Psychedelic Circus

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Somebody calls you and you answer quite slowly: a girl with kaleidoscope eyes.

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Hello Maastricht

I like to travel light. My luggage for a five-day conference stay in the Netherlands barely fills a small back pack. Apart from what I wear and carry in my pockets, I’ve got:

  • Netbook computer + charger
  • Smartphone charger
  • Camera + charger + transfer cable. The travel camera is pretty small, but its memory card is an old clunky format that won’t fit into the netbook’s flash reader.
  • GPS navigator + batteries (gotta get some Maastricht geocaches)
  • Two paperback sf books + one work-related book, the new Valsgärde volume
  • Spare undies + socks, wash as needed
  • Spare t-shirts. This time I decided not to buy spares at my destination since I own too many t-shirts. And the last one with faux interlace ornament I ended up buying in Kirkwall is pretty cheesy in a bad way.
  • Toiletry kit

I’m posting this from my room at the Hotel de l’Empereur in Maastricht, member of the Amrâth hotel chain, which is not a place in Tolkien’s Middle-earth but apparently a Frisian term of endearment. Door to door it took me 10½ hours to get here, though I may not have chosen the fastest train route from Brussels airport. The Schengen Agreement appears to work: I got here via Zürich on my Swedish driver’s licence. Note though that I wasn’t wearing a turban.

By the way, at a party with colleagues last night I asked the guy across the dinner table what he’s doing these days. I’d only talked to him once before, years ago, and I hadn’t heard from him since. After telling me interesting stuff about his research he said, “And I needn’t ask you what you’re up to, since it’s impossible not to know”. I guess this means either that this blog and my other writing is endlessly fascinating, or that I am a tiresome self-promoter who spams the public sphere. Or maybe a bit of both.

Giant Vertebra Belongs To Recent Sperm Whale

Follow-up: in July last year I wrote about a giant vertebra that had been found in a lake in northern Sweden at 210 meters above sea level. The find spot hasn’t been near the sea since the end of the latest ice age. This meant that the bone might be very old.

But already in October there was news in the matter. Zoologists determined that the bone belonged to a sperm whale, and a radiocarbon analysis pegged it at only about 100 years of age. So during the big whaling era someone took the vertebra to the lake and threw it in.

Copulation Music

Musical styles can have really weird names. There’s sauce music (salsa), meringue music (merengue), juvenile delinquent music (punk), record collection music (disco), LSD warehouse music (acid house), popular music (pop), you name it. But some of the most intensely loved musical styles have names that mean “copulation music”.

“Jazz” was once a verb meaning “to fuck”. Jazz music was originally played in the better class of New Orleans brothel, where men would listen to music before, well, getting down to some actual jazzing and jizzing.

Likewise with “swing”. A verb meaning “to fuck”. (Here the etymology is less clear as “swing” could denote pretty much anything that moved to and fro rhythmically.)

And, famously, “rock and roll” meant “to fuck” long before it became the name of a musical style. As Little Richard asked Miss Molly in 1956, “While you’re rockin’ and a-rollin’, can’t you hear your mama call?”.

My friend Pär used to live in the apartment under an amorous couple who would jazz, swing, rock and roll loudly with the window open. They clearly wouldn’t have heard anybody, mama or not, calling for them. He once went out onto his balcony, recorded their expostulations and used them as vocals for a techno song.

Anybody here like to listen to swingin’ jazz rock in the bedroom?

GothNet

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In a somewhat less subculture-savvy move, an Internet service provider in Gothenburg has chosen to call itself GothNet. Nothing on their web site suggests that they have any inkling what “Goth” means to most English-speaking people today.

The etymology is complicated. First there was a bunch of Germanic-speaking tribal groups in the 1st Millennium AD: Goths, Götar, Geatas, Gutar, all with names meaning “spillers”, that is, “ejaculators”, that is, “men”. Then during the Renaissance the High Medieval building style with the pointy arches got called “Gothic” as a put-down. (Then Gothenburg-Göteborg was founded in an area once settled by Götar.) Then a Romantic horror fiction genre set in old buildings got called Gothic. Then an 80s post-punk subculture got called Gothic because of the members’ vampiric looks and nocturnal habits. And that’s why GothNet is such a silly name for an ISP catering to suburban breeders.

Update same evening: Here’s Paddy K’s vastly improved version:

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5th Century Regional Brooch Design

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Here’s a piece of fragmentology. In the 19th century a brooch (inset) was found at Vistena in Allhelgona parish, Östergötland. It’s a copper-alloy piece decorated with embossed silver sheet panels in the Nydam style, approx. AD 375-450. In 2008 a member of my metal detector team found part of a similar brooch at Sättuna in Kaga parish, a few tens of kilometers east of Vistena. Apparently we’re dealing with a regional metalworking tradition. The complete brooch measures 57 mm across the head plate, the fragment 42 mm.

Cordwood House

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Yesterday I joined my friend Dendro-Åke, his cousin and their charming wives to check out an example of an old exotic building technique near my home. On Skutudden Point near Baggensstäket (an area I keep writing about, it’s just full of history) are a number of little 19th century buildings along the shore, and at least one of them is a cordwood house, Sw. kubbhus. This building method enjoyed some popularity in Sweden (and a much greater one in Norway) in the 19th century and until the end of WW1. It’s a bit like brick masonry, only you use cordwood instead of bricks and clay daub instead of mortar. And you always orientate the wood perpendicular to the wall.

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The cordwood house on Skutudden is severely damaged from neglect, being an outhouse to a deserted building owned by the council which has neither a road to it nor a jetty. The roof has long since been penetrated by rot, and when that happens a house is doomed unless you do something quickly. Getting it into shape would be costly and involve changing a lot of the structural timber immediately. It would also, I’m afraid, be pretty pointless. Unused buildings rarely survive for long. So the cordwood house won’t be there much longer. But we got some photographs.

Having dug & cleaned a lot of burnt Iron Age wall daub, I can see that when one of these cordwood structures burns, it must produce great numbers of highly characteristic daub fragments. Which I hope I will never have to clean.

Autumn Travel Plans

Dear Reader, if you are in the Netherlands, in England or in Finland and you either a) want to meet me, or b) want to avoid meeting me, I have some important information for you. I am planning to visit those countries over the coming seven weeks. Beware or drop me a line. You have been warned/encouraged.

Velvet Bolete Orgy

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My wife and I made a short mushrooming excursion to Lake Lundsjön after lunch. Little more than half an hour in the woods garnered us only four species, but huge amounts of one: velvet bolete. We went home early simply because we didn’t need more mushrooms. I’m stewing them with cream. Never had shingled hedgehog before.

  • Velvet bolete, Sandsopp, Suillus variegatus
  • King bolete, Stensopp/Karl Johan, Boletus edulis
  • Red russula, Tegelkremla, Russula decolorans
  • Shingled hedgehog, Fjällig taggsvamp, Sarcodon imbricatus

Urban Plastic Owl

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On my way to the Library of the Academy of Letters today I spied something unusual. Somebody on the second floor of Storgatan 30 is having pigeon trouble. They’ve studded the window ledge with nails and stuck a plastic owl to the front of the house.

Those owls are pretty popular. My mom once found one washed up on the seashore near her summer house.