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lördag, januari 17, 2009
Wind From the Sea
Andrew Wyeth, 1948
Many years ago, I encountered Andrew Wyeth's "Wind From the Sea" and sat rapt with the magazine in my lap for some time, entranced by the tattered lace curtains blowing in the unseen wind from the sea, by the old window and the rather bleak (in conventional terms anyway) landscape beyond the window.
At the time of my encounter with the painting, I was not old enough to read, and I had no idea what the painting was called or who had painted it, but I knew that here was something special, and that the image before me would be with me all the days of my life. A child does not have the vocabulary to describe such things, but the painting was simply magnificent and it called me out of my child self, into it and somewhere else, over the hills and far away. It was compelling; it was stark and sombre and poignant beyond words - it was liminal and absolutely magical. I have never forgotten, and I have indeed carried the image around with me ever since, all the days of my life.
Andrew Wyeth, 1989
The subjects of Wyeth's much later and dreamlike "Snow Hill" are dancing merrily around a beribboned pole, not a May pole as one might think at first glance, but a winter pole crowned by an evergreen and surrounded by snow. We cannot see the faces of the six dancers, but they were all known to Wyeth as models, and they were friends at various times in his life. On the hillside below is a farm near Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, a place known and loved by Wyeth in his childhood. In the distance we glimpse the railway tracks on which Wyeth's father was killed with his young grandson in 1945. Wyeth once said jocularly that the subjects of this rather surreal painting were dancing around the pole in anticipation of his death because he had been so difficult to work with. The dancers certainly appear to be in a festive frame of mind, but if they are celebrating anything at all, it is Andrew's long and fruitful life and his art, not his demise.
To Andrew Wyeth, I owe my early engagement with the grandeur of life and the natural world, with the luminous, the magical, the wild and the fey which has sustained me for fifty odd years. Every trip I have ever taken into the woods with camera had its genesis in my meeting with Andrew Wyeth's 1948 painting - every moment of wonder, every exposure, every entranced moment spent tracing shadows and shapes and textures in the wild.
Andrew Wyeth died yesterday in his sleep at the ripe old age of ninety-one, and I never had a chance to thank him. How I wish it had been otherwise. He gave me the world, and the eyes with which to truly see it. What child could ask for more?
onsdag, januari 07, 2009
What do you mean there is no thirteenth day of Christmas? Where are you living, anyway?
Yes, yes, yesterday was the twelfth day of Christmas, with the celebration of the Epiphany, the day when the Magi (Melchior, Balthazar, and Caspar) arrived to visit Jesus as an infant. It is celebrated in many countries as an extension of the Christmas festivities and the official day to dismantle Christmas.
But not in for we in Sweden.....
And for that we can thank a Danish King called Knut. He was sainted by the pope in 1169, with his feast day being made 7th January (the first weekday after Christmas). This was the day that Swedes chose to end the holiday season. But in the sixteenth century, the church calendar was reformed and Knut's day was moved forward a week. As the Swedes had always been accustomed to ending their Christmas holidays on Knut's day, they solved the dilemma by extending the party and simply continued celebrating an extra week.
What eminently sensible idea. So we don't take down out lights, trees, decorations until next week. Which is just as well, really because it is still very dark and bitterly cold and we need all of the light and colour we can get. I don't complain about the two month long season.
As well as the tree, we still have the Christmas cards pinned to our bookshelf. They have come from friends all over the world and bring us a lot of joy. Christmas cards are a lovely way to let us know that we are in somebody else’s thoughts and they are a simple way to connect us with friends and family. When we start to receive these beautiful cards, they initially form a migration pattern across our home. We often open them at our kitchen table where we stand them up by the Advent lights. Then, when we start receiving more and more, they begin to be found all over our home wherever there is an empty space and inevitably get toppled over by a passing poodle.
I'll have to think of a better way to display them next year. I had thought of a ribbon strung across the wall, but many of the cards are "postcard" style with no fold, so what could we do with them? While it is nice to stand up Christmas cards on a table, they can be easily knocked over by small gusts of wind, or small furry paws. So we chose to pin them on the bookshelves so we could see them and know they'd be safe. I think I'll try and thread them on ribbon and make garlands out of them. But that's next year.
