This blue marble

– and yet it spins


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The most wonderful bookshops

dauntbooksBookshops? you may inqure. Who goes to bookshops anymore, when you have Kindle, Amazon, and the easy kiosk bookshops at airports? Fortunately there are still people who love the smell of books and the feeling of picking an unknown but intriguing book off the shelf, knowing it may change your world if you just sit down and give it attention. Fortunately there are still people who love the excitement of discovery in 3D which is not possible if you browse Amazon, like a holiday trip but much cheaper (unless one comes out carrying one’s weight in paper).

My opinion is that every bookshop is important. And then there are bookshops which are both important and special, somehow. Perhaps because of their history, or how they are run. Or simply by the books they carry. Here below are a few of my favorites in no particular order, the ones that I easily lose an hour or two in. If it is not on the list it may be because I have not yet visited it – so please drop me a note!

Shakespeare and Company (Paris): English language books in a maze-y bookshop from the 50s on the Left Bank in Paris. That is an amazing combination in itself already, but it gets better: if you are an aspiring writer you can stay for free in any of the small beds hidden away between the shelves, writing away on any of the old typewriters ensconced in quiet nooks. All you have to do in return is help around, maybe read aloud, and read and review books. You will be one of tens of thousands of writers who stayed, and if you are lucky you will run into celebrated writers who occupy a room upstairs. This wonderful shop is named after the legendary shop which entertained Hemingway, Pound, Fizgerald, and the lot in the 1920s, until WWII broke out. In summer there is usually a line outside so come early in the day. It’s worth the wait.

City Lights Bookstore (San Francisco): The poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti founded City Lights just a few years after Shakespeare and Company was re-created in the 50s. He called it the sister of the shop in Paris, perhaps because both drew crowds of beat poets and writers. While the browsing experience is not at all like that of an old nearly derelict Parisian riverside building, I love this shop because of its history, the founder’s wonderfully hilarious poetry, and the book content. If social activism, world history and politics or poetry is your thing, this shop is for you. The most-bought book is probably the beat poem Howl by Allen Ginsberg.cassandrabook.jpgPowell’s City of Books (Portland, OR): 1970s shop specialized in vintage and rare books, but also carrying a big collection of new books (side by side with the old ones). The key to visiting Powell’s is time: the building spans an entire city block and the rooms are color-coded, to help navigate with a map you can request. Powell’s also has a café and when I visited the place 10 years ago we were invited to take our book picks and read – even if we had not paid for them just yet. The shop also has a Rare Books Room which you can request access to if rare books are your thing.

Daunt Books (London): Edwardian building with a glass roof, specialized in travel books, even publishing its own collection of interesting books around the world. What can be a better reason to visit London? The top photo of this post is from Daunt Books and as you can see, the shop is to be browsed according to geographical location, save for the front room which has a traditional by-topic setup of mostly non-travel books. Daunt Books owns a few other well-curated bookshops around the UK, disguised under other names, so have a look at their store listing before you visit.

Heffers (Cambridge, UK): My favorite haunt when I studied in Cambridge. The last time I visited this shop was in 2015, with the result that I together with my sister lugged home about 10 kg of books in our suitcases. Including the ones below. Heffers is catering for world-class university students and scientists, and so if you are interested in micro-topics like the social life of trees, quantum biology, or famous historical people who liked to talk walks in London at night, this shop is for you.booksBlackwell’s (Oxford, UK): As of a few years Heffers is actually part of Blackwell’s, a UK university-town bookshop chain. Like Heffer’s, Blackwell’s caters for academics and the Oxford shop is another fabulous place to get lost in, as well as the original base of Blackwell’s, founded in 1879. Part of the shop is underneath Trinity College, including the Norrington Room which holds a Guiness World Record for its 5 km of shelves of books: the largest room of books for sale in the world.

When longing to visit a most-wonderful bookshop: If you really love books, perhaps you’d like to smell like one? The scent of old books is a science in itself, and the past few years boutique perfume companies have issued scents that smell of old paper, books, and everything we like to associate with it: perhaps a little leather from the book cover, smoke from a pipe or cigar, wood from the shelves, or dried pansies from grandmother’s table. The only one I have been privileged to smell is Bibliothèque by Byredo, available both as a candle and perfume so we can all dream of bookshops when we are not in one.Paris-2(Vejle, Denmark; October 2019)


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The real New York City

manhattanAs I stood by the DUMBO waterfront I tried to calculate how many people these huge boxy buildings on the opposite shore would contain, any given moment in time. This is the Manhattan skyline as as we know it. “As WE know it”. Because really, just 150 years ago it was like any old town. And just 500 years ago, when Europe was restless because of religious reformations against the Catholic church and Shakespeare wrote his famous plays, Manhattan was mostly swampland. With mosquitoes.

