Sunday, August 28, 2011

Mouse Trouble!

There is something wrong with the mouse! It won't take no for an answer.
In July it was the screen, I've got a new screen now, in August it was the printer, I've got a new printer now............
And  the mouse is behaving like a confused squirrel here in the last days of August. Enough is enough. The mouse must die. I don't know how long I can work here. Sometimes the mouse behaves well, but suddenly the lines jump up and down and I can't get out of the page. I 'll have to get hold of a mouse-trainer.
See you soon - maybe.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Dråby and Glatved Strand, Church and Nature.........

It was actually because I needed some photos of a church that we went to Djursland that day. I went for Dråby church, called Djursland's cathedral. I hadn't been there since 2002, but I counted on that the building would still stand - after all it has been on that spot since the 1200s. The oldest interior is a Romanesue granite font from the 1200s, which almost all the old churches has kept. The fonts were probably too difficult and to heavy to move, I suppose. It's fascinating to imagine all those babies, who were baptized there! Or else the interior is marked by the Baroque. But I'll not talk about churches on this blog!! Only that it is a pretty church, and I love the history of our old churches.

So after having visited the church and the village we drove off to Glatved strand, three black storks were seen last Tuesday, but I'll say at once that those three blackies were gone. Never mind you'll never be bored out in nature. Glatved strand is a super place for coast fishing and a fine resort for nature lovers and for divers. The beach is with round pebblestones and the water  is deep  from the edge. The deep water makes it good for sports fishing, and there are sea trout, cod, garfish and flaffish to be caught. The area is marked by the limestone quarry, but it stopped working in 1981. It is now an interesting place for botanists and bird-watchers.


Some folks went on top of the stone mountain by the limestone quarry, and that's not wise. But what can you do? Just keep an eye with them I guess. Good to have a cell phone after all. The area along the beach is lovely, for here is the salten breeze from the sea and here's peace and quiet. It is not a bathing beach -  and there is not yet season for sports fishing. I like the anglers - they are nice people, but a bathing beach with oily people frying in the sun! I have grown from that!  So there's time enough to walk along the beach and see what's what. Out there in the mist I see the small island Hjelm, maybe the most famous island in Denmarks' history. A flock of noblemen, who were accussed of killing the king, became outlaws and used Hjelm as a base of a fleet and of counterfeiting. The leader Marsk Stig's castle upon Hjelm and the looting expeditions and the myth around the king and Marsk Stig did create a lasting track in the form of many medieval folk ballads. The island is now inhabited, it is not allowed to land there. I was there once, but it was because I had to write a report about the island and the telephone connection to my company-magazine in the 1980s. Of course I wrote more about the medieval history than I should, but it was accepted!!


But let's leave Hjelm and look down on the ground. Here is a lovely elegant Pimpinelle, dressed in a white lace robe. In English the name is Burnet saxifrage, Lesser burnet or Salad burnet, but it is also named Pimpinella, and this is the sweetest name I think. Sounds like a ballet dancer. Pimpinella looks much like wild carrot, but the wild carrot has an involucre under the umbel. The pimpinella has not.
The older herbalists held this plant in greater repute than it enjoys at the present day. Pliny recommended a decoction of the plant beaten up with honey for divers complaints.It was recommended as a healer of wounds, it is a cordial and promotes perspiration. Infused in wine and beer it was used as a cure of gout and rheumatism. The bruised leaves smell like cucumber and taste somewhat like it, and it was added to salads and cups. You can still buy pimpinelle-drops at the pharmacy, it's used for cough, cold and bronchitis. It is still so amazing to me that almost every litte herb has got a useful function, which has been known for centuries.

Rock Grayling

Common Blue

Well here's a little fellow I need not talk so much about! A pretty little thing ,one of the blue butterflies - and it looks like a Common Blue. When it is sitting with the upperside of the wings in the sunlight, then the blue colour is fantastic. It looks like a little jewel. And here's another one, with modest colours, but a fine pattern, the Rock Grayling /Sandrandøje,  the Danish name has something to do with sand, so it is in its right place here by the beach.Upon a white robe of lace sits a beetle, the Danish name is Guldbasse ( =a golden "thick guy") . It really has some fine metallic colours. It is known in English as the rose chafer or the green rose chafer, because it feeds in particular on roses. Rose chafers can fly very fast, they do it with their wing cases down thus resembling a bumble bee.

