The Spinnaker Tower

Portsmouth has a very beautiful skyline - the Spinnaker Tower is visible from far across the Solent, and we could identify it from nearly every place we went on Isle of Wight. There is a café up there, but we passed - simply not enough time.



I bought one book on this trip, I just couldn´t resist. Here´s a taste of it: 
Inside the Death Star.

Enter OFFICERS 2 and 3.

OFFICER 2   Say - TK-421, now wherefore hast
                      Thou left thy station? TK-421,
                      Canst thou my message hear? [To officer 3:] Take thou command,
                      Belike he hath a bad transmitter. So
                      Shall I attend and help him if I may. 

Enter OBI-WAN KENOBI, C-3PO, R2-D2, and CHEWBACCA with HAN SOLO and LUKE dressed as stormtroopers, killing Officers 2 and 3.

CHORUS      Now through the doorway comes our heroes brave, 
                      Th´Imperi´l officers Chewbacca fights
                       Whilst Han with blaster doth his entry pave,
                       They have arriv´d: escape is in their sights. 
CHEWBAC.  Auugh!
LUKE              - Fie! With all this howling nonsense and 
                       With all thy blasting ´tis a miracle
                       That all within the station have not heard
                       Of our arrival
HAN                            - Surely, let them come!
                      A fight would I prefer to sneaking yon
                      And hither. 
R2-D2                          - Beep, beep, whistle, squeak, beep,

What is this? Well, it´s "William Shakespeare´s Star Wars - Verily, A New Hope"! Written by Ian Doesher, no doubt giggling the whole time.

If you know the film by heart, as some of us do, you´ll recognize all the dialogue, even though it´s kitted out in Elisabethan dress and pushed into iambic pentameter.

There is one bit, the beginning of act 4, scene 6, where Luke says:
Alas, poor stormtrooper, I knew ye not, 
Yet have I ta´en both uniform and life
From thee. What manner of a man wert thou?
A man of inf´nite jest or cruelty? 
And so on. I smell something Danish on those pages, or wouldn´t you say?

This isn´t really literature, I don´t think. It´s more of... a curiosity. Quirky, perhaps, that´s the name of the publisher: Quirk Books. I haven´t read it right through, really, I have it in the kitchen and read bits and pieces while I wait for the kettle to boil. 

And the illustrations are priceless: the whole Star Wars cast looks like they stepped out on the stage of the Globe Theatre. Nicolas Delort is the artist´s name.

How do one come up with something like this? Deceptively simple, I think.

The publisher also has a free Educator´s Guide, that sheds some more light on how Shakespeare´s plays worked. And, there´s the entire list of references to the plays, some of which I got, like the one above, and some which have passed me by, or maybe I haven´t gotten to them yet.

I suppose this could be an excellent introduction to Shakespeare and drama in general for a young audience. For me, however, it´s more of a laugh than anything else. A very good laugh!


Portsmouth and The Historic Dockyard

We spent our first entire day in England in Portsmouth. We only had to walk a few steps from our hotel to come to the Historic Dockyards, and if you are going to Portsmouth, that´s pretty much where you are going, as far as I can figure. This is what Portsmouth is all about, after all: warfare at sea.

There is a small museum on the grounds, and something called The Action Rooms, which is a kind of educational playground for kids. However, the real attraction of this place is the three war ships on display: the Mary Rose, the HMS Victory, and the HMS Warrior. All examples of the best and most advanced technology of their time.

There isn´t much left of the Mary Rose. For a Swede, it´s hard not to compare with the Vasa, which is more than 100 years younger.

The Mary Rose sank in 1545, while leading an attack on an invading French fleet, after serving 33 years in King Henry VIII´s navy. She was discovered in 1971, buried in the Solent just outside Portsmouth, and salvaged in 1982. Actually, they used the same salvage vessel, the Sleipner, as was used to take up the Vasa.

Only half of her remains, and the museum is built like a multi-storied walkway around a gigantic display case, where the conditions are being monitored for the continued preservation of what remains of her.

