Jun 24, 2018

The Umeå City Fire and The Great Seattle Fire

I remember it as the day Umeå was on fire was Midsummer’s Day. But checking it up now I am learning it was on June 25, so I am probably wrong. Since back in the days Midsummers was at the actual day of the summer solstice. Nevertheless it was around Midsummers and the year was 1888.

The Great Seattle Fire happened the year after, 1889, on June 6. And the man causing it was a Swede.

The pre-summer in Umeå had been extremely dry. Not a single millimeter of rain had been registered at the meteorological station at Midsummers. The same goes for Seattle the year after. Beautiful weather with the downside of very little rain.

At this time and age it wasn’t unusual for whole cities burning. Therefore, in Umeå smoking in public places was prohibited this June 1888, on Midsummer’s Day the north east wind turned into a storm.

Minutes after 1 PM June 25 the city hall bells rang. There was a fire in the attic of the brewery close to the Umeå River. In spite of the city being prepared for this kind of situation, the fire spred fast through shingles from the stick roof, landing on close by lots in the hard wind. 

On the afternoon of June 6 1889 in Seattle, John Back, a Swedish assistant in Victor Clairmont's woodworking shop at the corner of what is now First Avenue and Madison Avenue, was heating glue over a gasoline fire. Sometime after 2.15, the glue boiled over, caught fire, and spread to the floors which were covered by wood chips and turpentine. He tried to put the fire out with water, but that only served to thin the turpentine and spread the fire further.

In Umeå the fire escalated both to the west and east, cutting off the access to the fire hoses. As the crew risked being surrounded by the fire they had to stop their work, and, like everyone else in Umeå this day, try to save what ever they could of their belongings and escape the fire.  

In a couple of hours the fire in Seattle was out of control. Explosions of a liquor store and two saloons fuelled the situation by immense amounts of alcohol and the entire block from Madison to Marion was on fire. Due to how the Seattle water system was constructed, the fact that the tide was out and the wind rising, by 4 PM most residents realised that downtown Seattle was doomed.

The fire in Umeå kept escalating up until 7-8 PM when it was stopped by the birches at Östra Esplanaden (the East Esplanade). There was only one house left within the area for the fire. No casualties were reported, but 2500 people out of the Umeå population of 3000 were homeless when the sun set behind the dark ash sky. 

Those who were able to hire wagons in Seattle did so, to haul belongings onto ships before they moved out of the harbor away from the wharves, which were on fire. The city fire burned until 3 AM. When it eased out, the damage was enormous. 25 city blocks had been destroyed. Although the loss of human life was evidently low the total losses counted in money may have been as high as 20 million dollar.

The Umeå City Fire was of course a catastrophe. At the same time it became a turning point. The new city center was planned around wide avenues lined with birches, the tree so dense with water that it stopped the fire. Today Umeå is called The City of Birches. This new era also seemed to change the self esteem of the city, aiming for more than it once was and with a progressive approach.

Seattle took little time to mourn. At 11AM on June 7, 600 businessmen met to discuss how to cope with the current situation and plan for the future. Wooden buildings were banned in the burned out district to be replaced by brick. At the same time, streets were raised up to 22 feet (6 meters) in places, helping to level the hilly city. It is really interesting to take the Seattle Underground History Tour, walking the streets under Pioneer Square which are the rests of the original Seattle downtown before the great fire.

120 and 119 years later Umeå and Seattle are both thriving. Locomotives at the north east coast of Sweden and the north west coast of the US. Doing good. The pre-summer in Sweden has been extraordinary warm and sunny, and the driest in modern history. We have already had many difficult wild fires, but thankfully it is unusual to see cities burn nowadays.

Midsummer Eve the sky finally opened, draining us in heavy rain, strong winds and cold temperatures. On our most celebrated day, that weather wasn’t what we wanted. But much needed. And maybe I will finally dare setting the match to all the paper building up in my kitchen fire place through these dry months? I’m not so sure.

Today has been a gorgeous day. 21°C (70°F), and a perfectly clear sky. I’ve spent the afternoon in the sun on my west wall with an Arnold Palmer, watching the wind in my cherry trees. 

On this Midsummers Sunday evening the sun will set at 11.09 PM, the same as Summer Solstice three days ago. After a brief rest it will rise again at 2.15 AM. We have now lost 1 minute in this cycle of the planets where we live our lives following the rules of the Milky Way, invisible for about 1,5 more months. 

Jun 17, 2018

Jean-Claude Arnault prosecuted / Swedish Academy part 4

At the heart of the Swedish Academy crises stands an accused sex offender. An accused sex offender denying his actions is pretty much the reason to why there won’t be a literature Nobel Prize in 2018. 

The man will now be prosecuted for rape in two cases. As he is not yet found guilty most Swedish media is not publishing his name. Though, as it is well known, I am choosing to. The name of the man is Jean-Claude Arnault.

It was at the start of the Me too-movement fall 2017 that 18 women came forward with their stories of being sexually offended by Jean-Claude Arnault. As a big player in the elite of the top art scene in Stockholm he was in position to use this power towards mostly younger women in the beginning of their career within that scene. Being close friends with members of the Swedish Academy and married to an author who later was selected for Chair nr. 18 in the Academy gave him a golden playing field for his manipulative and offensive behaviour, and access to vulnerable objects to prey on.