No wonder why it stands there looking so proud and dominant among the flowers in the field. It is immensely healthy and contains lots of vitamins and minerals - the Sea buckthorn (Havtorn)  - and it grows wild in many places in Denmark, even in the outmost western parts of Jutland in the dunes, with storm, sea fog and sandy soils. It is among the first plants which came to the land of the Danes more than 10.000 thousand years ago, together with the reindeer. The Latin name Hippophae (hippo = horse in Greek) is classical Latin for "shining horse",  and the name supposedly came after feeding racehorses with the leaves, which made them healthy and with shining skin. The leaves contain much protein and can be used as a fodder for domestic animals and pets. A legend tells a fascinating story: the leaves were the preferred meal for the winged, flying horse Pegasus, the horse of the God Zeus, and the leaves were the resaon, why Pegasus could fly.
The berries are described as being very healthy and one of the most nutritious berries. They contain several vitamins and antioxidants-connections. An English research-report has concluded that it is the most healthy fruit cultivated in England. A Canadian investigation considers it as one of the best natural sources of vitamin A, C, E, carotines and large contents of several B-vitamins. But the story about this plant is much longer, so I'll stop talking about this one.

Wild carrot

We'll go on after a coffee-break near some aromatic roses. I love the scent of these wild roses. It's such a delicate scent. When we're having coffee I nearly always bring Wiener-Pecan cakes. They taste so  gooood, but they are not healthy.
My eye caught some wild carrots. I like these white lacy flowers, they are all over the field together with Pimpinella. A white ballet by the beach. Next to some Pimpinellas is some grass, I think it's hjertegræs (heart's grass)). In English it is burdened with so many names that it is impossible to tell about it - eighteen names. I'll choose Pearl Grass - or Earthquakes! It's pretty and frail and moves in the slightest breeze. It's not easy to see on the photo. You'll have to enlarge.

Pimpinella and Pearl Grass(I think)


Viper's Buglos

I always talk much about the pink yarrow, when I see it - and there have been so many pink yarrows this year. No one else seem to notice! I think they are sweet. It must be the character of the soil, which give them the pink shade, like the changing shades of Lupin and Hydrangea. Yarrow gives a fine snaps- maybe the pink is stronger? Theres a fine blue flower next to the pink yarrow. This is Slangehoved (Snakes' head). In English it has got 10 names, I'll choose Viper's buglos. It has something to to with a snake. It is a fine nectare plant, attracting lots of bees. On warm summerdays it might be covered in honey bees and bumble bees. Aha! In the old days it was used against snake bite!

A Merlin  showed its characteristic silhouette high up behind a tree.  Unfortunately it disappeared at once.

Carline thistle

There was a plant I hadn't seen before, but a plant, which is typical for this habitat. It's the Carline thistle, a thistle with modest brownish colours, it almost stands quite unnoticed on the ground. There were suddenly lots of them in the field. Cinderella in her ashy clothes. But now we are going to another place at Djursland.

It's harvest time and the farmers are busy before the rain comes. On top of a corn field is a grave hill overgrown with bushes. There are lots of  dolmens at Djursland, worth a study in itself, round dolmens, long domens, passage graves - reminders of  men and women who lived thousands of years ago. And two other photos, guess what. Cows of course. It's necessary to have the cows. Those sweet animals with the pretty eyes. And then off to another place at Djursland............   

photo Djursland August 2011: grethe bachmann

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Skarresø, a Field in an Old Gravel Pit

In a field by an old gravel pit at Skarresø (Djursland) are good possibilities to find some rarities. That was not what we found on this day, but there is always something to see, and it is still summer after all!

The Sedum with many names like: Sedum live forever,  Witchs' moneybagsFrog's stomach, Harping Johnny was before considered a love herb, since it was used as an omen. A girl or a guy could check where to find a sweetheart - and even find out if the relationship would last. They put some cuttings in the roof, and if the plant continued to grow it was the most positive omen they could think of. If there were side shots it meant that they would have children. So this was a practical herb - it was also used in medicine against burns. Sap from the leaves were smeared upon the wound, which also helped by nosebleed and haemorrhoids.

