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Monday, August 31, 2015

Amber's Swedish History - Chapter 14

Amber Hist 14 
(Click on photos to enlarge.)

It’s been a while since my last history post. I’ve taken a lot of time off this summer – a Swedish tradition. So . . . Where was I? Gustav II Adolf 1549 – 1632. Axel Oxenstern was Adolf’s Councillor of the Realm.
Axel Oxenstern

He was very smart and much admired both in and out of Sweden. Gustav was also smart even though he dropped out of school when he was sixteen so he could go fight the Danes. Gustav had a stomach as big as Brazil, but that was a good thing in those days. There were usually thirty dishes at his dinner table, plus barrels of beer from Germany.

Maria Elenora 
Maria Elenora

Maria Elenora thought Gustav was cool. She married him in 1620 even though her brother was against it. He didn’t think Gustav was good enough for Maria, but her mom thought he was a good catch. They had a big wedding and over 50,000 liters of wine were consumed. Maria was very open with her romantic feelings for Gustav which was considered un-cool. People said she was too high strung and quite possible hysterical. She got pregnant four times, but her children had the bad habit of dying young. Only one of them, Kristina, managed to survive.

Axel and Gustav wanted to end the war with Denmark which had involved a lot of burning and bloodshed, the same as wars do today. Gustav ravished Danish Skåne, burned all the churches and killed as many peasants as he could find. The women were raped and their children murdered. The Danes retaliated by destroying the castle at Kronoberg, and killing the entire male population of Nya Lödöse. They were also into town burning and sent an army to attack the castles at Gullberg and Ӓlvsborg. Ӓlvsborg fortress fell after a hard fight and was a serious loss for Sweden as it protected Swedish merchant ships. The Danes now controlled Sweden’s coast all the way up to Russia, cutting off Sweden’s access to the rest of the world.

Alvsborg Fortress  
Ӓlvsborg Fortress

Things were looking bad for Sweden, but then England and the Netherlands got into the act. They were afraid Denmark would screw up trade on the Baltic Sea which would make goods more expensive for Europe. Agreements were made.

Denmark Coat of arms 
Denmark was allowed to keep Sweden’s three crowns on its coat of arms and kept the island of Ӧsek off the coast if Swedish Estonia. A lot or Norway also stayed in Danish control, but the Swedes had access to the sea again, but at great cost. They agreed to pay Denmark one million silver riksdalers for all the towns they burned – about 25,000 kilos of silver.

Riksdaler 2 

They were given six years to pay it and in the mean time the Danes kept control of Nya, Gamla Lödöse, and what was left of Göteborg. It was a hard time for Sweden. The Rikstag imposed a progressive tax on the people. Gustav kicked in 20% of the money the State paid him. Bishops paid fifty riksdalers, craftsmen four, common labor one and maids one half. But there was a problem collecting these taxes as there were not many silver coins. People were used to paying in chickens, and pigs and such, but Sweden got lucky. The copper mine at Falun started to pay off. Three thousand tons a year were sent to Holland where it was used for rooftops. The copper was paid for with Dutch rijkdaalers and the rijkdaalers were then sent to Denmark. Falun became the second biggest town in Sweden for a while. The copper mine is still there, about twenty miles from where I live. 

Copper 1 
Inside Faluln's Copper Mine

It’s cold and damp, but looks like a good place to bury your poop. Nobody works there anymore.
Where was I? Oh yes, Gustav. He was able to rebuild Göteborg, but it was designed and run mostly by Dutch people who built canals all over the place. They were used as sewers and for transportation.

Next Chapter: Working it out with Russia, and the Bible.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Robert Crumb's Birthday

Taken from Writer’s Almanac – 30 August 2015

It’s the birthday Robert Dennis Crumb, born 1943. His father was a combat illustrator for 20 years while serving in the Marines. Crumb’s mother was addicted to diet pills. It was an unhappy marriage. The family moved to Milford, Delaware, when Crumb was 12. He was dyslexic and had a hard time reading, so he preferred television and comic books, especially Little Lulu, Donald Duck, and Peanuts. Crumb said: “There were no books in our house. There were trashy magazines: my mother read movie and detective magazines. My father read the paper and that was it.”

