Scandinavia, France, UK | August, 2019

Sweden

“I remember a few years ago when we were all living in Singapore and you enthusiastically showed us pictures of this derelict, fully neglected and overgrown ødegård that you’d purchased right on an idyllic lake in the middle of deep forests in Sweden… Happy to see the enthusiasm, vision and persistence with which you’ve created this incredibly beautiful home for family and friends, complete with a homemade beach, elegant modern interior to play against the charm of the original beams (the only thing that’s original😂) and, of course, a party barn! Sad we can’t make it for the main events of your wedding party, but so happy we get to celebrate with the loveliest BBQ,” the text in my card to our friends who’re tying the knot in their country home in the south of Sweden. We land in Copenhagen on a Friday afternoon and rent a car to drive across the bridge and deep into the Swedish countryside to spend the evening at their idyllic lakeside paradise. We get there in time to watch the bride rehearsing her surprise performance — piano and singing — at the altar, which they’ve created from logs and flowers down by the lake, while the groom is out buying supplies for the evening’s barbecue party. Sanoop and I both have tears in our eyes — she sings so beautifully! When she feels happy and confident about the piece, she packs away the piano and microphone in a safe hiding spot in the shrubs and bushes behind the ‘altar’ and takes us on a tour of their newly restored dream of a Swedish summer house, the guest house, the barn, the beach, which they’ve created from tonnes of white sand on the northern shore of the lake, and the various bits of lush garden. And she puts us to work: Sanoop and I spend an hour or so roaming around the grounds to pick flowers for wild and colourful bouquets for all of the tables lined up in the barn by the huge barbecue grill. It feels good to make ourselves useful, especially seeing as we can’t stay for the actual wedding on the Saturday, as we’re attending another wedding in Copenhagen. We drive back late in the evening, after chatting and laughing and drinking a little bit of champagne with the sweet bride and groom and their friends and families in the charming red wooden buildings and all across the rollings lawns of their forest-and-lake-framed property.

Copenhagen

Staying at a cosy airbnb on Østerbro, Copenhagen, we wake up to a scorching, blue-skied Saturday. I go for a run around Fælledparken, and then we meet some friends for a wander around Kastellet, with coffee from Kafferiet, before heading back to Østerbro to meet my parents for brunch at a hippy happy place with al fresco tables, Souls. So lovely to see them! At 1pm, we take a taxi to Nørrebro to attend our friends’ wedding. She’s Danish; he’s Australian; they fell in love when he was studying abroad in Copenhagen and decided to supplement his law courses with a Danish course: she was his Danish teacher. Since then, they moved to London, where she and I worked together — we first met for her job interview; I became her boss. Now they live in Sydney, where Sanoop and I have visited them a few times — and they came to see us in Singapore as well. Wonderful to experience them tying the knot in the beautiful city where they first laid eyes on each other — after seeing their love grow to and in the UK, Paris (they lived there for 6 months around 5 years ago, and I came to see them there as well), and Sydney over the past 7 years. The following day we go for a walk in Kongens Have and Nyhavn, have lunch at Reffen, nurse our hangovers at La Banchina (pictured above), which is like a condensed image of Danish summer, and then head into Torvehallerne for some banana ice cream, made form waste bananas from Irma, water, dates, and oat milk. Fly to London in the afternoon.

