January Pieces Of My Mind #2

Wawel Castle in Kraków, view across the outer bailey towards the main gate of the inner.
  • Polish level-up: I made żurek soup using home-made sour dough, no prefab.
  • Movie: Don’t Look Up (2021). Funny, touching and science-literate parable about how we’re dealing with the climate crisis. Grade: great!
  • A typo just introduced a previously unknown historical nobleman into the lecture presentation I’m prepping: Earl Modern.
  • Tim Chalamet’s character in Don’t Look Up has the Misfits skull on the back of his jacket. That band’s released only two albums this millennium. He plays a punk antiquarian.
  • Duchowny means “spiritual, priest”. He wants to believe.
  • The voiced retroflex fricative is common in French: Je m’appelle Jean. Polish spells it either RZ or Ż: no problem. But then there are a few words, like the verb drżeć, to tremble… where you have kurwa RŻ.
  • Poetic Polish expression: cisza jak makiem zasiał, “silent like sown poppy seeds”.
  • Yay! Read my first book in Polish! (Relying heavily on Google Translate.) It’s about a zombie girl who lives in a haunted house and wishes she could play with the living kids from the nearby town. Until Hallowe’en comes around and she realises that she can…
  • Stanisław Lem’s pet name was Staszek.
  • The expression “fuckin’ A” is just a careless pronunciation of Fotheringhay.
  • My collection of city street maps, 30 years in the making, has ceased to grow because of my smartphone with GPS.
  • I wonder how many times each semester German students of Ancient Greek erotic poetry make the obvious pun on Archilochus and Arschloch.
  • Walter De la Mare’s 1923 story “Out of the Deep” deals with the fever hallucinations of a young man dying alone of untreated tuberculosis in a richly furnished London townhouse.
  • The price of electricity more than doubled this January over last year’s January. But our house is heated by an air-to-air heat pump. So instead of the equivalent of two good restaurant meals, we’re paying a bit more than four good restaurant meals for electricity this month. I am smug.
  • Historical fantasy is the foundational genre of Western literature.
  • Our daughter passed her driving test! ❤
  • Had some lovely pierogi at this Caucasian place across from an Orthodox church. Chinese dumpling connoisseurs such as my wife might not be entirely on board with them though. There was chopped dill in the dough and they were served with dill mayo…

January Pieces Of My Mind #1

First picture of a spacecraft over another planet: Tianwen-1 in orbit around Mars, photographed from a jettisoned micro-spacecraft that talks to the mother probe over wifi.
  • Suddenly remember the high schoolers I taught who asked if there was a movie they could watch instead of reading the book. *facepalm*
  • The 6th most cited of my publications is the journal version of my third term paper. Apparently for a combination of reasons: useful contents, highly visible online, has had 27 years to gather citations. Also take a moment to consider what it says about a 22-y-o when he thinks his third term paper should be in a journal…
  • Reading Magnus Västerbro ‘s excellent book about the Swedish plague outbreak of 1710. Learned something nasty: fleas leave dead bodies. So when everyone’s died in a building, the infected fleas move to the rats there, who take quite a long time to die from the plague. And when the rats are all dead… by that time some new people may have moved in.
  • Achoo is apsik in Polish.
  • Booster shot is Auffrischungsimpfung in German.
  • In Medieval and Early Modern churches, rich and important people were often buried indoors under the floor. More exactly, the coffin would be placed in a masonry burial vault — not in fact buried. This meant that for months after a funeral, churchgoers in pews near the grave would smell the slow microbial decomposition of someone they might have known during every church service.
  • A bit more than a year ago Sweden’s foremost pseudo-geology proponent N-A. Mörner died. A few weeks ago Sweden’s internationally most well-known Biblical pseudo-archaeology proponent Lennart Möller died.
  • Movie: Disney’s Fantasia (1940). Amazing psychedelic imagery set to amazing orchestral music. Grade: amazing!
  • Leopold Stokowski’s treatments of Bach in Disney’s Fantasia are the least Baroque versions I’ve ever heard of Baroque music, barring 70s rock bands.
  • Yesterday 1) I made friends with a small dog. 2) She growled and snapped at me because I tried to pet her when she was on her favourite couch. 3) We were friends again. 4) She growled and bit my hand hard because I sat on her favourite couch. 5) She begged me for some food. 6) She fell asleep on my foot.
  • Movie: Gimme Danger (2016). Jim Jarmusch’s documentary about the Stooges and Iggy. Grade: great!
  • Been cat-sitting for three weeks. The little dude just got it into his head that the rubberized anti-slip cloth under one of our rugs was a prey animal.
  • Through the years I’ve taken more shots against the flu and tick-borne encephalitis than I can count. But this is the first time that I take three shots against the same disease in eight months. Happy that the vaccine is available!
  • Pondered popular distrust of the government and establishment. Realised that my lack of such is hardly surprising since I consider myself part of the government and establishment. Not because of my party membership, which gives me almost no influence. I trusted the last Conservative government too.
  • Reading Edith Nesbit’s super funny 1899 book The Treasure Seekers. Strange to reach back past most of the children’s literature I’ve ever read to something J.R.R. Tolkien loved as a child. He called Nesbit “an author I delight in”.
  • As a child I was taught this bizarre piece of folk anatomy. To whit: the ring finger is connected differently to your hand than the other fingers, and it is particularly prone to injury. Once there was a famous pianist who over-trained his ring fingers, and it killed him!!! (Apparently this was a really distorted version of Robert Schumann’s fate, with some additional material from ancient ideas about the vena amoris.)

