Dec 25, 2011

In the middle of a time line

- Where do they all come from, my sons are asking me this Christmas morning.

The little white wooden church in my village close to Umeå is temporary awakened from its hibernation. It’s filled with people up very early for the Christmas morning service, the traditional “julotta”. So where do they all come from?

I am the seventh generation on my mother’s side in my village, my sons the eighth. That’s as far as the family tree takes us. Once this church was a bride. Born and built in the late twenties by my grandfather and the farmers of the village, dressed in white by their women. Every Sunday they greeted her. They filled her soul with hymns and dignified rest of the seventh day. 70 years later her body is still solid but mostly cold, empty and forgotten.

Except for the Christmas mornings. My sons question is legitimate, for there are more people in the church this morning than inhabitants of the village. The room is warm from the electrical stove. The light is shut down, replaced by flickering candles. People gather in the pews, shaking hands, nodding, smiling, scooting after to let everybody have a seat.

I am a grand daughter of these Christmas mornings and I am sitting on the front row with my sons and their cousin ready for our contribution, the music. The people of my village has been known for being musical, and my grandfather Carl had the most beautiful voice. He had been told that putting reed in the wooden walls of the church would make a wonderful acoustics, so he did, and it was proven to be true. Through the years Carl had enclosed the Christmas morning ceremony with singing the song that to parts of the western world was the most powerful one, Adolphe Adam’s “O Holy Night”. It was sung in churches and cathedrals in capitols and cities, and it was sung in a white wooden church with the sound of a concert hall in a tiny village in the woods.

Carl died before he got to know that his voice was carried on to his son and his grandchildren. This morning O Holy Night was sung by his great grandson, who at the age of 26 has already carried that tradition for more than a decade.

I feel like I am standing in the middle of a time line. On one side; the generations behind me. My mother and her siblings, my grandparents, great grandparents, that is as far as the stories go. On the other side; my children and their children and grandchildren to come. And the stories they will be told. And that’s why the wooden church is filled with people on the Christmas morning. To be a part of this. To be a part of the big story.

Dec 10, 2011

A nobel day

Winter has arrived. A big storm hit Sweden yesterday, covered a lot of parts in heavy wet snow. Although we are, in comparison, prepared for this kind of weather, power outings and impassible roads are still an inconvenience.

But it’s beautiful. Although the snow and I aren’t best friends while I am forcing its powers, I can recognize the Christmas card beauty here at the end of the road in my little village in he outskirts of Umeå. And the winter landscape is laid out just in time for the Lucia celebration on Tuesday December 13.

But today a different celebration, as reliable and enlightening as Lucia. I am watching the Nobel Prize Ceremony on television. I’ve only watched the whole thing once before, in 1997. I had promised to tape every minute of it for The Nordic Heritage Museum in Seattle, they were preparing for their own Nobel celebration. So, I was loading hour after our on my VHS while watching this ceremony with new eyes. Eyes that had just arrived in Sweden after spending a year in Seattle.

This was a year when the snow had laid out its soft quilt all over Stockholm. Venice of the Nordic countries, a picture in the dark December afternoon. The City Hall with its characteristic tower the main setting, inside The Blue Hall all spruced up with Italian flowers, glowing warm from artistic lights, candles, music and gorgeous dresses. And then there is a king. And a beautiful queen. A handsome prince and two lovely princesses.

With eyes who had just spent a year in the US I could sense the foreign guests astonishment being a part of all this. This tiny country close to the North Pole frozen in frosting. Hosting one of the most important events of the world. Is it really for real? And today, I hear Alexis Steinman, daughter of late Ralph Steinman, Medicine Laureate, saying what I was thinking back then 14 years ago: “It’s like a fairy tale!”

