John Lennon’s famous quote “Before Elvis there was nothing” could especially be said about Giotto di Bondone (1266-1337). When the glory that was Rome faded into the Middle Ages, art became highly stylized and flat dimensionally. Naturalistic perspective and depiction vanished. At the precipice of The Renaissance Giotto nearly stands alone in his discarding the centuries old framework of painting and art. Not since Roman times was the human form naturally depicted. He reinvented soft rounded deep modeling effects using light and dark values. Giotto marks the turning point toward The Renaissance. The above Madonna and Child is in Firenze’s Uffizi Gallery.
Giotto was also an accomplished architect. The Bell Tower at Santa Maria del Fiore, Firenze, is his. He never saw the completed work. He died three years after construction began. It took more than fifty years to build.
Giotto’s bell tower is sublime. But the grandiose architectural element of Santa Maria del Fiore is the celebrated dome by Filippo Brunelleschi. The achievement can not be over stated. Architectural dome engineering and construction know-how died with the Romans. It wasn’t until Brunelleschi closely studied the Roman artifacts first hand (especially the well preserved Pantheon in Rome) that architecture was reinvented. Being this was unexplored design in its day, Brunelleschi faced a counter current of resistance and opposition. The Guild of Wool Merchants who sponsored and over saw the project wanted to know just how in the world such a large dome could be accomplished. Brunelleschi asked the members of the committee to demonstrate to him how they would stand an egg on the table. No one could. “Impossible,” they said. With that, Brunelleschi cracked the end off the egg and proceeded to stand the shell on the table. When the members of the committee protested that any one of them could have done that, Brunelleschi explained that was exactly his point. If he told the committee how he planned to execute his concept, all would claim that they could have done it. After several months of arguing, the committee allowed him to proceed and work began on the dome in the summer of 1420.
The Pantheon, Rome, A.D. 118-25. Besides its position as one of history’s greatest architectural masterpieces, its survival from ancient times to modern day Rome is miraculous. Step in from the noisy hot streets of Rome to a cool calm quiet atmosphere where time seems frozen. You may almost hear the distant whisper of Marcus Aurelius. That the structure is so well preserved is a testament to Roman engineering and master building. One can only ponder a question; if the Pantheon had not survived into Brunelleschi‘s time, how long to reinvent such engineering from scratch?
Locals simply refer to Santa Maria del Fiore as “Il Duomo.” It remains to this day the most iconic Feature of Firenze. A site on the landscape still commanding the most attention.
Michaelangelo’s David, Firenze Italy.
Michaelangelo went to school, so to speak, with The Duomo before designing Saint Peters in Rome.
Another source of Michaelangelo’s admiration was Lorenzo Ghiberti’s Doors of the Baptistery, Firenze.
Michaelangelo fondly referred to them as “The Gates of Paradise.”
The doors consist of ten panels. Each frame depicts a scene from either the New or Old Testament. Ghiberti used a painter’s approach to composition but used his sculpture and architectural skill to create enormous visual depth. As an architect, Ghiberti was the only other considered candidate besides Brunelleschi for designing the dome of Santa Maria del Fiore. And Brunelleschi was a possible choice for the commission Baptistery doors. Much competition for the prized jobs during The Renaissance.
The Gates of Paradise have been removed from the Baptistery and have undergone restoration. Replicas are there now. The originals will be kept indoors under a protective transparent encasement after completing a world tour. They maybe coming to a city near you.
Smithsonian Magazine has a complete story of the restoration and history of these magnificent panels.
Firenze (Florence), Italy. That cradle of The Renaissance and birthplace of modern Western Civilization. Trove of priceless art and architecture. It is only natural to view the parade of Calico Storico (Historic Soccer) with its Renaissance costumes as a quaint colorful and charming affair. In perfect fitting with all that is great with Firenze and Italy at large.
But I truly didn’t grasp what I was looking at. When I heard “Historic Soccer” I figured this was in some way akin to modern soccer.
It is not. These are mean nasty tough guys that play a sport that makes rugby look like a game of paddy cake.
A recorded date of 1530 is affixed to the beginning of Calico Storico, but it actually goes as far back as the 1400’s.
The child will not be participating. Nor will the older members of the parade. Only men in their 20’s and 30’s have the bodies capable of enduring the punishment suffered in this “sport.” A later day rule prohibits criminals from participating to somewhat mitigate blood letting.