His older brother, Charles, taught him to draw, and they spent hours drawing their own comic, called Foo, which they tried to sell to neighbors for 10 cents apiece. Because of his dyslexia, it took Crumb a long time to write the text, which may be why his later work tended to be more “literary” than work by other cartoonists. “I take the time to think out how to articulate things,” he said.

Crumb never went to college, or to art school. He went to Cleveland, instead, and began drawing novelty greeting cards for the American Greetings Company. He met other artists like Harvey Pekar, who would someday create the comic American Splendor, and Buzzy Linhart. His interest in jazz grew; he spent weekends haunting junk shops for old 78s. He became enamored of 19th-century engravings and graphic styles, and changed his drawing technique to one of cross-hatching. He was 19 and he walked the streets in an Abe Lincoln frock coat and stovepipe hat. Crumb said: “I was a teenage social outcast. At the time, it made me feel very depressed. Later, I realized I was actually quite lucky because it freed me. I was free to develop and explore on my own all these byways of the culture that if you’re accepted, you just don’t do.”

He began taking LSD in Cleveland, which profoundly affected his style and life view. One night he met two friends in a bar and, on a whim, with just pocket change, went with them to San Francisco, where he fell in with the artists in Haight-Ashbury. He sold his comics from a baby carriage and caught the eye of Janis Joplin, who asked him to illustrate the cover for her band’s next album. Overnight, it seemed, his characters of Mr. Natural and Fritz the Cat were everywhere. His most popular imagery, though, came from a Blind Boy Fuller song: the long, legged, grinning men adorned by the phrase “Keep on Truckin’,” which became the symbol of hippie optimism. Toyota offered him $100,000 to use the imagery in an ad campaign, but Crumb said no. “Keep on Truckin’!” is the curse of my life! I didn’t want to turn into a greeting card artist for the counter-culture! That’s when I started to let out all my perverse sex fantasies. It was the only way out of being America’s Best-Loved Hippie Cartoonist.”

Crumb has lived in the South of France for the past 25 years, still using Strathmore vellum surface paper and Pelikan black drawing ink. He works at an old printer’s light table and uses a magnifying glass for the details. “I work in erratic spurts. Getting started is like getting a rocket off the ground. You need the most energy and the most push to get started; once you’re up there and you’re going, then it’s easier to keep going. Sit down and pick up where you left off, you know. Getting going is always tough.”

Friday, August 28, 2015

Friday At Last

Friday at Last

I sent out invitations
to summon guests.
I collected together
All my friends.
Loud talk
And simple feasting
Discussion of philosophy
Investigation of subtleties.
Tongues lessened
And minds at one.

Cheng-Kung Sui

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Great Men

No Photo
Names and faces

“Great men are almost always bad men.” Quote: John Dalbergd-Acton, a historian, been dead a hundred years now. His definition had nothing to do with morality, wisdom, or great accomplishments. He was thinking of ‘great’ in terms of size, and power, fame and wealth. Who are the ‘great’ men we remember without effort to recall? My memory is not so good as it never was – always iffy. Not so good at faces either, may or may not recognize a neighbor in a crowd. What famous faces do we all remember? Hitler – easy with that funny mustache. Stalin, Lincoln, Washington, and Jackson . . . maybe. Helps to have your face on money. Faces I see every day . . . almost, Obama . . . Hillary.

Who’s face do I see the most these days? Without a question, Donald Trump. The man’s a genius, and a temporary (who knows?) ‘great’ man who has captured our mass media attention. We recognize the famous face seen every day, and night, on TV news, on Face book, magazines. That hair, as good as Hitler’s mustache ─ trademark, brand, he’s called it. If tomorrow were election day and you asked the people what Republican they thought might win. What names would be remembered? I don’t know, except for one, who wishes he could expedite the next election.

