Monday, July 30, 2007

Du hast die Wahl

I count my last euro coins, it is barely enough for a bottle of cold mineral water and some grapes. Like with Céline, this summer has appeared to be a predetermined journey to the end of the night. Today, hiking along Côte d'Azur, I felt like in another novel, one by John Fowles, yet confident that the Swedish teacher was right all along in her words: “do not forget that one always has a choice”.

Tomorrow I will turn 29. I hope that day will mark an end to splintered realities. As a first step I have decided to discontinue Rawls & Me. In fact, I made that decision some days ago but I thought I owed it a final post. Much like the last of June at Nero in Brighton, the night before the smoking ban came into effect. Never have I seen so many people smoking so many cigarettes.

A last night in the international hostel environment, scattered Canadian voices making plans for trips along Cinque Terre. My shoulders are itching, all burnt from the sun on Cap Ferrat. Standing there by the lighthouse, just like on Cape Cod, thinking that in five months I will indeed make landfall on the distant shores of the dim west.

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Friday, July 27, 2007

Daybreak

A lonely bus took me away from Ljubljana just as the first daylight managed to climb over the eastern mountains. Two days in the Slovenian capital. Time to follow up on the short stay Gabriel and I had here in mid-June. Long walks through the green, overslept hostel breakfasts and important conversations.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Udine-Monfalcone

A short note. In these post-modern times, baristas everywhere struggle to make the best cappuccino. Yet, a brief sampling of Italian stations bars tells me what I have known all along, that perfection has already been achieved, years ago. Now they only need to learn to not toast the panini into ashes everytime.

Trenitalia

As a seasoned traveller one knows that appearance is everything. Setting off from Gothenburg I was dressed in jeans, a white shirt and a blazer. Together with my ff-card that gave me a nice dinner with Lufthansa and a relaxing flight in business-class. Now, the same attire is an obvious disadvantage as I find myself *standing* through the night on three different regional trains in northern Italy.
The whereabouts of this post are distinctively absurd. It is 3:42 a.m. and I have two more hours to go until Venezia S.L. where I will change trains for Ljubljana. Though I have a seat reservation, a group of people were already sleeping in the compartment when I boarded. And some basic manners say that you do not wake up people in the middle of the night and take their seats. Thus standing, holding the Klapprechner in my arms, implying that the end of this post is imminent. So please, do not think that I always travel in style :-)

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Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Hong Kong

I spend this morning in front of a large window at Gothenburg Airport. Reading “Foreign Affairs” as evident in the post below. The last time I sat here in front of this window was in early April 2006. Then I was getting ready to fly to Hong Kong via Munich.

This time my destination lies a lot closer, though I will pass through Munich today as well. I am going to check out an observatory and maybe some Slovenian Alps.

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Die Allwissende Müllhalde

In these googlelized times, it is tempting to think that everything important is within reach of a keyboard. Luckily, the summer issue of "Foreign Affairs" shows that some things still evade the all-knowing trash heap (as my co-editor likes to call it with reference to Fraggle Rock).

The issue comes with a long article by Barack Obama on how he perceives America’s future foreign policy. Undoubtedly, a sight for sore eyes. Committed to "show the world that America remains true to its founding values", Obama envisages a retreat from Iraq by March 2008 (much like what the bipartisan Iraq Study Group has suggested), the introduction of a cap-and-trade system to fight climate change and a definite halt to the murky practices of secret prisons, torture and illegal renditions.

All this is good. Yet, I fear that the Bush administration is going to cast a long shadow on the history of the US and its chances of pursuing any progressive foreign policy. It will take time to rebuild trust in America, a recent Pew poll showed that Europeans consistently regard the US as the biggest threat to world stability and peace.

I have written before on Rawls & Me about the present tragedy of American politics and I will try to stay brief this time. But I would like to conclude by quoting a few lines from Obama’s article, if only to spread some hope throughout the trash heap:

"America cannot meet the threats of this century alone, and the world cannot meet them without America. We can neither retreat from the world nor try to bully it into submission."

