November 30, 2009

Giving Thanks Challenge Finale.

This is the last day in November and thus, the last day of the Giving Thanks Challenge hosted by Leah at South Breeze Farm. Participating was a wonderful experience and I look forward to join again next year.

Although I did not participated with a post of thanks every day, some of you might have noticed a single, new sentence posted on my sidebar each day. In it I expressed my gratitude towards subjects, people and situations in my life and my surroundings, directly (or indirectly) linked to the post of that day.
Thank you Leah for a wonderful sentiment and for the privilege of letting me become part of a beautiful movement.

Below, a summary of my subtle participation in text and pictures.

•I am thankful for the beautiful nature that surrounds me...
•I am thankful to be living in a free country ...
•I am thankful to have met so many kind *blog friends*...
•I am thankful for all the beautiful songs and compilations...
•I am thankful for the magic of seasons...
•I am thankful for relaxing Sundays...
•I am thankful for my parents, the most brave people I know...
•I am thankful for the beautiful views out of my windows...
•I am thankful for Batcat and the way he makes me smile everyday...
•I am thankful for my memories of a life lived...
•I am thankful for lazy Saturdays in front of my fireplace…
•I am thankful for the sun and it's vital rays...
•I am thankful for the privilege to be alive in a great century…
•I am thankful for the proximity to a magnificent sea...
•I am thankful for Holidays and Celebrations…
•I am thankful for cosy evenings by candlelight...
•I am thankful for works of art...
•I am thankful for my lovely home...
•I am thankful for beauty of simple pleasures...
•I am thankful for my perfect little car...
•I am thankful for each day that was and for the magic of each new day...
•I am thankful for unforgettable moments…
•I am thankful for the few very good friends...
•I am thankful for my sister and the memories of childhood Christmases that we share…
•I am thankful for the magic of the Holiday Season...
•I am thankful for the many traditions in my home...
•I am thankful for being who I am and for all the privileges that life has bestowed upon me...

November 29, 2009

Tree Decoration.

The is the last Sunday in November and this year, it is also the day of the 1st Advent. Although a religious observance, Advent is today a very traditional celebration in Scandinavia, signifying the onset of Christmas Holidays.
Families gather to drink Mulled Wine with traditional advent snacks, which can vary between the countries of the North. In Denmark, it is common to serve æbleskiver, which resemble and taste like small, round pancakes.

I have my own tradition that takes place on the last Sunday in November - I decorate my Christmas Tree. I love the laid back feeling of the day and the activity in itself connects me in a strong way to my past. The tree was such a center point in the Christmases of my childhood. Always decorated by my mother, who relished every year in creating a true artwork in the middle of our living room, making it look differently each year. This always took place on the day before Christmas Eve and I often felt that the time we got to enjoy its glory was so very short. Therefore, today, the tree in my home is decorated in the beginning of December, thus I can enjoy its presence and its beauty throughout the Holiday Season.

As much as my home is cluttered with objects and decorations, the way I decorate my tree is somewhat an opposite to that. I keep it very simple. The decorations are few and almost entirely only red. I love to leave most of the tree bare, as it is simply so very beautiful in its natural state.

November 28, 2009

The First Day.

This last Saturday in November starts at first like any other Saturday. In the early morning, when the world is still asleep, I wrap myself in my favorite blanket, slip into my big warm, pink home shoes and venture into the kitchen. Putting on a pot of coffee and placing frozen bread roles into the oven, I look out of the windows onto the dark landscape surrounding me.
I can feel something is about to change.

Unlike other Saturdays, I venture down into the basement. Batcat follows me curiously, as he too senses that the routine of our weekends is altered. I start pulling down boxes from the shelves. The ones stating "Christmas" with large, red letters on the side. I stack them all in one corner, then sit down on the floor, with Batcat watching my every move. Lifting the lids, I gaze at the familiar colours and shapes. Removing each and every item from the wrapping, I recall unhurriedly the stories and moments in time connected to these objects.

The hours pass with tranquil ease and my home gradually becomes a plethora of every shade of red, golden and green. When the morning turns into noon there is a palpable change in the air.
In the early afternoon, I get the tree. Visiting a Spruce Tree Plantation in the countryside, I cut down my very own Christmas Tree (with some help of good friends), a tradition that I have carried out for many years by now.

