Saturday, 20 November 2010

Simple pleasures nr 3: Light a candle

There is not enough darkness in all the world to put out the light of even one small candle

Robert Alden

Candles are - fortunately - no more man´s main source of light. But there are still so many reasons to light a candle. Particularly here up in the the north of Europe, where days are short this time of the year. The warm glow of a candle brightens up the darkest day.

While living in Copenhagen some years ago, I noticed that the Danes have a very nice habit of lighting candles in their homes, even on days when there is no particular reason to mark a celebration. They just enjoy the the warm light a candle creates.

There seems to be a lot of uncertainties about the origin of candles. The Romans are credited with developing the wick candle, which they used for lighting their homes and places of worship. With the introduction of the light bulb in 1879 the the production of candles declined, but before long it started to grow again, when people learned to appreciate the beauty of light from living candles .

If you are interested in learning more about candle history, and candles in general, this site has a lot of interesting information:

(picture from

Santiago de Compostela

(Detail of map from 1648)

The 1000-year-old pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in northwestern Spain has always fascinated me - although I have never actually done it. But several of my friends have, and they all say it was worth the hardships encountered on the long walk which can take from six to eight weeks. I still nurture a hope to walk at least a small distance on one of the routes leading to Santiago de Compostela some time in the not too distant future ...

For all those, who plan to make the pilgrimage, there is a wonderful internet resource with a plethora of excellent advice and pictures. The site is well worth visiting even if you don´t plan to do the pilgrimage.

(Detail of map from 1648)



Friday, 19 November 2010

Rita Hayworth as Gilda

There are lots of good films that I like, but only a handful of them are really special. One of them is Gilda with the stunning Rita Hayworth in the leading role. I think the IMD reviewer scotty12´s description of this film noir classsic from 1946 is very much to the point:

The 40s and 50s produced many alluring performances from beautiful and sexy actresses and Rita Hayworth's in Gilda is one of the most provocative of all. The film is good and quite deep, the male leads are better, but Hayworth's performance is simply stunning and unforgettable. She may not have been the most beautiful 40s actress (Gene Tierney and Veronica Lake were more classic beauties imo), but if you look closely her ability to show the sweet, the vulnerable, and especially the wanton, in women has not been bettered. Somehow her character gets under the male viewer's skin in the same way as it does to the male characters in the film.

Modern film femme fatales are a pale shadow by comparison, for example Linda Fiorentino or Sharon Stone. I'm not sure why. It could be either that nowadays allure is too much equated with sex or nudity (less tantalising than several dashes of suggestion) or maybe it's that present day equivalents are portrayed as hard as nails without the necessary mix of sadness and vulnerability.

Whatever, if you've never appreciated what the appeal of 40s noir is, this is definitely one to try.

Rita Hayworth´s private life was unfortunately not very happy. After several unsuccesful marriages she died in 1987 after having suffered from Alzheimer´s disease for many years. One of her former colleagues, president Ronald Reagan - who later himself was to suffer from the same disease - remembered Rita with these words:

"Rita Hayworth was one of our country's most beloved stars.Glamorous and talented, she gave us many wonderful moments on stage and screen and delighted audiences from the time she was a young girl. In her later years, Rita became known for her struggle with Alzheimer's disease. Her courage and candor, and that of her family, were a great public service in bringing worldwide attention to a disease which we all hope will soon be cured. Nancy and I are saddened by Rita's death. She was a friend who we will miss. We extend our deep sympathy to her family."

In Gilda - and many other films - Rita Hayworth will, however, continue to delight audiences also inte future. Here are two musical excerpts from the film:

Vierzenheiligen - an architectural treasure in Bavaria

The baroque/rococo style church Vierzenheiligen near the bavarian city of  Bamberg is one of Europe´s finest architectural treasures. A visit to this richly decorated pilgrimage church, designed by the great 18th century architect Balthasar Neumann is strongly recommended if you plan to visit Bavaria.

The eminent art historian and broadcaster Kenneth Clark, Lord Clark of Saltwood (1903-1983) describes in his autobiography the powerful impression Vierzehnheiligen and its architect made on him:

"Perhaps the happiest time that Jane (his wife) and I had together in the whole making of ´Civilisation´ was our visit to Germany to film the Rococo churches. I had been to some of them before without Jane, and it was a joy to see how rapturously she responded to them. But I had never been to the finest of them all, the Vierzehnheiligen.

