Archives for the month of: September, 2010

I took this immediately after I took the sunset picture in the last post.  Every year after the berries stop coming, I cut off that year’s raspberry-producing canes and give them to Misty, so she can have the leaves.  The others could have them too, but Misty is the goat who seems to appreciate rare foods.  Vesla’d run a mile to avoid eating something new.

We’re having a very nice sunset.  Yes, very nice.  Ooh.  I rush in and grab the camera, come back out again and see the memory card is missing.  The pink is fading, hurry up!   I run back and root around the living room, then the cupboard — here’s my Norwegian dictionary I lost ages ago —  I check my computer, my wife’s laptop, my table, here it is, rush back out, sky’s still there…

My wife says she just stumbled upon this.  She won’t tell me where (“I’ve forgotten.”).  I’ll be very glad when someone figures out a way to google images that isn’t word-based.

Language Hat was kind enough to point out a film being shown at the New York Film Festival, at Lincoln Center, called Le Quattro Volte — “Four Times”, according to google, although there may be other meanings.  It looks quite wonderful, and includes four of my favourite subjects and objects: charcoal, Italy, trees and goats — well, five, if you include the NY Times’s comment that its humour is reminiscent of Jacques Tati’s films.

I don’t know whether it will ever be distributed in  Norway though I saw somewhere that showings are planned elsewhere in Europe; in the meantime, unless you’re in New York, Italy or Cannes, you’ll have to be satisfied with the two short trailers at the European distributor’s site (click on the film there).

Michelangelo Frammartino, the film’s director:

“In Calabria, nature is not hierarchical; all beings have a soul. You can see it when you look into an animal’s eyes. You can hear it in the sound made by charcoal, which sings as if it had its own voice.  You can see it in the tall fir tree swaying in the wind, summoning us all to its side.”

Here’s a synopsis:

In the back-country of Calabria, in the Apennine mountains of southern Italy, an old shepherd leads his flock of goats to pasture along disused hillside paths. Every morning, the church housekeeper trades a handful of church dust for some of the shepherd’s fresh milk. Every evening, the elderly shepherd dissolves the “magic” powder in water and drinks this mixture as a remedy for his aches and pains. One day he doesn’t show up for their trade, and the next day he dies in his bed while the goats keep vigil.

A kid takes his first steps, but he is slower than the rest of the flock and falls behind. He falls into a ditch in the middle of the forest. Unable to climb out, he bleats for help, but neither the shepherd nor his dog hear him. The flock leaves the kid in their wake, leaving him to his fate. When he finally emerges from the ditch, he finds that he is alone. He wanders aimlessly until, as night begins to fall, he stumbles upon a majestic fir tree, where he seeks shelter.

The following spring, the village residents come to fell this tree for the annual “Pita” festivities that have taken place there for centuries. They saw off its branches and carry its stately trunk back to the village where it is erected in the main square.

Once the village festivities are over, the trunk of the fir tree is sold to charcoal burners. It is then cut into logs and used to build the hearth and chimney of the charcoal kiln; it will also be burned  to make fuel. The kiln, covered in straw and clay, is lit and begins to smoke. Once the fire has gone out, this ancient technique, passed down from generation to generation, will have transformed the living vegetable matter of the wood into an inert mineral, brittle and easily crumbled: charcoal.

I  particularly liked this still from the film (there are four others here):


The goats

would never refuse

an invitation

to butt heads.

From the Southern Region train, just before it trundles over the bridge across the Thames and you arrive at Victoria, you can see Battersea Power Station:

It is, or possibly was, one of my favourite buildings in London.  What’s going to happen to it?

It was designed — its appearance, not the box’s innards —  in the early 1930s by the man who also came up with the British telephone box, Giles Gilbert Scott.  In defiance of modernism both Battersea and the red phone box, with its cushioned top and decorated entry, show that forms that don’t look like their prosaic functions are in many ways more interesting than ones that do.

In the case of Battersea, he made the chimneys look like fluted columns; probably he’d seen Adolf Loos’s newspaper column for the Chicago Tribune competition,

Loos's Chicago Tribune Tower competition entry, 1922.

it’s an obvious enough idea, but it just works very well here.  Anyway, the columns (or inverted table legs since they’re at the four corners),

the red brick and its Art-Deco grandeur (some might call it pomposity) are what I like best.

I don’t know why London has let this wonderful old building crumble.  It’s in many ways better than the Tate Modern:

the other former power station designed by Giles Gilbert Scott (with the chimney as a sort of campanile).

I know there was a proposal to turn Battersea into a hotel a couple of years ago; can’t someone save it before it’s too late?

Here are a couple of snaps of the progress of autumn — if progress it is — on the face of it this tree hasn’t altered much in the last week (by the way, the dog run is the grassy area in the distance, immediately to the right of the tree):

Around the far side, looking from the dog run, the orange extends further down:

While I was at it, I took some more dog pictures:

But what I really want to talk about is something else…

Through her interest in horses, my daughter meets a lot of rich young families from the western suburbs of Oslo.  The other day she was with some of these people and their horses, talking to a mother whose smallest and youngest child was called Socrates.

Now Norway has rules about what you can call your children, there are no Dweezels or Moon Units here, so I was kind of pleased to hear that the Greeks are acceptable models.

My question is this: what are Socrates’s siblings called?  Plato and Aristotle?  Is their sister Athena or is she just known as the Delphic Oracle?

Or do their parents introduce them with  “Say hello to young Ken and Janet and our own personal favourite, little Socrates”?

So the reason I was on the roof is that it is actually the main exterior public space at the new opera (the Norwegian National Opera & Ballet).  Oslo’s biggest attraction nowadays is this wonderful building designed by the architectural firm Snøhetta.


Photo:  Christopher Hagelund

I’ll briefly describe the building’s massing: the oak-covered auditorium (below, right) is enclosed by a glass box containing the huge entry space that opera houses traditionally have (the sequence of entry spaces at Garnier’s Second Empire Paris Opera take up as much volume as the auditorium does).  You can see (above) that the glass box is almost bisected on three of its sides by the white Carrara marble roof, which is folded downwards like origami towards the fjord.  Beneath this diagonal roof are the other public interior spaces (restaurants, bookshop, etc.); these have glass walls that on one side of the building overlook the city, and on the other, the fjord.

Walking up to the top of the roof it’s blindingly white in the sun, and vast.  It’s like a fifteen-minute polar expedition.

But I’m not here to talk about architecture.  Every state-funded building in Norway is required to spend money on art, and there were some big international competitions at the opera — an enclosure for the cloakrooms made by Olafur Eliasson, and the curtain in the auditorium, amongst other things.  The last piece was installed in May, eighteen months after the building opened.  This is it:

It’s called She Lies by Monica Bonvicini, an Italian artist.  As it says in Wikipedia:

There has been a lot of controversy around this sculpture. Many people say that it looks like a piece of garbage, while others are exclusively positive, and say it is a beautiful piece of art.

And that’s not a bad discussion to have; people’s opinions of what’s beautiful are usually only spontaneous reactions.   At first I thought it looked broken, but by the end of my visit I was feeling quite pleased with it.  It takes the building’s connection with the Oslofjord and its ice:

and alludes to a painting from 1823,  Das Eismeer (Sea of Ice) by Caspar David Friedrich,

the centre of which it has represented in three dimensions :

The glass and its twelve-metre-high steel framework sit on a concrete raft floating on the water; it’s anchored, and slowly rotates in place according to the prevailing wind and the tide.  Its profile and the reflections, transparency and double reflections off the water vary all the time.

The title of the piece, She Lies, doesn’t really work in either Norwegian or Italian, the artist’s mother tongue, only in English.  Bonvicini  says she means it to be ambiguous and has given possible interpretations: with  “she” being either the piece or the artist, and “lies” referring to both global warming in the Arctic and floating next to the building.  Well, whatever.  There’s always the danger of  a postmodern artist overestimating the potential of their multi-layered ideas — and Bonvicini is no Brunelleschi: not a master builder as well as an artist.  In fact, resolving the technological problems and the logistics  of how to build a painting of ice and then move this 335 ton object to the site was done by the Norwegians, especially the contractor.  Apparently it was a painful process, but it was worth the trouble.





This is a gull I saw on the roof of the opera, in Oslo, one evening.

What was I doing on the roof?

I’ll tell you in the next post…

And now a couple more pictures, showing

that the gull didn’t swallow the bag.

After I took a picture of the ash-or-maple tree last Thursday, we went to the dog run.  But first we took Alex home; he’s sixteen and doesn’t have any teeth left, and although Topsy protects him he’s very scared of the bigger dogs.

There was only one other dog there when we arrived.  It looked like a bear, but it was a sort of doodle, a cross between a labrador and a Lagotto Romagnolo:

The Lagotto Romagnolo is an Italian water dog, and this dog run is by the lake.  Topsy loves water too, she just won’t go out of her depth.

We at the dog run have found that for some odd reason dogs like to sidle up to a person before shaking the water off.  It only works a couple of times, after that the person knows to run away.

What Topsy loves best is being chased, but doing the chasing is better than nothing.

At times, this dog looks like a wild boar.  Apparently his name is Bob, a completely unsuitable name in English.  It reminds me of the otherwise really good 1950s movie Bob le flambeur; that Bob ought to have been called something like “Fernand”.

