In August 2009 I moved back to Stockholm after having lived in Brussels for more than ten years. This blog describes my fresh impressions from the agreeable landscape surrounding my new apartment in Hammarby Sjöstad, so easy to catch on camera from my kitchen window.
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
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!
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.
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.
In these Corona times, with the plague approaching its fulfilment, I have to admit that dreariness is setting in more and more. Day after day goes by without any change in diurnal routine. Fortunately, I possess a large library with some thousands of books, so I can at least console myself with re-reading stories from so far back that I can't even remember having read them in the first place.
Yesterday, a charming little book sneaked itself into my hands, enticing me to discover its delights. Its intriguing name was The Anything Box. As soon as I started to read it, I was completely captured, putting it aside first in late evening, after having digested all its stories.
1 July at 3 am
The book's tales full of wonder, and my delight at pursuing them, got me thinking. What is it in your life that gives you the most pleasure? For me, it appears, it must be a kind of rather elusive happenings, which I best may describe as Magic in the Unexpected.
The "unexpected" part of it is easy to grasp. Something must happen that you, well, do not expect, and which at the same time gives you unique insights in the world around you. The "magic" part of the concept is more difficult, since it has more to do with your state of mind than with the outside world.
26 June at 3.45 am
What's most important is that you have an open mind, ready to take in whatever comes to you in form of new experiences. But this is not enough. You must also have nurtured very carefully a certain sense of wonder that comes naturally to you as a child, but tends to get lost as you mature.
I plead guilty to having lost this childlike sense of wonder first at an advance age. Even upon retirement, I still possessed it. Better still, it got greatly rejuvenated, with my working travails gone and a vast amount of time and leisure at my disposal to make the best of it.
22 July at 4.20 am
Thus it came to be that I made a long journey, in miles and time both, and came back from it with a treasure chest full of wonders. These months of travel filled med with such joy and well-being that even its afterglow left me a happy and creative pensioner for years to come. It even induced me to let others in on it by preserving my joyful experiences in a quite heavy tome, which goes by the name of Fiat Lux!
During those my travels to California I could conceptualise for the first time what hitherto had been only an intuitive insight: the Magic in the Unexpected.
13 July at 4.20 am
Having now brought to the surface what has earlier been only vaguely grasped, I can go back in memory and seek to identify the moments in life that provided me with the greatest pleasure. And, sure enough, they all had some elements of the unexpected in them. To name a few:
When, as a doddler, throwing sand in a bucket full of water, only to discover that fluid turned to mud; when I first met my wife, laughing at me and immediately drawing me in like a beautiful flower full of nectar attracting a bee; when seeing the azure blueness of the sea for the first time from a hill close to the Neretva Estuary; when standing at the abyss and watching the last rays of the sun reaching down into the (Grand) canyon ....
13 August at 5.45 am
Alas, these are only memories now. More than ten years into my retirement, and on my way to becoming an octogenarian, the intensity of feelings has burned out. What little remains, is a certain warm afterglow, reminding me of magic once experienced and felt; but at the same time bringing me the bitter awareness of never again being able to directly experience the sense of wonder when meeting magic in the unexpected.
What comes instead as you grew closer and closer to that emeritus state, which finally causes you to fade away into oblivion?
9 July at 5 am
The answer to this question came to me quite unexpectedly. And it came precisely out of this Corona dreariness I mentioned initially in this post. As day after eventless day is unfolding without fail, this tends to affect also the quality of sleeping. Nowadays, I have to get out of bed at least once a night, whereas, in earlier times, a full night of sound sleep tended to be the rule.
You may be surprised to learn that I often used, this Summer, those unwelcome interruptions to trip out to my balcony, bare food and with camera in hand, half asleep, with eyes half shut and not even my glasses on. Without further ado, I then clicked off a number of shots, hardly even looking. In the morning, when fully awake after breakfast, I just transferred the new load of pictures to my computer without any ambition to ever bothering with them again.
14 July at 5.15 am
But dreariness again came into the picture. With little else to do, I have lately started to look at the outcome of this hapless clicking away and was astounded to find some hidden treasures in all the drab views I had happened to take in. So I have spent the last two weeks with making those precious few examples presentable to you. And here they are, shining like pearls in the overall haystack of early morning views!
Contemplating them right now, as you also will be doing shortly, it occurs to me that even we oldtimers are empowered to experience joy and satisfaction. The difference is that our feelings do not come from unexpected experiences. After all, sunrise is the most common event possible and cannot surprise any septua- or octogenarian. Our feelings are more like that of a gourmet´s or vinologist's. With our mind sharpened through decades of experience, we can appreciate the fine details of events, and even polish them in our mind to a rarified gleam. I hope you agree with me on this, after having glanced at these early morning sceneries.
