Apr 21, 2012

Big day deadlines

Oh how I wish I was there today! One more big day in Seattle coming up! One more important deadline to reach and keep. Over the years there are some big occasions in Seattle that I missed out on. The implosion of the Kingdome (the late baseball and football stadium) in 2000, yeah, that’s a big one. The demolition of the southern part of the Alaskan Way Viaduct 2011. Sounds like it’s a lot of going down in Seattle. Yes, but things are coming up too! I missed the opening of the Seattle Central Library 2004. But I was actually there for the opening of the new opera house, the McCaw Hall in 2003!

And I watched Bill Gates mythical building site for a lot of years in the mid nineties while driving east on the 520 Bridge crossing Lake Washington – there is a deadline that was postponed so many times that we stopped waiting for his new super digital home to ever get done. And yes, I missed the Light Rail finally starting to run after a century of discussions in 2009. On the other hand, I was in Seattle when Botniabanan, the new and very much looked forward too coastal railway in northern Sweden made its maiden voyage 2010.

Anyway, today it was. The Next 50’ World’s Fair Celebration Opening Day! While the space shuttles are now definitely retired and Space Age has come to an end, Seattle’s former future fair grounds are moving forward. The Jetson rocket Space Needle from 1962 isn’t a rusty and worn down embarrassing relic, but a still star-reaching object with its roof this week freshly painted in a “galaxy gold” retro color. And I can tell from the forecast that it is going to be a beautiful day; 67°F (19,5° C) and sun! What a party Seattle, what a party!

And you know what. I am not even gonna try to give Umeå any exclamation marks today. Today I am going to be exclusively biased when it comes to my two cities. Because… it’s snowing. Yes, your heard me right. It’s April 21 and it’s been snowing all day. Don’t laugh, because I am not. I am giggling though at the rumor telling the roof of the Space Needle only got half painted for the Opening Day. Isn’t that funny? No matter what the deadline is: a story, a party, a home, a building, there is always something that’s only half done when the big day comes!

Apr 15, 2012

Fair grounds

Umeå mid January 2014. I wonder what it will be like. Only days before the grand opening of Umeå being the European Capital of Culture for that year.  Will those new buildings all be done? The redesigns of squares and parks completed? All the projects in place? It’s not even two years until we are there and most things are still up in the air. Will they have a smooth landing?

50 years ago Seattle was ready for take off. Century 21 Exposition – the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair was just days away from opening. What was it like? The intentions were bold and brave. A city at the far west that created a fair of, for and about the future. A transformative event that captured the imagination of the world and introduced Seattle as a global city. Wow. And an architecture that embodied that spirit, reaching for the stars! Yes, this was the era of optimism, of space age, of a handsome young media president.

The civic leaders of Seattle at that time had a vision that wouldn’t take no for an answer. Their dual purpose was to celebrate their city while stimulating its growth, and to create the enduring legacy of a permanent civic center, the Seattle Center. It’s amazing how well they succeeded. Being that bold and brave doesn’t necessary mean that the ideas will work. Not at that specific time and certainly not 50 years later. But they did, and they still do!

Knowing what Umeå is going through now, the city rapidly changing to be dressed up for 2014 and the emotional and practical turmoil the residents of Umeå are facing, I can imagine Seattle World’s Fair stirred up quite some feelings. 13 square blocks were going to be transformed for the site and more then 200 houses were demolished and passed into the past to make room for the future. Eddie Carlson, chairman for the Washington World’s Fair Commission conceived the vision of the Space Needle after dining atop of the television tower in Stuttgart, Germany.  People’s homes replaced by a Jetson rocket weren’t everybody’s cup of tea, so to speak. Therefore, how fortunate it is that those purposes from the civic leaders at that time came true. Seattle Center became and is the much loved and treasured center point of the city that they envisioned. 12 million people visit the Center every year, and 2012 the vision is The Next 50, once again looking into the future.

So, April 15 1962. The opening is six days away, April 21. What was it like? The monorail, the train into the future was already up and running. Were the arcs at the United States Science Pavilion (now Pacific Science Center) already striving white towards the sky, or was somebody balancing paint cans on that delicate design? Did the elevators in the Space Needle test run and how about the restaurant on top of it, did it already revolve? And I can only imagine the nerve wrecking assignment making the sound technique work for the opening ceremony. President John F Kennedy holding the opening speech from Florida. His voice heard by 12 000 people seated in the Center stadium and on the fairgrounds. It was an optimistic president talking about cooperation and radio waves, space age and peace.

-       May we open not only a great World’s fair, may we open an era of peace and understanding among all mankind. Let the fair begin!

Seattle Center is a place for everyone. The water of the International Fountain invites young and old, black and white, Americans and foreigners. The festivals gather the world in arts and food. It’s peaceful lying on the lawn watching the Needle and the arcs aiming for the sky. It’s a place for understanding among mankind. And I am hoping that The European Capital of Culture 2014 will create that kind of space and spirit in Umeå too. I am hoping for  a smooth landing and fair grounds.

Apr 8, 2012

Easter Day considerations

-       Are you sure this is what you want to do on Easter Saturday? The question came from my dear neighbor and relative Bertil, 91 years young. Yes, I am very sure, positive, I responded.

