26 February, 2015

Art in Reykjavik

local chocolate ... :)
"Paul i Vesterled" has now arrived in Iceland. I will explore many characters, places and phenomena in this and the six next episodes. But let's start with Reykjavik, literally "the bay of smoke", as the vikings found it.

hard times

At the time of my visit, Iceland had recently been through some tough shit brought upon them by some true assholes running their own banks. The spirit was nevertheless strong, and the colours and artistry seemed to strengthen the morale.
fast food (not kidding)
    In later years, the economy have proved to bounce back in a way few others would have managed. They work like maniacs and simply refuse to do as told. This must be where the viking guts went, when we waved it off from Norway.

Fjølnir Bragason - my tattoo artist in Reykjavik
Kolbrun and Ragnheidur

Chaemsri & Fjølnir

I always go looking for people with a story. I met several in Reykjavik, and could have chosen others for this episode, like my band-playing hairdresser. I was taken aback by the creativity all over the place and found my designer and my tattoo artist just perfect, presenting what goes on in this tiny big city. That is what it is - a mini metropole ...

So ... something for everyone in Reykjavik! Do follow Fjølnir on Facebook and see the great work of Íslenzka Húðflúrstofan, and as usual click on these photos to see them better.

Go visit.

19 February, 2015

Sailing to Iceland

We "clicked" immediately
What makes a big difference from one life to another, is each individual's ability to react to opportunities. I believe that an interesting life depends on profiting from surprising possibilities that sometimes appear from seemingly nowhere. Or from a small sailboat, like in Thorshavn in the Faroes, the day Magnar showed up.

"Can I get a lift?"

My plan was to go to Iceland, I just had not figured out how. When the charming "Mevinn" moored in Thorshavn, and the solo sailor aboard would let me come along, the problem was solved before it even became one.

in memory of Magnar Grødem

I was lucky, not only to get an adventure under sail, but to get to know a young man who followed his dream. Magnar named his boat "Mevinn", which he explained as a spelling of the Norwegian word "medvind" in his local dialect. It means "tail wind" in English. When I think of Magnar, however, I like to think of another meaning of the word, also derived from his dialect. "We win". And I do believe that Magnar, and other people who follow their heart, win. There can be no losers when you stand up for your desires and do what you know is right for you, just as Magnar did.

Magnar only got to be 30 years old. He is lost at sea, after kayaking north of Stavanger not long after this episode was recorded. His kayak was found, but what actually happened remains a mystery.

The family got to see the episode only after his assumed death, and approved with the way Magnar is shown. They also agreed to include the raw interview from the boat, which follows below.

As I later understood from his twin brother, Magnar was not much of a talker, but during five days at sea he could not escape my questions. So, mostly for friends and family, with no subtitles and crude edit, here is 25 minutes of small talk in the boat.

Sail in peace, Magnar.

18 February, 2015

People of Cairo

Note: Please do click on the images and enjoy them as an album!
… or a smile veiled in a higab.
curly as Dina ...
two kids in the City of the Dead

the colours of a sand storm
Each photo comes with a story, maybe a deep conversation sharing a sheeshaa or an amusing encounter on a street corner.

More often than not, my subjects have broken the ice. The usual "Welcome to Cairo" is often heard, or maybe just a look and a giggle, making me be the first to speak. Invitations to participate in peoples selfies are very common. Egypt is experiencing a selfiemania at the moment, much as the rest of the world, it seems.

The fact that I am such a sought photo object myself, has a sad explanation, as there are not many tourists in Egypt these days. In the areas and the hours I am out and about, I see extremely few, if any at all.

I know my way in these streets. The rubble does not distract me and the cats amuse me. What I appreciate is the multitude of businesses, faces, activities and the make-do-attitude in the old part of town. It is a mystery to me how people cope on incomes as low as the standard here. But they apparently do, and many with grace, in spite of truly hard conditions. I will give examples later in the blog.


