Thursday, 13 May 2021

DEN BLOMSTERTID NU KOMMER ...


Even if Sweden has been secularised since some twenty years back, Lutheranism, the former state religion, is still firmly entrenched in its culture. Every spring, when youngsters assemble to celebrate, one tune always reverberates through the air in jubilant buoyancy. Only a few of the jubilants are aware of singing a Lutheran choral, listed as number 199 in the Swedish Church Hymnal and sung in Church ever since 1695. I won’t let you be ignorant of the lyrics, at least the starter:

Den blomstertid nu kommer
med lust och fägring stor.
Nu nalkas ljuva sommar,
då gräs och gröda gror.

Blooming season now arrives
with sheer joy and beauty both.
Lovely Summer soon then follows,
lets the crops and forage thrive.

(Home cooked translation: Emil Ems)

This song resounds with particular timbre this year. Many of us now tend to interpret it figuratively. After a loong winter of troubles, with the plague forcing ever more caution and isolation upon us, suddenly, with the help of technical miracles, we are relieved of this terrible burden and can begin to hope for a more joyous future. Just yesterday, the news told us that one third of our population has already been inoculated at least once. Even if the rate of newly infected is still surprisingly high, the death toll is decreasing and intensive care units are getting a long awaited relief. 


As if to underline this new beginning, we have enjoyed an especially bountiful cherry blossom season here in Stockholm this year. Cherry blossoms as far North as Stockholm? Yes, indeed! Although not the original Japanese delights, our cherry trees here are of an especially hardy strain, cultivated to endure Northern climates. But, looking at the flowers, you would not notice a difference to the Japanese originals.

In fact, the Japanese community in Stockholm is pilgrimaging to Hammarby Sjöstad (my part of town) in droves every spring to satisfy their cravings for picnicking under a pink flowery ceiling. We ordinary Stockholmers gladly join in, even if most of us are content with ambulating around the trees and taking pictures.

Photographer as I am, I have lived in Hammarby Sjöstad for twelve years now without ever documenting the pink abundance. But this season is different. A new beginning, so to speak, apt to be feted with plenty pictures. So, without further ado, here it is, a small video showing off my home district at its flowery best, accompanied by the venerable Lutheran choral. 


 

Sunday, 4 April 2021

LOOKING FOR THE SILVER LINING



This winter has been a rather peculiar one. It got off to a good start. Most of January and half of February were being blessed with reasonably cool temperatures, hovering moderately below 0° C. With this, a nice cover of glittering snow mirrored a sun never failing to appear in the mornings. As made for nice walks in the proficient neighbourhoods of my home!


Unfortunately, things took a turn for the worse after that, and a loong period of drabness ensued. Day after day laboured on, with grey skies and temperatures varying just around the zero-mark. It was as if a grey blanket of morosity had decided it proper to cover Hammarby Sjöstad. 


But why did I find this peculiar? Isn’t this the usual state of affairs in Stockholm, around February/March, before the sun is deciding to make a definite breakthrough to announce the advent of spring? It took me some time to find out why. Finally, I got it. The drabness I experienced was not that of the sky above us, rather usual this time of the year. No, it was the dread I felt within, in my mind as well as in my bones!


Back in January, life seemed to get honky dory again. Didn’t the authorities announce that vaccination of us old-timers was imminent? I already made plans for a quick trip to the Canary Islands in March, lapping sun on the marvellous beach of Playa del Inglés and ambling along, with my toes sunk in the sand. Alas, it wasn’t to be. Week by week, announcements came of the need to postpone the desired relief, and, in lock-step with the grey skies appearing regularly above my head, the mind started to dive into deeper and deeper folds of despair. 


Finally, two weeks ago, the long awaited announcement came. Time to register for vaccination at long last! Three days ago, on Easter Monday, it was time for me to get relief. My first shot of the AstraZeneca miracle lotion! Still, nine more weeks to get the second shot. And first two weeks after that will I be fully protected (to 95%, that is) against the current strains of Corona. This brings us to mid June!