A good wholesome church function? The four major churches of Firenze each sponsor a team. Here the white team is sponsored by Santo Spirito.
The ball isn’t kicked in this version of soccer. A heavy leather bladder is hauled through a maul and melee across a field. The “goal” is to heave the ball over a 4 foot wall at either end of the grounds. Players literally wrestle, shove and bare knuckle punch or slug. It is part “Fight Club,” carnal demolition derby in some semblance of a ball game. By the end players are near naked from gear being ripped to shreds. Bruised, bloodied, dirty, sweaty and spitting mud. A splendid time for all!
Daybreak at Basilica San Marco, Venice. Workers hose and scrub the Piazzetta.
Gondolas on the Grand Canal looking toward Punta della Dogana
Gondolas under protective drape.
Gondola Captains await their customers.
But the “streets” of Venice were quiet.
The milk man makes his rounds. Two men (left) walk and talk politics.
A chef with fresh produce in hand for the morning fixins stops to talk futbol with a friend.
The ladies lament grocery prices have never been higher.
The morning commute in Venice is either by foot or boat.
Venice Italy is arguably the most photographed city. And certainly one of the world’s most popular as well. It is pretty difficult to maneuver in the city with a camera during the height of day time. One needs to rise when custodians are sweeping the side walks, when milk is delivered, and when the baker is loading his oven. The yellow chairs are at Piazza San Marco. The brick element on the left is the base of San Marco’s bell tower. Straight ahead in the background is Torre dell’Orologio. It is the city’s famous astrological clock dating from 1499. That is the bell atop the structure. On either side of the bell are statues of Moors that strike the bell as part of the clock mechanism. “A masterpiece of technology and engineering.” The archway at tower base leads into what is the main shopping street of the city, the old Merceria.
The elements of Piazza San Marco, the historical political and religious ground zero of the city, face the waters and oceans Venice once ruled.
A nice quiet Piazza newspaper read before tourists arise and fill the awaiting yellow chairs.
At the train station in Amsterdam there is a remarkable three level parking structure.
It is all bicycles. Everybody rides them. Youngsters, housewives, fully suited businessmen, and seniors. This is indeed a foreign sight to tourists whom worship their SUV chariots. The tourists frequently fan out into the bicycle streets thinking these are extra sidewalks. “Watch out assholes!,” I heard one yell in his Texas twang as a slew of bicycles nearly clipped his fanny. He was clueless about the right of way and what he was doing.
I don’t suppose I should “talk.” I was nervous to find myself driving a car on a bicycle street in Stockholm. Afraid at any moment I’d be facing a head on collision with a flock of bicycles. My course was corrected though without incident.
Stockholm. The ever present bicycle anywhere people gather.
I got to peddling myself when I reached Copenhagen. At first I tried the civic bicycles. These are for everyone to use at their convenience. You unlock it by inserting a token or coin into the lock box on a rack. When you are finished with the bicycle you re-lock it to a designated rack and your coin is returned to you. It works pretty well except if you leave the bicycle unattended someone will take it. There is a minor industry of people taking these bikes and getting the coin for themselves.
Biking to market, Stockholm.
The civic bicycles are built to be sturdy. Not comfortable or quick. My Innkeeper in Copenhagen suggested I shouldn’t torture myself with those “old slugs.” He had a nice bicycle available for rent, so I took up the deal. What a pleasure. I did all my sightseeing in Copenhagen by bicycle.
When I got to Amsterdam, the first thing I did was rent another good bicycle. It really makes a difference in the way you see and interact with a city.
I liked this experience so well when I got back to the USA I purchased a basic but nice city bicycle. I put on a rack and saddle bags. I do most of my marketing by bicycle. Trips to the library, bank, what have you. Sunshine, fresh air, and burned calories. Not a bad deal.
The VW snapped a tie rod somewhere along I-15 in the vast reaches of the Mojave desert as I was headed for the Grand Canyon. Triple AAA brought me to Yermo. A bit of a town that amounts to a quick gaze from a single highway exit.
The Garage was closed for the day. I’d be spending the night in Yermo. No worries about needing to check in to sleep somewhere. VW is home away from home.
Besides, A truck stop cafe was at hand. Style and living all the way. The handy duty mechanics at Yermo Garage got me rolling along the next day all right.
