Wednesday, 30 December 2015

HOW TO COPE WITH LOONG WINTER NIGHTS

Christmas day morning at 9 am.

I have said it before, so no need to repeat myself, winter nights are loong and dark up here in the North. This creates havoc in the brain which needs light to get active in the morning. So what to do, when it is still pitch dark at 7.30, my preferred getting up time over the year?

After many decades of confusion, I have at long last found the answer to this question. You simply have to stay awake a wee bit into the morning hours. If you manage to keep going (by reading, watching TV or working) until, say, 2 am, this will give you a sound 7 hours' sleep until 9 am, when the first rays of the sun will tickle your nose and lure you out of bed.

On Christmas morning, I had pinpointed it correctly. When I rose and stumbled out on the balcony, still half asleep, the very first sun rays already tickled the high risers across Hammarby Sound; the title picture bears witness. It was 9.13 am and time to start a new day.

In contrast, I was up far too early three days later. An eery silvery light shone through the drapes and made my sleepy brain wonder what the world was up to now. This had to be investigated, my subconscious told me, and my conscious self obliged by sliding out of bed and get going.

Hammarby Sound at 8 am three days after Christmas.

It was quite cold out there on the balcony, and I was shivering mightily in my thin pajamas. The reason was obvious. During the night, temperatures had fallen considerably and snow was covering the quays like a white blanket. Real winter had arrived at long last after sensationally warm Christmas weather. Only a few days earlier, on winter solstice day, day time temperature was higher than on Summer Solcstice day in late June!

I first thought that it was the snow who caused the silvery shine reigning over quay and water. But that was not the only reason. After admiring the views eastward for a while, I eventually turned westward and saw, to my big surprise, a full moon hovering over the canal in that direction.

Full moon over Hammarby Canal at 8 am.

Now, I have lived in my apartment for 7 years already, but never before have I witnessed a full winter moon early in the morning. "Thank you!", brain, for noticing the silvery shine and getting me out of bed early to savor its splendor! Isn't it wonderful to make such new experiences at an advanced age?

Having said that, time to look ahead. New Years Eve is upon us! Since I will be otherwise engaged at the right time, I take this premature occasion to wish you, my hardy and patient readers

A Very Happy New Year! 
May all your good wishes come true!


Stockholm in Winter 2010. Building site for railway tunnel in the foreground.

Sunday, 13 December 2015

A "SAINT" IN SWEDEN?

Early Winter afternoon on Hammarby Sound

The scenery outside my apartment should by now be well known to you. I am almost getting blasé about it myself, but this view captivated me. I took the picture a week ago; I felt that it embodied the "loong farewell" of a dying year. 

The last few months have been busy, leaving me scant time to please you with pictures from my balcony. You probably have noticed, from e-mails, Facebook, Google+ and otherwise, that the grand task during this time was to introduce my new book "Stockholm/Brussels". Wide did I range to accomplish this: from the golden hills of California to the much greener ones in south-eastern Austria; and from there to the autumn cold of Brussels. Finally, news of the book reached Stockholm, where I held a "vernissage" cum book presentation last month.

Book signing at the Stockholm event (Photographer: Andreas Cars)

But the end of the year is approaching, as the title picture tells us; time to get in contact with you again, my patient readers! Today's theme is light, or rather, the lack of it in this region far to the North, as far as Kodiak in Alaska in fact. Throughout the centuries, people living here have nurtured a feeling of loss and depression as the sun keeps gradually disappearing in December, feelings that have to be countered and subdued with all kinds of ritual and ceremony.

Sofia Church on 18 November at 3.15 pm

For you Southerners, who may have difficulties understanding our concerns, I think a picture (or two) can tell it better than a thousand words. The above picture shows you the last rays of the sun caressing Sofia Church above Hammarby Sound at 3.15 pm on 18 November, some years ago. So far so good, there was still warm light to savour in mid-afternoon. Even the sky around the church on top of the hill remained illuminated by the dying sun, as the picture is bearing witness.

Now take a look at the same church about a month later and at around the same time in the afternoon; depressing, isn't it?

Ibid about a month later at 3.20 pm

How to cope with this depressing darkness? The early Christian Church knew what it was doing when placing the birth of Christ at Winter Solstice. By partly supplanting, partly incorporating heathen rites it promised the Northern population that light would be reborn, since this was foreboded, so to speak, in the birth of our Creator. But heathen rites have a tendency to linger on, under the thin veneer of Christianity. For instance, in Sweden, Xmas gifts are not brought by Child Jesus or the three Holy Magi, as in Catholic countries; instead, Yule Goat is by tradition placed under the Christmas Tree as bearer of the gifts. Some towns in Sweden, as for instance, Gävle, even place a gigantic straw Yule Goat on their main square at Christmas Time, to be set on fire by ignominious youth before New Year.

  A newly raised Julbock in Gävle           ... already burning (Gävlebocken Webcam)

Furthermore, just as the Anglosaxons have re-paganised Saint Nicholas, an Egyptian Bishop, turning him into a fatty and bearded senior citizen traveling with reindeers, the Lutheran Swedes, having also foregone our catholic saints, have adapted Sancta Lucia to their own traditional beliefs. Lucia, the Sicilian virgin, is in catholic countries usually painted carrying a bowl in her hands with her eyes in it; up here in the North she has been transformed into a Demigoddess and Bearer of Light. At the shortest day of the year, a young girl is chosen as her Avatar, striding, accompanied by other reconfigured saints, through admiring crowds with candles in her hair and singing a Sicilian song with distinct Swedish text. She assures us Northerners that light will return to Earth, at a day when the sun is hardly managing to rise above the horizon.

    A Swedish Lucia (Source: Anna Linda)      The catholic Saint (Painter: Beccafumi)

You object that S:ta Lucia is celebrated on 13 December, hardly the shortest day of the year? Then take note that Sweden was late in adopting the Gregorian Calendar. Its Julian predecessor had the peculiarity that solstice day migrated over the centuries. Whereas the Birth of Christ was placed at solstice in the beginning of the Christian era, Winter Solstice gradually retraced its steps in the Julian Calendar to arrive on about 13 December in the 16th Century. There it has remained, at least in Swedish folklore, until present days.

Now comes the interesting part of Lucia's story. Just like Santa Claus, who is conquering the globe from his base in America, the Swedish Lucia is now also starting to colonise the Western world. You don't believe it? Well, I have proof. Look at this statue, to be found in the Spanish town of Santa Lucia de Tirajana (on Gran Canaria), standing just outside the town's church. This is a true representation of the Swedish version, complete with Staffan Stalledräng, her companion (the latter another Swedish transformation of a catholic saint, this time of St. Stephens). How can this be?

Swedish Lucia colonising Gran Canaria

It turns out that Santa Lucia is twinned with Luleå, a Swedish city far to the North. As a token of friendship between the two cities, the above sculpture was raised by the Swedes outside the Spanish church. Furthermore, each year, a Swedish Lucia is sent as Ambassador to Gran Canaria, to participate in the grand festivity on 13 November, the day of Santa Lucia's patron saint. There one can admire a serene procession: a girl dressed in local attire is striding hand in hand with a blond youngster in white, girded in red and with candles in her hair! But, cute as both are to behold, they are out-shined by the "real saint", a grandiose statue being carried along with great aplomb by the devoted congregation!







Saturday, 15 August 2015

DURCH DIESE HOHLE GASSE MUSS ER KOMMEN ...

Hammarby Sound at 4.45 am

Yesterday morning brought another "Early Birds"-event. This time it was not the sea gulls' shrieking that got me out of bed. "No!", it was something more subdued, but still annoying: an almost infrasonic, but at the same time persisting rumbling from a diesel engine, combined with diesel fumes mixing with the clean and healthy draft from the sea beneath my apartment.

When I got up to investigate, a marvelous golden view welcomed me outside. The sun was about to rise, but still too lazy to appear above the horizon; backlighting instead a sky full of clouds, with an unearthly, almost Martian timbre. Forgetting about the noise and the fumes, I just closed my bedroom window and got back to sleep.

As the morning went on, I thought nought more about this incident, since all kinds of noise from the seaway beneath me are reaching me throughout the day. But suddenly, around 10 am, a super loud radio channel opened up, surpassing all the usual sounds I have been getting used to. When I rushed out to the balcony to see what was going on, I discovered the view you can look at below.

Transport Authority Barge

The barge squatting smack below my balcony was of course known to me. I had seen it cruising off and on for two months now, but never before found it nestling at my place. We are looking at exploration activities connected with a planned new subway line. The barge is housing huge drilling machines, which sample the ground under the sea. But why just below my balcony?

The answer is obvious. Look at the map showing the planned lay-out. A new subway station will be hollowed out from the rocks just below my apartment and the trains will arrive through a tunnel under the canal!

The planned new subway line

Now back to the intrusive radio music: Looking closer at the people moving around the barge, I could discern a nice young lady, sitting in the white cabin yonder. Apparently a girlfriend, visiting one of the young muscular laborers on board. To keep her occupied and content, whilst having to concentrate on their drilling, the youngsters probably thought some entertainment was in order. No harm in that, if it weren't necessary to put the loudspeaker on full blast, in order to outperform the drilling noise!

I had had enough and rushed down to the quay to admonish the youngsters. It took me some screaming and waving to get their attention, since they had their hearing protectors on! Eventually they took notice of me and, to my satisfaction, had the good manners to shut down the radio. Thereafter, relative calm was again reigning over the canal, at least if you count shrill drilling noise as calm. But we have to accept this type of noise, in the name of progress! ;–)

Day after, on saturday, no barge noise to report about; working week was over. But that didn't mean all systems clear for this sedentary old man. After an eventless day, suddenly, Hammarby Sjöstad started to get agitated again. Just about the time when I took this romantic picture of the last sun rays caressing the roof tops in the distance (imagining myself as a latter day Caspar David Friedrich – our great Swedish painter – at his most pictorial), an enormous bass tone suddenly erupted over the calm waters, soon followed by a host of shrill overtones, coming from an oversized and maladjusted loudspeaker.

Sunset over Hammarby Sound à la Caspar David Friedrich

Ready to contact the police immediately, I rushed down to the quay again to investigate the source of this cacophony. A young couple was seen leaning on the guide rails over the water, admiring some goings-on at the opposite quay. I approached them and started to complain about the noise, soliciting support for civic action to come to grips with it. Instead, I was met be smiling faces, showing themselves to be quite content with the ruckus. It was time for the yearly "Midnight Run", they told me, which would start, not at midnight, but just 15 minutes onwards. 

And so it was to be. Just as the last rays of sun were bidding us "Goodbye!", the loudspeakers started to blast at even greater volume, a voice was trying to out-scream the ruckus, and a horde of motion-aficionados started to run along the quay. The noising and running went on for more than an hour, but this time there was no way of escaping it. Shutting all the windows and putting cotton in my ears did not do much to suppress the general uproar. I just had to content myself with the insight that it would all be over by midnight and, after all, that it was for the general good, if not for my own!

The Midnight Run has begun!

You may well ask what all this has to do with the title of this post? A lot, it turns out. The citation in the title comes from the play "Wilhelm Tell" by Friedrich von Schiller. It refers to the hollow way to Küssnacht, along which Wilhelm Tell awaits his oppressor Gessler, in order to kill him off with his cross-bow. In English translation:

Scene III.
A hollow way near Küssnacht, over which travelers are passing.– The whole scene is surrounded by rocks, one of which is seen jutting forwards, and covered with bushes. 
Enter Tell with his cross-bow

Tell.
Thro' this deep hollow passage must he come,
There leads no other way to Küssnacht.

As soon as I realized that there is a plan to hollow out a tunnel underneath Hammarby Canal (passing smack under my apartment at that), this citation came to mind immediately. I have a sound grounding in German literature after all, how could I not think about Willhelm Tell in this context?

Wilhelm Tell, painting by Ferdinand Hodler
But there is more to it. There slumbers a wildman deep within all of us, does it not? I am peaceful myself, but I have to admit that unwarranted noise raises my hackles. Especially if there is nothing I can do about it. Whenever this happens, a vision keeps invading my mind: like a latter day Wilhelm Tell, I see myself as hugging a cross-bow, firing quarrel after quarrel to kill off the malfeasants. I am ashamed of this vision, but, at the same time, relieved to realize that it helps me to re-gain my inner equilibrium! Amazing, isn't it?


Saturday, 25 July 2015

SPARKLE

Hammarby Sound at 5.30 am

Another fine morning over Hammarby Sound! This time a bit later than in the preceding post, since the sun is already shining and welcoming. The more welcoming since we are in the middle of a period of intermittent cloudiness and drizzle. It seems like the world has been born anew, so fresh is the air and so quietly inviting the sky, with clouds thawing away in the morning sunlight.

Whilst enjoying the view – a bit like savoring a glass of rare sparkling wine – it occurs to me that the precise word "Sparkle" comes in very handy for summarizing the overall experience!

Hammarby Sound towards Skanstull Lock

As humans we are inclined to love sparkling experiences, be it in the form of a morning view from our balcony or savoring glitter in fellow humans. I have to confess that I share the latter inclination – morosely disposed as I am –, always longing to interact with personalities of a harmonious disposition, with an engaging smile and with eyes glittering.

You tend to notice and appreciate such people foremost when they are young and of the opposite sex (if your leaning is mainstream). There is of course a reason to it. Youth in general has an optimistic view of life, and is therefore more geared towards showing an expecting smile and inviting eyes. Moreover, your eyes tend to be colored by your instincts, which greatly enhance your perception of enticing characteristics in the smiling youngster.


But there is more to it than youth and sex, let me assure you! A small minority of human beings, a few, a happy few, have a harmonious and optimistic disposition ingrained in their being and manage to keep this disposition all their live. If you don't believe me, let me give you an example, the more relevant since the lady in question would have her 100th anniversary this year. I am of course thinking of the famous Swedish actress Sickan Carlsson, who outshined – in sparkle – more morose contemporaries like Greta Garbo, Ingrid Bergman and Zara Leander.

I invite you to have a look at the video below, where she is performing at the mature age of sixty. Please have a glance even if you do not speak Swedish! In fact, you will get the picture better when concentrating on the singer's engaging smile and glittering eyes, disregarding the meaning of the song!

You may respond that Sickan is an actress, and as actress perfectly able to impersonate a shining personality for the time of an act. But there are testimonials from people having met and known her over the years, ensuring us that she was just as positive and shining in private as she was on scene.





Having reached this far in my ramblings, disclosure is in order. It was my supreme fortune to be loved by a woman with the same disposition, my former wife Alice. Like Sickan, she had it ingrained in her being; and her positive and sparkling personality did wonders to this morose blogger.

When I first met her, it was like the sun was rising for me for the very first time. Over the years, I never ceased to bath in the glory of her smile. This is not the time nor place to elaborate this further.  Suffice it to say that Alice kept her persona sunny and sparkling way up into mature age!

My former wife Alice, at her most sunny and sparkling







Wednesday, 15 July 2015

LE TEMPS DES CERISES

Hammarby Sound at 3.45 am

I am again in Stockholm since two weeks back and am enjoying the "white nights" of Sweden's Summer. Temperatures are agreeably temperate, I am glad to say, hovering around 20° (Celsius) in daytime and cooling off nicely during the night.

My apartment lies smack on a seafaring road, which provides me with never ending panoramas for putting on this blog. But it has its disadvantages, especially if Summer nights become hotter and more inviting. If that happens, the normally restrained Swede turns into boisterous "Southener". Juvenile frolicking crowds tend to congregate on the quay just below my balcony, feasting, drinking and singing way into early morning. But not this week at least; serene calm is reigning, at least after midnight.

Sleep does not come easily, even so. Today, I woke up already around 3.45, by seagulls eagerly screeching to rouse the resting old-timer. But I was glad to get up, looking at the forerunner of a raising sun on the Eastern horizon.

The warm pastel colors of the sky suddenly made me think of an old song, "Le temps des cerises". This may be a surprising association, but I was not thinking about cherries, with their intensely red color, but rather about the color "cerise", much like the color of the low horizon in the picture, even if more rich and saturated.

From the color "cerise" there is but a small step (in thinking terms) to take to the above mentioned famous song. When I looked it up on Youtube, I found a Greek singer who gave an intriguing interpretation of it. Her name is "Nana Mouskouri" and she somehow found the right tone between romanticism and revolutionary verve that characterizes the text of this genuinely French chanson.

Now, the Greek, more so than present day French, still seem to linger in a dreamworld, a mix between romantic delusion about past grandeur and anarchistic longing for changing the world, rather than themselves. So what better song to sing for a Greek than this:

Mais il est bien court le temps des cerises
Où l'on s'en va deux cueillir en rêvant
Des pendants d'oreille...
Cerises d'amour aux robes vermeilles
Tombant sous la feuille en gouttes de sang ...
Mais il est bien court le temps des cerises
Pendants de corail qu'on cueille en rêvant!


Monday, 9 March 2015

ROMANESQUE ARCHES

Stockholm City Hall, Colonnade

Although this is not a view from my kitchen window, it IS a view, and a rather formidable one. And it occasions me to tell an intriguing story.

As I already mentioned in an earlier blog post (A Ship has landed) I am busy at the moment preparing a book for the printer (Stockholm/Brussels: a retrospective in fine prints). Whilst producing, and printing out the some 120 proofs of pictures from my Epson printer, which took around two months, I got heavily involved with the content of those prints.

You have to realize that most of those pictures were taken decades ago, and I had long forgotten the motive for and feeling connected with their taking. But gradually it dawned on me that the prints, whilst at the surface dealing with ordinary city landscapes, seemed to convey ever more subliminal messages, the longer I worked on them.

Granted that these photographs had been taken within a period of some forty years, concurrent with all the challenges, crises and other events shaping my inner self; is it surprising that they appear to contain meaning other than showing facades of buildings and shadows cast on stone?

With this new awareness I started to re-assess my motives for producing the book. Whilst I earlier had thought of it as a means for simple self-aggrandizement, I increasingly hope that the views contained in the book may also serve as conveying subliminal messages (on a subconscious level) from my inner being to the inner being of others, so to speak.

 I have always believed this to be possible, although seeing as main conduit for such messages the metaphors contained in modern poems, music and abstract paintings. Could it be that my pictures in a similar manner may tell a story about me, the man I really am with my inner thoughts and troubles, to at least some viewers acutely attuned to reading pictures?

Riddarholmskyrkan, Stockholm's oldest church,
seen through the Colonnade

To emphasize this point and entice the readers of my book to search for inner meanings in my prints, I designed the back cover of the book as a combination of a strong poetic metaphor and one of my pictures. The picture is the one I put below the title heading above. The metaphor goes as follows:

An angel without face embraced me
and a whisper made my body tremble:
"Don't be ashamed that you are human, be proud!
Vault after vault opens endlessly within you.
You will never be complete, that's how it's meant to be."
Thomas Tranströmer, Romanesque Arches


Now to the story: Affirmation came last week, quite out of the blue. My provider of fine art paper for producing fine prints and proofs was asking me, what I intended to do with the huge supply I had ordered. To make a long story short, I sent him a PdF document of the manuscript with the pictures included.

Two days after, I got his e-mail answer, to which was attached the view you can see below. After having looked at my back cover and found that he appreciated Tranströmer's metaphor, he decided to learn it by heart and read it to a friend lying in hospital. When entering the friend's room there he suddenly saw a familiar view on the wall: the same view as he had seen on the manuscript's back cover as companion to the poem.

Painting of Colonnade, hanging on hospital room wall

Deeply touched by this miraculous event he asked me to produce for him a fine print of my back cover picture. It appeared that his friend was terminally ill. The fine print, together with Tranströmer's metaphor would be a consolation to him and help him keep his friend alive in his memory forever.

After having learnt this, I stand a bit taller. Even if he were the only one ever seeing a meaning in one of my prints, I would feel richly awarded. Now I can proceed with publishing the book with confidence. It has achieved its aim, even if not a single copy of the book will ever be sold and they all will be mouldering away in the caves. But why don't you have a look at the book? It can be seen and ordered from my website emsvision.com and bought, in Sweden, at BOKUS and Liten upplaga.

Self-portrait, Parc Woluwé St. Pierre, Brussels

Monday, 26 January 2015

STOCKHOLM WINTER


The holidays period has elapsed and we are entering the "dreary season", if I may say so. However, even in January, Stockholm is full of surprises, as concerns the weather at least. Even if the sun is sneaking above the horizon only for six hours or so, this leaves still plenty of room for picture taking.

Hammarby Sound at noon on 22 January

A surprise this year is its return to normality. For three winters now, this was not the case. Last winter was unusually warm and snow-poor, whereas the previous two winters were unusually cold and snow-rich. This year promises to bring us back to the normal Stockholm winter, with temperatures hovering around zero (Celsius) and snow falling only rarely. Usually, one or two days of snowing are followed by several days still cloudy, but dry. Eventually all whiteness is gone and thereupon snow starts falling anew.

Hammarby Sound at noon on 16 January

To show you what this does to the view from my balcony, take a look at the two pictures above. The first was taken three days ago, just after a period of light, but steady snowing. As result, a nice carpet of white "downs" is covering the scenery. Furthermore, the absence of ice on the channel testifies to mild temperature prevailing, hardly below zero.

Now consider the second picture. It was taken just six days earlier, at noon like the other one. No snow in sight! You have to look hard to see the very last traces of an earlier snowfall. If you double-click on the picture, it becomes larger and you can just barely identify tiny heaps of snow at the far left of the quay.


The days when the snow is melting away are harsh on us old-timers. They put heavy demands on the municipal snow clearing services, which they do not meet. It would be ideal to clear the snow off the sidewalks as soon as the snowfall has stopped, but this is never done around my quarters. Instead, we have to wade our way through and upwards a steep slope along Luma Street to get to the tramway. This is not difficult to do in fresh snow. The problem arises in the days that follow.

For instance, since 22 January, our sidewalks on Luma Street have been left completely untouched by the communal services. The snow trampled under our feet has become ice and the slope is at times almost unascendable and, which is worse, undescendable. Fortunately, the street itself is still being cleared, sanded and salted, so we choose to step out to it, in harsh competition with the cars, to climb or descend the slope. Shame on you, communal services!


The cycle of snow-fall and slush-meld will repeat itself a couple of times more this winter, I am afraid. The more reason to enjoy a world carpeted in white as long as it lasts. Soon enough, spring will arrive and bring us a new world of color; I will be ready to meet it, with camera on standby and full of enthusiasm for new pictures to show you on this blog!