Also exhibited are what was found in and around the wreck: canons, shoes, pots and pans, small things that - together with educational displays - give witness to what life was really like onboard. Some of the crew members have been reconstructed from their bones even, really bringing the past to life.

The second ship on display is the HMS Victory, the commandship piloted by the famous Horation Nelson, who also died onboard at the battle of Trafalgar in 1805. She also served in the American War of Independence and the French Revolutionary War.

She is now in a dry dock, and visitors are welcome to walk around as they please, more or less. It´s hard to imagine now how it must have been out at sea, going to battle. It all looks so cosy, snug and quaint somehow, and then you see the leg irons and realize it must have been pretty hard, after all.

A few photos, to give you my impressions:

The third ship on display is the HMS Warrior, which is still very much in the water. It feels like it´s tip-top battle ready, just waiting for the men to go aboard and sail towards the enemy. This was the first British battleship to be ironhulled, and it had a steam engine as well as sails. It´s an odd hybrid of old and new, ancient and modern. Launched in 1860, she was declared redundant in 1923, when even the navy schools didn´t want her anymore.

It´s an amazing experience to walk around her. She feels more like a battleship than the Victory does I think, perhaps it´s all that iron, and the dark belly of the engine rooms that give the impression of power and destruction. I remember all those old films about heroic sea captains talking to the engine room, where the officers seemed to inhabit a whole different world, a whole different reality. Even Star Trek had that structure on the Enterprise, with Scotty trying to hold the ship together.

What struck me most is how the crew all lived among the canons, ate there, slept there. Considering how many tables there were and how many plates could be set on every table, you really understand how many men they would have fit into that ship, going into battle.

The contrast to the officer´s dining room couldn´t be more telling of the hierarchical system of the navy. And guns and sables placed here and there, like a set of fine table ware or something.

This very friendly carpenter was happy to talk about his work and pose for a picture at his carpenter´s bench. I have found that so many British museums are full of elderly men and women, entusiastically upholding traditional handicrafts, sometimes making museums possible with their free labour. I´m sure Bletchley Park or any of the museum steam railways or old batteries from the Second World War we have visited over the years wouldn´t even be open if it wasn´t for this white-haired army with deep knowledge and love of the old ways. 

I recommend anyone with the slightest interest in history, and going to England, to visit Portsmouth and the Historic Dockyards. Make sure you have a whole day at your disposal, though. We had one more thing I absolutely wanted to do and had to run for it late in the afternoon. Actually, one ship a day would have been more digestible. Great, great fun!


Photographing Victoria

Over the last year, Luleå´s southern harbour has been worked on quite a bit, the idea being to create a nice square suitable for markets, tivolis, out-door concerts, and such things. Now they say they are done (there are differences of opinion on whether the result is satisfactory or not) and on August 22 there was a grand inauguration ceremony involving the East Indiaman Götheborg and our very popular Crown Princess Victoria, who laid down some kind of plaquette with her name on it together with our mayor, Karl Petersen.

Mum-in-law and I set out an hour before the ship was about to reach the quay, and there was already quite a crowd assembled. The only spot left was just behind the big scoop thingy attached to the old museum harbour crane. We figured we would at least get a good view of the ship once it got to its designated mooring spot, to the left of us, where a red carpet had been laid out for the royal guest of honour.

I left mum-in-law sitting for a few minutes on her walker while I took my camera for a walk round. There were plenty of photographers (all men, that I could see) with fine equipment, having claimed their spots, some setting up tripods. There were also plenty of boats in the water, even a couple of helicopters, at least one of which carried a photographer, as is evident in this gallery, published by the local newspaper.

By the time I got back to mum-in-law, more people had pressed on, and she had started a party with three or four other talkative ladies who just happened to stand there. She had also managed to aquire a flag to wave at the princess, I never found out from where.

It seemed like a long wait. There were salutes, and of course the ship was positioned right in front of us, or, on the other side of the scoop. I did manage to take a few photos under it, though, and mum-in-law advised one of the ladies on where to stand to get a better shot. Isn´t she supposed to be half-blind?

