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Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Amber's Swedish History - Chapter 5


The Black Death
“Bring out your dead.”

A ship from eastern England carried the plague across the sea to Sweden, in 1350. Sweden was the last kingdom to feel the effects. The humans avoided each other and most of the cats left town. Nobody knows what the canines did. They probably spent their time wandering the streets and writing doggerel. People didn’t bother about their relatives and stopped visiting friends. Parents refused to tend their children. Bodies were shoved out of the house and left on the front porch.
The population decreased by a third, and the weather changed. It got colder and rained more. Crops failed. King Magnus imposed new taxes and pawned the crown jewels. Gotland got plundered by Valdemar Atterdag, the king of Denmark. It was the worst of times.

Valdemar Atterdag

After a while Albrecht of Mecklenburg was made king of Sweden even though he wasn’t Swedish. This sounds so familiar somehow. Albrecht (Albert) didn’t do much of anything historical, except add three crowns to the Swedish coat of arms.
Albert Duke of Mecklenburg

Sweden was being run by the foreigners that deposed Magnus Eriksson. The most powerful of these was, Bo Jonsson Grip, who is sometimes referred to as, Bo the Greedy. He owned all of Finland, more than half of Sweden, and the pawn tickets for the crown jewels.


When Bo died everything went up for grabs. Albecht said he was the rightful inheritor, but Sweden’s lords weren’t buying that. They were afraid the Germans would end up with Bo’s stuff and went to Demark to talk to Queen Margareta. Margareta had been married to King Haakon, the son of Magnus, and inherited Norway when he died. The Swedes asked if she would like to be Sweden’s, ‘chosen mistress and rightful lord’. She was happy to do that, but Albrecht was totally not happy. He called her, King Trouserless
Queen Margareta

It wasn’t easy for Margareta. Battles were fought with German mercenaries, and firearms were used for the first time, but they were too heavy to carry and had to be propped up in order to be fired.

Hand Cannon

Margareta managed to hold on to the Faeroes, Shetlands and the Orkneys, but this never amounted to much because there weren’t that many people living in those places. She never littered and chose the six year old son of her sister’s daughter to be her successor. His name was Erik, almost everyone was named Erik back then. He was crowned in Kalmar, and became king of Norway, Denmark, and Sweden when he was sixteen.
Letter of Union
Margareta wrote the Letter of Union, which said each country should be ruled by its own laws, and if they were attacked the other countries would come to help them. Nobody remembers if this became a law, but things went fairly well at first. The counties had a lot in common and they were all worried about the Germans.

*         *         *

I need a break. Writing history is tiring, I mean like, it takes forever. And the sun is out. It’s warm in Sweden. I’m going to take a long nap, or maybe a sunbath . . . maybe both at the same time. I’ll be back in a couple weeks with Chapter 6 and more about the Germans.

In the mean time, in between time, ain’t we got sun!

Friday, May 23, 2014

Poem by Ellen Bass

French Chocolates

by Ellen Bass

If you have your health, you have everything
is something that's said to cheer you up
when you come home early and find your lover
arched over a stranger in a scarlet thong.

Or it could be you lose your job at Happy Nails
because you can't stop smudging the stars
on those ten teeny American flags.

I don't begrudge you your extravagant vitality.
May it blossom like a cherry tree. May the petals
of your cardiovascular excellence
and the accordion polka of your lungs
sweeten the mornings of your loneliness.

But for the ill, for you with nerves that fire
like a rusted-out burner on an old barbecue,
with bones brittle as spun sugar,
with a migraine hammering like a blacksmith

in the flaming forge of your skull,
may you be spared from friends who say,
God doesn't give you more than you can handle
and ask what gifts being sick has brought you.

May they just keep their mouths shut
and give you French chocolates and daffodils
and maybe a small, original Matisse,
say, Open Window, Collioure, so you can look out
at the boats floating on the dappled pink water. 


      Open Window at Collioure - Matisse

"French Chocolates" by Ellen Bass from Like a Beggar. © Copper Canyon Press, 2014

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Amber's Swedish History - Chapter 4


The Middle Ages

The Swedish Middle Ages started in the eleventh century, but the Swedes didn’t know it was the Middle Ages. The term was invented by Italians who came up with that concept in the fifteenth century and by then it was too late for anybody to argue about it. There was only one town, called Sigtuna, but it was a pretty good time for the Swedes who could afford it. There were fancy clothes, spices and music. Catholic churches were springing up like mushrooms and painted with lots of colors.

