This blue marble

– and yet it spins


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An asylum by the sea

If the inhabitants of Lapinlahti mental hospital would have been well, I had envied them for their backyard views. Sitting there by my own free will, sipping my café-bought kombucha, I hope it gave them at least a tiny millimeter of peace and hope every day.

The Emperor of Russia gave an order to build an asylum for those needing psychiatric care, and Lapinlahti opened its doors in 1841, among the first mental hospitals in Europe. Until 2008 it has housed patients, and so so many individual destinies, hopes, fears, illusions, and disillusions.

The house is nestled in the nook of a shallow bay, surrounded landside by lush green parkland. Such a lovely place to find oneself when one is lost. Unfortunately it is never quite that simple.

(Helsinki, Finland; July 2020)


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Sturgeons are weird creatures

Sturgeons are weird creatures. These girls are the ones who make caviar – and to whom it really belongs.

Sturgeons used to be everywhere: from the English channel to the Mediterranean, and from the Black Sea all the way throughout Siberia. Unfortunately, because catching one provides food to many, they have been fished to near-extinction.

The species of sturgeon that once swam in the Baltic Sea disappeared some 100 years ago. These days the only sturgeons out there are the Russian species which are from time to time farmed and let out into the waterways – and I have not heard of anyone catching one in a net, ever.

Curiously, these scary-looking fish lack teeth (except for the beluga sturgeon and another near-related species), and they do not use their eyes when they look for food or eat. Instead they have a good sense of smell, extended to a lot of chemical cues, and they sense weak electric signals from other living things nearby.

The Maretarium in Kotka specializes in fish found in Finnish waters – thus a lot of trout, perch, a few funny-looking pikes, and a bunch of funky eels. Even in cold Finland, where waters freeze over in the winter, there is so much going on underneath the bellies of bathing-suited summer lovers just skimming the surface of the water.

(Maretarium, Kotka, Finland; July 2020)


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At the older border to Russia

Pyhtää used to be at the border between Sweden and Russia in the 18th century. It is odd to think how far into modern Finland the border stretched: by car the journey to the current border crossing is 80 kilometers.

The church of Saint Henry was built around 1460, when Finland was part of Sweden. Elsewhere, this was the time of the War of the Roses, Aztecs, Renaissance, the “discovery” of America, and the Spanish inquisition. I doubt many here in Finland cared, though – the life here has always been relatively down-to-earth and simple. But this one masterpiece got built and it still stands today – very beautifully so.

(Pyhtää, Finland; July 2020)


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So many rapids

Kotka-siikakoski-2

Siikakoski

Kymi river is one of the big ones in Finland – although naturally for one used to the Danube or the Amazon it is a tiny stream. But the beauty of Kymi lies in its many rapids and whitewaters, perfect for fly fishing salmon and trout. And simply purifying one’s mind in the white noise of the water.

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Ahvionkoski

This coronavirus summer, my father lead a family expedition to discover the various rapids of Kymi river. Every now and then we would get in the car and spend half a day driving around. How he knew how to find the various gravely forest roads leading down to obscure fishing spots along the many arms of Kymi river, I do not not know. Either he has photographic memory after studying Google Maps, or a very good memory from his youth adventures.

Kymi-1

I forget which one this was… we stopped on a small bridge.

I tried to recall all the names of the rapids, but I realized we had been to many of which I have no photos, and others of which I have too many photos. But they all have one thing in common: the fishing rules are signposted in Finnish and Russian (and, surprisingly, not in Swedish, the other national language) – signaling that the border is nearby.

Kymi-5

Hirvikoski

Many of the rapids are harnessed for hydropower use, and most do as far as I know not have fish ladders for salmon and trout to migrate upstream. On the one hand it makes me sad that the beauty is lost, but on the other hand I am grateful they are not dammed, and that fossil fuel is reduced at least a little bit thanks to the hydropower plants.

Kymi-3

This one is lost on me, too

(Kymi river, Finland; July 2020)


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The missing point of the largest Baltic Sea naval battle

Kotka-1Right out there, outside of Kotka, a huge sea battle raged in 1790. Swedish forces sank 80 Russian ships, even if Sweden was severely outnumbered. It was the largest naval battle in the history of the Baltic Sea. It was also caused by a king who wanted to prove himself to be as great as the past kings he admired so much – and to shift the attention away from the problems he had in his own country.

In order to reclaim Finnish territories now in the hands of Russia, king Gustav III decided to go to war against his own cousin, Catherine the Great of Russia. Why not? Surely kings of the past used to do that all the time. Well, Catherine beat the poop out of Gustav’s army outside of Kotka the first time around, in 1789. Kotka-3In 1790, Catherine was probably furious, preparing to put down her cousin for good. But the wind blew up from the wrong direction, the waters were shallow and underwater rocks were strewn everywhere. Over 7,000 men died for her, compared to the much smaller loss of around 600 Swedish men. 