Times Square was a crossing of two rivers and a beaver pond. There were salt marshes and grasslands and forests, all home to turkeys, beavers, elk, and those mosquitoes. The area holding up the skyscrapers I was looking at was sea floor (much of lower Manhattan is landfill). This is the real New York. If this is news to you you might like this excellent article by the National Geographic.

My view of Manhattan is a fart in the history of time. Quickly formed, possibly also not very durable. And yet this is the “iconic” New York “we all know”. Hudson, visiting in 1609, knew the beavers. I doubt city kids today know beavers from anything else than school books (sorry, educational internet websites).

Were do New Yorkers go to rewild? Is Central Park enough or does one have to leave this once so lush and bountiful island?mannahatta.ngsversion.1502920743252.adapt.1900.1

Lower photo humbly borrowed from “Before New York”, National Geographic, September 2009

(New York, USA; April 2019)


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History underground

brooklyn-6When learning about a foreign city, one can go to history museums. Or art museums. Or the more random museums, like the New York transport museum, hosted in an old unused subway station. And learn how, long ago, subway trains had nearly stylish rattan imitation seats.

Or how, even longer ago, before there were subway trains there were streetcars, jam-packed with gentlemen in hot sweaty suits and ladies with two-meter circumference of crinoline squeezing together like sardines in a can. In rush hour surely the streetcar spilled over with skirt hoops and lace and top hats. brooklyn-5The most interesting detail of the Transport Museum is the advertising on the walls of old train cars. Much of it is from WWII, and the strangest references were made to the war. It is also a reminder of how the government raised its own citizens’ money to fight a war outside of US turf by issuing war bonds yielding less than the market rate of other reasonable investments.

Some lovely soul has also been fixated with turnstiles. Yes, turnstiles. There is a collection of probably every single model of turnstile used in the history of the NYC subway. And that is surprisingly many – we just do not pay attention. Someone more attentive did – and collected them all. 🙂brooklyn-4(NYC Transport Museum, Brooklyn, NYC, USA; April 2019)


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DUMBO

brooklyn-3There are photos of the Brooklyn bridge. And then there are photos of people taking photos of the Brooklyn bridge. Same goes for DUMBO beach and the Manhattan skyline. Some heavy cropping was required to weed out tourists in red and orange jackets, absolutely not suitable for being in the frame.

Photography is always reality enhanced. But the fabulous, urban views from DUMBO are real. And so is the lovely restaurant by the waterfront across the beach, with a glass of cool wine if you prefer.brooklyn-8(Brooklyn, USA; April 2019)


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In Brooklyn

brooklyn-2Brownstone buildings, quiet streets, tiny low-fenced gardens with wisterias and greens just like in small European towns, and people playing soccer in the park. Brooklyn is more like Europe than any other American place I have visited. And yet it is just a bridge away from the most American of them all: Manhattan.brooklyn-1But here, among the tulips and the hipster cafés and people walking dogs, I forget I am in the USA. If only for a brief while. Brooklyn, as an old Dutch colony, even still has a Dutch slogan on its city arms.

I am not friends with Manhattan. But I think Brooklyn and I became buddies during just one day. brooklyn-7(Brooklyn, NYC, USA; April 2019)


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About life, above NYC

The difference between these two photos is two hours of bittersweet life stories among three Cambridge alumni classmates. Up above the Manhattan skyline we made attempts to have a light, pleasant reunion after 8 years, but discovered time after time that life was not always light and pleasant.

Thankfully there was a delicious Korean BBQ dinner to keep us entertained among stories of weddings, losses, relocations, and bravely defeated illnesses.

“Life is bittersweet. And it is alright when it is more sweet than bitter,” another classmate of ours once concluded, with a sigh. Once upon a time I would have considered such an opinion a defeat. Not an acceptable goal for a good life lived. But perhaps he was right. The sweet moments are there to be enjoyed in full and then let go; and the bitter moments are for reflection of impermanence and the slow buildup of strength of character.

And so, up on the high floor above Manhattan, three (nearly old) acquaintances laughed and sympathized with life as the sun went down over the city.

(New York City, USA; April 2019)


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Big dreams from before

empirestateThe view from my hotel room window. If only zeppelins were still the fashionable way to transport through the air – then I might see the observatory in its originally designed use: a docking site for zeppelins bringing travelers in and out of Manhattan. Such a courageous space-age dream was built to come true, but never put to good use.

Instead, the Empire State Building is bombarded by dozens of lightning strikes each year.  It gets lonely and dangerous on the top of the city. But from down here, from my cozy hotel room in Midtown, I can look at the bright lights and think about those people who dreamed buildings such as this one into being, ninety years ago, when elevators changed the way buildings were planned, and decades before going to the moon was even a realistic aim.

(New York City, USA; April 2019)