Friday, 31 December 2010

Happy New Year 2011!



“My only regret in life is that I did not drink more Champagne.” 
Last words of John Maynard Keynes, English economist

Today the name of the wine is, of course, champagne!

And the music is this.

PS
Maybe we can agree, that on new year´s eve, we are all Keynesians!

Thursday, 30 December 2010

Simple pleasures nr 9: Free audio books

Do you want to listen to Aldous Huxley read his "Bave New World", Hemingway reading a short story or tens of other great books -  for free? Sounds too good to bee true, but actually the outstanding Open Culture site offers all that - and much more. I just finished listening to Jane Austen´s Pride and Prejudice, which has always been one of my personal favourites, also as a video (the one with Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle). It is true that many of the audiobooks are read by volunteers, not professional actors, but still, this is a wonderful resource for friends of good literature.

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

My "Oscar" for lifetime achievement goes to Clint Eastwood



Every movie I make teaches me something, and that's why I keep making them. I'm at that stage of life when I could probably stop and just hit golf balls. But in filming these two movies about Iwo Jima, I learnt about war and about character. I also learnt a lot about myself.
Clint Eastwood

Clint Eastwood (born 31 May 1930) is one of my greatest living film heroes. His over 50 year long involvement with films is unrivalled, with a multitude of roles, covering everything from early action movies - like Dirty Harry - to the under-appreciated boxing trainer in the Million Dollar Baby. And additionally Eastwood is a member of the very exclusive "club" of actors who also have managed to be succesful film directors. He has directed over 30 films.(Among my personal favorites are Eastwood´s two Iwo Jima films, Flags of Our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima.)

Watch Eastwood as Harry Callahan in this famous scene:






The Telegraph did an interesting interview earlier this year, when Eastwood turned 80.

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Two Psalms from the Scottish Psalter of 1650



Youtube is a wonderful resource. Without it I would probably not have learned to know these two beautiful psalms from the Scottish Psalter of 1650. Both are here sung a capella, which I think adds to the warm and intimate feeling. Listen and see if you share my admiration.

Psalm 147
Psalm 103

For those interested, here is some more information about the Scottish Psalter of 1650.

Monday, 27 December 2010

Anna Moffo - the ideal Violetta


The Italian-American lyric-coloratura soprano Anna Moffo (1932-2006) was the ideal Violetta in Verdi´s La Traviata. Moffo, who sang altogether 80 performances as the courtesan at the Met and in many other leading opera houses, was known for her "beauty, brains and a shimmering, radiant soprano", wrote the Met´s Opera News Online in its obituary.

Elizabeth Forbes, writing in the Independent, highlighted Moffo´s Violetta:

In many ways, Violetta was her finest role. Most singers who tackle Verdi's frail heroine excel either in the coloratura of the first act, or in the lyrical music of the second and third. Moffo, who could let off vocal fireworks with the greatest ease, and whose lyrical phrasing was a constant delight, excelled in both. The complete authenticity of her appearance naturally added a great deal of pathos to her interpretation.

Fortunately, for friends of Italian opera, there is a musically and visually radiant version of La Traviata  on DVD with Moffo in her signature role together with tenor Franco Bonisolli and baryton Gino Bechi. The film was directed in 1968 by Moffo´s then husband Mario Lanfranchi. If you do not have this DVD, I urge you to buy it. Anna Moffo is stunning and the other singers are also very good. And how refreshing it is to enjoy the sheer beaty of a production that is true to the music and the libretto! Not, like so often nowadays in opera, with singers performing the beatiful original music, but dressed in nazi uniforms or some other kind of strange outfits.

Here is an excerpt from the DVD:

Saturday, 25 December 2010

Why is contemporary classical music so boring?

(Arvo Pärt)

My CD music collection includes quite a number of contemporary classical music recordings, which I have aquired for different reasons - some because I have happened to know the composers or performers personally. However, at this point in time I have to admit that I have not listened to most of these recordings more than once.

The question is: Why is contemporary classical music so uninteresting?
My answer is short: Because - in most cases - it lacks a clear melodic line, and often also a rhytmic pulse.

For some strange reason most contemporary composers have discarded the basic truth that enjoyable music requires both melody and rhytm. Maybe the reason is that they do not dare to compete with all the great classical masters? Or maybe they think that all beautiful melodies already have been written?

On the positive side, it must be mentioned that some living composers, like the Estonian Arvo Pärt, and the American Philip Glass are writing melodic music - which certainly must be one reason why they are quite popular. One can only hope that many more dare to return to the essence of good music!

