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October 22, 2021

Norway is far from being the only country that embraced the "Open Air Museum" concept. In fact, the very first such museum in the world - Skansen - was created in 1891 in Stockholm, Sweden. Norway and Finland followed suit, and the new cultural phenomenon began to spread across Northern and Central Europe. Within about a quarter of a century it found its way overseas, and yet another northern country - Canada - grabbed a chance to celebrate its recent past in a very special way. Sainte Marie Among The Hurons (SMATH) joined the growing list of Open Airs.

...Four centuries ago, a success in turning a motley collection of separate buildings into a well-governed village meant the difference between Life and Death, quite literally. Nowadays, when the village has been reconstructed and turned into a museum, such a success means but a cultural achievement – and yet, the task of doing justice to the period in question by properly presenting it is utterly dear to everyone involved. And "properly present" means “to show” rather than “to tell about”.  That’s why visitors are met by, as the museum brochure phrases it, “men and women in period dress who welcome them into their daily lives and invite them to share in their activities”. Combined with various shows and presentations, this approach helps one to get into the mood of the epoch, which is a precondition to turning a pastime into a real experience. There is indeed no better way to enjoy and understand something than to identify with it as fully as possible.


That identification is largely facilitated by an exhibited wigwam, where it’s possible to “live” (though but for a few minutes) just like a native would, or by a curl of acid smoke produced by an open fire, and hurting one’s eyes and throat. Besides, everybody is welcome to grind a handful of grain into a powder, using a very special wooden spoon, or to take a glimpse of wealthy people’s underwear by looking through a couple of special slits made in their shirts. According to the guides’ explanation, that was the only way to emphasize the social difference because the main garment had to be purely functional – mostly providing warmth and insect protection – and, therefore, practically identical. Unfortunately, trying on a pair of moccasins, touted as by far the best shoes for the climate and conditions in question, or writing a note with a quill peacefully lying on a rough but solid table, was not on the agenda yet. That might be the next step in the museum’s development!


Casa Loma, Toronto.


October 29, 2021

Even though "men and women in period dress" provide a personal touch, Open Air Museums (and museums, in general) are a cultural phenomenon that deals first and foremost with society as such rather than with particular individuals. That's why Casa Loma/A House on the Hill, while technically a museum, is much more of what its name implies - a Home. 

A story of an “unabashed romantic” Henry Pellatt and his favourite abode, as well as the most striking product of his creative mind, is told by his wife (or ascribed to her). As a result, it doesn’t contain such sentences as “Now we enter Lady Pellatt’s suite. On your left you can see an oak armchair in which Lady used to spend her days. The walls of the suite are painted in Wedgwood blue”.  Instead a young and sonorous female voice filled with enthusiasm would bring the visitors’ attention to “a specially designed armchair, a present from my husband, in which I loved to spend my days. I liked its light colour, and the wood – was it an oak? – was most comfortable to touch on. Due to my weak legs, I had to remain seated for most of the time during the later parts of my life, and these little details meant a lot to me. As you see, the armchair is located right in front of this big window facing our beautiful lawn and park. Besides, the walls of my suite were painted light blue, my favourite colour, so I always had something nice to rest my eyes upon…”.

This simple story, authentic in its very simplicity, provided much more than a museum guiding. Combined with many other similar pieces, it bridged between times and cultures and lent a human touch to the guests’ experience. That sick woman could have easily collapsed into a state of endless melancholy, but chose to use the opportunities given by her fortune and social position to make everyone’s life around her a little bit brighter. Encouraged by her husband, she became a patroness of the newly established Girl Guides organization and turned a wing of her castle into its headquarters. Sir Henry himself was a dedicated supporter of a Canadian military regiment called “The Queen’s Own Rifles”...



Holmenkollen Ski Museum


November 12, 2021

The line between the concepts of "home" and "museum" is rather fine (even the very word "museum" is Greek for "seat/home of the Muses"), and it's hardly surprising that both are usually man-made. Open Air museums may be considered a partial exception to that rule but even more so - a place whose name is heavenly music to the ears of every winters sports aficionado. Nature itself co-created that place by not only providing physical space for it but also contributing to its spirit. Ladies and Gentlemen, Holmenkollen!

To simply mention every ski competition hosted by that majestic sports complex, one would have to write a long article. To properly describe at least some of those competitions would probably require writing a book. An ordinary sports facility had over time turned into one of the most important national symbols - that's why the story of Holmenkollen became one of the stories of the Norwegian nation.