A hot group selfie.
A hot guy in a group. 
A group of hot guys.

a teasing hat vendress
One thing is bumping into spontaneous social craziness and fun, another is to really get to know people and making friends. I am privileged to know people here that I very much care for. Esraa's family is one of them, and Sunna's another. They live in the old town and in the cemetery, areas that several of my other friends in Cairo  have never ventured into. It's the hard core Cairo.

she made me her friend
This is my fourth visit here, and each welcome is as warm as the previous. Sunna never seems to get used to me never getting married, but greets me with the greatest smile in town. Esraa's mother and sister are both full of fun, even if they follow a slightly more conservative path than the youngest daughter seems to choose. Esraa is going for president, backed by me!

Sunna in the City of the Dead
Esraa in Darb al Ahmar
Aya, Awatef and Esraa

Meeting people is what travelling is all about. Do it!

13 February, 2015

One day in Cairo

home cooked pigeons
This has been one of my best days in a while. It started last night, with eating home-cooked pigeon on the floor in the home of my dear friends in the old part of Cairo. Maghdy and his family repeated the treat I got (and filmed - see the programme and read about the family) about eight years back. I have seen them since and keep in frequent touch, especially with Esraa, their youngest daughter. If you have my last book, they appear there. I was so glad to see that they are doing good, in spite of the hard times Egypt still struggle with.

first date

As dinners here tend to stretch well beyond midnight, mornings are slow. I planned to visit the City of The Dead, but got a call from a couch surfer I had contacted. She invited me to Zamalek, the island in the Nile, for tea and a chat. The girl did not wear a higab (headscarf), so her giant curly hear (who would need a HUGE higab to be concealed) where flying in all directions. She lives in the better part of Cario, and has never seen the neighbourhoods I frequent, so I volunteered to be her guide later (read about Old Cairo). That will be interesting.

first taxi

    The taxis here are an adventure, and I believed something was wrong with mine, as it did not rush forward at any given opportunity. Suddenly I realised that the driver occasionally let competing cars pass him, where the street obviously were to narrow for two cars. He used what in Norway is called the "zipper-prinsiple", meaning the first car goes first, and you give way peacefully. You rarely see that here, and he was very pleased that I complimented this behaviour. Here is my previous experience of Taxi in Egypt.

second date

I had to kind of rush from my first appointment to the next, with another wonderful woman born and bread here. We were soon joined by a female friend of hers, this time in downtown Cairo. They both prefer to cover their hair, and as practically all women I talk with here, I got the stories about why they are not married, why they do not trust men and why they are kind of desperate to let go and live in a more liberal community.
    These two are from families that are somewhat less liberal than my first appointment, but dress like many modern women in Cairo, in tight western clothing, except for the hijab. If a man stick a paper note in their hand, it can be one out of two. Either his phone number or a quote from the Quran, advising them to dress more properly. All women here have stories of harassment, they get nowhere if they complain to the police about such incidents and they often need to use connections to get things done that is not "fit" for a woman. Like getting a license to drive a motorbike.

second taxi

I had to rush again, for my third appointment. This time the taxi driver was an older man, who hesitated a bit when I jumped into his front seat. I checked his meter (the white taxis have meters now!) and started arguing at once, as it did not start at 3 pounds at it should. I kept on bitching about this, until he pointed behind me, where another passenger already had a couple of blocks to go. All three of us burst out laughing.

Caroline :)
    Again heading for Zamalek, a car in front of us were utterly slow (for being in Cairo) so I put my head in my hands and made snoring sounds, which made my dear driver laugh so hard I was worried he would completely loose control of the car. His laugh changed into a terrible cough, bringing up age old nicotine from his suffering lungs, that had to be spit out the window, again endangering our safety. He looked at me and with a body language that was easy to interpret, made it clear that I was his most entertaining passenger in a while.

third date

We got there well before Caroline, the belly dancer that is also pictured in my book. She is Australian, loves Egypt and teaches and dances both here and abroad. It was lovely to meet again, and enjoy what most probably will be my only beer in these three weeks. She experience another side of Egyptian life that all others I know, both running a shelter for animals in need and doing her touring and teaching.