It’s the Brer Fox ploy if you remember that old tale, the rabbit pleading, “Only please, Brer Fox, please don’t throw me in that brier patch.”
Don’t hurt me. Please don’t make fun of me. Please don’t ridicule my hair – especially on TV. He made the cover of New Yorker. A cartoon, of course. We can’t escape the face gone viral. We are told it just about to wind down, just like Ross Perot, a much more modest man. The pundits probably have it right . . . I think. Let’s hope he’s not just winding up.

I watched his Alabama thing last night, when it was 3 A.M. in Sweden. Well worth staying up for. Things you notice: He does not sound like a politician, it’s like listening to the guy that lives across the street. No more or less intelligent. Such simple words and plans that anyone can understand without a second thought. It might be better not to have that second thought.

He spoke of Anchor Babies, wants to build a wall, a better, stronger army. Favorite book – the Bible. “I am not a nice person,” he told better than 10,000 people at his rally, which was on the TV news, seems like almost an hour. Who gets that kind of coverage? Pundits pro and con made comments after, wrangling over Anchor Babies, and political correctness. One said she had never heard the term before. This is the kind of rhetoric were all familiar with.

I think about the ways ‘great’ men have come to power in the past. Remember Hitler’s early speeches, how he planned to rebuild Germany, create a stronger army.

We live in interesting times.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Bukowski's Birthday

Charles Buk

Today is the birthday of Charles Bukowski, who The Washington Post called, “The poet laureate of sour alleys and dark bars, of racetracks and long shots.” Born in Andernach, Germany (1920). He wrote more than 45 books of poetry and prose, including It Catches My Heart in Its Hands (1963), Notes of a Dirty Old Man (1969), Post Office (1971), Love Is a Dog from Hell (1977), Ham on Rye (1982), and The Last Night of the Earth Poems (1992).

His American father had been stationed in Germany during World War I, and Bukowski was the product of the man’s affair with a German girl, whom he later married. The family moved to Los Angeles when Charles was a toddler. He was picked on for his small size and his German accent, and when he was a teenager, he had such bad acne that it left permanent scars. His father had a violent temper and used to beat him. Bukowski was 13 when a friend gave him his first drink. Bukowski, said, “This is going to help me for a very long time.” He studied journalism in college for a couple of years, but then dropped out when World War II started, and he moved to New York to become a writer.

He published his first story when he was 24; the story was called “Aftermath of a Lengthy Rejection Slip.” The rejection slip in the story reads, “Dear Mr. Bukowski: Again, this is a conglomeration of extremely good stuff and other stuff so full of idolized prostitutes, morning-after vomiting scenes, misanthropy, praise for suicide etc. that it is not quite right for a magazine of any circulation at all. This is, however, pretty much a saga of a certain type of person and in it I think you’ve done an honest job. Possibly we will print you sometime, but I don’t know exactly when. That depends on you.” Bukowski would later estimate that his work was 93 percent autobiographical.

He published one more story after that but then received rejection after rejection, and he gave up writing for 10 years. He drank his way from New York to L.A., and wound up in a hospital, half dead from a bleeding ulcer. The doctor told him, “If you have another drink, it will kill you.” Bukowski kept drinking, and he worked a series of odd jobs – at a pickle factory, a dog biscuit factory, a slaughterhouse, and at the post office. When he was 35, he started writing poetry. His first collection was called Flower, Fist, and Bestial Wail (1959). Ten years later, when he was 49, Bukowski accepted a job offer from John Martin, the publisher of Black Sparrow Press. Martin idolized Bukowski, and had started Black Sparrow with the sole aim of publishing his work. Martin was sure he was the next Walt Whitman, and he offered him $100 a month to quit his job and write. “I have one of two choices – stay in the post office and go crazy … or stay out here and play at writer and starve,” Bukowski wrote in a letter. “I have decided to starve.” In return for Martin’s faith and support, Bukowski published almost all of his major work through Black Sparrow from then on.