It's easier to understand, how it happened, if we consider that, as early as 1890s, about 10,000 people would head for Husebybakken (an Oslo suburb regarded as the official predecessor of Holmenkollen) every single weekend - to simply watch skiers and ski-jumpers competing. However, an old, faded postcard speaks louder than any numbers: a young man, his face bright red in the cold, his countenance half-mocking and half-reverent, is offering a makeshift bouquet of some miraculously surviving winter growth to a curtseying young lady. Both are on skis - and completely oblivious of the fact that isn't interfering with either their movement or their emotions in any way, as if the skis were a mere extension of their bodies. Upon seeing that postcard, one would have been really surprised if there hadn't been a ski museum in Norway...   

Nansen (1).jpg

Statue of Fridtjof Nansen and the ski jump at the Ski Museum, Holmenkollen, near Oslo, Norway, Scandinavia, Europe

November 19, 2021

The Holmenkollen Ski Museum presents a frozen history of a remarkable transformation turning two waxed pieces of wood into a social phenomenon conquering a whole nation. Even though Holmenkollen itself is one of the most important winter sports Meccas on Earth, the significance of the museum exhibition by far transcends sports as such. It's not by chance that the visitors are greeted by a statue of none else but Fridtjof Nansen recognized by the popular vote as "the most famous Norwegian of the 20th century" - Nansen's presence serves a symbolic reminder that one is about to enter a SKI museum, not just a museum of the sport of skiing. Unique pictures, historic documents and other exhibits serve to reinforce that message.

When elite detachments of the Norwegian army were put on skis in 1716, the soldiers were unlikely to think about Olympics and world championships, or even personal bests. Likewise, Nansen himself was far away from Chamonix in France where the very first Winter Olympics took place in 1924 - yet, as early as 1888, he decided to pay a visit to Greenland.

Five years later he started his march for the North Pole...It's easy to guess that during those and many other expeditions he traveled on skis. 


While skiing as a sport isn't exactly ignored by the creators of the museum, it's partially presented from a somewhat unusual point of view. Even those who know that modern technologies play as vital a part in athletes' success as talent or hard work, might be baffled by the similarity between a ski-builder's shop and a high-tech laboratory. It turns out that the most important word in the above-given definition of skis "two waxed pieces of wood") is _waxed_. Be it wood, composite or fiberglass, a perfect fit for the weather during the race can literally make a champion. That's why waxing professional secrets are closely and jealously guarded, and the best professionals are often called "magicians" or compared to such renowned violin-makers as Guarneri, Amati and Stradivari. By analogy, Sondre Nordheim, who in 1870 designed shorter skis with curved sides facilitating turns, was nicknamed "Ski Leonardo da Vinci" 



November 26, 2021

"What a Wonderful World", full of wonders of all kinds, shapes and forms - yet, many people can't travel far and wide to see even a small percentage of them. So, they have to concentrate on nearby wonders and try to make the most of it. Some succeed to make up for a lack of quantity by adding quality and turning a wonder into a full-blown miracle...

...a magnificent artistic creation floating high above the street level and sprawling over a perfectly laid out English garden, full of blooming flowers scattered along broad paths that led to a unique set of stairs. One can choose either the right or the left flight, but the middle one is reserved for pilgrims who “ascend to the main entrance on their knees in order to honour St. Joseph”, the patron of this church, the largest of its kind in North America. I could hardly believe that in reality anybody would resort to such an eccentric behaviour, and I was inwardly admiring the inventor of such a conspicuous decorative device as this “propaganda flight”, when I saw no less than three people doing exactly what the flight was intended for. That made me look at the statue of St. Joseph at the entrance to the garden with fresh appreciation.

On the one hand, even though the earthly father of Jesus Christ is recognized as a saint in a number of faiths, he seems to be a relatively minor figure in the European religious tradition. On the other hand, St. Joseph is extremely important and quite famous all across the American continent – so much so that a city in California (San Jose) is named after him. He might owe this recognition to the fact that the Catholic Church had entrusted him with no less than eight offices, including such sensitive ones as “The Solace of the Suffering”, “The Hope of the Sick” and “The Patron of the Dying”. Yet, impressive as those titles are, one picture is still worth a thousand words, and “Niches of Crutches” are among the very first displays to greet the Oratory visitors. There might be hundreds of them: crutches, canes, walkers and other similar devices donated to the church after they have been made unnecessary for those recently healed through the powers of the Saint...

St.Joseph's Oratory, Montreal


December 3, 2021

Many wonders - and most of those mentioned in this blog - are majestic, imposing, breathtaking or awe-striking. Many but not all, because some of them are just cute - which doesn't make them any less eye-pleasing and heart-warming. Neither does creating them take less talent, ingenuity and imagination...

