Michel: A new book is slowly taking shape

Michel: A new book is slowly taking shape

From dying character on page sixty-four to full novel in seven years

This is the first cover that Natasha designed for me, still a favorite of mine.

The Fallen Angels of Karnataka, where Michel first appeared.

Every author has their own way of tackling their stories. I for one have always been driven by the voices of my characters, as they talk to me in my head. No, I’m not crazy. At least I don’t think so. The story of Haakon and his fallen angels has many real-world roots, inspired by a novel by Larry Benjamin, What Binds Us, a pedophile I once knew, my experiences from India, and my love of travel, all contributed to this dark tale. I did not foresee Michel though. When he appeared early on in the story, during Haakon’s first trip abroad to London, on page twenty-three of the printed novel, I didn’t know the impact the character would have on me, until he, Michel, passes away from complications with HIV on a park bench near the Eiffel Tower. That’s on page sixty-four.

There were reasons for that to happen most of which I honestly don’t remember. But Michel’s death is still, to this day, one of my very favorite scenes to read in public, and I still, seven years later, cannot get through it without my voice cracking. Michel had entered my life and he was not about to leave.

Six years later, Michel asked me to tell his story

Early on in 2020, days before the pandemic hit, I had just completed a major IT project as a consultant and my “billable hours” were dropping to nil when, as happens sometimes, I heard a voice. It was Michel, and he was ready to tell me his story. Then the pandemic hit and my inspiration took a nosedive. It wasn’t until this fall that I was able to really work on the novel again in earnest. And Michel’s life, as short as it was, had plenty of interesting things to tell. Writing about a ‘dead’ character is difficult, and I’m reminded of writing Disease. How do you write a hopeful ending about a subject that inevitably leads to death? There is was Alzheimer’s, here it’s AIDS (and the fact that the character actually passed away in the fall of.1986.) I am very pleased with the outcome. I hope you will, too.

There is, of course, a tentative connection to Haakon and The Fallen Angels of Karnataka but you can read this story completely as a stand-alone, although you’ll miss the death scene, which is not included in Michel, as it’s based on his diaries and yeah, I’m sure you understand. Wouldn’t work. Although it might be a great commercial hook: read the first diary written by a dead person.

I’m editing, getting ready to market: the day job of authoring

A snippet of a possible cover for Michel

A snippet of a possible paperback cover for Michel.

The manuscript of Michel is currently in flux. The story is 99% written, I’d say, and I’ve already begun the editing process, i.e. the author editing. My publisher will edit the book later on with their fresh set of eyes, then set it, proof it, etc. We just discussed this morning, that it is my target to get the manuscript over to them by Christmas, and we tentatively talk about an April release. Before that, I’ll be in New Orleans for Sinners & Saints and hopefully, be able to let Michel meet his audience. We’ve also begun the process of creating a cover, which as I’m sure you know has always been crucial to me. That work included hiring a photographer to source licensed pictures of an angel I had found online. This angel and the expression on his face and his body language had spoken to me and I just knew I needed him on the cover. We’ll reveal the full cover later on, but here’s a sample of what it might look like. As I said, a work in progress. Things might yet change.

Authors are people stuck in a lonely cabin behind with only their cats and a typewriter

Many people think of authors as people in front of a typewriter, writing books all day long. Yes, that is part of what we do, but so is this, blogging, marketing, PR. To be an author is also to be an entrepreneur, owning a small/tiny business, being self-employed in this gig economy. Part of that aspect of our jobs is to secure funding, of course, from events, but also to market not only ourselves but our works, A lot of my colleagues believe this to be the publisher’s job, and yes, they do have their role to play, particularly as it means to get the product into stores, aka book stores and libraries, but they don’t really care about my author gigs in schools and libraries, at events. Because they don’t earn any money from those events. That’s just for the author. We have different roles, and as an author, marketing myself alongside my work is an important part of my job description as an author. Lest we forget.

