Tree Tuesday

Tree Tuesday gets around and this week we’re in Finland on Uunisaari Island in Helsinki with a grouping of birch trees sent to us by Ice Swimmer. Birches are a favourite of mine and Ice Swimmer’s photograph shows them off perfectly with that beautiful white bark standing out in the sun and their small, delicate leaves silhouetted against the blue sky. Gorgeous.

Thanks Ice Swimmer.

Birches in Uunisaari, ©Ice Swimmer, all rights reserved



Anatomy Atlas Part 18 – Arm Muscles

I mentioned that hands are a marvel – and so are arms. However the muscle structure is a bit weird.

©Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

If you have ever wondered why biceps are called biceps, now you have the answer. The musculus biceps brachii splits into two parts on the upper end  and each is attached to a different part of the shoulder-blade. Whilst it its the most prominent muscle and its development is seen as a sign of strength, biceps is not the strongest flexor in the arm. That is in fact musculus brachialis which lies underneath, connects to ulna it and generally is not seen very much.

Professor Kos mentioned that this arrangement of these two muscles leads to one peculiar thing – flexing of the arm can exert more force when done palm up, than when palm down. Why? Because when the palm is directed down, the musculus biceps has its load bearing tendon wound around the radius to which it is connected. Therefore it cannot flex without also trying to turn the hand palm up.

So when lifting things by flexing your arm palm-down, only two muscles – m. brachialis and m. brachioradialis – can exert force, whereas palm up the m. biceps can join for more strength.

Why is it like this I do not know, but had it been designed, the engineer would deserve at least a pay cut.

Barcelona: The City 5: Streets

While there are few green areas in the centre, there are wonderful planted balconies and lovely squares. One thing is that apart from the pretty fountains there are water fountains everywhere that keep the population on two legs as well as four legs hydrated.

A balcony with overgrowing plants

©Giliell, all rights reserved

Fountain in the middle of a sunlit place.

©Giliell, all rights reserved

Pigeons bathing in a fountain.

Another pigeon bath
©Giliell, all rights reserved



As you may remember, our lovely bunny Pünktchen died some weeks ago, and of course, the first thing my dad did when he returned from their holiday was to take the little one to the breeder to get a new one. The guy breeds bunnies for shows, so those who don’t fit his breeding needs are sold as pets, which shows again that those things are stupid as the new bunny is the cutest.

So here’s the first pics of the new family member. Let’s start with Molli, being very hot and not suspecting that life would change again.


Brown rabbit dozing in the shade

Effin’ heat wave when you’re wearing a fur coat.
©Giliell, all rights reserved

And here he is, Fleckchen.

Brown and white bunny

©Giliell, all rights reserved

Face of brown and white bunny

©Giliell, all rights reserved

Face of brown and white bunny

Isn’t he pretty?
©Giliell, all rights reserved

Translating his name got me thinking again. Now, first of all, in German we make things small by adding -chen, which doesn’t always work in English. While you get a baby and a kitty, you don’t have a “cary”, meaning a little toy car. Now, the former bunny was “Pünktchen”. A “Punkt” can be a dot, but also a spot, which would be the more usual term for describing an animal’s coat. A “Fleck” is something like a larger dot. It can be a spill on your clothing, but also the colouring of an animal, so now I have two rabbits named for their coat and they could both be translated as the same word in English. So I went with “Patches” because his coat looks more like a patchwork blanket.

Brown and brown and white rabbit, separated through a fence

Molli and Fleckchen
©Giliell, all rights reserved

Here you can see the first contact between the two, with Fleckchen being in his temporary enclosure, from which he escaped the next day. Thankfully he#s still too young for making baby rabbits.

Barcelona: the City 4: Streets

Wedged in between the mountains and the sea, Barcelona’s streets tend to be narrow and dark, and beautiful.

But it’s also a place where you can see the contrast between rich and poor, with people sleeping rough, begging for change and trying to make ends meet by selling knickknacks. When you come to the harbour you will have the multi-million dollar yachts next to poor immigrants selling cheap sunglases.

I will say one thing in favour of Barcelona and that is that they don’t seem to actively work against the homeless population. There was a spot at Catalunya where our bus arrived and left where a homeless guy had his place, with a small foam mattress and a few belongings. He usually wasn’t there when we arrived, but at least nobody destroyed his things and the police didn’t remove them.