Still, who am I to complain. Hitherto it was unheard of that a vaccine could be developed and applied whilst a newly arriving pandemic was still in full swing. We should be amazed at the progress in science that made it possible! Harken, you people who can but complain over the tardiness of vaccination and blame both companies and authorities for undue delay. We got the shots at an unprecedented speed! Time to relax and be content!

Still, even if the period of dread is passed, I feel its after effects. It is as if I suddenly have aged 5 years in the short period of the plague. Isolation and hopelessness have a price. Hopefully, this decay can still be reversed, once I have my trip to the Canaries!

In the mean-time, why not have a go at a nice tune I recently discovered, which seems to mirror my sentiments exactly. But in a much more humorous fashion. Enjoy!




Sunday, 7 February 2021

MIDWINTER


This time of the year we sometimes are subject to a peculiar phenomenon occurring in the Northern regions. It is February and, whilst  the morning sky is getting brighter, day by day, the air keeps getting colder and colder. The days are often sunny and dry, but very cold, with temperatures having difficulty to rise from nightly lows of around -15° C. All in all, these are conditions far preferable to the ordinary Stockholm winter, when temperature is alternating between +1° and -1°, with a lot of slush to wade through, and icy spots to break your bones on, whilst taking your daily walk. 

The above experience appears to me an apt metaphor for the present Corona malaise. On the one hand, more and more people are getting vaccinated and saved from the Plague; on the other, a recent mutation of the virus, much more aggressive and deadly, is getting closer and closer, having engulfed all of Albion to the West already, washed up on the shores of Ultima Thule and led Svithiod (Sweden) to close its portals to the outside world; in vain, it turns out, since the fiend is harrowing us already from within. 

5 February at 8.25 am ...

But back to reality: the other morning, I noticed a peculiar apparition from my breakfast table. On Hammarby Canal, towards its West, a huge ice floe had formed, finely powdered by light snowfall in the night before, and moving slowly but surely Eastward towards Hammarby Sound. The water in the Canal is essentially freshwater, since it is being replenished periodically from Lake Mälar, whenever the large lock between the two is being operated. Thus, it tends to freeze over sooner than in the Sound, which contains mostly brackish water from the Baltic. 

... at 8.50 am ...

As I was geting on with breakfast, 25 minutes later, the wandering floe had already entered the Sound ...


... and at 9.00 am

... where, after another ten minutes, the ferry crossing over had to traverse it. With some crunching, the ship was cutting it in half. At the same time, it forced the floe along towards the opposite shore, where it joined the firm ice already hovering there due to freshwater being fed into it from the upper lakes on the plateau.

Only rarely can we witness a complete freeze over of Hammarby Canal; it occurs usually on a calm Sunday morning, when temperatures in the night before have hovered well below -15° and no vessel has yet trafficked the narrows. The picture below was taken five years ago and I was lucky to catch it with just one small boat cutting up the flat surface. 

Looking at that picture now, it appears to me as another apt metafor for life in the times of the Plague. Each and one of us has to labour on, in self-isolation, looking forward to reaching the “open waters” of the company of others and social togetherness. 

An apt metafor for life in the times of the Plague

Let me take the occasion to deal with yet another facet of living with the Plague as a solitaire. Even if aspiring to be a world citizen and being, admittedly, a Swedish national, I feel drawn back to my place of birth off and on. To me, self-isolation has no great disadvantages in daily life, since I am a loner by nature and live by myself anyhow, even in ordinary times. But, I would age prematurely and certainly have a shorter life span if I were permanently prevented from revisiting my place of origin at least once a year. Last year it proved impossible to go back there, and it may remain impossible this year as well. 

So, as consolation, I listen from time to time to a tune that deals with the issue. I admit that many of You Readers will have difficulty understanding the impact of this song. But, rest assured, it means the world to a lot of the German speaking people in Europe (about a hundred million all in all), just as this song means the world to the Swedes. Its refrain goes like this:

I wüll wida ham.
I fül mi do so alan.
Brauch ka grosse Wölld.
I wüll ham noch Firscht'nfölld.

