Like a bridge over troubled water, I will ease your mind…

If I ever tire of looking at the Arno River in Florence, someone stick a fork in me…I’m done.  The timeless combination of moonlight, water, and stone so often creates stunning images, the kind I like to have sitting around in plain view for a mental retreat when things get stressful.  The Ponte Vecchio over the Arno River was first built in Roman times, using stone piers and a wooden superstructure that tended to wash away during floods.  It was finally rebuilt in stone in 1345, a medium which has proven to stand the test of time. The bridge was originally home to butchers, but we are told the odors of their cast-offs led to their eviction in favor of the jewelers who still occupy the bridge shops today.  In 1565, the Medicis had a private enclosed corridor built atop the shops on the bridge, giving them a safe and secure way to get from their Pitti Palace to the town hall nearby.  It is indeed so historic and picturesque that even Hitler found a soft spot in his heart for the Ponte Vecchio…at his express order, this was the only bridge over the Arno not destroyed by the Germans as they retreated from  Florence during WWII.  Check it out some time, and don’t be afraid to explore the far side of the river too…many visitors to Florence don’t venture beyond the great Duomo and Uffizi Gallery hotspots, and they’re missing so much.  (5, September, 2006  Firenze, Italy)

Oh Death, Oh Death, won’t you spare me over ’till another year…

The title comes from a traditional Appalachian dirge made famous by Dr. Ralph Stanley.  We had lived in Oslo for more than a year, and I had walked this same path almost daily.  Today a truck was parked squarely in my usual path, and the detour to the other side of the road helped me notice the tiny brass plaques for the first time.  I don’t read Norwegian, but the word “Auschwitz” resonates in any language.  On 26 November, 1942, the local police rounded up the Jewish women and children (the men being already in custody) and transported them, some in taxis, to the waiting D/S Donau at Oslo’s pier for the trip to Stettin and onward to Auschwitz.  On December 1, shortly after arrival at the camp, the women in this group were gassed…it seems the men were gassed/beaten/starved/worked to death at later dates.  After the war, taxi operators sued the Norwegian government for back-wages owed them for transporting the Jews to their points of deportation.  I haven’t been able to determine whether the cabbies prevailed in court, but I hope not.  There were roughly 2,100 Jews in Norway during occupation.  Around 900 made it over the border to Sweden, usually with the help of Norwegians.  775 of them were arrested/detained/deported.  Ten lived through the experience.  Noticing those plaques, all that is left of what was probably an extended immigrant family who lived about a block away from me in the wrong place at the wrong time, makes me wonder what else I’m walking by every day and failing to recognize.  (23 September, 2011  Oslo, Norway)

I get misty the moment you’re near…

The Industrial Revolution was one of those game-changing periods in human history when life was altered so thoroughly for so many as to be essentially unrecognizable to previous generations, and the Revolution was powered by burning coal.  Coal in the nineteenth century ran the machines and also heated the houses in the great cities that were being built, like London.  In today’s London, it’s worth climbing to the top of St. Paul’s for the spectacular view, but in the winter of 1901 smog limited the average visibility to half a mile.  Street intersections were blocked due to lack of visibility, busses were abandoned as unsafe to drive, and people literally walked into the posts of street-lamps during the daytime.  The smoky air was of course nothing new…Londoners had been burning coal and irritating lungs as far back as 1272 when King Edward I banned the burning of sea coal.  He got nowhere with that, and neither did Richard III or Henry V when they attempted to legislate for clean air.  The smog phenomenon even contributed to our understanding of evolution.  Before the Industrial Revolution when the air was still relatively clean, the peppered moth was a mostly white-winged creature that hid in plain view among the lichens on trees in London.  After two hundred years of ever-increasing soot deposits on the trees, the moths evolved to feature dark-colored wings to help them hide on the darkened trees.  By 1952, the air was so putrid that more than 4,000 Londoners were killed by smog over a four-day period…leading a few years later to one of the first effective Clean Air Acts the world has known.  These days I find the air in London unremarkable, which is of course much nicer than “chewy”.  The peppered moth is having another go with evolution, changing back to the good, old-fashioned light-colored version of itself.  The image below is of my hometown, where we do have issues with air pollution still, but on this occasion the mist was just a lovely fog rising from the Cumberland River.  (1 December, 2009  Nashville, Tennessee)

And forget about game, I’ma spit the truth! I won’t stop ’till I get ’em in they birthday suit…

Glad I finally got a chance to name-check Luda!  The image in question is one of a series of sculptures by the great Norwegian artist Skule Waksvik, appropriately called “Lady at the Wharf” as it is installed at Oslo’s harbor, the Aker Brygge.  Norwegians value public art as I have mentioned before, and many of Waksvik’s sculptures are installed around the city and the country.  Although some may consider the frank nudity of his voluptuous models a trifle off-putting, I enjoy his work as sincere expressions of appreciation for the female form.  If you’d like to learn a bit more about Waksvik, and indeed about Norway in general, check out the great blog by RennyBA here (don’t worry, he writes in English for the benefit of his broader audience).  (31 August, 2011  Aker Brygge, Oslo, Norway)

