May 4, Liberation Day in Denmark


Yesterday I came upon a celebration in the park across from my hotel in Odense. A military band was playing tunes from the World War II era, accompanied by a chorus of civilians.


 The gentleman in the coat and tails, pictured above, kept a path open through the crowd.


Why? To keep a path clear for people like this elderly hero of the Danish Resistance.

When the Nazis overran Denmark in April of 1940, they just wanted the tiny country for strategic reasons. Danes were allowed to govern themselves for a couple of years. The people gritted their teeth and cooperated to some extent in order to survive. But underground, the resistance grew quietly. The Nazis tightened their grip and demanded that all the Jews be deported. Right under the noses of the Nazis, the Danes got together with their hated historic enemy Sweden. (They still don’t care much for Sweden). But Sweden was neutral, and so hundreds of boats spirited all the Jews across the water to Sweden, a few at a time. Virtually none were lost. Then the Danes turned their attention to matters like blowing up bridges and helping the Americans, the Canadians, and the British.


Liberation came at 8:30 pm on May 4, 1945. At 8:30 last night, May 4, church bells rang all over town and everybody from the park filed into the nearby cathedral for a service of thanksgiving.


Danish soldiers carried the flags of Denmark, the U.K., Canada, and the United States. Later, I thanked the soldier carrying the US flag. He and his friends thanked me for being Americans. I cried. This really was a moving ceremony.


When I left on this trip, I registered as always with the US State Department. They sent me two different travel warnings, advising me to avoid crowds and and any kind of public gathering. I am so glad I didn’t avoid the May 4 celebration in Odense, Denmark.


I stood around outside the church before the service and talked with Danes, who mostly speak perfect English. I thought about going into the church for the service, but it was all in Danish and looked like standing room only.


So I just walked back into the park and contemplated the war memorial.


In spite of what’s going on in my country right this minute, I’m still proud to be an American. I trust that after some dark days, we’ll be able once more to stand with those less fortunate than ourselves, and welcome people into our country. Our young people, like young people everywhere, are our hope for the future.

USA Tax Day 2017

Nobody much likes to pay taxes. In the London National Gallery I came upon these two fellows, “The Tax Gatherers.” The painting is from the workshop of Marinus van Reymerswale, most likely from the 1540s. The caption explains that it was probably painted as a satire on covetousness. (Do you think? It looks to me like a 16th century version of a biting episode of our “Saturday Night Live”).

In the 1500s, government authorities imposed taxes on items such as wine, beer and fish. The serious-looking gentleman on the left is apparently writing out a tax list. Once the tax rate was set, private individuals were entrusted with actually collecting the money from taxpayers. An unscrupulous tax-gatherer could obviously take advantage of this system. The man on the right, with his grasping fingers and face contorted by greed, looks more than ready to grab more than his fair share of whatever he collects. 
We all hope our hard-earned tax money is used well, but we suspect it is not. As Americans get their tax returns ready to stamp and mail (this year actually on April 18 instead of the traditional April 15), some people might have headaches. I came across a possible remedy in the National Museum of Finland in Helsinki.


It’s a wood carving of the head of John the Baptist on a platter, from the Pertteli Church, circa 1500. The caption helpfully explains that parishioners cured their headaches by holding it above their heads while praying. Worth a try, I would think!

Monkey Business with Tulips

I just flew over the fabled tulip fields of Holland.  Sadly, I only had a short layover in Amsterdam airport. But I fondly remember a tulip-season trip to Holland three years ago. Tulips were everywhere, in all their glory.

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Museums have traditional arrangements of tulips, like this one which only a very wealthy family would have enjoyed in the past. Each precious bloom has its own place in a towering Delft vase, a luxurious work of art in itself.

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During that trip, I hopped a train for a short ride from Amsterdam to the nearby town of Haarlem, especially to visit the Frans Hals Museum.  Frans Hals was a contemporary of Rembrandt; they competed for the same clientele of wealthy Dutch citizens during the Golden Age of Dutch painting, in the 1600s.  His namesake museum has many Hals paintings, plus work by other artists of his time.