What a masterpiece! This church and the palace of Würzburg tempted me to call Balthasar Neumann the greatest architect of the eighteenth century and, much as I love Gabriel, I will stand by my judgement. I believe that the Rococo churches of Bavaria are still underrated, not only as architecture, but in the discovery of a new truth, that the faithful may be persuaded by joy rather than fear."

Here is G.E. Kidder Smith´s description of Vierzehnheiligen (from the book Looking at architecture):

"A hundred years after Borromini's Quattro Fontane, the Late Baroque/Rococo in South Germany and Austria broadened architectural horizons even further. Here will be found architecture, sculpture, and painting vibrant with light and so closely woven together that it is often difficult to know where one art form begins and the other subsides. It is an architecture of joy, and if the cornucopia at times overflows, so be it.
"Among the most spritely creations of this short-lived period—the engines of the Industrial Revolution were beginning to herald a new culture—is Vierzehnheiligen, the Church of Fourteen Saints, by Johann Balthasar Neumann. Within its sober, straight-sided outer shell (on pre-existing foundations), color and luminosity bursts forth. Its inner walls define ovals and circles, its piers vanish into the decorated planes of the ceiling, an altar stands triumphant, while light floods in and color snatches the eye. (As opposed to seventeenth- century Early Baroque churches, daylight plays an essential role.) There is here—as throughout this South German cultural period—a hint of the 'confectionery' (Pevsner), but architecture is richer for this hedonism, and so are we."

More information here about Vierzehnheiligen.

While in that part of Bavaria, don´t forget to visit Balthasar Neumann´s other masterpiece, the Würzburg Residenz with magnificent ceiling frescos by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo.

Raúl Shaw Moreno

I have always enjoyed Latin American music. My first memories of live Latin music go back to the early 60´s when the then famous Trio Los Paraguayos visited my home town. It was a great concert, but the fact that the concert hall was almost empty made me - and probably also the great Luis Alberto del Parana and his fellow musicians -  very sad.

Much later I became aquainted with the music of another great Latin American singer, Raúl Shaw Moreno. Bolivian born Moreno joined the famous Mexican Trio Los Panchos in 1950 and became a wellknown name also in the US. Later he continued his solo career and remained a big star in Latin America. In 1983 he settled in Buenos Aires, where he died after a long illness in 2003. But his music lives on.

Here you can listen to three of his greatest hits:

In this radio recording from the Gran Palacio de Bellas Artes de Mexico you can hear Raúl Shaw Moreno both speak and sing:

You can still find Moreno´s CD:s at e.g.

Simple pleasures nr 2: Internet radio

I have always been a great fan of the radio as a medium. Listening to the human voice - or pleasant noises like music - is very relaxing. And you can do it with your eyes closed, lying on your favourite couch. And because radio programmes are not expensive to produce, many such special interest programmes are available, which are rarely found on television.

Through the internet you can receive literally thousands of radio stations from all over the world. I used to listen to some of them on my PC. It is, however, a rather uncomfortable way of listening. That is why I recently acquired an internet radio receiver. And I have not regretted this small investment.

Now I am able to wake up to the news (including information about "staus" on the Autobahns!) presented by my favourite German language news station, Radio B5 Aktuell from the Bayerischer Rundfunk in Munich. Or I can listen to my former favourite Washington DC local music station WETA. And the the Danish DR has an excellent 24 hour classical music service called Allegro, which is part of my daily listening. The possibilities are endlesss.

A great number of internet receivers are available. Here you can find more info on the one I own:

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Simple pleasures nr 1: late evening walks in your neighbourhood

Having just returned from a late evening walk in my new neighbourhood, I realized that I had just found myself a new hobby - late evening walks in the neighbourhood or some other densely populated area.

I feel that I owe you, dear reader, an explanation.

This time of the year it gets pretty dark up here in the North of Europe already in the late afternoon. Fortunately, most villas in my neighbourhood have excellent interior lighting. When I strolled along the empty streets, it was difficult to avoid looking straight into people´s homes. It was fascinating to get a glimpse of how my neighbours have decorated the interiors of their houses. (In order to avoid any misunderstanding, please understand that I have no interest in prying into other peoples privacy - only to satisfy my natural curiosity for interior design). I was e.g. very pleased to note that the old house, which I have always admired, also had the most charming interior. Now I am already looking forward to my next evening walk, somehwat further away from my own place.