And at this time of the year, you can pick up some inexpensive decorations. I mostly have enough to keep me happy, but I had missed having a Nativity set. So I was tickled to find this little tealight candle holder. You just don't see Nativity sets around, as Christmas is much more about yule than Christ here.
I've tried to explain to a slightly bemused L-G how we set up the whole scene when I was a child. We'd buy straw from the local feed store and my gran would help us arrange it on the table and explain to us how each figure in a nativity scene has meaning, and the manner in which they are arranged was very important. I can't begin to tell you what a wonderful and special woman my gran was. I especially think of her at Christmas time. We just loved to do all of the set up. At that time, there were so many "no touch" Christmas decorations (thinking of all of the lovely blown glass balls we had on our tree), so it was nice for we children to be able to touch and set up the Nativity scene over and over again each year. And the competition among us for who would lay Jesus in the manger after Christmas Eve midnight mass was intense.
There is nothing in the world more beautiful than the forest
clothed to its very hollows in snow.
It is the still ecstasy of nature, wherein every spray,
every blade of grass, every spire of reed,
every intricacy of twig, is clad with radiance.
It seems, as the cold weather is here to stay. It was -22°C overnight (-8°F) so we stay as close to the warmth as we can. I did go out to feed the ducks with a vigorously protesting Lambi, but she ran home faster than you could possible believe after I distributed the last crumb to the poor birds.
I realise looking around me that I really need to tidy up — I just don't understand how a house can get messy when all you're doing is sitting on the sofa reading most of the time. Must be gnomes. I sure wish they'd learn to clean up after themselves. I'm about to start a new book today, having just finished reading the very delightful The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. It was such a wonderful story, set in post war Guernsey, told in a warm style and reminded me a lot of a cross between a Barbara Pym novel and the classic 84 Charing Cross Road. I was sorry when it ended, as I'd come to feel that the characters were a bit like family.
I frankly wanted to pack my bags and head off there myself to take in the atmosphere and history of the island. It also made me ponder the question of why letter writing seems to have gone out of fashion. It’s such a shame I think it needs to come back, don't you?
måndag, januari 05, 2009
Once upon a time, the holiday of Christmas revolved around celebrating the birth of Christ. There were angels and wise men and frankincense and myrrh. But some of my more irreverent friends don't quite see it in the same light. Indeed, one of those friends came down for a visit yesterday and presented me with The Holy Toast as a birthday gift.
While I'd like to think that she appreciates the depth of my Catholic faith and her sole reason for giving me this was the genuine thought that it might promote religious reflection during normal activities like making breakfast, her cheeky grin told another story. Though it was far more tasteful (hard as that is to believe) than what she wanted to buy me, but was forbidden by her boyfriend from doing so...
This stamper actually creates an imprint of Mary on your morning toast. After all, isn’t a little worship with your jam exactly what the priest ordered? Poor L-G was not sure who was the madder - myself or Justine, but hey if it's sacrilege for such a modest price, what else can I say but Amen to that!
It will now be holy toast or nothing in my house from now onwards. I wonder if I should make a sign for the door? And I wonder what our Swedish friends who stay here in the summer will think. They were already alarmed by the postcard this same friend sent me from Lourdes last year, complete with the Virgin of Lourdes who "appeared" depending on how you viewed the card....
But we had invited her down from Stockholm for the day with the promise that she could see a boring town where everything was shut. The weather gods however decided to pull a fast one on us and sent down a great deal of snow, then plunged the temperature to -15C (5F) and turned on the sunshine to make every snowflake glisten and glitter like dazzling diamonds. And even Oxelösund look nice!
This is the view of the harbour in the early morning (well, early for us, anyway). The mist you can see above the water is called sjörök and is caused when the air passing over the water at a much lower temperature. I've seen patches of this before, but never the whole harbour and all the way out to sea. We just sat there in wonder, watching it all drift slowly and calmly across the bay. We reluctantly left the stunning view across the harbour and headed up to Nyköping to collect Justine from the impressively named Nyköping's Central Station, which was little more than a deserted platform...
See, even that looks presentable with a covering of white powder. We apologised profusely for misleading her into thinking this might be a grey, dull and boring day, but she decided to be gracious and stay since she'd travelled so far.