Keeps me searching for a heart of gold, and I’m getting old…

They’re California gold tokens, souvenirs peddled to newcomers and tourists who wanted a piece of the action…but didn’t necessarily want to pan for it.  The family story about this pair is that a relative went out to San Francisco around the time of the Gold Rush, probably to see about getting rich quickly, and ended up working at the US Mint for a few years before hustling on back to God’s country.  Seems the vast majority of people who got rich during the Gold Rush did so by selling things like supplies, shelter and “comfort” to the miners.  The little tokens came to Tennessee with him to live their sheltered lives in drawers and jewelry boxes, handed down through the generations as though they were crown jewels, though in reality they might be worth the cost of a couple of beers today in Oslo.  Like most things I guess, the real value lies in the story, not the possession.  (13 July, 2011  Brentwood, Tennessee)

Lean on me…

These girls come to mind when I think of Vigeland Park and the work of Norway’s most famous sculptor.  They look fierce and fearless, a young posse ready and eager to conquer their world together.  The grouping is a part of the largest sculpture park in the world created by a single artist, including over two hundred works in bronze, granite, and iron.  In 1924, the city of Oslo made a deal with Gustav Vigeland: they had taken the property where his old studio stood, and in return they gave him a huge central park for his studio and support for life.  From then until his death in 1943, he and his assistants worked to realize his interpretation of the Human Condition using sculpture, a fountain, gardens, and the layout of the park itself.  The resulting park is a triumph of creative vision, and one of the most popular attractions in Norway’s capital city.  It can’t go on my bucket list since I live here, but you might consider it for yours.  (20 August, 2011  Vigeland Park, Oslo, Norway)

I’ll be sittin’ when the evening comes…

While Otis Redding left behind a lot of music, most folks know him for Sittin’ On The Dock Of The Bay.  It’s rare that I don’t think of that song if I’m near the water at sunrise or sunset…the combination of a space in time, slapping waves, and that low angle of the sun just cries for contemplation with backing blues.  Otis wrote the song with the great guitarist, songwriter and producer Steve Cropper (Booker T & the MGs) and recorded it three days before a plane crash took him in Lake Monona, near Madison, Wisconsin.  It was his first and only Number One single, and it was never supposed to be released because it wasn’t a finished cut.  When Otis whistles the last verse at the end of the song, he did so because the last verse wasn’t written yet…his whistle was just a placeholder until they could come back and “do it right”.  Thanks Otis, I think what you left us works just fine.  Oh, and if you don’t know Otis very well, could I suggest Try A Little Tenderness and I’ve Been Loving You Too Long…you might have heard of those too.  The image below was shot at the old Brygge on a lovely evening with friends in Bergen, Norway.  (16 August, 2011  Bergen, Norway)

Eye in the Sky…

I think the Pantheon in Rome might be the most beautiful building in the world.  Built sometime around the first century AD, its dome is still the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome.  Think about that for a moment.  In two thousand years no one has been able to equal or exceed the engineering and architectural prowess of a bunch of guys wearing bedsheets and doing the math in their heads.  Concrete is made with aggregate (little stones), and the Romans apparently used lighter volcanic stones as they went higher to maintain the strength while reducing the weight.  Technical notions aside, it also possesses for me unequaled simplicity and beauty of lines.  The list of buildings modelled on the Pantheon would run to pages, and includes Jefferson’s Monticello as well as the Wyatt center on the campus of Vanderbilt University in my hometown.  By the way, the “eye in the sky” refers to the oculus in the center of the dome which lets hot air out and daylight in.  Go see it some time.  (18 September, 2006  Rome, Italy)

There’s a bathroom on the right…

It’s funny how you can go through life being absolutely sure of something, only to find you’ve been dead-wrong all along.  Song lyrics are a classic example, as with CCR’s “bad moon on the rise”.  Great song, nothing to do with bathrooms!  Photographs can be prime material for correcting some of those “false memories” too…several times I have revisited photos from some past event, only to find I was quite mistaken about who had been there or even where “there” was!  Thank God for photography.  The image is of the Cathedral in Florence, more properly known as the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, shot with a great moon and a steady tripod.  (7 September, 2006  Florence, Italy)

Dem bones gonna rise again…

One thing I find so cool about Italy is how you can drive through almost deserted countryside to some sleepy hill town that looks like it couldn’t keep a McDonald’s in business and discover a staggeringly huge and gorgeous cathedral.  It seems every little Italian village in the middle ages somehow found the means to erect these towering monuments to faith, and they are scattered about like confetti.  The Cathedral of Orvieto, where we shot this architectural detail (from the Messianic Prophecies on the second pier by Maitani), is a prime example.  Begun in 1290, it took them almost three centuries to finish the thing, so long that the style changed from Romanesque to Italian Gothic along the way.  Popes came and went, as did Master Builders, wars were won and lost, and still they carried on.  Now, that’s devotion.  (9 September, 2006  Orvieto, Umbria, Italy)