Next steps: several more rounds of editing, filing on the finer details

Before I feel confident enough to release Michel to my publisher, there are still countless rounds of reading, editing, changing, and filing on the finer details of the story that remain. Because of its complicated conception with several chapters late in the book written early on, I need to make sure the timeline holds, and that different aspects of the story don’t clash. Who needs plot holes, right? That’s going to keep me busy for the coming weeks. It’s my goal to have the manuscript finalized by December 20th and send it to my publisher. We leave for our vacation the next day, and I don’t usually work on vacation unless it’s time-sensitive. After that commences the most difficult time for me, until I hear from the editor at Beaten Track, telling me what they think about the book.

Suffering from an extreme case of imposter syndrome, I always assume the worst, fully expecting them to turn me down before they never do (so far…) and I get the manuscript back and we work on it together until it is done and proofed. Meanwhile, I’ll contract the audio narrator, and work on a PR plan for the book, for what it’s worth. That usually includes blog appearances, Podcasts, and conventions. We’ll see what 2022 offers in that regard.

Are you interested in what’s going on? Stay tuned here. I’ll try to update this site regularly with any progress.

Blurring reality: what’s fictional pain?

Blurring reality: what’s fictional pain?

To the brain, pain is pain, regardless

I’ve been spending the past few weeks in France, exploring cities like Paris, Brest, Rennes, and St. Malo. I’ve traveled through time and space to do so, all from the comfort of my writing chair here in my house in Sweden. No flights were needed, no train rides, although I’ve experienced the passage of time from regular trains to France’s modern TGV high-speed trains. I’ve had to re-experience the death of people close to me, and it’s been an emotional rollercoaster, with a lot of painful moments, but what is fictional pain, and is it different from “real” pain?

There was a bench in Paris

I’ve been to this place many times, mostly in my imagination, but also in real life. It blurs the lines between fictional pain and the real one.

A long-held dream

To write the story of Michel has been a long-held dream, ever since he had to be “killed off”/written out of the novel about his boyfriend Haakon in The Fallen Angels of Karnataka. Michel and Haakon fall in love, but their love gets in the way of the novel’s grand scheme of travel. Besides, with a great love story, it would’ve been a very different book, and not the one to be written then. Michel passed away, on a bench in Paris, on November 29, 1986, and Haakon embarked on his journey around the world for many years.

But Michel never really let go of me. And even though I’m not in the business of telling you which of my books is my favorite (that age-old question every interviewer asks), I can easily attest to the fact that Michel always was one of my favorite characters, and that hasn’t changed as he’s finally been allowed to tell me his story.

The sadness of letting go, again

When you start to write a book about someone you’ve already killed, you realize two things: a) writing an ending worthy of Her Majesty‘s approval will be hard, and b) it’s going to tear open old wounds again. I knew it would be a painful task at times. It’s also challenging to write a story where the actual death is part of another book, published years earlier. I had no interest in including that very scene again and had to find ways to deal with it. I hope you’ll enjoy how I’ve dealt with that sad day.

It’s been an emotional journey for me, to get to know Michel better. While it was plausible enough to have him die from the complications of his HIV infection, it was 1986 after all, but it’s a different thing to learn just how he did get infected in the first place, especially given his young age. Michel’s youth turned out to be very different than I had imagined, despite the guidance–limited as it was–from the original novel. To flesh out Michel’s parents, his friends, and to learn more about his life in the city where he grew up.

The pain of a character is my pain

I shed a lot of tears when I write, and I laugh at times. Michel is a dark story, given the ending, and the topic, but it’s also a story full of love, full of hope, and to see that Michel’s chosen family stood by him through thick and thin, that they provided a support net throughout was a pleasant surprise. I sometimes wonder just why the loss I feel is so strong, so palpable. These are, after all, just fictional characters, it’s fictional pain. They’re not real, they have not lived, they’ve never interacted with me physically. And that is true of course.