I want to go home again.
I am feeling so lonely here.
Don’t need the world at large.
Just want to go home, to Fürstenfeld.

For most of the about 100 million impacted by the song, the word “Fürstenfeld” just stands for “Heimat”. For me, it stands for exactly what it is. It so happens that the hamlet of Fürstenfeld lies just half an hour on bicycle away from my place of birth. So I trust you understand that this tune means the world to me as well. Enjoy!



Thursday, 31 December 2020

EL SENDERO LUMINOSO

No! I am not referring to an ominous party in South America. Neither to a famous climbing path in the mountains of Mexico. Rather, to my daily elations when treading the paths on my morning walking round.

This time of the year, I nurture the habit of going to bed way after midnight. This way, I can convince the body to awaken first around 8.30. when the first light of dawn is tickling my nose. A lazy breakfast later, I am ready to step out into the world, around 9 am, when the sky has definitely lightened, although retaining its blanket of greyness.

Right midway on my morning round, I have to climb a series of steps to gain access to my favourite nature spot: Sjöstaden’s oak grove, the only one remaining within the city limits. You of course remember that I have dealt with it before (see Serendipity), but, passing through it every morning, I cannot keep from mentioning it again. 


This time of the year, infallibly, when I pass the giant oak corpse seen above, I am enticed to start meditating. This morning again, my mind began wandering, musing about the effects that solitude has on our psyche, in particular the forced one imposed on us by the plague. 

For me, surprisingly, living isolated for a prolonged period of time has the particular effect of retrogradation. This may sound ominous, but really isn’t. Rather, it effects me like being peeled as an onion, or, if you prefer, being bereaved the bark like the tree you see above. In other words, the personality I was born with and which stayed with me when a child, and a bit into adulthood, is now slowly but surely reappearing from the shadows.

Thinking back, I can just about recall that I was a rather solitary youngster, quite content to play by my own and let my imagination be my favourite companion. And what a rich imagination I had! When becoming adult, I started to realise that I was an outsider with this propensity and tried to fit in with people my age. It now dawns on me that this must have taken a lot of effort, which may explain a certain decline in internal life, with its imagination and creativity. 


But never fear! It now all comes back to me. And even without giving me a bad conscience for preferring to be alone! It is, as if an enormous weight has been lifted from my shoulders, and imagination now can come to the fore again without being suppressed. 

I am glad that the plague came at a propitious time, precisely when I needed that extra boost of imagination. Thanks to it, I was able, this year, to complete fully six chapters of my magnum opus, the Emser Chroicles (see Three Men in a Car ...), a tale spanning more than a thousand years and now, thanks to Corona, already two thirds finished!. Will I be able to untangle the thread fully before the end of next year? I better hurry! Soon vaccination will put an end to solitude and may speedily force me back into my normal and more bland adult personality. 

But we are not really there yet! Permit me to enjoy solitude as long as it lasts! Still, whatever the future will bring, we can join hands now and wish each other

A Very Happy New Year!


 

Saturday, 7 November 2020

SERENDIPITY



It is the first week of November now, and the world appears to be completely held hostage by the drama evolving in various US States. Will they ever again get a democratically elected President over there? Here in the calm North, events evolve with considerably more serenity. Granted, the plague has taken off again, but even this abomination seems to respect the peculiar Swedish way to procrastinate. 

Even if hospitalisation is doubling by the week, and deaths are increasing, they do this from very low numbers. This allows the authorities to issue their usual mumblings, including noncommittal advices to us commoners. We oldtimers, on our part, have learnt our lesson and take care not to get too close to the youngsters, who continue with their life as usual.

For us seniors, this prolonged state of self-imposed isolation, which certainly will last well into next spring, is not without its consequences for the psyche. Routine tends to evolve into dread, and dread into depression, if contacts with our fellow humans are being kept at minimum. 