And with evening walks there is the added benefit of feeling that its good for your health. Late evening walks also contribute to the general security of the neighbourhood. Burglars do not want to be seen.

My favourite modern bridge

The Great Belt bridge connecting Denmark´s two largest islands Zealand and Funen is one of the most beautiful - if not the most beautiful - bridges in Europe. The perhaps internationally more famous Øresund bridge connecting Denmark and Sweden is also a wonderful bridge-tunnel, but not quite as elegant as the link between the two Danish islands consisting of a 6790 meter long suspension bridge and 6611 meter long combined rail and road bridge. In addition there is an 8 km long rail tunnel between Zealand ant the little island of Sprogø.

For more information about the bridge visit:

On this page there is a wonderful picture showing the world´s biggest cruise ship Oasis of the Seas passing under the Great Belt bridge at night:

Francesco´s Venice

"Venice has been painted an described many thousands of times, and of all the cities in the world it is the easiest to visit without going there"
Henry James

Well, James was probably right. One excellent way to visit Venice without going there is to watch Francesco da Mosto´s four part series "Francesco´s Venice". Architect, author and film maker, count da Mosto is a knowledgeable and never boring guide to the city that has been the home of his family possibly since the fifth century A.D. However, be prepared to actually want to visit or revisit Venice after watching these documentaries!

(Gondolier from 1506,

Watch an excerpt:

A tribute to Francesco Mosto:

Francesco´s Venice series is available e.g. here.

Bach´s Christmas Oratorio

Christmas is commercially present almost everywhere already at the time of my writing these words. If you feel a need to get away from all the hustle and bustle, I would like to recommend J.S. Bach´s glorious Christmas Oratorio. My own favourite version is the one by Eric Ericson,  the Eric Ericson Chamber Choir and the Drottningholm Baroque Ensemble from 1993. The soloists in this live recording are all outstanding, among them the great Finnish mezzo/alto Monica Groop. Enjoy!

The Ericson recording is available e.g. here.


If you would like to listen to more Bach by Monica Groop, I warmly recommend her CD with Bach cantatas.

Here is a sample from the CD:

Ships and shipping

I have always been fascinated by the sea and ships. That is one reason why I have always preferred to live close to the sea. (And when I for occupational reasons have had to live in inland cities, there has always been at least a big river with lots of boat traffic!).

Watch the world´s largest cruise ship, built in Finland, cross the Danish Great Belt bridge:

For all those who share my interest in ships and shipping, there is a wonderful Greek site:

On the site you can e.g. follow the movements of your favourite ships live. And there are thousands of great ship photos in the Gallery section. (A permanent link to the Marine Traffic live map is now on this blog below)

Visconti´s Leopard

It is not easy to name one favourite film - there are so many great ones. But, if you ask me, I would probably choose Visconti´s Il Gattopardo, based on Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa´s novel on the same name.

Luchino Visconti di Modrone, Count of Lonate Pozzolo, was born into a noble family in Milan. His background made him the ideal person to convert Lampedusa´s novel to a cinematic masterpiece. Visconti was familiar with the life and traditions of the Italian nobility. And the fact that he also was a communist - at least in some stage of his life - does not in any way detract from his stature as a film director.

The film is also a testimony to the greatnesss of Burt Lancaster in the main role. Lancaster was the choice of the film´s producers At first Visconti  was not at all pleased with this choice, but before long he realized the greatness of the Hollywood star, and this was the beginning of a lifelong friendship.

The beautiful Claudia Cardinale is another of the main attractions in Visconti´s film.

Here is the trailer for the Leopard:

The Leopard is available e.g. here. Buy it, if you already do not have the film!

(added on 25 January, 2012)

A beautifully restored version of The Leopard is now also available on blu-ray. Strongly recommended!

Schubert´s Der Winterreise

Ich werde euch einen Zyklus schauerlicher Lieder vorsingen. Ich bin begierig zu sehen, was ihr dazu sagt. Sie haben mich mehr angegriffen, als dies bei anderen der Fall war. Mir gefallen diese Lieder mehr als alle, und sie werden euch auch noch gefallen.
Franz Schubert

The first time I heard the entire song cycle Der Winterreise by Franz Schubert was in 1980 on the radio. The singer in music critic Paul Hume´s WETA programme was the French barytone Gérald Souzay. This was the beginning of a lasting relationship to this the greatest of all song cycles - and an introduction to the world of German lieder.