While we were here, we decided to see how fast the rapids were running down by the old mill on the river. And it was a fantastic sight.
The scene was like a picture postcard from a winter wonderland. Justine told us that while cold in Stockholm, there was not much snow around. Obviously there was some kind of divine intervention going on to turn on all of this beauty for her visit. "Damn", we muttered to each other "Now she'll want to come back again!"
Nyköping is in fact a beautiful, lovely old town and it was especially dazzling and sparkly in the snow, with the water powering through the weir, creating spray, mist and ice sculptures everywhere we looked. Justine was kept busy snapping away at everything like an embarrassing Japanese tourist.
As the water powered down and the snow stirred softly in the gentle breeze, you could still hear the sounds of the birds frolicking cheerfully in the trees. The snowy trees were like Christmas all over again. Even parts of the waterfall had frozen and there was snow on the eaves of the buildings, cottages and sculptures. It was straight out of a Christmas card.
The spray glistened in the sunshine, creating whirling rainbows and the snow was pure white in the dazzling sun, stirring up the imagination. Hmmm...not at all the experience we had promised... It was as though someone had come through with a big can of spray on marshmallow and coated everything. And when the sun glittered off the snow crystals, I was reminded of those Christmas cards people used to send with glitter on them. I used to love those cards with the sparkling dust on them. In my innocence, I used to think that someone really rich had sent the card.
Lambi was über-unimpressed being forced to be out in the cold when we should have been home eating saffron buns and admiring her instead. We stood watching the stream, looking at the laxtrappa (salmon ladder, leap, stair?) and wondering if the salmon could actually use it. It would seem so, if this fishing website is anything to go by (and yes, that madman is standing in the freezing water). Apparently they catch trophy sized salmon up to 23 kilos and sea trout up to 13 kilos here.
This is a popular walking route through the town as it follows the winding river all the way past the castle and into the sea. We walked a bit more (under extreme protest from the frozen poodle) looking at teenage boys fishing from the shore, people out strolling, dogs walking (not that it inspired Lambi to bother), kids on sleds and families out feeding the ducks and enjoying the day.
Feeling a little frozen, we went back to the car and continued our exploration around town. This time Lambi was cross that Justine was in the front seat (which is HER place) and she whined piteously until Justine was forced to nurse her the whole way back home. Hee, hee.
We didn't go straight home, but detoured to take her through the woods and out to the lighthouse keeper's cottage at Femörehuvud. It was a bracing walk and the sea and sun were refreshing, except to Lambi who couldn't for the life of her understand why we were there without a picnic.
I actually put her down for a short time so she could practice being a real dog for a change and you should have seen her reluctantly skulking along, much to the amusement of everyone there. She's incorrigible.
Those two guys were really chuckling as they waited for Lambi to make her way through the gate. So yes, I picked her up and carried her the kilometre or so back to the car...
We were then able to get down to the serious business of afternoon tea, chatting, dinner and the gift giving. Much more to Princess Lambi's style, especially as she could just lay in her basket and be warm and admired and slightly singed when she came too close to Justine's piece of bun).
Justine had also bought me flowers. And not just any flowers - she found sprigs of sugar gum and golden wattle - in Sweden! L-G could not understand my excitement, even when I recited the lines from the Monty Python philospher's sketch: "This here's the wattle, the emblem of our land. You can stick it in a bottle, you can hold it in your hand." (I did this while Justine was at the loo in case she thought I was nuts. Needless to say, this was before she gave me the Holy Toast maker....)
As far as he's concerned, a flower is a flower. He had no idea that I'd go crazy over what looked quite ordinary to him. Yes, I can see him failing the Australian Immigration test miserably if he fails to recognise it as the floral emblem of our great land.
This morning, while the Holy toast was cooking, the kitchen was filled with the lovely scent of eucalyptus and wattle. It was both a welcome reminder of home and provided a contrast to the winter landscape outside as well.
And the snowy and ice continue today, with even colder temperatures. The big chill is settling in up north with temperatures plummeting to -35C (-31F) overnight. It was a more tropical -20C (-4F) here, but still I see that bays in the Baltic are starting to ice over and some of the more sheltered waters in the archipelago might be skateable this year - the first time in a few years that it has been possible.