The British composer Ian Stewart has some interesting things to say about the problems of contemporary classical music:

 What does not exist anymore, in most classical music though, is the sheer love of melody and pulsing rhythm. If you listen to good pop music, the Beach Boys and The Beatles for instance, a joy in melodic songs comes over. Even Bob Dylan's most acerbic, or embittered, songs are still melodic. Why has contemporary classical music lost this? As I wrote above, I think composers are stuck and rather than dealing with the problem, they evade it. Some contemporary classical music does have melodic themes, such as the repetitive works of composers such as Glass and Reich, and it is not surprising that they are among the most popular living classical composers. However this genre is distinct in itself and not representative of most contemporary concert music. We are now in the 21st century and, to many, the serial principles of the 20th century seem old fashioned. The total serialist composers were criticised by the more traditional music establishment, now they have become a sort of music establishment themselves. Now it is they and their supporters who are criticising music that does not comply with their austere, aesthetic rigour. To me though, music is part of the fashion world and classical music is every bit as fashion conscious as pop music. In the same way as international haute couture designers visit the streets and clubs in London, to inspire their own work, I believe classical composers will start doing the same. It is only a matter of time before the melodic forms of popular music inspire concert music again; and it is only a matter of time before there will be distinctive 21st century melodic works. Perhaps more importantly I also believe that classical composers will come up with distinctive melodic forms that will be new.

(Please note another related post here)

Friday, 24 December 2010

Christmas at Sea


My thoughts go to the thousands of ship crews all over the world who spend their Christmas far away from their families and friends. The crew of the Mærsk Ferrol - here photographed at noon today  near Helsingør - will spend their Christmas Eve on the North Sea on the way to Bremerhaven.

At Christmas Time

When  snow has fallen ant lakes are frozen
and when the eye of the sun is dim,
when forests silently lie deserted
by swallows flown to a distant clime,
a breath is warm in the winter weather
    at Christmas time!

Now none are thinking of care and sorrow
or feeling frost with its bitter bite,
a carol rings from the mouths of children
and eyes are glittering with delight,
the Christmas tree is ablaze with candles
   at Christmas time!

Good cheer our mother has spread before us
and now she gives and receives her gifts,
meanwhile the manger, the straw, the starlight
appear to eyes that belief uplifts -
and that´s why Christians are tender-hearted
   at Christmas time!

Alpo Noponen 1862-1927 (Finnish poet and writer)

Tanslation by Keith Bosley. From the book "Skating on the Sea - Poetry from Finland", Bloodaxe Books 1997

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Pueri, Concinite

This beautiful motet by Johann Ritter Von Herbeck was first performed in the Imperial Chapel in Vienna on Christmas Day 1868. Listen to the Wiener Sängerknaben perform Pueri, Concinite: 





 

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Time for Slowtech?

The New York Times technology columnist David Pogue has for ten years been writing about the latest personal tech gadgets. But even for him there seems to be a little too much of all this new technology:

it’s mind-frying to contemplate the millions of dollars and person-years that were spent on products and services that now fill the Great Tech Graveyard: Olympus M-Robe. PocketPC. Smart Display. MicroMV. MSN Explorer. Aibo. All those PlaysForSure music players, all those Palm organizers, all those GPS units you had to load up with maps from your computer.
---
Everywhere I go, I meet people who express the same reaction to consumer tech today: there’s too much stuff coming too fast. It’s impossible to keep up with trends, to know what to buy, to avoid feeling left behind.
They’re right. There’s never been a period of greater technological change. You couldn’t keep up with all of it if you tried.
Well, here’s a dirty little secret: It’s almost too much for me, too. Heck, it’s my job to stay on top of this stuff — and even for me, it’s like drinking from a fire hose. I do my best — I read all the blogs, devour the magazines, attend the conferences and listen to the PR pitches — but I sometimes feel as if I’m furiously paddling my surfboard on the top of a tsunami wave.
In other words, if you’re feeling overwhelmed, you’re not alone, and it’s O.K. to let yourself off the hook.
And for that, let us give thanks. Now, can you put down that iPad and pass the gravy?

Publisher Peter Osnos, writing in the Atlantic, seems to agree:

Facebook and the iPad were this year's champions of brilliant marketing, with Mark Zuckerberg as Time's Person of the Year -- both icon and demon at 26 -- and Steve Jobs' ascendance into a stratosphere of unmatched technical celebrity. They deserve the recognition, but as we confront the inevitable next wave of what engineers and salesmen conjure, there is a case to be made for placing our digital exploration and consumption on pause; in the meantime, happy holidays.


PS
I think there are millions of us who share the same feelings. So, maybe it´s  time for somebody to start a SLOWTECH movement?

