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My stay in Stockholm – 1 September 17, 2014

Posted by Jenny in Life experience, music, travel.
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9 comments
Boat moored at Skeppsholmen.

Boat moored at Skeppsholmen.

I had thought I would cover my Stockholm visit in one blog post. But as I went along in my long-winded way, I realized I needed to split it up. There will be one or two more pieces.

I spent a day and a half in Stockholm before my trip to Lapland and one more day when I came back. Here is Stockholm in a nutshell, for purposes of tourism: beautiful, walkable, sophisticated, cultured, expensive.

Everything seemed 1.5 to 2.0 times more costly than what I would have expected at home. But then again, everything seemed so clean, nicely presented, picturesque. On such a short visit, of course, I stayed within the major tourist areas. But as I walked around, one thing seemed odd: I would have expected to see a least a few beggars, a few homeless people. I saw only a handful of gypsies, and they were not begging. The usual line is that they don’t beg, they steal, working in pairs and using diversionary tactics. This is a controversial subject, and I am not in a position to judge.

In conversations with people on the Lapland trip, I learned that Sweden has a big income gap between rich and poor. Stockholm’s poor include many immigrants, especially from Eastern Europe, and they live in the outlying neighborhoods—not where the tourists go, of course.

A high percentage of Stockholm residents work in service industries. There is no heavy industry there—which is why it is rated as one of the cleanest European cities. I felt relieved in some strange way when we passed through the steel mill town of Lulea in northern Sweden, on the way to Lapland. Actually, I already knew about Svenskt Stal AB, from days when I was working for the Financial Times and used to talk with SSAB’s coal buyer about the prices, sources, and tonnages of his supply. As we neared the Arctic Circle, our passenger train passed a freight train with car after car of iron ore pellets, to me an impressive sight.

And you just wanted to hear about nice places in Stockholm! Don’t worry, we’ll soon come to that. I am not promoting any political message here. I’m only expressing something about myself as a contrarian: that when everything looks so pretty and nice—and all the people look so healthy and smartly dressed—I can’t help wondering about the other parts of the picture.

So I got into Arlanda Airport around 7 :30 in the morning. As on many other international journeys, I found the airport completely lacking any local identity until I used the ladies room. Ah, European plumbing! Now things looked different—the door handles, the toilets.

I easily figured out the airport bus and soon arrived downtown at the central bus terminal, near the train station and also near the hotel I’d selected on Vasagatan, the appropriately named Central Hotel. They were kind enough to let me check in five or six hours ahead of time. The place was small and stylish. My room featured a large photographic mural over the bed.

I think the mural must be of the train station in earlier years. I liked it.

I think the mural must be of the train station in earlier years. I liked it.

There was also, interestingly enough, a set of free weights to keep my arm muscles in trim during my stay.

Also notice the fashionable telephone.

Also notice the fashionable telephone.

Soon I set out and somewhat randomly headed east. Along the way I passed a large map store. Perfect! I had planned to look for a map of Sarek National Park better than the one I’d printed out from a website. I got a lovely detailed topographic map which I featured in my recent series on Sarek. The reverse side had all sorts of helpful information—all in Swedish. However, I could somewhat catch the drift. One photo featured a very determined person using a pole to help him cross a swift-moving stream; another showed a woman happily aligning a compass with a map; and a third showed a party of glacier climbers peering anxiously into a crevasse. Now I was ready for Lapland.

I continued east and eventually found myself in Kungstradgarden, the King’s Garden. It was full of fountains, statues, and flowers.

A rectangular pool in the King's Garden.

A rectangular pool in the King’s Garden.

Fountain with statues of swans.

Fountain with statues of swans dribbling water from their beaks.

Beautiful gardens with beds in a geometric pattern.

Beautiful gardens with beds in a geometric pattern.

Jacobs Kyrka beyond the garden.

St. Jacobs Kyrka beyond the garden.

