Anecdotes of Mauritius

06:30. As I run alongside the highway, there’s a smell of manure emanating from the open fields flanking the road. Having grown up in the Swedish countryside, I can’t help but feel at home. Sensing that same smell every morning, year around. The misty air, the slow drizzle from a cloudy sky, the sound of aircraft coming in to land at the nearby airport. The sound of my feet hitting the wet asphalt underneath. This is all so well known to me. Traversing mile after mile while watching the sun slowly rise over a new place, must be the ultimate moment of solitude I think to myself. In the morning hour, In the borderland of night and day, I could go running to infinity.

Mauritius, I’d never have thought…


We’re sitting in the hotel bar when we fall into a conversation by chance. ”For the last 13 years we’ve returned to this island”, the older gentleman tells me. His German accent is strong, and he coughs tenaciously as he puffs his cigarette. His name I don’t recall as I write this down, but his stories are as vivid as the moment he told them. He comes from the generation who likes to tell, I from the one who enjoys listening. He talks about a country where change is gradual and doesn’t happen overnight. A place, where things have a tendency to move at a pace of their own. ”Even though the island attracts a lot more tourists nowadays than when we first sat foot here, it’s still got its soul.” I think of the experiences I’ve accumulated, and try to discern what he means. The small bumpy roads, the rampant sugar cane fields, the stray dogs rummaging through the sidewalk garbage, the old utility scooters making raspy, buzzing sounds as they drive pass. Little things. Big impressions.

I learn from my conversations that despite being a country that attracts by the scenery, Mauritius is a country of very few natural resources. And as such, the government has invested in its primary asset; it’s people. A fascinating reality in a place where people come to escape their own reality. Free education from pre-primary to tertiary level, as well as free transport for all students. Mauritians are a proud people, and you can tell in the way they speak about their country, being not only engaged and committed but acutely aware of its history, it’s present situation, and it’s future. And they love to tell their stories. The drivers, the maids, the vendors at markets, the sales assistants in the souvenir shops, they all have stories. Big stories about a young nation’s journey from a developing country to a developed country. Small stories about horse racing on the weekends, hidden sanctuaries tourists won’t go and about treating yourself to the very best in life, because life is too short not to. To some, the very best is drinking only the finest Scotch, and to some, the very best is just a moment of doing nothing. Their stories are equally different and equally captivating.

But much as I love to both talk and listen, there are times and places where words are redundant. And Mauritius is a place where silence is perfectly fine, being a country of strikingly beautiful scenes. Standing on top of the Citadel in the capital Port Louis reminds me of this once again. Far beyond the serene backwaters and the hypnotizing sun rises, the off-white beaches and the gangly palm trees, but in the midst of a different beauty, man-made beauty. Flanked by mountains lays this small city, who seduces by being low key. The old colonial houses, the small sidewalks and that quaint spirit I so passionately can’t get too much of. Strolling along the waterfront makes me think of a smaller version of Cape Town. The repurposed boathouses now used as boutiques, the sound of the flags fluttering in the wind, the mixture of tourists and locals loitering on the cobblestoned quay. No one’s in a hurry. Even in the fresh produce market a stone’s throw away where the sound level is so high people have to out-yell each other, and the aisles are so narrow people have to jostle one another physically, it’s like time doesn’t matter. It’s chaotic, and it’s not. It smells of thyme and coriander, soil and sweat commingle between the makeshift stalls, where all the vegetables are perfectly lined up and so vibrant with colors they look like gemstones. And except for the overly priced vanilla pods, everything cost next to nothing. Oh, Port Louis.

As always, thank you for having me. It’s been a pleasure, and I’ll see you shortlyska%cc%88rmavbild-2016-09-19-kl-19-00-14

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SOULSEARCHING IN SAN FRANCISCO

January 2015. Knowing little of each others story, but knowing exactly what the other one was thinking, there we were. Two strangers sitting on the curb outside a crowded nightclub, acquainted by serendipity, united by a spirit. Crossing roads and crossings minds, realizing that the strongest connections sometimes come from the most momentary relationships in our lives. ”You are a beautiful person, and I know you’re looking for someone with a soul, but you won’t find them here, ” she said, and I nodded, crestfallenly at first. But then it dawned on me that what she had said reached far and beyond the brief moment we shared together. What she had said was not to look for your kind of people. What she had said was, that the people for you, will always present themselves. And she was right; I had found her. That night I also learned that sometimes you need to listen to what people don’t tell, to hear what they say.

