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Posts Tagged ‘cowboy’

Photo: Pieter Kuiper
Entrance of High Chaparral in Sweden. The Wild West theme park has been used to house Syrian refugees.

I knew that Italians were fascinated by cowboys in the Wild West. I knew they made “spaghetti westerns.” But it turns out that legends of the American frontier have intrigued people in many other countries as well.

In fact, in Sweden, Big Bengt was so fascinated that he built a Wild West theme park, calling it High Chaparral. It employees Syrian refugees, among others.

Reports On the Media (OTM) at WNYC radio, “In the middle of nowhere southern Sweden, there’s a popular Wild West theme park called High Chaparral, where Scandinavian tourists relive the action of the old American cowboy films. For over a year, the park served another function: a refugee camp for some 500 of the 163,000 migrants – many from Syria – who applied for asylum in Sweden in 2015.

“That Syrians would find refuge here actually jibes with High Chaparral’s interpretation of the Old West, which emphasizes the new life that the frontier offered to beleaguered pioneers, and the community that was required to survive there. …

“OTM producer Micah Loewinger traveled to High Chaparral last summer, where he met Abood Alghzzawi, a Syrian asylum-seeker, who embarked on an incredible journey to the Wild West of Sweden. …

“Special thanks to David Smith, author of the forthcoming book Cowboy Politics: Frontier Myth and the Twentieth Century Presidency from University of Oklahoma Press. For more about High Chaparral, check out two fantastic documentaries about the park from David Freid and MEL Films”: here and here. You can listen to the WNYC radio feature here.

I wanted to know more about the park’s founder, so I went to Wikipedia: “Big Bengt was born in 1922 in Brännehylte, Småland. His parents owned a forest farm and a wood mill. Big Bengt was involved in starting [many] companies. His interest in the Wild West was born from coming from a countryside where many had emigrated to America and from the stories they told. Bengt went to the United States himself in 1956 and in 4 months covered 4,000 km. He came back to Sweden with a lot of impressions. When the Swedish national phone company had to get rid of 200,000 telephone poles, Bengt took the opportunity and constructed a fort. When many people started to get curious about the place, he realized its possibilities.”

Photo: Micah Loewinger
Abood Alghzzawi, dressed as a cowboy, poses with other High Chaparral employees in southern Sweden.

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When I was growing up in Rockland County, New York, my parents liked to buy art from artist friends and, when possible, offer other kinds of support. They hired the Hungarian-American artist André Dugo, for example, to paint a portrait of my brother Bo and me sitting in an armchair and reading one of the artist’s children’s books. We often read his book Pete the Crow or the books featuring a cardinal and a blue jay, or the one about the calf that ate the wrong kind of grass and puffed up like a balloon.

One day, Mr. Dugo came to our house to watch television with us. (We had one of the first TVs because my father was writing a story on Dumont for Fortune magazine.) We kept asking Mr. Dugo what he would like to see, and he kept saying he just wanted to see whatever we ordinarily watched.

As we worked our way through several programs, Mr. Dugo noted our reactions, sometimes asking questions.

Not many months after, a children’s book came out. It was called Tom’s Magic TV, and its premise was that a boy traveled through the TV screen and into adventures with sharks, circus clowns, puppets, cowboys and spacemen. Bo and I were not mentioned. The mother didn’t look like my mother. This was an early exposure to children’s-literature research — or poetic license.

I’m pretty sure that Gene Autry was the model for the cowboy adventure.

030916-Toms-Magic-TV-Dugo

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