I’m not sure that we in Sweden are fully aware of the impact of the Nobel Prize. It’s an institution in the Swedish society that passes by like a glimpse every dark December, out in the world though it’s a torch for scientific and intellectual enlightenment. Nobel is one of very few magic words in any language, for most parts unquestioned and solid. And a Swedish brand, I would say understated and somewhat overlooked by us. Maybe we are too close. Maybe you need to get your eyes opened far away to see. Maybe you need to get out of your own shadow. And even then it might be hard to find the words. To quote Tomas Tranströmer, the Literature Laureate 2011:

I am carried in my shadow
like a violin
in its black case

All I want to say
gleams out of reach
like the silver
in a pawnshop 

Dec 4, 2011

Two ways of doing it

“We are presenting three concepts. The first is re centering the psyche of Seattleites around the Bay. The second is re connecting the city with the waterfront. And the third is creating a vibrant new public raum.”

Oh, I like that take on a city entrance. A welcoming front porch.

I know I am repeating myself here, but I just find it too interesting not to. This quote above is from James Corner of James Corner Field Operations and his presentation of the Seattle waterfront design a little more than a month ago. I would say the goals for the Umeå waterfront are very similar though. With replacing the word bay by river it would fit right in at the aim for the City of Umeå on the waterfront project The City Between the Bridges (Staden mellan broarna). As Seattle is using the word re centering, re connecting, it seems like they are more aware of the origin of the heart of the city, but I think Umeå would easily sign on those statements too.

My two cities have chosen different processes to reach their goals for the waterfront projects. Seattle has given the assignment for the design of the 26 blocks to James Corner Field Operations, probably most known for the design of The Highline in New York. Very important though is the Central Waterfront Committee, a group formed by the mayor and the city council. Civic partnership between government, communities, philanthropy and business in Seattle will help drive the project and give it a strong foundation. The committee is to provide civic oversight and leadership to make the project not only be good design, but to actually build it and make it happen.

Umeå has chosen to keep control of the process and the design for the river waterfront within the City Hall, although interacting with the property owners along the 8 blocks and assigning architects for the different sections of the stretch. Ulf Nordfjell, gold medal winner of The Chelsea Flower Show in London, will be designing the landscaping for the most central parks along the waterfront. And the Norwegian architectural firm Söhetta, famous for the Alexandria Library and creating the National September 11 Memorial and Museum in New York will be designing the main attraction on the Umeå Waterfront, a new building for cultural arts; Kulturväven (The Fabric of Culture). Kulturväven is an example of the City collaborating with a developer, as the City and Balticgruppen formed a joint company to build this new landmark. 

It will be very interesting following these processes in Umeå and Seattle over the next few years. I am a very lucky woman being a part of two cities where building cranes is a constant and the visions sometimes are as high. We take our time, yes. But a waterfront is the front porch of a city. The entrance, the welcome, the hi there, come on in! We better get it right.

Nov 25, 2011

The Holiday Season kick off

This is really weird: 44° Fahrenheit in Seattle, 6° Celsius in Umeå!  We are on the same temperature today and actually have been a lot of times this fall. The weather in Umeå and Sweden has been record mild this season. I don’t mind. Every mild day makes the upcoming winter one day shorter, and since the last two winters have been extremely cold and snowy I am gratefully receiving this relief from the stranglehold winters sometimes takes on me.

It’s dark though, of course. The light changes with the year in both my cities, but is, naturally, a constant on every specific day over the year. And late November is pretty darn dark in both places. It’s a good reason for us to love the Holiday Season opening, which takes place simultaneously at both places!

Downtown Seattle is an unusual sight on Thanksgiving Thursday. Streets abandoned, stores closed. The office high rises, usually pretty much lit up 24-7, on this day mostly dark, making the characteristic skyline more of a vague blur. This holiday, because of it’s family oriented nature; equally loved, dreaded, looked forward to, hesitated on, can be as wonderful or traumatic as any Woody Allen movie scene is. But hey guys, it’s just one day! The Swedish equivalence for this emotional set up is Christmas, and the Swedish Christmas is like a two-week stretch! A two-week stretch of high expectations, food, somewhat unattainable childhood memories and candies. That's a lot of days to polish on your glossy Facebook facade. Such work. What we got here is not an Allen scene, it’s a Bergman trilogy! One day guys, what’s the fuzz; Thanksgiving is only one single day!