Relatively Woke

Some Twitter conversation and a comment by Aard regular Phillip alerted me to an on-line offensive that the Swedish extreme Right seems to be staging against critical race theory and wokeness. I thought I’d take the opportunity to clarify my own position.

In general politics I’m a member of the Social Democrat party. In US terms this means that I consider AOC and Bernie to be good vanilla politicians. In one Swedish Leftie internal debate, I am on the side of Socialism rather than Identity Politics. I am more interested in your relationship with your employer and the banks than in your skin colour. Of course I’m anti-racist anyway.

But inside the walls of Academia, I part company with many Leftie friends. I like to refer to myself as a member of the Alan Sokal Academic Left. We’re academic Lefties who seek scientific truth first, and want to further Leftie political causes second. You can’t right a societal wrong if it’s impossible to determine if the societal wrong has any objective existence. Nor can you right a societal wrong if there is no way of measuring objectively which methods work.

On an unrelated note, I also like to annoy earnest Leftie humanities colleagues by pointing out that it doesn’t matter in practice what our politics are, because Swedish humanities have almost no political influence or relevance. You can try all you like to “make visible the power structures” in archaeology, it will not move society at large in any particular direction anyway. Also, it’s my opinion that if such activities do not increase our knowledge of societies in the past, then they should receive no archaeological funding. Because archaeology is about material culture and societies in the past.

As for wokeness, we don’t really have a word for that in Swedish that I am aware of. Here the extreme Right often attacks “political correctness” instead, which seems to refer to the same things. My opinions are probably quite woke seen from a US perspective where AOC and Bernie are considered extremists (which makes everyone in European politics laugh). But in the Swedish context my political correctness is middling.

I get along poorly with the woke academic Left because of their bad science/scholarship: their knowledge relativism, their incomprehensible fad jargon and their focus on meta-issues. But I’m fine with their politics.

