Thursday, July 12, 2018

Snippets of Scandinavia

I did everything I could to keep the number of pictures in this blog post about Bill's and my trip to Scandinavia to a reasonable amount.  But, with just a few days in Denmark and Sweden, and the bulk of our two-week trip in Norway, this truly became a photo essay of "snippets" with more than twice as many scenes as I normally include.  Take it from me, Scandinavia is very picturesque!

We arrived in Copenhagen, Denmark, early, with the day ahead of us unscheduled, after traveling and sleep deprivation.  Our tour guide, Amanda, recommended that we walk along the water's edge to the Nyhavn (New Harbor, 1671) canal, a popular area in the old section of the city. She said, "Nyhavn is fun to visit and a view you will see on every Denmark brochure." This turned out to be a perfect beginning to our trip.

 I couldn't resist this messenger, relaxing and waiting for his next call -- just flip down the kick stand and sit on the package rack in the sun with your phone.

As we walked along canals and wandered various streets, the King's Garden at Rosenborg Castle drew me in.  I left Bill sitting on a bench, passed people relaxing on the grounds, crossed the moat, and, sure enough, found lush rose gardens.  Rosenborg was the country summerhouse of King Christian IV, built in 1606.

Walking along the Inner Harbor, we learned that, previously, the water here had been polluted from centuries of industry and commerce.  Now, with the warehouses turned into expensive apartments and condos, and the river clean, people walk, ride their bikes, sunbathe, and even slide down into the water on this series of boardwalks.

What a juxtaposition of the "Black Diamond," an extension of the Royal Library, next to the old Brewery
And how about the new opera house?  It would be exciting to hear a concert here!

Not far from Copenhagen, charm outdid itself in this village of whitewashed cottages and rose-covered picket fences.   I walked so far taking pictures of cute houses, that I had only moments to get my feet wet in the bay. Although I was in a stony jetty area, white sand beaches abound on the Danish Riviera. 

I'm sharing the chapel of Frederiksborg, Frederik IV's hunting home, with you because its massive pipe organ built in 1610 with 1001 wooden pipes must be a marvel to hear live.  Even the recorded sound of the organ, playing 17th-century music that filled the chapel during our visit, was moving.

This cute building with its public post box on the side and roses up the front is in Odense, the town where Hans Christian Andersen spent his childhood.  Odense is actually a large city of 178,000, but it has an extensive neighborhood of 17th century buildings and Medieval churches.

Don't you love the kaleidoscope of brick designs on this building in Randers, another town peppered with streets from the early 1600s?  I was taken with the fact that so many of the very old buildings in Randers are being used much as they had been over the centuries -- storefronts and shops at street level and apartments above.

We left Denmark and headed into Norway, where we visited Trolhaugen, composer Edvard Grieg's home.  I thought you would agree with me (and Edvard, of course!) that local carving adds beauty to home decor.

Grieg's studio is a jewel.  A tiny building facing the bay, the studio could certainly offer creative inspiration.  With the desk in front of the window, a small piano along one wall, and a day bed along the other, couldn't you or I accomplish great things in a place like this?

The Bryggen area in Bergen, built in the 1300s as a dock for loading and processing fish, evolved into this jumble of warehouse construction in 1710. It now houses shops, galleries, and restaurants. Amanda said that this was a good place to shop for quality, although sometimes pricey, items.  I admit to buying a Norwegian sweater in a small tucked-away store.

It seems that everywhere in Europe, World War II is not far away.  This tiny fishing village of Telavag, a hub of resistance to Nazi occupation, was totally destroyed in 1943 when the Gestapo discovered it.  Telavag's women and children were sent to a confinement center, and its men taken by ship to a concentration camp in Germany.  Amanda took us down the road that the men walked to the town harbor for their voyage to unknown horrors.  Imagining the scene gives me chills even while writing this paragraph now.

Exposure to a variety of cultural opportunities is one of the many parts of our tours that we love.  We visited a small farm where we feasted on a smorgasbord of foods made and prepared on the property.