PS 2
When writing this piece, I did not realise that there already is a Slowtech "movement", judging from this book, which sounds quite interesting.

The Salvation Army

The Salvation Army - now working in 122 countries - has since its founding in 1865 done a great job in helping the needy. Christmas is a good time to give a contribution to this important work!

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

A Winter Sunset


(click on picture to get a larger image)

This time of the year the sun sets early here in the North of Europe. I shot this image through the living room window at 4.42 PM this afteroon. Below the sinking sun you can see a glimpse of the Danish coast.

Monday, 20 December 2010

Glenn Gould


A quote:

I think that if I were required to spend the rest of my life on a desert island, and to listen to or play the music of any one composer during all that time, that composer would almost certainly be Bach. I really can’t think of any other music which is so all-encompassing, which moves me so deeply and so consistently, and which, to use a rather imprecise word, is valuable beyond all of its skill and brilliance for something more meaningful than that — its humanity.

Glenn Gould


PS
It is difficult to disagree. In my case the desert island disc would be the Goldberg variations performed by Gould. Watch and listen here, or here, to see if you agree.  

Blackbird


(Click for a larger image)

This is not going to be a bird spotting blog, but I cound not resist adding these two photos of a blackbird in my garden, which I shot a couple of minutes ago!

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Me & Bobby McGee with Janis Joplin


Janis Joplin´s life was full of problems, but in her best moments she was a great performer. My favourite has always been her version of Kris Kristofferson´s Me & Bobby McGee. Here is a rare studio rehearsal with only one guitar accompaniment.

Saturday, 18 December 2010

Lots of Snow


This winter here in northern Europe (as well as most other parts of Europe) has started with a lot of cold weather and snow causing all kinds of problems. But the snowy scenery is beautiful!



The snow makes it difficult for birds to find something to eat. Fortunately, many people feed birds during the winter months.

PS
I added two new pictures which I shot this morning (19.12.2010)



(click on images for a larger view)

Friday, 17 December 2010

The ideal Tamino

The aria "Dies Bildnis Ist Bezaubernd Schön" from the Magic Flute is without doubt one of the most beautiful arias that at least I know of. And there is no better singer than the German tenor Fritz Wunderlich (1930 - 1966) to perform it. Listen to the sheer beauty of his voice:



The Magic Flute aria is included in this wonderful CD.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Trees


Trees have fascinated me since I was a small child. (Coming from a Nordic country with a lot of trees and forests, this is probably not suprising). But, of course, people have always been fascinated by trees. Culturally the world tree - connecting heaven and earth - is an ancient symbol present in several religions and mythologies. The tree of knowledge and the tree of life are related symbols in many religions and philosophies.

Trees have also inspired thousands of poets and writers. Here are two of my favourite tree poems by Michael S. Glaser:

The Presence of Trees

I have always felt the living presence
of trees

the forest that calls to me as deeply
as I breathe,

as though the woods were marrow of my bone
as though

I myself were tree, a breathing, reaching
arc of the larger canopy

beside a brook bubbling to foam
like the one

deep in these woods,
that calls

that whispers home

A Blessing for the Woods

Before I leave, almost without noticing,
before I cross the road and head toward
what I have intentionally postponed—

Let me stop to say a blessing for these woods:
for crows barking and squirrels scampering,
for trees and fungus and multi-colored leaves,

for the way sunlight laces with shadows
through each branch and leaf of tree,
for these paths that take me in,
for these paths that lead me out.


I will not here discuss problems connected with the destruction of rainforests. However, I dould like to highlight another worrysome development:  Many valuable and useful tree species are seriously threatened.

Despite their importance over 8,000 tree species, 10% of the world's total, are threatened with extinction. Even more worryingly 1,002 species are listed as critically endangered – likely to go extinct unless urgent action is taken now to save them.

The information above and below is by The Global Trees Campaign, the only international campaign dedicated to saving threatened trees.

  • millions of people around the world rely on food, medicine or other products that can only be derived from a particular species of tree;
  • the life-cycle of many animals or plants is inextricably tied to certain trees;
  • many timber users (both industrial and subsistence scale) need wood with special properties;
  • in many cultures, particular trees play an important spiritual role, such as the kapok tree in South America, which is believed to link heaven and earth.
PS
The Willow tree is probably the most wellknown "medical" tree - and has been so since ancient times.

Image by Zest-pk flickr

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Simple pleasures nr 8: In Praise of Idleness

Let us be lazy in everything, except in loving and drinking, except in being lazy
G. E.Lessing


Few things in this world are as misunderstood as idleness. This force for the good has not received the appreciation that it deserves. Fortunately there are signs of things improving:

Watch this great video - it might change your life (to the better).