As for today 29 women are accusing Jean-Claude Arnault for various types of sexual offences. And he will now be prosecuted for rape in two cases. Seven witnesses will be heard at the trial. His friends within the Swedish Academy are still blind and deaf to this history which has been going on for decades on the scene where they are all players. 

Jun 10, 2018

The perfect pre-summer work camp!

It couldn’t have been more perfect, not in any sense!

Some years now Trouble & Trouble and I have had work camps here at my place at the end of the road. A couple of days during pre-summer and another set of days more towards fall. I make a list of small and big things we need to attend to. I write with a green pen and pimp the paper with colourful flowers. This will be fun!

Attitude is everything! Because a lot of times it isn’t all that fun. It can be cold and so rainy most of the things on that list are impossible to even get to. And often times the point with highest priority are anything but fun. Two years ago, for example, we spent the pre-summer days clearing out the coach house/wood shed from four generations collection of everything. It was 27°C (80°F), so the opposite to cold and rain, and my brave and totally exhausted sons filled a full size truck to the rim for later unloading at the recycling center. Gosh. I still feel bad thinking about it.

That cleaning out was the start of Project Saving the Coach House/Wood Shed. The coming fall The Men With their Big Machines from my village lifted the building which had sunk down about a foot into the moist grassy soil at the front. It should have been done 25 years ago, but that’s how it goes.

It’s been a slow project including taking out the rotten parts of the wood at the bottom front of the building replacing with fresh new. And digging out a foot af soil and grass from the ground at the front, replacing it with gravel not allowing the moist to get to the wood. The last piece in the puzzle happened these last few days. Digging away a jungle of bushes at the beautiful stone foundation of the long gone barn, facing the wood shed, replacing the area with topsoil for becoming a piece of lawn. And in-between the gravel and the lawn-to-be, a sturdy 6x6 inch square wood in the ground separating the two areas.

For our work camp, my list is essential. And it’s important ta have the mix of big and smaller tasks to attend to. The smaller ones you can go through fairly quickly and cross them out from the list. Check, check! To gain energy for the bigger assignments.

This weekend the really big one was the finishing up of the coach house/wood shed project. Trouble 1 has spent hours raking the gravel into an even area to walk on. Trouble 2 painted the fresh new wood at the bottom of the front. And together they transferred the two piles of topsoil into an even ground ready for receiving grass seeds. Including trampling the soil to make it more firm. The latter looked really funny, two penguins who I bet will have really soar buttocks tomorrow!

Finally, Trouble 2 painted the 6x6 inch square wood in the ground separating the light grey gravel from the the lawn-to-be black. It looks stunning!

We have had such a flow this weekend, and in addition the weather  couldn’t have been more cooperative.  After a really chilly week the sun was out again, a perfect work temperatur of 18°C (65°F) and a refreshing light wind. On top of that, no insects, not even mosquitos in the shade! And already at our first set of summer work days, most of the points on the 2018 summer list are crossed out!

In the evening the wind has calmed down. Birds are singing their busy  songs and I think I have a swallows nest under my roof. The north sun is dazzling me through my window. Tonight it will go to bed behind my forest at 9.45 PM. It will set at 10.56 PM. To rise 2.21 AM again.

Jun 3, 2018

Dazzled by the north sun

Unfortunately I didn't note the date. When the sun starts hitting my eyes here on my couch in the evening.

I have a window facing north in my upstairs great room. During a brief period of the year the sun reaches that window. I know it sounds crazy but on the 64th latitude the sunshine actually can come from the north.

Right now it’s 8.46 PM. And in the same moment the sun stretched into my north window on it’s way to setting for the night. It’s really bright and can be a bit annoying. Sometimes I have to put my hand up to shade my eyes from it. But in the same time I love it and enjoy it immensely.

So, I didn’t note that day the sun first appeared, it might be three weeks ago or so. And for every evening it’s been reaching a bit further into my window before it tucks itself down behind the forest. I am looking at it. And at my watch. A couple of minutes more every day.

As much as I love those minutes they also make me panic as I know its peak to the north will be in three more weeks and then it starts falling back.

We have had an extraordinary May in Sweden this year! The warmest May since the measuring on a scientific scale covering the whole country started in 1859. And every day since May 5 has been sunny with mostly clear blue skies! 

That’s why I have been able following my north window sun minute by minute. Normally I see the sun once in a while during the brief north window period. Often the sky is cloudy. And suddenly that time is over and I grieve how little the weather circumstances allowed me to enjoy it. 

Starting tomorrow the stable high pressure we have been blessed with will be pushed back. The temperatures will drop and clouds will step in and take up more of the meteorological scene. A more normal northern Swedish summer weather pattern will be in charge.

Today the time for sunset on the 64th latitude is 10.41 PM. Last night the sun dropped behind my forest at 9.32 PM. I am now waiting for the minute check for today. There it was: 9.34 PM!

I really wish there will be more clear evenings for me to follow the sun on it’s way moving north before it starts hiding back towards the west…

Do you want to know when the sun rises tomorrow morning? 2.33 AM.