December Pieces Of My Mind #3

The traditional way for a member of Stockholm’s middle class to learn they are pushing 50: the plasticizer has gone out of your skate straps, leaving them brittle.
  • Have you read the chronicle of the insane giant-worshipping pagan Frank, Gregory of þurs?
  • Another instalment in the ongoing series Martin Very Gradually Comes To Understand Poland. I’ve wondered idly why Polish people are so obsessed with herring, this quintessentially Scandinavian food. Well, turns out, everyone around the Baltic and the North Sea is by tradition completely obsessed with herring, and Poland kind of sort of has a very long Baltic coast.
  • I have plundered the fern / Through all secrets I spie / Old Math ap Mathonwy / Knew no more than I
  • Movie: Time After Time (1979). Jack the Ripper steals H.G. Wells’ time machine. The author chases him to 1979 San Francisco where the killer continues his spree and threatens Wells’ love interest. Grade: OK.
  • SpaceX recently completed its 100th rocket landing. You know, rocket goes into space with stuff and then flies home and lands on its bottom end.
  • Story germ. An archaeologist specialising in Roman London gets a six-week time machine ride into the past. But he doesn’t go to Roman London. He goes to 6th century London to excavate, because he knows that at that time the preservation of Roman layers will be excellent.
  • I feel like a nice walk in the afternoon sun wearing only a t-shirt, shorts, sandals and a straw hat. Maybe go to the lake for a swim? Oh right, this is December in Stockholm. /-:
  • English horses-and-hounds fox hunting: “The unspeakable in pursuit of the uneatable”. /Oscar Wilde
  • The Centrist Polish newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza reports on how us Swedes have pretty much disassociated ourselves from the doctrines of organised religion. Though we are still largely members of the Swedish Church, to have access to traditional rites-de-passage. Swedes are very interested in yoga, which they sometimes practice in churches, and have spiritual ideas about hiking.
  • In this story Lord Dunsany repeatedly emphasises that the town is so old that the houses have gabled roofs, Sw. sadeltak. Confused Swede in the land of heavy snowfall: “Are you saying that other types of roof exist?”
  • Love this! The names of Slavic and Baltic thunder gods are not cognate with Thórr / Thunor / Donar. Instead they are cognate with Fjörgyn, the name of an obscure Nordic goddess. And who was she? Thórr’s mom!
  • Two months now until we can expect snowdrops and crocus around our house.
  • In the 80s I knew somebody who used to answer the phone with “The Swedish Satanist Association Against Drugs”.
  • Funny coincidence: the Aska mead hall was built right around the time when Bede was born over in England.
  • Saw an ad for a video game set in “the ages of medieval empires”. I wonder which empires they mean. The Holy Roman one surely doesn’t count. Maybe they simply assume that video gamers are attracted by the words “age”, “medieval” and “empire”.
  • Movie: Mandy (2018). Weird crazy druggy home invasion and revenge story. Contains many scenes of extreme trippiness and one ridiculously unrealistic cremation. Grade: OK.

Best Reads of 2021

Here are my best reads in English during 2021. The total was 69 books, which is a lot for me. This was mainly because in April I sorted my Goodreads reading queue on page count and then mostly read the shortest books on the list for the rest of the year. 67% of the total were e-books, an all-time high.

Find me at Goodreads! Dear Reader, what were your best reads of the year?

  • Castle Hangnail. Ursula Vernon 2015.
  • The Fall of the House of Cabal. Jonathan L. Howard 2016.
  • So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed. Jon Ronson 2015.
  • Doctor No (James Bond #6). Ian Fleming 1958.
  • First 1/5 of Arthur C. Clarke, Collected stories, 1937-50.
  • Collected Short Stories of W. Somerset Maugham #3.
  • The Wild Girls. Ursula K. Le Guin 2002-11.
  • Slaughterhouse Five. Kurt Vonnegut 1969.
  • The Stone Book Quartet. Alan Garner 1979.
  • The Justice Trade (Ashen Stars RPG). Leonard Balsera et al. 2013.
  • Swords of the Serpentine RPG. Kevin Kulp & Emily Dresner 2020.
  • Suppressed Transmission: The First Broadcast. Kenneth Hite 2000.
  • Nobody’s Fool. Richard Russo 1993.
  • Project Hail Mary. Andy Weir 2021.
  • Time and the Gods. Lord Dunsany 1906.
  • Spoon River Anthology. Edgar Lee Masters 1915.
  • The Palm-Wine Drinkard. Amos Tutuola 1952.
  • Switch Bitch. Roald Dahl 1974.
  • Bronze Age Lives. Anthony Harding 2021.
  • Deep Secret (Magids #1). Diana Wynne Jones 1997.
  • The Pirate. Frederick Maryatt 1836.
  • More Walls Broken. Tim Powers 2019.
  • Murder Me For Nickels. Peter Rabe 1960.
  • Revenge of the Lawn: Stories 1962-1970. Richard Brautigan.
  • Wylding Hall. Elizabeth Hand 2015.
  • Boy: Tales of Childhood. Roald Dahl 1984.
  • An African Millionaire. Grant Allen 1897.
  • The Seedling Stars. James Blish 1956.
  • The Erotic Traveller. R.F. Burton 1969.
  • Primal Sources: Essays on H. P. Lovecraft. S.T. Joshi 2003.
  • Emphyrio. Jack Vance 1969.
  • A Morbid Taste for Bones. Ellis Peters 1977.
  • A Scanner Darkly. P.K. Dick 1977.
  • Rogues and Rascals in English History. Neville Williams 1959.
  • My Planet: Finding Humor in the Oddest Places. Mary Roach 2013.
  • Changing Places. David Lodge 1975.
  • The Perfumed Garden. Umar Ibn Muhammed Al-Nefzawi, 15th c.
  • Werewolves in Their Youth. Michael Chabon 1999.
  • The House of the Seven Gables. Nathaniel Hawthorne 1851.
  • The Samurai. Stephen Turnbull 2016.
  • The Wild Shore. Kim Stanley Robinson 1984.
  • Ice Station Zebra. Alistair MacLean 1963.
  • Minnow on the Say. Philippa Pearce 1955.
  • 50 Years of Text Games. Aaron A. Reed 2021.

