Category Archives: Photos

Festive Street Art: Santa-Hatting the River Nile

In central Copenhagen, at Søtorvet, there’s a bronze copy of the marble statue The River Nile from the 1st century, escavated in 16th century Rome. A bearded man is supposed to represent the river itself, and he is surrounded by 16 infants playing on his body,  symbolizing the number of feet (16) the Nile was believed to rise annually, fertilizing Lower Egypt. There’s a similar statue of The River Tiber situated across the street from the Nile sculpture.

Some street artist must have figured that just because one is tasked with representing the flow of a northeastern African river, one should not have to miss out on the festivity of the season. In any case he or she has carefully created Santa hats to fit the sculptural babies. I just spotted this today and was so charmed that I pulled my bicycle out of very heavy traffic in order to snap a few pictures:
Nilen1

Look!

Nilen2

Adorable!

Nilen3

Thanks for warming my heart as well as the heads of several bronze infants, unknown street artist.

The Danish String Quartet: Wedding Tune from Sønderho

Summer has come to Denmark, it is sunny and warm, and I am happy, happier than I have been in a long time.
I thought I would celebrate by posting this wonderful piece uploaded recently by The Danish String Quartet. As the description on youtube says, it’s a piece of Danish folk music from a village, Sønderho, in Western Denmark – the second tune in a set of three wedding tunes, several centuries old.

It’s such a lovely piece, it almost brings tears to my eyes. Happy tears.  And I think the iPhone recording by the string quartet is a great, inventive variation of the usually rather dull steady-cam recording of string quartet performances. I hope that you will like it, dear readers, and that you, too, are enjoying a wonderful early summer.

“Renewable Power of Destruction – The Stormtroopers Are Ready for the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference”

Originally uploaded by Stéfan  

My friend – the same friend that introduced me to Star Wars a couple of months ago, sent me the link to this – which is surely a relevant picture to post during these COP15 days. (Click on the picture to see a larger version).

The picture is part of Stéfan’s series “Stormtroopers 365″ on Flickr, which is bloody brilliant, if you ask me. And the thing is, it oughtn’t to be funny, you know? It’s just a couple of Stormtrooper action figures, posing in pictures. And besides, being a Star Wars rookie, I’m still not sure I’ve understood what exactly a Stormtrooper is. But Stéfan’s skilled photography and his imaginative ways of letting the action figures pose as well as his gift for captions ensure the hilarity.

Here‘s another favourite of mine – I love how neat the Stormtroopers’ handwriting is! And this one is just plain adorable. While this one proves that Stormtroopers can be grunge, too.

The Empire cares about the environment! And they’re adamant about not harming it while blowing up random planets. That does warm the heart, does it not?

Calendary Literature – September – The House of Mirth

It’s been a while since I last posted a “Calendary Literature”, and I figured it was about time.

september_tree

In Denmark we have a highly popular September song “Septembers himmel er så blå” (“The Sky of September is So Blue”), which is sung by school children throughout the month. It’s a lovely song and the lyrics describe September as a month of an almost unreal fertility: The apples are so red, the sky is so blue, and the larks still sing, and so it’s easy to forget that this is actually the first month of Autumn, and the first step towards winter.

I always liked that idea – September as an almost unnaturally beautiful month, the sky crystally clear and blue like a the eyes of a feverish child, and the ripe fruits red like the cheeks of a consumptive. (Whoa, that last sentence may just be the most emo thing I’ve written since I was 14. But stay with me here).

So September always induces a kind of swan-song-atmosphere in me – it’s the swan song of summer to me – , and as I sat down to think of a piece of literature that gives me that same feeling, I thought of the second-to-last chapter depicting Lily Bart’s feverish hallucination from Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth.

I love The House of Mirth, it’s one of my favourite books, and I think that of Lily’s character is one of the most poignantly depicted literary characters I’ve ever encountered. A beautiful, decorative woman, Lily is a product of her society, but she’s also a symptom of it, because she is so clearly doomed to perish in the same society that’s created her.