Then, bit by bit Götheborg came into view. Slowly though, because of the wind. The crew had quite a bit of work trying to moor it, according to the newspaper´s report.

And this is in all probability the closest I´ll ever be to a member of the royal family. I bet she chose the royal blue colour of the dress to match the ship. It´s good on her, she wore a dress just that colour on her 18th birthday. She is very popular and the reason Sweden will not likely be a republic any day soon.

I didn´t bring home a single remarkable picture, but I think I did all right, considering where we stood. Of course, if I had had a helicopter or a boat... But then, my photos have a very special point of view, and I really like that. We were there. These photos really reflect that, our own experience.

And then we decided to go home. Mum-in-law was tired, I wasn´t really up for any of the awkward speeches and whatever.

I returned with the husband on Saturday. It was possible to go onboard and have a look around, but we figured we had had enough of old boats in Portsmouth. The weather was nice, but there wasn´t much of a crowd - probably there had been more people there earlier in the day. Götheborg left on Sunday, with more salutes, and that was the end of that visit. A bit of a blast from the past.

Photographic exhibition about the past and visions of the future.

A postcard from the southern harbour, a century ago.


Hazards of Hygiene

There´s been so much going on since we came back from England, that I have just now began to go through all the photos and reflect on all that we did. With most photos I try to capture something interesting, something striking, or something beautiful. But there are also lots of snaps that are just a kind of note to self, of no photographic value, but just to remind me of something that happened.

Like this photo. It´s my watch, drying out after I got water inside it and it steamed up so bad I couldn´t even tell what time it was. It kept on ticking, though. The husband, being bent towards DIY and technical challenges, opened the watch with the help of my tweezers. Then he had me blast it from underneath with the hair dryer for a few minutes (it is my watch, after all) and leave it open like that all night. It was ticking away the whole time - it felt a bit like doing open-heart surgery, and I was a bit anxious for it, I confess. But in the morning, the husband snapped the back-plate on, and it worked just beautifully.

The hands have a bit of rust on them, but I can´t swear it wasn´t there before. It´s an old watch, after all.

I´m not sure how it got wet, but for the rest of the trip I took the watch off before going to the bathroom. For some reason, even in brand-new washbasins, there are usually separate taps for cold and hot water, which forces you to either clean you hands cold, or fill the basin from both taps and bathe your hands at a decent temperature. It´s a bit odd and old-fashioned, but one gets used to it. Or adapts. The English themselves often point out that they (as a nation) have very poor hand-hygien. Wonder why.

Oh, and I had to buy a new pair of tweezers. The old pair got so stuck up from being promoted to the handicraft of horology that they no longer recognized a common hair.


Weight of War

"...the war occurred half a lifetime ago, and yet the remembering makes it now. And sometimes remembering will lead to a story, which makes it forever. That's what stories are for. Stories are for joining the past to the future. Stories are for those late hours in the night when you can't remember how you got from where you were to where you are. Stories are for eternity, when memory is erased, when there is nothing to remember except the story. "

A couple of weeks ago I found a brief report in the news of two men found in the Vietnam forrest, having lived in hiding since 1973, a father of 82 and his now 41-year-old son. They were last seen fleeing their village after an explosion that killed the man´s wife and two other children. They were recently found by villagers looking for wood in the forrest. The ill father is now in hospital, and the son is with relatives, trying to cope with civilization.

Clearly, the Vietnam war is not entirely over. Perhaps wars never do end with a peace treaty as we would like to imagine, they just kind of... fade. Danish novelist Susanne Brögger, in her excellent novel "The Jade Cat" (which I should re-read and write about on the blog, really) says that it takes three generations to become free of a war. Personally, I´m just second generation from some of the worst frontlines of the second world war and I have thought a lot about that. 