Anyway, it’s the start of The Holiday Season, and today Seattle Downtown is overly and wonderfully lit up. There is egg nod and Jingle Bells and chestnuts in every street corner. In Umeå city center this weekend is the start for glögg (mulled wine), Hej tomtegubbar (cheery Christmas song) and gingerbread snaps. And in both cities the Christmas shopping frenzy kicks off. Cause Thanksgiving weekend is the very same weekend as Advent 1st in Sweden, the starting point for lights, concerts, socials and shopping, all in the name of Christmas, providing equal parts anxiety and joy.

Don’t get me wrong. Thanksgiving is the most wonderful tradition, I miss it and would love to share the custom with my friends in Sweden too. And the four weekends of Advent leading up to Christmas is just the sweetest time of the year. But The Holiday Season asks a lot from us. Because it’s also a time for grief. A time of regrets, disappointment, fear, envy, shame, anger, sadness, guilt and loneliness. Words not written on the Holiday greetings. Words not sung in the Christmas songs. Words that stays untold deep within us. While busy having a Happy Holiday.

Nov 20, 2011

A Suburbian experience

Seattle and me wasn’t love at first sight. Or, should I say Seattle and me didn’t really get a chance to properly meet that first time. It was March 1993; we had taken off from our Swedish village just outside Umeå in the snow-melting season, leaving vinyl clothing and friends behind, not going to miss the first, but the second.

Sitting in the car, picked up at Seatac by Annie, the American grandmother to be, my first picture of Seattle was those huge orange cranes standing on their tall legs in the port, pointing to the water and downtown with their stretched necks. We were fascinated, my sons and I, peaking out from the back of the car, by those gigantic steel dinosaurs guarding the city. I didn’t know by then that they really do. How iconic and symbolic they are. Connecting the water, the Pacific Ocean and Asia to land and soil, Seattle and the US.

And then I didn’t really see Seattle for a while, cause that drive took us cross Lake Washington to one of those fresh townhouse neighborhoods that looks like it’s just been laid out; flower beds, well trimmed lawns, shining new cars perfectly parked in a spotless setting. I had landed in Suburbia.

The foreign planet Suburbia for three rainy spring months with two little boys, four and six years old. A planet empty of life except for the flowerbeds and the cars. A mystery it was. In the morning the cars were gone. In the evening they were back, all neatly parked on the driveway. We never saw anyone driving them, though. Or walking the lawns. Or picking up the newspaper from the mailboxes. We didn’t see one single person in the neighborhood except for the gardeners arriving in their trucks for three months! My sons created a safe cocoon for themselves, happy wrestling crazy giggling, unreachable to the world around. That’s when they became Trouble & Trouble, a nickname their American grandfather Harold came up with fondly tickling them to an even more hysterical craze.

So, we needed to break out of Suburbia. And we did. We saw Seattle from the top of the Space Needle, rode the Monorail, watched the Mariners loose at Kingdome, had blue berry pie in Twin Peaks Country, watched orcas on San Juan Island and did the Olympic Peninsula. It wasn’t possible to break out of the spring rain though. Forks and the rain forest in April was more Twilight than any devoted fan could ever dream of, and since this was pre vampire time it didn’t do us much good.

But. The sun and mid June came and The Emerald City and The Beautiful Northwest grew on me. Mount Rainier showed up like this unreal breath taking backdrop. Trouble & Trouble picked up their first English words and grandpa Harold regained some Swedish from his Montana childhood. Friendly people smiled and waved in the 4-way stops. Downtown was all shiny blue tall glass and the waterfront smelled exciting adventures on water and land.

And it was time to say goodbye. Time for Midsummer’s, the maypole and day light nights back in my northern Swedish village. Arriving there very different from when I departed. This planet that used to be so familiar had changed. No, Seattle hadn’t been love at first sight, but here I was, carrying a piece of the shining Emerald City in my heart. Knowing that I would need to return.