The farm has horses for work and play.  Take a look at the dun-colored horse on the the left.  This is a Norwegian fjord horse and has a distinctive skunk-like black stripe through its blonde mane, bangs, and tail!

Speaking of fjords, I am showing great self-restraint by including just a few photos of the stunning drama that Norway presents.

 These glacier-formed mountains and cliffs often stand a mile above the water and reach a mile deep into the water.

Sometimes a rainy day just adds to the magnificence.

That fjord farmers eked out a living on the edge
of the cliffs seems unbelievable.  In fact, they grew quite a bit of fruit, even apricots.  We learned that summer days of nearly 24-hour light give Norwegian fruit an intense flavor and sweetness.

For my readers who have never gone on a coach tour, don't believe people who say that buses can't go to out-of-the-way places.  Our driver negotiated many many twisty tiny routes, such as  Dalsnibba's wintry road, that appears to drop out of sight.

 And another down through Trollstigen Pass.  Amanda rewarded everyone (although not our driver who deserved it most!) with a taste of Aquavit, a regional 80 proof distillation of grain and potatoes.  Bill declared it very tasty.

The Village of Lom is famous for its 12th-century stave church.  On this Saturday, the church was not open to tourists because a wedding was taking place inside, so I took off for the hills.  Many of you know that this is my wont.  I found a collection of quaint Norwegian houses and barns at the edge of a farm field surrounded by wildflowers. 

Fortunately, Amanda had a stop at the Ringabu Stavkirke in her pocket.  This, too, had a wedding planned.  When we arrived at the church, Amanda walked some distance to find out if the wedding was over so that we could tour the inside.  As it turned out, the wedding had been canceled!  Although we hoped this was not due to pre-marital strife, we felt fortunate to have the place to ourselves!

Stave churches were built by Vikings, who, by the time Christianity was prevalent in Norway, were farmers more than warriors. Being skeptical of the new religion, the builders included all the Christian symbols but also added a few carvings of their own gods and dragons.  The "staves" are the tall load-bearing pine columns in this construction.  Even though there were once over 1200 of these wooden churches in Norway, the fact that 32 have survived from the 1100s is astonishing.

Lillehammer is not only home to the 1994 Olympics, but also to the open-air museum village of Milhaugen.  I couldn't get enough of the carvings on barns, houses, and any utility building.

Back in 1994, Bill and I were drawn to the televised Norwegian city scenes from Lillehammer.  You may remember that these Olympic games were the site of the infamous figure skating battle between Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan, as well as the more glorious moments of American speed skater Dan Jansen, and skiers Bonnie Blair, and Picabo Street.

In Oslo, we walked narrow streets and toured Vigeland Park and its more than 200 sculptures.  We went to museums such as the Nobel Peace Center, and the Viking Museum where we saw original excavated Viking ships and sleds.  At the Fram Polar Ship Museum, we learned about early voyages to the north and south poles.

And, look at this -- Bill caught dinner while in the polar regions!!

In Stockholm, where our tour ended, we visited its City Hall, and the captivating Vasa Ship Museum.
And we took our last of many boats rides past man-made and natural beauty. 

To finish off our journey to Denmark, Norway, and Sweden, we donned heavy coats and hoods, had a drink in a glass made of ice, sat on a chair made of ice, and were grateful for our Scandinavian experience.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

The Barbershop as a Microcosm

To my blog readers:
I wrote this series of vignettes about my father's decline, due to Alzheimer's Disease, in February 2018, just three weeks after his entry into a nursing home, when I began processing January's major changes in my parents' lives.  My visits with my father to Larry's Barbershop provided a perfect setting, because my experience there had been limited to about an hour every five or six weeks for nearly two years when I took my father there for a haircut.  I could wrap my mind around these small segments of time. Now, three months later, I know that I will continue working through new changes in new ways, but I have chosen to share these with you.
The first time I went to Larry's, I was charmed. This place could have come right out of Norman Rockwell. In fact, prints of Rockwell's barbershop paintings hung in the shop, along with the typical Saratoga Springs horse scenes and other memorabilia. Just one mid-sized room with two barber chairs and an assortment of seating space, the barbershop clearly had once been a parlor or living room. It had a marble fireplace with a carved mantle, and an old-fashioned appeal with the older barber and the younger.