Slowly, the day becomes evening and the Christmas Lights light up my home. The traditional and distinctive scent of spruce and Mulled Wine spreads throughout the house, filling my heart and mind with a warm comforting feeling. It brings on a sense of joy and gentle expectation, just like when I was a child.

Today the autumn has departed.
It has left and with it, the darkness of November disappeared. As we stand in between seasons and as the winter prepares for its grand entrance, the day that began just like any other, has turned into the first day of the Holiday Season.

November 27, 2009

Flashback Friday; Christmas Edition: "Last Christmas".

The next four installation of my Flashback Friday will be in the spirit of the season. To me the Holidays start with the last weekend of November, meaning that tomorrow is a very special day in my white house on the hill. But more on that later.

Meanwhile, I hope you all will bear with me, as I present to you my four favorite Christmas compilations during the weeks leading up to Christmas.
I know some of you are already (or will be soon) fed up with all the Christmas music that is played relentlessly on the radio. I however admit being one of the few who relish in exactly that fact. I simply love this holiday and anything connected to it, including the music.

This first piece I recall very fondly as a major hit. Made by Wham!, it was released in 1984, when I was a teenager. Me and my sister sat glued to the television set as soon as the top ten hit shows were broadcast that winter, just to get a glimpse of the video. I loved foremost the harmonies, while my little sister loved the images. The story must have appealed to her romantic sense, as perhaps she too longed to live through some of the sentiments depicted within; spending time in company of good friends in the mountains. And, as sometimes life has it, my sister very much indeed made her dreams come true; in a few years after that she met and married a handsome Swiss man (and a talented skier), who took her away to live at the foothills of the beautiful Alps, in one of the most stunning parts of Europe. She did get to live out the story depicted in the favorite video of her past. With one exception; it did not include a broken heart.

So, without further ado, here is Last Christmas, which I dedicate to my sister, together with all the memories of wonderful childhood Christmases we once shared...

November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving.

I would like to wish all my American friends a lovely Thanksgiving weekend. I miss celebrating this holiday; as much as it was new to me when I moved to North Carolina in the beginning of the nineties, it was as difficult not to celebrate it when I moved back to Europe again.

Hopefully the tryptophan in the turkey will not make you as sleepy as it made me, when I celebrated my first Thanksgiving with my very good friends in the US. I fell asleep on their sofa after the feast and they took a picture of me to prove it (very embarrassing!)
The older I get the more I realize how difficult it is to find really good friends; it was easier when I was younger. There is nothing like a good friend, at least one, to make you forget your troubles and cheer you up when you are feeling down.

I wish you all a very pleasant evening with your friends and family.

November 25, 2009

Fire And Ice.

This is the time of candles. I light them every day, in multitude of candle holders, through out my house and even outside. My favorite ones are almost all made for tealights. I like these for many reasons, but mostly as tealights in Scandinavia are very popular and readily available. They are very safe, or as safe as a candle alight can be and can burn for many hours, without having to be constantly watched. We have many different kinds, any that can burn for four hours all the way up to eight hours. The eight hours ones are very much in use in the winter when the evenings are dark and the nights very long.

I have many candle holders that are my favorite, but the oldest one is the most beautiful by far. It is called "Snowball" and is made by the Swedish glasswork company called Kosta Boda. It is suppose to imitate a ball made of snow, or rather ice and it certainly looks that way. Particularly when a lit candle is placed within, it looks like fire within ice. I love the light it spreads and I love the originality of the design, that is so very Scandinavian in its elegance.

It was the first candle holder ever to hold a lit candle when I moved away from home. It has been with me everywhere and have been in use in every home I ever lived in.

November 24, 2009

Sublime Sunset.

The sight of the sun in the season of late fall and winter is uncommon and the vision of sunsets almost absent. Setting early in the afternoons, the sun is very elusive, gone long before I return home.

The golden disk lies ever so low in the sky and as fall becomes winter, it moves to the southwest, no longer setting over a natural horizon. Still, if I am lucky to be home on a sunny day and the conditions are right, I get to see a glimpse of it as it slowly disappears behind the hills lying in the south. As it shifts out of sight, the birch trees and farms in my view become dark silhouettes on a canvas of silver. Like a gentle painter, the sun leaves behind brush strokes of warm colours on the evening sky for a short instance, before submerging us in dense darkness yet again, without any promises to return...

November 23, 2009

"My Toyota Is Fantastic".

The above sentence was printed on the rear windshield in the first new car my father was able to purchase in Sweden.

After struggling through the pain of many used and often unreliable cars, in the late eighties my parents again found themselves in the position of being able to afford buying a brand new car. It was a Toyota Carina II. To this day my father thinks of the car fondly and recalls it as one of the best cars he ever owned.

As I already did not live at home at that time, I mostly experienced the car on the many trips abroad I took with my parents in the late eighties and early nineties. It was that car that took us back to Czech Republic for the first time after the fall of communism, it was the one which drove us through Berlin after the fall of the wall and it was in this car that I drove south with my parents, to the Mediterranean where the picture above was taken.
It was also my fathers Toyota that I drove as the first car with my father during the time in which I took my driving license.

Taking my driving license was pure hell. It was the worst and most costly experience I recall ever in my life. I had to borrow money to get it and and I failed the written test once and the driving test twice, before obtaining the license on my third try.
The license eventually cost me nearly as much as my current car. It was a terrible ordeal that caused me a lot of anguish and distress, but that is another story all together.

With that said though, I was lucky enough to have it once I moved to the US, where (as I learned very quickly) having a car was absolutely vital. The first year while living in North Carolina, I drove a red 77 Ford Thunderbird, which belonged to my friends. Driving this magnificent car was an experience of a life time, which I have described previously.

Once I moved back to Denmark, after having the privilege of driving my own car for almost ten years, I knew I could not go back to be using the public transportation system. I simply had to buy a new car. And this time around, just like my father did before me, I decided to buy a new Toyota. The reasons were many, but most of all the decision was based on price. Toyotas are inexpensive in Denmark, or reasonably priced at least. The Danes do not produce their own cars and furthermore, the state taxes the cars. To each car price, between 100-500% is added on taxes, depending on the make, the size, the fuel usage etc.

My Toyota Yaris, the first model from 1999, is an amazing machinery in every way. It is reliable and practical. It gets me where I need to go using almost no gas; during normal usage, I need to refill it only once a month. With its small size I can park it anywhere. It is a joy to drive, whether in the city, in the country side or on the highway. I have even driven it safely through a snowstorm, where other luxury makes found themselves unable to continue and ended up in ditches. It handles well anywhere and I love its manual transmission, that makes every drive so much fun. Small, yet very spacious and very safe. Even though soon ten years old, it looks and feels like new.

I love my car and I simply can not imagine my life without it. Yes indeed, My Toyota Is Fantastic!

November 22, 2009

From Green To Bare...

Today it is raining and the sky is dark, but I still relish in the memories of yesterdays sun. The last week of November is about to start and it brings with it the end to our autumn days. Now, we will hold our breath as we enter the first winter month, one of many to follow...

But before we say good bye to the fall season, I would like to revisit the last three months one more time with the help of my Birch Tree. The magnificent tree that I can gaze upon at all times from my kitchen window. I have never before watched it so intensely, or noticed it in the same way as this year. Following the change of its foliage through the lens of my camera have made me aware of its beauty and the magical transformation it undergoes each season. I have been looking forward to be sharing with you its splendor each Sunday in the past three months and I feel somewhat sad now, when it is about to conclude.
Today it stands bare and lonely in the rain. The last of its brown leaves disappeared during the mid week storm, thus making it obvious that winter is about to start.

I hope you have enjoyed this installment of my progressive photography, as once termed by Hilary, my good friend and a very talented photographer. I look forward to return to the tree in a few months and take you on the backwards journey, from "bare to green".

November 21, 2009

The Colours Of November.

The weather gods have taken pity on us and finally send us some sun. After weeks of rain and even a devastating storm in mid week, this Saturday was beautiful.

I spend a few hours outside tending to my terrace that needed some attention after the late autumn storm. Later I took a walk around my house, in the common backyard and marveled over all the berries and fruits that add colour to the barren November landscape. Together with the few evergreens that I have here and there, they make the my surroundings come alive. I always though of November nature as gloomy, bare and dark. However, if one only takes a closer look, rich and vibrant colours can be found just outside my door step.