True is also that the memories of our actual life are shared in the same place as the memories of everything else, movies we’ve watched, books we’ve read, or books we’ve written. Chemically there is little difference, and if you’ve ever studied the concept called “false memories” you’ll understand just how real even fake can be. Indistinguishable for our brains. Fictional pain it may be, but it hurts just the same.

I for one spend a lot of time with my fictional characters, and to complicate matters further, those characters do spring from real life to a degree. Not that I could tell you the exact composition of each character’s personality, life experiences, etc., but I know that each and every one of my characters also includes a pinch of my secret sauce, to make sure they are life-like. It is that combination of real life, real people, real places, real emotions, real experiences with a pinch of the secret sauce that makes for realistic characters, and the pain I feel when they suffer, and the immense feeling of loss I sense when they die.

A word of caution

Knowing how our brain works, how easily we are absorbed into a story when reading a sequence of black letters on paper, and just how realistic that feels, I worry about the announcement from the Zuckerverse yesterday. While others have written books and made movies on the subject before (in other words, I’m far from the first to realize this risk), it scares me to think that we one day soon will be able to actually disappear into a virtual reality world.

Our eyes are so important to our brains in terms of how we experience our surrounding that it frightens me to think how easily people will be absorbed by virtual reality apps, and how easily they will be manipulated. At least I always know that my characters, as painful as their loss may be, are a figment of my imagination, but what’s to say that things you “see”, things you “experience” are not? Especially if you’re not adequately prepared? A scary prospect.

I’m heading back to Rennes. Michel’s mother wants to talk to him, and I have no idea what she has to say…

Have a great weekend,

Hans

To write is all about suffering, until this happens…

To write is all about suffering, until this happens…

Of writing, procrastinating, pandemics and missing muses

I began writing on my current book, Opus XXIII, on March 2, 2020. Do the math and you realize this was just a couple of weeks before the world shut down, locked up and someone seemingly threw away the keys. Obsessed with the devleopment of this scary beast, with daily newsconferences, hourly updates on a dozen websites on infection rates, mortaliy and the number of people in ICUs, as well as trying to assist my elderly neighbors with grocery shopping, my creativity took an indefinite leave of absence. Writing became suffering, a struggle to get even a handful of sentences down on paper. For someone like me who’s always been able to write fluently, typing shorthand what my characters were whispering into my ears, this became painful. I even began to outline ideas just to have anything to write. Unheard of. The outrage within my self-esteem! As the pandemic progressed, I added very few pages to the manuscript, and weeks, even months could pass before I opened the document anew. Would I ever finish another novel? Would Matt become my final oeuvre?

Author Hans M Hirschi with the book that was the inspiration for Opus XXIII

My previous books wrote themselves

I am an avid listener of podcasts, and one of my friends, Wayne Goodman, has a weekly show, Queer Words, where he asks his guests if they are plotters or pantsers. I was invited to his show back in 2019 and my answer was given: “I’m your traditional pantser.” If there had ever been a pantser, point all fingers at me. I mention in my conversation with Wayne, who by the way is an accomplished writer in his own right often writing about faraway places, that I once experienced my main character’s death half-way through writing the novel. It was quite a shock, but alas, this is how I used to write. My subconscious would guide my fingers and type whatever the characters were telling me, and so I sat there, in front of my laptop, reading what appeared on page. Call it stream of consciousness, and it was not unlike the infamous episdoe The Muse in Deep Space 9 where the evil alien sucks the life force out of him. That was me, minus the evil alien and the nose bleeds. I could write up to 10,000 words a day, and my first two novels were both written (first rough draft I might add) in less than two weeks, each. Alas, along came opus XXIII. It’s been 598 days, and I am done-ish with my first draft. So what happened?