(My father, Irv, and Larry, 2016)
The next time I had the perfect angle to get a picture of my father in the chair with Larry behind him. Unobtrusively, I took a photo with my phone and texted it to Bill, Thomas, and Meredith.  I began to read the newspaper I had brought with me, but had one ear on the conversation. My father talked with Larry about the outdoors. Larry had been a downhill skier, and my father, as always, told how he loved to ski at Bromley in late winter when the trails faced the warmth of the spring sun. I often wondered about this. We had never gone as a family to Bromley.  Still, it was a pleasant conversation as other men came in and sat down to wait their turn for their haircuts.

My father regaled Larry with hiking stories, bringing me in. “That's my daughter, Virginia,” he would
say. “She's a 46er.” Then Larry looked my way and we chatted a bit as I described hiking the peaks
first as a teenager with my father, and later completing the 46 Adirondack peaks with my own daughter.

(Many times Irv's stories went way back to his rural childhood in Ontario, Canada)

It took me a while to get around to printing the photo of my father in the barbershop. I made two
copies and gave him one. My mother immediately put it on the refrigerator. I decided to drop
in at the barbershop that afternoon on my way back to Albany, and give the other copy to Larry. Larry and Mike saw me come in. Larry had a questioning expression at seeing me by myself. I handed him the envelope with the photo in it. “It's a picture,” I said with a smile, and turned to leave. The next time my father and I went to the barbershop, the photo was secured in the corner of Larry's large shop mirror.

(Irv in the Adirondack High Peaks, 1978)
I began to notice the friendly conversation of the other men. Most people knew one another, or at least they knew Larry and Mike. Sports, horse racing, news, and other topics ran the gamut. Often my
father's and Larry's conversations included me.  Larry liked to ask me about Albany or talk about things happening there. I got the sense that he had little interest in spending much time in Albany, but used his trips there as a common point of interest with me.

My father became less patient with waiting. One day, I searched the pile of magazines in the shop.
Larry turned and said pleasantly, “You won't find many women's magazines in there.”
“Oh that's okay,” I said. “I was looking for something for him,” gesturing toward my father. I found a magazine that had some scenic pictures, and managed to entertain my father with them to keep his interest during the wait.

It dawned on me that my father might not be giving Larry or Mike enough money. He had gotten
stingy about tipping at restaurants, and I didn't want him shorting these nice guys. I stopped in on my
way home, again drawing attention with my solo appearance. These were working men, and I wanted
to be quick, so I just said, as I walked in, “Is my father paying you enough?” Larry said yes. I turned
to Mike who had cut my father's hair that day, “And what about a tip? Did he tip you?” “I'm pretty sure he did,” Mike said. “Okay, good,” I said. But from then on, I watched as my father pulled his wallet out of his back pocket. I stood up, put my glasses on, and moved in closer, so that I could see the denominations of the bills. My father seemed unaware of my scrutiny, but Larry and Mike knew. As soon as I saw that the bill and tip were properly attended to, I stepped away and got our coats.
(Our last Adirondack hike, 88th birthday, Balm of Gilead, 2012)

By now, my father had a boot on his right foot from ongoing podiatric issues. Larry began opening the door for us as we left so that I could guide my father.  I made sure he didn't miss a step or trip with the clumsy footwear.


(Irv's WWII travels became an increasingly larger part of his memory)

My father was out of sorts when I said we were going for his haircut. “I don't need a haircut,” he said. “It can wait.”   The barber shop was busy and barely any empty seats remained.  I quietly told Larry, “We might not make it today.” My father took two steps in, turned around, and in an angry voice said, “Hell! Can't we get out of this damned place?” I began to shepherd him out, turned to look at Larry, with a sheepish grin. Both Larry and Mike had expressions of surprised amusement. 
(Irv swimming at Lake Luzerne, 2016, age 92)

My father became very stooped, and still wore the boot on his foot.  The weather had turned hot, and he and Larry talked about swimming. I mentioned that I had recently taken my father swimming at Lake Luzerne and that he was an amazing swimmer. Larry liked these tales and they boosted my father's spirits. I told about his rhythmic breathing and stride. I said, “Even now, when there are so many things he can't do, he can get in the water, and it all comes back -- the same slow stride and the breathing, like he could swim for miles.”