And Lily’s problem is essentially that she is so extremely, so purely ornamental. I don’t mean to say that she is so beautiful that it kills her, but rather to say that she is doomed to perish because she has succeeded so well in the art of being an ornament, that is, something static and mute, that she’s been rendered incapable of mastering the art of the narrative, the temporal, consecutive story. As Susan Gubar points out in the inspired “The Blank Page”, the excellent tableau vivants that Lily performs in a central chapter actually becomes a foreshadowing of Lily’s dead body on the bed in the last chapter. Lily is a spatial being and masters the spatial arts, but when it comes to the temporal, like story-telling, she is easily lost. This becomes obvious in the way she has no control over her own story as told by her surroundings, and so it becomes a story of her own down-fall.

However, there is one brief moment, just before Lily ends up on her death-bed, when Lily experiences a kind of sudden, ominous blooming, and it becomes one of very few moments in the novel when Lily seems to be linked to something temporal, something that would make Lily part of a story rather than just being a pretty picture. It occurs in the scene where Lily, roaming the streets in her sick and pale state, encounters a poor girl, Nettie Struther, whom she’s helped out in the past. Nettie offers to take Lily home so that she may warm herself in their kitchen and see Nettie’s baby, and Nettie tells her the story of how Lily’s help in the past has succesfully changed Nettie’s life. A story which Lily, with her typical lack of sense of a good story, has been oblivious to: Nettie had been seduced by a gentleman and had been left by him, only to take ill. She came close to succumbing to her illness, until Lily’s financial aids had given her the means to go to a sanatorium. Nettie made a full recovery and was later reunited with George, a childhood friend, who proposed to her. She told him her whole story, but he still wanted to marry her, and Nettie is now living with George and her new-born daughter. In her weak state, Lily enjoys Nettie’s company immensely:

“It was warm in the kitchen, which, when Nettie Struther’s match had made a flame leap from the gas-jet above the table, revealed itself to Lily as extraordinarily small and almost miraculously clean. A fire shone through the polished flanks of the iron stove, and near it stood a crib in which a baby was sitting upright, with incipient anxiety struggling for expression on a countenance still placid with sleep.

(…)

The baby had sunk back blissfully replete, and Mrs. Struther softly rose to lay the bottle aside. Then she paused before Miss Bart.  (…) Lily (…) rose with a smile and held out her arms; and the mother, understanding the gesture, laid her child in them.  The baby, feeling herself detached from her habitual anchorage, made an instinctive motion of resistance; but the soothing influences of digestion prevailed, and Lily felt the soft weight sink trustfully against her breast. The child’s confidence in its safety thrilled her with a sense of warmth and returning life, and she bent over, wondering at the rosy blur of the little face, the empty clearness of the eyes, the vague tendrilly motions of the folding and unfolding fingers. At first the burden in her arms seemed as light as a pink cloud or a heap of down, but as she continued to hold it the weight increased, sinking deeper, and penetrating her with a strange sense of weakness, as though the child entered into her and became a part of herself. “

There’s a comforting warmth to this scene that stands out in the novel about a harsh and ruthless social scene, and both the baby and the scenary of the kitchen, I feel, contribute to this atmosphere: Being the ornament that she is, Lily has hitherto been placed in sitting rooms and in halls and in theatres and, as Gubar notes, she has mostly thought of her surroundings as backdrop scenery. In this scene, Lily is placed for the first time in surroundings that are functional rather than decorative; a small, cosy, and functional room where warmth and nurtrition comes from – a room that even shelders a new little life, Nettie’s infant daughter. The scene makes a profound impression on Lily who feels the tragedy of her own life all the stronger later that evening, as she is alone in her own room:

It was no longer, however, from the vision of material poverty that she turned with the greatest shrinking. She had a sense of deeper empoverishment–of an inner destitution compared to which outward conditions dwindled into insignificance. It was indeed miserable to be poor–to look forward to a shabby, anxious middle-age, leading by dreary degrees of economy and self-denial to gradual absorption in the dingy communal existence of the boarding-house. But there was something more miserable still–it was the clutch of solitude at her heart, the sense of being swept like a stray uprooted growth down the heedless current of the years. That was the feeling which possessed her now–the feeling of being something rootless and ephemeral, mere spin-drift of the whirling surface of existence, without anything to which the poor little tentacles of self could cling before the awful flood submerged them. And as she looked back she saw that there had never been a time when she had had any real relation to life.

