Povel Ramel (1922-2007) was a huge presence in Swedish entertainment for half a century from his first hit song, “Johansson’s Boogie Woogie Waltz”, in 1944. Here’s a song of his from 1968, performed by the beloved comedienne Birgitta Andersson (born in 1933). As it spoofs Gothic horror, it will be interesting to see how my high school pupils react to it as part of our horror fiction course. Chances are they aren’t familiar with either Povel Ramel or Gothic horror.
In December of last year I finished a collection of short humorous archaeological essays. It’s my sixth book, my first one in Swedish, my first one aimed at the lay reader. Since then I’ve been waiting for established Swedish publishing houses to pronounce judgement on it. Five of them have now turned it down, none with any very detailed explanation, but most of them in terms suggesting that they think it’s competently written but it probably wouldn’t sell much.
As a long-time blogger and e-book reader, I am not particularly disheartened by this. After all, this blog has a greater number of hits in a week than the entire first print run of a typical Swedish pop-sci book. And so, here it is, my new e-book, Arkeologi är choklad, inte potatis (“Archaeology is chocolate, not potatoes”)! ISBN 978-91-639-2057-8, both EPUB and MOBI formats. It’s distributed under a Creative Commons, Attribution, Non Commercial, No Derivatives licence. Please help me spread it around! It’s on Academia.edu as well.
(Having said No Derivatives, I should hasten to point out that I would be very happy to talk to anyone who feels like translating the book.)
The book is braided of three strings. One is a reverse chronological series of essays on archaeological periods seen through the lenses of sites I’ve worked on, from the Early Modern at Djurhamn all the way back to the Early Mesolithic with Roger & Mattias at Tyresta. The second string consists of partly quite polemical pieces on what archaeology is like and how it works in Swedish society, including titles like “We never go to Egypt” and “There are no jobs and you don’t want the jobs there are”. The third string is a chronological series titled “My Strange Career”.
To whet the appetite of Swedish colleagues, let me say that I mention a considerable number of names of people in Swedish archaeology whom I have reason to thank, and I talk about a few other possibly identifiable people without mentioning their names.
Roland was Ali Baba and finally managed to win, which was no mean feat given that it’s hard to get the damn game to end at all. You need 20 points to win. But we had 40 points each at the end, because each of us had gotten stuck with annoying disability cards which said plainly that you couldn’t win while having them and were really hard to get rid of.
Ali Baba’s story would have been well worth chronicling, particularly the bits where he kept trying to get home to his wife in Sri Lanka and almost got there but drifted away or got teleported – to Ireland, twice! But I played Aladdin, and here’s his story. My favourite bit is the one with the barber.
A poor young man named Aladdin travelled from Baghdad to Shiraz in southern Persia. There he hired someone’s slave as a bodyguard for a visit to his mistress. Sadly the woman really disliked the slave’s looks, so she refused to let Aladdin in and instead cursed him. Aladdin decided to forget about her and head for China. In the Central Asian mountains he came upon a mystical fire but escaped harm by means of prayer. The experience toughened him up. Then our hero ran into some cheerful brigands. He attacked them and was badly hurt by a spear.
Though wounded, Aladdin soon reached the great Chinese city of Suzhou and found a secret temple frequented by evil fire-worshipping Magi. He tried to blend in among the congregation to steal valuables, but was unmasked. Only the intervention of a friend saved the young man, who ended up with a consuming envy of rich people.
Aladdin rode a boat south along the coast and went ashore in a mountainous region. There he happened upon another one of those secret evil fire temples. This time he prudently reported his discovery to the Sultan. The wise and powerful ruler of the Muslim world somehow had this Chinese temple torn down, but forgot to reward Aladdin. The young man’s covetousness grew even worse. He headed for the city of Gaya in eastern India.
In Gaya Aladdin tried to help an insomniac wizard. When he failed, the wizard had him dragged behind a horse until near death. After this harrowing experience, Aladdin decided to make a pilgrimage to Mecca. But first he debunked a snake-oil salesman. The bystanders were so impressed by Aladdin’s learning that one young woman offered to marry him. He refused and instead went south to Tana. Here a chained Ifrit asked him for help. Aladdin refused and was tricked into drinking magical water. Suddenly he was a woman!
