Agni, the God of Fire is the witness to the union. The bride and groom take seven steps around the sacred fire. It is not only a wedding of a couple, it is a wedding of two families. It is a wedding of two cultures, north Indian and south Indian. It is all melting together here outside New York City
It is a three day wedding. More than three hundred guests. People have flown in from many parts of the world. The wedding starts with an evening cruise onboard the S/S Atlantis on the waters outside Manhattan. It is a warm, clear evening. Stars in the sky. New York’s sky line is passing by. The lit up Statue of Liberty is more impressive at night than at day.
After the dinner onboard, the partying starts. Music. Rhythms. Dancing. Bollywood. Life. Joy. Just after midnight, the Atlantis is coming back to Pier 9 in Brooklyn. We take a taxi back to our hotel at Midtown on Manhattan.
The second evening, there is another dinner. Another party. More music. More dancing. Indians know how to party. And then comes the big day. The wedding.
The venue is the Greentree Club, a seaside country club outside New York City. The groom is arriving on horse back to the rhythm of drums. Dancing people. Colour. Smiles and joy. A Bollywood movie could not be better. Ceremonies continue for three hours. Everything seems chaotic, disorganized. But the Hindhu wedding follows a detailed plan. The priest is leading the old, traditional ceremonies. Movements. Colour. Mantras. Drums. Finally, the couple is married. The families are married. People throw sacred rice, blessing the newly married.
At the wedding dinner in the evening, the colours are gone. The dress code is dinner jacket, tuxedo or dark suit. But the music continues. Bollywood continues. Bollywood in black and white. You can take the Indian out of the village. But you can never take the village out of the Indian.
We have arrived in the Big Apple. The taxi ride from Pennsylvania Station to our hotel on West 54th Street takes twenty minutes.
The hotel room on the 8th floor is small. If we had had three suitcases, we would have had a problem. The bed is big, very soft. I look out through the window, looking down at the crossing of West 54th Street and Broadway. We are in the middle of Manhattan. It has been some time since the hotel window was cleaned. It is dirtier than my windows back home.
It is a day of walking. The Big Apple, the city that never sleeps. Central Park. United Nations on 1st Avenue. Times Square. Lots of yellow taxis. Yes, here they are still yellow. Police cars with sirens. We go to Rockefeller Plaza, take the lift to the top. The Top of the Rock. It is very windy up here. The view is magnificent. The whole of Manhattan, yes the whole of New York, is below our feet.
In the early afternoon, we have walked more than 10 kilometers. We make it back to the hotel, resting our legs on the soft bed before it is time to change. The dress code is smart casual. The car we have ordered through the hotel is there on time. The elderly driver speaks to us in Spanish. We realize that his English is very limited. He does not know the address we are going to. Pier 9 in Brooklyn. He is trying to set his gps in the phone. Then we realize that he does not know how to do it. We have to help him. Then his phone goes flat. The battery is dead.
There is a knock on the car window. Thanks God, it is Jeffrey from our hotel. Jeffrey through whom we booked the car. “Are you still here?” he says. Twenty minutes have passed since we entered the car. He turns to the driver. “These people are boarding a yacht”, he says. “They must be there on time”. It is obvious that the driver is lost. “I will waive down a yellow cab for you”, says Jeffrey. We change cars.
The cab driver is from Algeria. An immigrant like most people in New York. He has been driving a taxi eleven years. He knows his job. He knows that we are in a hurry. One hour later, we have reached Pier 9 at Brooklyn. The Atlantis is still there. Our friends and hosts are waiting at the pier, greeting us and a few others who are also late. The yacht can depart. The party can start….
The White House… We have arrived in Washington, DC. It is cloudy, slight rain.
Tourists gather outside the fence. Photography sessions. Selfies. Group photos. All with the White House in the background. Something to show when you get home.
Memories come back….
It was in July 1962. I was 18 years old. I had been a foreign exchange student. One year in a high school in northern Iowa, just south of the Minnesota border. At the end of the school year, I got an invitation to visit the White House in Washington together with a group of other foreign students.
President John F Kennedy received us in Rose Garden. He talked about youth. “You young people are the future of the world”, he said. He talked about his Peace Corps. The Peace Corps was a volunteer program started by President Kennedy where young Americans where sent out into the world in different aid projects. He urged us “young people” to go out in the world. To see, to learn, to help.
