Sunday, 26 February 2012

On Greece and more

The financial crisis in Greece is starting to look rather desperate to solve. Thousands of innocent citizens have had to watch their lives tumble down these past few years. I feel so sorry for the ordinary Greeks. It seems there is little they can do but to try to ensure they will elect the right kind of leaders to remedy the past mistakes – and to pray they will cope until then. For many, the only viable option is to emigrate.

View from the Lykavittos Hill toward the Acropolis and Piraeus. The large building by the park is the Parliament House in front of the Syntagma Square where most of the demonstrations are taking place.

The Parthenon on the Acropolis seen from the Philopappos Hill. 

The Erechtheion and the Porch of the Caryatids on the Acropolis.
We visited Athens in late 2009, i.e. some six months before the first protests against cutting public spending and raising taxes took place in front of the Parliament House. What struck our attention was that there were many uncared-for or totally abandoned buildings in downtown Athens and even in the picturesque old town. The hardships were visible already more than two years ago and I can only imagine what has happened since then.

The European Union is currently facing its worst crisis. The idea of a common market and a common currency with fiscal rules defining matters such as limits for government deficit and debt is all very well. But if the rules are continuously violated in most of the member states problems are bound to arise. It seems the EU leaders were too ambitious, too hasty and too optimistic when designing the present Union.

Several euro countries are running deeper and deeper into debt because, for years, they have been using way more than they have earned. Now they are expected to take severe austerity measures to cut down government expenditure, which in the case of Greece that has already hit the bottom may lead to an even greater recession. Still less jobs, still less taxes, still less consumption, farewell revival. Greece is a splendid tourist destination to be heartily recommended to anyone but excellent food, wonderful seaside resorts and unique archaeological sites will not attract enough revenue for the country to recover.

Statue of Triton (a merman) in the Ancient Agora.
In Italy, for example, the public sector has grown so huge that some cutting down of the number of civil servants and especially their generous benefits would be more than welcome. In fact, you wonder why Italy still hasn’t seen the rise of a new political party with a completely different kind of policy fighting the extravagant public spending and the deep-rooted habit of tax avoidance. One would expect this kind of a social reform to be in great demand in some of the Mediterranean countries.

You may have heard the old story about a penniless college student who sent a telegram to his farther reading, “No mon’. No fun. Your son.” The farther instantly replied, “Too bad. So sad. Your dad.”

It must have crossed many minds that the loving father’s approach might be a way to handle a country that has run itself to or beyond bankruptcy: let’s forget about your existing loans but from now on you will need to learn to manage your finances so that you will survive. Let them leave the euro if they will have a better chance to keep their heads above the water using their own currency. Let them return to the table when they are fulfilling the criteria.

For some time now, I’ve believed that market economy, or capitalism, as we now know it is advancing towards its final stages and a new kind of system or culture based on social and ecological responsibility will emerge. I may not see it, my children may not see it but I’m convinced one day there will be an end to this era of greed, selfishness and indifference.

Of course, I don’t have any competence to form an opinion on any of the above being a layman in all the disciplines involved. And having a financer of my own supporting me through the harder times. I’m so lucky he is not a self-seeker. To top it all, we are in such good terms that he lets me sleep under the same blanket.

View from the Acropolis across the Saronic Gulf towards the peninsula of Peloponnese.

The Lykavittos Hill seen from the Acropolis.

View from the Lykavittos Hill towards the mainland.
View from the Philopappos Hill towards the Temple of Olympian Zeus and
the Panathenaic Stadium or the Kallimarmaro.
View from the Acropolis through the pilars of the Propylaia towards Piraeus.
Shiny rock of the Acropolis worn out under millions of steps.

Friday, 24 February 2012

A perfect companion

Everyone knows a dog is a man’s best friend but I can assure you a ‘well-trained’ cat can offer you almost as much fun with much less trouble. Our Jack definitely is the perfect friend for a couple like us who would consider having a dog not only far too binding but also too much of an inconvenience on a daily basis.

