This blue marble

– and yet it spins


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Walking the High Line

NYC-8In New York City, there was a train track that once felt important. And rightly so, as it was needed. Proudly it stretched its shiny steel tracks from the West into town, carrying loads and loads of freight trains every day between the city and a growing industrial area. Being ready for any kind of transportation was its sole purpose. For sixty years it felt necessary, and cared for.

Then, one morning just like any other morning, there were no more trains. No more light signals and no more buzz at the end station. Nobody showed up. Nobody showed up for such a long time that the shiny steel began to rust. Then nobody showed up to care for the always-ready, hard-working track. There were roads, you see. Alternate routes. Changes in urban planning. The poor track was not needed anymore. Nobody even needed the steel or the ground for anything, so people just forgot about it in a New York minute (snap).

Weed started to push through between the ballast and the wooden sleepers. Just a few curious herbs at first – followed by a bunch of others. And then, slowly, a sapling tree found itself growing in the middle of New York City, in a sky garden above the ground.

What to do with all that green in the middle of NYC? With campaigning and some luck, some spirited people converted it into a protected park. In doing so they did not uproot the tough little weeds and plants and trees, but kept much of the original flora. For kids growing up in the City it is inspiring to know that when Nature manages to push through, these are the plants and flowers and trees that grab foothold. And the old train track is proudly stretching itself again, covered in lush greenery.

I walked the High Line in its entirety: over 2 km of urban garden. If greenery is not incorporated into the original urban plan (like it wasn’t in most of NYC), creative rescue solutions like the High Line are probably the best second alternative. And I was happy to walk on the old rails and know they had a purpose once again – and this time hopefully for longer than just sixty years.NYC-6(New York City, USA; May 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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An English garden in Italy

italygardens-2When one is 35 years old and wishes to establish oneself, one can either join the entertaining society or one can entertain oneself by building a fine garden from scratch. In this garden it is not enough for the visitor to love flowers to see them; here one must climb down a height difference of 100 meters to see the end of the garden by the ocean – and another 100 m up again to exit by the gate. When deciding to establish themselves, Sir Thomas Hanbury and his brother Daniel did not choose a garden site with step-free access.italygardens-1 To compensate for the viewer’s labors, in the late 19th century the La Mortola garden was one of the most famous gardens in the world: nearly 6,000 different plants; many exotic and brought home from Asia by Sir Thomas himself.

The garden has been destroyed and reborn several times due to war and bad management. Today it is owned by the University of Genoa and is in better shape than it has been for decades. While it is lovely, and age has only made the buildings and structure more charming, I could not help but think that it lacks the more orderly feel of an English or German garden (Hanbury’s head gardener was German). Perhaps this slightly topsy-turvy current state befits a garden which after all is on Italian soil.
italygardens-3(La Mortola, Italy; April 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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On the top of London

londoneye-4On my first ever visit to London, in 2000, the London Eye was brand spanking new. The lines for a spin were days if not weeks long, even if each pod takes 25 people, allowing for plenty of space to move around. Originally I remember it was called the Millennium Wheel, and the rumor was that it was going to be dismantled after a while. londoneye-3 I am glad that the London Eye is still up, 19 years later. I suppose Brits had to have an iconic, modern landmark, as the French have the Eiffel Tower.londoneye-1And 18 years after my first visit to London, I finally got to ride the thing. I excused myself from work early, took the tube down, navigated through the throngs of visitors and found myself in a nearly empty VIP lounge with a glass of champagne and the sun pouring in through the windows. Because if you wait for something for nearly two decades, you must go through it with style.

And rain or shine, London from the top is quite a sight.
londoneye-2(London, United Kingdom; March 2018)


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Cocktails above Zurich

zurich-1In the middle of Zurich, high up in the Urania observatory, there is a panorama bar. It looks a little like an old water tower from the outside. And it can be so busy on the inside that one barely can take in one’s surroundings, which somehow are supposed to have something to do with Jules Verne’s stories. Fortunately the windows are large.

And fortunately the views are great. Because the drinks at the Jules Verne are quite pricey.

(Zurich, Switzerland; February 2018)


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In Greece for a night

gronalundIt could have been a Greek island. It certainly felt like it, and even the olives and the tzatziki had a tinge of sunlight in their flavors. I tried to forget it was Gröna Lund in Stockholm, Sweden. Because there was a Mamma Mia -inspired dinner show, followed by an ABBA-inspired disco, and so many happy people in summer dresses and light linen suits.gronalund-2Indeed, it was Greece all the way until the wee hours of dawn, when we stepped out of the wonderland into a freezing cold, snowy January night.

(Stockholm, Sweden; January 2018)