Winterreise has been recorded by a great number of excellent singers. Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, perhaps the most famous lieder singer of all times, has to my knowledge made at least eleven versions on disc. But my own favourite is the German barytone Andreas Schmidt. He recorded the song cycle together with the pianist Rudolf Jansen in 1990. This recording (DG 453 987-2) is still available, as far as I understand. Strongly recommended!

Here you can listen to Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Alfred Brendel perform Der Lindenbau from Winterreise.

There are many useful sites with information about Winterreise. This is a good one to start with:

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Kenneth Clark´s Civilisation

Reading Clark is like drinking champagne compared with the small beer of most art history
Jonathan Jones, The Guardian

Lord Clark was not only brilliant, witty and engaging, but he was a teacher and, surprisingly, a most charming television presence. He has become my lifetime companion
Steven M. Wolf

If you plan to buy a Christmas - or some other - present to somebody that you appreciate very much, I have an ideal suggestion for you. Buy the best television documentary series ever, "Civilisation: A Personal View" by Lord Clark. This lavish, magisterial and beautifully made personal survey by the great art historian Kenneth Clark is still as fresh and captivating as when it was transmitted for the first time in 1969. Kenneth Clark was a somewhat controversial figure, partly due to his distaste of much of so called modern art. But this suites me fine - I share his distaste. The series - available e.g. through Amazon - is one of the great achievements of the BBC.

Below is an excerpt from the series:

Clark quotes:

"People sometimes tell me that they prefer barbarism to civilisation. I doubt if they have given it a long enough trial. Like the people of Alexandria , they are bored by civilisation; but all the evidence suggests that the boredom of barbarism is infinitely greater."

"It is lack of confidence, more than anything else, that kills a civilisation. We can destroy ourselves by cynicism and disillusion, just as effectively as by bombs."

"The great achievement of the Catholic Church lay in harmonizing, civilising the deepest impulses of ordinary, ignorant people."

"It is indeed true that the history of art, like all history, is to a large extent an agreed fable"


This series is now available on blu-ray, which brings fine colours and sharpness to the picture. Even if you have the dvd box, it is well worth investing a few pounds, dollars or euros in the blu-ray box!

Old Masters

(Sleeping Venus by Giorgione (1510) - Dresden Old Masters Gallery)

In the early 80´s, when I lived in Washington D.C., I visited a contempory art exhibition consisting of a great number of huge modern paintings. The rather clumsy and downright ugly paintings did not make a great impression on me. I asked the painter - a fairly wellknown compatriot of mine - how long it had taken him to paint all these big canvases. The painter told me that he had finished the works during a couple of weeks before the exhibition.

I have to admit that my already then rather modest interest in the works of contemporary artists almost disappeared after this encounter.

Thank god there is such a wealth of Old Masters to explore! I see no reason to waste time and energy on most contemporary "art". There are many excellent sites with pictures and texts about painters and sculptors who were masters of their art . Here is one of the best.

The Old Masters Picture Gallery of the Dresden art museum is well worth a visit, also a virtual one:

The Old Masters Picture Gallery is the first museum of its kind to open its doors 1:1 in the virtual world, known as Second Life, rather than just creating a fictional exhibition. In this way, the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden are taking on the challenge of the new 3-D potential of Internet presentation and invite you to participate in a special kind of experiment

Three heroes - three books

Many good books have been written about and by three of my greatest heroes - Ronald Reagan, John Paul II and Margaret Thatcher, who together destroyed the Soviet Evil Empire. I cannot pretend to have read all of those books, but I would like to recommend three of them that I recently re-read. The books made me feel happy and grateful about having had the privilege to observe all three leaders from a fairly close distance at different stages.

So here is my recommended reading:

"The Age of Reagan", by Steven F. Hayward
"The President, the Pope and the Prime Minister", by John O´Sullivan
"When Character was King",  by Peggy Noonan

All three books are available at e.g.

I remember so well how Ronald Reagan was ridiculed as a dumb B movie actor by most "progressive" politicians and commentators in Europe. Reagan´s "tear down this wall" speech, given in 1987 at the Brandenburger Gate reminds us how wrong they all were!
Watch and listen here.