Some days in your life are more important than other days. This was one of those days. I was at an age when you were easily impressed. And President Kennedy impressed me. What he said impressed me. Later back in Sweden, I read books about President Kennedy. I read books with his speeches. “Young man, move out into the world” was the message I had taken with me from that sunny day in the garden outside the White House. And I did just that. Some years later, I moved out into the world. Sweden was my birth place. The world became my home.
That day, I had been inside the fence of the White House. Inside the fence, looking out. Today I am outside the fence. Outside, looking in.
More tourists come. More photos are taken. A group of Chinese tourists wants me to take a photo. A photo of the group with the White House in the background.
It is a peaceful day at the White House. President Trump is in Saudi Arabia…
We drive northeast on 321, leaving Ottawa behind us.
Most big cities in North America look the same. Skyscrapers in the city centers. Streets crossing at 90 degree angles. Traffic lights in every crossing. National monuments. Important buildings. Museums. Office buildings. Lots of taxis. All cities have substitute nature called parks. People come to the parks, bringing coffee in disposable cups from Starbucks across the street, lying in the sunshine in the grass, enjoying what they think is nature. Looking around, they don’t see mountain ridges. They see high rise buildings wherever they look. City life. City nature.
The road is good, single lanes. We pass through forests. We pass through small villages. Lakes. Rivers. Rapids. Sometimes small farms. I get flashbacks to my roots. The landscape is so similar to where I grew up, in northern Sweden. This is real nature. Real Canada.
The landscape is changing forms. Hills. Higher hills. Small mountains. We stop by a lake. Fishing must be good here. The water is very clean. I stick my hand into the water. It is cold. Just like my childhood water in northern Sweden. We come to Mont Tremblant village. Clean, organized, well managed and maintained.
I would feel at home here. Here in the real Canada.
It is early summer in Toronto. It is sunny, clear skies, as we drive towards Hamilton. Roads are good, traffic light. We are surrounded by light green colours, the colours of early summer, colours that will change into darker green as days go by. Many flowers on the road side. Red, white, blue, violet. Nature is in its love phase….
After Hamilton, before the Falls, we pass many Canadian wineries. We did not know that wines are produced in Canada. Now we know.
The power of the water is intense. Again, I cannot take my eyes from the water. Several hundred thousands of cubic meters of water going over the edge every second. Every second. Niagara Falls. Another gift from nature. Another wonder. World, you are beautiful.
We walk until our legs are tired. The mild sound from falling water is gently fondling our ears. The dew from rising mist from the falls is making our jackets wet.
We are back in Toronto before sunset. Our seafood dinners from previous nights is replaced with a tasty chicken meal. We try Canadian red wine. Not bad. Not bad at all…
We fly over Greenland. Incredible beauty. Fairytale landscapes. A few hours later, we arrive in Canada.
There is so much beauty on this planet. Why are we destroying it?
There is so much to enjoy on this Earth. So much to see, so much to share. Why are we fighting over this beauty? Why are we fighting over land? Why are we fighting over borders when in reality there are no borders? The Earth is beautiful, owned by every being living on it. Why do we humans live the lives we do?
We arrive in peak hour traffic in Toronto. With the help of our GPS, we make it to our hotel. New experiences are waiting…
I take a deep breath. I take many deep breaths during our stay in Iceland.
There are few places on Earth where nature takes such a grip over your body and soul as this place. It is undisguised beauty. Raw beauty. Tender beauty. Ugly beauty. Beautiful beauty. Everything is here. In one place. Everything on one island, untouched for thousands or even millions of years.
I wish our stay here had been longer. I feel that we have just touched the surface of the secrets of Earth. This is one place in Universe which tells us what Universe is about. One place which tells us what was here before man occupied this planet.
We see small ponds. Bluish water, coloured by minerals. We see small ponds with boiling water, heat provided by the inner of Earth. We see rivers with crystal clear water, water you can drink. We see volcanoes, lava fields and lava stones that tell us about more violent times on the island.
The mid-Atlantic Ridge goes through the island. This is the junction of the American and Eurasian tectonic plates, the place where America and Europe drifted apart. This drift is still going on, by about 3 mm per year. The scars from this divorce are visible in many places. Small deep rifts, often with crystal clear water, sometimes 20 meters deep or more. We see scuba divers going down into these rifts. Over the past number of years, five scuba divers have died exploring the secrets of the rifts.