Mullein. As you can see, the thicket around the still flowering mullein looks rather withered. It's already beginning to move close to autumn in some places! There are various species of Mullein, and it has a long, long history. It was used in medicine as a treatment for asthma and respiratory disorders, and the plant extraxts are an effective treatment in ear infections.Mullein is the active ingredient in many alternative smoking blends. An old superstition existed that witches in their incantations used lamps and candles provided with wicks of this sort. In most parts of Ireland, besides growing wild, it is carefully cultivated in gardens, because of a steady demand for the plant by sufferers from pulmonary consumption. The seeds are said to intoxicate fish when thrown into the water, and are used by poachers for that purpose, being slightly narcotic.


Southern Hawker/ Blå Mosaikguldsmed is the largest dragonfly in Denmark It flies with a fine agility and a speed of  25-30 km pr. hour while catching insects in a catch basket, which is shaped with its legs. The prey is eaten in the air and you can hear the crunching! It flies often far from water , hunting along hedges and forest glades. Here it is in a forest glade  - and unfortunately it is difficult to see its fine wings.

Red Admiral

Red Admiral/Admiral. A fine admiral in a plum tree. It loves the sap from those sweet fruits. Both admirals and some other butterlies are often seen among plums or on trees with sap running down the wood. The butterfly can be quite intoxicated and is easy to come close to in that condition.  The admiral is a migrating butterfly - and each year arrive new butterflies from southern Europe. It is one of few butterflies who live far north, it flies even to Iceland. 

The Map

The Map Butterfly/Nældesommerfugl is rather unusual, since the spring- and summer generation is not  alike. In Swedish, German and English is it called the Map (Landkort), caused by a characteristic pattern in beige, chocolatebrown and blue on the underside of the wings, which look like a map with roads and land areas. This fine little map flew quickly away.  Bye, bye, see you next year!
  Bush Cricket/ Løvgræshoppe. I had never seen a bush cricket before, and I was actually schocked to see the size of it. I understand why it is able to bite a human! I was afraid if it would jump up in my face! They are also known as long-horned grasshoppers, although they are more closely related to crickets than to grasshoppers. The bush cricket is 22-53 mm. Its habitat is in the whole  of Denmark except in Mid- and West Jutland. The calls of the male can be heard several hundred meters away - it calls from tall plants and trees. It makes sounds by rubbing the front wings. The bush cricket is a predator, eating other insects -  and if you catch one it might bite. Its enemies are birds and lesser animals.

Red Bartsia
Red bartsia/Rødtop is a half -parasite. It fastens on to the roots of neighbouring grasses, taking water and minerals from them, as a result the affected grasses' growth will be stunted. It was once offering a cure for toothace  since the botanical name odons is Greek for tooth. Carder bees and also a specific solitary bee feed on red bartsia.

Agrimony/Agermåne has a long history of medicinal use.The ancient Greeks used Agrimony to treat eye ailments, and it was made into brews to cure diarrhea and disorders of the gallbladder, liver, and kidneys. Anglo-Saxons made a solution from the leaves and seeds for healing wounds; this use continued through the Middle Ages and afterward, in a preparation called eau d'arquebusade, or "musket-shot water". Later, agrimony was prescribed for athlete's foot. Although the plant has no idiopathic properties, tradition holds that when placed under a person's head, Agrimony will induce a deep sleep that will last until removed.
As you can see this agrimony disappears almost in the withered grass and thicket. It was a dry place.  The grass was dry as dust, but a few days later came the rain.