Erik the Holy was the King of Sweden in 1130. He led a crusade to Finland, because the Finns had a reputation for being wild and pagan. Eric became famous after getting murdered. Gore Vidal was the first to notice death was a good career move, but that was centuries later.

Erik’s son and successor, Knut, came up with the holy propaganda, and years later the Roman Catholic Church decided Erik was a saint. Some of the Lutherans went along with it, possibly because Erik demanded tithes be paid to the church. He is now the patron saint of Stockholm, and his head is on the Stockholm’s coat of arms.

Erik’s Casket in Uppsala, Sweden

Law And Order

Facial Reconstruction of Birger Magnusson

Birger Magnusson was a Swedish statesman who ruled in 1250 AD. He founded Stockholm and became famous without being murdered in the mid thirteenth century. He was a member of the House of Bjelbo even though Hobbits had not been invented yet. During his reign the four laws of peace were created: Women’s Peace, Home Peace, Court Peace, and Church Peace. Dire penalties were prescribing for anyone who violated a woman, attacked somebody in his home, disturbed a trial, or behaved improperly in church.
The most severe punishment was to be declared an outcast from society. There was no death penalty, but it was okay to kill outcasts if anyone felt up to it, or was having a bad hair day.

The Navy


Cog Ship

Shipbuilding morphed into something called the Cog ship. Cogs weren’t as cool as the long boats Vikings made, but could haul more stuff. They could be rowed, but only for short distances.

The Army


Armies were being modernized with horses and suits of armor, but only Swedes with money could afford to dress up like that. The men who owned horses and had enough money to arm themselves did not have to pay taxes, and were soon being referred to as the nobility. The church was also exempt from taxes. Only the peasants had to pay taxes, kind of like it is today.

Birger Jarl (Jarl means like, Duke, or something) was having fights with people that didn’t agree with him, but he solved this problem by hiring German mercenaries. When the fighting was over the Germans were encouraged to move in and there started to be more Germans than Swedes. Swedes thought the Germans were cool and wanted to talk like them. A lot of the Swedish words used today were borrowed from the Germans. Cog ships were originally a German design.


Title page of Magnus Eriksson’s National Law code book

Magnus Eriksson became king when he was three years old. A month later he inherited Norway from his grandfather. Some people are born lucky. When he was sixteen he bought Skåna and some islands from Denmark. He paid 49,000 silver marks and was broke for most of his life after that. He ruled for forty-five years and did a lot of work codifying the new Swedish laws.


Some Swedes started to write, but their novels were published in doggerel. Doggerel is badly written poetry which was probably first called, dog poetry, or poetry fit for dogs. Poems in Catterel have never been translated, because they are too complex for the human brain.

Saint Birgitta

Sweden’s best known writer was Birgitta Birgersdotter. She didn’t like Magnus and referred to him as Magnus Fondle, because he was trying to grab her all the time. She had eight children by her husband. When he died she started having visions. God told her how Sweden should be run, and said that bad things were going to happen to Magnus. Birgitta tried to get Magnus to pay attention to what God said, but he told her to forget about it. She lived for seventy years and was later elevated to sainthood.

After Birgitta died Denmark declared war on Sweden and took back most of the stuff Magnus bought from them. Magnus lost everything and spent six years in prison. St. Birgitta’s prophesies had come true. Eriksson’s son finally got him out of jail, and took him to Norway where they called him, Magus the Good.

Next Wednesday
The Black Death and Other Cool Stuff

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Amber's Swedish History - Chapter 3


The Great Migration

In the centuries following the birth of Christ everything was up for grabs. Some states disappeared, new ones took their place. Men were fighting each other everywhere there was enough room to swing an axe. The Chinese built a wall to keep barbarians out. Of course it’s different now, much more peaceful, except for the USSR breakup, Israel, and Palestine, Afghanistan, Korea, Viet Nam, Ukraine, Tibet . . . . The scenery changes, but the acts stay pretty much the same, if you ask me.



A lot of Swedes became mercenaries and fought with the Romans. The Swedish word sold means ‘pay’. The word, soldier, came from a Roman coin, solidus, which was what soldiers got paid with in those days.



Religious beliefs were also changing. The old Norse gods were: Odin, Thor and Frey. Odin rode a horse with eight legs and wrote poetry in his spare time. Nobody knows what the horse did – probably shopped for shoes.