London snapshots

Coming home from work to home-cooked paleo meals, freshly made smoothies, lit candles, fresh flowers, golden sunlight most nights. Reading in our window seat till bed time. Sanoop’s chai made from scratch in the mornings. Going to barre every morning, except for the morning when I forget my grip socks and refuse to again-again pay 12 pounds for a new pair at the studio and instead go for a soothing run on the Heath, the rustling trees, blackberries, wild flowers, happy people and dogs convincing me that this is really what I should be doing in the morning. I’ll stop on the top of Parliament Hill and do my sun salutations and 5 Tibetans and hold a plank for a minute or two. Sanoop’s brother and sister-in-law are visiting from New York — we walk along the canal from Camden to Coal Drops Yard, enthusiast show-and-tell, glass of English sparkling wine on the canal-side deck of Lighterman, drop in for a quirky exhibition at St Martin’s, take the tube to Shoreditch, dine at Peruvian Andina. Their kids arrive from their summer holiday in Kerala (with their paternal grandparents) and Goa (maternal grandparents), escorted by their maternal grandmother, whose surprise birthday party we celebrate at her friends’ eccentric home in Wimbledon — delicious Indian dinner with an eclectic group of sweet family friends in a large, exotic villa set in a gorgeously lush garden. Taking the kids for a walk along the Thames, checking out Tower Bridge and Borough Market. The kids and I also have a little bonding moment, just the three of us — walking on the Heath at dusk, rolling down the hills, and sitting on the wooden bench-like ledge that snakes its way halfway around the Men’s Swimming Pond, where we watch the swimming men, both of the kids so fascinated by the concept. Oysters at Broadway market. Tea in Mayfair. The Freud Museum in Belsize Park. Breakfast with a friend in Angel. Canal walks. Heath walks and swims. Pizza and red wine with friends in Shoreditch. Meeting a friend from Singapore for a quick coffee at Euston — she’s travelling in pendulum speed between London, Liverpool, Singapore, and Sydney for work. Walk to Paddington to meet a friend for tapas on her narrow balcony, which we climb onto from the kitchen window of her snow white Edwardian semi-detached. It’s the kind of night where you keep on sitting outside until it gets way too cold, because the conversation is that good, and the whole vibe is so romantic. Date night at our local bottle shop, which doubles as an unassuming, wildly popular wine bar. Sanoop comes with me to swim at the lido in the morning, or rather, when I show my membership card to the lady at the entrance, Sanoop asks if he can enter for free, just to ‘watch her swim,’ nodding at me. The lady says yes. Walking past the showers to the pool, we both laugh sillily at his kind of creepy comment. He’s not watching me swim, though; he’s just doing yoga on the concrete steps leading up to the cafe behind the pool. Still I’m happy he came to see my happy place.

Shower conversations

Pond or Lido? I love the swimming options on the Heath; the two are appealing in each their way, but it’s definitely easier for me to jump in the latter rather than trying to ignore thoughts and sensations of fish and mud in the former, however wonderfully natural it might be, and the community seems to be equally vibrant around both, with women of all ages singing and dancing in the Lido showers and talking about going for coffee after their swim and how much better the water made them feel. I’d never been before this morning, but feel so invigorated now that I immediately got a pass for the year — was too embarrassed to ask if it’s heated in (autumn) winter, but I guess I’ll find out. I love doing long, strong laps here. Even more, perhaps, I love regaining heat while standing with my eyes closed in the showers afterwards, taking in snippets of the other showering North London women’s conversations around me — about their homemade honey ice cream, about the horrors of the Amazon rainforest fires, about the fact that the daughter of one of them broke her ankle while out dancing in Camden last weekend … and when they all get out to dry up, they’ll say, “bye, see you tomorrow!” or head to the simple art deco elegance of the lido cafe for an after-swim coffee together, like they’ve done every morning for the past 5-10-15-30-or-more years. I leave the changing rooms feeling invigorated in all ways possible, the sun is shining warmly as I head to work, and I can’t wait for tomorrow’s morning swim (and shower time).

Juelsminde

In mid-August, Sanoop goes on his first overseas business trip as an independent coach — to Provence. I use it as an opportunity to spend a few days with my mum in Denmark (my dad is working in Germany). I love their tranquil beach home so much. I love working from their dining table, my mum ensuring that I’m never lacking coffee or her yummy homemade food, going for walks on the windswept beach with her, getting after-work gin and tonics together on the deck. Ah. Every morning I jog to the marina, where the annual pole-sitting competition is going on: who wants to meditate for 96 hours straight? One of my favourite summer traditions — to watch from the pier. On Wednesday, four people climb onto each their wooden pole in the water, and for the rest of the week, I run down to check on them, repeatedly impressed with their stoic persistence. All they have to do is simply sit there and stay put — whoever is left on Sunday night wins (some amount of money, and the honour). Friends bring them food and water, and devices (??) to get rid of their waste. Phones aren’t allowed, neither is any other form of entertainment. They’re all bundled up in practical clothing, but it must still just be so chilly to sit still like that, unsheltered from wind and rain, in the middle of the harbour. When I get there just before dawn on Sunday, two of them are left, and I wonder how they’re really doing, physically, mentally, their calm faces and straight postures still not revealing a thing. I have to go back to London before I get to see who wins the prize; to me they are both, all four, actually, winners.