Skarresø church
The trip was over, I've got some problems walking too many kilometers! We took a rest opposite a small lake downside a church. There was a nice flock of ducks on the grass, and I thought they would come swarming over to us, but I was surprised to see them all waddle down to the water and disappear over in a corner of the lake. Ducks are usually not that shy, but maybe someone has been teasing them. This happens - and it's a shame.

please click to enlarge - most photos need it this time!


photo Skarresø, August 2011: grethe bachmann

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Bunuel, Dali and Lorca

A Filmmaker, a Painter and a Poet...........
In the beginning of the 1980s came an autobiography from Luis Bunuel," Mon
"Belle de Jour" Catherine Deneuve
dernier soupir"  (My Last Sigh). He was one of the great filmmakers with films like "Belle de Jour" and "The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie" and many other films from his French period. Later in his life he was instructing films in Mexico for many years. He made himself noticed in 1929 with "Un Chien Andalou" ,a scary shortfilm, which he made together with Dali. They both claimed to be the creator of this film later on. Bunuel was from his youth socializing with a group of young people, who later became famous writers and painters. He was good friends with Salvador Dali and Federico Garcia Lorca.

Luis was born in Calanda in Aragon in 1900. His father was a rich man, the owner of large properties in Calanda. Luis tells that his father did not do a day's work, he read newspapers, smoke Havanna cigars, drank wine, eat caviar, he had aperitif-time, lunch, a nap after dinner, change of dress, club, bridge, tresillo (card-game), friends, evening meal , theater, opera or operetta together with Luis' mother. The family's house in Calanda was built after the "bad taste" of that period, represented in Spain by the Catalonian painter and architect Gaudi.  His parents went often to Paris and came home with lots of gifts to the children. Luis had 4 sisters and 2 brothers. His father died in 1923 and Luis was now the head of the family. He left for Paris in 1925.

When he was 8 years old, he was in a cinema for the first time; besides a pianist was an explicador, who commented the plot of the movie. When he was 12, he still believed that the babies came from Paris. He began playing violin when he was 13, and a house maid carried the violin for him. He had some terrible doubts about religion, doomsday was an unbelievable scene with all those billions of people, and why the purgatory?  He went to a Catholic school by the Jesuit monks. A school day was from 7.30 till late afternoon. The school rooms were never heated, and the children wore big scarves, however they had frozen ears, hands and toes. The disciplin was very strict. Each misconduct was followed by a penalty, they had to lie on their knees with a heavy book on each hand  -  all day were they watched over by lynx-eyed guardians, they were never alone. Go to the bathroom alone was also forbidden - there was no contact between the pupils, they sat in two rows with a one meter distance and folded arms, silence, religion, Catechism, Latin, and a final  challenge, which was a contest on the day's lesson. In spite of the strict discipline the boys were boys.  He went to a café and drank some snaps, his two friends pretended to drink, but Luis drank and became sick, he saw double and was swaying, he fell on his knees during mass at school and threw up on the holy stone floor -  he was threatened with suspension.

children at Kalø Castle ruin
One summer Luis and his siblings and cousins went without permission to the neighbouring town Foz, dressed in fine clothes;  they went about 5 kilometer to the family-estates; they visited all of them and had sherry and pancakes in every place. They became gradually a little fuddled. On their way home they went into the church yard, where Luis lay down upon the inquest table and asked to be cut up. His sister's head got stuck in a hole by a grave. They went to some rock caves, where they foolhardily climbed the rocks and went through the tunnels with only an altar candle. They got lost, they were scared of the bats and were hungry. Luis offered chivalrously to sacrifice himself to be eaten by the others, but his sister Conchita asked on her crying knees that they should eat her instead, for she was the youngest and the most tender and the most stupid. They were found at last and brought home on a cart. Luis was unconscious, he had a sunstroke - or was it the drunk or was it tactics? For two whole days the parents adressed the children in the third person, but Luis heard his father proudly telling his guests about their adventure and about Luis' heroism.

Luis went to Madrid University in 1917 after his high-school certificate. He wanted to be a composer, to get away from Spain to Paris, but his father said no. "Composers die from hunger". He studied agriculture, changed to industrial engineer, then natural history and changed to philosophy, so he could get abroad. Luis was anarchist. King Alfonso 13 and queen Victoria visited the university. Luis was overawed, adressed him Majesty and was embarrassed afterwards, but then he discovered he had kept his hat on, so his honor was saved.
Luis' friends and aquaintances included many, who later became famous personalities. His good friends were Dali and Lorca. Federico Garcia Lorca was born in Granada in Andalusia in 1899. He drew people to him with his superior talents, his charm and deliberate elegance, when he sat down by the piano playing Chopin.  He was like a flame. No one could resist his magnetic charisma. He was the son of a landowner from Granada. Luis Bunuel and Lorca were inseparable, The clumsy Aragon and the elegant Andalusian. Lorca was neither effeminate or affected, and he became angry by the accusation maricon ( gay). In another source outside Bunuels autobiography is said that Lorca was openly homosexual.