If not, let me bail you out with an engaging tune, which could add a spicing to what otherwise may appear to you as just an everyday dish.
Even if the Corona virus continues to create havoc across the globe, isolating yourself at home becomes more and more cumbersome. Of course, only in your mind, less so in reality. What you can endure for a month or two, gets irky thereafter, in particular since the authorities see no end to it.
But this blog is not about complaining about self-isolation. Far from it! We have to look the grim reaper squarely in the eye and deflect the scythe he is swinging at us. Instead, let me spend som moments on the plague strategy exercised by the Swedish authorities, in particular, to what extent it is helping us elderly to avoid the death stroke.
The reason I am writing about this at all, is, of course, that many a foreign friend has contacted me about the subject, wanting to know more about our ways of dealing with the plague, at the same time informing me about the status of research in their own countries and querying me about progress in that regard here in the land of the all-knowing.
Sorry to say, my answer to them is, at present, that the Swedish authorities seem to be committed to a specific conception of the plague, which they reached early on in their actions and which they have been clinging to, without blinking, ever since. This conception is based on the vision, that this plague is being spred in analogy to the recurring invasions of influenca virus, with a virulent beginning and a relatively timely end, once a sufficient rate of the population has been through the ordeal and has developed anti-bodies. And indeed, in the case of influenca so called "herd immunity" will be reached eventually, which will greatly slow down and ultimately stop the disease.
Although the Swedish Public Health Authority denies that it relies on a timely reaching of herd immunity in enacting its strategy, this idea is still permeating the authority, shutting down its eyes to alternative findings from research abroad, which would oblige it to change its messages to the general public. To find a reason for this, look no further than to Professor Johan Giesecke, the former Chief State Epidemiologist, who acts as adviser to the authority. In contrast to the present State Epidemiologist and his colleagues, he is rather outspoken about the above mentioned vision inspiring the Swedish strategy. With his mature age and a certain self-imposed authority he has no qualms about speaking out what the agency is holding close to its chest. Why not listen to him in person in the video below:
I am no medical or epidemiologic scientist, but let me put forward an alternative vision of the spread of this virus. You may not be aware of it, but humanity has lived with a special sort of Corona virus since ages past. It is one of the viruses behind the "Common Cold", "Schnupfen" in German and "Snuva" in Swedish. Scientists without Sweden are increasingly looking at the properties of this illness to try to understand how the present plague is spreading and what could constitute its eventual demise. With the common cold, humans apparently do not develop anti-bodies against the virus involved; the general immune system deflects it within a short time period. This is of course no long-term remedy, you will get it again next year!
Compared to this, the present Corona virus is developing anti-bodies in some of the cases, mostly the more severe cases of illness, whereas probably a majority of the infected recovers without developing anti-bodies, many of them without even experiencing any symptoms – but still spreading the virus. This means that, increasingly, scientists abroad question the possibility of developing herd immunity against the disease; we may have to reckon with, on the one hand, a drawn-out first wave of the sickness and, on the other, recurring waves of new infection. Developing a vaccine against the virus becomes adamant in getting rid of the virus.
Seen in this light, it seems to me that the Swedish authorities have completely overlooked one major and all-important difference between its strategy and that in our Nordic neighbours and, indeed, the rest of the world: the obligation to wear a mask in confined quarters, such as, shops, restaurants and service centers implying close contact between people. By now, there is a lot of research showing that a mask diminishes the outflow of virus-laden mucus by up to 50 %, drastically lowering the infection rate in close quarters. For me, not prescribing the use of masks in Sweden accounts for most of the difference in the death rate between us and the other Nordic countries.
We have to realise that a simple recommendation to wear a mask in close quarters would not be enough to get the Swedes to actually do it. The simple reason is that a mask does not prevent you from getting infected, it only prevents you from spreading the disease if you are infected, so there are no incentives to do as the state recommends. This means that it takes a legal obligation to get everyone to wear a maskindoors in close quarters to reach an appropriate mitigation of the disease.
To me it seems, that the Swedish authorities are paying lip service when they claim that their main goal is to protect the elderly from the disease. By stating that wearing a mask has no great preventive effect, as is being repeated by them at regular intervalls, they may be directly responsible for the premature demise of maybe thousands of elderly in Sweden to date. And the number is rising by the day. Shame on you, you Swedish Bureaucrats!