The philosopher Bertrand Russell did appreciate idleness. He even wrote en essay with the title "In Praise of Idleness" 

The French seem to have enjoyed the idea of lazyness already in Medieval times. The French economist, writer and psychoanalyst Corinne Maier has continued this noble French tradition in her best selling book "Bonjour Laziness: Jumping Off the Corporate Ladder" .

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Simple pleasures nr 7: Small Museums

(Image by Bagatti Valsecchi Museum)


It is true that most of the great masterpieces of different art forms are to be found in the the big and famous museums in London, Paris, New York, Rome, Berlin and many other cities. But I am probably not the only one who does not like to stand and wait in long lines before being able to actually enter a museum. That is one reason why I nowadays prefer to visit smaller museums, wherever I go. There are thousands of fascinating small museums in every corner of the world, waiting to be explored. No lines at the entrance, and sometimes no entrance fee either. And inside you can look at the most interesting objects without being disturbed by hundreds of other visitors and noisy groups. The staff in these small museums are often friendly volunteers, who are most willing to answer your questions and tell you interesting stories about the exhibits and the museum in general. I remember for example a fascinating discussion that I had with a volunteer - an arts student - in the magnificent Bagatti Valsecchi Museum in Milan a couple of years ago.

There are many fine small museums in the world, but here my own favourites:


                                  A brief presentation of Sir John Soane´s Museum:



                                 
                            A brief presentation of the Bagatti Valsecchi Museum:





                             A brief presentation of the Morgan Library & Museum:





A brief presentation of the Galleria Borghese:


Monday, 13 December 2010

How Great Thou Art

The hymn "How Great Thou Art" is, deservedly, one of the most popular Christian songs. Most people outside of Sweden probably do not know that a Swedish lay preacher, politician and author Carl Boberg (1859-1940) wrote the original lyrics - a poem -  in 1886. Soon the poem was matched to an old Swedish folk tune, with the first church performance in the Swedish province of Värmland in 1888.

In 1907 the hymn was translated into German by a wealthy Baptist nobleman, Manfred von Glehn, who lived in Estonia. A few years later a Russian version appeared. The British missionary Stuart K. Hine heard this version in Ukraine in 1931 and started working on an English version. Hine wrote several verses to "How Great Thou Art", the last one as late as 1948.

Many outstanding singers have recorded "How Great Thou Art" (including Elvis Presley), but nobody - in my opinion - does it better than the great Sandi Patty. Listen here, and see if you agree with me:


An old Yiddish song



Why not start the week with this classic Yiddish song, here performed by The Budapest Klezmer Band.

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Simple pleasures nr 16: Organ recitals



No wonder that the pipe organ is called “the king of instruments”. There is no mightier sound than the sound of a big organ in a medieval cathedral (although you will find outstanding organs in tiny parish churches and concert halls, too).

And there are literally thousands of organ recitals on offer in churches all over the world. The reason that this post is in the simple pleasures department is not that playing the organ would be simple – quite the contrary, of course – but because most of the recitals, often by world class organists, are either free or with very low ticket prices. This is probably due to the fact that organ music is not part of the commercially created “star” cult dominating so much of popular and parts of classical music these days.

Take for example one of the greatest living organists, Dame Gillian Weir. She toured a number of big and small Danish and Swedish cities earlier this year. To hear one such recital is so much more rewarding than most expensively priced concerts by e.g. some opera singers, who already are past their prime.

In the UK there is a great site which helps you find interesting organ concerts. Similar sites might be available in other countries.

To put you in the right mood, listen to the German organist and conductor Karl Richter play Bach´s famous toccata and fugue in D minor.

PS
The photo shows the organ of the Santa Maria della Scala in Siena (Tuscany), built c. 1515.

Saturday, 11 December 2010

About Modern and Contemporary Art

I invite you to choose between two works of art, both of which have been sold by the famous auction firm Christie´s.

Which one do you prefer?

This one :



Andy Warhol (1928-1987)

Oxidation Painting (also known as Piss painting)

( the product of Warhol and company urinating on the copper-coated canvas)

Price Realized

$1,889,000 (!)
or the one here:

The Baptism of Christ Hendrick van Balen I (Antwerp c. 1574/5-1632) and Jan Breughel II (Antwerp 1601-1678)

Price Realized

£169,250 ($260,307)

If you, as I, prefer the second one, you might be interested in reading the late British art conoisseur Kenneth Snowman´s opinion on modern and contemporary art:

One of the ugliest stains discolouring the fabric of our end of the twentieth century has been contributed by an alarming number of stuntmen masquerading as painters and sculptors with the connivance of a further number of near-illiterate critics and gallery directors, cynical dealers and ignorant patrons. The common factor which unites these pretentious individuals (present tense is sadly mandatory since the situation largely persists) is a total lack of respect for, or knowledge of, their more cultivated forebears.”