I walked past the church and noticed a sign board that told of free concerts in the church on Thursdays at 12 noon. Well, it was 10:30 on a Thursday. I would go! To fill the time until the concert, I found an outdoor cafe and had juice and a pastry. I was a bit jet-lagged, and it was good to sit in the shade.

The Lunchkonsert turned out just lovely. A pianist-composer named Joakim Andersson played three pieces. One was a lively work of his own composition called “Feux de follets.” Next came “Valse triste opus 44” by Sibelius, and the concluding work was by Selim Palmgren, sometimes called the “Finnish Chopin.” The work was his “Piano Sonata in D Minor.” It didn’t sound anything like Chopin, so I think that label for him is just one of those simple-minded epithets—he wrote compositions for the piano, as Chopin did, and he was Finnish. This piece was full of interesting textures, and I think he deserves to be better known.

Selim Palmgren, 1878-1951.

Selim Palmgren, 1878-1951.

As  I listened to the music, I basked in the atmosphere of the church. Like many of the best churches in Europe, it was built over a very long period of time, thus featuring a mix of Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque styles, all blended harmoniously.

Next: Gamla Stan, happy folk dancers, more boats, and the Modern Art Museum.

Joakim Andersson, composer and pianist.

Joakim Andersson, composer and pianist.

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Long ago: The violin maker July 19, 2012

Posted by Jenny in history, home, memoir, music.
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2 comments

My great-grandfather, Edward Kennedy

This is taken from a memoir entitled “When I Was a Girl” by my grandmother, Sybil Crowninshield Kennedy Bennett. The series starts here and alternates every other post.

My father, Edward Kennedy, had almost no schooling. He was the oldest child and was kept out of school to go about with his father, who worked on farms in the neighborhood. There was no compulsory school law and as the child of Irish immigrants in the 1850s, no great encouragement to go to school. He had a quick responsive mind, a very good memory for everything he read or experienced and extremely skillful hands. He could “fix” almost anything.

He was born May 18, 1850, and brought up in the country about two miles south of Cato [NY], near Brick Church. At eighteen he had a ruptured appendix, which was called then “inflammation of the bowels.” He was an invalid until about twenty-five. Later, doctors could never understand how he survived. At the age of sixty-five, by x-rays, it was found that he had many intestinal adhesions, almost obstructing his bowels. Eating and digesting were serious problems and caused him to be always very undernourished. He lived to be seventy years old.

He was about five feet five inches tall and never weighed more than 120 pounds. He wore clothes as loosely as possible to make him look larger. When he became well enough, he bought a carriage making and repair business on Main Street in Cato, where he built buggies and wagons, custom-made, completely with hand tools. He also did the painting and finishing, having a large upstairs room for the purpose. He allowed no one in while painting or varnishing as any movement would stir up dust and cause specks. When finished they had mirror surfaces. He worked very hard to find out how to do things properly, buying books and going to see other people’s work.

He played the violin self-taught and was crazy about music. He would sometimes play all day on Sunday on his violin, reading slowly through the violin parts of all kinds of music. He had a large book of 400 pages. He particularly liked the romantic and tuneful ones, operas and Strauss waltzes. He also enjoyed the church music by great composers that was occasionally played by musicians who visited our town. When he was ten years old he bought a fiddle for ninety-nine cents, after hearing one played at a country dance. “I was the most disappointed boy you ever saw,” he said, “when I found I couldn’t play it. I thought that the man who played it didn’t half play and that if I could have hold of it, I would make it sing.”

He never joined the church, formally, but attended regularly, his outside position leaving him free in his own eyes to criticize the sermons. Sunday evenings after church he would walk from one corner of the sitting room to its opposite, from the clock to the dining room door, preaching the sermon over the way he would have liked it.

[My mother and father] took a weekly newspaper, the Albany Journal, to keep up with the state political news. They also took The Outlook, edited by Lymon Abbott. Papa used to read every number, rocking gently in the big Boston rocker, upholstered by my mother in red plush, smoking rather negligently a pipe which had to be constantly relighted as he forgot to puff when he read intently. Mother used to say that he smoked matches.