Bukowski summed up his philosophy in a letter he wrote in 1963: “Somebody […] asked me: ‘What do you do? How do you write, create?’ You don’t, I told them. You don’t try. That’s very important: ‘not’ to try, either for Cadillacs, creation or immortality. You wait, and if nothing happens, you wait some more. It’s like a bug high on the wall. You wait for it to come to you. When it gets close enough you reach out, slap out and kill it. Or if you like its looks you make a pet out of it.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Berlin Wall

B Wall Graffitti Fixed 

Grafitti on remaining section of wall.  20th Anniversary of the fall – 2011

(Click to enlarge)

Construction of the Berlin Wall began on this date – 1961. After World War II. Berlin lay completely within Soviet territory, but it was also divided. Soviet forces controlled the eastern part of the city and the country, and they were increasingly concerned about locking it down against the democratic West. The border was porous after the war, and millions of East Germans immigrated west in search of greater opportunities. By 1961, they were leaving at a rate of a thousand per day.

In the early hours of August 13, 1961, East German soldiers quietly began laying down barbed wire inside the border of East Berlin. People woke up and discovered that they had been separated from families and jobs, with no advance warning. And two days later, on this date, the government of East Germany began to replace the wire with a six-foot block wall. People still tried to escape, even after the wall was raised to ten feet. About half of them made it. West Germany wanted the United States to do something, but President Kennedy was reluctant to act. He told his staff, “It’s not a very nice solution, but a wall is a hell of a lot better than a war.”

Finally, in 1989, with the end of the Cold War, the gates between East and West Berlin were opened again. Over the next year, souvenir hunters known as Mauerspechte, or “Wallpeckers,” began chipping away at the wall, knocking off blocks with sledgehammers and climbing back and forth over it. The wall was formally dismantled, and Germany reunified, in 1990.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Handy Man - by Barton Sutter

I can’t resist reposting this from Writer’s Almanac. Sounds so much like life.

by Barton Sutter

The morning brought such a lashing rain
I decided I might as well stay inside
And tackle those jobs that had multiplied
Like an old man’s minor aches and pains.
I found a screw for the striker plate,
Tightened the handle on the bathroom door,
Cleared the drain in the basement floor,
And straightened the hinge for the backyard gate.
Each task had been a nagging distraction,
An itch in the mind, a dangling thread;
Knocking a tiny brass brad on the head,
I felt an insane sense of satisfaction.
Then I heard a great crash in the yard.
The maple had fallen and smashed our car.

"Handyman" by Barton Sutter from Farewell to the Starlight in Whiskey. © BOA Editions, 2004.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Observing Sweden - Crayfish Parties

Strange Swedish Customs

It’s Swedish Crayfish party time again. Most of the crayfish come from China, which in itself is strange, and a bit scary. Swedish crayfish are considered a delicacy and very expensive . 

There's still much to learn, but this is only my 3rd party. I can manage to open the main section of the crayfish, but claws . . . forget about it. It’s like trying to skin an armadillo.  I know enough of the drinking songs to hum along, and am expert at drinking. Participants are required to wear funny hats, sing songs, and drink as much as possible.

Below see rare photo of myself and Patrik, my famous son-in-law, a  Heavy Metal vocalist and songwritter (Civil War & Astral Doors). 

See youtube video below for more information than you may want to know.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Observing Amsterdam - 6

Click on photos to enlarge.

Took one last walkabout this afternoon. Guy in the photo shown below is here each year. Thought he was drunk first time I saw him wheeling crazily around the street between surprised pedestrians. You’d swear he was about to crash, but doesn’t. Now and then he stops to pass the green hat on his head.

Amst 15 - Crazy guy - 1

Last night in Amsterdam. 

