Jul 27, 2014

The heat is on

It’s the late evenings that’s the most extraordinary. Every window and door open in my house, the wind rushing through. I am lying on my couch, legs bare, no blanket, it’s 82°F inside and 68°F outside. Tropical nights they are called, the ones above 68°F, and they are very rare on this latitude. 
Today my two cities are on the same page when it comes to temperatures, 81°F. It has cooled down in Umeå today. For a week now we’ve been around 85° with a two day record of 90°! And when I am saying record, we’re talking record. Not since 1882, 90° has been officially measured in Umeå! There was even a 2nd degree heat warning which is issued when we are expecting 86° three days in a row, never happened before!
How do I feel about this? I love it! I totally love it!
This week has been a lot like Seattle in August. Dry comfortable heat. And I get to experience that in Umeå! Lucky me, since I can’t travel to Seattle.
It’s funny though. 90° here at the end of the road in the woods was a little bit too much even for me. I actually stayed inside not to challenge myself. But running errands in Umeå on a crowded Friday afternoon didn’t bother me! It was like my body recognized heat+traffic+mall and coped with the concept. I know, it’s crazy, but I love parking my car in the Pacific Place garage on a hot day, walking the air conditioned mall and then step outside on Pine Street feeling that hot dry downtown air against my skin embracing my body. Yes, it’s there, it’s still there!
The dry heat is more problematic in the beautiful Northwest though. Not so much at the coast, but east of the mountains. Most every summer wild fires haunt the counties east of the Cascades. This summer is worse than ever, and we’re not even half way through the fire season.
About 300 homes have burned in the largest recorded wildfire in Washington state history.  At nearly 400 square miles, about 1000 km2, the lightning-caused Carlton complex in Okanogan Conty has eclipsed the 1902 Yacolt Burn, which happened in Southwest Washington. They say the area looks like a moonscape. 
To wake up in the morning on the 64th latitude, passing the open window in my bath room on the second floor hot air flushing in, feeling like you are walking by the fire place, is an odd experience. It’s like nothing I can relate to what so ever. Open windows = cold. It’s easy to understand though how the tiniest sparkle can cause a disaster. How the dry grass can pretty much self ignite or catch fire by the reflection of the sun.
A good Swedish summer usually offers two weeks spread out over the entire summer with temperatures peaking at 77° (25°C). A crappy summer stays around 60° (15°C) and a lot of rain. Summer 2014 this far has been on an extreme. June record cold with nights during Midsummers at freezing point. Exchanged for record highs this week.
Now, it has cooled down a bit in Umeå but the forecast for the upcoming week is still promising 73-80°F, which on a normal summer would be The Summer Week. Now I am thinking I might bring a sweater…
PS. I am the owner of a convertible. On the 64th latitude. I can tell you, as for now none is laughing at me as I am on a ride with my private driver Audrey.  

Jul 20, 2014

A witness to my life

Why do people marry?
- Out of passion?
- No, we marry because we need a witness to our life.
It’s Susan Sarandon asking Richard Jenkins. In a movie. A stupid rom-com. Not that stupid actually, it’s quiet sweet. Shall We Dance? is the story about John Clark (Richard Gere), who is happily married, has a wonderful family and a good life. When he realizes ball room dancing makes him tick he keeps it secret from his wife (Susan Sarandon), who hires a PD (Richard Jenkins) when her husband starts acting out of character. She finds out his new passion, and the dialogue above takes place when the wife and the PD get philosophical about marriage and life.
I have been single now for fifteen years. After the initial spinning in the chaotic centrifuge of grief, disappointment, anger, missing, blame, relief, despair, acceptance, remorse, shame, curiosity, guilt, hope and loneliness I landed in an open space. There was more room for me. To spread my wings, to fill my lungs. To not hold back. To be more of me.
Some years later it was time for my sons to spread their wings and move away from our family house. The empty nest syndrome struck hard on me. I grieved for months. I was surprised, I didn’t see that reaction coming. I am a very self centered person and my projects, whatever they have been, were as much my babies as those I carried in my womb. I did often feel restricted by family matters. Couldn’t wait until I was out on a story again, in the darkroom, at my sewing machine, my special note book on my lap working on some lyrics, looking through the lens of my Rolliflex or sitting at the piano fiddling on a song. Not that I didn’t love my family, of course I did, more than anything, coming home to the safe family cave was my warm heart. But nevertheless.
Therefore, it came as a slight shock how empty the house was when only me there. What used to be a precious time, husband and kids temporarily gone somewhere, became an endless stretch of deserted rooms. They were all gone and wouldn’t come back. It was quite hard to grasp. Teens come and go. You have both. But computers and music instruments gone. Then you know there is no way back. I came around eventually. It took me some time, but I came around.
In the separation centrifuge I noticed one unexpected loss that would change my life and me forever. Spontaneity. I am someone who likes to share whatever is going on with me. Coming home from work the first thing I did opening the front door was telling my husband everything about the day. I ran everything by him. I read my texts to him or had him read them. I told my synopsis, I asked him up to the dark room checking what B&W copy I would go for. I told him every single idea coming up in my head. I let him hear the harmonies for a new song or tried out different words in the lyrics. God how I miss that!
I didn’t do all this out of insecurity or to get validation or to be confirmed. I most always know what I am going for and am focused getting there. No, I did it because my husband was my best friend. He was the one I wanted to share with. Work, friends, hardships, happiness, problems, and simply daily ordinary life. I modeled outfits for parties and I sang him the choice of songs for funerals. Most everything that was in me was shared with my allied in life. Well, I had my secret closets, but most things were out in the light.
Coming home from work to a quiet house made me silent. Sure, I could call someone up, but it takes an active action. You need the right person, you need to get hold of that person, you need the person to be available and in the right mood, you need… and the moment is gone. The moment is gone and your day is taken care of by yourself only. Stays quiet in your body. Good and bad energy stuck. Yes, the spontaneity was gone.
I learned to keep my life in my body instead of letting it out in the world. I do feel more mature that way. More like a grown up. Behaving well. But it’s not me. It’s not what I want. And it’s not serving me well. I am not cut out for talking to myself, feeling that’s enough for me.
- We marry because we need a witness to our life.
That line stayed with me. Wow. Of course. It totally reasoned with me. I don’t know if that’s why we are marrying, but I think it’s a good reason for it. 
As an (over)-sharing person, I am transparent. I am see through. And in the same token obvious and distinct. But with no one there to see me I turn invisible. With no one witnessing my life, I fade away.
When I wake up in the morning I talk to my bedroom ceiling and the maple outside my window. I tell them what I know about the day ahead. Facts, joys and worries. In the evening I am closing my day with my journal. Summing it up in facts, joys, worries and gratitude. The maple changes with the seasons. Winter-bare, snow-heavy, light and sheer, dark summer green and autumn leaves. “Good morning world, it’s Saturday and the wind is playing in my summer green trees. Good morning world, it’s Tuesday and my winter bare trees are grey from clouds. Good morning world, it’s Friday and the sun is reflecting in my snow heavy trees.” The maple and my white stained fur ceiling are patient listeners.
The open space I landed in after the spinning centrifuge eventually turned vast. Vast and wide. It wasn’t a comfortable place anymore. And solitude transformed to loneliness.
A different movie dialogue is coming up in my mind. Barbara Streisand and Robert Redford are on a brake in The Way We Were. This time Hubbel has ended the relationship and Katie is heartbroken. In despair she calls Hubbel up. He reluctantly listens to her as she is wiping her tears, saying something along these lines:
- Please, I need to talk to my best friend about my best friend.
I need to take a deep breath here. I have been there. I have made that call. Losing your best friend, by choice or not, is one of the most painful things to experience. That void. You might think you yourself is enough. But without anyone there seeing you, witnessing you as you are, sun moon and down to your molecules, who are you? Are you?
- Why do people marry?
- Out of passion?
- No, we marry because we need a witness to our life
This I am pondering on a lovely summer weekend as my life companion of 37 years is marrying. The very same lovely Saturday week as he and I married 33 years ago.

