I go out walkin’ after midnight, out in the moonlight…

We shot the image below out walkin’ after midnight in Amsterdam.  You’re probably thinking “stoners oozing out of the coffee shops, headed to the red light district to spend some time with a stranger who loves them”. It’s that too, of course, but it’s not just that.  There is so much more to this fun, vibrant, and attractive city, so compact and such a pleasure to explore. Numerous canals ring the city, beautiful architecture from Renaissance to modern is all about, and the laid-back residents seem proud and happy to show off their town.  The Van Gogh Museum is just the place to deepen your understanding of and appreciation for his tortured genius.  It’s arranged to lead the visitor through Vincent’s life and development as an artist, and showcases not just famous works but also the sketches and lesser paintings made while he was learning his craft.  Nearby, the Rijksmuseum features art from the Golden Age of Dutch painters.  Countless Rembrand’s including Night Watch live here, along with some of the greatest hits from Ruysdael, Jan Steen, Frans Hals, and four of the thirty-seven Vermeers known to exist.  Around the corner is the little house where Anne Frank lived her short but meaningful life, hidden from the Nazis by her father’s Dutch employees at their considerable peril.  If you’re not very good at math, or I guess if you’re feeling lucky, there’s even a casino in the neighborhood that will be happy to accept your donations.  The eye-popping glories of Holland’s nurseries await you in the gorgeous flower market, and you can even get your raw herring on in season…I tried it, you can have my life’s share!  So much to see and do, such friendly people in a city easy to get to and easy to get around.  And the coffee shops are still open, if you just want to sit slack-jawed and drooling on a park bench and do a little navel-gazing!  (8 October, 2011  Amsterdam, The Netherlands)

Lately, newspaper mentioned cheap airfare. I’ve got to fly to St. Somewhere, I’m close to bodily harm…

That’s from Jimmy Buffett’s Boat Drinks, a song that instantly transports me to the land of sunshine, wind on the water, and a criminally under-developed sense of personal responsibility.  It wasn’t until we moved to Norway and experienced long northern European winters first-hand that I gained a full appreciation for “This mornin’, I shot six holes in my freezer.  I think I got cabin fever, somebody sound the alarm”.  The sun may not come out to play for weeks on end, only to suddenly pounce and sear the retinas like a Class 4 laser.  The oppressive cold seeps into your bones, until you scurry like startled cockroaches from errand to errand whenever you absolutely must go outside.  Nights at home are dominated by comfort food, couch-camping, and fervent worship of Television Almighty.  If the grocery stores should fail to open for two days, I fully expect my neighbors to enthusiastically take up canibalism.  Times like these, St. Anywhere would be a good alternative!  You study old vacation photographs obsessively, desperately trying to remember the taste of warm sunshine.  Holiday packages anywhere south of the equator get intense scrutiny, and your standards for personal safety plummet (sure, they call them “warlords”, but is it really worse than Jersey? ).  In the end, it becomes like most trying times: bear what you must, live in the moments cherishing the good times, and know that there’s a better day a-comin’.  The image below is one of those that are lovingly pressed to the heart…a warm summer day hiking above the Aurlandsfjorden in Norway, wonderful friends, and sunshine on my shoulder.  (18 August, 2011  Aurland, Norway)

When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie, that’s amore…

God knows, I love listening to Dean Martin.  Here, have a sip of vintage Dino…That’s Amore clip.  He was born Dino Paul Crocetti, to Italian immigrant parents in Ohio, and spoke only his father’s dialect of Italian until he went to school.  He was, and still is to me, the King of Cool.  Sweetie and I went to the land of his father on our honeymoon, and this image was taken while we were in Florence howling at the moon.  Sweetie was a breech baby, born backwards and we fear she hasn’t changed since.  She has what the Prophet Omega termed “crossed-up condition”…tends to say “right” when she means “left” and so on.  Smart as a whip, but does things backwards.  We did the honeymoon first, followed with the wedding reception some months later, then went to the Grove Park Inn and were married!  It was just the two of us and the padre, in the garden of a home that hosted F. Scott Fitzgerald and in which Nina Simone took piano lessons.  So, I guess I’m backwards now too, and the only thing I’d do differently is to do it all again!  And if anyone’s looking for a honeymoon recommendation, try Florence and the Arno River by moonlight…and bring a little Dean Martin with you to set a fine romantic mood.
(5 September, 2006  Arno River, Firenze, Italy)

God, don't you love Dean Martin!