It was getting late, and tomorrow will be a busy day, so I headed "home" to Hotel Hussein. I have to walk around the local alleys to see if something is going on, and settled in one of the cafes for a tea, after grabbing the waiter and waltzing around with him. Our performance was applauded by all the shop workers around us, and he gave me a nice seat in a group of men (of course).
    So, here follows the explanation why I contact women (I have written about Women in Egypt here and Men in Egypt as well). At least part of it. Women have a complete different version of life and culture than males, in this country. And getting in touch with men is easy-piecy. They love to talk. I can not, however, sit down in a group of women, at least not in this, more traditional part of town. The waiter would normally tell me to sit at another table. The trick is therefore to contact interesting women on Couch Surfing and ask them if they would lie to meet. Three out of five said yes, and they are simply great. Next step is to bring them to my cafes, in order to provoke a slight little bit. It is especially confusing to the guys here if my friend is wearing a higab. I just love that.

But, back to the four guys sitting at my table. Really nice guys. One speaking English well, the others not so much. Again, the conversation goes from sexual harassment, bodily needs, politics, caricature drawings to practice of Islam. Super interesting. They are polite, fun, honest and direct, and totally confirm ALL the problems and difficulties my female friends have shared with me earlier today.
    We laugh, we drink tea, I smoke sheeshaa (water pipe) and tell them exactly what I think is wrong with the way I do things. At the same time I understand their side, I understand which standards they live up to and I understand their political views. Typically, the most educated of them is against the present president Sisi, while two of the non English speaking loves him and the third, with a big smile, says "No comment".
    While we sit there, they are constantly approached by vendors of all kinds. As a tourist in Egypt, you must not believe that these touts are targeting tourists more than Egyptians. It is like a theatre of offers and rejections, bakshees (tips) and haggling. One boy is simply totally amazing, trying to sell some plastic propellers with coloured lights on them. Awesome salesman at the age of six.

my street vendors

It is way passed my bedtime when the guys leave. One of the street vendors, and older woman that I know from previous visits, sits down with me. She has had a good day, with no more flowers to sell. Her English is a bit better than two years ago. One colleague of hers ask if I want to buy paper tissues for a pound. I can't find any coins in my pocket, so I refuse. She gives me the tissues for free, and says I can pay to Allah later (if I understood it right). Then this wrinkled old woman ask if I need money, and try to give me five pounds! You have to love people like this, even if it is a joke. Of course I reject.

I ask them if they know Shadia, a girl I photographed eight years ago. She was selling head decoration of perls here in the bazaar. They know her, and the flower woman takes me out in the square and looks for her. After a few minutes she appear, totally beautiful, with great dimples and a wonderful smile when she see the big photo of herself in the book I have with me. I will definitely give the book to her later in my stay here.

So that is it. The flower woman has asked nothing of me, but a woman with scars after burns in her face, that has no husband but a kid on her shoulder, ask me for money. I ask my flower woman if this beggar is a good person worth giving too, so I give her a five pound note. That is actually too much, almost one Euro, but she is the only one today. The flower woman is just being helpful, not asking me anything, just being kind. I sure will buy roses from her one of these days, hopefully for one of my friends, when I bring them to this part of the city, that they know so little about.

Tomorrow is Esraas day, we will go to a fun fair and meet up with one other friend later. Esraa is smart and already speak well English, so I will introduce her to my modern friends, hoping she will be encouraged. Two years ago, we went to the pyramids together. She was fourteen, and that was her dream, as she had never been there. Read about that here.

My hotel:

Just forgot I lack a cable to connect my main camera, so you will have to do with these superqualtiy mobile-phone shots for now … :)

Have a look at my links to former blogposts, keep your mind open and be sure to come and have a look for yourself!

12 February, 2015


a top 10 of traditional awesomeness
There are three main reasons why The Faroe Islands are so special to me. I will not rank them, as they depend on each other, but I tell you, that you never experienced people, traditions and nature like you do here. And then there's the combination, when wonderful people do traditional stuff in spectacular surroundings!


Being proud of their Norwegian ancestry, the Faroese tend to guard the traditions better than we do. To honour a long gone, once common king Olav - the holy Saint Olav - they have their biggest annual celebration in late summer in his memory. They actually made it their National Holiday (never mind the Danes), and the party goes on for three days, with July 29th being the main thing.

beloved Brynhild (hif)
true Faroese ...
... and "Faroein"

Rowing competition

Again based on old Norwegian customs, there is a Faroe Championship in rowing the "færing", a slender rowing boat for six to ten rowers plus cox. There are classes for youngsters, female and male and the teams have been through a cup every weekend the last two months, before the grand final in Thorshavn the 28th of June, as Olavsøka begins.

