May 2015 to May 2016 — the year in review

Here’s my year in review, mainly for the benefit of my future self. Apologies in advance for the selfie-ness of this post.

May 2015: The 2015 sailing season — my second ever — was spent on the yacht Alexandra, a step up in size from 2014. With her I would do my first proper sailing excursions during the summer, with nobody but myself to rely on when captaining the boat.

Alexandra
Alexandra

July 2015: I rented a summer cottage on an island just across from Dalarö in the Stockholm archipelago, using it as a base to sail my parents to nearby islands — including to Kymmendö, where Strindberg kept a writer’s cottage:

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Kymmendö. Click to enlarge.

My friend Joachim and I also explored the northern reaches of the archipelago on his boat, Owaissa, taking it all the way to Arholma.

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On Owaissa, somewhere in the Stockholm Archipelago.

August 2015: All this sailing practice was put to the test when Matthew and his brood — Oliver, Stella and Frances — visited Stockholm. We sailed to Sandhamn, stayed a few days, and sailed back, all without too much drama/trauma.

I also grabbed the chance to once again spend a few days at the old farm in Sechery, Belgium, where I spent endless summers as a child. My parents, my sister and her family all converged for a brief family reunion there.

October 2015: A quick trip to New York for a work-related conference on cybersecurity also proved to be the perfect excuse to perform my annual pilgrimage to the Big Apple and its fine museums. The uncontested highlight this time around was the Picasso sculpture exhibition at the MoMA, which I saw with Michelle.

Dad’s 75th birthday was celebrated with the family in Venice during the final weeks of the Biennale there. My parents, my sister and her family and I rented an apartment with a rooftop view of the city:

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Venice skyline. Click to enlarge.

We spent the week reëxploring this unique and mesmerizing place, walking and boating from museums to cafés to pavilions to restaurants. Venice gave me my first long-term memories, aged three: I remember being driven across the lagoon’s land bridge to the city, and I remember being left in the hotel kitchen under the watchful eye of the chef and the house cat while my parents eloped for a romantic night out.

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Venice, 1973

As for the Biennale: The contemporary works mostly just managed to underline the brilliant extremes reached by the masters of earlier ages. For me, the standouts were not any of the pavilions, but rather Venice’s permanent patrimony… such as the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, the Gallerie dell’Accademia, the Scuola Grande di San Rocco, the Fortuny Museum, the Scuola di San Giorgio degli Schiavoni and the Museo Correr, with its massive and stunning Fra Mauro map of the known world circa 1450:

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Fra Mauro map, detail showing Scandinavia (South is up). Click to enlarge.

The week in Venice culminated with a birthday lunch for dad at Locanda Cipriani, a legendary restaurant on its own island in the lagoon. The restaurant is also legendary within the Geens family because we’d been here before… 41 years earlier, with my grandparents, and with the photo to prove it:

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Locanda Cipriana, circa 1974

Naturally, we retook that photo with a new generation of family members:

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Locanda Cipriani, circa 2015

November 2015: I spent the entire month in Yunnan, studying Chinese in Kunming on weekdays and traveling across the province on weekends. I visited Dali, an ancient local capital now colonised by Beijing hipsters; I explored the stunning vistas around Lijiang — visiting Leaping Tiger Gorge and Jade Dragon Snow Mountain. I also travelled south, to the tea-cultivating region around Xishuangbanna, in China’s tropics. There I hired a car and driver and ventured into the jungles near the Myanmar border, to visit the Bulang people, among the more remote and secluded of China’s 56 ethnic groups.

Yunnan November 2015
Click above see all my photos from Yunnan in Flickr

On the way back to Europe, I refreshed my acquaintance with Shanghai, visiting two new museums that have opened since my last visit: The Long museum, with its extensive collection of propaganda art, and the Power Station of Art, an impressive industrial building still looking for a collection worthy of the space.

December 2015 – January 2016: As usual, Christmas was spent in Antwerp, with family. Back in Sweden, I bought myself a long-overdue Christmas present — a proper Internet-of-things enabled Celestron telescope, to reconnect with my first big passion, astronomy. Holding an iPhone to the back of the telescope yielded some promising early results:

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The Moon

February – March 2016: Chinese New Year was spent with friends in Uppsala, where I learned how to play (and win) at Mahjong. At the end of February I visited Eurof and his family in Geneva, and from there went skiing with him in Zermatt, meeting up with Joachim and his family. Zermatt is of course the town below the Matterhorn, which is another iconic memory from my early childhood — my parents took me here as a child, and the mountain left an indelible impression. It was good to be back after 40-odd years.

April 2016: The month saw some unexpected last-minute travel. Highlights from a visit to London include a behind-the-scenes visit to the British Museum’s papyrus archive with Ilona, and a west-end play with Jan, Shakeh and their son. I spent 24 hours in Luleå to give a talk on tech trends, and a few days in Alexandria, my favorite Egyptian city. I was there at the invitation of the Swedish Institute, to give a talk about “The Internet, how it works and who runs it” for a journalism conference. Egypt is a tense mess these days, but it was great to visit again.

May 2016: It has proved impossible to live in Stockholm for the long term without owning a place, so in May I abandoned my principled renunciation of ownership as a pursuit and instead bought an apartment near Telefonplan, Stockholm’s hipster epicenter. I will be moving there in July. Fortunately, real estate is a very liquid asset class in Sweden, easily bought and sold, so in theory owning an apartment should not constrain my options were I to decide to once again move away. But the real albatross will be all the furniture I’ll need to buy; I don’t even have chopsticks to my name.

The last 10 days of May were spent driving around Iceland with my parents. Pictures speak far louder than words here:

Iceland, May 2016
Click the above photo to see all my photos from Iceland on Flickr.

To sum up: If there is a theme to be found in the preceding year, it’s the revisiting of childhood experiences — In Venice, in Zermatt, in Sechery, and in the night sky — but not at the expense of newer pursuits — improving my sailing, improving my Chinese, and now being a home owner.

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