Why, indeed, should these people attempt to fulfill the demanding requirements of true astistic endeavour when they can so easily and profitably get away with fraudulent jumbles of brushstrokes
and meaningless heaps of rubbish left on the gallery floor to be admired by the simple-minded?

How many times, one cannot help wondering, have normally responsible action houses and galleries put on display non-figurative panels, painted by overpraised contemporary masters, the wrong way up? We know it happens, but not excactly how often. On how many occasions has one found examples of these pointless trivialities portentously labelled Untitled, as though the profound creativity of the artist were quite beyond the understanding of a mere member of the public? Of course, the possibility that the perpetrator could no be bothered to think up a title for his or her masterpiece cannot be entirely missed.”

Snowman wrote this in 1993, but not much has changed since that time. Although there are some signs of change in the air.

PS

For those prefering the number one choice, here is a suggestion for further reading.

Friday, 10 December 2010

The Lady Behind the World´s Most Expensive Egg


Everybody knows the name Fabergé – the jewellery firm famous for making the jewel-encrusted easter eggs for the Russian Tsar and many other objects of superior quality and beauty for royal and other well-to-do buyers. But few people know that about 75% of the people who actually designed and made these objects were Finnish (many of them Finnish-Swedes). The most famous of them, Henrik Wigström was work headmaster for Fabergé from 1903 until the firm was nationalised by the Bolsheviks in 1918. Other famous Finnish workmasters were August Holmström and his son Albert, Anders Nevalainen, August Hollming and Hjalmar Armfelt.

Among all the great masters there was only one woman, the designer Alma Theresia Pihl, who was the daughter of the Finnish Fabergé workmaster Oskar Pihl. Among the objects the talented Pihl designed are two of the most famous Fabergé eggs; the “Mosaic Easter Egg ” (1914) now owned by Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II and the “Winter Egg” (1913).

In 2002 the Winter Egg was sold by Christie´s to an anonyous buyer for the not so modest sum, $9,579,500, the highest price ever paid for a Fabergé egg.

Christie´s did not fail to mention the designer in their information material for the sale:


The Winter Egg is without doubt one of the most creative and original of the Easter eggs Fabergé made for the Tsar. It symbolizes the transition from Winter to Spring, the seed emerging into new life, the Resurrection. The Spring flowers appear as if through a frosty mist inside the Winter ice of the egg, before the egg is opened to fully reveal the surprise. Only in the first Imperial Egg, the Hen Egg of 1885 (now in the Forbes Magazine Collection), has the Easter message so clearly illustrated, but does not have the degree of realism and delicacy achieved in the Winter Egg. Many of Fabergé's Imperial eggs rely on standard rococo and neo-classical motifs, albeit superbly executed in gold and enamel, for their effect, but Alma Theresia Pihl, the designer of the Winter Egg, broke away from these conventional elements to produce a magical work of original creative genius.

The Winter Egg was made in the workshop of Albert Holmström, which mainly specialized in jewelry. His father, August Holmström, had been appointed principal jeweler to the firm of Fabergé in 1857 and on his death in 1903, he was succeeded by his son. With the inspiration of the highly talented designer, Alma Theresia Pihl, whose two pièces de résistance were the Mosaic Egg, presented in 1914 (now in The Collection of Her Majesty The Queen of England) and The Winter Egg presented in 1913 and under the direction of Albert Holmström, some of Fabergé's most outstanding works were created.


If you are interested in acquiring an original Fabergé piece, the best place is certainly Wartski in London.( But you will need a heavy wallet!) The  former owner and chairman of Wartski, Kenneth Snowman was also a great Fabergé scholar, whose books are a goldmine for those more seriously interested in exploring the world of Fabergé

PS
My own interest in Fabergé dates back to January 1994, when I saw the exhibition "Fabergé: Imperial Jeweller" at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. It was the most beautiful exhibition that I have ever seen.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Villa Mairea - Alvar Aalto´s masterpiece in Finland


Of all the houses the renowned Finnish architect Alvar Aalto designed, Villa Mairea is my own favourite. The house, which Aalto designed for his close friends Maire and Harry Gullichsen in the late 30´s is beautifully located on a hill in Noormarkku, western Finland.

The Alvar Aalto Museum has produced an excellent online exhibition of Villa Mairea, with a wealth of great photos and drawings as well is interesting commentary.

This video presentation is also visually interesting, although the spoken commentary is in Finnish and the subtitles in Spanish.

