Our Date On The Island of Långholmen in Stockholm, Sweden

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We visited Stockholm March of last year (when I made the Queen of Sweden smile and met Camilla Parker-Bowles at the Vasa Museum).  Some places March means spring, it doesn’t in Sweden.  We decided we had to go back to enjoy the city and the nearby archipelago in summer. We chose wisely.  It was a fantastic trip.  We stayed in the Södermalm neighborhood in a boat on the Riddarfjärden, a bay of Lake Mälaren in central Stockholm.  We spent a pleasant afternoon and evening picnicking and walking around the island of  Långholmen.

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Långholmen, the long island, was rocky and barren until 18th century prison inmates covered the island with mud dredged from the surrounding waterways.  It undoubtably made the waterways deeper and more easily navigable for larger vessels.  It also had the effect of providing fertile soil.  When things start growing, leaves drop, providing more organic matter for plants.  Before long, the island was lush retreat.  Trade and merchant ships introduced of exotic seeds, making its vegetation unique.  As a result, it is a popular place for walks, picnics and a cold dip in the lake.

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We trekked around the island passing a few people walking their dogs, people singing with guitars, a group of teenagers escaping their families apartments, boatbuilders, several rabbits and even a handful of kayakers.  We enjoyed this view of Kungsholmen (complete with a beach bar) on our picnic.  It was so peaceful.

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At the Stockholm Water Festival in 1993, a JAS 39 Gripen fighter aircraft crashed on Långholmen. It caught fire but the pilot ejected successfully.  Thankfully, no one was killed and only one injury in the large crowd of spectators.  We happened upon Thomas Qvarsebo‘s stainless steel sculpture commemorating the incident.  It is paper plane with its nose drilled into the ground.  It was so striking that I took a picture and looked up what it was later.

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Boats are everywhere.  Although the Swede’s love worshipping the sun, the climate requires a cabin.  The classic wooden boats looked like a great way to experience the country.  If someone’s rented one for a day, I’d love to hear about it.

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The walk from Södermalm along the Riddarfjärden was fascinating.  Many of the larger boats were homes or hotels!  By the way, the former Långholmen Prison is now a hotel and hostel, complete with a restaurant and pub.  If we hadn’t found unique boat accommodations, we probably would have stayed there.

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We had great views of the city towards Stadhuset and Gamla Stan.  This is the
giant Västerbron bridge that links Södermalm to Kungsholmen.

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My Visit To Louisana And Why The Dane’s Might Be The World’s Nicest People

 

When we were in Denmark, I decided to go see Louisiana (not the state), a modern art museum about 45 minutes outside of Copenhagen.  I found the train station, purchased tickets and was off.   At the third stop, a creepy guy got on and sat across from me.  It wasn’t long before he was mumbling under his breath.  He tried out various inappropriate words in different languages to see which got a reaction from me.

He also stared and moaned disturbingly at the paper with pictures of Denmark’s new female prime minister, Helle Thorning-Schmidt. She’s an attractive lady, but c’mon it’s the prime minister. Show some respect.

When he realized I knew English, he continued in English.  There weren’t empty seats so, I ignored him and kept my nose in my book.  Eventually it was too much and I asked him to “please stop doing that and be quiet”.  He said “no English, no Danish”.  The liar.  He knew a plethora of choice English words; I’d just heard them.  I was so focused on looking at my book and ignoring him that I missed my stop!  Uh-oh.

I got off (so did he by the way – yuck) and tried to figure out what to do.  Luckily, there was a 7-11.  A 7-11?  Yes a 7-11, here they also serve as train stations/ticket agents in smaller towns.  A young woman was behind the counter.  I explained to her what had happened and was sure to note the words he had said about her newly elected prime minister while leafing through the paper.  She got someone to cover for her, took me to the conductor, explained what had happened and got me a free ride to the museum!  I couldn’t have been more grateful. Take my word for it, the Danes are nice. Unbelievably nice. When I saw the museum, I was blown away.  It was amazing.* *Everyone has his or her “things”. Modern art and Danish design are two of mine. I still think that anyone would be impressed by and enjoy this place.  It’s got a beautiful seaside setting, nice cafeteria and thought-provoking art.  If you take a guided tour (or can subtly follow one as I did), the guides do a great job of explaining what you are seeing and putting it in context.

 

Touring The Palais des Nations, The United Nations In Geneva

You know it’s the UN because if you squint, you can see the UN flag on top

We recently had some visitors in town (yippee).  They were the perfect excuse to tour the United Nations in Geneva, the Palais des Nations.  Guides update visitors on the current activities of the United Nations, tell its history and answer loads of questions.

The United Nations in New York hosts the legislative body.  Geneva host tons of meetings.  I’m guessing it may be easier for diplomats and delegates from certain countries to get into Switzerland than in the US.  They have hundreds of meeting rooms to host over 2700 meetings they host every year.  Many of them look like the one above.   All proceedings are translated into the six official languages (Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish) using state of the art 70’s technology like this.