Salvador Dali was from Catalonia, born in 1904 in  Figueras the son of a notary; he was called the Czech painter, and he had exhibitions already in 1926-27 in Madrid. When he had an examen from the art academy he pronounced: "No one present is able to judge me! Goodbye and thank you!" He was expelled. Dali was once thrown out from the family house by his father because he had written degrading words upon a painting of his mother.

Gala, Paul Eluards' wife, lived together with Dali for many years. When he and Gala were in USA, they went to a carnival where Gala was dressed as Charles Lindbergh's kidnapped baby. The Americans were furious. 

Dali had a meeting with three Mexicans at a café, where he referred them to talk with Gala. She demanded 10.000 dollars for an interview. "Dali's steak costs 10.000 dollars today," she said. Dali was often seen with a leopard in a gold braid. Later source: Salvador Dalí frequently traveled with his pet ocelot Babou, even bringing it aboard the luxury ocean liner, SS France.
His only real relationship was with Gala. His relations to rich American women were odd. He asked them to undress , then he placed a fried egg upon their shoulder and asked them to go back home again.
Dali was the most clumsy person. He had to be accompanied across the street, and he couldn't manage to buy tickets. " How do you do it?" He wrote in his autobiography that Luis Bunuel was an anarchist, and Luis was fired from New York's Museum, where he was in that period. Luis scolded him, and Dali answered: " I wrote the book to glorify myself - not you."

Luis married Jeanne in 1925 and was married to her the rest of his life. They had two sons. Bunuel lived for many years in Mexico where he instructed 21 films. He died in 1983 in Mexico. Dali died in 1989,  Gala died in 1982. After Gala's death,  lost Dalí much of his will to live. Lorca was executed in 1936 by the fascist milits.It is not known where he is buried.

This is a little of what Luis Bunuel has told. It would be too much to write more. There are other informations elsewhere. Many were involved in the group around Luis and the others, both from his youth in Madrid and later from Paris - Pablo Picasso, Andre Breton, Pedro Garfias, Appollinaire, Tanguy, Ugarte etc. etc. -  and there are deviant sources and deviant informations to find outside the words of Luis Bunuel, but so it has to be when it is about an autobiography. Different opinions from various people. How would it be if we wrote an autobiography?

I don't think I have done anything for money which I did not want to do. People cannot buy me to say yes, no matter how much money they offer. What I deny to do for a dollar, I will not do for a million. 

Luis Bunuel.

If you'd like to read about Spain and about the period of the surrealists then I can recommend Bunuels' book.

Source: Mit sidste suk, Luis Bunuel , 1982

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Wild Teasel and Fuller's Teasel/Gærdekartebolle

Dipsacus is a species of flowering plant known by the common names Fuller's teasel and Wild teasel. It is native to Eurasia and North Africa, but it is known in the Americas, southern Africa, Australia and New Zealand as an introduced species and often a noxious weed.

Dipsacus fullonum is the wild form of Fuller's teasel; the cultivated form is generally recognised as a distinct species under the name Dipsacus sativus. Wild teasel grows wild in Denmark; both Dipsacus fullonum and sativus are found cultivated in the gardens, and they are much alike. 

please click to enlarge

Bank at Kalø castle ruin.

 The Wild teasel grows in edges of roads, in gravel pits and on banks. (and railway banks)
(Please click to enlarge the picture

Besides the mentioned Dipsacus species are in a few places in Denmark are found Pindsvinekartebolle = Dipsacus strigosus/Slim teasel and Håret kartebolle  = Dipsacus pilosus/Small teasel.