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But my favorite piece in the Hals museum was the little oil painting of monkeys going bananas over tulips. It featured monkeys going crazy over tulips, and it was based on an all-too-true historical event. (In the Dutch Golden Age, they didn’t have Twitter or “Saturday Night Live”).

"A Satire of Tulip Mania" by Brueghel the Younger, Public Domain

“A Satire of Tulip Mania” by Brueghel the Younger, Public Domain

“A Satire of Tulip Mania,” by Breughel the Younger, was painted in 1640, just after the debacle of the tulip boom and bust cycle.  This was the seventeenth-century equivalent of the dot-com boom and bust, or the subprime mortgage boom and bust. It was probably the first modern instance of rampant speculation in a commodity, followed by a crash. At the height of the frenzy, a single tulip bulb sold for ten times the annual income of a skilled craftsman.

Brueghel dressed his gullible monkeys in contemporary clothes and showed them facing debtor’s court and even urinating on discarded tulips, turned from priceless to worthless overnight. Then as now, greed leads straight into monkey business.

Today the tulip trade is much more stable.  The museum had spectacular arrangements of tulips and other spring flowers in every room.

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I’m plotting a return trip to Holland–one where I can get out of the airport and into the tulips.

Easter Time in Helsinki


Helsinki in early April is chilly and blustery.  All the children are bundled up in one-piece snow suits. I was wishing I had one! Finland is not a place for religious pageantry and parades as in Southern Europe.


The Lutheran Helsinki Cathedral is impressive in its grand spaces, but very austere. Aside from Martin Luther gazing skyward, there’s not much to look at. And (at least on an admittedly quick stop) I didn’t see a children’s corner with little chairs, or posters about bake sales, or ladies dusting things, or a single clergy person.


The National Museum of Finland was a much more church-like experience. This pulpit is from the church in Parainen, Finland, dated 1650. At the time, Finland was a frontier to the west of Sweden–and very handy as a buffer between Sweden and Russia. Newly built churches were required to have pulpits. Lutheranism was the state religion of Sweden, and everybody was expected to sit still for it or else.


This pulpit is from the Kalvia Church, around 1726.  I like the cloudy heavens painted on its ceiling just above the preacher’s head.


Wait, there are hourglasses? Four of them? How long is this sermon going to be, anyway? Better not ask.


My favorite item was an altarpiece depicting the Last Supper. It’s from the Ylane Church, dated around 1675.


The faces are friendly and everyone is having a nice time together. There seem to be only 11 apostles. Apparently Judas has already left the building.


Jesus (with spiky sun-ray halo) seems to be holding a child in his lap. So the story is maybe doing double duty here: “Let the little children come unto me.”

The museum also had wonderful religious wood carvings dating back as far as the 1200s. I liked St. Martin on his horse, about to share his warm cloak with a beggar. He was carved and assembled from several pieces of wood around 1320.


I gazed for awhile at the Archangel Gabriel, carved and gilded around 1500.


Then I was back on the friendly but chilly streets of Helsinki, wishing I had a striped snowsuit and a red polka-dotted hat with flower ears.

Jugendstil in Helsinki


The island of Katajanokka, just outside the center of Helsinki, might have more Jugendstil buildings per square mile than anyplace else on earth.


It seems that in the early 1900s, when industrialization was drawing rural Finns into Helsinki, there must have been a building boom.


Builders must have raced to create castles for the common people: fanciful and beautiful apartment buildings with turrets, towers, interesting windows, and beautiful decorative elements.


We stayed in one of them, and I’d have cheerfully stayed longer. I could see myself living in beautiful, friendly Helsinki. The city is known for its style. Now I see why!

Helsinki Jugendstil Doorways


For some reason, I expected Helsinki to be a  rough-around-the edges modern industrial city. Instead I found a city full of delightful architecture, much of it dating from the early 1900s. This was the heyday of the worldwide Jugendstil or Art Nouveau movement.


I’m stopping constantly to snap a picture of yet another inviting, witty doorway. I’m loving Helsinki!