Las Vegas is a town that took the Disneyland approach of replicating familiar world wide sites as “themes.”
Some will say the Las Vegas Strip is the epitome of a synthetic environment and monument of greed. Others may point to a strange if not extreme kind of beauty.
At any given moment I relate to either sentiment.
My stay in Las Vegas, August 13 and 14 was at Hotel Paris. Besides the obvious iconic miniature Eiffel Tower and hotel marque in the form of a hot air balloon, the facility is faithful to the theme down to the smallest details.
I was struck by the number of guests in the lobby, restaurants and elevators I heard speaking French. Apparently, oui, this is home away from home for many a French tourist.
The intensity of summer heat in Las Vegas isn’t apparent in photos. Imagine, though, after a short time in the sun my camera became too hot to touch.
Dusk provides only some relief from the heat. At least one can hold a camera without burning the fingers. Here is Hotel Bellagio. The immense fountain is one of the seven wonders of the entertainment world. Fountain jets are seemingly capable of shooting water nearly as high as the hotel itself. The water blasts and light effects are timed and synchronized to music played over a superb outdoor sound system. Sinatra is most typically played. But I’ve heard orchestral pieces and popular movie themes played as well. It is simply impossible to walk by without stopping during a performance.
I’d say The Flamengo is better displayed in a video clip. One of the more recognizable landmarks and light displays of The Strip.
Ballys and Paris are effectively one hotel. One traverses from one property to the other without stepping outdoors. Ballys is an older hotel, formerly the MGM. At another site a new MGM Grand was built after the old facility was stigmatized. On November 21, 1980 A fire killed 84 people and injured 785. At the time it was the second worst hotel fire in modern U.S. history. Ballys however seems to thrive and flourish. 1980 is now considered olden times. A growing population of people born after 1980 check in. Guests unaware of the tragic event.
It is a ripping and a rocking good show there in Las Vegas by Cirque Du Soleil. A portion of The Mirage Hotel and Casino is dedicated as “Love” theater. The design and colors of the box office, theater entrance, The Beatles Revolution Lounge and night club hearken to 1960’s Carnaby Street in London. A modern “mod,” if you will. All shiny, plastic and eye catching.
In the tried and true tradition of performing art, the show sets right off to grab the audience. The already kettle boiler Get Back is potently supplemented by a digitally remastered layer of drum and guitar work from Abbey Road; The End.
Action on stage is so busy and swift moving, it is hard to pick any one spot of the “three ring circus” to follow or focus upon. An unrelenting rush upon the senses.
The opening set is an homage to the rooftop performance of Get Back by The Beatles in 1969. Its a rooftop whirl, swirl, jumping and jive hullabaloo of dancers, acrobats, odd characters and costumes. The visual climax comes as the entire set seemingly destructs. Chimneys and brick walls crumble and implode every which way. Then all transfigured into something else altogether as the songs and various digital sampling of songs flow forth. Every moment is captivating if not thrilling to watch and listen too. I was ready to stay seated after the show and watch once more. An additional 26 songs would be just as wonderful and easy to enjoy.
Part One Of My Family Story. Marstrand, Sweden. The Soderbergs immigrate to Los Angeles, California from Sweden.
It is a rock. It is an island. Pre-historic man established abode here. Viking Age seafarers found the dual entrance deep harbor
much to their liking. The waters were rich with herring; and the herring made this Swedish west coast island rich. In
1658 Carlsten fortress was built atop the rock to protect the assets. Before yielding prominence to the towns of Kunglav
and Goteborg, Marstrand was the hub of trade and commerce.
Then change. The Herring population declined. Modern roads, rails and communications largely by passed Marstrand. She had to reinvent herself.
Marstrand’s Varmbadhus Båtellet. 1856 began a new direction for Marstrand. People came to relax and enjoy the theraputic warm water baths. The Island’s ion rich air and water were also highly touted for health benefits.
In 1887 Societetshuset was built. An invitation was extended to King Oscar II to visit and enjoy this beautiful social hall. To come and spend a summer in Marstrand. To bring his yacht. The King fell in love with Marstrand, as anyone might. He made it his annual summer destination.
King Oscar (that’s his bust atop the post) brought with him a flush of new activity. Dances, receptions, concerts and evening entertainment became standard fare.
