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.

Author: Martin R

Dr. Martin Rundkvist is a Swedish archaeologist, journal editor, skeptic, atheist, lefty liberal, bookworm, boardgamer, geocacher and father of two.

13 thoughts on “December Pieces Of My Mind #2”

  1. “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.”

    As I learned – or was reminded – through a XKCD strip, most of these modern media storage systems have a lifespan shorter than the person who uses them.
    If anything, each generation of these supports runs quickly out of fashion and is replaced by the next hot storage system. And the machineries required to decipher a previous generation of these supports is not made anymore and the existing ones quickly break down and/or are thrown away.
    That being said, vinyls made a comeback, CD audio disks and readers are still produced and sold (although I lost track of which DVD video format is still in use), and USB storage keys have some hope of still being around in a few decades. Well, the ones in my pocket will likely be dead in a decade and replaced by a new generation both smaller on the outside and bigger on the inside.


    1. After the Indian Ocean tsunami, and the realisation that such events caused by subduction on a tectonic boundary would be repeated, with a cycle time of the order of several hundreds of years (roughly 650 in this case), left them (us) (humanity) with the problem of how to warn people hundreds of years in the future that such an event would happen again.

      People in Penang were attracted by the fact that the sea withdrew a long way, revealing the sea bed, and went out to catch stranded fish and crustacea, and died. People in Sri Lanka ran towards to coast to see the big waves coming in, and died. People of the Andaman Islands had oral history of such events, evacuated to higher ground, and none of them died.

      But we can’t rely on oral history. Most people have already forgotten about the event. If I ask someone what happened on 26 December 2004, I get a blank look, even though it was one of the deadliest natural disasters in recorded history. The conclusion reached by researchers employed by the Thai government was that massive monuments need to be built, depicting such an event and how to respond to it pictorially. The Thai government accepted their recommendations, but has not built the monuments. Maybe they have plans to do so, I don’t know, but I doubt it.

      People live happily in Lisbon, despite the certainty that some time in the future it will again be destroyed. People live happily in Napoli under the shadow of Vesuvius, and in Tokyo under the shadow of Fuji. Natural disasters are things that happen to people in poor, under-developed countries, not to them.

      Our flimsy storage media will not help us, no matter how clever they are.


  2. Don’t feel bad about Suomi/Sámi. I have only just realised that it is the howling old owl hunting the horny back toad, not the singer.

    I just assumed that because the singer was the drink and drug addled Elton John, any kind of bizarre behaviour was possible, overlooking the obvious fact that Bernie Taupin is not an idiot.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Seems Taupin wrote the lyrics first, and then John wrote music that didn’t fit the lyrics at this point. Taupin should have gone back and adapted the lyrics IMO.


      1. Yes, I recently watched Rocketman (2019) which was a project that Elton John had wanted to produce for a long time, and he was executive producer, so we can take the real stuff in the film (as opposed to the fantasy stuff) as being factual, and that is the way they did it: Bernie wrote the lyrics and then sent them to Elton to put them to music, which he seems to have been able to do very quickly, without too much deep thought. Well, he was a piano prodigy after all – and, I might add, an extremely impatient person.

        And at that point in that song, it is true that the music didn’t fit the lyrics – Bernie could very easily have modified them to leave out the unnecessary “in the wood” after “back to the howling old owl”, but evidently he was not given the opportunity.


  3. I don’t accept that it is possible to say who is the most beautiful woman in the world. But I am certain that Léa Hélène Seydoux-Fornier de Clausonne is one of them.


      1. I will agree to the extent that I much prefer her without the bright red lipstick. But then I much prefer all women without bright red lipstick.


      1. She has been in heaps of movies, but generally takes parts in English language films where she is not required to talk much because she is somewhat awkward when acting in English, so a lot of them have been fairly short parts. It’s possible you have seen her in heaps of films without realising it – she describes herself as a ‘blank canvas’ and has a chameleon-like quality.

        Blue hair is not her best look.

        It’s a crap film, but I think she has been at her most visually stunning as the evil would-be assassin in Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol. She is the only good thing in that film, but it is worth watching just for her.

        Having not one but two James Bond films (the last one and the next one) to her credit has to say something about what people think of her looks.


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