I’ve been re-packing–very carefully. After a week like this I want to make sure all my ducks are in a row. That done I go down to the bar below my room, and order my first Heineken. An ad campaign’s in progress. If drink you drink six Heinekens the bartender gives you one of these I-phone speaker gadgets.


If you put music on your cell phone and lay it in the little green Heineken box the tune is amplified with surprising volume. I’m not sure if you’re supposed to drink 6 Heinekens or to simply buy six and then pass them out to friends. Bartender says I’m more than covered either way.

I take my usual place at the end of the bar, near the windows and wait to see who comes in. New customers arrive like tides, an ebb and flow, high tide and low. Some twelve or thirteen of us here now. There’s three English guys behind me, at a bar high table, having a good time getting better with each beer. They buy one for their next round. I turn to I join them. One says he thinks his sister is a vampire, and we try to think of something he might do about it. Can’t remember the suggestions made, but at some point we all start laughing, one of those rare times when you can’t stop. Hilarious. These moments happen, maybe twenty five or thirty times a lifetime if you’re lucky, always with good friends. There is an intimacy that comes with it. Trust? A sharing . . . feels so good. We get over it in a few minutes, talk some more, and then they move on.

Five of us left now. People talking about Greece and money -  banks.
“They used to pay us for the money we put in accounts, interest on savings. Now they charge you for the service of holding your money.”

“That’s the way it is in Sweden,” I agree. Most banks don’t even handle cash now, have to go to a machine if you want paper money.”

“Paper money’s an illusion,” guy in his late twenties adds – American. “The U.S. buck . . . nothing behind it. Fed just prints it out. The only thing that makes it real is our belief in it. People are losing faith.”

“A few more years, there won’t be any paper money . . . only plastic,” someone joins the conversation. “Then the banks and governments will have complete control of everything we do.” He checks this cell phone as another crowd spills in from off the sidewalk. Some end up at my end of the bar.

We share more drinks and smoke, make small talk, then some guy’s speaking to me, one to one. Not happy, fifty something, slightly drunk I guess.

“I screwed a hooker,” he confesses. “Didn’t really want to do it. Talked me into it, my mates. It wasn’t any good. Christ, I regret it. Bloody hell, I feel so guilty. I don’t know if I should tell my wife.”

“It doesn’t seem like that would do much good,” I tell him. “Just make her feel bad. Seems like enough if only one of you feels bad . . .  but what do I know.”

Life goes on. Bar’s open all night long for those who stay at this hotel. I leave at twelve to make sure I can get a good night’s sleep.

The morning after.

I’m up early, eight o’clock, and lug my suitcase down the killer stairs.
Steps Base 1

The street are almost totally deserted mornings, only cleaners sweeping up the mess that tourists left last night.

Litter A

 Cleaners A1

Looks like they’re making brooms the same way as a hundred years ago.
I trundle with my suitcase over the uneven bricks and cobble stones, wheels clacking, echo off the walls of the Old Kirk, where Rembrandt married.

Old Kirk 1 Distort

They’ve been working on the front this year. Last year it was the other side. The ancient architecture here needs constant maintenance to keep from crumbling, or from falling over. One below seems like its bending at the center.

  Building leaning from halfway

Amsterdam Leaner Downtown

This one, downtown, (left of center), might not last forever. It costs millions to get underneath and fix the pilings that have held these buildings up, God knows how many years. I wonder what the floors are like inside.
I turn onto Warmoesstraat, roll past the condom shop and join some other tourists on their way to Central Station, passing last night’s restaurant refuse, and a cat I recognize. I see him every year, a very streetwise creature, unafraid of passing crowds.

Condom Shop (3)

 Amst CAT Fix

Warnstrast Repair

Last look at Warmoesstraat. Glad I don’t have to work up there.
An hour later finds me on the plane, less than a two hour flight to Stockholm, two hours more by train to Borlänge, Sweden. Always good to get back home again.