Esbern í Eyðansstovu
Stockholm Syndrome Medal
open home...

Chain dancing

It is hard to describe all the simultaneous events going on through the days, but choir singing, concerts and speeches are an important part of it, as well as happily mingling in and around the houses in Thorshavn. This all culminates with massive participation at midnight, when a considerable amount of songs are sung with all verses, bottles are emptied and armes are hooked into each other for an impressive group - no, mass - chain dance. Gotta s
ee it to believe it. It continues into the night in Sjónleikarhúsið and is something you will never forget.

Ehhh... late at night, this is what you might end up in (called "gladfylla" in Norwegian):

You did remember to click on the photos, right, to see them better?

OK - Travel well!

04 February, 2015

Visiting Eivør Pálsdóttir

Eivør Palsdottir, or rather Eivør Pálsdóttir as they write it in the Faroe Islands, was introduced to Kristian Blak (see the episode Kristian Blak) as her parents suspected that her vocal potential was out of the ordinary. Kristian immediately recognised her unique talent, and this was the beginning to her career, touring Italy at the age of twelve, releasing the first CD at 16. She's got a fine website and an album being released this month, check out Eivør.com.

Eivørs brand new album " Bridges "

a mentality to help

I had never heard of the girl, but got a tip and was allowed to surprise her band as they were jamming. This is just one of the peculiar examples of how the Faroese never gave me a "no" when I asked for help in any form. They certainly need you to ask, if not you get no help at all, but as soon as  you make your request clear, the solution is right there. Never seen anything like it.

So, as I uttered a wish to see where Eivør actually is from, she called her parents who arranged a surprise super-dinner for me. Her cosy dad (peace be upon him) served whale meat hunted by himself. Later, Eivør sat down with her drum to sing for me by the sea. Not once, as we were not really satisfied with the first attempt, but twice, in spite of her experiencing extremely busy times, recording the album "Larva" in between concerts in three continents.

on the big stage

After I returned from the Faroe Islands, she was doing a tour of Norway with our famous band Vamp and Kringkastingsorkesteret - an explosive combination. I was welcome to shoot them in Oslo Spectrum, where Eivør was exactly the same kind personality as I had gotten to know in her little village Göta, out there on the remote islands in the North Atlantic.

Eivør Pálsdóttir anno 2009 

the Faroese

From all my experience with Eivør, I have to say she has my greatest respect as a person, with all the small flaws and challenges that includes. I am very grateful to her totally lovely family and wonderful manager Sigvør Laksá, who is actually her neighbour. Sigvør gave me a bed for the night and left it to me to wake up her unknowing teenage daughter early in the morning. Can you imagine having a bearded stranger leaning over you when you wake up after a late party night? The girl was totally cool about it, adding to my admiration of the Faroese mentality. They're something else.

VAMP - "I full symfoni II"
A big thank to VAMP!

Vamp was worried that my sound recording from Spectrum would be below their standards, which it most certainly would be, so they let me use their own sound and I mixed some of their shots with mine. I owe you guys a big one for that, and hope the result pleases everybody! What a great bunch you are.


... one more thing. During the editing, it occurred to me, that Eivør were actually flirting in my direction. This theory I aired for Sigvør, when talking on the phone.
   "-No she did not," she replied very promptly.
    "-Well how do you know? You have not seen the clip!" I wondered.
    The answer was simple: "-We don't flirt in the Faroes."
    I had to laugh, kind of relieved. "-So you mean, the fact that I had no luck with women during my three months on the island do not have to mean they they did not like me?"
    "-Not at all."

It takes a while to understand the ways over there. Good luck with it. And enjoy the episode.

Here's one of Eivør's music videos. Now tell me what you think of that voice?!

03 February, 2015

a letter

Dear Viviane

 I have already written the letter you are about to read and have to warn you that it is long and heavy and do not actually address the message you sent me, except in the sense that I’m having kind of a hard time too, these days.