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Der Zwarter Ruiter

Again airport terminals. Apparently south Sweden is being flooded by rainwater this Sunday evening, the departure to Copenhagen has already been set back 45 minutes due to late incoming aircraft.

Delft is one of these cities where you immediately want to live. A morning excursion along the canals from Rijswijk easily persuaded me. I like the scale of the Netherlands, that it is possible to go bicycling to the next city or to take one of the double-decker trains basically anywhere else within a few hours.

My friend has now lived here for four years and has no immediate plans of moving back to Sweden. I can understand him, four years is long enough to sink through the ex-pat surface and become, if not integrated, so at least a part of the society you live in. He now speaks Dutch fluently (or so it seems to me, with that language there is no way of really knowing). If it was easy for me to live in Vienna and not learn German, the same would of course be even more the case here where everyone has an excellent command of English. Like in Sweden, people are also very keen on practicing their English. So even if you do try a few words of Dutch they will immediately switch back.

But then again, The Hague is the most international city in Holland and, I am tempted to say, in the world. With both the International Criminal Court and the European Patent Office being based here, it is not surprising that you meet so many people speaking English in the streets. In any case, we had a grand night out, first a few lagers at the beach in tongue-twisting Scheveningen, then trappist beer at the Der Zwarter Ruiter only to be rounded off by the local speciality of Orangenbitter...

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Saturday, July 21, 2007

True realists

This Saturday, every other person seems to be reading the new Harry Potter. Whatever one may think about the books it is fascinating to witness the appeal they have had on so many people, ranging from ten year olds like Eddie (not the dog) to German sociologists in their thirties.

As earlier announced, I am on a morning ICE, following the Rhine on its way towards the North Sea. Cannot help thinking of Suede, “Europe is our playground”. Within less than one generation, Europe has finally proven the nationalists wrong, shown the world that there could be a better way, and nowhere is this more evident than here in the heartland of our continent.

Yet, for many people, the idea of European integration is reduced to buying H&M in Amsterdam instead of Düsseldorf, flying Easyjet and taking all this for granted. That is sad. Maybe the political change is so profound that it becomes indiscernible? Why do so few recognize the opportunities ahead, like quickly bringing Turkey into the union, a move which at last would demonstrate that the union rests on universal values (which in theory, individuals anywhere could adhere to) and not on some quasi-metaphysical “European” heritage. If successful, a politically and economically integrated Turkey would be a symbol of hope for the wider Islamic world, showing that Osama bin Ladin and George W are both dead wrong.

It is my sincere belief that the true realists of international relations theory do not build weapons. They take the ICE.

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Friday, July 20, 2007

Delayed

Having a cous-cous salad with mineral water at Caffè Nero. The departure monitor simply says “LH 4789 Cologne – Delayed” and nothing further. Green and black olives, chargrilled pepper and chickpeas which I actually have come to appreciate more and more in recent years.

Hours immersed by the bustling global stream of passengers.

And then. Thrust set to take-off, a female German captain taking us up in the sky, towards the west and the setting sun over Windsor castle. I like flying with female pilots, maybe because I believe that women in general drive so much better than men.

Today I once again had reason to reflect upon the blogosphere and if any justification at all can be found for web logs like Rawls & Me, flooded as they are with personal trivialities. Not only do I feel uneasy about the narcissistic undertones, I am also becoming increasingly aware of the discrepancies between Rasmus in reality and the image conveyed here. Beside the obvious, that the electronic Rasmus has far less “Macken” (as the Germans would say) than the real version, I think that most posts here have been written in distinct emotional modes, either euphoria or melancholy to put it simple and that all in between gets somewhat blurred.

Which makes it difficult for people I meet in the real world to relate to who I actually am.

Enough meta-reflection. Just passing over Brussels, tomorrow I will take the ICE to Utrecht and then The Hague. It feels good to have friends.

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Thursday, July 19, 2007

Logic lane

Only in Oxford.

I have returned to the British Isles, if only for a short while. On Saturday I have to be back in the Netherlands to visit my childhood friend Mattias and his girlfriend in Rijswijk.