Flygskam

‘Wow, you fly a lot,’ a friend of Greta Thunberg’s, who quickly became Sanoop’s friend as well (which is probably why his exclamation was phrased so neutrally) when we went sightseeing at the Parliament Square in Stockholm on a Friday morning a few months back. The observation has been stuck in my mind ever since, and the fact had of course been stuck for a while before that too. Yes, I fly a lot: for work, to see family and friends, to see, understand, and enjoy the world. I admire folks who’ve taken action where they can and don’t fly at all, or at least minimise their flying activities drastically. I nod enthusiastically at folks who find that other things are more important — like putting pressure on some countries to stop clinging to coal in their energy mix, or educating other nations about the importance of not throwing cars in rivers or cutting down rainforests. It makes me feel warm and fuzzy to ‘offset my carbon footprint’ every time I purchase a plane ticket (ignoring the voices that say, ‘yes, but…’, and to add lots of coins to the charity foundation envelopes that BA hand out, or to seek out articles and research that talk of other ways to take action to support our natural environment. I do things that are easy for me, such as not consuming meat or dairy, buying organic produce when possible and supporting eateries who do the same, picking up stray plastic bits on walks and swims, remembering my keep cup on most days, seeking out sustainable clothing, avoiding to buy a car, walking and cycling when possible, etc. Today, I’m off to Marseille on holiday. Flying purely for pleasure and to catch up with Sanoop, who’s been there on business, and to catch some lavender fields before harvest. In the gate, I’m scrolling through social media pictures of Greta Thunberg sailing across the Atlantic in a much more carbon-neutral way than I did when I sailed across it four years ago. Sigh.

Provence

Merci, summer holiday 💙 4 days in balmy, fragrant, blissfully uncrowded, joyfully vibrant, delightfully rustic and alluringly cultured Provence – our first European vacation after moving to London together. ✨Joie de vivre! ✨ Basking in the bright sun. Short drives along narrow winding roads and rolling hills framed by plane trees and cypresses, listening to Edith Piaf and random French hip-hop playlists. Falling in love with vineyards, olive groves, lavender fields, and the fresh, romantic, lively, effortlessly elegant, intensely creative vibe of Aix, Gardenne, Cassis, Marseille, Saint-Rémy, Arles and Goudes. Roaming around adorable village markets and streets with shutters covering all the pastel nuances of the rainbow. Alfresco dining only. Indulging in flavourful ripe apricots, peaches, tomatoes, raspberries and figs. And sublimely prepared local seafood specials. Swimming in the luminously azure ocean. Sailing along steep limestone cliffs. Hiking across rocky nature reserve paths. Drinking cool rosé. And hot cafe doubles. And more of the cool rosé. Reading #ayearinprovence, and talking, laughing and sharing fun observations as if we ourselves were spending a year here.

Rising early on a Sunday morning to catch the dew on the fresh seasonal market fruits in Gardanne — and all of the juicy interactions between the local shoppers, who’ll properly touch, smell and generally inspect all of the goods before considering a purchase, and stall owners, who’ll passionately let them in on their secrets of how and with what and whom best to enjoy 🍑🍊🥖🍇

Château de Beaupré. Early morning harvest — crisp, dry biodynamic rosé tasted and purchased at a vineyard we noticed off the road leading us to gorgeous Saint-Rémy, where we have the most delightful paradisiac summer salad and rosé for lunch on a cute little plaza.

More than anywhere else, we fall in love with Arles, where the annual art festival fills the streets, places, shops — anything from pharmacies to hair salons to convenience stores – and cafes with all kinds of inspiring art, and small artist studios open their doors to curious passersby. Vincent van Gogh executed more than 300 paintings in the gorgeous light of Arles before suffering from a mental breakdown. We chew on that while sitting here on the bank of the Rhône, commenting again and again on the high energy of this picturesque town😑

Just before we reluctantly leave Arles to head back to Aix, we stumble upon the Kiki Tonnerre studio, where Gabriel Pollet’s fine drawings lure us in with their playful expressionist geometry (“Friday night geometry, geometry on a date,” is Sanoop’s description). Sensing our interest in his bold work, Gabriel lights up a smoke and take his time explaining his method: lines, dots and circles only. Guided by odd numbers. Meditation, also, to the point that he’ll draw until he falls asleep, and that’s when the art is complete — and any given style will be replaced by a new; as with the giant ocean of meticulous waves he’d just completed before starting a series of contemporary dancers comprised of … straight lines, firm dots and precise circles only. Earthy colours. His studio was formerly his grandfather’s carpentry workshop, in which he now works and lives with his wife, Julie Conan, who’s a sculptor, and their toddler Rose, who already, at 6 months of age, shows creative flair. He hasn’t done any exhibitions outside of France, yet. For the biggest show he ever did, the gallery owner asked him to describe his work, and until then he’d always thought that he hated and was incapable of doing so, but the exercise made him realise how articulation enables him to go deeper into his work, learn more about it, and thus develop his style — he now enjoys discussing his art with clients and fellow painters, and reading — he’s currently studying a book on circles. Sometimes art is like some good wine, he says — you can only appreciate it many years later; he never throws out works, even if he doesn’t like them upon finishing. He never throws out the water in which he washes his brushes either, as his hate of waste has led to a successful experimentation with painting with the grey and yellow shades of that murky liquid. We of course walked away with one of his dancers — an afternoon in Arles feels like one long joyful dance.