The pain of writing or what the experts tell you to do

Part of every writing podcast is the obligatory question of “do you have any advice?” to aspriting authors and writers. I have been asked the question, too, and I believe I have answered it, too, although less from a writing perspective but more from a “make sure you get feedback perspective”. It’s been a while. Prove me wrong. LOL However, I notice that some writers are dead set on “my way or the highway!”, an approach which invalidates any other writing process or approach that differes from their own. I’ve heard things like “make sure you write every day, even if it’s just a few sentences.” That is the most common advice out there. Picture me with big eyes and and my RBF expression along the question “why? What good does that do?” Sadly I’m never around when that statement is made, so I’ve never really been around to question it. Great if it works for you, but don’t presume that one size fits all. S’all I have to say.

Writing is often painful and slow, sometimes fast and exhilarating

I finally got out of my slump a few weeks ago, and I wrote 35,000 words in less than a week. In fact, I was so thrilled about my progress that I couldn’t wait to sit down and write. I did it while cooking, I did it in the morning before Sunday breakfast, I did it before joining my husband for some evening R&R (oh, not what you think. We’re talking Netflix here.), and I even wrote while my son was doing his homework. I couldn’t not write, if that makes sense. But until that moment came along, and my writing stars had aligned, it was painful. My characters were silent, and procrastination was the blanket to wrap myself into when inspiration failed. I often felt bad, depressed at the lack of progress, throwing myself into other projects, other things to do. Yet is it really to procrastinate if you don’t actually have anything intelligent to write? I know for sure that “writing for the sake of writing” will never be my tune, so rather than giving myself grief over the lack of inspiration, I should relax. Oddly, I have a hunch that I’ve said this before, but I guess this is a lesson that this pedagogue hasn’t fully embraced yet. Because could it be, maybe, just maybe, that I’d have gotten my mojo back faster if I hadn’t been so freaked out about the lack of progress, the lack of inspiration? Who knows. Hindsight may be a great teacher, but it sucks at the what-if-game.

Opus XXIII – What it is and other valuable inormation

This is the first cover that Natasha designed for me, still a favorite of mine.

So where am I with this latest novel? It’s somewhere in editing but also still in writing. I’m not entirely happy with all aspects of it, and given the difficult topic, I need to make sure I find the right balance. Opus XXIII will likely be named “Michel”, and it is all about the story of Michel, the amazing young man who tragically passes away from AIDS in November of 1986. He briefly appared as a side character in my novel The Fallen Angels of Karnataka from 2014, and he has been haunting me ever since. So, Michel finally gets to tell his story, and while it’s challenging to make sure I stick to canon, it’s also liberating to finally learn more about this character who has always held a special place in my heart, both for what he does for Haakon’s personal grown, ultimately kick-starting his traveling, but also for his spirit and character.

In this story we learn about his coming out, still a central theme for the LGBTQI community. But the story alsolooks at the coming of age for this one individual, his exploration of his own sexuality, and touches some difficult subjects such as sexual abuse, rape, and sexual addiction. I’m sure you appreciate how challenging it is to write that, and do justice to the character’s experience without taking away from the grand scheme of things. You’ll be the judge whether or not I’ve been successful. It’s a difficult book, both to write and (will be) to read, and one where Her Majesty had to work hard to pull off her magic of a hopeful and happy ending. Given that Michel has been dead for thirty-five years, it’s nothing short of a miracle.

I hope to finish the manuscript by the end of this year, and if all goes well, the book should be out in the spring of 2022, as always from my amazing publisher Beaten Track.

Thank you for tuning in!

Hans

Mind if I share a secret? I’m so over this pandemic! #covid19 #corona

Mind if I share a secret? I’m so over this pandemic! #covid19 #corona

This feeling that the pandemic is crushing something within me is overwhelming

I’m not one to complain. A lot. I do, of course, like all of us, but I’ve born the cross of the pandemic like the most patient of gods on their way to Calvary. I asked myself: why complain? It won’t change the course of things? I certainly won’t feel any better about it. Or so I thought. I’ve tried to keep things together, I’ve worked from home while watching others continue to go to the office (even though they didn’t “have to”), I endured continuous Facebook posts by acquaintances flaunting in the face of social distancing with pics of hugs and parties with friends, smiles all around. I watched daily press conferences, studied medical studies on variants, memorized incidence curves and comparisons between nations.