At Nero they are playing “Not too late” with Norah, it reminds me of American afternoons out in the convertible. The coming rain, we are sinkin’ soon. Today the mood is a different, a sense of anticipation, that life somehow still matters, difficult as it may seem.

Time to get back to the conference papers. I think of yesterday, of me flying high above the Alps, of hikes yet to be undertaken and I just have to read some more William Davies:

"I saw at night the City's lights shine bright,
A greater milky way; how in its spell
It fascinated with ten thousand eyes;
Like those sweet wiles of an enchantress who
Would still detain her knight gone cold in love;
It was an iceberg with long arms unseen,
That felt the deep for vessels far away."

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Tuesday, July 17, 2007

On the shoreline

Two years ago, I travelled the same Bavarian tracks. Then, someone told me that train journeys were good for her thinking. In the next sentence she corrected herself, saying that they were in fact only good for a certain kind of thinking. Probably for the kind of thoughts I think today.

Always waiting for something lasting. I finish the Adelholzener.

From the outside I can hear: "Willkommen in Nürnberg Hauptbahnhof". From the inside: Frida Hyvönen replacing Anna Ternheim. I know, I should give up these melancholic singer/songwriters all together. They are slowly extinguishing my soul by framing all thoughts into the same unproductive loops.

I, for one, should know that time is "continuous, linear, unidirectional and irreversible". Perhaps all I can do is to buy myself a new pair of shoes?

Monday, July 16, 2007

Milestones

Today it is three years since I first learned that I had been accepted as PhD student at Lund University. I can still remember the ecstatic feeling of listening to my voicemail outside Westbahnhof, realizing that a long standing dream had come true.

This day marks a milestone also in the opposite direction; today, exactly three years remain until I have to finish my PhD. Looking ahead over those years, I am very excited about the work I will be able to do, both here in Sweden and, thanks to a generous grant from the Crafoord Foundation, also as a visiting scholar at Rutgers University.

Even so, I think that the last three years have taught me a lot about both the possibilities and limitations of being a PhD student. The daunting combination of guilt-ridden inertia and euphoric activity. A boundless academic environment, equally deprived of ceilings and floors. Yet, I would not want to have it any other way. Before I started my PhD studies I thought that the great challenge would be an academic one. Now I know that it is in fact a psychological one: to have the necessary staying power, to keep motivation up and the pages constantly streaming out of the computer.

Finally, the coming fall semester marks a milestone when it comes to teaching as well. With more than 350 hours of teaching behind me, regulations stipulate that, after this fall semester, I am not allowed to do any more teaching during my time as a PhD student. In many ways, I find that sad. I have come to truly appreciate teaching, both as a way to stay sane during all the writing but also as a practical activity free from all doubts about its instrumental value.

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Saturday, July 14, 2007

Gorki Park

Kaufhaus des Westerns provided me with a Regenschirm, double automatic and undoubtedly the essence of German quality. Sheltered by its canopy, walking the streets towards Prenzlauer Berg, I stumble upon a post-soviet cafe serving "Intelligentsia" and "Proletariat"; salted cucumbers, white cabbage and bacon accompanied by the compulsory vodka.


Ironic references sufficient to create a reality of its own; the underwhelming experience of finding a Starbucks inside the Fernsehturm at Alexanderplatz. With every rediscovery, the German capital grows, recent extensions to its psychogeography include Humboldthain and even more of Kreuzberg.

Making notes in my Moleskine. Embarrassing to realize that a brand has been tailored precisely to over-inflated intellectuals like myself, that no one escapes mass consumerism. Yet, compared to Lonely Planet, I like that Moleskine quotes Aldous Huxley:

"For every traveller who has a taste of his own, the only useful guidebook will be the one which he himself has written"

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Monday, July 09, 2007

The State of Poetry

In Lund. Sorting things, packing, repacking. Found a small book by Roger McGough, which I bought on a Penguin sale in Vienna.

"There are
fascists
pretending
to be
humanitarians

like
cannibals
on a health kick
eating only
vegetarians"

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Sunday, July 08, 2007

Heumarkt

Last night it was beach and party. But after all, “Wien ist anders”, as the promotion says. I remember mornings of paradoxical solitude in cramped underground trains, listening to Ebba Forsberg, reading those words over and over again.

