Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Krambude - Medieval Store

Well it is a modern store, in an old building, but it is so well done.  In downtown Tallinn, in the corner of the central square, a great place to visit. The staff have to dress the part, and even the pen to sign your receipt is a quill. If Tallinn is not on your list this year, I recommend it highly, you can shop their website:

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The Thinker in Bronze and the Thinking Gorilla in Bronze

The Thinker by Rodin, 1902, and Thinking Gorilla by Adolf Wolff, 1932.

Adolf was born in Belgium, and brought up in New York. He was a product of his time. He taught at the New York Modern School, "They were an important part of the anarchist, free schooling, socialist, and labor movements in the US, intending to educate the working classes from a secular, class-conscious perspective. The Modern Schools imparted day-time academic classes for children, and night-time continuing-education lectures for adults."

He died in 1944, just before WW2 ended, a traumatic period.

The gorilla bronze is valued at $4,000.  It has funny feet.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Texas Sage

Texas Sage, Leucophyllum frutescens, is an evergreen shrub, that blooms profusely after it rains.  It seems to be sensitive to real rain and not irrigation. Bees and butterflies are attracted to it; the bush can hum with activity.  How many bees in this picture?

It grows best in an arid climate; it is a native to northern Mexico and southern USA. It has the characteristic grey-green leaves of a drought resistant plant.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Former KGB headquarters, Pikk Street, Tallinn

The plaque reads, "This building housed the organ of repression of the Soviet occupational power. Here began the road to suffering for thousands of Estonians."

In Leningrad humor, "This was the tallest building in Estonia, as even from the basement you could see Siberia."

Estonia is now part of the EU, stable and democratic. Estonian is again the official language, but 25% of its population are Russian speakers.
Basement windows have been bricked up

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Brotherhood of Blackheads

Tallinn, Estonia

The Brotherhood of Blackheads existed for 500 years, started in the 14 century until 1940 when Russia occupied the Baltic States. The Brotherhood was an association of unmarried foreigners and merchants, mainly Germans; people that could not be part of the Great Guild. They were both a trade and a military organization.

They purchased the house, in the center of Tallinn, in 1531 and it is still used today.

For a time they were responsible for protecting Tallinn from invasion and patrolling inside the perimeter of the town when the gates were locked at sunset.

Sounds mythical and romantic, but these were probably cold and grim times.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Where'd you go, Bernadette?

A very clever and original story.  It is a collection of e-mails, police reports, secret letters lifted from a computer, .....  They are woven together to make an original story from many viewpoints.

A good book to make those airlines miles fly by.

The Amber Room

No photos allowed, as someone might discover it is a fake!
The Amber Room is in the Catherine Palace in St Petersburg.  Glitzy and gauche. The original amber room was started in 1701 in Prussia and gifted to the Tzar in 1716. The original was lost and probably destroyed in WW2. The current room is a recent creation, completed in 2003.

Amber is fossilized tree resin, and can be mimicked cheaply with plastic. The upper panels are painted, not even plastic.

There is less than the eye can see.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Vasa Museum, Stockholm

Life sized model of the recovery
This is a wonderful museum, a purpose build building to house and display the details of the Viking vessel from 1628.  The ship was lost close to shore in brackish waters, it sank on it's maiden voyage. It was cutting-edge technology, but a flawed design, top heavy with gun openings too close to the waterline.

The ship is huge, took two years and 1000 oak trees to built.  I was meant to impress and menace. And it still does.

Color pigments used on the ship

Friday, July 19, 2013

The Soviet Union is alive and well

2013 July 04

Something our 30-year old guide said struck home.  When asked what days of the year he celebrates, he said Russia's Independence Day, June 12, "When we celebrate getting rid of all the satellite countries."

Not when Russia got rid of communism, but when they got rid of those pesky satellite states the Soviet Union had invaded and conquered.

In Eastern Europe they have removed the iconic Soviet statues; in Budapest they have gathered them in Statue Park.  In St Petersburg, Lenin and Stalin statues grace the landscape.  It is almost as if the Soviet Union has shrunk back to Mother Russia.

("Made in USSR" plates bought in Helsinki)

Monday, July 15, 2013

Bribing in Russia

St Petersburg, Zayachy Island

It was just before 10:00 am and the place opened at 10:00 am.  Our guide, the happy soul featured in the mirror, tried to bribe the guard, in the yellow vest.  A few minutes later, it was 10:00 and the guard opened the gate.

The bribe was not needed, just a few minutes patience and the gates would be open.  Old habits I guess.