Nov 12, 2011

Cold winters and sunny visions

“You have a challenging situation with the weather, this isn’t Barcelona or Sydney, this is a cold place with long winters”. Words spoken in Umeå one would think. Cause we sure have long cold winters and Barcelona and Sydney are pretty far away. But no, that comment was made in Seattle a couple of weeks ago by James Corner of James Corner Field Operations at a presentation of the design for the new Seattle Waterfront.

And the question which raised that comment was: “You are showing lots of images of great beautiful weather, what is going to make this a populated place on a windy cold afternoon like today?”

That question brings me back seven years ago, to 2004. The snow storm in the southern parts was so bad the top architects of Scandinavia heading for Umeå with their power points and enthusiasm got stranded all over the map. Well, eventually they all arrived, cold but still in good spirits, and the outside reality and the inside visions presented that day couldn’t have been more different. And the funny thing is, those images, happy people rollerblading, biking, skate boarding and strolling along the sunny Umea waterfront were all so similar to the visions presented in Seattle 2011 that I’m wondering if this is some kind of universal longing we are all carrying. Or is it architects and city planners of the same school, time and age? Don’t get me wrong, I love it! But it’s really interesting how, again, Seattle and Umea are moving on such parallel tracks.

So, the contemporary Umeå waterfront story has a name: The City Between the Bridges (Staden mellan broarna). The most central part of the waterfront is about a eight block stretch between two bridges crossing the Umeå River, that’s why the name. Also, as this has been discussed and processed for decades it’s become like an Umeå family member that really needs a name.

Then, in 2003, the City and the main Umeå developer Balticgruppen (The Baltic Group), agreed on a contract for developing the area. Six Scandinavian architects were hired by Balticgruppen to design separate visions for The City Between the Bridges. These were exciting times! Eminent names like Snöhetta, Bjarke Ingels, Henning Larsen and Gert Wingård presented highly different but equally stunning visions for our little city. We reacted with curiosity, skepticism, fear and enthusiasm.

The Snöhetta proposal was the one that was agreed on. Due to politics though, possible miscommunication, mistrust and reasons that are still in the fog or at least not cleared out in the open, the City of Umeå didn’t follow the plans through. Various grades of disappointment, resentment and trust issues ruled this question for years until a new situation forced the City to finally move on. I would say though, the inhabitants of Umeå (from here on referred to as Umebos (bo = live, live in Umeå), are in a state of pending awaiting, not trusting anything really before we see it happening.

And what about the Seattleites? Well, it seems like the very ambitious plans for the waterfront is doing a good job trying to get on stage, and the people listening to James Corner the other week made it too the front row. But overall it’s like the redesigning of the waterfront is dodging in the shadows behind the all-consuming debate about the demolishing of the Alaskan Way Viaduct and the plans for the deep bore tunnel. I am carrying good hope though for those happy people rollerblading, biking, skate boarding and strolling along the sunny waterfronts. And expecting cozy warming fires for our cold long winters. Rainy in Seattle, all snowy in Umeå. My two cities. 

Nov 5, 2011

The holiday of dark and light

It is a beautiful and overwhelming picture. All those candles, all those names on the tombstones flickering shadows, every cemetery in the country lit up in honor to our loved ones. It is All Saint’s Day (Allhelgonadagen) in Sweden. A church holiday that is becoming more and more dear to us, it seems. The time for remembering, loving and letting go.

As we need to let go of sights, places and habits too. The Thornberg Building (Thornbergska huset) in Umeå is now all down, a huge encaged pit of demolished concrete, left to our fantasy of what’s going to come. And in Seattle the southern mile of The Alaskan Way Viaduct is gone and the rest of the Viaduct open to traffic again until the next piece of it will become history. These are times for change.

Halloween did come and go too. In Sweden Halloween is a pretty recent phenomenon that to start with stirred up a lot of feelings and still is leaving us in some kind of confusion. My first Halloween was in 1996. My sons were 8 and 10, overly excited to pick up their first pumpkin at a pumpkin farm with their American “grandfather” Harold and aunt Autumn. All afternoon was creative carving in our Portage bay backyard, oh those proud boys in their Fred Meyer costumes next to the pumpkin lanterns before going to their next-door friend Carel’s favorite Haunted House in Montlake. No other Halloween can match that first one.