We live in a land where silence is King…

When Gary Burr sang Silence is King, he might have been thinking about Manarola.  It’s the second smallest of the five tiny seaside villages that make up Italy’s Cinque Terre, and is inundated by the tourist hordes during daylight hours. The poor permanent inhabitants must hold their collective breath during each day’s onslaught, but at night peace and a more soothing pace returns to remind them why they stay. By dark-thirty, as they sit on their porches overlooking the Ligurian Sea, sipping wine and talking in low murmurs, the only sound’s the wind and the water far below.  Liguria is a coastal region of Italy, bounded by France to the west and Tuscany to the east.  It has been variously ruled by Romans, Byzantines, Lombards, Franks, Saracens, Normans, Milanese, French (repeatedly), Austrians, Sardinians, and of course the Germans…that’s a lot of national anthems to memorize!  Today, its people are Italians to the outside world, but as you find often in Italy many see themselves more as Ligurians, or even Manarolans.  After all, history has shown them the flags may change, but you still have to go down to the harbor to get the freshest seafood!  Go see the place at night some time…  not so many lights, but they are employed to effect.  (14 September, 2011  Manarola, Liguria, Italy)

Now she’s gone and I don’t worry, Lord I’m sittin’ on top of the world…

Sitting on Top of the World (Sitting on Top clip) has been recorded about a zillion times, but the version I heard first and fell in love with was sung by Jimmy Martin on the second Circle album from the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band.  In the image below, ant-like people scurry atop Preikestolen (Preacher’s Pulpit) in Norway.  I’ve written about the place before…a chunk of rock sitting about 1,800 feet above cold, hard water.  Have you ever been close to the edge of some precipice, maybe a building top or high bridge, and had this feeling that if you stay long some irresistible urge would lead you to jump off?  Not because you wanted to do so, but out of some weird misfiring of synapses in your brain?  You would not be alone.  Many people have this sensation, and I felt it myself atop Preikestolen.  Not the fear of falling off…the fear of jumping!  In “The Imp of the Perverse”, Edgar Allan Poe describes it as carrying out an act simply because we know we should not- the imp that sits on your shoulder and whispers self-destructive encouragement in your ear.  Poe had issues of his own, no doubt, but the man also had creative genius.  He is usually credited as the inventor of the genre of detective fiction, paving the way for generations to enjoy crime-solving maestros from Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes to Dan Brown’s Robert Langdon (“the Da Vinci Code”).  So, if you read detective fiction, you might want to check out Poe’s short stories featuring the Parisian detective C. Auguste Dupin so you can see where it all came from.  And if you might enjoy a rollicking old bluegrass standard, give the Dirt Band’s Circle Volume II some ear time…I think you’ll be glad you did.  (15 August, 2011  Preikestolen, Rogaland, western Norway)

Sky, sky, blue and black…

Jackson Browne was talking about how true love hangs in through thick and thin, whether you have sunny blue skies or ugly black ones.  Black skies are not too tough to figure out, they result from the absence of light…night.  But what makes the sky blue?  To answer that question, you have to know something about the nature of light.  Sunlight is composed of different colors (wavelengths) of light…maybe you’ve seen this when the morning sun shines through a piece of crystal, breaking the light into that pretty array (spectrum) of red, orange, yellow, green, blue and violet.  Moving from the red toward the blue end of the lineup, those wave forms become shorter, smaller.  It turns out the little blue waves scatter more easily than the reds when they encounter bits of dust, water vapor, political ads and other trash on their journey from the sun to our eyes.  So we look up, and all those crazy blue particles of light are bouncing around willy-nilly, while the reds and oranges are marching on locked in on target.  Our eyes see blue, blue, blue…hey, it’s all blue up there, apparently!  But what about sunset?  It’s usually some form of red, right?  Well, the sunlight coming to our eyes at sunset is really low down there on the horizon, which means the light has to travel through even more of our messy atmosphere, down low where the dust particles are bigger, water molecules more rampant, and politician yap more intense.  By this time the blue particles of light are pretty much beaten into submission, out of the game, and even the big boys…the reds and yellows and golds…are getting kicked around and scattered about.  To our eyes, the blue bits are gone and we we see the colors that are still there bouncing around, and we grab the camera because it’s just so pretty.  So the next time you get The Blues from too many Tequila Sunrises, you can just blame all the Dust In The Wind!  (16 September, 2011  Firenze, Italy)