As it happened, when I read that in the paper I was in the middle of "The Things They Carried" by Tim O´Brien, a book I bought after reading a very interesting review of it at Robby Virus´ excellent blog. I had a feeling it might be the kind of book I would like, and I was right. Not only is this a chilling account of the ordinary foot soldier´s hardships, it´s also a discussion on storytelling. O´Brien mixes accounts (of what the carried, both materially and mentally) with stories (both of what happened to the characters in his story, and the stories that they told each other), and also adds some other stories from his childhood about how he handled traumatizing experiences of death and loss of loved ones. It´s categorized as being a collection of short stories, but I didn´t think of it that way. They are so well connected - the same people appear again and again  - that it felt much more like a novel to me.

Stanley Kubrik has said that an artwork is always upliftning and never depressing, whatever it´s subject might be. I can´t think of a single book I have read that demonstrated this truth better. However, it would seem that O´Brien thinks otherwise:
"A true war story is never moral. It does not instruct, nor encourage virtue, nor suggest models of proper human behavior, nor restrain men from doing the things men have always done. If a story seems moral, do not believe it. If at the end of a war story you feel uplifted, or if you feel that some small bit of rectitude has been salvaged from the larger waste, then you have been made the victim of a very old and terrible lie. There is no rectitude whatsoever. There is no virtue. As a first rule of thumb, therefore, you can tell a true war story by its absolute and uncompromising allegiance to obscenity and evil.[...] In a true war story, if there's a moral at all, it's like the thread that makes the cloth. You can't tease it out. You can't extract the meaning without unraveling the deeper meaning. And in the end, really, there's nothing much to say about a true war story, except maybe "Oh."" 
Many have testified that veterans rarely speak of what they have been through, except perhaps for a few bland anecdotes. And reading O´Brien´s account of the stories the soldiers told each other, you can understand why. They are pointless and obscene - not the kind of stories the folks back home would understand or know how to handle. And I suppose that what O´Brien is trying to do is tell those stories anyway, within a framework that makes them digestible, and make sense - somehow.

I find now, trying to write about this book, that it is really hard. And you know what, I think that this is such an exceptional and brave story that all I can say is: read this book! O´Brien must have worked so hard to write it, and if you only read one book in your whole life, this is one of the best choices you can make, that´s how important it is. I´ll just finish with another brilliant quote from O´Brien, on the subject of grief and storytelling:
"...I had begun to practice the magic of stories. Some I just dreamed up. Others I wrote down—the scenes and dialogue. And at nighttime I'd slide into sleep knowing that Linda would be there waiting for me. Once, I remember, we went ice skating late at night, tracing loops and circles under yellow floodlights. Later we sat by a wood stove in the warming house, all alone, and after a while I asked her what it was like to be dead. Apparently Linda thought it was a silly question. She smiled and said, "Do I look dead?" I told her no, she looked terrific. I waited a moment, then asked again, and Linda made a soft little sigh. I could smell our wool mittens drying on the stove. For a few seconds she was quiet. "Well, right now," she said, "I'm not dead. But when I am, it's like ... I don't know, I guess it's like being inside a book that nobody's reading." "A book?" I said. "An old one. It's up on a library shelf, so you're safe and everything, but the book hasn't been checked out for a long, long time. All you can do is wait. Just hope somebody'll pick it up and start reading.""


Another Amazing Auntie

Found this in the paper the other day: a photo of a 90-year-old lady, participating in the German heavy metal festival in Wacken.

She sure looks like she´s having fun! A kindred spirit of Auntie Mame, not doubt!


Amazing Auntie

When I was in my teens, I happened to find a pair of books in a flea market, Patrick Dennis´ "Auntie Mame", in Swedish translation of course ("Min fantastiska tant"), and the follow-up, "Around the world with Auntie Mame" ("Min fantastiska tant i världsvimlet"). They were from the mid 50´s (the originals were published in 1955 and 1958, and the translations came just the year after - these were world-wide smash hits at the time), cheaply bound, that kind where the pages had to be cut by the reader. The second book hadn´t even been cut, so I suppose the original owner hadn´t enjoyed the first of Auntie Mame´s adventures as much as I did.