Here’s my list for 2020.

Sixteen Years Of Blogging

I started blogging 16 years ago because it was a fad among Swedish journalists and my wife had a blog. The ability to write articles on any subject I like and get them straight out to readers without editorial oversight is immensely appealing to me. By now this body of text also forms a big chunk of my autobiography, starting when I was 33 and my oldest child was seven. (He’s in engineering school now.)

I imagine future historians of archaeology writing that “With Rundkvist’s generation it is never enough to read their conventional publications. With him in particular there is also a very large volume of published writing on relevant issues that has never seen print, yet is available in on-line historical repositories such as the Wayback Machine”.

I’m happy to keep on keepin’ on!

2021 Year In Table-Top Gaming

Tichu

This was the year of vaccination and gradual normalisation. (Who knows though what the omicron variant will do in 2022?) Boardgame night moved back to my place from Patrik’s after the summer.

In addition to boardgaming, I game-mastered nine role-playing scenarios: six in Ashen Stars (space opera) and the equivalent of three in Swords of the Serpentine (sword & sorcery in fantasy Venice). The SotS campaign though is not really divided into discrete quests. It’s like a TV series with long and short story arcs devised by myself with input from the players and the source book. I self-published a scenario for Ashen Stars in April. Took part in three sessions of the GM-less RPG Fiasco and one session of an Aliens RPG — where we all died after completing almost the entire mission because our driver failed a driving roll, sigh. In November I went to an unseasonal LinCon and my friend organised his annual gaming retreat again, though I skipped the latter.

Below are the ten boardgames that I played more than twice during 2021. None of these were new to me. The year’s total was 51 games, way below the normal pre-2020 number of 75-80. This is because of time spent on RPGs instead, not because of the pandemic.

  • Tichu / Zheng fen (1991)
  • Architects of the West Kingdom (2018)
  • Coloretto (2003)
  • Hive (2001)
  • Brass: Birmingham (2018; some tweaks on the original 2007 Brass)
  • Eclipse (2011)
  • For Sale (1997)
  • No Thanks! (2004)
  • The Resistance: Avalon (2012)
  • Roam (2019)

Dear Reader, what was your biggest table-top gaming hit of 2021?

Stats courtesy of Boardgame Geek. And here’s my gaming year of 2020.