I once had a girl, or should I say, she once had me…

If you get curious, as I did, you can look in the Itunes store and find 606 versions of The Beatles’ song Norwegian Wood on offer.  First released on Rubber Soul in 1965, it is a simple and beautiful song on which the great George Harrison plays a sitar, the first time any rock band had done so.  Some argue that the song’s lyrics are trivial, but such was the case for most of the music of the day (and maybe for all days).  Lennon was the primary writer assisted by McCartney, and oddly enough it’s not about Norway at all…it’s about a girl Lennon was fooling around with who decorated her place using cheap Norwegian wood furnishings, which he lit on fire when he trashed the place at the end of the song!  Not a very kindly message for a song that is so gentle on the ears.  I stumbled across my favorite version of the song, literally, while checking out the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga with Sweetie a few years ago.  Dan Landrum was playing the song on his hammer dulcimer outside, busking for tips and CD sales; I bought one of everything he had.  If you’ve never heard anyone play a hammer dulcimer, I strongly suggest you start with Dan- a virtuoso at the top of his game.  The image below was shot on hike in the quiet and gentle Norwegian woods near Oslo, where Landrum’s hammer dulcimer would not be out of place.  (24 September, 2011 Sognsvann, Norway)

My mind ain’t nothin’ but a total blank, I think I’ll just stay here and drink…

In these days of political correctness and obfuscation, it’s refreshing to come across the Queen’s English plainly spoken, as you frequently do in Australia.  Australia’s coast is rocky, rough, and littered with the wreckage of ships that were blown or blundered ashore…or in the case of the Queen of Nations in 1881, unintentionally beached in a legendary bout of drunken confusion. The ship carried a cargo of mostly wine and distilled spirits, for which the captain and crew had a great enthusiasm.  According to the official commemorative marker, the “hopelessly drunk” captain mistook a brushfire in the hills above Corrimal beach for the lights of Sydney some 90 kilometers away and ordered an ill-considered turn to port…whereupon the good ship and crew ran immediately aground to general consternation.  The plaque cheerfully continues that only one crew was drowned during evacuation due to the stalwart efforts of the “equally intoxicated” first mate.  Well-done, Australia, tell it like it is!  The image below was shot a few miles away near the site of another nautical come-apart along the Shipwreck Coast.  (30 March, 2011  Port Campbell, Victoria, Australia)

On the road again…

Today’s world is, for the most part, mapped-out and sign-posted to a fare-thee-well.  You can still get lost if you work at it, and I can recommend some woods in Norway if such is your desire, but the days of setting out literally into the great unknown are behind us here on Earth…and our current understanding of physics pretty well rules out human exploration of even our nearest other planets.  Thus, it’s hard to imagine the mindset of a handful of hearty Vikings who set out around 986 to establish a settlement in North America.  Yep, American schoolkids still sing songs about Columbus, but nearly five hundred years earlier a bunch of guys in furry nightgowns and funny hats beat his expedition to the New World.  Columbus at least had the magnetic compass and dead-reckoning to help him wander across the Atlantic.  No one knows for sure what tools the Vikings employed during their voyage to God-knows-what, but there is speculation that they took caged crows along with them…once released the crow would presumably fly towards the nearest land and Leif and the boys would toodle along after.  I don’t know whether to think they were immensely brave, or just lacked better options back home, but crows??? I get cranky when my GPS doesn’t know road names in Greece (the Greeks don’t seem to sure either)…guess I would probably have stayed on the porch while the Viking big dogs were out on the prowl!  The image below was shot on a hike with friends in western Norway, the trail being marked in the usual Norwegian fashion.  (15 August, 2011  Preikestolen, Rogaland, Norway)

All that we see or seem, is but a dream within a dream…

Edgar Allan Poe might be best known for the raven that croaks “Nevermore”, but there was a lot more to the guy.  He was one of the first American authors to try to make a living from writing, but it didn’t work out any better for him than it has for the majority that followed.  Hunter Thompson called writing “the most hateful kind of work”, comparing it to sex: fun for amateurs, but not so much when it’s your paying gig (“Old whores don’t do much giggling”).  Known in life mostly as a critic of others’ writings, Poe also tried making it with journalism, poetry, and even invented the detective story genre with his character C. Auguste Dupin.  Sherlock Holmes’ creator Conan Doyle said of Poe “each [of his stories] is a root from which a whole literature has developed…”  He married his 13 year-old cousin Virginia, got kicked out of West Point, was disowned by his semi-adoptive father, and died young after being found passed-out-drunk (maybe?) in a Baltimore gutter…one of the original bad boys of Western literature.  My title is from a poem in which he questions the reality of existence, while my image was shot on a dreamy summer afternoon biking the upper reaches of a placid Norwegian lake.  (8 August, 2011  Sognsvann, Oslo, Norway)