Saturday, 19 February 2011

The first shots of spring

(click on photo for larger image)

Today I went out to have a look at the (somewhat sad state of the) garden. Up here in Scandinavia, we are still in the middle of winter, so I was surprised to see the first small - very small - signs of spring. Don´t ask me what they are, as I am quite new to the garden - and gardening in general - and the plants were planted by somebody else. Let´s hope that these first spring signs are not out too early - some quite cold days are forecasted.

Friday, 18 February 2011

The most beautiful national anthems

(image by

National anthems are meant to patriotic and nationalistic in a positive way. However, the best ones are so good, that you do not have to be a citizen of any particalar nation in order to enjoy them. For me, these three anthems belong to that cathegory.

Who would not feel at least a little bit American when listening to e.g. to this,

(image by

and just a tiny bit French when hearing this,

(image by

or maybe a trifle German hearing this?

(Only the third stanza is after 1990 the official lyrics of the German anthem)

Thursday, 17 February 2011

The birds of the Finnish von Wright brothers

Three brothers von Wright - Magnus (1805-68), Wilhelm (1810-87) and Ferdinand (1822-1906) - whose forebear had fled from Scotland during revolutionary Cromwell years, became the principal artists of Finland in the middle years of the 19th century.

They grew up in the idyllic Haminanlaks country estate near Kuopio in Eastern Finland, where at an early age they learned to love the beautiful natural scenery surrounded by lakes and forests. Their love of nature was reflected in their art at all stages of their artistic work.

All three bothers were also extremely skilled illustrators of birds and animals. In Sweden, where they all worked for some time - Wilhelm even moved to Sweden permanently - their bird illustrations soon became very popular. The ornithological compendium Svenska Foglar (Swedish Birds), with illustrations by Magnus and Wilhelm von Wright, became a great success, and was followed by other zoological illustrations both in Sweden and Finland (which at that time was an autonomous Grand Duchy of Russia). The first editions of Svenska foglar are now rare and expensive collectors´ items.

These illustrations, which still from time to time are reproduced in various collections, are on a par with the best European and American illustrations of that period, as you can see yourself from the pictures added to this post.


Tuesday, 15 February 2011


I have always had a weak spot for old Italian popular tunes. I came to think of this one today. I wonder why? Maybe it could have something to do with the political news from Italy that everybody is talking about? Anyway, I like Toto Cotugno.

Monday, 14 February 2011

The last fleet of tall ships

(Herzogin Cecilie)

"Truly the voyage of the deep-sea sailing ship is a triumph over circmustance, an achievement of the apparently impossible, and adventure, and an outlet for romance in a world in which there exists too few of either"
Alan Villiers

The end of the age of the tall sailing ships in world trades became obvious in the end of the 19th century. In the latter part of the 1880´s steel steamers began with increased rapidity replace the big sailings ships in general world trades. However, one shipowner, Gustaf Erikson of the Åland Islands (an autonomous region of Finland), was able to make a profitable business of the last commercial sailing ships still in the 1920´s and 19030´s. Almost all the famous names of the European and  American sailing-fleets came to be registred in the small town of Mariehamn, capital of the Åland Islands, situated between Sweden and the Finnish mainland.

For those interested in exploring the amazing Erikson success story, the definitive book to study is "The Last Tall Ships" by Georg Kåhre (edited by Basil Greenhill). The book is out of print, but you can obtain used copies e.g. through Amazon or Alibris.

"The Last of the Windships", with stunning pictures by the Australian photographer, writer and film maker Alan Villiers, who worked as a seaman on several of the Erikson ships, is a wonderful resource. The pictures, together with the texts provide extraordinary insights into the heroic and vanished era of the last merchant tall ships.

Here is an excerpt from a documentary film made by Alan Villiers:

A third book that I can warmly recommend is "The Grain Races" by Basil Greenhill and John Hackman. This book is unfortunately also out of print, but used copies can be purchased through e.g. Amazon and Alibris.


In Mariehamn´s Western Harbour you can visit the former Erikson ship Pommern, the only four-masted bark in the world, which still is in its original state. "She is just as she came in from the sea in 1939 at the end of her last passage from Australia - by way of Cap Horn", as Basil Greenhill points out in the book "The Last of the Windships".


"Perhaps the world´s best museum of regional merchant shipping"
Basil Greenhill on the Åland Maritime Museum

The Åland Maritime Museum in Mariehamn is closed for extension and renovation right now, but will reopen later in 2011. It is a wonderful place to study both the Erikson fleet and the maritime history of Åland in general.