Fortunately, there is video-conferencing, which allows us to keep in contact with whomever we wish to share our solitude at the moment. There is an intriguing programme, called Zoom, which has bewildered many an old-timer, but, once reasonably mastered, gives us access again to all our family and friends. Many a birthday song has been sung on Zoom these days, and many a friendly congregation held, wine glass raised, in virtual conviviality. 

Despite these virtual activities, social isolation reigns supreme. How deeply does it affect me? I am a bit surprised over my resilience in that regard. But, being a solitaire by nature, the difference to ordinary life is not that large for me. Still, I am missing the daily roundtrips to cafë and restaurant, with their opportunities for short but still well-needed social contacts. So what has come to the rescue in this time of need?

Surprisingly enough, it is a resurge in photographic activity. Surprisingly, since I have thought for some years now that my ability in that regard had faded away, that I had outlived my creative years. But, the mind works in mysterious ways. If laid shallow, through social inactivity, other parts of the brain take charge and force you to adapt. 

Come to think of it, renewed photographic vigour should not have come as a surprise to me. Looking back the past fifty years, I have always been active in this art only with short outbursts, interspersed with long years of inactivity. Had I not written about this insight already in my book "Brussels/Stockholm..."? Well, yes, as the citation below bears witness to:

"...  one notices that my photographic life has not been marked by continuous activity. Instead, short-term periods of hectic picture taking in great creative bursts have been lodged within long years of inactivity. These short active periods have been linked to times either of great stress, illness or change. This may have reinforced the inclination to produce serene calm in my pictures, as a way to find solace in a hobby removed from the ordinary way of life. The photographic activity in itself may have helped me resolve difficult circumstances in my life, sparing me from seeking help and solace from outsiders." 

There you have it! The brain forces through photographic creativity as a way to coping with a time of troubles like the present one. Encouraged by this renewed insight, and asked by a Chinese friend to document Stockholm Autumn for her, I went forth with my camera last week, on a day as made for catching the coloured scenery of autumn.

I did not have to search far for motives. On that very day, "the light was right", as we fellow photographers use to say, and I just ambled along my usual morning trail, pointing the camera hither and thither, never failing to catch a serene scenery. 


At about the mid-point of my morning round, I always have the pleasure of entering an embracing and soothing piece of wood, which actually is a marble of nature: the only remaining grove of mature oaks within the city limits of Stockholm! Every time I pass through this enclave, my heart slows down its beatings and calm enters my whole being. This is what it was like to experience nature hereabouts when men's history was just beginning.

When I first saw this sacred place of gnarled and crooked oaks, ten years ago upon my arrival in Sjöstaden, it was still a rather unspoiled piece of nature on a hill, criss crossed by a few nature paths and quite fathomable to the walker.

Since then, already almost half of it is gone! Three new schools and several daycare centres have been built on its fringe and a substantial piece of it cut down and converted into play grounds, with just the odd old crooked witnessing about the site's former glory. 

The other half is still standing, "Thank God!", but is now being heavily "attacked" by some serious asphalted hike and cycle paths. I fear the worst for the grove's future, being loved to death as it is, by myriads of small trampling shoes, carrying horde after hord of small children through nature. It will do the children a lot of good to sample creation at its best, but it forebodes the demise of a truly natural habitat. A sign of the times in our age of overpopulation and demise of species!

Back out from the grove, the camera kept clicking away! Almost back home again, another angle at coloured bounty waited to be covered! What a piece of luck that I had my camera with me that day! 


Just a week later, when I am writing this, hardly any leave is left on the trees. Neither is coloured bounty covering the grounds, since caterpillars, gasoline spewing blowers and rakes have done away with it with a vengeance.



After all this largesse of colours, I cannot find a better way to finish the blog than to present you with a tune as accoutrement. Let the super smooth voice of the crooner render the rest of the day yet more palatable!


Saturday, 24 October 2020

"WINTER IS COMING!"