Valdemar Atterdag brandskattar Visby (pillages and plunders Visby) Source: Nationalmuseum Artist: Carl Gustaf Hellquist
The word "Brandschatzung" exists only in German and in Swedish. There is no English counterpart to it, thereof the title. It means that a conquering army leaves a city open for pillaging and plundering. Such an event is as terrible to the population as the word itself. So why do I bother to write about it this sunny day of May 8. It so happens that I lived through such an orgy of violence exactly 75 years ago.
It was in the last trembling vestiges of WWII. Just the day before, the German Army had capitulated and the war was over. But before that, In Winter and early Spring 1945, the army still nursed hopes of a last defence against the Soviet onslaught, hovering behind a rashly raised Südostwall, a series of helter-skelter barricades ranging from Bratislava South all the way to the river Drava, along the border between the former Empire of Austria and the Kingdom of Hungary. I was born in a small village (Neudau) just West of the Wall, on 23 December 1944. The four following months were a terrible ordeal for my mother Maria, who was only 22 years old.
At the end of April, the Eastern sky went red and the terrible thunder of bombardments came closer and closer to our village. My mother feared the worst, took me on her back and fled westward over the hills and through the forests, until she finally, after several days' ordeal, reached the town of Gleisdorf, where her parents lived.
This did not help her much. Just after her arrival in what she believed a safe haven, the Soviets caught up with her, having broken through the Wall in a matter of just a day or two. Since the armistice was already in place, the inhabitants took care to arrange a peaceful welcome. In all haste, a red flag was fabricated (without the Swastika!), and Members of the resistance entrusted with the task to welcome the invaders. All appeared well and it promised to be a relatively calm occupation and hopefully quick pass-through by the Soviets.
Gleisdorf, not yet "gebrandschatzt"
Unfortunately, a few fanatic SS soldiers had taken a last stance in the church tower. As the Soviet platoon was marching by the main square, they started shooting, trying to kill off the commander. To no avail, and the attackers were quickly annihilated. But, in reaction to this last defence, in fact a breach of the armistice, the commander declared the town open to "Brandschatzung" and let his soldiers pillage and plunder at will for the whole of two days. These days rested forever burnt into the memory of the victims, although none of them ever cared to talk about it.
As a child, I gathered only small bits and pieces of the event. My grandfather once told me an uncanny story: two soldiers had entered their apartment. In the living room they found me alone, playing on the floor. One of them raised me up and was about to throw me against the wall, when grandpa entered, having collected all the watches the family possessed and offering them to the marauders. They of course went immediately for the watches and released me to fall on the floor (without any harm, I am glad to say). Nothing more was said about this. What happened to my mother and grandmother in the mean-time I don't want to even think about.
Maria, and Child Emil happily unaware of "Brandschatzung"
I had suppressed this story for many years; Grandpa had told it when I was only maybe six or seven years old. It came back to me, though, when, at the ripe age of sixty, I happened upon a witness report from the event in a book about my homeland, really a catalogue of architecture and types of settlement. The witness described the story as I summarised it above, which gave me the background needed to let resurface and understand the tale of miraculous salvation by two watches.
Ever since, whenever someone wishes to entangle me into philosophic discourses about the value of life, I am able to provide him with a firm and definitive answer. A life, at least mine, is worth exactlytwo watches.
Some eye-witnesses, rather circumspect about the event
In these days of subdued social contact, when many an hour is spent in splendid isolation, and daily reports abound about the progress of the new plague, it is far too easy to fall into the trap of depressive despair.
Here in Stockholm, the authorities estimate that about one third of the population is already infected, and the death count is speedily surpassing 1500. By end of May, about half of us will have been smitten and the death toll approached the three thousands. I am sorry to say that the risk of being infected is at its maximum at the moment, forcing me to all kinds of evasive manoeuvre to keep my two meters' distance on the sidewalks and in the shops. Only us elderly seem to understand what this means in terms of keeping abreast of each other, the rest of the loiterers being happily unaware of the distance needed to avoid calamity.
So how to keep a serene attitude towards the catastrophe, in particular since one's existence is at stake? After all, the odds of me dying before the end of the year could well amount to one in twenty, a sizeable risk of a sad ending! How can I avoid getting bogged down in a spiral of negative thoughts, forever wallowing in despair? Yesterday, it occurred to me, that it may help to determinedly "fight fire with fire", so to speak. If I could imagine a catastrophe far worse than the one experienced at present, this might well liberate the mind of its wallowing and the body of its getting stressed.