My kids were wondering about the “junk”, not knowing that this was somebody’s home, and when I explained it to them they emptied their pockets and put all their change on the mattress. I was never prouder of them than in that moment.

Narrow street with decorated balconies

Narrow street just off the Rambla. ©Giliell, all rights reserved

Small balcony with many potted plants

©Giliell, all rights reserved

Jack’s Walk

Red Admiral butterfly, ©voyager, all rights reserved

Red Admiral, underside, ©voyager, all rights reserved

The weather here was a bit strange last week. We had very high humidity and bouts of rain, but it was cool making it feel more like late spring than the middle of July. I’m not really complaining, cool is definitely better than sweltering, but it was weird. Today, though, things seem to have reset. The humidity is mostly gone, there isn’t a cloud in the sky and the temp has climbed into the mid-twenties and seems to be staying there. This is what I call a perfect day. So does Jack, who had a welcome spring in his step this morning.

Behind the Iron Curtain part 14 – Greyness

These are my recollections of a life behind the iron curtain. I do not aim to give perfect and objective evaluation of anything, but to share my personal experiences and memories. It will explain why I just cannot get misty eyed over some ideas on the political left and why I loathe many ideas on the right.

Coincidentally my mother mentioned to me that she overheard some talk about people who emigrated from here before the fall of the Iron Curtain, and this year was the first time they visited since then. Allegedly they were speechless when they saw the town.

I find it totally believable, because independently from this I was just thinking about the same – how much the country has changed, visibly, for the better since then. Because if there is one overwhelming association that I have with the “good old times” as some people insist calling them, it is an overwhelming sense of dullness, and not because we mostly have black and white photographs and movies from that era.

Today people are used to simply go and buy things they need. Want to plant flowers in your front yard? Well, you can buy them! Want to paint house bright yellow? Well, buy the paint! That was not always the case. I have already mentioned the scarcity of even some basic goods. And those that were available, were often (not always) of questionable quality, because high quality goods were exported to the west so the regime can actually make some money to run itself.

So most buildings were grey on the outside, no matter whether public or private. Not that it was always intended to be grey – privately people did sometimes at least whitewash the walls, and public buildings occasionally had some not very bright pigmentation in the plaster. But no matter what one did, in a few years time it has turned grey-ish due to the ever-present air pollution and dust. So many people, and most of public projects, did not bother and the favourite finish for facades became so-called brizolit, cheap, durable, low-maintenance and, above all, dull and grey.

Private house owners did what they could at least with the gardens – sometimes. It took real dedication for years to build, for example, rock garden, like one of my aunts had. But even the flowers could not fight against dirt and their bright colours did not last for more than a few days at best. And getting new varieties or replacing dead plants required connections, because, you guessed it, you could not simply go and buy a rhododendron to plant whenever the fancy took you, even if you had the money.

So only houses of those really well-off, well connected, those unscrupulous and those extremely dedicated looked somewhat-fancy at least some of the time.

However as a child I did not know anything else, so I thought this is how it is supposed to be. This is normal. It was only much later, shortly after the Iron Curtain fell, when I had an opportunity to cross the border to Germany and visit the town where I now work. The contrast was incredible. Every garden neatly kept, mostly with at least some decorative shrubbery and a patch of flowers. Facades also well maintained, brightly painted, with whites white, greens green and reds red. Even the macadam streets looked cleaner and it is hard for a road to look clean.

The Iron curtain has really managed only to make the whole country look poor and rather mediocre at its best. The black and white photographs are sometimes actualy an improvement over the real thing.

Barcelona: the City 3: El Mercado de la Boqueria

Just off the big Boulevard “La Rambla” is the big market hall Boqueria. The front is dominated by the stalls that mostly offer their goods to tourists, but in the back you can find the Barceloneses doing their shopping. Fresh fish and fruit and most delicious baked goods for prices that let you forget that you’re supposedly in a tourist attraction.

Colourful displays of sweets and marzip figures.

Marzipan and sweets in the market.
©Giliell, all rights reserved

What I interestingly couldn’t find were signs and comemorative plates of the terrorist attack that happened there last year.