Back in Sweden the year after, the sons were happily surprised though to discover big spiders, skeletons, and sticky webs even in the stores over here this time of year! The grandmother generation wasn’t as pleased though. This was just one more American thing we didn’t understand and hadn’t asked for, and it certainly didn’t match our All Saints Day tradition. On the contrary, quite a collision. And to be honest, our trick or treating was kind of lame and shy, as we didn’t really know how to do this. And we couldn’t even quite figure out which day to do it. We still don’t, kind of.

Halloween came to stay though, although the event has changed to be of a more Swedish modest nature. I would say we needed a reason for a good fall party, so why not! But it’s still that confusion about when to do it. This year though, we seemed to agree on Halloween last week, leaving this weekend to the more peaceful Swedish tradition of the All Saints.

So, this dark afternoon my now grown up sons visited their grandparent’s grave in the small town where I grew up, together with their cousins and their moms. We brought decorations and we lit candles in the lantern. We quietly sang grandma’s favorite hymns and smiled at grandpa’s playful jokes accompanied by the lively creak at their feet, and we could feel the spirit and see the lights of their friends in the glowing cemetery. And I was moved learning that later tonight my oldest son and his friends are having a sit down dinner together remembering and telling stories about their gone loved ones. Maybe the conflict between Halloween and All Saint’s Day has made our Swedish tradition dearer to us. More valuable. Lighter. We are embracing it and even coming up with new ways of celebrating. All Saint’s Day has become the holiday coming out of the dark.

Oct 28, 2011

A Halloween scenario

It’s weird. It’s even kind of a scary picture. Like a corner in a Halloween Haunted House; the dramaturgy this time of the year couldn’t be more perfect. I’m just waiting for some terrifying monster to pop up in the middle of that concrete mess. Or, even worse: at places, Seattle and Umeå look like a war zone right now. Leaving me with a strange and awkward feeling of something that is basically unknown to me.

The southern mile of The Alaskan Way Viaduct is a smashed down grey dusty confusion of concrete, arne ring iron, bizarrely bent steel and creaking cracks. In Umeå, The Thornberg Building (Thornbergska huset) is cut in two parts wide away from each other. Excavator buckets are working their way through the collapsing floors, windows gaping black and empty, balconies gone and the yellowish façade ripped in pieces.

It looks like Beirut. And the wet weather in both cities makes the famous Lutzen fog come to mind, stresses the unreal settings, making them come across as really creepy. The scenes make me uncomfortable, although I know there is nothing dangerous going on here. Its just old times going, future coming. But those transitions can be very emotional and sometimes cause war-like states where they are happening.

The Thornberg Building is/was a four-story building right in the city center of Umeå. Typical in the sense of small stores located on the ground floor, offices and apartments at the upper floors, balconies facing the Rådhus (City Hall) Esplanade, one of the wide French-inspired streets built after the great city fire in 1888. Uncharacteristic though, as it was one of the very few buildings left from the era of Functionalism in Umeå. And this is what caused the conflict between preservers and developers in the city. Just as the Viaduct in Seattle is loved by some, others feel that it has to make room for something new.

So what about the 90 000 vehicles lost without the Viaduct right now, what about the Viadoom that was expected in Seattle? Well, it looks like the first part of the week went pretty smoothly considering the circumstances; people finding their ways around it, while actual gridlock and congestions arrived in full force Thursday. And then there is a Seahawks football game Sunday afternoon… But, the demolition has been going so well, the Viaduct will probably reopen Saturday midday already, two days ahead of schedule! That’s a win for Seattle right there!

Oct 21, 2011

The challenge

And naturally, in both my cities we are Occupying Wall Street! My son is chatting with Seattle activists who are taking turns live streaming from the various locations in Seattle, wanting to know what’s happening over here. Yes, of course it’s happening!