I still got the effing virus

To add insult to injury, our son came home with the virus in early December and we all got sick in the span of three days. When it happened, I went into automaton-mode, looking after child and husband, their complaints about my tasteless cooking, headaches, and fevers, while secretly freaking out about my physician’s warnings about day seven. Alas, we all got lucky and day seven came and went without any shortness of breath, blue lips, or ambulances. We recovered and have the antibodies to prove it.

Yet still, we wear the face masks on public transport and watch on while others don’t, we share the responsibility of school drop-offs to avoid extra travel, we order groceries online at extra cost to avoid crowding stores, buy stuff online to avoid unnecessary travel or visiting stores. All the while I see those Facebook posts, the pictures from cafés and bars, umbrella drinks, and smiling friends sitting way too close to each other for comfort.

Suddenly you find yourself facing another human being

Yesterday I combined a trip to pick up the kids from school with a necessary store visit. Online results and phone calls had not yielded the necessary results and a physical visit was necessary. Walking through a mostly empty furniture store (not unusual for 3 pm on a weekday even in pre-pandemic days) my eyes were like a radar, looking out for potential risk factors, other store visitors, potential health hazards. My visit was unfruitful, but utterly exhausting because as I was leaving the store I came across a couple of hinders in the shape of homo sapiens sapiens, standing stupidly between couches and sofas. Trying to squeeze by, turning my head and torso away from them, as to avoid breathing in/out in. their direction as the space between us was less than the prescribed two meters, I felt the adrenalin rush, the fear (stupidly and needlessly) of this sudden brush with my potential demise and my entire being suddenly seemed to scream: “Just get me fucking home. NOW!”

I wear it because I am responsible, not because it’s enjoyable

I’m so done with this pandemic

Weäre coming up on the first anniversary of our “shelter at home” orders: March 17. Not a date one easily forgets. And I am so done with Covid-19, corona, the virus, this pandemic, these “particular times” or whatever other stupid euphemism you wish to use to describe the existence we’ve all endured these past twelve months. I want to host a dinner party for good friends, talk about highs and lows over a good bottle of Amarone, I want to hug my best friends again, kiss my husband without fear of death, hug my kid more often, more naturally, the way we used to before he turned into a walking death trap for his parents. I want to travel again, sit in crowded airline lounges drinking their cheap wine while waiting for our flight out into a world of adventure. I want to walk on crowded streets of cobble-stone in ancient cities around the world, sit in bars and sip champagne and watch passers-by. I want my fucking life back.

Not wanting to sound ungrateful, of course. We’re alive and healthy, we survived the bug without any lasting symptoms. We’ve not (yet) lost any close friends or loved ones to it, and we have enough space to. call home that I can sit in three or four different places at home for my meetings without disturbing Alex in his. Compared to those who must brave the world every day, who risk infection, every day, we are lucky indeed. Lucky to be able to afford online grocery shopping, lucky to be able to work from home. Lucky. Unlike the millions who’ve perished. Yet still, mentally, this has been a rough year. I have been unable to write, unable to create. And I know that millions and millions are hurting, worse than I am. Much worse.

So here’s to you who doesn’t give a shit

Fuck you!

