This blue marble

– and yet it spins


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Touching a lost civilization

livingmuseum-1Lifestyles of thousands of years are quickly forgotten in the turbulence of the past two centuries. In Africa, 200 years is some 8 generations, and thus it was about time that a group of Damara people began to research and recount for their old ways, before all was forgotten. Out of this came the Damara Living Museum: a traditional village made up for tourists, where Damara craft and life is put on display by people enacting their customs for work.

The sun was hot in the desert and everybody wore loincloths. Only a couple of women covered their breasts. Our guide was a young, pregnant woman with full, beautiful pregnancy breasts. She was a gorgeous creature. Men were dangling bones and what looked like donkey or oryx tail hair from their loincloths.  Some had leather headwear, to protect from the sun. In summer, the day temperature can climb up to 50 degrees centigrade, thus one may wish to concentrate one’s garments over the head. But the nights are still freezing cold. Fortunately these modern Damara people probably went home to a hut with proper blankets, but how did their ancestors manage all those tens of thousands of years previously? With furs? It is not as if the animals around here are donned with insulating pelts.

We were also taken for a bushwalk to learn about local medicinal plants. Surprisingly many bushes that I recognized actually have known medicinal uses! Even oryx dung was used as a strong potion to stabilize a woman’s menstrual cycle. The ladies explained that it is strong enough to kill an unborn baby. In addition, we were shown how to hunt oryx, and how to trap dassie-rats. Although it was taboo for women to hunt in the Damara culture.

This type of tourism is the best kind: it keeps old traditions alive and feeds local people. It is sad, however, that the only reason the beautiful age-old culture of the Damara exist is for tourists, or in some protected, often distant, areas. “Progress” wipes out so much knowledge, craft, and time-tested ways of life. livingmuseum-2(Twyfelfontein, Namibia; July 2017)


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Ancient African art

twyfelfonteinThe Cro-Magnon people of Europe drew mammoths, deer, and moose. The San people of Africa made giraffes, oryxes, and wildebeest. Both depict hunts, hunted animals, and the styles are quite similar. If you look closely you can even see an animal with double sets of legs, like the one at Lascaux which is suspected to be like an animation of a walking animal when properly flashed with light. The Cro-Magnon people drew shamanic apparitions, as did the San people: if you look closely at the Twyfelfontein rock painting site you can find a lion with a deer-like animal in its jaws. The lion has a long, angled tail, with a pawprint at the end. As if from a trance dream.

The rock drawings of Twyfelfontein are similar to the ones in Lascaux. We people share a universal, collective mind, regardless of where in the world we live. Which drawings are older? The San people who drew the Twyfelfontein paintings are said to be the oldest original people of Africa, but these drawings are only about 2,000-6,000 years old; while the paintings in the Lascaux caves have survived 17,000 years. The oldest known rock art, in Indonesia, is dated 40,000 years back in time. On the one hand, the Twyfelfontein art is much younger. On the other hand, the Cro-Magnon people seem to have stopped making rock paintings some 10,000 years ago, while the San people did it until they were banished to the nearly rock-less Kalahari desert when farming became popular after Namibian independence.

Living prehistoric culture is unfortunately very easy to kill.

(Twyfelfontein, Namibia; July 2017)


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Gilded ceilings and electric lights

hallwyl-2Imagine the splendor and style of Versailles – with original electric light fittings. The bustle of a country castle downstairs kitchen – with modern, white tiles stretching over the walls and the ceiling. And an electric kitchen elevator, and three water faucets: one for hot, one for cold, and one for rain water.hallwyl-1This was all highly unusual in any wealthy, traditional-style house in Stockholm at the turn of the 20th century. But the Hallwyl couple seem to have been unusual, too: they built a palace with all the modern, sometimes experimental, luxuries of the turn of the century. They then proceeded to decorate it in the style of what can only be described as flitting from good taste to extravagant kitsch. During that time, who really chose their salon decor to mimic French gilded rococo?

The lady of the house sure did not hesitate when she bought 15th century tapestries before she even had a house, and designed the living room to fit the tapestries. She also did not hesitate in general, as she collected almost anything and everything she considered art: from china to paintings and to swords and pistols. She then proceeded to convert her newly built house to a museum for future generations, and produced a set of 78 printed books cataloguing all her possessions.