...right in the middle of the street there is a swimming pool featuring a “helmet tree” – a black metal frame with many red, yellow and blue plastic helmet-like objects attached to it at different heights. The “helmets” are turned upside down, filled with water and perfectly balanced. Once in every ten seconds or so the uppermost container tilts to spill some of the water into the “helmet” one level below, and a chain reaction begins thus creating a little – and elegant – water cascade.






December 10, 2021

The wonders I've mentioned so far are permanent - when created, be it by Nature or Man, they are there to stay. However, there are also what might be called "seasonal wonders" - summer festivals, autumn fairs, spring awakening rituals pertaining to many indigenous people around the world... One of the most celebrated and cherished seasons for a significant part of Mankind is Christmas.

...While the Cascade is Wellington’s permanent feature, the City's living statues must be a Christmas bonus. A sitting lady with a basket and a gentleman with a cane standing next to her – both are dressed all in white as to resemble a miller and his wife if not a pair of angels!

The second statue – “a friendly ape” in a red nightcap and a light brown animal skin, covering him from head to toe, that was standing on a bench – actually sprang to live when a passerby dropped a couple of coins into his collection box. He shook hands with the donor and the two of them posed for a picture.

A Salvation Army orchestra, that was performing not far from the living statues, had a collection box of its own but it looked more like a red bucket held by a non-playing orchestra member. The whole group was wearing the Army’s very distinct uniform: black shoes, black trousers, red jackets and black caps with a red ribbon. They looked very solemn and – considering the place and the occasion – extremely funny.




December 17, 2021

Even if the beauty is in the eye of the beholder, things like Wellington's "living statues" catch the beholder's eye for a reason - and the reason is that they are cute, funny and quite original.

However, if you go for a walk in some local woods and stumble upon a cluster of evergreen trees, you might easily pay no attention to them (or, quite literally, not see the trees for the wood). It takes the magic of the Christmas season to turn a routine object into a powerful symbol of goodwill, celebration and intrinsic happiness thus creating what might be called a

"wonder of convention".


...St. Catherine, the Patron Saint of Montreal, might have never met Jesus Christ, but it was obvious that the street bearing her name was quite familiar with the tree named after the "Saviour from Nazareth" and devoted to his birth…

It was on a rather nice and not even especially cold evening that I found myself strolling along St. Catherine. The street was full of hurrying people, as it probably always is on any given day, independently of the season. X-mas was still weeks away, and there was no particular reason to expect any of its special features to come to the foreground. I stopped at a rather big intersection as the light was red, and suddenly…there it was: a Christmas tree in its full attire, fresh and festive as if smiling at all those watching it. It seemed that people around me caught the mood and started smiling back, at the tree and at each other. Probably I was getting delirious for an instant…

Rue Sainte-Catherine - Local Flavour -Montreal, QC


Merry Christmas!

Christmas is a time for fairy-tales. That's why this Christmas entry will be devoted to the main character of a famous, controversial and somewhat glossed over fairy-tale.

…Wiki readily tells us that a statue of Her was created in 1913 by Edvard Eriksen – and Ellen Price, the ballet-dancer, who was posing for the statue, lived a long a productive live.  The statue had been commissioned by a local brewer who fell in love with the original 1837 fairy-tale by one H. C. Andersen. It’s not completely without interest that the brewer’s name was Carl Jacobsen, and the beer he had produced echoed that name… In other words, the creator of Carlsberg beer was instrumental in bringing about the statue of The Little Mermaid…

What Wiki doesn’t emphasize is the actual work of art – grey slippery boulders touched by weeds, right next to the water, and a tiny figure of a young girl on the top of that wet pyramid. As if embarrassed, the girl is hiding her tail somewhere behind her back, her face is calm and sad at the same time. Indifferent to all the fuss around her, she is looking wistfully and searchingly beyond the sea, wishing and hoping for her Prince to return. Wishing and hoping for 108 years, and counting. A longing that is never to materialize, yet never to give up, is a heart-rending but, strangely, also live-affirming feeling bringing both tears to one’s eyes and a smile to their face. Such is the power of that inner beauty that that slip of a girl, barely seen from passing ships, has turned into the most important symbol of Danish capital, Copenhagen, if not Denmark as a whole…






December 31, 2021


Happy New Year!

entry consists of several pictures (1-3, New Zealand, 4- Norway, 5-Canada, 6- Great Britain) and just one sentence:

May 2022 turn out to be a WONDERful year full of beauty, joy and happiness.

Chinatown (6) - quite a house-number!.JPG