Scandinavians and Their Urban Summer Cottages

My favorite eccentricity of Scandinavian cities is the existence of tiny summer cottages that fill large areas of land in otherwise densely populated cities. These are used during the long days of summer to lounge and garden, and most are too small to sleep in; plumbing is unusual.

I've seen these in varying styles in Denmark, Finland and Sweden. I took these pictures in the middle of Stockholm, in one such enclave of profligate cuteness:

What a civilized way to live! I can't think of a single city that wouldn't be greatly improved with a few blocks of urban summer cottages. During the warm months, families lucky enough to have a cottage often get much of their produce from these little plots:

Of course, it not all business. Many flowers are grown:

In places the foliage is dense enough to obscure the city entirely:

A haze of summer sun:


Embarassing Admission: I Am Interested in Royalty from Afar

Letter home, July 2nd, 2008:

"On a barge tour of the harbor, by chance we saw the Queen of Denmark step from her Rolls, descend a wide stair and board her little barge ... "

"... with perfectly dressed sailors in white with navy blue poms and long ribbons trailing from their backs standing at either end of the little craft (almost like gondaliers) and up the wide steps leading to the harbour."

Queen Magrethe visible in the jaunty red hat:

"... Then they sailed out to the royal yacht, anchored in the middle of the harbor and covered with hundreds of little flags, very beautiful."

" ... I've since been told that when life in Copenhagen becomes too hectic for Queen Magrethe, she enjoys spending the afternoon on her yacht, and indeed that day it didn't sail anywhere and remained anchored in the harbor."

"I took many pictures of the whole thing, and felt a little silly at how excited it made me. And the water is so clean it looks black, and in many places you can see the bottom on the harbour and rivers when the sun is bright, but not glaring."

I think more than anything I was drawn to the pomp and circumstance, the performance almost like a ballet that follows her in life. However, I'm not entirely aloof: I have to admit a certain fascination with Queen Magrethe -- unlike many vaguely useless royals, she studied prehistoric excavation at Cambridge, and political science at Aarhus University, the Sorbonne & the London School of Economics. Her portrait in Aarhus Town Hall:

Presumably she is gesturing across the subtle lushness that is the Danish countryside. Everyone I was traveling with said she looked smug, but hey, wouldn't you be?

How lucky she is that no one cares about her little family outside of Denmark (except dorks like me, who run into her by chance), which I must admit strikes me as odd -- they have all the bells and whistles: impossible wealth, striking bone structure, etc. But perhaps they're too happy, and thus no good for news.

11 Rooms of Vuillard (Well, Really Only 6)

There are only a few things guaranteed to make me smile, but Vuillard interiors do the trick. Everyone bends over backward talking about the pattern in Matisse's odalisque paintings, but my vote goes to Eduard Vuillard when it comes to pattern in interior space. I could literally look at these for hours -- the color relationships are so extraordinary, the combination in scale and color of pattern kills me.

Some are tart and sharp:


This one reminds me of the Red House -- assured perfection, relaxed and comfortable:

One day, I will have a room in precisely this color:


And to bed:


Rainy Days and Mondays (& Tuesdays)

It's been raining here for the last two days, which has been a bit of a slap given how weirdly sunny and resplendent last week was. At first I was a bit bummed out, but then I reminded myself that I love the rain, and the muted tones and delicacy of light through storm clouds, alla Gustave Caillebotte's Paris Street; Rainy Day:

I remember reading years ago that Toulouse Lautrec was known as la pluie qui marche, or "rain that walks," in reference to his foul disposition. I've always admire that nickname, and thought I'd like to be rain that walks, so today I decided to dress as the rain:

An ancient military issue Norwegian sweater and ashen shirt in a fine linen, both like the underside of a cloud reflected on slick pavement:

Textured silk tie the color of mud and grit in gutters:

Raw indigo denim (which looks most beautiful in a faltering light) like black water in drains, shoes the color of slime:

My favorite scent, which smells wet and crestfallen and optimistic at the same time, like wet dirt:

One concession to reality -- a vibrant yellow umbrella, to keep me from getting smashed by one of Providence's idiot drivers:

La pluie qui marche is born!


Noh Masks and Early CGI

I have only one thing in common with Marcello Mastroianni ...

My suave ways? No, no! Apparently we both enjoy a good Noh mask.