This is the strongest memory I’ve made in San Francisco. An episode which in theory doesn’t have anything to do with the actual city, at the same time as it’s got everything to do with it. Because finding your souls means more than the finding the people for you. It means finding the places, the cultures and the ways of life that harmonize with and reinforces the person you are. Something I first opened up to embrace, when I realized that beauty could take shape in the most various, unexpected and contradictory ways.

And trust me when I say, that falling in love here is so easy. I see this so clearly every time I come back. If you close your eyes, all you’ll hear is the cry of seagulls, all you’ll smell is the salty scent of the sea. All you’ll feel is the cold sensation of the slow morning breeze. You open your eyes and see the gloomy haze, slowly sweeping in over the water. The gloomy weather immerses the entire Bay in thick fog and unveiling only a vague silhouette of the Golden Gate. Small waves lap on the shore before ebbing back into the sea. There’s a sense of fall in the air as I saunter towards an address I always try to come by, on every visit.

Fillmore Street. A crossroad for business attires and hipster, an area of simultaneously serious and contemporary demeanors. Here, the storefronts display mannequins in neatly ironed shirts, prim pullovers, and knee-long t-shirts. And everything and everyone moves at a rapid pace, yet the atmosphere is unhurried and laid-back. The social haunts are all overcrowded with confident postures, chic styles and on-the-go agendas, and the menu cards may be so up-to-date with healthy combinations the ink has barely dried, but this is a stress-free environment. A place where people come to savor for a moment of solitude, to type on their MacBooks and to drink coffee with almond milk. I’m a fan.

Amongst quirky secondhand stores and elegant antique boutiques is another junction for the town’s hipsters, ready to swathe you in different impressions. Valencia Street. Home of the artisans and the artists whom all have their tale to tell, over the tables of frugal cafés and in between bites of far-flung spicy food. And what words fail to express, is brought about through an entire lane of poignant murals in Clarion Alley. The admiration of strong messages and attention to detail makes for a serene place where words are redundant, even in this otherwise so social part of town. Not as low key as Fillmore, but I’m never opposed to spice things up.

But as tempting as wandering about and getting lost in these vivid backstreets is, a pit stop downtown is inevitable to understand San Francisco. Because beyond and in between all the high-end labels, the cable cars and the hills of this windy city is a social side, impossible to ignore and necessary to witness. A side which means that walking down as good as any given street in central San Francisco will expose you to a plethora of deviant figures. A spectrum of breathing but seemingly inanimate people, preoccupied in conversations with themselves, wearing masquerade outfits or completely blackout in the middle of the street. Not a lot raises the attention here because it’s a 24-hour reality show, where you can be whomever you want to be, and negligence accepts you. The city has already seen it all. A convenient and a simultaneously inconvenient truth, where social decay and frontline individualism live in symbiosis.

This is exactly what makes San Francisco the quintessential American city, at the same time as it’s not the quintessential American city. The fact that the shallow and the superficial have little value here makes it different. Not flaunt like Los Angeles, not hectic like New York and not presumptuous like Washington. San Francisco is a place for substance, and once again I grasped this as I had the chance to meet once again the incredible woman who broadened my horizons to the world, that night in January, two years ago. Under the influence of both alcohol and jet lag, we caught up on each other lives, in the lovely company of some of her closest friends. Most of them Filipino-Americans, just like her. Towards the end of night, I had to ask. ”Pardon my oblivion, but what is that unites you as nationals, when none of you speak your home language, none of you practice your cultural rites, and none of you have barely stepped foot in your country of origin?”. She smiled mischievously and said, ”It’s our spirits” as if it was the most obvious thing in the world. And I realized that she was right. Once again she had unveiled a straightforward and powerful truth, stretching far outside the room we discussed it in. Putting my thoughts into words, that this is a real place, where people tend to be a little more present and a bit more down to earth, about themselves and about with whom they surround themselves. Once more, she managed to open my eyes to this city, with a melody and soul of its very own.

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