Although, today the big news in Seattle is the closing of the Highway 99 Alaskan Way Viaduct, this 1950s landmark for modern mankind encaged in their transportable tin can-home on wheels. Yes, while the eastern part of Strandgatan in Umeå is about to open, Seattle is facing a day dreaded for years. The Viaduct is eventually going to be replaced with a deep bore tunnel, and this 9-day close down now is the first step for an historic change. The southern mile is going to be demolished, and about 90 000 vehicles a day will have to make other choices to make their way through the city. Even on a normal day Seattle traffic is so tight one single incident can cause heavy build-ups in every direction. So, close to a hundred thousand vehicles suddenly all lost and out of their normal pattern… what’s to expect? Nobody really knows, a challenge certainly though, which for sure will keep the local TV stations overly excited and busy in their covering for a while!

Seattleits are advised to drive other routes, park and ride, take the water taxi, ride the bike or hop on the bus. The Metro bus system is bringing in an extra 30 buses to provide an alternative to the car. And, Seattle, here is a tip from the very north of Europe to make the buses more attractive: As the first city in Sweden Umeå is providing free WiFi on the local metro buses. And we would love copycats! I bet Seattle buses would be jam-packed all day long, noses deep down in Blackberries and I pads, connected shoulder to shoulder as well as by radio waves. So come on Seattle, high tech capital and home of Microsoft, a small city close to Lappland is challenging you on this!

Oct 15, 2011

A pricey word

The waterfront. Just taste it. If we were to grade the value of words within any city anywhere, I bet the word waterfront would score really high and taste better than most others. Of course there is words like park, city library, a good school system, marina, university, healthy tap water, concert hall, public transportations, shopping, prominent hospital, safety and landmark building, but waterfront… there is nothing like the waterfront.

In Umeå the waterfront is facing the fast streaming Umeå River traveling to the Bothnian Bay. In Seattle the waterfront overlooks Elliot Bay, the city-close part of Puget Sound connected to the dramatic Pacific Ocean. Watching the world map it’s obvious only a few places are lucky holding this high scored word in its dictionary. This remarkably valuable asset within its city boundaries.  Both Umeå and Seattle do. Yet it seems like the waterfronts have come to be more of a pricy problem than a priceless resource. We have seen decades of discussing, debating and reconsidering over this in both cities. Why? Well, I guess priceless has a price to it.

The Seattle waterfront is covering 26 blocks, the one in Umeå is about a 8-block stretch. Due to the redesign of the area, Strandgatan, the main street that cuts off the city center from the river in Umeå, is closed and will be until 2014. Final decisions about design and function of Strandgatan in the future are yet to come. In Seattle a busy and loud two level highway on tall concrete legs, The Alaskan Way Viaduct, is radically dividing downtown from the bay. Here though, the decisions are made. Finally I should say. The Viaduct is going to come down and a tunnel will replace it. Sounds like the only right thing to do? Well, it took a public vote only this August and the voices are still at a high pitch and probably will be for a very long time. Seattle is, in that sense, is a loud place. So is Umeå. Which makes me feel equally at home and comfortable in both places.

Oct 8, 2011

Sitting in the non-flow

Of course birches smell! It’s just that I can’t really recognize it’s characteristics, I am too close and it is too familiar to me. Arriving in Umeå now I am surprised though to find how the birches are not bare yet, the town is all yellow! Fall in Seattle and fall in Umeå are surprisingly matching at this moment, although the colors are different.

My oldest son, now a young man, is picking me up at the airport. When he and his brother were young and we arrived in northern Sweden after spending time in the moist city of Seattle, they were running around the front yard, happy calves in their first spring meadow, hopping, singing “it’s so fresh and crisp here!” And I think that’s the scent of Umeå. Birches in the dry coolness of this not-that-far-from-the-polar-circle place.

Driving through Umeå now, I find myself as annoyed as sitting in afternoon traffic in Seattle. It didn’t use to be like this! It wasn’t that you had to plan ahead your routes through the town not to get all worked up, back at the house starving and just half of the errands done. So what’s happening? Well, there are more cars for sure, and just like Seattle Umeå is redesigning infrastructure. Right now there is pretty much nowhere you can escape the roadwork and the build-ups in rush hour. Can 115 000 people really make a rush hour? Yep. Unfortunately. And pollution too, pretty bad actually. So although Seattle is a big city and Umeå a small, the feeling sitting there is the same. Locked up in the grid. Again, it’s only the scales that are different.