There are several excellent books on Villa Mairea. My own favourite is the one written by Richard Weston for Phaidon. For a more comprehensive resource the best choice is probably "Inside the Villa Mairea", published by The Alvar Aalto Museum and the Mairea Foundation.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

The World of Flamenco



A vigorous rhythmic dance style of the Andalusian Gypsies
Music or song suitable to accompany a flamenco dance
Merriam-Webster dictionary

There is no better ambassador for the Andalucian Flamenco than the film director Carlos Saura. He has made several beautiful films and documentaries featuring the art of flamenco. My own favourite, the documentary “Flamenco” (1995) includes perfomances of some of the best flamenco singers, dancers and guitarists. It is a musical and visual feast on the highest artistic level. Buy the DVD if you are interested in exploring the world of flamenco!

Here is an excerpt from “Flamenco” and here is another one:



PS
I just found out that Carlos Saura has made a sequel to “Flamenco”, which premiered in Madrid only a few weeks ago. The sequel Flamenco Flamenco is something to look forward to. Hopefully it will soon be available also on DVD for international audiences.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Oldies but goldies



When I was much younger than now, popular music was more interesting, mainly because the tunes had good melodies and the singers knew how to sing. And the variety on offer was remarkable; there were popular hits from many countries, e.g. Germany; Italy and France in addition to the US and UK.

Here is a small selection of my early favourites:

Guaglione (Claudio Villa)

Junge Komm Bald Wieder (Freddy Quinn)

Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien (Edith Piaf)

Nel Blu Dipinto Di blu (Domenico Modugno)

Guarda Che Luna (Olavi Virta)

Monday, 6 December 2010

The song of the Flea

While writing my previous posting I came to think of this song, performed by the great Finnish bass Kim Borg.


Simple pleasures nr 6: Flea Markets

Japanese flea market


A usually open-air market for secondhand articles and antiques
(translation of French Marché aux puces, a market in Paris)
Merriam-Webster Dictionary

Where-ever you travel in the world, you are bound to find flea markets. Some of them are not what they used to be, but there are still many where you can make great bargains.

This is an excellent site to find out about flea markets around the world.

My serious interest in flea markets began in Copenhagen, a city with many excellent markets. Here you find more information about them.

London is another city with many interesting flea markets. And, of course, the orignal flea market is in Paris.

(Image by free-photos.biz)

Sunday, 5 December 2010

A musical surprise at the shopping mall

What happens when shoppers in a mall are confronted with a musical surprise? This Canadian video has become a huge success on the internet.

Ingmar Bergman on why art lost its creative drive

Chartres cathedral on a 1950s postcard

The true work of art is but a shadow of the divine perfection
Michelangelo

The Swedish film and theatre director Ingmar Bergman refers to the building of the Chartres Cathedral in his thought-provoking essay, "The Making of Film" from 1954:

“There is an old story of how the cathedral of Chartres was struck by
lightning and burned to the ground. Then thousands of people came from
all points of the compass, like a giant procession of ants, and
together they began to rebuild the cathedral on its old site. They
worked until the building was completed–master builders, artists,
laborers, clowns, noblemen, priests, burghers. But they all remained
anonymous, and no one knows to this day who built the cathedral of
Chartres."

“Regardless of my own beliefs and my own doubts, which are unimportant
in this connection, it is my opinion that art lost its basic creative
drive the moment it was separated from worship. It severed an
umbilical cord and now lives its own sterile life, generating and
degenerating itself. In former days the artist remained unknown and
his work was to the glory of God. He lived and died without being more
or less important than other artisans; ‘eternal values,’ ‘immortality’
and ‘masterpiece’ were terms not applicable in his case. The ability
to create was a gift. In such a world flourished invulnerable
assurance and natural humility."


“Today the individual has become the highest form and the greatest
bane of artistic creation. The smallest wound or pain of the ego is
examined under a microscope as if it were of eternal importance. The
artist considers his isolation, his subjectivity, his individualism
almost holy. Thus we finally gather in one large pen, where we stand
and bleat about our loneliness without listening to each other and
without realizing that we are smothering each other to death. The
individualists stare into each other’s eyes and yet deny the existence
of each other. We walk in circles, so limited by our own anxieties
that we can no longer distinguish between true and false, between the
gangster’s whim and the purest idea.”


PS

Bergman´s message is good to keep in mind when we hear about the huge sums art collectors/nouveau riche people pay for mediocre works by overhyped contemporary artists.



Chartres Cathedral


Chartres Cathedral – reconstructed over a 26-year period after a devastating fire in 1194 - is truly one of the architectural wonders of the world. What makes it unique, is that it is almost completely preserved in its original design. No other cathedral has been so well preserved. Chartres even survived the destruction and looting that took place during the French Revolution.



