Baltic Amber

SEPTEMBER 21, 2009
Scenes of a great summer. Lucky to be an illustrator in these crazy times for starters. And lucky to stop being an illustrator for a few weeks and check completely out.  Well not completely. I was still surgically connected to my sketchbook.  So here are my scribbles and snaps from a sweet sailing aboard The Century across the Baltic Sea in August.

The first stop was Amsterdam. An amazing town, filled with canals and blonde bikers.  Another planet.  Almost every vista is gracious, as if designed by a single Olmstead-like artist.  People live on ships in the canals.  The bicycle has taken the city.  You have three kids? No prob.
The Anna Frank House. At first it was hard to feel the gravity of the place.  The street is so beautiful; hard to picture the Nazis there.  Then you see the diary.  And a video of Otto Frank saying that after he read the diary he realized he hadn't really known his daughter.  After a while it became overwhelming for me.  I began to see her before me  . . and all the Annas in their time, and ours.
I also visited Rembrandt’s house, but it was closed. Typical.  He always was an SOB. To hell with him.
Cynthia and I ended up in an interesting coffee house.

The coffee had a very strange effect on me.  Maybe it was the little cigarette they served along with it. We gradually found our way back to the hotel.  I think it was the right one.
That night at the Concert-gebouw we happily heard wonderful Mozarts and Haydns, which sounded . . . groovy.  All the musicians seemed to be blondes in their 20’s.  The audience: not so much.

The Century is a huge ship. Everyone quietly battles with overeating.  Then the captain comes out.

You have a really good time on a cruise if you meet great people.  Jan and Hanna: brilliant and vibrant, "young" people from Israel. He’s an archeologist/biologist working first hand uncovering the origins of the Dead Sea Scrolls.  She’s a former costumer for the Israeli film industry.  Both unpredictable cut-ups.  Also hung out with Duane and Anna of upstate NY, of whom a photo later.
First stop Varnemunde, a beach town in Germany.  This lady was seen on the way from Rostock.

In Stockholm we bounced around by water taxis.  Spent time at the Vasa Museum.  The Vasa battleship, now recovered in very good shape, was buried in the harbor for 400 years because King Gustav II Adolf couldn’t stop loading it with cannon and other fittings.  So down it went . . . happy now? Idiot.  Look at his pants.  A regula gangsta. There are still proud images of him all over the place.  I guess  Swedes will prefer to remember him as the King of  Empire and not the guy who screwed up on the ship thing.

Outside the Nobel Prize Museum.
In Finland we were hosted by our friends Adam Korpak, the brilliant cartoonist (currently having three shows across Europe) and his lovely wife Dina Veronika Mattson, actress in the Swedish City Theater in Helsinki. Here they are a luminous couple. Thanks to them we saw lots of Helsinki: museums, an amazing church dug into stone with a 360 degree skylight.  Yep, sunlight!!!
St. Petersburg is another universe. Nevsky Prospekt is a hot avenue but with added weight of  history that never dissipates. Our guide to the Hermitage had very interesting ideas. Chechens need the Russians there because they are born wanting to kill each other  . . . so it’s kind of  a humanitarian mission Russia is on.  Germany still cannot be forgiven for WW 2.   It’s still too early.   And, oh yes, Rasputin really did have healing powers but  was killed by Bolsheviks who then were able to write lies about him.
You really can see Sarah Palin from Russia, by the way.
At a local farmer’s market.
Hermitage. You have to wear booties. That’s why it’s so clean there.
Some of the best stuff in the world. You can see artifacts of the Czars (which all have these depressed, bored women guarding them).  And/or  the spectacular art collection, which is also guarded by these women.  I asked Svetlana what was up with them.  She said they were “retirees.”  I’m still working on that.

In any case you’ll find mind-blowing Rembrandts (at last), Ferdinand Bol, Matisse.  I’m very, very happy.
Speaking of Blinis, here's a typical Russian in a blini shop.
Next was Copenhagen and a day spent with rising star cartoonist Erik Petri, who I had met some years before.  (I was hoping to also see Peter Herman too but he doesn’t live near by.  You can’t have everything.)  Erik is making it in a world of few magazines but still healthy newspapers. It’s a tight community so you can keep with one outlet if you stay good . . .  and he does. The fees are not great so he does several illustrations a day.  Does that sound familiar or what!?  He is also doing a kind of visual recording at corporate meetings which is a very unique application.  Very innovative and challenging. I fell in love with Copenhagen right off.  Gentle, open, public spaces, art, a literate electorate.  Here’s to them and their intrepid cartoonists and his work.  Erik, visit us!
The last stop was in some ways the most surprising of all. Tallinn, Estonia.  It was charming to the core.  Here’s our gang, that’s Duane and his niece, Anna on the right.  He’s got a massage therapy biz upstate and she’s an artist. You can get the most delicious chili-chocolate in Tallinn. Emblematic, for me, of this very sweet time. My thanks to everyone we met in those weeks, whom we hope to see again soon.
And especially the girl with the green eyes.

© 2024 Steve Brodner