Her parents too had been rootless, blown hither and thither on every wind of fashion, without any personal existence to shelter them from its shifting gusts. She herself had grown up without any one spot of earth being dearer to her than another: there was no centre of early pieties, of grave endearing traditions, to which her heart could revert and from which it could draw strength for itself and tenderness for others. In whatever form a slowly-accumulated past lives in the blood–whether in the concrete image of the old house stored with visual memories, or in the conception of the house not built with hands, but made up of inherited passions and loyalties–it has the same power of broadening and deepening the individual existence, of attaching it by mysterious links of kinship to all the mighty sum of human striving.

Such a vision of the solidarity of life had never before come to Lily. She had had a premonition of it in the blind motions of her mating-instinct; but they had been checked by the disintegrating influences of the life about her. All the men and women she knew were like atoms whirling away from each other in some wild centrifugal dance: her first glimpse of the continuity of life had come to her that evening in Nettie Struther’s kitchen.

The poor little working-girl who had found strength to gather up the fragments of her life, and build herself a shelter with them, seemed to Lily to have reached the central truth of existence. It was a meagre enough life, on the grim edge of poverty, with scant margin for possibilities of sickness or mischance, but it had the frail audacious permanence of a bird’s nest built on the edge of a cliff–a mere wisp of leaves and straw, yet so put together that the lives entrusted to it may hang safely over the abyss.

Yes–but it had taken two to build the nest; the man’s faith as well as the woman’s courage. Lily remembered Nettie’s words: I knew he knew about me. Her husband’s faith in her had made her renewal possible–it is so easy for a woman to become what the man she loves believes her to be!”

It had taken a man’s sense of temporality to create the continuity that Lily admires about Nettie’s life, and Lily’s tragedy has been that she has been unable to find a man that would construct for her the narrative that she needed and that her ornamental self had been unable to create. Lawrence Selden was the man who came the closest to helping her when she needed her, but he ultimatively failed her. Nevertheless, and this is the part that I find so beautifully Septemberly about this chapter, as Lily is lying on the bed, she is haunted by the benevolent spirit of Nettie’s healthy baby girl. There are other stories about Lily than the one men in Lily’s society are spreading about her, there is also Nettie’s narrative, according to which the little baby would never have existed if it weren’t for Lily. Lily has a dim awareness of this as she empties the sleeping draught that has been her only consolation during the last harsh period of her life:

She had not imagined that such a multiplication of wakefulness was possible: her whole past was reenacting itself at a hundred different points of consciousness. Where was the drug that could still this legion of insurgent nerves? The sense of exhaustion would have been sweet compared to this shrill beat of activities; but weariness had dropped from her as though some cruel stimulant had been forced into her veins.

She could bear it–yes, she could bear it; but what strength would be left her the next day? Perspective had disappeared–the next day pressed close upon her, and on its heels came the days that were to follow–they swarmed about her like a shrieking mob. She must shut them out for a few hours; she must take a brief bath of oblivion. She put out her hand, and measured the soothing drops into a glass; but as she did so, she knew they would be powerless against the supernatural lucidity of her brain. She had long since raised the dose to its highest limit, but tonight she felt she must increase it. She knew she took a slight risk in doing so–she remembered the chemist’s warning. If sleep came at all, it might be a sleep without waking. But after all that was but one chance in a hundred: the action of the drug was incalculable, and the addition of a few drops to the regular dose would probably do no more than procure for her the rest she so desperately needed….