All I can say is brrrr..... and pop some Vegemite on my Holy Toast.
torsdag, januari 01, 2009
New Years Resolutions, do I hear you ask???
Nothing. Zero. Zilch. Nada.
That's about it. One good thing about the New Year is that it is my birthday as well, which has its advantages.
1. I can usually work out exactly how old I am in exact years, months and days.
2. I always seem to have a public holiday on my birthday.
3. I always get fireworks.
4. The coming in of the new year is also an anniversary of my journey on this blue blob around a small sun on the edge of the galaxy.
5. People remember your birthday more easily than other "standard" days such as May 13th.
6. In my younger days, I got one kiss for the New Year and one for the birthday!
Things that suck about having a birthday around this time of year.
1. Sometimes I feel a little seedy on the day as do others.
2. When I was a kid, Christmas and birthday presents were "combined". A person who has their birthday on Christmas day also has the same problem.
3. A lot of things are closed, so going out can be a hassle.
This year I spent midnight on New Year's Eve perched on a frosty slope near Oxelösund's harbour, watching firework launch spots going off all at once. It was lovely.
These are all private people setting off fireworks at home or out in the street. Honestly, you are able to buy almost anything short of a sub-tactical nuclear weapon in this country if it's around New Year's Eve, provided you have the cash. And apparently, lots of people have lots of cash for explosives. The private citizen, the alcoholic, the insane, the terrorist or anyone else, can simply wander down to their local shop and lay out money for incredible fireworks. We're not talking a handful of sparklers and a few cone fountains here, people, we're talking rockets red glare, bombs bursting in air. We're talking huge chrysanthemums and shooting stars with little whirly things and ka-booms! I've seen towns in Australia that haven't managed the 26th of January so well.
We watched every man and his dog in town let loose with the fireworks display. It was lovely to see the colours reflected in the snowy rooftops. There were no accidents here, but we heard of several places around the country being burned to the ground after being hit by stray fireworks and several nasty injuries.
What a contrast to Australia. Fireworks have been banned for private citizens since the 1970s and we have big public displays instead, often synchronised to music. As another contrast, the last Jan 1st I spent in Adelaide (Year 2000) was an extremely hot 43 degrees C (110 Fahrenheit), so most of the day was spent ducking from air conditioned location to another, although I did take a swim at Glenelg Beach later in the day. And of course Australia was among the first country to ring in 2009 with the spectacular fireworks at Sydney featuring on our early evening news.
I have received a request for a recipe for the elk dish served on Christmas day. This is something that you can do with deer or even a piece of beef. In Swedish, it's called Tjälknöl. My gran did something similar which she called "chilblain beef", which I googled but didn't find anything. Knowing my gran, it was her own name for it. Served sliced paper thin, with potato salad or potato gratin, it is lovely.
For 6-8 people
1-1.5 kg roast from moose, deer or beef (deep frozen)
1/4 cup salt
1 tsp sugar
Heat oven to 75C (170F)
Put the deep frozen roast on the oven rack and place a pan underneath. Leave it in the oven at that temperature for 12 hours (I leave it overnight).
Then mix the water, salt and sugar. Put the warm roast into a plastic bag, pour the water mixture over it and let it soak for about 5 hours. I usually put it in the fridge.
If you want it spicier:
1 litre water
2 tbsp salt salt
1 onion, sliced
2 cloves of garlic, sliced
½ tbsp black pepper (coarsely ground)
1 large bunch of fresh herbs
2-3 tbsp mixed dried herbs eg basil, thyme, tarragon, örtagårdskrydda or similar
1 bunch parsley, chopped
I also like tabasco sauce or chilli added, but that depends on who is coming for dinner! I know it sounds a bit weird, but it is really nice.
It's exciting to start a brand new year. I don't know about you, but I am praying that this year is less eventful for me and my family than last year was, amen?
Meanwhile, I'll snuggle down in the chill, read my birthday books and listen to Lucille Ball's excellent advice: "The secret of staying young is to live honestly, eat slowly, and lie about your age."
This month's postsWind From the Sea (lördag, januari 17, 2009)
On the thirteenth day of Christmas.... (onsdag, januari 07, 2009)
In the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Toast (måndag, januari 05, 2009)
? Happy Birthday! ? (And Happy New Year) (torsdag, januari 01, 2009)
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