art Nouveau buildings in all of Europe? I surely didn’t. How lovely would it be to live in a wedding-cake house: pastel-colored building decorated with soft shapes, vine leaves, theatrical masks, or lions and angels? Until one steps inside to discover that while the narrow, tall windows are beautiful, they do not let in much light at all. The outside matters more than the inside. And while the inside may be dark, it is certainly decorated.riga-6I wonder who lived in all of these houses? Were there enough wealthy Latvians in Riga in the turn of the century, or were most inhabitants of foreign ethnic origin? And what does it feel like to live in a blue-white building watched over by two huge bored long faces? Who ever saw them during a post-opium-laced-tea dream and decided, “I know, I will put them on the roof of my next house – what a grand idea!”?riga-4To the contemporary mind, Art Nouveau seems less like new art and more like old art. Perhaps the shapes and the wholeness of the style, from architecture to art, was fresh. But covering a house in white cream the shape of seashells, lions, statues, and vine leaves sounds more rococo than new. Perhaps it was art nouveau that Ayn Rand’s hero architect could not stand in the Fountainhead? I cannot blame him – but I can state that today’s buildings are a bore compared to the whimsy of art nouveau, new art a century old.rigaartnouveau(Riga, Latvia; February 2016)


In the Crown Princess’s backyard

hagapark-1This is the front yard of my Stockholm crib. It also happens to be the backyard of the Crown Princess of Sweden and her prince consort and children. Catching the last daylight and some fresh air between office and dinner, it is surprisingly easy to get lost in the park. The English-style landscaping is from the mid-18th century when even a park did ideally not look like any human hand had shaped it – only God’s hand.

Take one wrong turn and you may be faced with a Chinese pagoda. Get lost in the squirming lanes again and you come face to face with a Roman tent -looking pavilion. Or a round royal lunch pavilion. Or the ruins of a castle. Or the royal castle of the Crown Princess and her family.

As I circled around the Chinese pagoda and turned back towards candlelight, tinkling cutlery, and a cozy evening meal, I thought of how lucky I was to have this place as my front yard if only for one day a week.

hagapark-2(Hotel Stallmästaregården in Hagaparken, Stockholm, Sweden; October 2015)

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The haunted hotel


Imagine a white, long, stately grand hotel. With miles of corridors, white doors, and old Persian rugs. With hidden rooms and the scent of old age, and a bar with an age-old bartender. With guest rooms in which good things have happened – and horrible things, too. With REDRUM spelled on the door.

Yes. REDRUM. The Shining. “Honey, I’m home!” Jack Nicholson’s character going into serial-killer-mode. Except for that the location was changed to another hotel in Colorado just before filming began. Yet sometimes truth is stranger than fiction. The Omni Mount Washington resort in New Hampshire looks like the hotel from the movie. Only the haunted hedge maze is missing.

What a relief, then, that only room 314 is haunted. It is only at night when the hotel creaks and sighs. On a clear day you can see Mount Washington in the distance. And no REDRUM MURDER happened on our watch. 

NH-hotel-2(Omni Mount Washington Resort, Bretton Woods, New Hampshire, USA; October 2015)


A pilgrimage and a lucky return


At Seminyak beach I jumped into a Bluebird cab. “Take me to Tanah Lot temple, please.” “It is quite far and we would need to agree on a price” said the driver. The sole reason for why I chose to endure the crazy-drunk-Aussie-vibe of Seminyak for one night was to see Tanah Lot temple. We agreed on a price and began the squiggly journey out North through the Aussie beach settlements.

Nearing the location I casually asked my drive how to get catch a cab back to Seminyak. “What do you mean catch a cab? There are no cabs at Tanah Lot” he replied, puzzled. No way to get back unless you had a hired car or were on a tour bus. It was too far to hail a scooter back into town. I had driven all the way out to see Tanah Lot but in worst case I would be stuck there for the night.

Fortunately, after settling the meter fare and offering a nice extra he agreed to stay and wait for me for an hour. I made him promise, swear on his mother, that he would not leave me stranded.

Slightly worried I slipped through the gates, through the touristy stalls, and hurried down to the beach – along with a few hundred other tourists. And there it was: a temple that was built on a rock, withstanding the crashing surf and only accessible during low tide. The most photographed site of Bali, and one of the holiest temples in Indonesia. Time stood still. Tanah Lot took my breath away for a full hour and a half, until I realized I should probably try my luck to see if the driver was still around.

He was. That wonderful, incorruptible man. He had been pestered by four separate tourist groups, offering him huge tips and double fare and whatnot to take them home. It could have been me in the late afternoon, desperately trying to get a ride back into town. But I had a ride. The Balinese once again proved to be more reliable than many other cultures (Finns excluded). 

We rode ahead of the sunset back to Seminyak. I had a camera full of photos, and an image burnt forever onto my retina: of Tanah Lot temple surrounded by a constant crashing surf but unyielding, like a courageous heart.
tanahlot-2(Tanah Lot temple, Bali, Indonesia; August 2015)

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Home of the Lady of the Lake

laketemple-2Up in the highlands, surrounded by mist, the lake is her home.  Her name is Dewi Danu. And sometimes, just sometimes, she surfaces to sit on the ledge of her temple. Never does she not find a sweet-and-rice offering from her people. Her well-being is of utmost importance to all Balinese because if she is not well there is no clean water. And if there is no clean water there is no rice – and no life on Bali.

The Lady of the Lake is elusive, but those who have seen her say she is more beautiful (and more terrifying) than any other lady.

laketemple-1(Pura Ulun Danu Bratan, Bali, Indonesia; August 2015)


Zakopane style

Zakopane-1“Zakopane, isn’t that the town with the ski jump? Is it in Poland?” This question encompassed all my knowledge about the historical Polish ski resort my sister wanted to visit. I looked it up on the map one week before departure and noticed we would be going into the Tatra mountains, towards the Slovakian border. Not sure I even knew that Poland HAD a border with Slovakia.

There may be many people as ignorant as I in Europe, but the Poles sure do know Zakopane. We joined the humongous crowd milling on Krupowki street, dazed, thinking we arrived at a festival day. “No, it is just a regular Saturday”, said the friendly hotel concierge. Indeed. And out on the hiking trails it was a regular Saturday traffic every day.

But if one manages to look past the crowds at the buildings in Zakopane, one is in for a surprise. The local style dominated in the early 20th century, born by the artist/architect Witkiewicz, who mixed Art Nouveau with folk carpentry. Zakopane-6Oh, the attention to detail! Each door post must have at least one flower carving.Zakopane-2And each house must have custom-made furniture.Zakopane-3And today the Zakopane style still inspires – for example to build hobbit houses such as this B&B. Only in Zakopane.Zakopane-4   (Zakopane, Poland; July 2015)