Empty. I believed I was empty yesterday, but I was wrong, as something fell out of me today, so I could not have been yesterday, if you follow me? It is like throwing up the tenth time. You only expect acid, but to your surprise there are still some leftovers from a good meal. But now they are gone too. Your touching letter came just on top of it all. Where the fuck is this world heading and what is the point?

The above may well be the most moody and depressed start I ever had on a letter, but it clearly reflects my thoughts and feelings around life right now. For a long time, I have been moving in mood waves. My doubt in society has been a bit deeper each time I hit the bottom, and the “highs” have happened when I have given myself completely to a project of some kind, like last year, when I kayaked around my part of Norway and made a documentary series. Up and down. Down and up. Down when I raise my head and look at the world and where it is heading, the uselessness of it all, and up when I bend down to focus on single individuals that stands for something. Individuals with spirit, guts and personality. These are the only ones that interest me. Not the psychopharmaed crowd that staggers around believing in a material world that has no meaning at all. People who find shopping stimulating. It is as if they are already dead. 

I see dead articles in the newspapers. It is all about dead things. I used to believe that I was not afraid of death, but these kinds of walking deads - the zombies with Kalvin Klein, Gucci and Canada Goose copied and ingraved into what they believe is their personality - they scare me. How did it get this far? How come the alarms did not ring loud enough when there was still time to tell everybody that your path leads to eradication of yourself? You are willingly reducing your being to a product. You are mass produced by the all mighty powers of greed. Science Fiction books have formerly described what already reside in the past! It has gone that far.

Of course there were protests. And protesters exist, still today, but the most often heard protesters these days, protest on behalf of other protesters! We protest defending the right to speak. Important, but still hilarious. What does it tell you about the evolution of humanity, when we still fight for not being punished for what we orally express? The bravest of us save children from slavery, or … even braver … go to school under threat of being killed because they are girls. But for the time being we in the west are occupied by the right to speak, write and draw. In Norway, protecting animals was big last year. I agree, totally, but it is so damn easy to be against putting a fox in a cage. It is easy not to buy a mink coat, as it is so expensive anyway. Canada Goose is different. Those jackets are cheap. We don’t protest so much then, now do we, in spite of wolves and coyotes being trapped bleeding to death and the birds are never allowed to stretch their wings.

In our select countries, where girls go to school and children are slaves to violent video games and gossip blogs rather than unpaid work, voices of protests rise. Mainly about matters that directly concern ourself. That goes without saying. Like drilling for oil in what should rather be a marine reserve, risking polar life by redefining the acceptable search areas for oil in the arctic or, as in England, planning to start fracking to cover Britains future need of gas. Never mind that scientists we trust tells us that we must not use more than two thirds of the oil, half of the gas and a fifth of the coal that is already found so far, in order to avoid calamity. No, never mind that! This is our country, our money, our energy, right? Even a child would understand the fatal stupidity of this destruction. And the very same child will see the consequence, hopefully after our generation has passed away, so we do not need to face the blame.

The only true protestors today, except for a group I will mention later, are the scientists. They figure things out and give us their theories. Now, there you go. Theories. A scientist would not be a scientist if he said anything for sure, and that is where even his well reasoned and thoroughly worked out protest fails. “Probabilities”, how ever probable they might be, is an easy match for “certainties”, however false they might be. And the zombies thrive on certainties. They pay up for false ideals presented by false people from false companies and false PR-agencies, who promise them beauty, happiness and success because “they deserve it”. We live in a controlled and manipulated world, where we close our eyes to unpleasant facts, accept conditions and consequences that would be unheard of only ten or fifteen years back and abuse physical, mental and social sedatives in order to fend off reality and what actually goes on. It is all outdated science fiction. Sience fiction came true.