Cold water baths became part of the Marstrand “therapy.” Swimming, sunbathing, and hiking are also part of the resume. However its most famous attraction is sailing. During the summertime national and international sailing championships, as well as regattas, are held.
The city plot or grid dates back to medieval times. A fire or two rolled through from century to century. But the charming architecture seen today is largely from the late 19th and early 20th century. Quaint houses and beautiful structures line the narrow cobblestone streets. No cars or traffic here. It is pedestrian heaven. Grand Hotel is on the left. City Hall is straight ahead at the top of the street.
The Island is one mile in diameter. You arrive via ferry; the ride lasts only a couple of minutes. An array of fine shops and eateries are immediately accessible.
The western two thirds of the island is undeveloped. Tucked between the large smooth rocks and in all the cracks are beautiful rare maritime plants. The ocean and archipelago views are magnificent.
Each entrance to the harbor saw a fortified outpost (the structure on the left and the wall). The vault of that structure was used in 1780 as a synagogue. The first in Scandinavia.
It was in 1783 that the first-ever revolving lighthouse light was erected at Marstrand.
There is another first to mention. Marstrand Electric was Sweden’s first municipal electric company.
My great grandfather, (My father’s side of the family), August Palm–seated right–had lived in Malmo as an electrical engineer at a prominent hotel.
Apparently a fully wired Marstrand presented opportunity for August and his wife Alma (seated middle). He went to work for the electric company and bought a large two story house in Marstrand.
That’s my great great grandmother, seated left. But I’m not sure if she belongs to August or Alma. (I think she’s Alma’s Mom) The girl is Margit, daughter of August and Alma. And my grandmother’s sister.
The house not only served as their residence, but as a functioning element of Marstrand’s tourist economy. What we call today a “bed and breakfast.”
The former Palm residence today. Undergoing remodel work. As I captured this image a gentleman named Oskar asked about my interest in the house. I mentioned the name Palm, and that my grandmother Gunhild lived here as a teenager. Oskar moved to Marstrand in 1972. He said, “I once knew an owner of that house. I have been to many a party there. Some I remember. Some I never remembered, beginning next day.”
I mentioned Gunhild in her teens was known to have played tennis with The King, Gustav V, up at Carlsten’s Fortress.
“The king was a bit famous for that,” he said. “Young was his preference. Maybe check; you might have Royal Blood!”
As Gunhild may have appeared after tennis with The King. As a child her nickname was Gulli, meaning gold, for her hair. This photo was taken Midsommer, 1918
Gustav Söderberg, 1918. He’s standing a top a WWI Submarine. He served in the Swedish Navy.
Both Gustav Söderberg and Gunhild Palm were born in Malmo, Sweden. It is not known when or where they met.
However, writing on the back of the above photo indicates it was taken in Marstrand. In any event, they married and in 1920 were parents of Bill Söderberg. The name Bill was chosen after she read a novel with a character named Bill. William was not the name chosen.
Bill in Marstrand. Gunhild, Alma and Bill’s great grandma.
Economic Times, worldwide–the 1920’s were difficult. Agriculture, coal mining, textiles, shoes, shipbuilding and railroads were all in decline. One factor in Sweden, among others then, it had an agrarian economy in the midst of a strong population growth. With so much of the country made of solid rock, agriculture was hard to expand. Young healthy Swede’s immigrated. In the later 19th and early 20th century 1.9 million Swedes immigrated to the U.S.
Swedes kept together upon moving to the U.S. Western Illinois, Iowa, central Texas, southern Minnesota, and western Wisconsin all sprouted sizable enclaves of Swedes. Some filtered to southern California.
We can only speculate why Gustav and Gunhild Söderberg chose Los Angeles. As a carpenter and house builder, perhaps he had read about the housing boom in Los Angeles. Perhaps her experience in Sweden with some musicals and stage productions, Gunhild may have felt the draw of Hollywood.
The choice may have simply been connected with where Gustav’s port of entry to the U.S. was. He came through San Pedro in Los Angeles on September 2, 1921. We knew Gustav came in advance of Gunhild and Bill. And it was assumed he came through Ellis Island, as the two had on done later on March 6, 1923. But where was the record? Swedish family member Nicklas Rydberg provided the missing document above.