One cannot help but wonder whether this was truly the passion of a lady interested in beauty and the world, or a well-planned project to gain power through magnanimity? And how did she fit into society? Her house surely must have been the cause of many curious rumors and stories. Perhaps this was just as she liked it?hallwyl-4(Hallwyl House, Stockholm; April 2017)


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About books and worship

vienna-22There are people who travel just to see famous libraries. I should like to be one of those people. There ought to be a Michelin guide for libraries: where one star is an honor, two stars recommend a detour to have the experience, and three stars a special journey out just to see the place. The Austrian National Library truly is one worthy of traveling to just to see the place. vienna-21The Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI surely thought of a library worth three stars, as he constructed a State Hall in the shape of a cathedral and placed himself, surrounded by the sun-pattern on the floor, in the middle to be worshiped. One should better worship the books and knowledge and poetry, but with the Baroque splendor all around, one might just forget about the content and stand in awe before the building itself.
vienna-20Even books used to be so much more beautiful back then: golden inscriptions and delicate sizes, favoring multiple volumes over the brick-size murder weapons that some pocket books are today.vienna-18Should one’s eyes wander all the way up to the ceiling, they will most likely remain stuck there for quite some time. And no, the images are not about Christian Bible legends or Paradise, but about the great Habsburg dynasty, as if it were god-like.

Walking toward the radiantly depicted Holy Roman Emperor statue, below the fresco of Habsburg heavens, in a building designed like a cathedral, I was not quite sure if the said Emperor really had constructed the library as a haven for knowledge, or as a deification of himself. Perhaps not the humblest of perspectives, but then again, who expects an Emperor to be humble?
vienna-25(Vienna, Austria; February 2017)


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Music mass tourism

vienna-12Who cares that Vienna was twice sieged by the Ottoman Turks, had its shares of plagues and epidemics, and was taken by Napoleon twice. What is remembered of Vienna today is the art, the Habsburg dynasty, the horses, the cakes, the waltzes; and the good, slightly decadent, living. And of course the music: Haydn, Schubert, Strauss, Mozart, and the rest.

Unfortunately, businessy people know how well tourists remember. And so we toured a quite stripped-down apartment of Schubert, where the receptionist spoke little English and knew little of the person whose life was on display. And at night we went to the most beautiful, little, fresco-decorated music chamber, where the Mozart played was barely tolerable. I guess we have now been there, done that, and gotten the T-shirt.

But a little mystery was discovered: why did Schubert write his sheet music notes on the higher end of the staff as mirror image to what is published? If you look at the “upside down” notes they face left, not right. Was he left-handed or just lazy?vienna-13(Vienna, Austria; February 2017)


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Horses horses horses

vienna-11Why is it that perfect control over animals is viewed as a beautiful thing in our human culture? Why is it that a perfectly behaving horse or dog is seen as a perfect companion; whereas a cat that levels with a person and establishes a deep friendship, where it still usually does as it pleases, is seen as uncomfortable or even unappreciated? The Spanish Riding School claims to only enhance the natural behavior of the Lipizzaner horses, but why must they be perfectly controlled by straight-backed men (and a few women) for us to love them? As I sat watching the Morgenarbeid (Morning Work) of the horses in the Spanish Riding School, I could not help but think of the incessant need for dominion over animals and anything else that is one of the deepest drives of us humans.
vienna-23During the centuries, the horses have been involved in much human power play. Lipizzaner horses in the Spanish riding school in Vienna have an Italian name originating from a breeding place in Slovenia. European history in a nutshell. They were specially rescued during the World Wars and have been close to the hearts of the Austro-Hungarian emperors. Today they are close to the hearts of so many little girls and boys worldwide.

All Lipizzaners are born dark brown, nearly black. Most mature into a grayish white, but sometimes the brown color prevails. A dark stallion is a good-luck horse, a talisman that is said to protect the school, as trouble has ensued several times when the school has been occupied by white horses only. And the current dark resident was beautiful. Alas, no photos allowed of the horses, and this was strictly enforced. vienna-10(Vienna, Austria; February 2017)