Don't take the page title seriously! Winter is not coming yet, not today at least. Rather, I am at present immersed in a wonderland of medieval type fairytales, enshrined in some forty shiny silver disks that I have to insert into a black box in order to be completely captivated for hours on end. The name of this wonderland is called WESTEROS, and the story is about a multitude of strange but intriguing figures playing GAMES about a THRONE. 'Nough said about it; you know what I am talking about. 

I am writing this on the last official day of Summer, this 24 October 2020, in the eighth month of the plague. We have had a pleasant Summer climate this year and mild weather has followed us throughout September and a great part of October. Only just a week ago, temperatures have been falling, but they are, in Stockholm, still comfortably above zero (Celsius), even during the nights. Why am I still calling it Summer? Well, we are yet abiding by Summer Time, changing to Winter Time only at 3am tomorrow! 


The mild weather lasting until a week ago was ended by a strong battle between cool air from the North and mild/wet air from the East. Views from my balcony started to get interesting again. So, out I stormed with my camera, to benefit from the atmospheric unrest thus created. I trust you agree with me that it was worth my while. 

Now, let me come to what really causes me to write this blog post. Day before yesterday, a quite unexpected announcement reached us from television. At the public broadcasting news, the Swedish Public Health Authority, represented by its Chief Epidemiologist, the tight lipped Anders Tegnell, pronounced that it was time to ease the Corona restrictions on us old-timers. As of beginning of November, we would be allowed to relax and to socialise again with our children and grand children; we may even start to hug them again. Under our own responsibility of course, and making sure that we understand and take into account all the risks arising with such activities. 


I was a bit confused by this message. In particular, since it was accompanied by strong warnings. The plague is not over yet and everyone, even us old-timers, are being advised to do as always recommended: (1) keeping social distance; (2) washing our hands; and (3) staying self-quarantined at home at the least sign of a cold. Furthermore, statistics show that the plague is still alive and kicking, with the number of infected rising and hospitals in some regions already getting crowded.

How come, I asked myself, that many an old-timer expressed stark relief at Tegnell's announcement, when I myself did not see any difference in the restrictions imposed on us elderly. There are some restrictions of course, mainly that crowds are limited to 50 people, visits to nursing homes are not allowed and restaurants and bars have to obey strict rules of distancing. None of them should be of concern to people like me, that is, people older than 70, living alone in their apartments. I have always respected the public recommendations, finding them sound advice that I gladly follow. So why did Tegnell announce a change in restrictions for elderly that, in fact, did not exist in the first place?


Having pondered this issue for a while, I now think that I have the answer. It lies in the fact that I myself, as Austrian born, do not see any marked distinction between the concepts of "advice" and "recommendation". Both are non-binding statements, inviting you to make up your own mind and act accordingly. But, obviously, the native born Swedes must see a difference. How come, that advice by them is considered non-binding, but recommendation seen as a quasi-mandatory ordinance, causing them relief when it is being lifted? 

I think the reason for this can be found in the inner moral of the Swedish mind, a bit different from that of us Austrian borns. Sweden has for centuries been adorned by a State Religion, headed by the King, and with rather strict moral codes. Furthermore, religious and state power have always been strongly interlaced, with the Church acting as the prolonged arm of the executive. As an example, when I arrived in Sweden almost sixty years ago and received my residence permit, I was immediately listed in the population register managed by the Church, became a Member of the Church with obligation to pay Church taxes and obtained my social security number from the Church.


The Swedish State Church, of Lutheran leaning, has always taught its congregation that it is the responsibility of each and one of us to behave in a moral way, even if salvation would be obtained by the Grace of God. At the outset, since the Church was the prolonged arm of the State, State edicts were pronounced by the Priest at service, and abidance by the edicts seen as a moral duty. To me, it seems as if a shadow of this system, long out of practice and formally abolished twenty years ago, is still lingering in the minds of the elderly. 