She did not, in truth, consider the question very closely–the physical craving for sleep was her only sustained sensation. Her mind shrank from the glare of thought as instinctively as eyes contract in a blaze of light–darkness, darkness was what she must have at any cost. She raised herself in bed and swallowed the contents of the glass; then she blew out her candle and lay down.

She lay very still, waiting with a sensuous pleasure for the first effects of the soporific. She knew in advance what form they would take–the gradual cessation of the inner throb, the soft approach of passiveness, as though an invisible hand made magic passes over her in the darkness. The very slowness and hesitancy of the effect increased its fascination: it was delicious to lean over and look down into the dim abysses of unconsciousness. Tonight the drug seemed to work more slowly than usual: each passionate pulse had to be stilled in turn, and it was long before she felt them dropping into abeyance, like sentinels falling asleep at their posts. But gradually the sense of complete subjugation came over her, and she wondered languidly what had made her feel so uneasy and excited. She saw now that there was nothing to be excited about–she had returned to her normal view of life. Tomorrow would not be so difficult after all: she felt sure that she would have the strength to meet it. She did not quite remember what it was that she had been afraid to meet, but the uncertainty no longer troubled her. She had been unhappy, and now she was happy–she had felt herself alone, and now the sense of loneliness had vanished.

She stirred once, and turned on her side, and as she did so, she suddenly understood why she did not feel herself alone. It was odd–but Nettie Struther’s child was lying on her arm: she felt the pressure of its little head against her shoulder. She did not know how it had come there, but she felt no great surprise at the fact, only a gentle penetrating thrill of warmth and pleasure. She settled herself into an easier position, hollowing her arm to pillow the round downy head, and holding her breath lest a sound should disturb the sleeping child.

As she lay there she said to herself that there was something she must tell Selden, some word she had found that should make life clear between them. She tried to repeat the word, which lingered vague and luminous on the far edge of thought–she was afraid of not remembering it when she woke; and if she could only remember it and say it to him, she felt that everything would be well.”

The word escapes Lily, of course – it comes to her too late, and so does Selden, who comes to see Lily the next day and finds only her beautiful corpse. But that ending would not have been quite the same without Lily’s consumptive blooming in this second-to-last chapter, and that short glimpse of what might have been, of Lily tenderly holding in her arms the future of Nettie Struther.

Syrian Impressions II – Palmyra

A few more snapshots from my trip to Syria: this time from our day-trip to Palmyra.

If you’re ever in Damascus, you should really make sure to take a short trip to Palmyra. A two-and-a-half hour-long drive through the stony desert will get you there, and you can even hire a cab to drive you if you’re feeling luxurious or just wary of bus rides – taxis are unbelievably cheap in Syria, and the drivers are fairly sensible and service-minded. A deserted ancient Roman situated in an palm-tree oasis, Palmyra is an incredible sight. We arrived there in the evening, and went up to this beautiful old castle to watch the sun set over the stone desert:

Palmyra sunset - and tourists busses

Palmyra sunset - and tourists busses

When I first saw how this photo had turned out, I was somewhat annoyed that I’d managed to include the not-so-aesthetically pleasing tourist busses in the picture. But to be honest,  the picture is pretty true to the actual experience. While the sunset was beautiful, the place was chock-full of tourists, and that cheapened the experience somewhat. Not least beacuse the tourists attracted a herd of local salesmen who were much more aggressive than the ones we’d met in Damascus.

But we stayed the night in a hotal in Palmyra, having decided to follow Lonely Planet’s advice and get up early in the morning to see the sun rise over the Roman ruins. We got up at 4.30 the next morning and staggered sleepily into the ruins, expecting to find as many tourists and salesmen as the night before crowding the place. But lo and behold, we had the place all to ourselves! And I think it’s probably one of the most beautiful sights I’ve ever seen; Palmyra in that pale blue morning light…

Ruins. And the moon.

Ruins. And the moon.

