This blue marble

– and yet it spins

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In Southeast Estonia, of all places

tartu-3In Tartu today. How surprisingly charming this little Southeastern Estonian town is. Perhaps little for me, but it is the second largest city of Estonia after Tallinn, boasting a population of about 95,000 people. Yes, really. And who knows how many students.tartu-2The vibe here is historic, hip, and smart. There are hipster cafés, cool murals, old wooden houses, and an almost Cambridge-y breeze in the air.  Naturally I am here for the smarts and the science. It’s in the air, too.tartu-1(Tartu, Estonia; May 2017)

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Interlude: in Tallinn

 There was a day off. And visitors from far away. A fast ferry across the Gulf of Finland to Tallinn, some rain, and lots of walking.

There was talk about food culture, and a restaurant owned in Manila. And great food of course. There was talk about making an international career as a woman……And there was talk about the world of men, old wars and new wars, and how recent changes in Russian relationships with some European countries are similar to China’s relationships to small Asian countries like the Philippines.

But most importantly there was time for another random get-together in a random European country. And the sun came out, too.

(Tallinn, Estonia; August 2016)

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Chocolate will save us all

pierreStepping into Pierre’s is like visiting a whimsy old granma. Each table has different height, different chairs, and a different lamp. Some tables are draped with carpets. Others are decorated with roses.

But in the end, who even remembers the decor when there is chocolate on the menu? Gorgeous hand-made truffles, rocky road, and broken chips decorated with cranberries. Cakes that weigh a ton and infuse with a will to live, if only for another piece of the same.

For me it is the hot chocolate that gives me hope that there is goodness in this world. For me it is that big steaming cup with gooey chocolate, stirred with a pinch of sea salt, some caramel, a spoonful of honey, and whipped cream on top. All I need on a cold, bleary Friday morning after an intense day and night of work the day before. Give me chocolate and I can dare to hope it is all going to be okay.

(Chocolats de Pierre, Tallinn, Estonia; February 2015)

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Once upon a time there was a monastery


800 years ago she stood as a safe haven and retreat for those wishing to know God and themselves. She was created to bring the Christian God closer to the people, to open their hearts with the help of Dominican monks. She also had business sense: in the heydays she provided shelter to produce up to four kinds of beer for the good Blackfriars.

But the greatest wars on Earth are always about religion. Faith is another word for subjective truth. Congregations loyal to Rome were not in fashion when the Reform spread northward from Germany.

Reform in the 16th century meant also reform of the buildings of worship. And so she was dismantled, piece by piece. Some of her brick was incorporated into the great cathedrals of Tallinn. Other pieces were scattered into buildings and city infrastructure around the Old Town.

But the vault of Power remains. As I stood still in the center of the room I could hear my own rambling mind. Why, I think heard something else, quietly swirling by the tip of my ear. Centuries later, the echoes of the chanting monks still bounce off the walls. The worn stone floors invited for a moment of tranquility in this crazy hurried world.

And then a lady tourist in great awe of the ceilings kicked the candle on the floor. It flew a good meter, splashing stearine as it went.  No more echoes of monks and no more impressions of power in the air. Amidst minor confusion, apologies, and good intentions we relit the toppled candle with a miniature matchbox strangely enough provided by the lunch restaurant just an hour ago as a gift to all customers.

Coincidence, perhaps, or perhaps not? One thing is certain: regardless of temples of worship and candle-lit moments, tranquility is a state of mind.


(Dominican monastery, Tallinn, Estonia; July 2014)

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And left behind was a red hotline telephone

In 1991 the Soviet intelligence left Estonia in a hurry. Walls had come down, both in divided cities and in the minds of those who built them. Just a few weeks earlier, in some places the walls had had ears. And eyes, enhanced by wide-angle cameras. Ashtrays were bugged and 60 rooms of the one and only Viru Hotel in Tallinn were tapped. If you exclaimed aloud that you were out of toilet paper it was delivered to your door within 5 minutes. In-room breakfast was served when the hotel heard you were awake. The radio to KGB headquarters and Moscow was running hot.

Conversations between hotel guests were listened to by bugged ashtrays and dinner plates. Oh, the fate and woes of the kitchen staff who by mistake put such a plate in the dishwasher!

Spying on Western guests was not considered an offense but a pure business matter. Stealing from hotel guests was, however, quite another matter. Grabbing and opening this lovely red purse triggered a paint bomb: whoosh out came a puff of red powdery paint, in your face. Contact with water just made the paint stick better, so washing off your sin was not an option.

And then change arrived: a new world, and the old world was locked and left behind for decades to come. Papers scattered across the table. A few radios ripped off, others left where they once stood. The red telephone with no dial was deemed useless: nobody would ever pick up again at the KGB Tallinn headquarters.

Nothing lasts forever. And when it is time to go we show our true colors and single out those objects we wish to keep. The radios went with the spies but not the poor lonely red telephone. Yet 20 years later it is the center of the room and attention once again. The world turns in wild loops and we can only guess the fate of the once so important radios.

(KGB Museum at Viru Hotel, Tallinn, Estonia; July 2014)

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Joining the Estonian madness

30secondstomarsShe only recently discovered them (“I’m slow to catch on” she admitted), and this experience junkie is always up for a good show and adventure. And so we chased 30 Seconds to Mars across the pond to Tallinn, Estonia. “Are you ready for a sing-along?” my sister asked. Yes, I was ready for some chanting of radio hits, but not this kind of sing-along. With mike or without mike. With band or with just a guitar. With fans on the stage and crazy giant balloon party in the audience.


Tonight was not a concert from the band to the fans and audience. It was a concert with the band and fans and audience and an inspired, happy frenzy among Estonians, Finns, Russians, Latvians, Lithuanians, and a few other united nations gathered in Saku Suurhall.

The strangest thing happens when dark, moody lyrics are transformed by the spirit of a few thousand souls into a glowing ball of elated energy. It is a source of primeval core strength we rarely tap into in our sophisticated times. And colorful balloons are never wrong.


(Saku Suurhall, Tallinn, Estonia; July 2014. Tour image courtesy of