The Wild teasel is interesting for several reasons; originally were the dried seed boxes from this plant and from Fullers teasel used for carding wool. The seed boxes are also used in decorations and are very decorative in the garden, both fresh and dried.

Wild teasel attracts many insects during a long period, not least bumble bees and butterflies,

The sap of the plant was used to soothe headache and tootache.The root was used as a diuretic and a tonic for the stomach. Externally was the plant used for lesser wounds.

Source: Nordeuropas vilde planter, 1974, Danmarks Fugle og Natur, Felthåndbogen, 2011

photo Kalø 2008: grethe bachmann

Njáls Saga - 23 August in the Year 1011

In the early morning of the 23 august in the year 1011 Flose Tordarsön, the chief, whom an implacable fate had made an arsonist, stood together with his men at the smoking ruins of the stately courtyard Bergthorsvol , the wise farmer Njál's estate on the southern part of Iceland. During the night they had burned Njál and his wife Bergthora and their sons and people from the household.

The drama is told in the famous Njál's Saga by an anonymous Icelandic writer ab. 1280. The major events described in the saga are probably historical but the material was shaped by the author, drawing on oral tradition, according to his artistic needs. Njáls saga is the longest and most highly developed of the sagas of Icelanders. It is often considered the peak of the saga tradition.

A saga's credibility is often discussed among the learned men. Sometimes this can be tested by an archaeological investigation. There was no doubt that Njal's fire took place. It is mentioned in so many medieval sources that the researchers consider it a historical fact. The saga itself informs that the fire took place three years before the Brian-battle at Clontarf in Ireland = 1011, on a Sunday evening, two months before winter = 22. August, but the fire pulled out until the next morning on the following day.

Some excavations took place at Bergthorsvol in the years 1883, 1885, 1927, 1928 and 1951. Some of it was disappointing. In 1927 -28 was found a fire site of a small house, which seemed to be a house for drying corn, but in 1951 was found a large fire site of a house, a stable. No fire sites of living houses were found, but the explanation can be that the living houses were leveled and rebuilt at once, leaving no fire traces, while the little house and the stable stood for a longer time without being rebuilt, which left fire traces in the ground. The buildings were found in a depth, which makes it probable that they are parts of Njál's farm. A radiocarbon dating was made of a piece of wood from the site, and this showed that the wood had grown inside the years 840-1040.

It was a coincidence that I fell over this old Skalk-magazine the other day. I have recently wondered about coincidences and here came one ! A thousand year old date so close to a present date. That was odd! But I had to use it.
I have translated a very short summary, a very free translation combined with informations in the Skalk-magazine from 1959. If you want to read the real saga, the link is here: Njáls Saga

A short summary:
Flose and his men have surrounded the courtyard. Njál and wife and sons and household are inside. One of the attackers is killed, another wounded, and Flose decides to burn the farm.

All the houses were burning now, and the women started to howl and moan. Njál told them to behave and stop moaning: "This is just a short storm," he said and went to the door: "Is Flose able to hear me?" Flose said yes. Njál said: " Will you negotiate with my sons or allow anyone to get out?" Flose said: " I will not negotiate with your sons, but this case must have an end. I won't leave before all of you are dead. But women and children and housecarls may come out. "

Njál told his people to go out. A woman, Astrid, told her husband Helge to go out with her. He said no, but agreed at last for the children's sake. She threw a cape and a hood over him, but when he came out, Flose said: " What a tall and broadshouldered woman. Take her!" Helge threw his cape and drew his sword and struck a man so his foot fell off. Flose came to and gave Helge a cut across the throat so his head fell off.

Bergthora said." What to do now?" - "Go to our bed," Njal said, "and lie down. I'm tired and I yearn for some peace and quiet." Bergthora told her grandson Thord Kåresön to be carried out by the others, but he said: "Grandmother, you have promised me that we shall always be together. I'd rather die with you and Njál than survive you." Then she carried the boy to the bed. Njál told his bryde: "Notice, where we lie down, for I'll not move for neither smoke or fire. Then you'll know where to find our bones. " The bryde promised. Njál and Bergthora lay down with the boy between them, and the bryde spread the deer-skin over them and went out.