Anyway, this could have gone on all day:

But then another dog appeared, announcing its presence in the same way that Topsy likes to: by pretending, very obviously, to be stalking the others.

It’s all a big ritual; round and round.

This dog was a cross between a collie and something.

All three were as fast as each other; different sizes, but still a perfect match:

At some point, a Cairn terrier arrived.  It was much smaller than the others, but very game

and it could keep up:

The terriers, Tops and the Cairn, got a bit…

over excited.

Then they’d all just turn round

and plunge in the lake.

These dogs could have gone on playing for ever.  I hope we see them again.

At this beautiful spot overlooking the Delaware River, Robin Damstra and Jim Salant –known to many of us as Caviar & Codfish and as proprietors of The Half Pint Kitchen (purveyors of salted caramel, cinnamon peach pie and fresh mint stracciatella ice cream as well as chocolate sorbet) — are getting married today.  Asked what he would be reading on his three-week honeymoon Jim replied “Well, I’m not sure what will actually be read, but I decided to take Frederick Seidel’s Collected PoemsHumboldt’s Gift, Auden’s Selected Poems, and a biography of Auden”.

We and the goats wish them (and Language Hat, who will be at the ceremony) all the best — and a very happy day.

I want to point out this tree by the lake, it’s always the first to turn.  The orange begins at the very top and over a week or two gradually works its way down.  I’ve never gone up close to it, but every year my daughter and I discuss it as we drive past in the mornings: isn’t it lovely, why that one, why is it always so much earlier than the others and isn’t it perhaps a even little earlier than last year?  I think it’s an ash; in the spring they’re the last to get leaves and they’re the first trees to lose them in the autumn (but in between, you can practically see them growing).  My wife says it’s a maple, that ash doesn’t turn a bright red.  She could be right.

Update. 11 Sept. Armed with empty’s agreement (below) that it’s a maple,  my wife confronted me this morning with a picture of a spisslønn, another Norwegian  kind of maple that goes red from the top downwards.  She says that’s what it is, and I give in.

Yesterday evening at half past eight, Per the farrier came by.  A farrier is someone who shoes horses and trims and takes care of their hooves; whereas a blacksmith is someone who hammers bars of red-hot metal, sometimes into horseshoes and sometimes into wrought-iron candelabra.

Per lives in Sweden, he only comes here to work; he and his family have bought a horse farm.  At the moment they have twelve horses and much free grazing land. He says that it’s no longer economically practical for Swedes to run old family dairy farms with less than 100 head of cattle; all the smaller farmhouses are being sold to Norwegians for second homes and the pastures leased for next-to-nothing to Per.  He says he speaks a new Sworsk dialect.

When he opens the back doors of his van there’s a workshop inside with lighting and all his tools,

including an anvil for hammering the shoes into the correct shape (sorry for the blur):

Now it’s nearly nine p.m. and starting to get dark.  Per wears a little halogen light on his forehead like a late afternoon cross-country skier.

The first thing he does is remove the old shoe and file down the hoof.

A horse’s lower leg has the same structure as a hand.  The horse walks on the equivalent of the fingernails of its index and ring fingers; they and the pad of a very small middle finger are what touch they ground, the little finger and thumb are further up the leg.  The horseshoe is fastened to the hoof (or fingernail) with steel nails.  Because the hoof is growing out all the time, the shoes have to be replaced every six or seven weeks — if you wait longer, they start falling off and then you can’t ride.  Horseshoes can sometimes be reused, but usually they become too worn down in the middle.

He has a little metal stand that the hoof can rest on:

You can see it better here:

After he’d been working for a little while, he brought out more lights from the van.  He took a horseshoe that was the correct size and checked it against the shape of the hoof.  Askur, being an Iceland pony, has small hooves.  Per said that Shire horses require shoes that are huge: roughly six inches (150mm) in diameter.  They cost twice as much as Askur to shoe too, not that he cares — we don’t make him pay.

Then Per hammered it to conform to the shape of the hoof and nailed it through the holes and diagonally into the hoof, bending the nails over where they emerged on the side. I think he used about six nails per hoof.

Betty and Askur don’t seem to mind.  See you again in October, Per…

It seems Dalton Ghetti’s carved pencils have been the subject of lots of newspaper articles and blog posts over the past few years.

Living near the arctic circle, I first saw them this morning when my mother forwarded some pictures to me.

It’s lucky for him he doesn’t have to carve any Ös, Ñs, Øs or Ås, but I’d like to see him try a typeface with serifs.

My favourites are the saw and the hammer.

He seems to have a lot of very old pencils.  Maybe they just look old by the time he’s finished with them.