Bertil is my mother’s cousin and he lives down across the field from me, I can see his house from my kitchen window. It is yellow, with a beautiful bakers cottage, barn and well on the front yard, everything very well kept. This is the original family homestead, where my grandfather and Bertil’s father were born. Summertime we can take a short walk across the field to say hi to each other. But not now.

One foot. That’s how much snow we had that day a week ago. It was 14°F at my early Monday morning take off, and Trouble 2 had to come shovel me out from my snowed in fortress for my full day of fun at the hospital. Appropriate; that’s what my cancer winter was like, cold and snowy. Extremely cold and snowy.

Being back in all those waiting rooms is a trip back and down. This is what it was like. That fear. Breasts. Those nice nurses seeing things with their cameras that are hidden from me. Lungs. A couple of more pictures, we didn’t quite catch everything. Skeleton. Half an hour while the camera is working it’s way through my body. Half asleep to the sound of the nurses’ everyday small talk about this and that while I am screened hunting for death.

And then waiting for my oncologist. That waiting room. Wigs and naked heads. I used to be one of them. I was one of them. I had a great wig! I had never looked so good before, never gotten so many compliments in my life! And my naked scull was soft and even, I looked pretty cool, like one of those brave models. Only without eyebrows and lashes. And here I am today, preparing for the message if I am going to keep my hair this time, or if I am going to be one of them again. The wigs and the naked heads.

The walk through that waiting room after meeting with my oncologist is a weird thing. I was spared. Breasts, lungs, skeleton, all cleared! No cancer anywhere, everything clean and clear. I was spared. This time I was spared. I can go home. I am passing the door to the room where patients are lying on beds, sitting in chairs, fluids running into their bodies chasing for cancer cells, attacking tumors. I know that one of them is the wife to an old friend of mine, I met them in the cafeteria between the lungs and the skeleton. They are in there together. They are in this together. And I can go home. This time I was spared.

It’s white and bright and clean outside this Easter, from all that snow that fell a week ago. And it’s white and bright and clean inside me. I got a second chance. Again. My dear neighbor Bertil, 91, and I had a nice meal together in my warm and cozy kitchen on Easter Saturday. He told me stories about my grandparents who built my house and cooked the food in this very kitchen when Bertil was a little boy, his uncle and aunt. And we traveled the family tree together back to 1735, to Olof Olofsson who was a farmer here in the village and from whom Bertil and I descend. That’s the past that I am carrying within me. But what’s the future? I have been spared, and every time it happens I feel resurrected. Something that comes with relief, happiness, gratitude, strength and a great deal of pressure and responsibility. Some things to consider on an Easter Day.

Apr 1, 2012

Balancing an after life

 It’s snowing in Umeå today. April’s fool, it feels like. A tight, wet, sharp snow cutting into my face on my morning Nordic Walking-walk. The weather is appropriate for my assignment today though.

Three years ago at this time I was in the middle of chemotherapy. Pretty much exactly two years ago I was cleared from a terrifying scare; no, the dark spot that covered my right hip ball wasn’t a malignant metastases after all, only some degeneration. March 30 2010 my after life started, I got my self one more birthday and a second chance to live.

Tomorrow is my yearly check up. A full day of x-ray hopping fun at the University hospital. I feel like preparing for a long-trip divided into all these stops on a tight schedule. Yeah, the take off is even an early morning one, those I really do hate.

Three years ago. I’m reading my journal 4/1/09: “On the 7th day from my 2nd chemo treatment. Feeling sick. A soar throat and mouth, nausea, pain in my chest and body. Constipated. All I want to eat is salt.” A couple of days earlier I had received an email from my friend Elizabeth in Seattle: “Trouble 2 is sent from heaven. He took care of house, dog and daughter while we were in the hospital”.

The situation was bizarre. I was fighting the aftermaths of a tumor in my breast and hers was on a tonsil. I was three months in to my cancer journey when Elizabeth’s was discovered. My youngest son, Trouble 2 and his girlfriend, was only two weeks from leaving Umeå to spend spring in Seattle, staying with Elizabeth and her family. And so he did. With three months experience from a cancer sick mother, he moved in with another one for three months, this time one of his Seattle moms.

Elizabeth and I first met summer -95 when my family rented a house across the street from her family in Madrona. I had two young sons, she two young daughters. We became close friends and our lives have since then been interlaced. We have been dressed up in Las Vegas and dressed down in a cabin on the Olympic Peninsula. Her family has spent Midsummer in my little Swedish village, and we became ferry commuters when they lived over at Bainbridge Island. Our children went to school together, and all four of them are now in the start of creating their grown up lives. Over the years we have shared happiness and fear, hope and powerlessness, tears and laughter. And then cancer.

Today we share the experience of being survivors. Last September when I was flat down with my back out in Seattle, I woke up one morning with a bruise on my hand. Realizing that it was the second time in just a couple of weeks I got really scared. There is no fear like the cancer fear. There is nothing like it. Cancer is not negotiable. And if your old cancer shows up again, it will kill you. It’s as simple as that.

Well, that evening Elizabeth came over to my place. She sat on my bed and I showed her my bruise and she said: “You know, I get bruised so much easier than I used to.” And we talked about our poor scarred bodies and ate the comforting Swimming Rama she brought, knowing that what we share is something very special, and no one outside can never ever understand what it is like. Being a survivor. Been given a second chance, although always dreading that next check up. Balancing life and death.

It keeps snowing. Half a foot now.