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)

Mother, Mother Ocean, I have heard your call…

The Pirates of the Caribbean franchise has had a fine run, despite being based on a Disney theme park ride.  Opening in 1967, the ride was the last one overseen by Walt Disney himself, further evidence of the man’s Midas touch.  Johnny Depp modelled his pirate character on a mixture of Rolling Stones’ guitarist Keith Richards and the cartoon skunk Pepé Le Pew, and Disney executives were initially confused as to whether he was supposed to be drunk or gay…but didn’t care for the performance either way.  Pirates are real, of course.  The heyday of piracy in the Caribbean was between 1650 and 1730, when the heady combination of distracting wars in Europe, out-of-work sailors, and easy pickings on the open seas led to open season on merchant shipping.  Life could be nasty, brutal, and short in those days, so the prospects of quick paydays and high living drew many to the trade.  The average sailor’s life expectancy at the time was about four years, and he could count on ending life shot, hanged, stabbed to death or drowned.  I say “he”, though history records a few ladies among the crew as well.  The mighty sailing man in the photo below was riding his bike along the wharf in Oslo one day, and I envied his comfort in his own skin.  The boy may have a future in front of the camera!  (2 September, 2011 Oslo, Norway)

Stone walls and steel bars, a love on my mind, I’m a three-time loser, I’m long gone this time…

Judging from the attention these bunnies gave to the holes in their cell door, I think they were longing to try a jailbreak.  The Easter Bunny tradition came to the US with German immigrants, though back in the old country it was the Easter Hare.  The rabbit has long been associated with renewal and rebirth, thanks to its status as a prolific breeder.  In a single breeding season a female rabbit can produce as many as 800 children, grand-children, and great-grand-children!  While that’s impressive, consider the following:
– infant aphids are pregnant before they are born
– male seahorses are the ones that give birth
– a termite can produce up to 30,000 fresh house-eaters in a day, but hold on…
– each section of the tapeworm’s body can grow up to be a new tapeworm, and can produce a million baby tapeworms a day! We have a winner!  We saw the bunnies in the image below while hiking in the hills above Lake Como…their house may be a bit snug for their liking, but their view is spectacular.  (12 September, 2011  Lake Como, Italy)

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)

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)

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)

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)