Their son Skarphedin had seen it all and said: "Our father goes early to bed, but he's an old man."  Skarphedin and his brothers Kåre and Grim caught the fires as quickly as the outsiders threw them in, and this went on for a time. But then a beam fell down from the roof, and Skarphedin said: " Now is father dead and we heard nothing, neither mourning or coughing." The brothers went to a place, from where they might escape. Skarphedin told Kåre to jump first, and then he would follow. Kåre tricked the flock outside by throwing a burning beam on them, and they had to jump aside. Kåre's clothes and hair were on fire, and he jumped from the roof and run along the smoke. One of Flose's men said: "Wasn't that a man jumping from the roof?" - "No, not at all," said another. "It was Skarphedin throwing a fire down on us." But Kåre run, until he came to a brook, where he put out the fire in his clothes and hair.

Skarphedin run out upon a roof beam, but it broke under him. "Now I see how it has to be," he said. He went up to his brother Grim. They held each others hands while stomping on the fire, but Grim dropped dead. Skarphedin went to the house gable, but suddenly a huge roar sounded. The roof fell down, and Skarphedin was squeezed between the beam and the wall. He couldn't move. 

Flose and his men stayed by the farm into the break of the morning. A man came riding up to them. Flose asked his name, and he said he was Germund. "You have done  a great deed here," he said. Flose replied: "You may call it both great deed and misdeed, but there is nothing to do about it."

A thousand years have gone and what have we learned? A great question. Do we need another thousand years, before we get rid of war and hunger and disease? Will they in a thousand years from now say that we lived in another dark age ?

Source: The Icelandic Sagas, Njáls Saga; Skalk, Archaeological magazine, 4, 1959, Kristján Eldjárn.

photo: grethe bachmann

Friday, August 12, 2011

When the Dog was a Soldier in Arms


The domestic dog (Canis Lupus Familiaris) is the domestic animal, which was the first to be tamed by man - and it shares the longest history with us. The dog was throughout history used for hunting, as watch dog, war dog, bloodhound, rescue dog - or just our friend and companion. It is a service dog for blind and disabled people and works for the police as their rescue dog, it is tracing drugs or works as a therapy-dog. A dog is also able to sniff his way to a cancer and to predict epileptic  seizures.

Dogs and War

Dogs and war go back a long way. More than 4.000 years ago the ancient Assyrians, the Persians and the Babylonians used Mastiffs, wearing spiked collars, to attack their enemies. The Romans were the first to train war dog-units. The dogs wore spiked collars and armour, and unleashed in the forward line of the battle they attacked the enemies legs, causing them to lower their shields and be more vulnerable to attack. Attila, king of the Huns from 433 AD until his death in 453 AD, used giant Molossian dogs, precursors of the Mastiff, and Talbots, ancestors of the Bloodhound, in his campaigns.



Ancient Egyptian wall writings, thought by some to date back to 4.000 BC, depict savage dogs, straining on leashes held in the hands of Egyptian warriors, and leaping on their enemy. Ancient Egyptians raised Saluki hunting dogs. Saluki means noble one.In Iraque show the old Assyrian temple walls bas reliefs of huge Mastiff battle dogs, wearing spiked iron collars, to create fear among enemies. The regions of Rome used both giant Mastiffs and Molossian hounds while civilizing the western world, according to their scribes.  Attila the Hun used a drove of large dogs to stand as entries around his camps, so as not to be surprised by his enemies. 

A little story about the dog Delta in Pompei: It was found stretched out beside a child. Delta wore a silver collar which told that he belonged to Servenius? whose life he had saved from a wolf.

Pliny the Elder wrote of squadrons of fierce dogs, that fought in the ranks beside the Colophonians of Asia Minor against the Ionian enemies. After the battle was over, they were harnessed to carts hauling treasure back home. In Roman times and in the Middle Ages ran mastiffs into battle against mounted knights wearing light armour and  carrying spikes and pots of flaming sulphur and resin.

William the conqueror

Bloodhounds were first imported to England just about the time of the Norman Conquest in 1066, and quite possibly by William the Conqueror, who was also regarded as a great hunts man. William the Conqueror used such hounds back home in France to support his troops as well as to run down opponents of the family regime. When William took forces to England in 1066, his St. Hubert hounds guarded and defended his army camps and followed remaining dissenters to the end of any trail. 