In both cities though, we are heading for something better they say, the redesigning has a purpose of course and we are better off staying cool and patient waiting for the reward in a few years. Going with the flow. Or sitting in the non-flow… and maybe ride the bike tomorrow instead, smelling the birches and the cedar. Bicycles… well, there is another interesting subject…

Oct 5, 2011

We take our time

So what’s the scent of Umeå? Do birches smell? If they do, that would be the scent of Umeå, cause Umeå and birches are so closely linked they are inseparable.

Umeå is located on the Umeå River; 15 minutes from where it reaches the Bothnian Bay, bringing huge amounts of that cold water from the vast mountains in Lappland and our westerns neighbor Norway. It used to be that the Port of Umeå was actually in the city, making the river waterfront a hectic loud place for business and travel. Not any more though. The port is now on the Bay, and for as long as most of us can remember the river waterfront in the city has been an embarrassing parking lot waiting for a better life. Oh how it has been waiting! Cause there must be a better life!

Summer 2010 the Seattle Met magazine was listing 100 reasons to love Seattle. # 63 was “We take our time”, saying “The big problem with Seattle politics, the mover-and-shaker types will tell you, it is ALL PROCESS AND ALL TO RARELY PRODUCT: nothing gets ever decided; it’s forever discussed, debated, reopened, reconsidered and finally talked to death. But that’s also the best thing about Seattle politics.” Meaning that the city is avoiding a lot of mistakes that way.

Well, you know, that quote could as easily have been clipped out of something written in Umeå, although the movers-and-shakers of my Swedish home town might not agree on that last sentence. At least not right now. Cause there was this thing about the front porch. In Seattle. And in Umeå. And the one in Umeå  just got stalled again.

Oct 3, 2011

Unknown spot

Watching Seattle Symphony’s brand new director, the 37-year-old French Ludovic Morlot conducting his current instrument, I feel right at home. In Umeå we are very familiar with this generation’s conductors who grew up on a mix of rock and classical music. Morlot’s upcoming concert with Beethoven’s Eroica and Zappa could as well been performed by the NorrlandsOperan Symphony Orchestra.

I was born in the Umeå region on the 63th latitude and have been there most of my life, growing up at the coast of the Bothnian Bay. We call it “the sea”, but well, it isn’t that salty, this water that makes our eastern neighbor Finland feel foreign to us. Always when arriving in Seattle I take a deep breath filling my lungs with the moist scent of water and red cedar, the characteristics of this area.

It was 1993 when I first came here. A young family with two little boys suddenly dropped down on a completely unknown spot at the far end of a different continent. Our big and close knitted community in Umeå felt unreachable pre-email and 9 hours before us. Oh how lonely it was and oh how it was raining that first long spring of mine in the Pacific Northwest, it rained like in The Killing! I honestly didn’t think I would ever come back. But, there was this day in mid June, the sun and Mount Rainier was out and we had done the bay cruise and were walking the waterfront and I was thinking; this might be a nice place after all!

Oct 1, 2011

Front porch

Amazing it is. How two cities, different in size and far away from each other are going through such similar processes to develop and prosper. Desiring modernity, sustainability and fame. And a new welcoming front porch.

And amazing it is, that those two cities both are home to me. Umeå, way up northeast in Sweden, and Seattle way up northwest in the US. Besides the location in their countries, the two places share being the center point in a region where water, lumber and mining through the history have been the natural resources. The universities and the cultural arts attract and provide intellectuals you wouldn’t expect in remote places. The popular music scene exports worldwide from both cities and the war between cars and bikes is a no fun situation in daily life. Seattle is flying airplanes all over the map and Umeå is driving Volvo trucks cabs the same route. The Seattle area inhabits about 3,5 million people, Umeå only 115 000. Yes, the scales sure are different. But I hope that you will find it interesting to find out the odds and ends within those.

And what about the front porch?