I picked my father up at the house. He hadn't shaved and was looking a little rough. In the
barber chair, after the haircut, Larry took a razor out of his drawer and gave my father a quick shave. Nothing was said. I appreciated that Larry cleaned him up in such a discreet way. I told my mother about this kindness.
(Thoroughbred racing is a big part of a Saratoga summer!)

Another busy day at the shop. I was pushing it, getting my father to agree to stay with so many people waiting. My mother thought he was desperate for a haircut and I didn't want to fail at my job. I
struggled to find a magazine that would keep his interest, finally locating one with travel photos. We went cover-to-cover looking at the pictures, and then started over again, since my father wouldn't remember that he had seen the same pictures already.  I said, “Look at that! You've been there.”  He would add a comment and we continued on. With the repetition of the pictures, I repeated the same words with the same enthusiasm, trying to draw him in over and over.  Now and then, my father would say with some exasperation, “Isn't it my turn yet?”  “Almost, just a couple more people to go,” I answered. Men came into the shop, commented on how busy it was, and Larry said,  “That's because it's Tuesday.”  And then I remembered, it was the dark day at the track. Everyone had time on this day to get things done, like a haircut.

(Irv picks a colored-leaf bouquet for my mother when we walk at Moreau State Park, age 90)

The shop was boisterous. The men were talking about sports. A few mild swear words sprinkled their and Mike's conversation. Larry looked at me. “I'm sorry,” he said. “Sometimes they get excited and don't think about how they talk.”  “Oh no!” I said, “it's okay.” After all, I was the interloper in this masculine scene.

(My parents celebrating their 65th wedding anniversary, April 2017)
Christmas rolled around. I convinced my father to go to the barbershop for his Christmas haircut. The
shop was packed. I counted how many people were ahead of us. Mike had a heavily-bearded man in his chair. The man told how he used to be Santa Claus for his children and grandchildren, who were all grown up now. I watched Mike trim the man's beard. It looked good, and I thought of my husband, Bill, who struggled to trim his large beard evenly.  Mike told a funny story about his five-year-old son, who thought he was helping Santa Claus by making a list of all the naughty children in his kindergarten class. 

When my father's turn came to sit in Larry's chair, we, too, talked about Christmas.  Larry asked my father about his Christmas plans and my father talked about having everyone to the house and my mother doing all the cooking.  Larry looked at me, sensing this might not be quite accurate. I said, below my father's hearing, “We'll come get my parents and bring them to our house. They come with us.”  Larry nodded.

One of the men who came through the door was a good friend of my father's. “Tom!” I said. I rarely
saw Tom and he was such a nice man. “Virginia?” Tom's questioning tone reminded me that my presence in the barbershop might seem a little unusual. “Yes! And here's my father,” I said, pointing to his back in the chair. Apparently, Tom knew everyone else, too, as the volume rose with pleasant greetings. 

Tom took his hat off. Three inches of white hair stood straight up. I glanced at Larry, laughed, and said, “Tom needs a haircut!” When my father got out of the chair, he was excited to see Tom, and Christmas filled the crowded barbershop.  Larry escorted us to the door, put one arm around me and the other around my father.  He said to my father, “Make sure you come and see me in the new year.”


Many thanks to Larry, whose kind manner and congenial barbershop made taking my father for a haircut my favorite task over two years.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Mount Van Hoevenberg -- Winter

(Virginia on the summit of Mount Van Hoevenberg)

I had been excited about hiking Mount Van Hoevenberg for days. It felt like forever since the June solo trip I made here while I was recovering from Lyme disease.  (see my blog post  On that day, I told myself that I would return to lead an Adirondack Mountain Club (ADK) trip in the winter and now, I couldn't wait.