…the moon still hovering over the ruins….
Sunrise

Sunrise

 …while the sun rose in the horizon, phramed by ancient pillars…

Ruins - The Boyfriend poses

Ruins - The Boyfriend poses

 …The Boyfriend who is a big fan of the ancient Romans and thus was like a kid in a candy store the whole time we were there, bless his heart…

The view from one of the towers of the ruins
View from the tower

…the one tower that was so well-preserved that you could still mount its stairs and get to the top and which lent us the stunning panoramic view of the old city, betraying the infra-structure and inspiring in us an How the Mighty Fall-ish kind of feeling… 

Palmyra camel
Palmyra camel

…And finally, just to get our feet back on the ground, this cute, laid-back camel we encountered on our way back to the hotel, when the heat was starting to get insufferable.

Syrian Impressions

Okay, so one week turned into two weeks, and then some. I returned from Syria last weekend, but I’ve got an exam coming up, and I’ve been so busy catching up on my studying since I’ve been back.

And I still have a lot of studying to do. My initial intention was to write one or more essays about my trip to post here, because Syria was really a life-altering experience for me, but what with my busy exam schedule and all, you’ll have to do without my self-indulgent (“self-indulgent”? Let’s hope I’m more eloquent at my upcoming exam…) self-absorbed ramblings. Instead, I’m posting some pictures:

The Danish Institute

The Danish Institute

The Danish Institute where our friend worked. Court yards are big in Damascus, but this one is one of the most famous and most well-restored. I loved the fountain and the mosaic, and the yard was made even more heavenly by the fact that only a few walls seperated it from the dusty, chaotic souq where the Institute is situated, and yet the yard was somehow always a tranquil, quiet place.

Damascus souq

Damascus souq

What’s a souq, you ask? The souqs are roofed bazaars. You can see an example at the picture above. The salesmen were eager to sell, of course, but they were also very polite, like pretty much every Syrian I met, so there was a pleasant, albeit hectic atmosphere in the souqs. I bought a lot of scarves.

The Umayyad Mosque

The Umayyad Mosque

I’ve been told that the Umayyad Mosque is the third most important mosque in the world! Built way back in the year 751, and housing the relic of Saint John’s skull (Saint John being an important prophet to Islam), it was indeed an impressive sight. As in all of the Damascus mosques I had to wear a hooted frock to cover my hair, and both men and women were to remove their shoes before entering the sacred place. The picture was taken in the mosque yard.

The Barber of Damascus

The Barber of Damascus

From the sacred grounds of a mosque to a more prosaic site: Here’s a Damascus barber, and The Boyfriend’s and my friend M. getting a Syrian shave.

Mariager Mass of the Death – A Danish Ghost Story

I meant to post this for Halloween last year, and then I completely forgot about it. Here I go now then, slightly delayed:

I’m a sucker for ghost stories and eerie folklore, and I thus I really treasure a book I was once given as a present by a dear friend who knew of my folklore partiality. It’s called Our Old Churches and Convents (“Vore gamle kirker og klostre”), written by folklorist Gorm Benzon, and in a series of chapters it describes old churches and convents and, more importantly, recount old tales that are connected with the places. It’s such a fun read, and very inspiring if you’re ever to make a trip through Denmark and would like an alternative travelling guide.

Last summer, The Boyfriend, my parents and I made just such a trip across the country, as we went from Copenhagen to the North-Western coast of Jutland where my family always goes in the summer. On our way up there in the car, we passed closely through the town of Mariager, and thanks to Gorm Benzon, I suddenly remembered an old eerie folk tale that’s connected to this particular little Jutlandian town and their church, Mariager Church. I mentioned this to my father, and he decided that we should go see the church, and then I could tell the rest of the company the ghost story.

There’s something eerie about Mariager Church that’s difficult to describe. When my paternal grandfather was alive, he lived near Mariager, so my family has been there a couple of times before. My mother tells me that once when she and my father brought my older brother to see the church when he was two years old, he was horrified and started crying the moment they entered the church: He’d caught sight of the suffering, crucified Christ hanging on the wall. My brother was inconsolable, and they had to take him out again.