At eight sharp this morning, someone called me, but my w880i played me another trick by turning itself off and erasing all traces of the phone call. Or maybe it was all due to my own confusion, I certainly felt a bit “damisch” this morning, as the Austrians would call it.

Yesterday, Markus gave me a collection of African poems which he bought on his trip to Ghana. Deeply appreciated. Osundare is one of the poets featured. I stumbled upon some fragments by Abioseh Nicol which reminded me of reef-building corals:

“Words are like shells
Many see only their outer hardness
But the wise hold and open them”

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Saturday, July 07, 2007

Markuslöwen und andere seltsame Tiere

A tiramisu in a Viennese café, the warm southern wind and an old inscription: "Dieser Markuslöwe soll an den alten Südbahnhof erinnern, von dem er als Symbol der Verbindung Wien-Venedig stammt".

Flying distorts all proportions. Yesterday morning I woke up in Oxford, today I am listening to an African street concert in Burggasse. This, if anything, should explain the success of chained hotels; people simply need time to adapt. Like airports they constitute an international environment of equal alienation, no one is at home, yet home is not too far away.

After all the flying it felt good to buy an Interrail "One Country Pass" for Germany this morning, it means that I will be able to do all the planned criss-crossing at an affordable cost while maintaining a high level of flexibility. That is a euphemistic way of expressing the current mess I am in. But I guess, next spring, when I slowly walk around the duck pond at Rutgers, my present state of homelessness and roaming journeys will make sense. Somehow.

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Friday, July 06, 2007

Rotation

Climbing towards 33 000 feet, I scribble this blog post into a black ruled Moleskine, "the legendary notebook used by European artist and thinkers for the past two centuries" as the highly brand-conscious company asserts. Hardly surprising, Ernest Hemingway is mentioned. But the notebook did come to good use during the conference, remembering me of, among other things, the apple orchard in Grantchester.

This summer though, the English July weather has left a lot to wish for. In combination with failing logistics I can simply say that I have been very cold. And hearing about flooding in south Sweden did not really inspire me to rush for my Copenhagen flight either. So, instead, I am now taking advantage of those dirty cheap £9 + taxes LH-tickets to make a short rotation via Vienna before heading north again.

Café Einstein. Time to reflect about the impressions from the conference and Oxford. While doing so I am happy to report that, together with a German philosopher, I have been appointed to edit an electronic book consisting of all the conference papers. Will be great fun methinks.

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Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Blackbird Leys

End stations. Often abroad, I like to take a random bus or tram to its end station. Especially in touristy places like Prague, end stations tend to represent something “real”. Here in Oxford I have spent the last four days travelling with red buses to their end station in Blackbird Leys.

Today I found myself comparing Sweden and England to an Indian lawyer. It felt strange telling him that the most visible difference is the poverty in Britain. Of course, by Indian standards, there is no poverty in Blackbird Leys. Yet, from a European perspective, it is striking how conscious political decisions have created an underclass of historically disadvantaged people.

Today, I walked in the opposite direction from the city centre and saw the "other" Oxford. Of course it was an uplifting experience, especially along the Thames. I could very well think of myself living here for a while. Personal reasons aside, it is so easy to melt into that latte-drinking existence and simply forget about its socio-economic base. This is why I think that every Tory, or Blairite for that matter, should get a copy of Brian Barry’s Why Social Justice Matters and take bus number five. To its end station.

Monday, July 02, 2007

African poems

Have to go to the conference any minute. But I would like to share a poem I saw on the London underground yesterday. The poem is by Niyi Osundare from Nigeria, professor of English at the University of New Orleans and one of six African poets to be on display in the underground this summer.

"I sing
of the beauty of Athens
without its slaves

Of a world free
of kings and queens
and other remnants
of an arbitrary past

Of earth
with no sharp north
or deep south
without blind curtains
or iron walls

Of the end
of warlords and armouries
and prisons of hate and fear

Of deserts treeing
and fruiting
after the quickening rains

Of the sun radiating ignorance
and stars informing
nights of unknowing

I sing of a world reshaped"

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