Yesterday, I was doing some ironing in our upstairs hall. There is an alcove under one of the eaves serving as the space where we generally arrange our clean clothing but this time I carried the ironing board to the middle of the hall watching the TV at the same time.

Jack immediately accompanied me settling down on the carpet at the narrow end of the board. I was most pleased as he seldom takes his nap anywhere else but in the most comfortable place for his needs at that moment, in the winter most often on one of the beds. He was just lying there half asleep keeping me company but whenever a sleeve was hanging from the board he was immediately wide-awake trying to catch it and play with it. Item after item, sleeve after sleeve.

I do hope I will learn to enjoy the little moments a bit more like a cat but I fear I still rather resemble a dog awaiting the best stimuli to be offered from the outside world. At my age, this is absurd. I should be more than aware of the fact that we can never expect anything from tomorrow. Only a few days ago I was once again reminded about this when I heard about the premature passing of someone I knew and appreciated. I wish I had taken the time to know her better.

In Horace’s words, “Carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero”. Maybe I’m not totally hopeless as I’m finding such joy in watching the cat amuse himself whenever there is the slightest occasion for that.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

White blankets and a mattress

Sunday was all grey skies, fierce winds and heavy snowfall from morning till night. As usual, my husband did some snow removal before noon but then we were away for the rest of the day visiting his relatives.

When we returned one of our neighbours had recently ploughed the road with his tractor. However, there was no way our rear-wheel drive could have managed the thick blanket of fresh snow on the slight uphill from the road to our yard. Amateur rustics as we are with no heavy-duty machinery of our own, we had to fetch our manual snow ploughs and clear a track for the car all the way to the garage.

Monday was totally different. We saw some patches of blue in the sky for a change and the birds were singing almost as if spring had arrived. My husband continued with the ever-increasing snow removal. The passage across the garden between the yard and the house is already looking rather impressive with a knee-high mattress of white stretching on both sides.

More snowfall is expected again today. If things continue this way, last winter’s record may well be beaten and I can’t avoid joining the battle: I must persuade him to acquire a snow blower.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Tricky pleasures

I wrote in an earlier post about my tendency to postpone any new personal projects, creative or otherwise, in search for the optimal solution. Another bad habit of mine is perhaps even more annoying, at least when you are trying to learn to live in the moment. I tend to postpone the little pleasures, too.

We Nordic people are often described as more or less earnest with a no-nonsense disposition. This used to be very much true and probably still often is in my generation because of our Lutheran upbringing. Not that I have anything against Martin Luther, on the contrary. But much like our parents, we were taught to be hard-working and humble and always to perform not only our duties but what anyone might expect of us. Work first, play second, if at all, was the doctrine. Thus, if you thought you hadn’t been productive enough in your spare time you would suffer from a bad conscience and feel you weren’t entitled to indulge yourself in any way.

In the above sense my parents were true Lutherans. Having been born in the 1920s, this was the only way they knew. They had always had to work hard and scrimp and save to make ends meet so that it had become their second nature. Almost until the end of their lives, they considered it – if not a sin – at least very inappropriate and somewhat resentful to be idle or enjoy yourself just for the sake of pleasure except in some special occasions when you really deserved it. No wonder I turned out this way.

Of course, a great deal of the high working ethic is in your character and cannot and should not be escaped, but I’m not sure how much of the matter-of-factness is inherited and how much learnt. Nevertheless, it took me decades to digest we are not born to fulfil anyone’s expectations but our own, and even longer to let myself enjoy the little moments of idleness without disturbing my conscience.

Still I often find I’m postponing one little pleasure or other until I feel I have earned it – sometimes to the extent that I completely forget about the ‘reward’ I had reserved for myself for a more deserving moment. Naturally, you could never forget a box of chocolates but will empty it eventually, if only a couple of pieces at a time. But it is annoying to realize you have hardly touched the fabulous pile of  Homes & Gardens magazines you were so pleased to find at a flea market months ago. The joy of discovery is a wonderful feeling but that should not be the end but the beginning of the fun.