The peace price. Lets be positive. Focus on the peace price. I have already indirectly mentioned last years winners, Kailash and Malala, in my opinion maybe the biggest war heroes on Earth right now. Their fight is immense, but by far won. So what is the difference between the peace price and all other prices? It is, for one thing and some reason, taking place in Norway. That carries no importance. But the other difference, is that all winners I can think of (or find with google) of the other Nobel prizes, be it in litterature, physics, maths or medicine, all have accomplished something concrete, absolute and lasting. They had a theory, figured something out and created it. A vaccine. A process. A book. It is done and it is great. None of them was given a medal for working on a revolutionary idea, for being in the middle of a manuscript or for having a promising experiment going. That is the difference. My biggest heroes may win battles, but not the war. What is peace when it exist on terms of war? As the icing on the cake of absurdities, the single most impressive symbol of peaceful principles we have, Mahatma Gandhi … he never got to put the award on his mantlepiece. Not even post mortem on his grave stone.

I had a peculiar conversation on the bus home from town one night last week. A young man started it. The discussions was about a project done by a couch surfer (guest sleeping on my couch) of mine. He was fascinated. I asked him what he was doing, and as 99% of us would do, he began by talking about his job. If it had been a job he loved and lived for, I would have applauded the subject. But it was not. He was a salesperson. He did not know that, but generally speaking, I am not in favour of salespersons. It does, however, depend on what they sell. So I asked if he sells something good. Something people really need. He plainly admitted that not to be the case. But he is damned good at it, he told me. One of the best in his department, actually.
     “-So your life is just crap,” I told him. It was not a question.
     The young fellow, maybe around 30 of age, after looking a bit puzzled, agreed.
     “-You live in Norway, a country with all possibilities you could probably dream of, you are damn good at selling, and yet you have a crap life!?” I continued.
     He could not deny this quick analysis.
     “-If you had just one good idea about any project you could think of, being usefulness and constructive, you realise that your wonderful talent in sales would convince people to support it and you could make it happen?”
     His face sort of lit up, as the thought had never crossed his mind. “-You are right,” he said.
     I left the bus at the next stop.

When a man in his best age in the most free and rich country on the planet is not able to realise the simplest truth, it is because it has been hidden to him. If his values are fucked up, it is because he never were given an alternative. Society would simply not benefit from this guy stopping selling. It would be what Usanians (people from the USA) would be told is “unpatriotic”. After 9/11 they sat at home, loving each other, but they were literally told to go out and eat and shop, for the country not to collapse. “Prove your patriotism,” president Bush said. “Shop.” No one has said it better.

What Bush actually said, is that the consumer is in control. If we stop buying something and start buying something else, we change the world. Every time we buy, we give our vote. Every time we click on a link … there goes our vote. Every thing we do, that has a commercial interest to any … is our vote here on Earth. Vote for sexy articles in the newspapers, and you are granted less foreign politics. Vote for cheaply produced crap from child labor, pesticides or oppressive states, and what do you get less of? The opposite, of course, all the things you do not vote for. Looking at the situation of the world, we actually have nothing to fear. Not at all. We are in complete control. All we have to do, is to not buy into low quality, inhumane crap. Then it will stop by itself. It even works with war. Just stop doing it, and you have peace. It is so simple, yet seems impossible to push through. People keep clicking the tempting buttons that are put there for pure profit. They still buy the sweet chocolate that deprives a child education in the other end. They skip checking which orange juice that is fairly traded and they change their car, jacket, purse and kitchen long before it reaches uselessness. Those are some immensely strong votes right there. So this wonderful system provides for you exactly what you vote for - and what you deserve. This planet as we know it is not dying - it is killed.

I will write to you again, Viviane, as I did not give you any comfort what so ever as to your situation and told you nothing about my plans and the direct cause of why I am especially sad these days. I must say, though, that it is a good feeling that you share your emotions with me and I am honestly surprised, as so many years went by since we met. I tried to keep in touch, but after a while i figured I was only a pain in the ass, and gave up. I never get used to loosing contact with people I care for, but it happens over and over again. I am probably just a nutcase not giving up the friendships in time, or not understanding that people do have a lot of other things in their lives and on their minds. But I am very happy to see that it still works between us, after all.

But do you know what? I’ve had it, about conformity. The sense of being overly fed up actually made me Skype my mother in the middle of this letter, and I cried. I am not afraid of tears, but I usually protect my parents from them, but I need them to understand the choices I make. You can google the quote “I am mad as hell and I am not going to take it any more!”. Maybe you saw the movie already. That is how I feel about things.

More about this later. I hope this letter was not too much.

love, Paul