Miquel Barcelò massive sculptural installation decorates the domed ceiling of the Chamber XX of Human Rights and Alliance of Civilizations Room. Although it was controversial for its $23 million price tag footed by Spain, everyone seemed to think it looked pretty sweet.  I wanted it for our apartment.

The Assembly Hall, the largest room in the Palais des Nations.  You can watch it on TV.  You are probably still more familiar with the large hall at the United Nations in New York from television and movies.

The Council Chamber, formerly housed the League of Nations and has stunning murals by José Maria Sert.  Many important negotiations have taken place in this room.  This room was home to the League of Nations and has hosted many tense negotiations.  It has two separate entrances so antagonistic negotiants can enter and leave at the same time.  They can also move the furniture around into a “V” formation (the tables in the other rooms are bolted into the floors) so that necociants don’t have to look at each other.

Go figure. Patek Philippe is the official clock of the UN in Geneva.

The gift shop is really cool and worth a visit.  I bought a board game about Switzerland in French and English!  You can also purchase and mail post cards from there (they will go out with the official UN stamp).

Gifts presented by various countries to the United Nations Office at Geneva are on display.  They are pretty sweet.  Germany gave this Günther Uecker picture made from nails.

Out in front of the building (at the Nations TPG public transit stop) is the famous Broken Chair sculpture by Daniel Berset.  The chair’s fourth leg is broken off, leaving shards of jagged wood, yet it doesn’t tip.  The damaged leg symbolizes the suffering of land mine victims.    I run by there often.  Between the chair, the fountain and the demonstrators that are usually around, it’s always interesting.

Praha, Prague, Whatever You Call It, You Will Love it

Last weekend, we met Mrs. DiCaprio in Prague and had a great time. There are no friends like old friends and it is a wonderful city.  Aside from the great company, here are some of the things we liked about Prague:

While certain parts of Prague have definitely figured out the tourist schtick, it didn’t seem as overdeveloped and the local culture seemed a bit more accessible than some cities.
It wasn’t majorly bombed during WWII and so it is rather old and incredibly beautiful.
It’s got a ton of history, a river running through it, beautiful buildings and the light is amazing.  It gives the city a romantic, dreamy quality.
Czech culture is really interesting.  Completely over-generalizing, the Czech Republic is independent, peaceful, loves democracy and is skeptical of authority (which is understandable given their conquest and years of rule under foreign empires like the HapsburgsNazi Germany and The Soviet Union).
The Czech Republic has a rich tradition of art, music and literature that are distinctly Czech.  This tradition still percolates through daily life there.  Below is the Franz Kafka Memorial in the Jewish Quarter.  It was inspired by his story “Description of a Struggle“.
Vaclav Havel, playwright, poet, essayist, dissident and first post-communist leader of the Czech Republic died in December 2011.  His contributions cannot be overstated.

Czechs are proud of their history.  Statutes abound.  You see plaques all over the place with little paragraphs.   For example, Johannes Kepler, the mathematician, scientist and astronomer lived in Prague.  He has a plaque on a former residence.
Crosses in Prague’s main square commemorating the execution of 27 Protestants during the 30 Years War by the Catholic Hapsburgs in 1621.
There is a statute known as the Jan Hus Memorial in the center of Prague at at one end of Old Town Square.  It depicts depicts Hus, a young mother, victorious Hussite warriors and Protestants who were forced into exile.  He was burned at the stake for his beliefs that  Catholic mass should be given in the vernacular, the local language, and not in Latin.
Prague has lots of interesting public art.
 
After John Lennon’s death, people painted his portrait, lyrics and grievances on this wall.  The communist government painted them over every day.  Each night, they appeared anew.  It’s known as the Lennon Wall.
The Penguins below are by the Cracking Art Group.  They are on the edge of  Vltava River waiting for their boat to Antarctica.
We couldn’t help but get our picture taken by the Crawling Baby bronze sculpture by David Cerny.
If you get too cold walking the beautiful streets, excellent cafes and beer halls abound.  Perfect places to warm yourself up.
Prague has an abundance of things to see and do.  Three days were definitely not enough and we hope to be able to go back.

A Giant Spider Traveling The World

When I visited Geneva on my apartment hunting trip, I spent an afternoon in Bern, Switzerland. In front of the parliment building, there was a fantastic statute of a giant spider. When we moved to Geneva a month later, the sculpture had moved here!  It made me curious and I wanted to learn more.
The spider gets around; it is better traveled than us. The statute first appeared as part of an exhibition as part of the Tate Modern in London (below).
Since then, it has vacationed in fantastic spots all over the world. Temporary locations include:

Permanent locations of bronze cast replicas include:

Maman has been well received in each place and has become very popular.* It’s easy to see why.  The sculpture photographs well, children love to play around its legs and it’s a hit with art connoisseurs.

 
It was made by French-American sculptor Louise Bourgeois. Before passing away in 2010 at age 98, she was the world’s highest paid living female artist. The sculpture is called “Maman“. The spider’s sac contains 26 marble eggs.  You can see them looking up from underneath the spider.
It’s called “Maman” and is an homage to her mother who worked as a restorer of tapestries in Paris (get it, spiders weave webs, her mom rewove tapestries).
She made a giant spider statue for her mother, so it doesn’t come as a surprise that she had daddy issues. When she was a child, she learned that her tyrannical, sadistic, father was having a long-term affair with her live-in nanny!  Insert Freud jokes here.  She spent her career exorcising these demons.  Much of her work dealt with revenge, feminism, women’s roles and power.
She saw spiders as clever, protective, life-giving and useful.  Others see it/them as both frightening and/or threatening.
*Maman has its own Facebook page with its picture in different locations.
 

Alberto Giacometti Slept Here

The other day, I was walking down a street in our neighborhood (Geneva‘s Eaux-Vives) and I saw this plaque.  Being an art fan, I knew immediately who this was.  Since he’s not a huge art fan, I had to explain why I was so excited to him.
 
It says “Here lived from 1943 to 1945 Alberto Giacometti 1901-1966 Swiss Sculptor and Painter”.  I knew that he was Swiss, but never imagined that I’d live in the same neighborhood that he did.   He had been living in Paris, but when the Nazis occupied France, he returned to neutral Switzerland.
Alberto Giacometti is perhaps the most important of the modern humanist artists.  His works are especially interesting because they are complex, show conflict and portray a depth of human emotion.  For example, the figure is simultaneously flat and rounded, strong and fragile, stark but filled with humanity, abstract fragments are put together make a whole…  The skin of his figures crumbles and crawls but the figure remains invincibly upright.
Many artists were impacted by the World Wars.  Some say Giacometti showed human beings holding their own in the midst of war’s devestation, humanity surviving the trauma.
At some point his eyes started to glaze over, so I knew I had to make it more interesting for him.  I’ll do it for you too.   At 16, he contracted the mumps which rendered him sterile.  Let’s just say that this damage to his left him with some lingering issues with women, the body, what it means to be a man, etc.
By the way, a version of this one “The Walking Man” sold for over $104,000,000, making it one of the most expensive works ever sold!

 

Museum Day With Mom

My mom came for a visit.  She is a huge fan of Monet and the Foundation Pierre Gianadda in Martigny has a huge Monet show.   All of the waterlilies posters in college turned me off of Monet, but I wanted to make my mom happy and drove us there.  I was really glad I went.  They had tons of paintings.   A lot of them were on loan from private Swiss collectors and are not usually publicly viewed.   Posters just don’t capture his talent with a brush.   His paintings are at a wholly differently level when you see the brushstrokes on the canvas.  Wow!  I wish I could have taken pictures for you.

The museum also had a small, but nice, permanent collection of artworks.*  I was really surprised and impressed by its car museum.  Being from the Detroit area, I have seen my fair share of car shows, museums and exhibits.  I was impressed because I have never seen so many pre-WWI vehicles all in one place (and all in immaculate condition).   I’m not a car person, but I found myself oohing and aahing over them.

The best part of the museum was its sculpture garden.  I love a sculpture garden so I might be a bit biased.**  For me, it is refreshing to be able to be outside while enjoying and interacting with art.   Plus, their sculpture garden incorporated Roman ruins.

Next, we headed over to the St. Bernard Museum.  Being dog people, we had to.  The real highlight of the museum is the dogs.***  You get to see them do all their adorable doggie things (including “hiking footballs”).  We were able to pet them and it made my day.   

When we finally dragged ourselves away from the furballs to check out the rest of the museum, we were pleasantly surprised.  We learned a lot (as a former professor, my mom loves learning) about the history of the region.  I was slightly more lowbrow, oohing and aahing over pictures of dogs, watching a movie on dog search/rescue in the Alps and checking out the St. Bernard movie posters.  Yes, they had posters from Beethoven, Beethoven’s 2nd and Beethoven’s 3rd.  They even had Stephen King’s Cujo.

On the way back to the car, we passed a Roman road (The Poenine Way) to that led to Rome.  I’m not sure if all roads really still do lead to Rome, but this one definitely did.  Sorry,  I couldn’t help myself.

*The have an exhibit with Roman artifacts (Martigny was a Roman town) and other temporary exhibits.

**It combines my love of art with my love of gardening.  A perfect combo.

***Wanting to see more dogs, we left the museum and went to Foundation Barry to try to see their dogs.  They didn’t open for the season until the following week.  If you are wanting to see the dogs and want a cheaper option, they are less than half the price.