Chartres Cathedral has also since the Middle Ages been – and still is – a major pilgrimage destination. Its most famous relic is the tunic of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Sancta Camisia, that was given to the cathedral by Charlemagne in the year 876.

Approaching the Chartres Cathedral by car from the North offers an additional bonus. The cathedral seems to be hovering in the air above the wheat fields. Only when you are quite close does the city become more visible.







A brief presentation of the cathedral by UNESCO:




And another excellent video by National Geographic:




Useful information about the Chartres cathedral here and here.


PS
One can only wonder, how many buildings from our age will be there for people to admire 800 or 1000 years from now? Considering the way modern buildings are constructed, it is likely that the answer is nil. But the mighty Chartres Cathedral will certainly be there even then, provided that it is not destroyed by pollution, fire or some other catastrophic event.

Saturday, 4 December 2010

"O Holy Night" sung by Jussi Björling


The great - maybe the greatest of them all - Swedish tenor Jussi Björling´s rendition of  "O Holy Night" (sung in Swedish) has been part of my Christmas as long as I can remember. There is not better version of this beautiful song!

"O Holy Night" is included in this 2CD package of some of Björling´s finest recordings.

Friday, 3 December 2010

Brideshead Revisited





"Waugh's most deeply felt novel . . . Brideshead Revisited tells an absorbing story in imaginative terms . . . Mr. Waugh is very definitely an artist, with something like a genius for precision and clarity not surpassed by any novelist writing in English in his time."
 New York Times

Best series ever
Washington Post


Evelyn Waugh´s magnificent novel was dramatised by British Granada Television in the early 80´s. The series - altogether thirteen hous of television, shot enterily on location - deservedly became a huge success, and is, at least in my opinion, unsurpassed by any other television dramatisation.

Evelyn Waugh described his novel in a note to Lady Dorothy Lygon (the original model for Lady Cordelia Flyte):

"I am writing a very beautiful book, to bring tears, about very rich, beautiful, high born people who live in palaces and have no troubles except what they make themselves and those are mainly the demons of sex and drink which, after all, are easy to bear as troubles go nowadays".

Sadly, the technical quality of the complete series discs is not as good as one could wish, but nevertheless, this series is a must for everybody who enjoys watching quality television.

Here is an excerpt from the Granada television production:



Watch a documentary on the making of Brideshead revisited:

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Bluegrass



A type of folk music that originated in the southern United States, typically played on banjos and guitars and characterized by rapid tempos and jazzlike improvisation.
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language

My first live experience of American bluegrass music dates back to the late 70´s, when I heard the great banjo player J.D. Crowe and his New South perform at the Birchmere in Washington DC. I liked what I heard, and later there were many more visits to this legendary music hall, which still seems to be a lively place - although with less bluegrass music than in earlier times.

Here is one of my favourite Crowe pieces. It is nice to note that J.D. Crowe is still around and active.

The "father of bluegrass", the legendary Bill Monroe is not anymore with us, but his music lives on.

The Panama Hat

For us living in northern Europe, summer seems very far away. Still it is nice to think about, and plan for the warm season. On those sunny days you need a good hat, an original Panama hat, made in Equador! My own Panama hat was stolen last summer, so I have placed an order for a new one here.






A little bit of history:

When the Spanish conquerors arrived to what nowadays are known as the provinces of Guayas and Manabí on the Ecuadorian coast, they observed native Indians using straw hats which covered their ears and necks. These hats looked like headdresses, similar to those used by the nuns or widows in Europe at the time. It is this similarity that gave the hats the name of "Toquillas" (headdress in Spanish) and resulted in the straw from which they were made to be called "Toquilla Straw".
According to the legend, this native hat obtained its name when Teddy Roosevelt participated in the inauguration of the Panama Canal (1913). During the event he received an Ecuadorian straw hat as a gift, and without knowing the true origin, he thanked his guests for the gift mentioning it as a "Panama Hat".

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Yes, I left my heart in San Francisco ...



San Francisco is one of those magic places you just cannot forget. And there is no better singer to perform the famous song than the great Tony Bennett!





(Image by bigfoto.com)

Ireland


Right now the Irish do not seem to have many reasons to smile, but one hopes that there is still some room for this.

Monday, 29 November 2010

Dido´s Lament


Dido´s lament from Purcell´s first and only all-sung opera Dido and
Aeneas
is one of most beatiful operatic arias. The opera was first
performed in 1689 at a girl´s schoool in Chelsea, London and is also
considered to be the the oldest known English opera.