We’re so close to the end of the pandemic. Vaccines are coming, death rates decreasing. All we need is a few more months to hold out, as rough as it is. I’m a grown-up. I’ll keep wearing my face mask even though it makes me sneeze and my glasses fog so I can’t see shit. I will stay away and social and physical distance until the government says “it’s over!”, I’ll follow rules and regulations until they’re lifted, and I’ll be thankful and take my vaccine when it’s my turn. But to you who doesn’t care, doesn’t believe, or can’t be bothered, please enjoy my beautiful middle finger right there in your face. By now I will have unfollowed you on my Facebook and I will not reach out to you after this pandemic. Obviously, we’re not meant to be friends, because I expected more from you than you’re capable of delivering. I wish you well in the future as your subconscious grapples with the deaths and the suffering caused by your egotistical behavior. I doubt you’ll ever realize the cost you owe society.

Probably for the best.

Love, Hans

The tale of how a bedtime story became so much more

The tale of how a bedtime story became so much more

The unintentional children’s book about losing your first baby teeth

Let’s begin at the top, shall we? Picture a cruise vessel (this was before the pandemic), somewhere in the Caribbean. It’s time for Sascha, our son, to go to bed. As he’s done often before, he’s asking for a bedtime story, and for once, I manage to come up with one. I’m usually not very good at this. But we had been talking about his teeth and his anxiety (small kids, small problems) that he was one of the last kids in his class to still sport all his twenty baby teeth. Sidebar: he ended up being the last one to lose one. At the time the new teeth had already sprung up behind and I pulled them both to create the necessary space. Anyhow, back to the ship and Sascha tucked into bed. Somehow, I managed to come up with this crazy story about a vampire who lost his fangs. Sascha loved it and I figured I’d better jot it down just in case he wanted to hear it again.

From Joe to Elizabeth

What a wonderful illustration. I love to work with Finn. He’s got such a talent to visualize my work.

Over the weeks after our cruise, I got to tell him the story a few times and he really loved it. But as is the case with all my children’s stories, I tend to put them aside. I know they need a lot of time and work. During the pandemic, as I was struck with a complete writer’s block (I still haven’t recovered), I began to edit the story, making sure it was the best it could be. Fast forward to late May and I had the idea to use this story to create a video with Sascha. We had done a couple of trailers together for my previous children’s books (here and here) and he’d done such an amazing job at reading the books that I figured, why not let him read an entire book? The idea had originally come from an author friend of mine, Bru Baker when I’d begun to read my own works live at the beginning of the pandemic (they, too, can be found on my YouTube channel.)

Meanwhile, in the editing process, Joe had become Elizabeth, as I figured the world had enough male heroes in books. I let Sascha name the vampire and he chose Elizabeth (he thinks it’s a great vampire name.) I reached out to Finn Swan, who’s been kind enough to illustrate my stories about princes Valerius & Evander. He agreed and created six beautiful drawings for it. He also created a GIF that I could use for the video.

The unintentional book

As Sascha’s summer break approached, I began work on the video and had the bright idea to create a PDF to add to the video description so that parents and kids could read along with Sascha’s narration. I used a native Mac tool to set up the pages, typeset the text, and create the PDF. Since I’m not an expert on typesetting, I sent it to my publisher for a once over. Here’s what she sent back:

“I’d rather not give you feedback on this. You won’t like it, but as you asked… The images are lovely – I saw them arrive in the Dropbox folder on Saturday. Finn’s brilliant. The story is awesome too, so you’re golden with the content, and the order of image followed by text works – that’s how we handled the V&E ebooks.
The formatting… oy. […]
Question: is there a reason you’re doing this yourself rather than through BTP? I’d already included it in this year’s schedule.”

She was right, of course. My response was short and sweet: “It’s all yours.” I hadn’t known that she’d put it in the BTP schedule nor that she wanted to publish this. Two days later, the book was out, and Sascha was still in school. That’s how things happen sometimes. Looking back, I’m glad that Debbie pushed for getting the book out. I think it’s a great tool for parents to talk to their kids about losing their baby teeth which can be both scary and exciting. My son was really anxious about being “left behind” in this regard and couldn’t understand that it is perfectly normal for some kids to begin losing their teeth at five, while others have to wait until they’re seven. The story provided me with an opening to talk about different being totally okay, not worse. This is a topic we’ll sadly have to revisit countless times as he grows up, in so many other areas of life. I’m sure other parents can relate to this.

We got to the video, at last

Summer came, summer almost ended, before we got around to actually sit down and record the video. Sascha was stellar (yeah, totally biased) and after a day of editing and Sascha choosing a musical score, we published the video on my YouTube channel. And ever since then, Sascha’s been asking me almost daily about likes. His generation is totally in sync with that sort of thing. So help him feel great about himself, watch the video and press the “thumbs up”, and feel free to like and share it on Facebook or other social media.

Without further ado, here it is The Vampire Who Lost Her Fangs:

As always, the book is available as a paperback and ebook from Beaten Track and is sold worldwide from Amazon and many other retailers, online but also from local bookstores (ask for it.) If you’d like to give it away as a gift to someone and wish it to be signed by me and/or Sascha, you can buy it directly from me.

Travel during the Corona-pandemic: same, same but different

Travel during the Corona-pandemic: same, same but different

Thoughts after our first trip abroad during the Covid-19 pandemic

I wasn’t sure if travel summer 2020 was a good idea, but weirdly, ever since the lockdown began mid-March, and I saw how airline after airline stopped flying to Gothenburg, I began to long. More than ever before. It was almost as if the mere fact that I couldn’t fly made me want to fly even more. We had been in Switzerland for a week for ski week in February and had made preliminary plans for a short trip to see my husband’s mother and some relatives over Easter, none of which materialized due to a national travel ban. But apart from Easter, we normally don’t travel until the summer. Yet this year, I longed and longed.

My immediate family, what’s left of it… With only one parent left, we want to make sure our son gets to spend as much time with his grandpa as possible.

Homecation, the new normal

Our government informed us early on that we shouldn’t expect a normal summer and that it would be most likely that we’d have to vacation at home, i.e. in Sweden. As the summer approached and after our previously made plans had been canceled we decided that we still wanted to travel to Switzerland, but replace the week of a previously planned cruise, we decided to show our son one of his two native countries. We had also planned for a few short trips across the border to Italy but had to cancel all but one of those (more about that later.)

After having spent several months talking to my dad on Facetime, we were looking forward to seeing him again, and for our son to get to spend some time with his only remaining grandparent.

Same, same, but different: rules

Unfortunately, this pandemic has shown just how little the world cooperates. Not just within the WHO framework, but also within the EU. Every country did their own thing, which was okay given how quickly things escalated in the beginning, but after the Italian shutdown, I feel the EU should’ve sat down and begun to plan how to do things in a more concerted way. To see borders closed and fences going up in the middle of neighborhoods that had worked as one for decades was weird. The blame-game across borders which is still ongoing is even worse and will damage European relations for a long time to come. Yet, weirdly, as I look at the different countries we’ve been to, the rules (post lockdown) are largely the same, with a few differences. Here in Sweden, the elderly (70+) are still in lockdown and aren’t supposed to meet their kids and grandkids (and most certainly not hug them.) In Switzerland, this restriction was removed as part of their opening up of society. Therefore, we had no ‘legal’ hinder to go visit my dad who just turned 79. But we were careful, of course, because we really didn’t want to risk his health. No hugs, no handshake when we arrived, and my dad’s house is littered with soap and hand sanitizer.

Same, same, but different: hotels

We traveled for a week, by car. We figured it was easier than taking a train since Switzerland requires face masks and those things itch after a bit, so we only wore them when necessary and mandated. Social distancing works well, wherever we were, but how hotels organize things is very different and it was interesting to witness the differences, what works and what doesn’t.

Buffets are a challenge, of course, and I think most of us will see buffets through different eyes. Our first hotel, one we’ve visited many times before, kept the buffet, but added single-use gloves (few used them) and hand sanitizer and a one-way system. It didn’t really work because if you needed something from the “end” you didn’t really want to wait in line for everyone else to have gotten what they wanted. Another hotel we visited had adopted a different system, spreading out the buffet throughout the breakfast room, allowing people to spread out more easily. All food items were either covered with lids or e.g. plastic foil.

Another hotel we visited had abolished the buffet and replaced it with an a-la-carte menu. You ordered your breakfast the night before. Drawback: deciding what you’ll likely want to eat the next day and remembering what that was in the morning. I was lost. LOL, but the presentation was great and the food delicious.

Same, same, but different: face coverings

First time in my life I had to wear one of these.

I’m no fan of them, I’ll admit. Yet we ordered a few the other day for future use, and we obviously follow government recommendations and mandates. I can barely go on Facebook anymore as the debate from the US is simply disgusting. Yes, we can argue the scientific value of face coverings in this pandemic, but once a decision is made, you follow the rules. Period. You don’t murder people or steal just because you disagree with the respective laws. But yeah, America…

We first experienced face masks when we boarded our flight to Switzerland. I was happy to take it off to eat and drink but put it back on once I was done. On our trip to Switzerland, the masks were merely recommended. On our way home, they’d become mandatory. Things change all the time.

I think it makes sense to have that extra layer of protection in crowded spaces, such as airports (as abandoned as they are), shops, planes, or public transport. We complied using surgical masks we bought at our local airport in Gothenburg (the only place I’ve found them since March, excessively overpriced.) Sweden, along with other Nordic countries, does not yet mandate masks because of the lack of clear scientific evidence of their use, but I think we’ll need to change our approach not just because covid-19 is different from the flu, but also because of all the asymptomatic people not to mention all the covidiots out there, i.e. people who are sick yet insist on going out. But if you travel, bring a comfortable face covering (or four) along to use. The blue paper surgical masks are itchy and uncomfortable (my ears were going stir crazy having to bear both the rubber bands and the rims of my glasses.) Besides, if we have to wear a mask, make it part of your personality, your style.

Same, same, but different: uncertainty

Traveling is always accompanied by a certain level of uncertainty. You never know what might happen simply because countries are different. However, this year, even traveling to a country you know very well (I was born and raised in Switzerland) is accompanied by weird flukes. When we booked our trip, we knew that we were “allowed to”, both by the Swiss and Swedish governments. However, when we flew, the Swiss government had announced a ten-day quarantine for Swedish travelers, due to the high infection numbers in Sweden. We arrived two days before that rule went into place and didn’t have to. But it basically stopped our plans to travel to Italy because we didn’t really know if my husband would’ve had to quarantine after a day trip as he has no Swiss ID. Our son and I do, we would’ve been fine (silly, right?), but it just wasn’t worth the risk.

To make matters worse, after a week in Switzerland, the Swedish government “retaliated” and removing the green light from Swiss travel. Kind of nice when you’re already there. Our insurance was no longer valid (if anything had happened.) A few days before we returned to Sweden, the Swiss removed the quarantine for Swedish travelers and I expect Sweden to once again allow travel to Switzerland when they review their decision in two days. Silly, but that’s Europe 2020 for you.

But if you travel this year, this is something that might happen to you, as additional examples in recent days (UK, Spain) have shown. Things are very volatile and you better be prepared to pay your own medical bills or buy new plane tickets last minute. I am impressed with the Lufthansa Group’s decision and their “promise” to always bring you home. What it’s worth if push ever came to shove is a different story. There’s plenty of small print one cannot be bothered to read.

Same, same, but different: conclusions

We had a good vacation. We spent lots of time outdoors, we made sure to travel safely and avoid crowds. Sadly you can’t really avoid all the covidiots everywhere, but a good stare usually stops them from coming too close. We were well prepared and healthy and made the most of the time, and coming home after three weeks once again proved a well-hidden point about travel: you appreciate your home so much more.

Have you been traveling this summer? Plan to? What are your experiences?

Stay safe out there…

Hans