The Swedes named days of the week after these gods. They called Thursday, Torsdag, after Thor, the god of thunder. Odin got Wednesday, Onsdag. I won’t bore you with the rest. You can probably guess where Friday came from. Animals were sacrificed to these gods, and when that didn’t work they started sacrificing humans. Christians missionaries began to arrive and were the sacrifice of choice when they could be found.


The Vikings where Scandinavian farmers who learned how to build ships, and decided to start plundering. They were very good at both plundering and shipbuilding.


Viking Ship at Roskild Museum – Denmark

They conquered London, besieged Paris, and stormed Seville. This went on for the next 250 years. Christian missionaries from Germany continued coming to Sweden and the Vikings plunderd them as well. Around the time of the first crusades a few Vikings got tired of plundering and became Christians. Other Vikings joined the crusades so that they could plunder for God.

A lot of missionaries were killed, but they finally got a toehold in Skåne and Gotland. Things started to get more organized. Petty Kings began appearing and shared power with the church, who said their rule was ordained by God. The Kings told people to believe what the church told them. The Swedes suddenly found themselves subject to authorities they’d never heard of before, but managed to remain one of the most heathen counties in all of Europe. They still believed in, Elves, Easter witches, trolls and stuff like that.

Erik Segersäll was the first king. He was known as, Erik The Victorious, but he didn’t really do very much except enjoy being king.



Some historians say there never was an Erik, that he is just a folk story. Others say there were three Eriks . . . whatever.

Swedish coins began to be minted in 995 A.D. by King Olaf Eriksson who historians say was the son of Erik The Victorious, even though they’re not sure there ever was an Erik the Victorious.
King Olof was known as the Tax King, so he was probably for real, like – death and taxes.


The Olof Coin

Next Wednesday – The Middle Ages

Friday, May 9, 2014

Bucks Reviews Bruno Liljefors

 Bruno Liljefors was an artist from Uppsala, Sweden. He died in 1939 which is too bad because he was pretty good at painting cats. He was best known for his ability to show animals in their environment. 

Cat Basking in Sun
This reminds me of Amber, who also likes to do that. I’m not into sunbathing myself. I’m more of a nighttime cat.

Sleeping Jeppe
 I think Jeppe lived with Bruno. He did several paintings of Jeppe, who doesn’t look like the brightest cat in the yard, but this is a nice painting.

Cat Stalking Mouse

Cat With Bird
Bruno liked to hunt and did a lot of ‘predator and prey’ paintings which make me a bit uneasy. I’m a vegetarian myself, though not adverse to a little sushi now and again. A grim quality entered his work in the nineteenth century. Some critics think this was the result of turmoil in his life. He left his wife, Anna, and took up with her younger sister, Signe. Artists often do stuff like that. He was short of money a lot of the time, which is also something many artists have in common. This darker quality in his paintings attracted interest from the frogs, and some of his work exhibited at the Paris Salon.

Landscape With Bullfinches
He painted a lot of birds that weren’t dead yet. I like this one a lot. It seems to show some Japanese influence, but I don’t think he ever went there.

Portrait of Father
This one’s nice. Kind of an impressionistic Norman Rockwell.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Amber's Swedish History - Chapter 2

The Bronze Age
1800 to 500 BC

Umm, where was I? Oh yes, dead people in holes. Well, by now they were burying them in dolmens, which were basically a stone box covered with huge piles of dirt dumped on top to make a dome shape. I think they learned this from cats, who have always buried things that shouldn’t be laying around on top of the ground.

Bronze is made out of copper and tin. The Swedes didn’t know how to make either one of those yet, so bronze was brought in from the outside, probably by German tourists and Swedish sailors who used to float around the Mediterranean. They brought a lot of fancy bronze axes, but they were only used as presents and status symbols. People continued to kill each other with weapons made out of stone and wood for a long time.


These axes were found in Gotland, a Swedish island in the Baltic Sea. The writing above the edge of the blade on the right is done in Runes, which were considered magical in those days, because magicians could look at them and tell what people had said. I don’t read Runic so I can’t tell you what the marks mean . . . probably nothing important.

The climate was still mild and men ran around in loincloths. Some of them wore fancy helmets with horns sticking out of the side like you see in Viking movies, but it would be another thousand years before Vikings were invented. The helmets were never used in battle.

This is one of the helmets men used to wear when they wanted to look important.

