January 2014

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Posted by Ellen

This is not, of course, a New Zealand sheep; it's a Dutch sheep, trimmed to look not so much like a sheep, at the behest of Amsterdam artists Lernert & Sander, who'd been hired by a newspaper to illustrate a series on the theme of family.

Human families, needless to say, have black sheep. What about black sheep families? It took dog groomer Marieke Hollander almost a full day to do up this sheep like a French poodle, but the result was, at least arguably, quite a black sheep among black sheep.

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Big brother is thirty-six and counting. He's got the young'un trained.

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Our niece Avi, in shades, and her friend Tahu put their heads together in the noonday sun at the farmers' market in Dunedin, New Zealand. Tahu had a singing gig at the market that day, with her band Tahu and the Takahes.

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On a day like this, all the neighborhood cats stayed indoors snoozing by the heater.

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On Sunday afternoon, there was nyckelharpa music in the air at Third Street Gallery on Second Street (don't ask) in Philadelphia's Old City.

That doesn't happen too often in Philly or really anywhere in the United States, with the possible exception of the Seattle area, home to the American Nyckelharpa Association and site of occasional dance evenings accompanied by nyckelharpists.

In Sweden, on the other hand, there are an estimaed 10,000 nyckelharpa players, and the keyed fiddle is featured on the back of the 50-krona note and has in fact been declared the country's official musical instrument. Swedes have been building and playing and composing music for nyckelharpor for more than six hundred years. Five-hundred-year-old stained glass windows feature angels playing the nyckelharpa.

The modern version of the instrument has 16 strings, 4 of which are played by the bow; the other 12 vibrate sympathetically, producing a resonant, vaguely organ-like sound.

The bowed string on the upper side of the neck, closest to the player's body, is a drone, unaffected by the keys and used rarely. The other three bowed strings can be shortened by pressing different keys to produce several octaves' worth of tones; there are three rows of keys, each dedicated to a different string.

Most nyckelharpa music harks back to folksong or polka, but the instrument is used by a handful of Swedish rock bands, and some serious musicians can play pretty much anything on it, such as Bach's Partita No. 2 in D Minor.

The nyckelharpa occasion on Sunday was a reception for an art show featuring two Philly-area artists: Judith Schermer, who exhibited twelve paintings of clotheslines, and Priscilla Snow Algava, who showed a variety of drawings and paintings of "matriarchs and sages." 

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Faculty members of Otago University in Dunedin, New Zealand, go the whole nine yards when it comes to academic regalia for graduation ceremonies, such as the commencement we happened upon last month.

We met this academician while waiting in line at a sandwich shop near campus. Arleigh, our kiwi sister-in-law, was clearly enjoying the chance to converse with him.

He was a professor of physical education, we were told, with particular research and teaching interests in the emerging new discipline of parkour.

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We take a brief break from admiring New Zealand in order to catch the view Friday evening from Drexel Park in West Philly, when the center city skyscrapers snagged the sunset.

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Public restroom on Queen's Wharf in Wellington, New Zealand.