The confused young (wounded, mangled, covetous) woman went to Muscat in Arabia where she was beaten and crippled by a Jinn. Continuing on up the Persian Gulf to Basra, she made the acquaintance of an extremely talkative barber who began pursuing her relentlessly in order to bore her further with his endless blabbering. Fleeing the barber to Mecca, she completed her pilgrimage and managed to hide from her pursuer. She was now a Hajjah. However, the barber was so angry with her that he spread evil rumours of her all around Mecca and she became publicly disgraced.
Having shaken the barber off her trail, Hajjah Aladdina went to eastern Turkey and helped a beautiful enchantress get rid of an annoying former lover. She simply pointed out the risk the man was running of getting turned into a toad. This little victory was enough to turn Aladdina into a respected magician and master storyteller. She immediately decided to go on another pilgrimage, this time by way of Hamadan in northern Persia. Here she carelessly asked a madman for directions and got completely lost. Before finding her way again she was chewed upon by an unspecified beast.
Back in Mecca, Aladdina witnessed a house fire. Drinking from a water bucket, the crippled young woman became violently ill. But she completed her second Hajj. Travelling through the desert in this state, she came upon a mystical river where she took a boat ride and caught four magical fishes. Pleased with her catch she rested to regain her strength.
Arriving in Damascus, Aladdina was hypnotised and robbed by a magician. Ali Baba came travelling through town, and Aladdina made sure he too caught the illness she had contracted in Mecca. She then went back into the desert again where she safely performed meteorological studies of a great storm. Ali Baba came along and paid her to treat his illness. Nobody could explain why Aladdina couldn’t administer the same effective treatment to herself.
Our heroine now went by sea to Rome where for some reason she beat up a disabled man she had never seen before, calling him a “wicked hunchback”. This behaviour suggests that she may have been losing her grip on reality. Indeed, from this point on her tale begins to become strange even by Arabian Nights standards.
It seems that Aladdina travelled to Adrianople in western Turkey. Here she assisted a beautiful sorceress in a magical ritual, which failed. Aladdina then visited a magnetic mountain, where a ghost treated her to an evening of drinking and conversation before whisking her away to a haunted house – in southwest Khazakstan (!). Here an Ifrit showered her in gold, she told stories to it, and she believed that she had somehow been made Sultan.
“Sultan” Aladdina travelled south to Daybul in Pakistan. Here, despite being fabulously rich, she robbed a princess and received yet another curse. Our erratic heroine then went by boat to Zeila in Somalia where she avoided dealing with a chained Ifrit but instead ran into a vizier who was being chased by a mob. He hastily put his clothes on the unresisting madwoman and ran away, leaving her to get beaten by his pursuers. And at this point news came from Baghdad about Ali Baba winning the game.
Here’s my translation of a classic 1979 revue routine by Hans Alfredson and Tage Danielsson. Kramfors is a town of 6000 inhabitants in central Sweden, near the 62nd parallel.
TD: New religions keep popping up like mushrooms, and now it’s time for the – ubiquitous in entertainment these days – Religious Corner. Sitting next to me is a fellow man [HA: “Flatterer”] … a co-slipper on the endless unsanded sidewalk of life. And I would like to ask you a straight and direct question: do you believe in God?
HA: No, in Lind. Robert Lind in Kramfors.
TD: Is that someone you know?
HA: No, but I believe in Him.
TD: But you don’t know if He exists?
HA: I believe He does. I’m almost convinced that He exists. I can sort of feel it in my entire body that He exists. Yes, I believe He exists. The answer is “yes”.
TD: So this is something inside of you?
HA: Yes, I believe, I sort of know. Also, I’ve felt that I could hear His voice.
TD: How so?
HA: I called Him.
TD: How do you know it was Him? It might have been Bosse Parnevik [a popular impersonator at the time].
HA: I don’t think so. Parnevik was on tour in Finland at the time.
TD: But my dear friend, do you have any evidence for the existence of Robert Lind?
HA: Well, evidence, you know, it’s hard to come by. But He does advertise every week. I think that’s a kind of evidence. Last week for instance there was a big ad in the Saxon weekly, for a biodynamic health bike in rugged Hammer Plastic, and other things. You know, He has this mail order company in Kramfors, “Robert Lind in Kramfors Ltd.”, you’ve heard of them, right?
TD: But I don’t understand, how can a person learn Robert Lind’s will?
HA: Well, prices and stuff are in the catalogue…
TD: Yes, but if you are troubled and want contact, everyone can’t just call Him, can we?