November 20, 2009

Flashback Friday: "Stín Katedrál".

Today I am sharing with you a compilation of the Czech music scene. It is very different, and quiet possibly of very limited interest, as few (if any) of you can understand the words nor know the artist or the song.
Still, perhaps some of you can find the beauty in the haunting harmonies appealing.

I feel very much removed from the modern Czech music, as I have not grown up there and my teens were spend in the west. Thus my knowledge of the Czech or Slovak artists is very limited. All I recall are the performers of my parents generation, such as Karel Gott, whose music equals my childhood.

During the late 90' while living in North Carolina, I realized that multitude of radio stations, even European, were transmitting live online. Thus I found a popular Czech station and used to listen to it every day in the lab on my computer. In that period, I knew all the Czech hits. This was when I made a brief acquaintance with Peter Muk. Much later, when I visited Prague with my parents in the beginning of this decade, his songs were often played on the radio while we drove through the Czech country side. I became completely infatuated with his style. His compilations hold the very essence of what I look for in music. His lyrics are incredibly poetic and his sound has that airy, escapist feel to it that the romantic in me enjoys to dream myself away to.

My favorite compilation of his was not available for sharing, unfortunately, therefore I decided to share the one below. I am not completely sure, but I assume this is a live performance in 2007 or 2008 of his big hit from 1996, entitled "Stín Katedrál" , which translates something like "The Shadow of The Cathedrals". It comes across as a tribute to Karel Svoboda, who composed this song in the 70's, I believe.

Svoboda was a very talented composer of a multitude of absolutely magnificent compilations, throughout almost four decades. He wrote hit after hit for numerous Czech performers (including Karel Gott). It is quiet curios for me today to ponder the fact, that he originally studied in the medical field and was a close friend of my father, while they both attended the Charles University in Prague in the 60's.

Unfortunately and very sadly, Karel Svoboda died way before his time in the most tragic way - by taking his own life in 2007.

I hope you will enjoy this rare and absolutely stunning performance in a breathtaking setting, of one of the most hauntingly beautiful compilations I know...

November 19, 2009

The Winter Candles.

In Scandinavia, the lack of light in November and December means that we light multitude of candles through out our homes. It creates a cosy atmosphere and candles are an essential and a very common object in every Nordic home.

Around the holidays, it is common to place candles and a multitude of candle holders in the windows as well. Today though, in order to avoid fires, we have started to place electric candles in the windows and in the unattended rooms in our houses.
Recently I purchased two rechargeable electric candles, that look very much like the real deal. I have placed them in my bedroom window, up in the attic, next to my Christmas Cactus.
The beauty lies in their design but also in their practical use; they can be charged during the day and then left on in the evening for decoration. Furthermore they will shine all through the night, acting as a sort of a nightlight.

November 18, 2009

The First Sign.

Christmas is one of the most beautiful celebrations in our modern world. There are little signs here and there, which makes us aware of the upcoming holidays. I am not talking about the commercial hype, although I do love when the stores start to decorate the windows and when the streets are lit by hundreds of Christmas lights.

What I have in mind is more the atmosphere that settles across the cities. The essence of expectation and joy.
The most significant and the first sign to me is very simple. It is the blooming of my Christmas Cactus. Some of you might remember my post last year, when I was trying to identify this beauty in bloom. And again this November, it bursts with purple colour and displays hundreds of delicate flowers.

The Holiday Season is almost here.

November 17, 2009

The Nordic Winter Sea.

During my years in North Carolina I missed many things, but nothing as much as the proximity of the ocean. Indeed, the beaches there and the coastline of the southeast US is absolutely beautiful, however I lived about three hours drive from the coast and thus seeing the ocean on daily bases was not possible.

Even though I was born in the mountains, I grew up on the west coast of Sweden and came to depend on the view of the sea. Today, my every day drive to work takes me by the ocean and I look forward to those few glimpses of it each day.
Some of you might remember my two posts from this summer, with images of almost exotic, turquoise coloured sea and the green-blue coastline.
The Summer Sea of Scandinavia.

Well, this past week on my drive to work I stopped to film and capture The Nordic Winter Sea. Light years removed from the visions of the calm waters of the summer months, these images represent the force of the wind that powers the numerous off shore wind farms in near proximity.
Gone are the colours of the tropics and the tranquility of the summer air. Instead, they are replaced by a certain raw beauty of savage waters, the colour of green glass and silver steel. Gazing at the raging waves, as they hit the shore, fills me with a sense of unrestricted freedom.

Although I love the summer sea endlessly, there is a certain pristine appeal to the winter sea. Rugged and wild, it is in constant motion, sweeping the beaches, filling the air with salty freshness and cleansing my mind and soul.

November 16, 2009

The Mobile Communication.

I remember my first cellular phone. Or cellphone. I purchased it in 1994 while living in North Carolina. It was a state of the art technology that was suddenly available to the public, the second best thing after the Internet. It was huge, bulky and I grew very quickly tired of it. And angry with it as well. It used to run out of battery in no time and efficiently consumed my money.

The first time ever that I used it was on a trip out of state. Of course, this was when I thought it to be a marvelous idea - being able to call someone while traveling. It was a call to my neighbor who was taking care of my cat and as he was not at home, I made several calls. The bill later that month almost ruined me.

When I look at my iPhone today it makes me so brutally aware how fast the technology has evolved. This elegant, sleek, endlessly sophisticated item that I seem no longer to be able to live without. It can do pretty much anything I can think off, short of actually breathing. It can tell me the time, the date, the weather, my location in the world, both in numbers and show it to me on the map. It can show me how to get places, calculating the best route, navigating me through cities in Denmark and outside it, keep me updated on the news, let me send emails and text messages. I can use it to listen to music or radio and watch movies. It can make me relax, helps me pass the time by playing games. I can surf the net, pay the bills, purchase items, take photos, film movie clips. See where the inexpensive gas is, where the best offers are in my neighbourhood. It helps me keep track of my appointments, it reminds me of things to do, it wakes me up in the morning.
And, it is also a phone.
Making any landline obsolete. In fact I have not had a landline phone for almost ten years.

If I go back just a decade, the cellphones, or mobile phones as they are called in Europe, looked very different than they do now. It is amazing how quickly the design has changed and most of all, their intended use and the concept in which they are used as well. Still, when I moved back to Europe in 1999 with that bulky dinosaur of mine, I could not believe the beautiful design of the multitude of tiny Nokias and Sony Ericsson's around me. And I also marveled about the ease of their use. Everyone around me was on the phone, using their cellular constantly, to a fraction of the cost I was accustomed to.

My first European mobile was a flip Sony Ericsson, sapphire blue, with a little antenna and tiny, non colour display. It was a phone only and could fit into the palm of my hand. I got it for free when I signed up for a service with the company that offered it. Since then I have had many phones, but thinking back, the purchasing of my very first Ericsson was the most exciting buy ever. Even though it today looks very old fashioned and obsolete...

If you are like me and store all your discarded cellphones in your drawer, it might be useful to know that these can be donate or recycled.
There are many sites on the net that share information about this subject, here are a few examples:

November 15, 2009

November Sun.

Finally, the sun is shinning. Not much, but indeed visibly. Those weak rays are so welcomed. I stood outside for a short while, just to feel them on my face...
The sun is at last visiting us on a Sunday, how appropriate that is. Sadly, it will stay a little while only, but it is better than nothing.

I got to think about the sun and how important it is to us. It is the fountain of life and just like water, absolutely essential.

Here are a few interesting facts about this vital star:
(For full list, please visit this site)

Our sun has an expected lifetime of about 11 billion years.

•Our sun and the surrounding planets orbit around the center of the Milky Way galaxy once every 250 million years.

•Only 55% of all Americans know that the sun is a star.

•On its trip around the sun, the earth travels over a million and a half miles per day.

•Lightning bolts can sometimes be hotter than the sun. (about 50 000º F)

•It takes only 8 minutes for sunlight to travel from the sun to the earth, which also means, if you see the sun go out, it actually went out 8 minutes ago.

•In Spit Bergen, Norway at one time of the year the sun shines continuously for three and a half months.

•For 186 days you can not see the sun in the North Pole.

•Every eleven years the magnetic poles of the sun switch. This cycle is called"Solarmax".