When I was very young, our downstairs neighbor had an exquisite collection of Noh masks, and I still remember them laying on their little silk pouches on a low table. I was reminded of them by a weird and beautiful video I ran into a few months ago; extremely early computer generated imaging from 1972, by Fred Parke:

Isn't it engaging and a bit disturbing?

"Several types of masks, in particular those for female roles, are designed so that slight adjustments in the position of the head can express a number emotions such as fear or sadness due to the variance in lighting and the angle shown towards the audience."

The following is an illustration of this principle, showing three views of the same mask:

I've never seen a Noh performance, but would so love to. I'm sure I would have virtually no idea what was going on without a great deal of homework, but I enjoy bewildering experiences. Other neat facts:

"By tradition, Noh actors and musicians never rehearse for performances together. Instead, each actor, musician, and choral chanter practices his or her fundamental movements, songs, and dances independently or under the tutelage of a senior member of the school. Thus, the tempo of a given performance is not set by any single performer but established by the interactions of all the performers together. In this way, Noh exemplifies the traditional Japanese aesthetic of transience ..."

"The floor is polished to enable the actors to move in a gliding fashion, and beneath this floor are buried giant pots or bowl-shaped concrete structures to enhance the resonant properties of the wood floors when the actors stomp heavily on the floor. As a result, the stage is elevated approximately three feet above the ground level of the audience."

The birth of a Noh mask:

"Effacement" Clip from Solrun Hoaas on Vimeo.

And what to do at the end of a Noh performance?

"Watching a Noh play is like dreaming; it starts and ends without any clear signs. Thus there are not a few fans that prefer not to clap their hands at the end of a show in order to avoid spoiling an aftertaste. It is important to have good manners when we appreciate art; however, many people say we should not completely forbid hand clapping if it is done to express excitement. But we have to refrain from clapping our hands at the end of a tragedy. We should also remember that a show is not over if someone is on stage."

A precedent, loved since infancy, which might explain my love of the things:

... a delightful Brancusi head. I loved it as a child, and how it lolled along the bottom of a vitrine in the Art Institute (though our version is bronze). Funny how yesterdays post was all about forgetting the face, and here we are today ...


Faces are Overrated...

... as are words.

Isn't their specificity, void of facial expression, remarkable?

Name all of them and get a faceless prize.


Drinks on Ice, and Shades of "I Served the King of England"

Of course choosing a single favorite book is impossible. But I might be able to narrow it to a couple dozen, or maybe 50, and Czeth writer Bohumil Hrabal's I Served the King of England is easily in the top 20. If you haven't read it, you have to order it now. No joke.

It has to be the most unapologetically sensual book I've encountered. The words seem to smell like something, and the the evocation of texture through words is narcotic. I gave it to my father for Christmas a few years ago, and while reading me a passage he particularly liked he started crying for the sheer beauty of the thing. It's that kind of book.

The narrator is a little waiter, and it follows his life between the World Wars, during WWII and after. He works in a succession of extraordinary hotels, and finally owns his own, the most remarkable of all. But I say no more! Buy it!

These pictures from the Grand Hotel in San Moritz reminded me of this lush little book, so I present them here. They were taken by Alfred Eisenstaedt in 1931, and interestingly focus on the staff, who exude competence and even brilliance even at a distance of 79 years.

What would I drink in 1931?

And I think I will forever be disappointed that future drinks are not served to me in this fashion:

See what I mean when I say brilliance? And they're even the life of the party:

And dear god, their tuxedos are so exquisitely cut. Who cares about stupid Tom Ford at the Oscars? But a pale shadow to the flame.

Even Icarus fell:

I must admit I only found these images while trying to track down more info on my Grandmother's favorite Nazi. Any guesses, guys? She was wicked, but boy could she skate. Look how impressed even the waiters of the Grand Hotel are; this picture captures their excitement as she glides below ...

Transient Comforts: Supplies

I'm going on an extended trip, very soon, to a distant land with foreign customs. However, I refuse to be without the elements of comfort to which I've become accustomed ... what to do?

Let's shop for insanely expensive antique campaign furniture, shall we? I so prefer to travel with trunks.

becomes a place to sleep:

and this ...

for playing:

a satchel ...

for sitting:

and this ...

for blogging, and other writing:

But still we have the issue of linen suits ...

how to keep them hung and wrinkle free while trekking?

Steven is joining me for phase 2 of the journey, and has requirements of his own, which should fit comfortably within this:


Good to go! Thanks, Kyra, for finding another way for me to waste time, via this website.
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