To them, a recommendation issued by the State Authorities, would appear as a moral obligation to be followed, not to be neglected lightly. Thus, when the Authorities pronounce that a recommendation, which an elderly Swede could not consider to be fully relevant, would be lifted, a moral burden would be lifted from the mind as well. For me, who was born Catholic but has left religion aside already as teenager, no such moral obligation exists in my mind. So I don't see any change in binding policy and cannot, to my regret, feel any relief due to Anders Tegnell's intriguing announcement.


Wednesday, 16 September 2020

LA ROUTE ETAIT DROITE



The other day I had some errands in town. This is a bit of adventure nowadays, since it involves cruising in between and avoiding hot spots of the plague. No bus or subway for me to carry me on to the centre! Fortunately, Stockholm is a seaside "resort", so I could take the trusted ferryboat "Emelie" straight into town.

When I was ready to make the return trip, there was a fifteen minutes' waiting time, which I used to loaf through the neighbourhood around the ferry berth. I had done so many times before, but this time "the light was right", with clear late morning sunshine. Suddenly, I came to an abrupt stop: before me, a mysterious pathway was spreading out, leading straight into the courtyard of the Stockholm Synagogue. It looked a little bit like a railway track, with the rails gleaming in the shadows. Bringing glamour to it all, the temple's exotic facade was blazingly light, as if a higher power were beckoning us to savour its glory and enter its domain. 


Turning around, the path suddenly changes shape, becoming more like the paved path of a medieval churchyard. At its end, a huge ball of granite seals the passage, as if reminding us that everything on Earth comes to an end. All in all, an impressive – and intriguing – piece of art. 

Looking closer at the granite globe, it appears that it is fully covered by script, a bit like a modern time rune stone. Not only that, it is also polyglot, showing the same sentence over and over again. By now you have grasped the rationale of the blog title, I gather! The sentence is alluding to the fact that railroad tracks mostly run straight ahead, as indeed they did when transporting gaunt and parched victims by the million to barbaric oblivion. 


We are investigating a monument, a piece of art really, that the Government had built in honour of the victims of the comprehensively planned slaughtering of a whole tribe of humans by the Teutonic "Übermenschen". To my mind, it is a rather fitting and decent composition. 

A large inscription on the globe, where it faces the "route droite", reads as "Aaron Isaacs Gränd" (Aaron Isaac Lane). This lane is a narrow passage between the synagogue and its adjacent building, starting about where the path goes into the gated grounds (see the title picture). On its walls, some 8000 names appear, chiselled in with love. These are none other than the slaughtered relatives of Jews having escaped the Holocaust by fleeing to Sweden. 

Returning to the globe, and contemplating its large inscription, we begin to grasp more fully the decent humility of the monument. Its task is simply to point to the memorial in the lane. Thereby, it acknowledges that the mourning of dead relatives is owned by the survivors, not by the uninvolved bystanders. 


Stepping outside the confines of the monument, we see that the large inscription on the globe's backside now reads "Wallenbergs Torg" (Wallenberg Square). We realise that the ground here was found appropriate for honouring one of the precious few that stood up for the persecuted tribe. Raoul Wallenberg was a Swedish envoyé in Budapest during the last year of the War and heavily engaged in saving as many Jews in Hungary as he could get hold of, that is, thousands of them. He did this by issuing them Swedish Passports, and thus granting them immunity from persecution.

It is an irony of history that the Soviets took him for a spy and ferried him off to Lubljanka, to eventually let him fade away in those dungeons. The hapless Swedish Government led itself be deceived by the Soviets and did nothing to relieve him. Neither were his noble deeds notably acknowledged in Sweden, that is, not until the US Government publicly honoured him as one of the heroes standing up to the perpetrators. He was made Honorary Citizen of the US by Congress in 1981. Thereafter, the sluices were open and honour after honour has been bestowed upon him all over the world. 

Naming a square after Raoul Wallenberg here in Stockholm, albeit belatedly, and adorning it with a collection of bronze sculptures, appears to me a fitting way to make up for hitherto neglecting a truly heroic Swede.