•All the coal, oil, gas, and wood on Earth would only keep the Sun burning for a few days.

•Your fingernails can turn yellow from wearing nail polish and from the sun.

•More than 1 million earths would fit inside the sun.

•The sun is 330,330 times larger than the earth.

Below my traditional birch tree update, which is slowly coming to its its end. The tree now only holds onto a few brown, dried leaves on the lower branches of its crown. I think there might be one more, perhaps two more weeks left before it stands completely bare, signifying the onset of winter.

November 14, 2009

Imminence Of Winter.

This week was again cloudy, windy and rainy. The sun has been absent for two weeks, but today the cloud cover was slightly lighter and a hazy glow appeared for a minute or two in the southern skies.

This would in no terms be described as sun. However I guess it ends the all time record that the first two weeks of November has bestowed upon us. On average, we receive around 50 hours of sunshine in Denmark in the beginning of this month. However, until now, we have only had 3 hours of sun. This is the lowest amount ever on record. And the few sunshine hours occurred only in the southern and northern part of the country. Some of us (like me) have not seen the sun for 14 days. And let me tell you, it has stated to effect me. It effected my mood and I have never been so tired as this past week. Novembers are dark as it is, but the cloud cover made the last 14 days feel like one long night.

Some changes have also taken place in nature; foliage is now almost absent and the air is damp and cold. The other day when I stopped by the ocean on my way to work to watch it's raging beauty, I could sense winter in the air for the first time this season.

In November the best place to be is in front of my fireplace. Starting now, the fire will be lit very often in my white house on the hill and both me and Batcat will enjoy its warm glow.

November 13, 2009

Flashback Friday: "Thinking About Your Love".

I have always thought that the best music was made in the 80's. Most likely this is not true, but because that is the decade when I was a teenager, my interest in music was very intense. Of course some of this popular sound carried into the next decade and therefore even the early 90's produced some of my favorite compilations.
Quiet early on realized that it was the soul and R&B (and later jazz) music styles that sounded the most appealing to me. Therefore when Kenny Thomas performed his "Thinking About Your Love", it immediately caught my attention. This single from his debut album "Voices" stayed on the UK chart for 13 weeks. I made sure I purchased that album later in the summer, or rather a tape. In fact it was one of the very few tapes that I took with me when I moved to the US in 1992 and therefore the music reminds me of my last year ever spend in Sweden.
"Thinking About Your Love" is actually a cover of a hit from 1985 made originally by Skipworth & Turner. Perhaps it does not contain particularly poignant lyrics, although I truly love the sentiment behind them. And perhaps it can be viewed as just another love song by many. However, I have always enjoyed the easy flow of the harmonies conveyed by an appealing voice. And today I enjoy the flow of memories that it brings back so easily...

November 12, 2009

Batcat And His "Sleeping Bag".

Batcat is a cat of a very reserved nature. Perhaps it comes from the fact that he is an indoor cat. He just doesn't take well to strangers. He likes people, but any contact has to be done on his terms only. Anyone who just approaches him thinking to become his best friend has to think again. Batcat of course also chooses the objects of his affection carefully. Some visitors will be ignored and he will greet them with his absence. Some intrigues him and he will curiously wonder around, investigating the events as they unfold.

Batcat has always liked the Irishman, from the very beginning. He behaves very much the same when he is around as when I am alone with him in the house. Maybe it is because he instinctively knows that the Irishman understands cats, having been around them his whole life.
Recently, he even gave Batcat has most beloved (and best ever!) gift. A paper bag. Now, why have I never thought of that before? I have bought numerous fancy baskets and soft blankets in the pet stores, fun "cat" toys as well, all to be completely ignored and ending up discarded or given away to friends. Who knew that a simple paper bag would turn out to be the best place to sleep and play with? These days, Batcat has abandoned all the warm spots on sofas as chairs and happily rests in his new "sleeping bag". That is, when he is not investigating (relentlessly!) all its "bouncing back" corners, as seen in the short clip below.

November 11, 2009

The Christmas Truce.

In my part of the world, the Remembrance/Veteran Day is not observed. Considering that I have made so many friends here that do commemorate this special day, it feels appropriate to dedicate a post to this subject.

This day in history, the 11th of November, marked the end of the first World War in 1918. Growing up in Eastern Bloc, the facts and traces of both World Wars were ever so present through out my childhood. In fact, my grandfather -my fathers father- witnessed the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria on 28 June 1914 in Bosnia-Herzegovina, an event that started the WWI.

Wars are filled with horrors and unimaginable atrocities, showing mankind from it's worst side. However, in parallel, they also produce unsung heroes and bring out the best in people, often highlighting that ultimately we are all the same. Thus raising the irony in the whole purpose of the battles.
I have always felt strong empathy for the ordinary people involved in wars. Those nameless soldiers, that no one knows about. That no one ever writes about. In every war, there is immense suffering of the common man - from any country, on any side - that only does his duty and knows nothing of politics and the struggle for power and land, that is the elusive cause of the war he is fighting.

In history of the first world war, the notion of a particular event has effected me deeply; the occurrence of the so called Christmas Truce. The term describes brief unofficial cease of fights, taking place on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day between German and British or French troops in World War I, particularly that between British and German troops stationed along the Western Front during Christmas 1914.

As quoted from the Wikipedia:

"The truce began on Christmas Eve, 24 December 1914, when German troops began decorating the area around their trenches in the region of Ypres, Belgium, for Christmas. They began by placing candles on trees, then continued the celebration by singing Christmas carols, most notably Stille Nacht (Silent Night). The British troops in the trenches across from them responded by singing English carols.

The two sides continued by shouting Christmas greetings to each other. Soon thereafter, there were calls for visits across the "No Man's Land" where small gifts were exchanged — whiskey, jam, cigars, chocolate, and the like. The soldiers exchanged gifts, sometimes addresses, and drank together. The artillery in the region fell silent that night. The truce also allowed a breathing spell where recently-fallen soldiers could be brought back behind their lines by burial parties. Proper burials took place as soldiers from both sides mourned the dead together and paid their respects.

The truce spread to other areas of the lines, and there are many stories of football matches between the opposing forces.

In many sectors, the truce lasted through Christmas night, but in some areas, it continued until New Year's Day."

November 10, 2009

The Days Of Twilight.

As the fall turns slowly into winter, we are experiencing a lack of daylight in Scandinavia. Not only have our days decreased, but the late autumn weather is usually very gray and rainy. The cloud cover can last for days, actually weeks, without us getting even a glimpse of the sun. In fact, I have not seen the sun for almost two weeks now.

The lack of sunshine effects the population of the North. It is considered one of the primary causes of seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a serious form of the "winter blues".
Foreigners from southern Europe, who spend extensive period of time in Scandinavia often say that they can deal with the bad weather and the cold, but the absence of sun and light makes them feel very depressed.

On a happier note, I can say that eventually, one can adapt. To a certain degree. I deal with the dark days days better today than I did about a decade ago. I try to find something positive in the season of the twilight days. Just like the nature and animals enjoy a certain kind of dormancy in the winter period, I guess even we can look at this season as a laid back time, when we get the privilege to rest and enjoy a time of tranquility.

The below image taken around 5PM out of my living room windows this past weekend, compared to the same views taken almost eight hours later, past midnight in June, illustrates very well the difference in light between summer and winter in my part of the world.

November 09, 2009

The Beginning Of The End.

When we (my family) found ourselves as political refugees in Sweden in 1980, we assumed never to set foot in the former East Bloc again. Never. This was it. We escaped and considered ourselves lucky to be free and the idea of ever returning home was absurd and unreal. The years that followed were the years that any refugee or immigrant would understand. The consuming feeling of never to belong anywhere. Never to feel home anywhere again and yet being home everywhere to a certain degree. While something, somewhere deep inside, would never be complete again.

Therefore the chain of events that unraveled later that decade and brought eventually the end of the Cold War holds a very important place in my heart and soul.
Today is the official twenty years anniversary of the fall of The Berlin Wall. I think we all can remember November 1989, when our television screens were filled with images of joyful Germans, climbing over the Berlin Wall and rushing through the open borders to celebrate freedom. And some would finally be reunited with family members they might have not seen for what must have felt like eternity.
This force to end the decades of oppression spread through out the eastern Europe, even into Czechoslovakia where the Velvet Revolution saw the overthrow of the Communist government later that same year.

And so that, which once seemed impossible, came to pass.
In the spring of 1990, only months after the fall of communism, my family drove into Czech republic for the first time since our escape. I can still recall the chills running down my spine as we crossed the borders. As the guards at the checkpoints required our passports, the look in their eyes and the way they scrutinized our faces brought back memories of times, when these borders used to confine us. Later, I often used to wonder what they really did think of us and people like us; did they think us to be traitors or did they think us to be brave (stupid) enough to venture back? The guard handed us the passports at one point in a aloof manner, confusing my parents. As my father asked is we could continue across the border, the man in the uniform gave us one last look, waving his hand, uttering with a sting of nonchalance "If you really wish..." For a split second, as the gates closed behind us, an eerie feeling enveloped my heart and as we drove quietly onto the soil of my former home, an absurd thought of fear crossed my mind, instigating the feel of being trapped once again...

However, when we reached Prague, the onset of freedom was palpable in every corner of the city. To this day this first visit home was the most significant visit of them all. It was bittersweet in every way and reinforced the fact that one can go home, but one can never ever go back.

Later that summer we drove back to Prague again. We took the night ferry from Sweden and arrived in West Germany on an early summer morning, watching the sun rise as we disembarked the ship. Our plan was to visit Berlin on our way down and gaze at the remains of the Berlin Wall. I recall the drive very vividly. Barely a year after the fall of the wall, the signs of the old regime could still be perceived as we passed the empty border controls at one of the checkpoints that led the autobahn through a sort of no-man zone into the city. The deserted border buildings stood as silent witnesses to an era that has ended, yet was still very much present. On the pictures below that I took out of the car, one can still see the old Trabants, the undying symbols of the former DDR, driving ahead of us on the highway. Seeing one today is considered a rarity.
As we arrived in Berlin early on a Sunday morning, the city was still asleep. We reached the Brandenburg Gate which was empty, completely devoid of people or animals, cars or any kind of sound. I think what I recall the most was the unusual feeling of the place. It was filled with a sense of nostalgia and even a certain sadness. I felt as if we were walking through a deserted city. As we strolled around for almost an hour in complete silence and without meeting a soul, we passed the Reichstag Building and finally reached the wall. This was the first time that I stood face to face with this important structure in our history. I remember touching it and trying to envision the years of oppression and the shed of blood and tears that it symbolized. My parents can be seen on the pictures I post here. My mother stands at the lonely wall in one of them, while my father is seen walking. I wonder to this day what my parents were thinking. Their body language and their silence is maybe an answer in itself. The solitude and the melancholy of the pictures is hauntingly symbolic of what these are all about...

We all took a piece of the wall. I do no longer have mine, as it has disappeared through all the relocating that took place in my life over the years. But it doesn't matter. It was just a piece of concrete. The most important souvenir is the one that I carried away from this place in my mind. The idea that nothing is written in stone. Nothing is ever final and that history, although brutal and cruel in most parts also carries moments of monumental victories.

(Please click the below to enlarge).

November 08, 2009

November Sunday.

November makes for perfect Sundays. Sleeping in late, having a delicious Irish Breakfast and then watching costume dramas the whole day. I have a whole set of them, a wonderful gift from the Irishman on his latest visit.
I feel no guilt whatsoever about not setting a foot outside into the dreary Scandinavian autumn. Outside it is dark, wet and uninviting.
Below the continuous update on my Birch tree. It has lost most of it's former elegance and is now standing half bare. I guess it is only a couple of weeks away from the culmination of this installation of my progressive photography.

November 07, 2009

Late Autumn Melancholy...

The first week of November brought with it the sensation of the imminence of the approaching winter. The weather grew colder and the sun has been absent. We even experienced the fall of the first snow, which however failed to leave any cover. A strong storm swept over the country in mid week, ripping through the trees, robbing them of the last of their foliage and leaving a barren landscape behind.

The nature offers the first glimpse of autumn melancholy. The clouds are dark and low, the air is damp and still, the trees almost bare and the remains of their fallen leaves lie in heaps everywhere. There is a feeling of sad tranquility in my surroundings, however it seems not to darken my spirits. On the contrary, it fills me with calming serenity as I watch the fragile daylight slowly disappear.

(Please click to enlarge.)