(Frozen pond with Mt. Van Ho in the background)

I had decided to ask fellow ADK leader and friend, John, to co-lead the trip with me.  I said, "I want to share the responsibility of making decisions about winter driving and trail conditions."  John agreed in seconds.

True to his good leadership, John and his wife scouted out the trail on their own and hiked Mt. Van Ho just days before our scheduled adventure.  "There was some ice and some mud," he reported, "but nothing that would prohibit us from having a good day."

(Our group ascends the mountain)

For two days, my friend, Karen, sent me emails from her north country "spies," people she knew who lived in the mountains and could give "on the ground reports."   Ice in quantity, and treacherous trails, were phrases that repeated from one email to the next.

ADK participants emailed me about joining the trip.  I told them to bring microspikes for the ice.

The day before the outing, I called the High Peaks Information Center.  "There's a few inches of fresh powder," the respondent told me.  His voice had a touch of annoyance.  How many phone calls had he had like mine?  "So microspikes will do?"  I asked.  "As long as there's less than 8 inches of snow," he added.  Department of Environmental Conservation regulation in the Eastern High Peaks area requires snowshoes if there are eight or more inches of snow.

I told our participants to bring snowshoes just in case.

(We have to duck under laden boughs on the trail)

In three cars, our group of ten headed up the Northway.  A heavy wet snow had fallen in much of the state a few days' previous, but the north country had gotten little.  We lamented the dull brown terrain as we passed Lake George, Warrensburg, and North Hudson, on our journey north.  "But it's always beautiful, regardless, right?" Karen said with a hopeful sigh.

(The dark area is where the trail comes out of the forest to an expansive view)

We entered Keene Valley, and continued on into Keene and close to Lake Placid.  Snow began to appear in the woods and fields.  Powdery snow.  Drop-dead gorgeous snow.  We turned into the Adirondak Loj Road and the powder deepened.  We peered out the car windows, enthralled by trees coated in thick white. Who could have imagined this winter wonderland?  When we arrived at the trailhead, John got out, scuffed the snow with his boot, and determined that, yes! snowshoes would be the footwear of the day.

(Filigreed snow decorates summit trees)

John said, "This is a different world from just a few days ago when I was here with my wife."

I don't think I have ever seen ten people so unanimously happy about a serendipitous day.

(Clouds hang on the peaks)

(this June view shows the peaks under high fair-weather clouds)

Just one lingering thought niggled at the back of my mind. I said, "I will be a little disappointed if I get to the summit and we can't see the peaks."  Mount Van Hoevenberg boasts views of at least a dozen high peaks.  Seeing all those snow-covered mountains would be almost as good as being on one of them.

(Karen in a winter wonderland)

I ate my words.  I was not disappointed.  We couldn't see the tops of the high peaks, but it didn't matter.  Instead, we could see an intricate variation of texture in the snow-covered hills and valleys in front of us.  The scene made me wonder how many of the supposed 50 words for snow Arctic people could identify here, in what almost seemed to be a picture etched in black-and-white.

(Snowy textures are fascinating)

We took photos of the views and of each other.  Some people continued on, hoping to find more viewpoints beyond the two we had come upon.  Others listened to John read from pages he had copied describing the geological and historical significance of this mountain.

(John regales the group with interesting information)

Over lunch, sitting in the summit powder, one person said, "If we could see the tops of the snow-covered peaks with a clear sky, it would probably be too windy to sit here."  "That's right," another added.  "We would have to go back into the trees for shelter."  We had a glorious and highly satisfactory view.  I was just one of ten in harmony with the serenity of this early March day.

(Can't beat this lunch location!)

We began to feel a chill -- time to begin our descent.  Our snowshoes glided along the path we had made earlier.  We continued to admire the snowy woods, but when we reached the pond, we decided that the scene had been prettier on the way up before the light had changed in the course of the day.

Sometimes on a hike, I have to remind participants to look around and take in the beauty of the landscape.  Not this group.  Every member had been attuned to the exceptional surroundings and camaraderie on Mount Van Hoevenberg.