HA: That’s true, it would get expensive if everyone called. Kramfors is after all outside the Stockholm area code. But I usually call from work, that’s the kind of guy I am. Simply a bad boy!
TD: But I was thinking of Him [gestures towards the ceiling], He must get completely swamped by calls.
HA: Yes, that may very well be true. He did seem a little miffed last time I called. He said, “You again? Dammit, there’s got to be an end to this now!”. This suggests that the End is nigh.
TD: But if this Robert Lind really does exist [HA: He does! He does!], then do you feel that he may have existed for all eternity?
HA: Yes, in the beginning was Robert Lind, yes, box, all right.
TD: But how do you know?
HA: I can feel it. And besides, my mother says so. I asked my mother, and she said, “Oh, Robert Lind in Kramfors, they must have been around for ever”. You aren’t suggesting that my mother is a fibber?
TD: Certainly not!
HA: Watch it or I’ll sic the old lady on you! She’s strong! Middle-weight Olympic winner.
TD: Please understand that these are all new concepts to me. How do you picture Robert Lind?
HA: I think he’s short and fat. Or tall and muscular. He’s got hairy legs. I don’t know, I’m just guessing, sort of imagining him. I’ve got a diffuse, a diffident idea of Him.
TD: How do you picture the Afterlife?
HA: That’s a bit clearer to me. I believe that when you die, you go to Kramfors. But if you’ve been wicked, then you’ll have to stay in Dals Långed.
TD: What is your mental image of Kramfors itself?
HA: I think it’s all light and beauty. But Dals Långed is a hellhole.
TD: And I suppose that Robert Lind rules the quick and the dead?
HA: I wouldn’t go that far. But He has a certain influence, at least in Kramfors. You see, He’s on the Municipal Council. He’s a very powerful person. Generally speaking, I’ve devoted my life to Him. I’ve become a sales agent! Can I offer you a set of garden furniture in pressure-treated softwood? Four pieces? Including a couch?
TD: No, really, I demand a bit more of the One I believe in than a set of garden furniture in pressure-treated softwood, including a couch, four pieces.
HA: Oh. Well, then you’re talking to the right person, because there’s a soap dish included as well!
Someday My Prince Will Come (from the 1937 animated Disney feature Snow White)
Come Dance With Me (sung by Frank Sinatra, 1959)
Come Together (John Lennon, 1969)
Here You Come Again (Dolly Parton, 1977)
Come Unto Him (Dan Carter, 1996)
Come Cover Me (Nightwish, 2000)
Don’t Know Why I Didn’t Come (Norah Jones, 2002)
The 1983 Frankie Goes To Hollywood hit ”Relax” must be seen as a reaction to this lyrical consensus, cautioning the listener to ”Relax, don’t do it, when you want to come”. It is perhaps no surprise that it was banned from radio play by the ever orgasm-friendly BBC.
Wolf warrior David Huggins reminded me of the greatest conundrum in finer etiquette: how a gentleman should behave when approaching the lower end of a narrow staircase while in conversation with a lady.
All men know that it is courteous to hold open doors and allow others to pass before us, not only ladies but anyone really. But the staircase imposes a separate and sadly little-known rule.
You do not walk behind a lady up a staircase, because this will give the impression that you are ogling her legs/posterior.
The problem has no solution unless you are willing to ask the lady every time which of these two etiquette rules she is aware of and which of them she feels has higher priority. You can’t excuse yourself and flee every time there’s a staircase in your path to dinner. On every narrow staircase, with every lady, you will wonder either “Does she think I’m staring at her ass? Hey, nice ass, come to think of it” or “Does she think I’m rude for barging away onto the stairs and leaving her behind?”
This is priceless. There’s a line of scented candles and other spa treatment paraphernalia called Voluspa. Volu-spa, get it? Now, the firm shows no awareness of what their chosen name means. Völuspá is a long Old Norse poem in the Poetic Edda, dealing with the creation and eventual destruction (and re-creation) of the world. It’s title means “Prophecy of the Seeress”, and it’s known as one of the most majestic pieces of writing in its language. With this name, the candlemakers are either just oblivious, or they’re judging that their target market doesn’t know much about the Viking Period.
I am now going to start a bakery, marketing my pretzels as Heimskringla and my cakes as Ecclesiastes.