Iceland, you still carry many secrets. Secrets of the past. Will we ever get to know them?
It is eight degrees outside. Cloudy. A bitterly cold wind. Slight rain. We decide to go swimming.
After 45 minutes, a ride through a moon landscape, we arrive at our target. The Blue Lagoon. The very blue lagoon. The water is coming up to the surface from the inner depths of the earth. The water gets bluish, milky bluish, from minerals it passes through on its travel up to the surface.
I walk outside in my swim trousers. Eight degrees. An ice cold wind. I almost turn around, back in to the warmth. I am freezing. But I push on towards the lagoon. At the first touch with the water, I almost pull my feet back. The water is hot. Too hot? Slowly I get into the water. My body adjusts to the heat. Around 38-40 degrees. One of Iceland’s hot springs. One of Iceland’s wonders.
We spend more than an hour in the lagoon. In the hot water. We don’t want to get out of the water. The water gives us protection from the cold Icelandic weather. Protection from the real world. Like a saga. But finally we have to get up. Out of the hot water. Into the cold. Into the real world.
The body feels surprisingly relaxed. I fall asleep in the car on the way back to Reykjavik. In the evening, we have dinner in the Old Harbour. 101 Harbor Restaurant. We have had very fresh seafood at every meal, lunch and dinner, so far in Iceland. So also tonight. Sea Perch and Blue Ling. Potatoes and salad. Wine and beer.
Iceland, we are starting to fall in love with you….
Many must have perished in the cold waters of the North Atlantic in their search for a better life. Some of them were lucky. They found this barren island. A flat landscape. Black volcanic soil. Black volcanic stones. More stones. Few trees. Snow covered mountain chains in the background. How could they survive here? I feel for them. They were my ancestors. They were the Vikings.
They found a sea full of fish. They found an infertile land. They found a lot of ice. They called the land “Island”. Iceland.
It is spring now. It is cold. Six degrees in the morning as we head north. We are well dressed but it is still cold. Icy winds. Winds doing their best to penetrate our clothing.
The road is good. We pass through moonlike landscape. We pass through lava fields, covered by greenish yellowish moss. We pass many horse farms. We reach Gullfoss, the most famous water fall on Iceland. The Golden waterfall. Glacial water, bluish, somewhat brownish, carries a lot of sediments that the water has carved out on its way. It is not one of earth’s biggest water falls but its beauty grips me. My eyes cannot stop starring at the falls. I breathe deeply. Harmony fills my soul. Suddenly, I come back to reality. Our driver’s voice is cutting through the air. We shall continue. I could have stayed here forever.
We are reaching the area of geysirs. There are small pools of boiling water. A smell of sulphur in the air. Under our feet, the earth is boiling. We are standing with our cameras ready. Waiting. One minute. More minutes. Then suddenly, a whoshing sound, eruption, water bursting 15 meters up into the air. Strokkur has erupted again. Some people stand too close, running away from the falling water.
There is chocolate in the air… No, not love. Chocolate!
We are in a two story hotel in the green countryside. The stairs to the second floor are narrow and steep. The steps are creaking. A very small room with two very big comfortable beds. A big bathroom, half the size of the bedroom. Sitting on the toilet, you must get up and walk three steps to reach the toilet paper on the wall. Old English charm. Very old. Very English.
In the middle of this green little English village, there is a big ugly building. Very big. Very ugly. Red bricks. A set of buildings actually. I can forgive the ugliness when I know what is inside. Chocolate! The buildings are full of chocolate!
We arrived late last night in Bourneville outside Birmingham in England. Bourneville where chocolate manufacturer Cadbury has its factory. One of the biggest chocolate factories in the world. Out of the factory chimneys comes chocolate! You can actually smell chocolate in the air in Bourneville!
It gets better. Here you have a chocolate factory outlet store. One of the biggest chocolate stores in the world. I am starting to love it!
We have good reasons to buy chocolate. We will see friends on this trip. Chocolates make good gifts. And chocolates make good eating. If I would live permanently in Bourneville, I would put on 10 kilos in the next two years. I especially love Cadbury MisShapes. This is chocolate that has not passed the quality control. Not the right form. Not the right shine. But the same taste. It is sold in big, not expensive packs.
We eat a lot of chocolate today. We have one very good reason. We will soon catch our next flight on this trip. Airlines charge for overweight in your suitcase, not overweight on your body.
Can you give me one more praline, please!