Aix. Get pastis @les2g, while reading Peter Mayle’s hilarious account of the clientele of the oldest eatery in town. Eat @mitch. Drink morning coffee at any of the cafes surrounding the street and place markets. Wander the streets slowly while looking up, especially when the sun is high in the sky and shadows act as crisp rulers on the ochre facades.

Calanques, Les Goudes – Marseille. Tiny little port, beach and orange chair haven hiding at the far end of a steep, spectacular cliff path in the Calanques nature reserve between Marseille and Cassis 🍑🍊🍋

We go to Marseille for the bouillabaisse. It is excellent (@hotelperon) — as is everything else we got to take in during our brief visit to this bustling, pretty city. As for the food in general on this trip, with all of the gorgeous fruits and veggies in season, it’s definitely possible to go to France without needing to ask chefs to cook their food in olive oil rather than butter. Even if I wanted to make annoying no-lactose, no-meat requests, it was really unnecessary — so much, to a large extent organic, plant-based goodness, freshness, colour everywhere (especially in our glasses).

Copenhagen

One Friday night in late August, I head to Denmark for the third time this month, this time with Sanoop. We take the metro to Kongens Nytorv and walk over to the new hip wine bar, Barlie, where our friends have left their house keys for us. We enjoy a glass of wine at the bar, soaking in the atmosphere for a bit, before heading up to the cosy little flat upstairs from the bar. The next morning, a couple of friends come over to meet us for breakfast at Barlie, which apparently operates as a cafe in the day time, and around lunch time, Sanoop and I stroll over to Kongens Nytorv, he dressed in suit and tie, I dressed in my newest, most colourful dress, to find the bride and groom and their entire entourage by the anchor in Nyhavn. We all board a canal boat and sail out into the sun-filled harbour for lunch, drinks, and the wedding ceremony. After a cheery trip, the boat anchors up in front of one of the most iconic historic buildings in the country, the old Stock Exchange, which was commissioned by King Christian IV in the 1600s, where the lavish dinner and party is held (the groom works for Goldman, the bride shifted from WSJ to the Danish equivalent earlier this year, so it’s only an appropriate venue). Amazing food, incredible wine, sublime cocktails, wonderful conversations, hilarious entertainment until early in the morning …

Weekend in London

The month ends with a weekend in London. The first of its kind in a while. Happiness is waking up at home with just one plan: to go for a run and a swim on the magical Heath. Slight crispness in air. But all of the weekend is gloriously sunny, with blue skies. It’s 30 degrees in the sun, even if chilly in the shade. Walk to Kentish Town for coffee with Sanoop, who continues onto Camden Garden Centre, while I head to Shoreditch to meet a friend for breakfast under the grape vines in the cosy garden of Rochelle’s Canteen, followed by coffee at Crispin in Spitalfields. She’s moving to San Francisco in a few days. I’ll see her there in a few weeks, just as she came to see me in Singapore shortly after I moved there. Comfort, excitement, reassurance. I then meet up with Sanoop at the Garden Centre, which is a pretty magical place, and we buy a plant, an actual plant, which we plan to keep alive despite all of the travelling. Walk home along the canal. Chill for a bit, before heading to Chelsea to have dinner at our friends’ house there. Talk for 4-5 hours over a homemade Ottolenghi creation. Sunday — run, swim, head over to London Fields for hot pod yoga (fun!) with a friend, brunch at E5 Bakehouse, flowers from Columbia Road, a glass of wine at Brew Co. at Hackney Market. Home to read Fleischman is in trouble, which I really enjoy, in our comfy window seat.

Book delivery

The Moment of LiftInvisible WomenGood and Mad

 

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