This blue marble

– and yet it spins


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What is the soul of a city?

NYC-1What are cities made of? What is the essence of a city? We humans are funnily egocentric: we like to anthropomorphize everything. We talk about the “beat” of a city or it’s “soul”. In a way we evoke a primeval streak of animism when we claim to sense the essence of a city as if it were inhabited by a spirit.

Well, here is a bold thought: concrete, steel, asphalt, dust, dirt, glass, electricity. This is what for example New York City is made of. Perhaps you adore it, disagree, and claim NYC is made of buzz, life, ambition, and hope for the future. That the soul of a city is the people and human life.

The problem is, human life is transient and ever-changing. Without it, New York City would be a big pile of rust, concrete, and rats (rats are life, too!). And water. Apparently there used to be over 40 streams of water running across Manhattan, and the original land colonialized by Europeans was to a large extent swampland (around a few hills).

I wandered around NYC in early May, imagining from time to time what the city would look like stripped from all neon lights, cars, electronic billboards, and human life. A few months later I was given a book to read which presents scientific conclusions on what would actually happen to it should we people all disappear. Since the City is actively fighting back water in its subway systems, flooding would be the first, immediate effect. At some point the city would combust and burn, probably several times, due to all the faulty electricity and fuel sources available. The rats would probably have a feast. Then, slowly, trout and other fish would return to the river; with great difficulty over the few first generations, owing to the leaking nuclear power plant nearby. But they would come. And so would other animals.

Nature is the entropy humanity tries to fight against. The moment we stop, Nature conquers us. It has no rush as it knows it will always win in the end. Eventually. My claim is that a city is nothing but a container, a vessel, for life. And so, would it not be fair to say that the city is actually soul-less and an anomaly in the order of things? That what we mistake as the “beat” or the “soul” of the city is, in fact, our primeval collective pulse as a human community – and the city has nothing to do with it?NYC-2(New York City, USA; May 2018)


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When I grow old

france-13When I grow old I do not want to look at four walls. I do not want to become a person who is afraid to go out of the house. I do not want hospital food unless the hospital is my only option. When I grow old I do not want to endure long, dark winters. I do not care if I will remember things or not. Most likely I will not. That is fine, as that is how life goes sometimes.

When I grow old I want to live by the sea. If I can walk I would like to go for a walk along the waterline, come sun or rain or wind.

If I cannot walk I would like to just sit and stare at the sea. In a chair. Or, even better, in a swing. If I can smell the sea, I would like to smell the sea every day. If I cannot smell a thing, I want to remember what the sea smells like. They say scents are the deepest memories of our being. I hope I will remember the scent of the sea. But even if I do not, it does not matter as long as I know I can see the waves.

When I grow old I want to sit and look at the sea. Every day. If I cannot see a thing, I would like to listen to the sea. That is fine, as that is how life goes sometimes.

When I grow old I want to sit and listen to the waves rumble. Every day. If I cannot hear a thing, I would like to feel the breeze and salt spray on my skin. I want to feel the hairs on my arm stir in the breeze and my cheek cool down in the wind. That is enough, and it is fine, as that is how life goes sometimes.

(Villefranche-sur-Mer, France; April 2018)


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Bird’s eye view

cloudsLovely ones, apologies for the radio silence. Wow, nearly three months have gone by: an entire summer. And what a summer. One where it has been an everyday challenge to climb high enough to see the bird’s eye view. Instead I have spent most of the time either buried in the trenches or with my head spinning. It is an act of mindfulness to gently pull on that string that we all have attached on top of our heads. You know the one that, if we just keep pulling, lifts us up higher and higher, so that when we are alongside the clouds we actually see the big picture of our lives.

I am writing this from Singapore, where I arrived just a few hours ago. It is late and I have slept about 9 hours in total during the past two nights. The apartment in Helsinki is now emptied, boxed up, and wrapped in plastic. Tomorrow hell breaks loose and the replumbing team begins to tear up the bathroom and the pipes in the entire building. And I grabbed my backpack and shut the door behind me. For a long while. Quite probably for good.

There are so many cliché ways one could describe starting a new chapter. I will not attempt any of them. Instead I will focus on sleep – and starting tomorrow, on noodle soup. I am hoping that this combination will slowly pull me up so I can see the big picture again.

(Singapore; July 2018)


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Helsinki from above (today)

HELfromtheairThese are the Eastern suburbs of Helsinki from above, at night. The bright spot to the far left is Vuosaari harbor. The black triangle cutting in to the top third from the right side is Vartiokylä bay. I grew up running around it and taking a plunge at the end. When my family moved to this part of town in the early 80s, our street was unpaved and ended in fields of crops and horse stables. The houses were all built right after World War II. There was an old broken horse-pulled rake of some kind lying by the side of the road for years. There were meadows and forests and a brook.

Now most of that is gone. The brook is still there, protected. But the meadow is tiny, and the forests, fields, and horses are gone. I am glad I had a childhood where I got to climb trees, jump around in ice cold water, and roll around in the meadows. The kids who grow up there today will not have such a childhood.

(Helsinki, Finland; March 2018)


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About Amsterdam and existentialism

amsterdam-1After 6.5 years I was back in Amsterdam. It was beautiful, as always in spring, and every cell in my body screamed “get me out of here!!!”. For four days I stayed on the South side of the Singel, and mostly even on the South side of the Amstelkanaal. At least I got to explore areas new to me.

I am currently reading a book on existentialism (Sartre, Beauvoir and the likes. Kierkegaard and Nietzsche if you are liberal). Existentialism as a philosophical movement claims that nothing has a purpose and that everything just Is, until you yourself make a choice and thus make meaning out of chaos. While existentialism is not my cup of tea, I can see how liberating it is to just let go of every meaning, memory, and association to pain: simply stating that I am free to choose and if I do not choose to make meaning out of it, it does not exist. It never did. Pain only exists when we choose to give it existence and meaning in association to something else important in our lives. If we just choose to be free, pain is gone. Poof. Neverwas.

(Thank goodness I could return home after just 4 days)amsterdam-2(Amsterdam, The Netherlands; March 2018)


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What is beauty?

factoriesWhat do you think, is this photo beautiful? Do you see light, color, and fluffy clouds matching the fluffy smoke? Or do you see a planet in destruction, no trees and no Nature anywhere?

Is there a collective, pan-human sense of esthetics, or is what our mind considers beautiful conditioned by the surroundings we are subjected to? How much of our sense of esthetics is objective, focusing on for example form, color, and light; and how much is subjective, weighed down or lifted up by our personal values, memories, and associations?

Complicated thoughts one morning above the Netherlands.

(The Netherlands; March 2018)