This blue marble

– and yet it spins


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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)


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Who are the Finns and where do they come from?

langmap-2Finnish, Estonia, Vepsian, Livonian, Hungarian, Mansi, Sami, Udmurt, Mari, Moksha. How many of these languages have you ever heard of? How about Nenets, Karelian, and Khanty? This is the language tree of the Uralic languages, including Fenno-Ugric languages where Finnish and Estonian belong (the top yellow-and-orange languages in the photo above).

In school I was taught that Finnish is an old language that stems from somewhere deep in Russian territory. It is not Indo-European, meaning Finnish is less related to Swedish than Sanskrit to German. I was also taught that the languages can be trailed backwards in tribes, along migration routes across the Siberian taiga, all the way back to the Ural mountains. Basically, people linguistically related to Finnish, Estonian, and Hungarian are a smattering of fur-trapping and reindeer-hearding tribes between Finland and Mongolia. Sami, or the language of the reindeer-hearding Lapps in the Nordic countries, is on a separate branch even if it is geographically close to Finnish. It has heavy influences from its geographic neighbors but is according to linquists also close to Mongolian. langmap-1Today this model is challenged. Those who combine ancestry genetics with linguistics say that Finns have a mixed genetic heritage, Finnish came to Finland from Estonia, and as a language it is not really old at all: if you remove all influences of Baltic, Swedish, ancient Germanic, and ancient Russian languages, you are left with just a few words. Surely this is plausible because people adopt each others words when they spend time together.

Which ever way is the truth, it is a curious and often forgotten fact that we EU citizens who feel we belong with Western Europe, Ikea, beer-lovers, and a Christian cultural heritage, actually have close family links with tribes living in very cold climes, either in wooden huts or in yurts, trapping fur animals or herding reindeer for a living. We share the same words and partially the same culture of singing our stories through poetic verse (check out the Finnish national epos, the Kalevala. It was a huge inspiration for J.R.R. Tolkien in his youth). The soul of our ancestry lies in a mythical connection with nature, where everything from bears to trees to rocks have souls, too. We forget this, even when we pick seven kinds of flowers to put under our pillow at midsummer night so we dream of our husband-to-be; or when we retreat to our summer cottages, choosing to enjoy our holidays without power or running water, living and breathing Nature.

When you look at our past as well as the lifestyle of our linguistic relatives, is striking how much the Sami, Finnish, Estonian, and Hungarian “Europeans” have much in common with Native American heritage: hunter-gatherer living, respect for big prey, living in connection with Nature, animism, and shamanism. Sure, this is the backdrop of the stone age human, but we Fenno-Ugric people lived like this still as near as 1000 years ago. And what happened to these two cultures? Today the Sami have their own council, their own languages, their own schools, and a growing respect for their culture, while the Native Americans seem to be downtrodden, century after century. And the Finns and the Estonian keep their heritage alive only through subconscious, not-realized connections to their past, such as big feasts when eating big prey animals, and the summer cottage culture.

Interested to learn more about the mysterious folks of the North-Eastern taigas and steppes? There is an excellent, permanent exhibition on the Uralic peoples at the Estonian National museum in Tartu.
rahvamuuseum(Eesti Rahva Muuseum, Tartu, Estonia; December 2017)


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Seeing stars

tartudec-11Scholars have been seeing stars in Tartu for over 200 years. The old observatory is crammed with equipment to view, measure, and analyze. And it is a cold place, even with the hatch closed. A non-astronomer never realizes how freaking cold it is to work at an observatory, because except for in late summer, the clearest nights also mean coldest nights. Yet once again, no such luck for me.

(Tartu, Estonia; December 2017)


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Wilde & Vilde

tartudec-12Being contemporaries, focused as much on style as on wit and critique of society, Oscar Wilde and Eduard Vilde could have met. But they never did. And so they were depicted having  a chat on a bench outside of a pub in Tartu. Oddly, I learned that the exact same piece stands (or sits) in Galway, Ireland.

What an unsettling thought: after you are dead and gone, somebody depicts you next to a person you never met nor knew, assuming there is a connection – and the rest of the world agrees.

(Tartu, Estonia; December 2017)


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Stone of sacrifice

tartudec-14There, unassumingly in the park, next to a currently acknowledged house of God stands a much older site of God. A million sacrifice ceremonies have worn out round indentations in the rock, like bowls carrying gifts to the Divine.

The days of worship are not over. The students of Tartu university use it to burn their lecture notes after exams. Perhaps it is not so much a sacrifice to knowledge and life but a purification of methods after numerous books have been converted to understanding and insight?

Times change. Our need to connect with the Universe will not.
tartudec-13(Tartu, Estonia; December 2017)