Jul 13, 2014

My two thriving home towns, summer report

Umeå in Sweden, Seattle in the U.S. My two cities.

Both my home towns are blossoming during the summer. The greenery, the water, Seattleites and Umebor coming out of the drizzle and the snow, tourists visiting. Restaurants and parks crowded with people having a meal and a drink, soaking the sun. Umeå has even been in the neighborhood of Seattle temperatures this week, it’s absolutely wonderful!

And Umeå is hot in more ways this summer! New York Times has appointed Umeå one out of 52 destinations to visit this year! And Expressen, one of the leading evening magazines in Sweden is asking if Umeå is the hottest city in the country right now. The numbers of foreign visitors are increasing by the week, look at these numbers for 2014: Finland 56%, Norway 62%, (although they are hardly foreign to us) Germany 146% and Great Brittan 221%! It’s all because of Umeå being the European Capital of Culture of course. 

Seattle is hot all year round though. Last year, Seattle grew faster than any other major American city, according to population estimates released by Census Bureau. From July 1, 2012 to July 1, 2013, Seattle grew by 2.8 percent — the highest rate among the 50 most-populous U.S. cities.  2,8% is a lot. But Umeå is actually one of the fastest growing cities within the European Union (!), more than 1% a year since 1994.

Seattle is now the 21st biggest city in the U.S and Umeå the 12th biggest in Sweden. My two home towns are thriving, building cranes are everywhere. It’s a long time since “Will the last person leaving Seattle turn out the lights”-era in the 1970s and Umeå feeling like the northern Sweden (Norrland) underdog compared to Sundsvall and even Luleå. The Umeå population growth was 36% in 1985-2010.
My two cities have more similarities. One is the desire to turn the city face towards the water, Elliot Bay and the Umeå River. Downtown has been cut off from the water, in Seattle by the Alaskan Viaduct Highway 99 and Umeå by Strandvägen. The areas facing the water has to a large degree been ugly and unfriendly.
So, there are these two projects. In Umeå The City Between the Bridges  (Staden mellan broarna) and A Waterfront for All in Seattle. Both are reconnecting downtown to the water and both are transforming to the City and the designers’ goal: shaping up a big forgotten grey zone to become the cities' front porches where people can hang out, play, relax and feel safe. 26 blocks in Seattle and 9 in Umeå. It’s only the scales that are different.
In Umeå several parks are in the waterfront design, and this week the most central one was inaugurated. Rådhusparken (the City Hall Park) now stretches from the old City Hall (well, there is still Storgatan cutting off right at the Hall, that’s in the pipe line for next year) all the way down to the river. The new park is modern, strict and open,  and speaks well with the next door neighbor Väven, the new building for cultural arts designed by Norwegian Snöhetta, and just about to be inhabited by the cultural life of Umeå.
The exterior of Väven is glass, inspired by the black and white graphic stem of the birch, the Umeå land mark tree. The materials in Rådhusparken is light grey granite, black wood and grass in flat terraces walking down the slope. What used to be a big parking lot has been transformed by Ulf Nordfjell, the Umeå born and bread world famous landscape architect, to the welcoming front porch it was waiting to be. And already this first warm weekend you could tell the citizens of Umeå found it and just loved it!
In October it is three years since I first started telling stories about Umeå and Seattle, my two home towns. By that time the water front plans were dreams not quite put on paper yet. Seattle is still in the process, but there is the fabulous Great Wheel at Pier 57 and parts of the Viaduct is gone. The transformation in Umeå is remarkable and it won’t be long until the City Between the Bridges is fulfilled and the 9 blocks a land mark and a postcard instead of a shameful eye sore. I am so proud and happy!