Moss troopers
Edward I Longshanks used bloodhounds on his borders of Scotland to track down the notorious "moss troopers" ; their raids across the borders became so outrageous that the government ordered a train of warning beacons to be established and tracking dogs kept  in the various districts to assist the crown forces.
On occassions Longshank's bloodhounds quarry was of noble birth. Robert the Bruce escaped them only by wading down stream to lose his scent - and much later in history they ran down the luckless duke Monmouth after the Battle of Sedgemoor in 1685.

The bloodhound who takes his name from blooded hound or purebred, traces back to the St. Hubert hounds of the seventh century AD, when everybody who was anybody kept their own pack of dogs.In Europe the Middle Ages saw the purebred dog become the prized possession of kings, noblemen and surprisingly church officials, as a new age developed for the dog, when hunting for sport became popular. Dogs were crucial participants in the hunt, and specialized breeds were developed to fulfill  various roles. Nobles kept large packs of hunting dogs, including those that used sight or scent to hunt, and Mastiffs, large dogs, used against boar and stag. Emperor Maximilian had 1500 dogs.

In 1518 good king Henry VIII of England presented 400 battle mastiffs with iron collars to Charles V of Spain, then at war with France. The Spanish mastiffs were set on the French dogs in the siege of Valencia, and drove them from the field with their tails between their legs. The English dogs perform such splendid service in the Renaissance that they were recommended by king Charles and held up as an example for his troups.  

In 1599 queen Elisabeth dispatched her court's favourite, the Earl of Essex as "Lord deputy of Ireland" with an army of 22.000 men, including a large force of bloodhounds, to put down the chieftain rebellion. Dogs had long been used against individual Irish, Scot and Welsh dissenters, but the Essex force of 800 hounds and their handlers may have been the first use of official war dogs in England.

During the Middle Ages were war dogs outfitted with armor and frequently used to defend caravans.
The Great Dane and the mastiff  accompanied their masters into battle fitted with spiked collars and occassionally their own suit of armor. A number of breeds were developed for a sport of another kind, bull and bear rating as well as rat catching and pit-bull fighting. To protect dogs against the hazards of antlers and tusks would the owners protect their dogs with padded quilt wests and on rare occassions plate and mail armor.

The English Mastiff and Greyhound became standardized recognizable breeds this time, as did a few of the herding breeds. The lap dog finally became popular in Europe, as the ladies of the court took to them as "comforters".  Even the dog collars became a measure of the dog's importance, some examples being made of gold, silver, white leather and velvet. Church documents show that it was common of the parishioners to bring their dogs to services with them as footwarmers. They became objects of a number of laws. The ownership of a Scottish deerhound or Greyhound was kept off limits from all but nobility.Gifts of war dog breeding stock between European royalty were seen as suitable tokens for exchange throughout the Middle Ages.

In the early part of the 14th century the French navy started to use attack dogs in France to guard naval dock installations. These were used up till 1770, when they were abolished after a young naval officer was unfortunately killed by one of the dogs.Battle between war dogs of opposing armies took place on several occassions, once during the Swiss-Burgundian war of 1476, and another during the battle of Merta - the Swiss dogs destroyed the canines of Burgundy.The Spanish conquistadors used armoured dogs that had been trained to kill and disembowel when they invaded the land controlled by South American natives.
The first official use of dogs for military purposes in the United States was during the Seminole Wars.  The American Pit Bull Terrier was used in the American Civil War to protect, send messages, and as mascots in American World War I propaganda and recruiting posters.

The dog is still used as the soldier's helper and rescue dog. The latest example from 2011 is unique: United States Navy Seals used a Belgian Malinois war dog named Cairo in Operation Neptune Spear, in which Osama bin Laden was killed.

Sources: K-9 Military History, War Dogs; Documentary History about Dogs; Wikipedia, War Dogs.

Yesterday I was a dog. Today I'm a dog. Tomorrow I'll probably still be a dog, sigh! There's so little hope for advancement.