November Pieces Of My Mind #3

Out now! ISBN 9789188763266
  • This is one of the sunniest Novembers I can remember! Such a joy and relief! Absolutely detest normal November.
  • Looking through the boxes of donated books for sale at my local scifi con, I noted that Raymond Feist seems to be at the absolute bottom of his popularity right now. A lot of people are getting rid of his books and nobody is buying them. I haven’t read him since I was twelve and was more interested in a novel if it was based on somebody’s D&D campaign.
  • Happy: after several years of unemployment and other problems my buddy from local politics has got a well-paid steady varied people-oriented job as head janitor for a housing development! Also one of my favourite Poles has been made full professor!
  • I kind of pride myself on knowing these things, but the new film Ich bin dein Mensch contains a sexual position that I’ve never come across before and don’t plan to try. Frankly, it seems awkward and unrealistic. 1) It’s a version of the Missionary, only the woman keels over 45 degrees to one side. She’s not on her back and not on her side. 2) You don’t touch much, keeping your upper bodies more than half a metre apart. Imagine a couple dancing one of those Latin American dances where you hold on to your partner’s hand and shoulder but you keep a considerable distance – and then someone shoves the couple so they fall sideways onto the floor!
  • Movie: Rio ne répond plus (2009). French Bond parody. Lots of jokes about the secret agent’s ethnic prejudice. Grade: OK.
  • Finally Sweden is getting our first woman Prime Minister, super competent Magdalena Andersson! And she’s from my area! ❤
  • The Hubble was launched when I was 18. Now my daughter is 18 and they’re launching the Webb!
  • Instead of doing any gratuitous Black Friday shopping tomorrow, I’m attending a seminar on historic brass casting and celebrating my high-school friend’s 50th birthday at a restaurant.
  • Movie: Tucker & Dale Against Evil (2010). Slasher movie parody where the two Appalachian hillbillies are sweet and kind, but the camping college kids are paranoid and one of them is a psychopath. Grade: OK.
  • The situation sketched in Bernie Taupin’s lyrics for “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” is interesting. Toy boy saying farewell to his drug-addled socialite sugar daddy / mama and longing for his country background.
  • Medieval mining settlements were important centres of employment and population. I just learned that Sweden had more of these than it had actual towns.
  • Magdalena Andersson resigned as Sweden’s prime minister last week for technical reasons having to do with the departure of the Greens from the new government. Now she’s back again with all the technical boxes ticked.
  • Movie: Duke of Burgundy (2014). Hyper-aestheticised fetishistic film about two women in a hyper-aestheticised fetishistic 24/7 dominance relationship that isn’t going so great, in an unexpected and sometimes quite funny way. Grade: good!
  • My buddy and former boss Khashayar Farmanbar just joined the Swedish Cabinet as minister for Energy and Digitalisation! We’re being governed by a Trekkie!

Pimp My N.M.K. Translation

I’ve finished my translation into English of Nils Mattsson Kiöping’s 1667 travelogue from Africa and Asia, plus the brief autobiography of his that was published in 1773. Yay! I’ve also done most of the annotations, but a considerable number remain. Most are about identifying places that NMK mentions but which his spelling and changing place-names over the past 350 years render obscure.

Dear Reader, would you like to have an early look at my translation, help me find typos, perhaps even help me with a few annotations? Then please email me!

Nils Mattsson Kiöping in Yazd

Here’s another two chapters of my recently completed translation of Nils Mattsson Kiöping’s 1667 travelogue. I have introduced a paragraph division for legibility.

Chapter 35: Persia, Yazd
Iessedh is a beautiful city, about two Italian miles in circumference. Here rules a relative of the King named Sultan Mesadie. The city is surrounded by a wall, but this wall is not very strong, but just next to the city is a high mountain on which is a castle with some cannon, and many soldiers. No foreigner is allowed to go there, and the soldiers stationed there are never permitted to leave for as long as they live. There is only one road or narrow path up there, and everything they need is pulled up there by billy goats and little donkeys.

Here are also beautiful buildings, particularly their churches, all built of glazed stone.There is also great trade here in all kinds of goods, particularly precious stones, gold and silver cloth, all kinds of golden and silken fabrics, cotton fabric, tapestries, blankets etc. Not to mention all kinds of foodstuffs. