Sunrise, Sunset, swiftly flow the days…

Sometimes you just need to shut up and let the photos speak for themselves…(5 October, 2011  Oslo, Norway)

(14 October, 2011  Oslo, Norway)

(18 October, 2005  Maui, Hawaii)

(29 May, 2006  Chicago, Illinois)

(17 September, 2011  Firenze, Italy)

(18 October, 2005  Maui, Hawaii)

(24 December, 2007  Lebanon, Tennessee)

(16 September, 2011  Firenze, Italy)

(15 September, 2011  Manarola, Italy)

(5 October, 2011  Oslo, Norway)

(2 November, 2003 Smoky Mountains, Waynesville, North Carolina)

(9 October, 2011 Amsterdam, The Netherlands)

(25 October, 2011  Baltimore, Maryland)

(27 April, 2005 Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois)

(18 October, 2005  Maui, Hawaii)

(13 September, 2005  Manarola, Italy)

(29 May, 2006  Chicago, Illinois)

It’s only half-past twelve, but I don’t care…

It’s five o’clock somewhere, according to Alan Jackson and Jimmy Buffett and probably this guy anchored out in front of the Oslo Opera House one sunny afternoon.  You may think, like I did, that the Jolly Roger he’s flying just below Norway’s flag is just another creation of Disney.  As it turns out, this is one case where Hollywood actually studied history rather than inventing it.  The “skull and crossbones on a black field” design actually dates as far back as 1687, and it was apparently widely used by pirates from that time forward to let their intended victims know that there was a new sheriff in town. The pirates hoped that by thus signaling their lawless intent they would bluff the hapless merchantmen into giving up without a fight.  If simply “showing the colors” didn’t work, they had another flag they would run up to reinforce the message…the red flag.  That second flag declared “…and we aren’t taking any prisoners if we have to fight you”.  The message must have been clearly understood in 1720 when a pirate sailed into harbor in Newfoundland flying the Jolly Roger, whereupon the crew of all 22 vessels at anchor abandoned ship in great haste!  Sometimes the simplest messages are the most effective.  (22 August, 2011 Oslo, Norway)

Please don’t bury me down in the cold, cold ground…

Not everyone gets buried, you know.  The sculpture in the image below is one of a series entitled Pieta by the Belgian artist Jan Fabre.  His is a disturbing vision, replete with insects crawling all over Jesus’ body and that of Mary, herself not a grieving mother but Death itself.  His aim was not to offend, but to represent a mother’s true feelings when she “yearns to take the place of her dead son”.  The bugs made me think immediately of the original Body Farm at the University of Tennessee.  If you’re not familiar with this charming place, human bodies are scattered about here in various stages of decomposition and predation by scavengers, studied and documented intently by people with stronger stomachs than I possess.  While not pleasant to contemplate, the knowledge gained here is critically important to forensic pathologists, police, and others seeking to unravel the mysteries of the unexplained death.  The myriad CSI-Wherever shows would lead you to believe the science of crime has been long understood, but to the contrary…while there are now a number of such places in the US, would you believe it was not until 1981 that this first open air lab was created just outside Knoxville?  So the next time the beautiful medical examiner hooks up with the handsome detective after putting the time of death at roughly six o’clock…she owes something to that little garden of death in east Tennessee.  (20 September, 2011  Venice, Italy)

Bring the bacon baby, I’ve got the wintertime blues…

The title comes from a hilarious and spot-on song by John Hiatt, an anthem to the plague of Seasonal Affective Disorder or SADD.  Like many maladies once thought to be the exclusive purview of old wives, SADD is now a commonly accepted mental disorder thought to affect up to ten percent of the population in some northern regions.  As the days get longer here, tempers get shorter, you tend to overeat and oversleep…if you’re not careful you emerge like Punxsutawney Phil in the spring fat, crabby, and in serious need of orthodontia.  Treatments include light therapy, melatonin supplements, and even couch time with Dr. Feelgood, but what seems to work best for me is exercise and being out and about as much as possible.  That seems to be the regime that Norwegians have worked out over time…they embrace the outdoors in the winter like a religion, regardless of weather or temperature they are hiking or skiing or even just sitting outside the cafes on sheepskins soaking it up.  Like I always say, when in Rome…eat all the gelato you can find, that stuff is awesome!  (5 October, 2011  Oslo, Norway)

Doctor, my eyes…Tell me what is wrong…

Venetians have a long tradition of using masks to cloak their identity, and the masks themselves are truly works of art.  The practice arose during Carnival, though it became useful on any occasion when the wearer desired to disguise their identity and social status…to mingle with the herd, party-down without consequences.  There are many stock characters based on theater or folktales or simply tradition, and the artisans in the narrow alleyway shops skillfully apply paints, gold leaf, and feathers or other baubles to make each a unique artistic statement.  The guys with the long beaks are called Plague Doctors, and the costume is typically completed by a black tri-corner hat and a flowing black cloak.  Unsurprisingly, the term “plague doctor” comes to us courtesy of the Black Death.  Back in the day before science and Big Pharma had solved all our problems, the bubonic plague was thought to be caused by “miasma” or bad air, and the plague doctor protected himself against infection by stuffing that long beak full of nice-smelling goodies.  Turns out the plague is a bacterial infection, passed along by the nibbles of fleas or their hosts and running-buddies the rats, and for all we know both the rats and the fleas may have quite enjoyed their lilac-scented plague doctor lunch.  In any case, being plague doctor was a somewhat hazardous occupation, though I imagine you did have job security going for you.  So that’s the relationship between Venetian party masks, the role of the artist in the modern economy, and job security in the Middle Ages!  (19 September, 2011  Venice, Italy)

I got friends in low places…

Everyone’s been the new guy somewhere, so you know how much it can mean to be warmly welcomed.  When my good friend Don moved down to Tennessee from Ohio, he found a job working for a construction crew.  His first day on the job involved being on the road for hours with his new boss, whom he’d never met.  So Don shows up and introduces himself to Boss, who responds “Great.  Another chicken-eatin’ bastard from Ohio.  Get in the car”.  Don says there wasn’t a lot of talk in the car on the way to wherever, oddly enough.  Yep, setting the tone is so important for geting people off to a good start!  That’s Don in the photo below, standing on a bridge in Dublin wondering how long it’s going to take me to take a picture already…Christ!  We may have been over-served by an apprentice Irish bartender the night before, it can sap your patience.  (24 June, 2004  Dublin, Ireland)

There’s a lipstick sunset, smeared across the August sky…

When John Hiatt sings “maybe love’s like that for me, maybe I can only see as you take away the light”, he’s wondering if love is recognizable only as it fades, like a sunset is only visible as the light is leaving.  The man knows about pain, and I imagine so does the guy rowing in the image below.  If you’ve never tried rowing as an exercise, I can’t say I recommend it.  Rather, I’d advise you to sit down until the feeling passes…rowing is a lot of work!  If you’re looking for exercises that burn lots of calories though, rowing is right up there with running, aerobics, playing basketball, and my new favorite- cross-country skiing!  There are more than 90 kilometers of ski trails lit by floodlights just in Oslo, and skiing them is free!  When you live like we do in a city second only to Tokyo as the most expensive place on earth, you have a keen interest in anything that is free.  So, keep your rowing and bring on the skiing, and we’ll both be happy with the bargain!  (16 September, 2011 Arno River, Firenze, Italy)

…waiting for someone to say “hello in there, hello”…

The great John Prine wrote that song about old people, when he was quite a young man and shouldn’t have known as much as he seems to have about the human condition.  To me, the image below is not just the face of age, but also the face of want.  A volcano erupted in Iceland recently, disturbed a lot of flights in Europe and caused vacation consternation, but it’s not the first time that happened there.  In 1783 the Laki volcano started an eight-month eruption cycle with unbelievable consequences for Iceland, and indeed the world.
Iceland: 25% of the population died from starvation and fluoride poisoning, as well as 80% of the sheep and 50% of cattle and horses.  They literally have never recovered.
Europe: an estimated 120 million long tons of sulphur dioxide was emitted, with amazing consequences to the weather.  They had long, hard winters, absurdly hot summers, record crops and crop failures…in short the weather was off the hook, and not in a B-52s “party in the Love Shack” kind of way.
World at Large:  nerds with too much time on their hands and a keen grasp of statistics will tell you that North America had one of its worst winters ever, that the monsoon in India and Africa failed leading to famine in Egypt that cost it one-sixth of its population, and that the general poverty and famine due to the freakish weather contributed to the French Revolution.
This sculpture by Rolf Lunde, called Tårnpeter, stands in Oslo outside the National Gallery. (30 August, 2011  Oslo, Norway)

They tell me I’m free, to find someone new. I just don’t have the heart, because I gave mine to you…

Before the discovery of oil, going down to the sea in ships was the best, if not safest, occupation in Norway.  Some people are called by the lure of the sea, while for some it’s simply a question of mouths to feed at home, but fishing checks in as the deadliest occupation worldwide and in almost every country that has a commercial fishery.  For much of its history, the primary occupation for most of Norway’s men was also the most dangerous job in the world… we assume leading to a disproportionately large population of widows.  As the country has been desperately poor for much of its history, this means a lot of poor widows as well.  I think this may contribute to Norwegians’ well-known stoicism.  They have much experience with hard work, loss, and picking yourself up and moving on when tragedy strikes, as it has often for them over the centuries.  These thoughts ran through my mind when I came across this statue on the edge of some woods near Oslo.  I don’t know the artist’s mind, but I see this young woman holding her infant son as a fisherman’s wife, her expression slightly anxious but also resolved.  I imagine her keeping the home fires burning, and dealing with what had to be dealt with if it came, and running through my head is Gary Burr’s song about what happens when you’ve made a promise to someone who’s gone.  (30 August, 2011 Ekebergparken, Oslo, Norway)