Luckily, the younger generations do not have this kind of a burden to carry. The no-nonsense mentality hit their parents so hard they didn’t want to pass it on to their children when it was no longer necessary to be productive every single moment to manage. In general, I feel today’s young people know how to embrace the moment much better than we 50+ mamas and papas do. I respect and admire them for that. As for me, it appears I’ll need to continue practising. I put my trust in the young!

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Every girl’s dream on Valentine

If there is anyone reading this out there, Happy Valentines day to you!

The framed picture in the photo was hanging on the wall of a simple cafe in Florence a few months ago. A business card of Firenze Art Gallery was tucked under the frame but nothing of this sort seems to be on their selection at present.

I don’t think it was ever like this for me even a few decades ago or perhaps I was just too shy to notice. Perhaps it isnt  completely out of the question even now if I’m not too particular about the age of the spectators... And I do travel to Italy quite a lot.

I did hear once the driver of a convertible at a crossing in London shouting to me, “Too busy looking at your cute dress.” But the driver was a lady. Nevertheless, I’ll always remember the compliment and what I was wearing: an apple green sleeveless dress with small apple prints in white and yellow here and there sewn by my mother according to a pattern from the latest Burda magazine. This was more than 30 years ago. A few kind words from a stranger that made you happy once may have such a long-lasting effect. We should practise that more.

For those of you who have a better chance to attract this kind of visual admiration, please wear dresses more often. Nice and simple will work best, I dare say. Thumbs up to all of us!

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Catalonia on my mind

It’s time to book some flights and I’m thrilled! We have been invited to spend a week in Catalonia, Spain, with friends who are living in Madrid but are taking a holiday somewhere close to Girona in late April. They have booked an apartment large enough to accommodate not only them and their family members from Finland but also us old friends from back here. We do appreciate that!

This will be the first trip with this party for my husband but I have been travelling with these friends before so I know that, in addition to being great company, they are just the kind of people to travel with if you wish to experience more than just the obvious. We are sure to make many great excursions, enjoy excellent food with wine, talk a lot, laugh a lot, in short: have lots of fun.

So although my husband prefers to travel alone (that is alone with me, I suppose) it wasn’t that hard to persuade him. To take the most of the trip we will extend our stay by another week that we are planning to spend in Barcelona. It’s about time: I just realized we have been so deeply under the spell of Rome and the rest of Italy in recent years that we made our latest visit to Barcelona, an earlier favourite, almost five years ago. That is definitely too long at our age!

One balcony for exercise, another for the laundry. I might be inspired to do both if I had that. 
Meet my daughter preparing for an FC Barcelona match.
'Mes que un club', Camp Nou stadium minutes before the start of the game.
Full house at Camp Nou.

Friday, 10 February 2012

30°C (50°F) milder in a day

Although not one of the virtues of my people, this winter has definitely given us plenty of reason to engage ourselves in some small talk on weather. That is if you can call events such as the heavy storm in December or the recent drastic temperature changes ‘small’.

Just the other night our thermometer had reached a good -33°C (-27°F), the lowest this season, and within the same day it climbed not far from the freezing point to a mere -3°C (26°F). Did you ever experience such a huge variation so rapidly? Neither did I. I made sure to stay indoors! Our old abandoned cow house had to face it and the following morning its red brick walls sweated all grey with moisture.

Since then, the temperature has been going wildly up and down almost on a daily basis, although less dramatically, and meteorologists still haven’t given us any hope for a steady phase. I guess I had better publish a few of my recent photos before the snow has completely fallen off of the trees and bushes. You never know what kind of changes the next morning will bring these days.

Branches of an Amur maple (Acer ginnala) covered with ice crystals. 

Doesn't the Amur maple look like a cherry tree in blossom? 

Snow-covered birch (Betula pubescens).