It so happens that we do not have to look far to find a candidate. The scientists' word for it is "Global Dimming". This expression describes the fact that burning of fossile fuels sends up particles in the atmosphere, which in turn shelter the globe from part of the sun's heating rays.
This phenomenon has not received a lot of attention in the popular debate on climate change. If you would like a short survey of the issues involved, I invite you to have a glance at the video below. Suffice it to say, that global dimming is usually neglected when describing the effect of various climate strategies aiming to keep down the amount of carbon dioxide in the air.
That notwithstanding, its influence on global warming could be underestimated. Some natural scientists apprise the resulting tapering down of the greenhouse effect as high as 1° Celsius! Even if the jury is still out on this number, permit me to use it as a basis for my private deliberations.
As an aside, the Corona plague has provided us with valuable indices for this tapering down. Since the use of fossile fuels certainly has diminished by at least 25% in the last three months, it may be useful to study the concurrent change in temperature on the globe, in particular in Eurasia, North America and the Arctic; these being the areas directly affected by the clearing of the skies. It so happens that the first three months of the year were characterised by warmer-than-average conditions across the globe. In particular, record-warm temperature departures (from the average) were present across Europe and Asia, where temperatures were the highest in the 111-year record (NOAA).
Moreover, consider the diagram below. It shows the seasonal melt-off of the Arctic ice shelf. This spring, the melt-off is particularly pronounced, compared to the average rate of diminishing ice. Of course, all this evidence is far from conclusive, but at least does not contradict a possibly large mitigating effect from global dimming.
Now back to my catastrophe scenario, with Global Dimming diminishing the greenhouse effect by 1°C. Let's say that humanity were to succeed in a strategy of abolishing all use of fossile fuels within the next twenty years. Alas, since this would end Global Dimming, the resulting warming of the globe would surely hoist us above ICC's permissible 2° limit of global warming, putting an end to human civilisation as we know it.
I trust you understand that human civilisation would be doomed under all circumstances with such a high dimming effect. I simply cannot envisage any climate strategy under this assumption, which will allow humanity to escape this morbid outcome. To underpin this, let us outline another strategy. This one would consist of maintaining the present level of fossile burning, but prohibiting further increases. Such a programme would maintain the present amount of Global Dimming, but at the same time continue to augment the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. This would also lead to surpassing the 2° limit of global warming, even if it would take longer, say thirty years instead of twenty.
Now back to reality: a host of scientific articles in natural science attempt to estimate the tapering effects of Global Dimming. The results vary widely from 1° C and even higher down to the almost negligible. Surely, the IPCC must have found it probably to lie on the lower side. Why otherwise would the organisation ordain to reduce global carbon dioxide emission?
Me, I just prefer a large tapering effect in my personal "war game", just to keep my imagination off the present plague issues. Compared to the end of civilisation within a few decades, the Corona crisis appears like a small breeze in springtime. Thus, miraculously, my Corona concerns are evaporating. I clearly can have worse things to worry about than a few million deaths by a new virus. So why not make the best of the years left to us and, for instance, spend a few enjoyable moments listening to a young and spritely group of musicians, who lets us dream of a past far more promising than the future?
In these turbulent weeks, it is getting more and more important to cultivate a solitary home life. This does not come easy for me. Granted, that I am usually working at home anyway, but staying put would prove intolerable, were it not for the thrice a day visits to café, restaurant and falafel haunt. All of these will have to go, I am afraid, since the number of infected by Corona is approaching the tens of thousand in Stockholm. Gradually, I am adapting to a new life style, with preparing meals at home – that is, putting deep freeze dishes into my newly bought microwave oven and capsules of ground into my new Nespresso machine – and planning for three hiking outings a day to alleviate the plight.
This morning, I am sitting, as now is the norm, at my kitchen table at 7 am, enjoying my cup of Nespresso, when it dawns on me that this new life may not be so bad after all. It certainly helps that the view presenting itself in front of me, with Hammarby Lake spreading out its serene calm, and the ferry boats cruising slowly to and fro the quays, invites me to contemplate life and inner self.
Permit me to let you in on a secret of mine. I am a habitual foreboder. Foreboding rarely fails me, when a major calamity appears on the horizon, and often even before its first symptoms arise. It usually takes the form of diffuse worries that entice me to envisage all kinds of scenario for bad things to evolve. For instance, this happened to me in 2006, in good time to become worried about the Great Recession, and again in 2017 (Long day's journey into night). Ever since that last foreboding I have been worrying about all kinds of crisis scenario to evolve, especially since I could not visualise the precise fuse to get the carnage going.