The story is about Patrick, whose father dies when he is very young, ten or so, and he is put into the care of his only relative, his aunt Mame, a very excentric New York lady. However, he also has a trustee, a Mr Babcock, who makes sure he is steered along the right way, education-wise. Much of the story is about how Mr Babcock tries to raise Patrick to become a conservative, conventionally successful man, preferably with a job in finance, while Mame does her best to make him a creative, tolerant, curious, and kind man. I suppose it´s one of those stories about not ending up on the dark side.

I must have read these books two or three times, but in the end I gave them away to charity. I hope someone found them and loved them.

"Auntie Mame" made Patrick Dennis (whose real name was Edward Everett Tanner III) rich and famous, and the book was turned into a play, and then into a film in 1958. Aside from "His Girl Friday", "Auntie Mame" is probably the film/role that Rosalind Russell is most famous for these days. I decided I wanted to see it, and bought it via amazon.

I really enjoyed it. It´s a morality, sure, but it has lots of heart and a sound message. Russell is very, very good, her dresses are gorgeous, and even if the humour is a bit dated, I laughed (perhaps I´m getting on a bit, too). Patrick Dennis must have been pleased with Russell´s performance, as he dedicated the next Mame-book to her.

Dennis didn´t stay rich and famous and successful. I found out, doing a bit of research on him, that he divorced his wife, came out as bisexual, spent his fortune, and towards the end of his life worked as a butler, for the founder of MacDonalds. I put his biography on my wishlist at amazon, not sure if I want to read it later or not. Perhaps one day.


Luleå - then and now

Peo Rask, Hans Granqvist, and Peter Sundström are local cultural workers who have assembled a very nice book: "Systrarna Tegströms Luleå - Luleå sett genom kameraögat åren 1890 - 1928" (= The Tegström Sisters - Luleå through the lens, from 1890 - 1928). As you know, I love looking at pictures of what it was like in the old days, and I have had this project in mind for a while now, to try to replicate the photographs, for comparison.

There were three Tegström sisters: Henny, Alma, and Agda. Their father had been a shipowner and restaurateur at the town hotel. They all lived together and never married. Henny, the youngest, went to Stockholm to learn photography and started the studio in 1890, with the help of her sisters, when she was just 18 years old. Some 500 photographic glass plates remain in the Luleå town archive, mostly views of the town and it´s architecture, as this was a period of great expansion. Henny did most of the photography, Alma most of the retouching and other studio work, and Agda took care of the household.

They had their photostudio in the center of town, and as far as I can figure, the adress doesn´t really exist anymore. There is part park, part road there now. And that is the case with many of the places I wanted to photograph, they simply do not exist anymore. There has been much landfill over the years, mostly to make room for roads and to join parts of town that used to be separated by water. Some photographing spots I can´t reach, in other cases big trees obscure the view. So much of the town structure has changed since the big fire in 1887, which wiped out most of the town, and much changed in the 60´s when many beautiful old buildnings were torn down and replaced with box-like structures.

The northern harbour.

The norther harbour this summer.
The Eriksson stonehouse (named after the architect) in 1905.
Same house today.

I have also found this one from the Helmer Widlund collection:
From the crossing Storgatan - Nygatan, in the 1930´s.
Same view today.

And, I found this fun site, with lots of old photos of Luleå and other places in northern Sweden. Like these postcards:

The northern harbour again, from the other direction.
How it looks today.
And here, the same view from before the big fire. As you can see, the churchtower looks completely different.
Storgatan (main street) with the National Bank house on the right. Probably around 1920.
And today.

It´s been fun project. And a bit frustrating, to try to disregard the aesthetic impulse and just try to make the photo as alike another one as possible. In some instances, it just seemed impossible that it could be the same view, but I´m pretty sure I got it fairly right.

I have been considering the idea of trying to make a portrait of my town, a series of photographs that show it as I see it, as I live here. I realize that would take some work and some reflection. What is my relationship with this town? I take it for granted, and I can´t answer that question. I may return to this.