He was a trustee of the Cemetery Association—important in Cato—and a director, then president, of the Telephone Company, a small independent one in which I held stock until 1959 when it was sold to a consolidated company. He was most influential on the School Board of which he was president for many years and succeeded in having the school changed from a two-year Union School to a full four-year high school.

After buggy making was done in factories about 1900, he put a gasoline engine into his shop (no electricity then) and did custom planing and lathe work and all kinds of repair work on farm wagons and machinery, even some welding. He employed a blacksmith sometimes but they were usually prone to sprees and he would get tired of their antics.

My father was very skillful with his hands and eyes. This, with his love of music, led him into his most interesting and valuable hobby. He took up violin making in his later years and made nine violins, all judged by people who knew violins as good, some as very good or superior. He reached everyone he heard of who had made violins and had the good fortune to buy from an estate the tools and books of an old violin maker, I think in Victory, New York. Papa ordered the wood from a Boston firm. It came looking like sticks of firewood. Spruce is the wood usually used for the tops and maple for the backs and the bouts, the curved sides which are cut in a sertain grain, then soaked, heated and shaped around a wooden form. The size and thicknesses are measured to one sixty-fourth of an inch. The backs and fronts were also graduated very carefully in thickness, tapering to the edge from the center under the bridge. They were roughly shaped, then slowly, carefully cut with a sharp chisel and finally a knife which really shaved very thin. The heads and necks were made to a pattern, and he made some of them. Since they did not affect the tone, he finally decided to buy them ready-made. It took him several months to make one violin. He worked evenings nearly always without any light except a kerosene lamp. Finally, when electricity came to Cato he was able to have his shop wired and to see better.

It is a sad thing to think that he did such painstaking work without proper light and in a place not too warm. It is that which makes me have such a tender memory of my father whose natural abilities of mind and hand were very great and who had such a little opportunity to develop them as much as he wanted to.

He was very popular and loved by people and had many friends always. Many people brought him presents, fruit, fish, maple syrup, a freshly caught turtle even. His funeral [in 1920] was very large and the people sad.

(To be continued)

I am very fortunate to have one of my great-grandfather’s nine violins. My brother possesses one of them also.

Off-trail hiking in words and music June 18, 2009

Posted by Jenny in bushwhacking, hiking, music, poetry, Smoky Mountains.
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2 comments
Brushy Mtn. and flank of LeConte from Winnesoka

Brushy Mtn. and flank of LeConte from Winnesoka

I took the photo 6/14 from the other side of Long Branch Gap from a place described in the composition. I will post about this outing soon.

On June 13 I had the unusual and wonderful experience of hearing words that I’d written about off-trail explorations performed as part of an orchestral piece.  The occasion was a concert in Cades Cove to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

The piece was called “Off-Trail in the Smokies.”  It was composed by Jim Carlson and performed by the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra conducted by Lucas Richman on a sunny afternoon before an audience seated in folding chairs in the meadow beside Cable Mill.

It was an honor to have three of my poems selected to be narrated to an orchestral accompaniment.  This spring I’d heard from my friend Stephanie Seay in Knoxville that the piece had been commissioned and that the composer was looking for material.  I sent him a batch of poems and was delighted when he chose them.  You can see the words and play an audio file here.  This version has the composer doing the narration; at the concert the narration was done by Katy Wolfe Zahn.KSO with Katy Wolfe Zahn at Cades Cove

What an interesting thing it was for me to have what I’d written interpreted musically.  Jim’s interpretation gave my experiences a form that was new and yet harmonized with what I’d described.

The second part of the three-part composition was about a solo bushwhack I did up Brushy Mountain from Long Branch Gap.  It describes how I’d just managed to work my way through the thick laurel to the summit when a thunderstorm hit.  By a convergence of circumstance, thunderstorms also threatened on the day of the concert.  But the storms held off until afterwards, when the clouds opened with a drenching rain that once again replenished the infinite greenness of the Smokies.

Click on image below, then zoom in for better view.

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