As I am not a historian, I cannot quite understand what was gained by any party in this battle. The borders were returned as they were, and even after this great victory, Gustav III’s grand plans never advanced far enough to recapture the lost Finnish territories. His few small attempts were beat down by his cousin. Perhaps both parties were reeling from shock so much that they gave up?Kotka-2The tip of Kotka is now a beautiful maritime park, with gardens, sheep, picnic grounds, and an ice cream stand which always has a long line during sunny days. And it is difficult to imagine the countless ships, cannons, and human bones lying on the bottom of the sea, where it not for the soldier-like ship timber erected by the waterfront as a memorial for the (arguably quite meaningless) great battle.Kotka-4(Kotka, Finland; July 2020)


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Hanami far from Japan

cph-april-2This year was going to be the year I finally would experience a real Japanese hanami. I would look at the cherry blossom (or sakura) forecast, and book a trip to Kyoto to view them at their finest. I would buy a delicious bento boxful of food, a bottle of sparkling wine, and sit under the cherry trees, letting the petals slowly cover me in rosy white fluffy joy.cph-april-5That dream remains a dream, thanks to the covid-19 outbreak. Next year I will not have the flexibility to just up and go at a moment’s notice – but I plan to plan ahead. Apparently, even if it sweeps through Kyoto in just one week, sakura season in Japan lasts for an entire month. One just needs to catch it where it is at its best.cph-april-7Thankfully, Copenhagen also has two cherry tree parks, at Bispebjerg cemetery and Langelinie, that give acute relief to the longing for spring in Japan.brumleby-4(Copenhagen, Denmark; April 2020)


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Two little mermaids

cph-april-1Did you know there are two little mermaids in Copenhagen? One is the much-beloved statue of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale heroine, the little mermaid who fell in love and chose to go through much pain to attain a human soul, just to be with a prince who barely even noticed or cared about her as a person. (If you’re only aware of Walt Disney’s Little Mermaid, please do yourself a favor and read the much more layered original story!)

The second one is part of a larger installation called the Genetically Modified Paradise. This mermaid is also called The Genetically Modified Mermaid and she was placed on the other side of the quay, further down in a residential area, in 2006. It is supposed to be  humorous, although I have not quite understood whether the artist intended to show humor, sarcasm, or grief.

But I like the genetically modified mermaid. Especially her droopy breasts and big feet. Compared to the strict beauty norms of today, such “imperfections” seem friendly.cph-april-8(Copenhagen, Denmark; April 2020)


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In the Sil river canyon

galicia-2Deep in Galicia, the river Sil squiggles through a canyon with walls up to 500 meters high. Somehow the Roman settlers discovered that the steep canyon walls produced excellent wine, as long as one had the energy and perseverance to maintain the vine plants required. galicia-6It seems that not only winemakers liked the Cañon del Sil, as there are a number of hermitage monasteries scattered along both riverbanks. galicia-7Oaks, chestnuts, ferns, and even Galician pine make the Sil river canyon lush surroundings for hiking – as long as one can keep up with the changes in altitude.galicia-8Along the cliff edge there is also a viewpoint curiously named Balcones de Madrid, even if one cannot see Madrid from it. With a little help from Google I pulled up stories about women choosing the viewpoint to see off their trader husbands traveling to Madrid: they had to climb down the canyon on one side, cross the river by boat, and climb up on the other side. Although whether it were the women or the men who built the laid rock walls still remains a mystery to me.galicia-9(Galicia, Spain; September 2019)


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In the middle of nowhere, a monastery (part II)

galicia-3In the middle of the forest lies yet another over thousand years old monastery. Galicia is practically littered with these cute resting places for body and soul.

The Santa Cristina de Ribas de Sil was first annexed to the Santo Estevo de Ribas de Sil monastery (now a fabulous Parador). Later, when the Spanish government carried out a lengthy confiscation and resale of various religious assets around the country (for varying reasons, during nearly two centuries), both monasteries ceased their spiritual operations.

In a way it is unfortunate, as I am sure the Benedictine monks (and perhaps a limited amount of lucky visitors) would have continued to feel contented in this charming little monastery, for another thousand years.
galicia-4(Galicia, Spain; September 2019)


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Conferring fish and curious crayfish

SSaq-1I spent the afternoon studying conferring fish that look like plants growing from the sand, curious lobsters with bulging red eyes, and schools of tuna and sardines. The aquarium of San Sebastián is tucked away at the end of the old port. Half of the exhibition was about seafarers, types of trade and ships, corsairs, fishing, and whaling. I learned that Basques were famous for their shipmaking and seafaring skills, even if they rarely represented as captains on ships.

The aquarium was nicely built but enveloped in the noise of Spanish kids. It shames me to say I find Spanish children very rudioso (and sometimes their parents, too). Everybody could hear each other so much better if only they turned down the volume a notch or two. I hope the sea creatures have soundproof glass.SSaq-2My new housemate came home last night at 00.30 am, clomping over the floor in her shoes and having no discretion to us sleepers. This morning she got up in time but said she would catch up with us later. She did indeed, not by coming to class but by taking photographs of my homework when I got back. I guess it can sometimes be more efficient to only focus on getting homework right.SSaq-3(San Sebastián, Spain; August 2019)