Some fancy bronze shields were dug up in Vastergöland thirty years ago. A lot of foreign trade was going on, and the Swedes liked to talk with other Europeans about the world, and gods, and stuff like that.

Gotland Island on the right. Stockholm – upper right corner.

The Iron Age
1500 BC to 1060 AD

It started to get cold again around 600 BC. Archeologists used to think the Swedes left town when it happened, and called this the time of ‘no finds’. It’s true that some Swedes moved out, but most of them just started wearing pants and earmuffs. Sweden was named Scandinavia by a Greek named Herodotus who said it was a place where winter lasted for eight months and it was still cold in the summer. A Roman called Pliny called it, “That terrible land far up north,” in his book, Naturalis Historia. He died in Pompeii when Vesuvius blew up.

By this time the Swedes had learned how to build shelters for themselves and their pet cows. All this was going on when Buddha was sitting under a bo tree in India. It was warmer there so he didn’t need to wear pants.


Another Roman, a senator called, Tacitus, wrote that the Swedes indulged in joyous festivities to celebrate mother earth, and that she came to them on a carriage pulled by cows. He was obviously tripping. The Romans had a lot of time write and drink wine because slaves were doing all the work.

Next Wednesday – Vikings, Christians & Kings

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Small Change

Photo only shows 200 million
One Billion = 1,000,000,000,000 million

The Mexican navy arrested Joaquín Guzmán Loera, the leader of the 
Sinaloa drug cartel. Mr. Guzmán, nicknamed El Chapo, or Shorty, is 
believed to lead a worldwide cocaine and marijuana-trafficking empire 
worth several billion dollars.
Mr. Guzmán was arrested overnight in the beach resort town of Mazatlan, Mexico, according to officials.
Mr. Guzmán faces drug trafficking and other charges in both the United States and Mexico. 
He has been sought since escaping from prison in 2001 in a laundry cart after bribing his guards.

He forgot to bribe the Navy!

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Brazil - Same As It Ever Was



Postcard From Rio De Janeiro
Bruce Louis Dodson 1985
Dusty candles stuck in cola bottlenecks along the curb sides
Flicker nervously against the evening traffic
Sea breeze flavored with the scent of ethanol exhaust and lipstick
Humble altars set by fire plugs, stop signs . . . tree trunks.
Cigarettes are left
A bit of candy
Shiny coins—still new
Made worthless by spectacular inflation . . . time and place
Small offerings to spirit gods displaced by fire and greed
Their forests gone forever
Forced to live upon the streets of Rio de Janeiro
With their people
Sleeping on the sidewalks
Homeless . . . petty thieves and whores
These ancient spirit gods are angry
Will they will have revenge?

Article Below Is From: The Guardian 16 April 2014Image

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Observing Sweden - Amber Reads Swedish History

I’ve been reading Swedish history this week.
1 to 1800 BC

In the beginning there was nothing. Sounds sort of biblical doesn’t it? Sweden was just a big slab of ice and nobody was home until 14,000 years ago when the ice was almost done defrosting. It was the Stone Age, but people didn’t know how to get stoned back then. They were happy if they could just stay warm. The first people here were like, Swedish Indians, called the Sami. They lived pretty good and ate oysters, wild duck, and fish, which were easier to catch than reindeer and the hairy rhinos that were running around back then. They also had chewing gum made out of birch pitch and beeswax, but they didn’t know how to make cigarettes. Nobody knows where the Sami came from . . . maybe Finland. The oldest Swede they ever found was called, Bäckaskog (black forest) woman.


She was buried in a hole at Skåne, with a spear and a fishing pole. Bäckaskog had been there for about 8000 years. I don’t know where she is now, probably in a museum somewhere. Some people got buried with their dogs back then, but the cats were smart enough to get the hell out when a funeral was being planned. A lot of Swedes still have fishing poles, but they don’t get buried with them anymore.

Some Germans immigrants got here by traveling north through the area now known as Skåne, which is south of Stockholm, but Stockholm had not been invented yet. The Germans were probably hunting for reindeer and hairy rhinoceroses, or maybe they just needed ice cubes. The rhinoceroses later moved to Africa where it was warmer and they didn’t need hair.

One day, 6,000 years ago some hunters decided farming would an easier gig than hunting. They started raising goats and sheep brought here by immigrants coming from the south. They call this period the Farming Stone Age. Sweden was warm and humid at the time, which is hard to believe, but it’s in the book.

Next Wednesday – The Bronze Age