Jul 6, 2014

Post an insanely intense pre-summer

My skin is warm from the sun which finally made it’s summer entrance this weekend. The balcony door is open letting the smell from newly harvested fields in, my land leaseholder Sören came with his green tractor last night making the season mark: pre-summer is over. The wind has fallen and the evening is quite and calm.

This is what I need now. Sun, warmth and peace.

For a month now I have been pushing myself way over what is possibly possible for me. The choir festival needed one week of script writing and meetings to become the success we were aiming for. The festival week was followed by a pre production week for a film shoot the week after. And in the middle of that a family reunion. Gosh. It’s been insanely intense.

I am producing a documentary about thee developer of Umeå. His name is Krister Olsson and he is the Paul Allen of my Swedish hometown. We started shooting in October and now was the summer shoot. During the winter I haven’t been able to be there in person at all times because of my back, but I had pictured me up and running before the summer. There was a plan B, I could do it via Skype as I have had at times during the winter, but as this shoot was mainly interviews plan B wasn’t one I didn’t want to put in action if I could avoid it.

And I didn’t. Although I wasn’t at all up and running the way I pictured and hoped for. Not at all. My back was protesting loudly as the week started and continued all through. But surrounded with good people I managed to do what I needed and wanted.

Audrey is the one helping me out of bed in the mornings and giving me breakfast. On her way back in to Umeå she dropped me off at the noon locations where cameraman Tomas and sound guy Johannes met up. A lot of film crew work is carrying things. Camera, lights, cables, batteries, microphones, computers, reflecting screens, stands, tripods, sand bags, etc, etc, etc. In this case it also involved carrying me.

Not literary but close to. Tomas and Johannes carried my backpack and my bag. And a special chair that worked for me sitting in during the interviews. As well as a cute pillow knitted by my friend Mimmi, perfect to support my lower back while seated. They also gave me their hands helping me up and down from that chair and in and out of the car where I was half lying when changing locations. Do I need to say Tomas and Johannes is my dream team?

Since we started shooting this film biography the weather gods haven’t been good to us. Heavy overcast, rain and fog. When shooting you don’t want bright sunshine, you want a slight overcast giving you a soft and even light. But a too even light (as in heavy clouds, fog or rain) doesn’t give you any nuances and shades, and makes everything look grey and dull. And of course the equipment doesn’t like rain.

So, for this summer shoot not only did I picture myself up and running but Umeå showing off it’s very best summer face. What happened? Well, Audrey and I left my place at the end of the road the first morning in perfect weather conditions arriving in downtown Umeå 15 minutes later, rain poring down. The improvising that followed continued all week as the prognoses were never to trust and our carefully picked and planned interview locations had to be crossed out one after another.

But hey, that’s the conditions for a documentarian, we are not working in a controlled environment! And we had a good week. We had a great week. I was present for the interviews and completely safe handing over the B-roll work to Tomas and Johannes. Do I need to stress they are my dream team?

Landing on my couch Friday afternoon body and soul completely exhausted I was close to crying. I have been working so hard keeping myself and my body together not only for this last week but for this last month. Now it was over. I did it. I made it. With a lot of help from kind hands around me I made it. Now I could let go. I hadn’t been aware of that kind of need. But there is was.

I am happy and very grateful that I could attend at everything marked in my calendar this last month. And I am proud about a well done job achieved. I only wish I didn’t have to suffer the way I do. I wish it wasn’t such a fight for me. I am wishing I was allowed to simply enjoy what I am doing and trust it to be that way. Not to be dreading it.

My mother’s lupins are shining in the evening sun. The honeysuckle under my grandfather’s apple tree is slowly withering, it was gorgeous this year. Yesterday I spent the afternoon lying on my folding sun bed at my neighbors Jenny and Hannes’ engagement garden party, surrounded by happy people in their thirties. Josephine just visited with her horses Daisy and Bella munching the rich white clover from my too tall lawn. I made it through the insanely intense pre-summer, summer has finally arrived here at the end of the road. And I love it.