December Pieces Of My Mind #2

Żabka convenience stores are everywhere in Poland. The name means ”little frog”. They sell alcohol, including 100 ml bottles of vodka, called małpka, ”little monkey”. So a common joke is that you’re heading for the frog to buy a monkey.
  • There’s a Swedish trampoline gym chain called Yoump. I have a bad feeling about this brand name. I suspect that it was chosen by Swedes who think “jump” is pronounced “yump”. (Also they mistranslate Eng. trampoline as Sw. trampolin.)
  • Talisman and teleology are cognate words.
  • Reading Henry Kuttner’s 1939 short story “The Citadel of Darkness”. It’s a straight-up 1970s D&D adventure without the monster stats.
  • So können wir den scharfen klauen des Feindes unversehrt entgehn.
  • On whom do the Flintstones and Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer go down in history?
  • A group of students at the next café table over in Łódź look like they’re straight out of the Arabian Nights. They’re chatting in Norwegian.
  • The early written record of the Middle East survives on clay tablets. Egyptian papyri survive thanks to the dry conditions. In India though, early palm-leaf writing has almost entirely rotted away in the humidity. We write in microscopic binary pulses on spinning magnetic platters and “persistent” memory chips.
  • Wandered into the conservation lab, found a yellow silk dress from the later 1700s hanging on a dress-maker’s dummy, lifted from the family burial vault of the Leszczyńskis. Beautiful conservation work, you barely saw any staining from the corpse fluids.
  • Sudden etymological insight. The ethnonyms Suomi and Sámi are cognate! I feel like a complete fool for not recognising this before!
  • Am I Slavic yet? I had żurek soup for lunch, and my dinner was potato dumplings with fried onions, sauerkraut and bacon dice — washed down with kwas. Also I can pronounce Szczecin effortlessly.
  • India exports lots of tea. In Polish however, ”Indian tea” refers to any tea regardless of origin when mixed with milk and gingerbread spices. In more westerly countries, this beverage is called ”chai”, which is the north Chinese word for tea. Nobody in northern China puts milk or gingerbread spices in their tea. ”Tea”, meanwhile, is the south Chinese word for tea.
  • Re-reading Phillippa Pearce’s 1955 children’s book Minnow on the Say after 40 years, and it’s still great! (The unfortunate title basically means “This canoe on this river”.)
  • Movie: Pickpocket (1959). Woodenly stylised Kafka-like tale of an unsmiling pickpocket. Grade: ostentatiously boring.

December Pieces Of My Mind #1

Morning view through the leafless vine at our front door
  • Pleased to see the Capitol attackers in front of juries. When is the guy who ordered the attack going to jail?
  • Long-term lifestyle consistency: I am wearing a t-shirt with the logo of a 1982 fantasy role-playing game while doing research at the country’s biggest archaeological library.
  • Press release for Nils Mattson Kiöping’s (and my) new book!
  • I like the fine fabric grain embossed onto the pages of old paperback books.
  • Arts journalists are only interested in runestones if there are Nazis standing next to them and making claims about them.
  • Clicked on the wrong button and Facebook got kind of aggressive. At least pushy. “Go live by yourself or with others”
  • Watched Chekhov’s Seagull at the Royal Dramatic yesterday. Pretty good, though it was confusing that the actors playing the famous established author and the young hopeful author were both the same age. Also confusingly, the hired help wore equally middling-quality costumes as their employers. Things cleared up when I read a summary of acts 1-2 in the intermission.
  • The birds are having trouble pecking at the suet balls outside our kitchen window. Because the balls are frozen solid.
  • On the Real Polish podcast, there’s this faint bass drone that is occasionally heard behind the show host’s vocal recording. I asked him about it, and one of my guesses turned out to be right: it’s the snoring of his dog.
  • Movie: La Daronne / Mama Weed (2021). Police interpreter siezes the opportunity to steal 1.5 metric tonnes of high grade Moroccan hash. While dating the police inspector who investigates the deal. And spoiler, her landlady from Wenzhou is with the Triads. Grade: good!
  • Being Chinese, we have an industrial-strength kitchen fan for all the stir-frying. When I bake bread, steam comes out of the oven and usually it gets blown out of the house by the fan. Today the steam condensed on the inside of the duct and came pouring back down onto the stove as water. The cold has basically turned our fan into a whiskey still.
  • I wonder what kind of discreet interventions the CIA is making into EU politics.
  • Encouraging anecdotal evidence about continued academic freedom in Poland: my buddy who often criticises the right-wing populist government openly on social media was promoted to full professor the other day at Uni Łódź. (And they hired me two years ago.)
  • Tacitus is known as Tacyt in Polish.