Here the aria is performed by the Dame Janet Baker. The
recording may not be the best possible, but it does not detract from
Dame Janet´s superb singing and acting.



 Lyrics:

Recitative


Thy hand, Belinda, darkness shades me,

On thy bosom let me rest,

More I would, but Death invades me;

Death is now a welcome guest.



Aria


When I am laid, am laid in earth, May my wrongs create

No trouble, no trouble in thy breast;

Remember me, remember me, but ah! forget my fate.

Remember me, but ah! forget my fate

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Memories of La Tante Claire




The name Pierre Koffmann has been synonymous with the finest French
food in England for the past 35 years.

Nick Lander/FT 2007

Like a legendary rock star going back on the road for one last triumphant tour, Koffmann has returned to his roots, while playing all the big hits.
Tracey MacLeod, The Independent Magazine


Eating in Michelin star restaurants is not something I do very often. This is mostly due to the fact that these restaurants are nowadays so outrageously expensive that you have to be either affluent or in possession of a large expense account in order to frequent them.

Fortunately, it was not always so.

Back in the late 80´s and early 90´s, while living in London, I had the privilege – and it was really a privilege –  to be one of the regular customers at Pierre Koffmann´s now legendary “La Tante Claire” in Royal Hospital Road, Chelsea. Mind you, it was not cheap, but e.g. lunches were not more expensive than in many other nearby restaurants. “La Tante Claire” was probably the closest to a perfect restaurant that I will ever experience. The food was out of this world – who could forget Koffman´s stuffed pig´s trotter with morels! - the service always friendly and highly professional and the interior beuatifully decorated in Art Deco style. No wonder that “La Tante Clair” was to become one of the few British restaurants with three Michelin stars.

The great news is that Koffmann last July returned to the London restaurant scene with his new “Koffmann´s” at the Berkeley Hotel. Next time you visit London, try out “Koffmann´s” for refined country cooking à la Gascogne – I know I will. Koffmann has according to a newspaper interview moved away from “Michelin food”, which also means that the prices are more affordable. But his signature dish, 
pig’s trotter with chicken mousseline, sweetbreads and morels is back on the menu!

Here is Koffman´s "self portrait" which he once drew for me as a memory of a good meal:




PS (7.1.2011)
I just found the recipe to one of Koffmann´s finest specialities, Souffle aux pistaches.
Check it out here.

If you are interested in more of Pierre Koffman´s recipes, his book "La Tante Claire, Recipes of a Masterchef" is a treasure trove. In the book Koffmann also offers interesting glimpses into his childhood in France and his way to the Michelin top stardom. Unfortunately the books seems to be out of print, but if you are lucky, you can find used copies.

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Simple pleasures nr 5:The Sound of Church Bells




 "A bell is a hollow vessel usually of metal,
but sometimes of horn, wood, glass, or clay, struck near the rim by an
interior clapper or exterior hammer or mallet to produce a ringing
sound".

Encyclopedia Britannica

The sound of a bell has the power to charm, to amaze, to warn, to
frighten, and to lift the spirit. Bells are ubiquitous even in our
electronic age.

Bill Hibberts

I have always been fascinated by bells, particularly church bells.
Wherever I am, I feel safe and happy when I hear the sound of church
bells.

The history of bells goes back almost to the dawn of civilisation. It
began with crude metallic objects were sounded to ward of all kinds of
evil spirits, to mark festival occasions or to alter the weather.

In Europe church bells became common in the early Middle ages. Since
those times church bells have been ringing in the big cathedrals as
well as in the tiniest parish churches. The St Lawrence Church in
Ipswich has the oldest surviving circle of bells in the world. The
oldest of those bells were cast in the 1440s.

Watch and listen to some of the most famous Big Bells:



Bells have inspired many poets. Edward Allan Poe´s "The Bells" is probably the most wellknown bell
poem. Here you can listen to a reading of the poem.

PS
Thank you to all people from the Philippines visiting this page!

Friday, 26 November 2010

Simple pleasures nr 15: Herring and new potatoes

Dried and salted herring used to be staple food already during
medieval times in Northern Europe. Since those times herring has
continued to be a favourite on the Nordic table. The best time to
enjoy herring is during the new potato season in the early summer.
There is nothing better than fresh new potatoes and pickled herring
with a pat of butter and some fresh dill!

This time of the year the next fresh potato season may seem far away.
But waiting for something delicious is always worthwile. The first
potatoes in Sweden often come from this farm in Scania.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Another change of mood

If you ever wondered what a real basso profundo sounds like, listen to this, or here, or this

A change of mood

There seems to be a danger that my blog is getting a little bit too sombre. So, a change of mood might be appropriate. Watch this: