Friday, November 30, 2007

Long day's journey into night

Today I ended up teaching two different seminar sessions, three hours on in depth inter- viewing and another two hours on participant observation about new media users. They both went well.

The students are from a new inter-disciplinary MA here in multimedia production and study. They come from engineering, fine arts, education and media studies, pretty disparate backgrounds with very different ideas about how you learn about the world in research, so I was not quite sure how it would go. But the differences were actually pretty stimulating and they were surprisingly interested in the topic, since they mostly plan on doing professional not academic work. I worked at making the ideas applicable to the real world and it seems to have worked well so far.

It made for a pretty intense day. My reward was a quite lovely sunset out the hotel window, just as I got home. I plan to go in search of interesting food down by the Rio Douro shortly.

Plus, I am thrilled that our daughter Julia has just managed to land a good job as a librarian at a public library in northern Austin and is about to graduate from the UT library school with an MA.

Life is good.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Community Informatics and Group Writing

The community informatics seminar in Porto was interesting in several ways. One is the whole idea of community informatics -- to emphasize the community part more than the tech part. The framework, which may or may not catch on widely, seems to be to work with communities first to see what people really express as their own needs, then see where different forms of technology might actually be useful. Far too often it goes the other way, companies market things that people don't see much need for, or development agencies from governments or non-profit groups push certain technologies as a cure-all even if they don't really do what people need. So it was refreshing to sit around and talk over both general ideas and specific examples with people for whom understanding communities came first. The first photo shows the group working. The second has everyone who participated posing with the Portuguese flag.

The other interesting thing was that the goal was to spend most of two days first talking and then writing a collective overview with a bunch of examples and case studies of these kinds of issues. Very interesting experience to talk a lot with the immediate intention of writing about it as a group. Some pretty interesting stuff came out, so let's see what gets edited together in the end.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Community Informatics in Porto

I am in Porto, Portugal for about ten days, for two back to back events. This is the view from my hotel window, out to the beach. Porto, or Oporto, which it gets called in English sometimes, is a port city and the home of port wine. Very pretty town. And the hotel room even has a great bathtub, which seems to be too decadent for general use in Scandinavia.

The first event is a two day seminar in what some people are calling community informatics, how to assist people in developing countries who want to use information and communication technologies in their communities. More on that in a another post. The second event is a week long seminar in research methods for digital media that I am doing at the University of Porto, as part of an agreement it has with University of Texas. Time to get rolling or no breakfast, which seems particularly good at this hotel, so more later.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Robert Hunter

Doing a post about Dylan brought on an interesting discussion with Sandy about him. She has trouble dissociating his personal life, particularly his treatment of the women in his life, from his music. Being both male and a Gemini, such feats of schizophrenia come easier to me. I had a hunch that I probably would not really want to hang around him much, but I liked the music anyway.

One songwriter that we do really agree on is Robert Hunter, the main lyricist for the Grateful Dead. He and Jerry Garcia, who wrote their music, collaborated on most of the original songs of the Dead. The early ones have a very pleasant psychedelic flavor, like China Cat Sunflower, below. The later ones, starting about Workingman's Dead, have a more complicated, more folkloric lyric line. He had a real knack for mining American folklore about rambling gamblers, lost loves, and the West. His songs probably resonated even longer with me than Dylan's.

Plus there is the performance aspect. I have seen Dylan twice and like him better on record, frankly. But while I was in California, 1969-1973, I pretty much turned into a casual deadhead for a while. I probably went to 20 shows over the four years. There was something about both the music and ambience of their shows that I really liked. I also learned to NOT eat popcorn passed around at a Dead concert, particularly if you were the designated driver, which I usually was.

Friday, November 23, 2007

I'm not there

Last night was a bit surreal. Sandy was headed off to a dinner that followed a conference on Old Norse that she had been attending here at Aarhus University. I was going to walk out with her and rent a movie to watch. By the time I discovered that I had left my keys and cell phone in the apartment she was on her bus and gone. Fortunately, I had a wallet, a warm coat, hat and gloves. So I decided to walk downtown, get dinner and see a movie.

I went to see "I'm Not There," which is sort of about Bob Dylan, played by five different people. Interesting idea. Dylan has seemed like a lot of different people over his lifetime, more even that the rest of us. I remember going though several personas myself from 16-25, but Dylan always seemed to be out ahead putting on identities and taking them off.

That was not really what was so interesting about him, however. It really was his music and words. He created some songs that were just dazzling as music and poetry, even though my good wife, the poet, doesn't agree. And in a way, whether the poetry was technically any good also doesn't really matter, some of it simply expressed things that the rest of us had a hard time saying as well. After my first marriage broke up, "If you see her, say hello," from Blood on the Tracks was both melancholy and therapeutic in the way that a good sad song about busted romance can be when life is imitating art.

Even though he is not particularly famous as a singer or instrumentalist, he also created an electric rock sound in Highway 61 Revisted and Blonde on Blonde that I really like just as a wall of sound. One of my favorites was Just Like Tom Thumbs Blues, shown here with Dylan playing with the Band on tour in England, although the studio cut on Highway 61 is better.

I also really like this cut from Blonde on Blonde, called Visions of Joanna, which back in the late 1960s seemed like a good take on confused love. This is also from the 1966 tour. Both clips are from the Dylan biopic No Direction Home by Martin Scorsese. A good place to start for understanding Wee Bob.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Musical roots

We all have experience of discovering new music that just blows us away. Particularly when it is something you expected to dislike. Growing up in Kuna, Idaho with real cowboys and rodeo queens in my high school, I generally tended to run hard the other way. I wouldn't even wear blue jeans because that is what Future Farmers of America and cowboys wore. Not this child. I was getting out of there and going to college, preferably a good one some ways away. Yeah, I know. I was being a real snot at the time. But high school does that to us all in one way other another. Needless to say, country music was not my favorite.

So after a few months far away at Stanford University in California, I remember watching a couple of blue grass musicians playing live on campus, finding my toe tapping and thinking this was actually kind of cool. Then someone played a Flatt and Scruggs record for me and I was really blown away. So here is Earl Scruggs playing live in someone's backyard, with Doc Watson, who was to become another icon for me. One of the high points of my radio career at Stanford was getting to do an interview with Doc Watson before a concert.

And you have to love the 1970s clothes and hair.

Winter wonderland

It was fun and nostalgic to have snow on the ground when we were in Tampere, Finland, last week. This is a view across a park toward the apartment we stayed in last August.

Here is a wintry sunset, taken from the Communication school at Tampere University back toward the river that runs through town. (In fact it became a town because the Czar gave a Scottish engineer the rights to use the rapid drop in the river to run a fabric mill.)

And here are Sandy and I looking out over one of Tampere's two big lakes on top of a sand ridge created long ago by glaciers, which is about as close to mountains as Finland comes. When Finland had its own civil war in the 1920s between Reds (local socialists and unions, which were strong in factory town Tampere) and Whites (led by more traditional business and land-owners), this ridge was the last strong hold of the Reds.

Here is one last image, of Tampere's downtown, showing snow, Christmas lights, and one of my favorite buildings, done in the style of Jugendstil, the German equivalent of art noveau.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Academic rites of passage

The university is definitely a place where rites of passage are still important. (Kind of like the time I killed and ate a rattlesnake on a Boy Scout survival hike, but usually more civilized.)

For the several of you readers who are working on Ph.D.s, this post is to tell it could be worse. Or at least a lot more formal.

We were in Finland this week, me giving a seminar and Sandy catching up on work and enjoying the place. After my lectures and talks with grad students, we had an interesting chance on Saturday to watch the very Nordic style dissertation defense. This is us with Kaarle Nordenstreng in his formal outfit for presiding over the ceremony.

The dissertation was presented by a friend of ours from our trip to St. Petersburg last summer, Svetlana Pasti. She had written a very interesting dissertation on how Russian journalism has been changing with a younger, more careerist generation since the 1990s. That is her on the left in the second picture, wearing a yellow mantle sort of thing.

The process was very interesting. She presented a very formal summary. Then an invited opponent, Brian McNair from Scotland, did a very detailed critique, while she listened, standing. Then they both sat and did a long dialog of questions and answers. Very interesting, great feedback to her, but more than
a little intimidating, too.

Back in the US we have various ways nowadays to do these dissertation defenses. The evening before Svetlana's defense in Finland, Sandy participated in a UT one (an English-department student's dissertation on Middle English poetic metrics) via Skype, sitting around yelling into her laptop. Odd not to see the faces (you can't do that, apparently, on a multi-person conference call -- or at least it was beyond the UT English dept. tech support guys), but it came out okay.

I remember how informal my dissertation defense was. I sat down with the committee and one of them said, "This is good. Now let's talk about the interesting parts." It lacked drama perhaps, but was easier on the stomach lining.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

What do you get when you take McDonalds to ....

One of my favorite tracking devices about the directions of globalization is seeing what people in various places do with the idea of fast food. The very appearance of U.S. style fast food indicates that globalization is reaching in, in the form of ideas that circulate. There is one popular book that talks about the McDonaldization of Society, a standardization or homogenization of culture around the world. It gets more complicated, however. Here is exhibit A, the current most advertised McDonalds sandwich in Finland. It features a basic cheeseburger on a very Finnish form of round but very grainy rye bread. Someone has decided that Finns prefer to think outside the bun.

I think McDonaldization of a sort is indeed taking place at a deep level of structure. The economic and technological ways of doing things around the world become more standardized, like the proliferation of automatic teller machines and television advertising everywhere. However, at another level, the content that fills in those forms of globalization can be pretty varied, reflecting the culture that was already there. So we get McDonalds on rye, or as in the next photo, the Big Rösti, a McDonald's burger on a bun, but the bun has cheese baked in, with melted Swiss cheese and Swiss style Rösti (a sort of hash brown patty), still in Finland, not Switzerland -- maybe they borrowed it from the Swiss Mickey D's, which is sort of regionalization on top of globalization.

Things get more interesting if you go beyond the belly of the beast, or at least away from McDonald's itself. My personal favorite is Habib's in Brazil. In a way, when you take McDonald's to Brazil, what you get is both McDonald's and Habib's. McDonald's does very well in Brazil, it has 541 restaurants, 556 kiosks, and 47 McCafés as of 2007 (according to an information page on the US Embassy website--why they are flacking for McDonald's is another question).

But the idea of fast food has sort of run away from McDonald's
control, producing Brazilian versions of fast Lebanese, Japanese, French, Italian and various sorts of more local fast food, too. Habib's is fast Lebanese, kibe, esfiha, tabouli, etc. There are over 260 Habib's in Brazil and it has jumped to Mexico, too.

And throughout Europe, the most popular form of fast food, dwarfing McDonald's and all things burger-related everywhere we have been this year, is various locally run kebab houses, mid-Eastern fast food featuring the classic kebab or gyro (as is often called in Greek versions in the U.S.), beef or lamb,
sometimes mixed, cooked on a big rotating spindle. Here we see another powerful piece of globalization that works sideways with or even against McD's, the migration of hundreds of thousands of middle Eastern or Mediterranean people to Europe, many thousands of whom seem to have decided to open kebab restaurants.

I am thinking about this because analogous issues came up in several of my talks and seminars in Tampere today. People were despairing because of the spread of fairly standardized capitalist, commercial ways of doing television. It is certainly true that those approaches are becoming standard globalized ways of doing things -- which makes it much harder to find some of the more worthwhile forms of TV that are not inherently profitable, such as one off dramas, documentaries, education and high culture, unless government or public broadcasting decides to do such things. Just like McDonald's is probably driving out some much more interesting Finnish and Brazilian eateries.

However, within the new forms of television and fast food, interesting things can still happen. The cup is not full but it is not empty either. Particularly since other forms of television and food do persist or even start anew, the way that public broadcasting in the USA grew after commercial broadcasting was already dominant.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Helsinki in the snow, culture high to low

We left Århus early (like 5:30) this morning to catch a plane to Copenhagen, then Helsinki. It was beginning to snow in Århus. Helsinki already had some snow on the ground. It is a bit of a shock to people from Texas, although Denmark has been getting us gradually ready for it. You can see some snow on the ground in this photo.

You can also see a great example of 1950s architecture, when modern meant rounded shapes, lots of glass, lots of neon. It is fun to see buildings from this era now - the tackiness takes on a patina of historical significance and a pleasant nostalgia. Now for a videotape, er, DVD (we're modern now) of The Jetsons.

We were headed for the National Museum, which we had not seen when we were here last summer. You can see it here in the snow. It looks like a cathedral and in a way, it is, a cathedral to celebrate Finnish culture. It even has a stained glass window celebrating ethnography, archeology and history. Finland is very serious about its national history and culture -- it has had to fight hard to gain and keep independence.

We particularly wanted to see the Iron Age, Viking Age and medieval exhibits which we had heard were very good, and they were. It is really interesting to look at the slow emergence of people and culture here and how much they interacted with everyone all around them. We somehow think globalization is new but this place was formed by people, goods, weapons and ideas moving in and through from all around them. Simple things like where a certain kind of ax head came from reflect big changes in who had moved in, who is in charge now, what gods are worshipped, etc. Even one of my favorite sci-fi time travel stories by Poul Anderson (Danish-American) is about the battle ax culture, which brought in these stone axes at left. Whoops, the latent anthropologist/culture geek/sci-fi fan in me is taking over -- down boy!

Here is Sandy next to an exhibit about one of the people she teaches about the most when she looks at medieval women writers, Saint Birgitta of Sweden. There was an important Birgittine nunnery in Finland, which was very connected to Sweden for much of its history, so she is important here, too.

Best of all, for me anyway, is that the museum has ceiling frescoes by Akseli Gallen-Kallela, with images from the Kalevela, the Finnish epic. One of my favorite national romantic type painters.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Will the Wolf Survive?

This blog entry is also my post today on a series of curated, commented on videos about Latino culture in the USA on a project called InMediaRes, at

This video reminds me of my own process of discovery about Latino culture. I grew up in a small farming town in rural Southwest Idaho with several families of Latino migrant workers. One Latino friend was really smart, but he seemed to be losing traction in school. I found out that he kept getting pulled out of school to help work in the fields with the family. My father got the same treatment, which kept him from graduating from high school. I worked in the fields, too, sometimes with migrant workers, but it was back-breaking, and I knew already that I wanted to get out of there and go to college, so I remember feeling sad for this guy, who wasn’t going to be able to do that. How was he going to get ahead? I felt a little guilty that in my family, the decision had been made a generation earlier by my father, who deliberately gave me the chance he hadn’t had to succeed in school. I wonder, did the wolf survive?

This specific video kicked off a debate in YouTube comments about whether the main character was, horrors, an “illegal immigrant.” Some who liked the video really did not want the lead character to be a wetback making his way in the North. One of the strengths of Los Lobos is that they have a hybrid music that speaks across cultural barriers of Anglo and Latino, but it is interesting that some users of YouTube have a hard time accepting them as Latinos speaking about real issues that face real immigrants in the U.S. It also reflects that video is often much more explicit than lyrics, which in this case treat the theme more metaphorically and polysemically.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Skagen, land's end

Last Saturday, we decided to take a day trip from Aalborg to the very northern tip of Denmark, to Skagen. We took a funky little blue train, which you can see in the photo, which we had also taken up to the ferry to go to Norway.

We walked through town and out on to the beach to walk toward the very tip of Denmark. One of the first things we saw was an old- fashioned derrick, or loader, like the one that my father used to put loose hay from wagons up on to a tall stack. This is one along the beach in Skagen.

I was going to add a few more things, but Blogger seems to be having a crisis. So here is a last image, a World War II artillery bunker facing out to sea that is sliding off the dune where it once sat out towards the sea. It turns out that the Nazis invaded Denmark via the land and by air, so it did not help much. The best laid plans of mice and men do oft times go astray.

(Thanks to Mike Thompson who noted that these bunkers were actually created by the Germans as the main Danish part of their Atlantic Wall. Did not do them much good, either, as the big landing was in Normandy, and a front against the Germans was opened in Denmark later anyway.)

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Lindholm Høje, Viking rise and fall

We walked across Aalborg today to get to Lindholm Høje, one of the biggest Viking grave sites in the world. On the way across town from our hotel, we walked by this building, considered the finest 17th century building on town. This far north, even at 9:30 in the morning, the lighting is pretty horizontal and dramatic.

After that, we walked across the Limfjord, an arm of the ocean that cuts clear across all of Denmark, so we are heading toward what is in some ways a really large island, northern Jutland (the western part of Denmark). As you can see in the photo, it was a clear, cold pretty day.

It was a good long walk, 3-4 miles from hotel to the Viking grave site. But really worth it. The site was occupied as a burial ground for a series of neighboring villages from 400 AD to 1000 AD, from Iron Age through the Viking Age.

This next shot shows one view of the hill that the graves cover. Some are mounds like the one in front, where someone was buried without being cremated. Most are circle (for women) or ship (for men) shaped, which held in the burial pyre over which someone was cremated. They were cremated with the best clothing, jewelry, weapons, and often their dogs.

The next photo shows Sandy sitting up in one of those kinds of graves. The Viking poetess rises from the grave?

The hill of the grave sites is huge, with almost 700 graves. It was a farm, if a steep and rocky one, but a benefactor paid to buy it and save the grave sites, which were discovered in the late 19th century. Before it could be excavated, WW II interrupted most things in Denmark and the Nazis dug defensive trenches across the hill, in among the graves. Archaeologists were able to excavate 625 eventually.

This last shot gives a sense of how big the site is. All the visible stones mark graves. Some in the rings or ship shapes favored for Viking era cremations, some just single standing stones that mark burial sites that came before and after the Viking era.

This place was interesting. It gave me a better sense that almost anything I remember of how a culture can rise, have centuries of history with specific customs and then fall again, or simply change, as the Viking culture changed after Christianity to slowly become part of the European middle ages after 1000 AD. People as proud of the cultures as modern Europeans or Americans would do well to remember that they don't always last. Will some future visitor look across the ruins of my neighborhood in Austin this way, or will we be clever enough, as the Chinese have been so far, to make the culture last for thousands of years? (Another post for another day is the profound culture shock I felt going to a really large Chinese art museum for the first time, realizing how many thousands of years it had had a continuous cultural tradition in painting, sculpture, poetry, music, etc. and how little I knew about it.)

Friday, November 9, 2007

Aalborg, meditating on the Anglophone world

We came north from Aarhus to Aalborg today by train. (It was a bit rainy and gloomy for photography, so I am cheating and using a photo from the Internet of the Aalborg train station.)

I gave a talk today at Aalborg University, comparing the globalization of film, TV and music. The three are quite different in this regard. Film is still heavily dominated by the USA for a series of accidents of history (like many of its competitors being crippled by WW I, Great Depression and WW II at crucial moments) and the continuing exercise of Hollywood economic clout. Still tiny Denmark does 25 films a year, which are pretty well attended, thanks to government support for the intitial productions and good local talent.

TV is pretty nationalized most places, including Denmark, where roughly 60% of what is shown on the major networks is national and 70% of audience time is spent watching national
programs, which is impressive, but not uncommon. In Brazil, the numbers are 75-80% and 80-85%. Ethnographies show that usually there is something about TV that makes it the comfort medium of daily life, very different from film. Plus many governments use a lot of levers to make sure that a medium so close to political life stays nationally focused. (Here is a picture of Sonia Braga as Gabriella, heroine of the the first telenovela I saw in Brazil. It took the Portuguese speaking world by storm, even did pretty well translated into Spanish.)

Music is kind of all over the map, very globalized in many places, including Denmark, but very national or even local in places like Brazil, where roughly 70% of FM radio time and CD sales are for national music.

One interesting dimension is language and culture. Music shows that Danes live in a certain cultural dilemma with English. So many Danes understand English so well, that many listen with great comfort in English and many even perform successfully in English -- who would think that Barbie Girl by Aqua was sung by Danes? (Being Danish does not automatically give you great taste.)

When I came to Denmark, one of the things I wanted to look at was whether they traded a lot of TV with the other Nordic countries. It turns out that the Nordic countries don't share quite enough to make each other's TV that interesting, despite all their common history, because the languages really are too different for comfortable daily viewing among each other on a broad scale. But many Danes have become so immersed in English and in Anglophone culture, that they do watch a fair bit of U.S. and, to lesser degree, British TV, in English with subtitles with some enthusiasm, when they decide they don't want to watch their own shows (which they mostly do).

It strikes me that at some layer of their increas- ingly multi- layered identities, many Danes are becoming a part of the transnational Anglophone world in how they both consume and participate more easily than many in its cultural industries. Is our friend Viggo Mortensen ( a classic but slightly old fashioned Danish name) a fluke or an example of where more Danes may go? It is interesting that Lord of the Rings, with Viggo here as Aragorn, was a very broadly inclusive Anglophone production: British story and actors; American money, actors and distribution; and New Zealand direction, special effects, actors, locales and extras.

It may seem like Viggo is a bit unusual, having grown up enough in the USA, Argentina and Denmark to have a claim on all three cultures and languages, and to act in at least English and Spanish. (Here he is as the swash- buckling Capitan Alatriste in a Spanish film, where he speaks pretty passable Spanish.) But quite a few Danes speak English just about as well, and more and more seem to move and work around the world, aided in part by their position someplace between Europe, which offers certain advantages and the Anglophone world which sprawls all the way from the UK to New Zealand, significantly including the USA (and just maybe a part of Denmark?).

Thursday, November 8, 2007

The triumph of the will (or politics)

Momentarily stunned, I can't say anything better than this quote from the NY Times.

"Every once in a while, I am left speechless. This is one of those times.''"
- SENATOR JOHN McCAIN, after learning that Rudolph W. Giuliani, a rival for the Republican
presidential nomination, had been endorsed by Pat Robertson, the Christian conservative broadcaster.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

The odd ends of music and globalization

One of the things that has most surprised me on this sojourn through the northern end of Europe this year is how much some people in places like Finland and Denmark know about really obscure American music.

Now for me personally, coming from rural Idaho where country music was around all the time (even though I then associated it with very unpleasant would be rodeo cowboys in high school), and passing through California 1969-1973 where merging country and rock was a new, cool idea, just outside and outlaw enough to be hip and fun, it sorta makes sense for me to be a big fan of country rock. To me, it was a unique blend of where I came from, where I was (in California) and where I could see things going (although I did not suspect I would end up in Austin, the headquarters of the current version, sometimes called

But how does a young Finnish guy in his thirties come to like this kind of stuff so much that he plays it both as a DJ and a musician? This is Markus Nordenstreng, who has played South by Southwest in Austin a couple of times. His current band is the Latebirds. His Dad is a long time media scholar friend. When we visited this year, I ended up riding in an old Thunderbird through the Finnish countryside, talking with Markus about Gram Parsons and Lucinda Williams. It is very cool that he likes this stuff and knows so much about it, but how does it happen?

One guy in Finland I could kind of understand. An interesting, very unusual exception. And Finns are kind of known for being interested in exotic music. They have turned the tango into a national obsession. But it turns out there are two guys in my hallway in Media Studies in Århus with very similar interests. We have been having fun, talking and exchanging music.

So how do these guys acquire such specialized knowledge, or cultural capital as Pierre Bourdieu might call it, that they come to understand and enjoy this rather rarefied music. That is an aspect of globalization that I am very interested in understanding better. There is no reason to assume that Americans own this kind of music after all, but the circuits that get it to Denmark have got to be interesting.

I just gave one of the guys in Århus, Jakob, a compilation of a lot of the Flying Burrito Brothers, so for those of you not yet into this rarefied bit of Americana, here is a sample of one of their finest, called Christine's Tune, from an album called The Gilded Palace of Sin, in 1969, my first year in California. The guy with long dark hair is the legendary Gram Parsons, but my real favorite is the guy in blue, Chris Hillman, who plays bass, which I have always wanted to learn and has great hair. He could easily be a Straubhaar, which means curly, standing on end hair in Swiss German, BTW.

So look at this and think, how does a guy in a small city in Denmark come to think this is cool. (Globalization works in mysterious ways, its wonders to perform.)

1960s cultural hybridity: the silly years

I have a perverse liking for the early days of music video, the sorts of things that TV shows did to showcase groups in the 1960s, the kind of thing that "That Thing You Do" was a gentle make fun of.

Here is a classic. This is the Sir Douglas Quintet, a bunch of funky guys from San Antonio, Texas, led by Doug Sahm, who later embraced his roots in rock, blues, country and norteño, and helped invent the Texas Tornados. Those guys were so much fun that they actually influenced a job decision of mine. When I first interviewed at University of Texas in Austin, I noticed that the Hole in the Wall bar, across the street from the Communications building was featuring Doug Sahm. I thought, Wow, if this guy is playing across the street from where my office would be, this town must be all right.

This, however, is a much earlier phase of Sir Douglas, where he and the band are trying really hard to look British, to fit in with the British invasion. Check out the castles and a girl in armor. Not to mention the odd Freddie and the Dreamers dancing action. This is cultural hybridity at its silliest. A genuinely rootsy, interesting Texas band, the kind of folks that the Rolling Stones later tried to turn into, if briefly, felt it had to look like it had wandered over from Liverpool. Watch and giggle. Musical globalization at one of its loopiest points.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Queen Margrethe's woods

I went out for a walk on Sunday in the woods near our apartment. This was the view as I crossed under the street and emerged in the woods. I love the woods by our house in Texas, too, but I do miss the fall colors that were so abundant on Sunday. A lot of other people thought they were worth looking at, too.

The woods were full of hikers, bikers, joggers, couples clinging to each other, dogs, and kids who couldn't resist trying to walk on the railings, as the next picture shows.

I used to be sort of snotty hiker, back in the late 1960s, when I was going to school and back- packing in the Sierra Nevada mountains with friends. Now I rather enjoy seeing a lot of people enjoying the woods.

One of my favorite things about these Århus woods, like many things in the town, is how far back they go. This stone commemorates the fact Queen Margrethe 1, who became queen of all Scandinavia when everyone else died off in the black plague, gave the park to the city in 1395. Sic transit gloria reginae, but she left a nice park behind.

Making the US safe for bicycles

For the last couple of days, the most emailed story in the New York Times website has been a story about bikes in Portland,

In Portland, Cultivating a Culture of Two Wheels

It is nice to see a US city look into the future a bit and see the need to back away from the automobile and toward the bike. Back to the future!
You can read the Times story at:

Monday, November 5, 2007

The Viking trail in Roskilde

Saturday we decided to come back from Copenhagen via Roskilde again, this time to see the Viking ship museum and the cathedral. (The day would have been a lot easier if the luggage lockers in the train station had not been closed because of "the terror," according to a clerk. So we dragged the luggage all over town. Like Viking raiders fresh from shopping in Copenhagen, whose name means shopping harbor, after all.)

Here is a side view of the cathedral. It was the first grand Gothic cathedral to be made in the 1200s out of 3 million red bricks rather than big blocks of granite or something similar.

The next photo shows the cathedral interior, with its amazing vaulted Gothic ceiling. Most of the interior was plastered over, with the red bricks actually making a nice contrast. Much of the plastered area had been painted with frescoes, some of which are visible in this next picture with Sandy.

The next photo shows you the red brick cathedral on the right and the red brick city hall (rådhus) on the left. (Danes have been very fond of red brick since the 1100s -- almost all of Århus and most other cities are red brick, very solid and all, but just maybe lacking in a bit of variety.) Where you see two people standing is the Rådhuskælder (the basement restaurant and bar under the city hall -- a pretty common institution in Denmark and Germany), where we had lunch later. As is common for lunch, the daily special was smørrebrød, several artistically arranged open faced sandwiches, which had pickled herring on one, beef on another and pork on another. Very tasty. (I am even coming to like pickled herring, which always used to seem one of the more bizarre things from Scandinavia.)

From the cathedral we walked (and dragged the luggage) down what was otherwise an extremely pretty path among trees and a park to the Viking ship museum. This was pretty exciting. One of the first things we did when we moved to Washington, D.C. in 1979, with one year of marriage and baby Julia in tow, was join the Longship Company, which maintains and rows a repro- duction of a Viking longship. (Imagine a bunch of college kids, plus us, rowing a Viking ship around the Baltimore yacht harbor, getting a lot of very strange looks from people with more conventional 20th century (as opposed to 10th century) boats.

Here is a picture of the fragments from one of the original Viking ships that was sunk in Rosklide harbor as part of a defense barrier against invading Norwegians. (Roskilde was one of the major merchant cities of Denmark in the 11th century, so it was a prize for raiders.) Five ships were sunk as part of the barrier. Their remains form the core of the museum.

The museum has used the original ship remains in a very clever way to create an extensive program of researching how they were made, how they operated, and building a series of replicas of the original ships as part of the learning experience. They do workshops for others who want to build and operate them. So the new Viking ship recently built (since our day) for the Longship Company (which we still belong to and support -- but haven't helped row in many years) is a replica of one of the Roskilde ships, built in California. You can see it in the last photo here, looking almost more like a work of art than a highly functional craft based on real ones used by Viking raiders 1000 years ago. Personally, it is both odd and very satisfying to come see the origins of what seemed like an endearingly goofy hobby almost 30 years ago, rowing a real Viking longship.

Sunday, November 4, 2007


Here is a song about an issue that people need to think about a bit harder than they are right now in the USA (or in Denmark vis a vis Moroccans, or Germany viz Turkish guest workers). I wonder what people in the USA think we can do to replace the labor that Latino migrants are doing right now? (See the movie "A Day Without a Mexican" for the funny version of that.) You can see a number of stories recently about farmers moving to Mexico if they can't get the workers they need in the USA. (There are some similar stories about Danish farmers moving to Poland.) The USA is also, fortunately, one of the few countries in the industrialized world that is not facing a labor shortage, or a dangerously aging population, due in large part to folks like these who work hard, get paid badly and treated poorly. Which is the real point, how can we justify treating other human beings as less than fully human?

The song also happens to be done by two amazing people, including the son of the author, so enjoy.

(And thanks to Sam for giving me the idea to embed YouTube songs in the blog.)

Copenhagen walk

As we walked around Copen- hagen off and on last Thursday and Friday between interviews, we found that we had unintentionally recreated a guided walking tour that we found later, building on what Sandy remembered from her big Scandinavian walkabout in 1975 and what we had both heard of since.

Not far from our hotel, we passed these famous lur players (a pre-Viking era curved horn), who supposedly play every time a virgin walks by. Not really an issue for the parents of three kids.

This next interesting building is the Danish stock exchange. It predates Wall Street by a bit. It has a quote from a 17th century Danish king exhorting commerce to do its bit for the kingdom.

The furtherest end of our walk across town was to go the see the statue of the little mermaid from Hans Christian Anderson's story. In the pre-Disney version, she does not dance happily with talking lobsters or end up happy with the prince, who dumps her for a regular princess, but sits looking out at the sea, regretting the fact that she cannot return to her old life.

Seeing the statue is a little like trying to look at the Mona Lisa in the Louvre, you have to work around the crowd, who in this case are busy climbing on it to have their pictures taken.

The little mermaid is near a series of 17th century forts built by the Danes to hold off the Swedes, who did besiege the city a couple of times. A series of artificial islands were designed as huge earthen ramparts to resist canon fire from ships and shield cannon to fire back. The main fort still has a garrison but mostly it looks like a striking set of islands with low hills and canals, with lots of paths which are great for hikers, dog walkers and joggers. (Seeing a lot of happy dogs being walked made me a bit homesick for ours back in Austin.)

The canals around the forts also showed off the autumn foliage to its best, as the next photo shows.

After we walked inland away from the mermaid, the goddess Gefjon, which we talked about yesterday, the forts and canals, we came across a museum about the Nazi occupation of Denmark in WW II and the Danish resistance. The Nazis overwhelmed Denmark and Norway fast on the same day in 1940. Their militaries on the seas or abroad joined the allies, but the rest was complicated. The government officially surrendered and had to cooperate, but many started a resistance. After the Nazis invaded the Soviet Union, some Danes actually joined an SS division to fight there, whose survivors had a very complicated homecoming after the war. The resistance ramped up as the war tilted against Germany and the next photo shows Sandy with a homemade armored car that resistance fighters used to fight against some Danes that were supporting the Germans at the end.

As we were hiking toward my last appointment of the day, at the Danish broadcast oversight commission, sort of like their version of the FCC, we passed the King's Park, which was quite impressive (and also full of happy dogs being walked.)

It is interesting to me how much the very modern and cosmopolitan Danes are still very interested in and supportive of their monarchy. Maybe it is because the monarchs have been a bit more restrained than some others. The queen is by all accounts a very smart lady, who illustrates books (including an earlier edition of the Lord of the Rings). They are also a bit more down to earth, just walking around. But the monarchy is very important to their sense of continuity and identity, almost a replacement for the state church that they pretty much ignore these days.