Bill wrote: “We were pushed onto the streets of New York City, unable to speak the language. And no idea of where to catch the Greyhound Bus to Hollywood, California.
“My Dad had made the trip a year earlier to build a house for us to live in. When we arrived the framing of the house was up and I think it was ready for the roof. But we had to live in a tent, cook over a camp fire, and make do with an out-house.”
Youthful happy faces showing optimism for a life in their new country.
“My mother soon came down with typhoid fever and was in the hospital for what seemed like life time to me. Meanwhile I was sent to live with some long time friends, the Andersens–also from Sweden, while my Dad finished the house; and while my Mother recovered from the fever.
I don’t recall Bill ever mentioning a period of prosperity and well being during this early period of his life. However the history learned by Nicklas Rydberg in Sweden describes Gustav being proud of his professional accomplishments and financial achievements in the United States. “Gustav himself bragged about how well off he was and how much money he made. He owned a big and expensive car; a Bugatti.”
Gustav Söderberg and Bill. Well appointed beach attire, from head to toe.
If there was no idea that Gustav drove a Bugatti, then this photo might nott completely make sense. Gustav wearing a driving coat? Or simply the sweater seen in the previous photo. Either way nice clothes. Not cheap.
Gustav and Bill during happier times.Gustav and Bill during happier times.
“Swedish was spoken at home. Even by second grade, my English was still not very good–the kids all made fun of the way I talked.”
Bill was held back one grade until his language skills improved.
Further work needs to be done find the address of the house on Veteran and Olympic. This is possibly one of the homes Gustav built. A house number is slightly legible.
The family home Gustav built was on Veteran and Olympic Boulevards in West Los Angeles. Olympic Boulevard was originally 10th Street; the name changed in 1928 as Los Angeles was bidding for the Olympics which came in 1932.
Bill remembered playing in the middle of Pico Boulevard catching “horny toe lizards.” He said Olympic Boulevard was mostly waist-high weeds growing through cracks in the pavement.
Weeds growing on what is today a busy street may have said much about the worsening economy the young Soderbergs faced. 1926/1927 saw a sharp decline in construction. By the end of 1928 all construction came to a grinding halt. That amounted to $2 billion dollars no longer moving through the economy. Gustav wasn’t paid for his work. His own bills went unpaid. Gustav must have felt desperation. He proposed moving.
Gunhild was not receptive to that proposal. She had enough of moving and was not about to start over again.
“It was too hard getting into this country, and we’re not leaving.”
Bill wrote that the last time Bill heard from his father was via a birthday card sent from Brazil, 1927. He believed and said his father finally settled in Australia. Greta had also been told that Gustav went to Australia where he became a Communist and an alcoholic.
Two people with accurate information read this blog and have help correct the history presented. One is Berit Härén in Stockholm. She informed me that Gustav returned to Sweden. Gustav Helge and Gunhild were divorced through California divorce
court on Nov. 10, 1932. (Bill was 12 years old). In 1935 Gustav Helge remarried to Magnhild Viktoria at Johannes parish, Stockholm in a civil service. Not known to Bill, he would have a half sister in Sweden and as well as Greta in the U.S.
Other information and photos come from Gustav’s Swedish grandson Nicklas Rydberg (my newly found cousin) Nicklas described Gustav as a man with strident political beliefs, and he confirmed Gustav was indeed a devout Communist. “My mother confirmed,” he wrote, “my memory of stories of Gustav arguing his political views and making enemies on the way. My mother tells it was hard to grow up in small country society with a dad like that.”
But more about Gustav later. Back to the story in Los Angeles.
Gunhild and Bill were alone and had to abandon, and actually walk away from, their home in West Los Angeles. Bill often spoke of the long hike they made with their suitcases along weedy Olympic Boulevard to downtown Los Angeles as a homeless family.
A kindly group of women observed their plight. They opened their doors to shelter and care for them until Gunhild was able to fend for her herself. These kind people were a Madame and her Girls.
The next installments of Marstrand Continuum: Depression Era life in Downtown Los Angeles. Gunhild Remarries.
Bill gets a sister, Greta. Bad news from Sweden. Gunhild and Greta must visit Marstrand. A life in Sweden. Getting trapped in Sweden by the developing world war. Escape. Fast forward to 2006–Greta returns to Marstrand for the first time since her escape in 1940. Stay tuned!