Visiting it last summer, I had to wonder if it was more than just the crucifiction representation that scared him: Maybe he picked up on a general atmosphere of something uncanny? There’s something in the very architechture of the church that’s slightly intimidating. Danish churches are usually quite small and mild-looking buildings – Fanefjord Church being an excellent example of Danish churches. Mariager Church, however, is different: It was originally (in 1445) initiated as a convent by Saint Brigitta, and while the building went through a thorough reconstruction in the 18th century, the sense of something ancient still clings to the place, along with an air of solemnity, and the imposant architectural style differs a great deal from your average Danish church:

rc3b8dhus-2008-1351

It’s hard to make the church look intimidation on a bright summer day. I tried to accomplish the eeriness by means of a crooked angle. Not quite sure I succeeded. I hope you get the idea regardless. 

The church also houses a few historical gems in the unsettling department, most notably two figures carved in wood, preserved from pre-reformation times, showing Christ as a so-called Man of Pain (“Smertensmand” in Danish), comtemplating with pain his wounds from the crucifiction, and the Tomb of Christ, showing a life-sized Christ in a wooden coffin. Even when you walk down the aisle of the church, your path is paved with ancient grave stone memorials of once-important Mariager residents.

An atmosphere of death, suffering and times past embues the vaults of the church, and despite the beautiful summer weather we were having that day, my parents, The Boyfriend and I were all in the perfect mood for a ghost story when we assembled outside of the church after our visit there, so that I could recount the piece of folklore. The following was the story I told them, as well as I remembered it:

Once upon a time at Christmas, back in the day when it was still common to have Chrismas mass very early Christmas morning, a Mariager woman awoke on Christmas night. She lived alone and didn’t have a clock, and it was dark outside, but she decided it must be about time to go to mass, so she got up, wrapped her shawl around her, and ventured out into the cold wintry air.

When she reached the church she found that mass had already started; the music of a hymn reached her as she approached the church. Eager not to bring anymore attention to herself, she crept as quietly as she could into the church and hurridly found an empty seat for herself. But then she started noticing something strange: The hymn that was being sung was not one she recalled ever having heard before. Furthermore, she didn’t recognize any of the other church-goers surrounding her, although a number of them seemed strangely familiar to her. Even the preacher was unfamiliar to her and he, like everyone else in church, was alarmingly pale with deep, dark eyes.

She felt a tap to her shoulder and turned around to face the woman sitting next to her. To her horror, she found that the woman was none other than a neighbour who’d been a good friend of hers, but who had died several years ago. “Hurry out of the church the second the minister says ‘amen'” the deceased neighbouress whispered, “and take care to hang your shawl loosely, or else no one can save you!”.

The woman was terrified and wanted to get out of her seat straight away, but she found that she couldn’t move a limb. Now she started recognizing more and more of the churchgoers as people she’d known from Mariager who had been dead for a long time.

But the second the minister said his “amen”, the woman was able to to move again, and she got up and rushed to the door. She didn’t stop to look back, but she could feel all the dead church-goers pursuing her, reaching out for her. She hurried through the church door and let it fall behind her as she ran. The door caught her shawl, but since she’d hung it loosely, like her deceased neighbouress had advised her, she easily freed herself and ran on.

She made it back home and realized that it was only one a clock in the morning. In her alarmed state, she woke up her neighbours and told them her frightening story. They laughed at her, certain that she had either gone mad or dreamed it all up.

Except when the community went to church that morning, they found her shawl stuck in the church door. The part of the shawl that was inside the door was shredded to little pieces..

PS: In the interest of folklore, I actually asked my father to tell me the story as well as he remembered it, a couple of months later. Interestingly, he told me pretty much the story, except in his version the shawl was not shredded to little pieces, it was mouldy and falling apart. I liked this zombie-esque twist to the story a lot better than the rather odd idea of ghosts ripping up random material, and have actually decided to start using this version instead of the original one when I re-tell it. So I guess the story lives on as a piece of lore, with the eerie old Mariager Church lending inspiration to it, even in the 21st Century, and I kind of like that thought.