Thus, when I first heard about the plague erupting in China, my mind was well prepared to take in the calamitous news. Ever since end January, this has led me into a substantive depression, rendering me completely unable to do serious work, just leaning back on my couch and playing out in my mind one terrible scenario after another. How could I possible invent such scenarios in advance, you may well ask. This is easy. I have a reasonably good grasp of history, from my study days, and can sample freely from this immense well of facts and stories. While pondering the present situation, the Great Plague came to mind and I envisaged billions dying, civilisation coming to an abrupt standstill and convalescing only after a decade or two of painful reconstruction.
Now, the plague is upon us. To my great relief, it will not be as severe by far. There will be only millions of dead, maybe tens of million globally, and this will affect mainly the elderly, thus rendering recovery a rash affair. So, paradoxically, I feel rather relieved and rejuvenated; this decease will be dealt with by humanity with relative ease. It just forces me to forego visits to eateries, a small price to pay for trying to evade the otherwise inevitable.
Having thus gained a healthy perspective on the present situation, let's get back to my kitchen table, watching the ferries dancing their merry dance, and leaning back on my chair in all serenity. Why not take a glance at this small video of mine, which allows you to share my morning view?
As an aside, in these days of self-induced isolation, it would be a great consolation to hear from you, Dear Readers. I would be immensely pleased to get your comments on this blog, where you can tell us how you are coping with the situation. Google is a bit finicky, so you can send my any possible comments by e-mail. I will make haste to put them in here, either in your name, or as Anonymous, whatever you would prefer. Thank you kindly in advance for taking the trouble.
Last Saturday I returned home about 7 pm, after having visited downtown for an intriguing movie called An Officer and a Spy. Still rather pre-occupied with the film's tale, I hardly noticed the weather conditions, at least not before reaching the quay along which my apartment lies. There, I came to a sudden halt, shivering in the miserable and humid cold and squinting at the nearby buildings that barely made it through the fog.
It was as if trying to get a close look into the future, I thought. Most of it is hidden from us, even if some details are emerging from the mist to haunt us. Is it not that we humans are facing yet another onslaught of the plague, without being able to gauge its scope and duration? A new virus has appeared on the scene, threatening to extinguish a substantive part of humanity. So let's give it a go and try to penetrate the veil that covers the coming weeks and year.
Back in 1992, when Sweden underwent its latest crisis (2008 was only a calm breeze compared to that one), I was engaged at Sweden's riksbank as Head of structural banking issues. There, I learnt the bank's motto "Expect the best, but prepare for the worst!". So let's look at the best and prepare for the worst ahead of us in the near future.
For the best case, look no further than to Anders Tegnell, Sweden's official state epidemiologist. With a stern mien, hardly opening his lips when speaking, he directs messages of calm and comfort at an anxious population. "The peak of the plague is reached!", he keeps tellings us, even if the number of infected keeps rising in Sweden.
For the worst case, we just have to listen to other epidemiologists, preferably without Sweden's borders, so as not to be influenced by our country's professional soothsayer. There it sounds more like the plague may infect up to 25 per cent of world population, lest an effective vaccine be developed within the year. For Europe alone, this could translate into as much as four million people dying from the plague (at a death rate of 2 per cent).
How will financial markets be affected by the plague? The optimistic scenario has already played out. It led to an abrupt downturn in stock markets around the world, to the tune of some ten per cent. Another ten per cent appears to me already in the cards within the next few days or week. Beside the fear factor driving it, there is also a marked down-turn in the world economy to take into account, with sizeable production-chain disturbances, starting with the Chinese lock-down and continuing with the reactions in the rest of the world.
But what about the worst case scenario? Suppose no vaccine has been developed within the year and prospects do not look rosy. That the number of infected and dying ever keeps rising? This may lead to a break-down of the international financial system, only partly prevented by Central Bank and Government expenditure expansion. For us in Sweden, this may well mean an annihilation of all the gains in asset value accumulated over the past ten years. More modestly, stock prices may crash by at least 50 per cent and real estate by about as much, not to speak about company bankruptcies and bank failures. Seen in that light, I can sympathise with our chief epidemiologist, whose issuances more and more look like invocations!
So, let's join the happy conviviality of diners in our restaurants, let's stay calm and content for the time being. We may yet need som cheerful memories when the tide will be rising!
But wait! Before leaving you to your frolicking, Dear Readers, let me remind you that an eminent musician wrote a cosy little piece just before the big crash of ´29, which in a remarkable way appears to mimic the softly-softly pronouncements of our state epidemiologist!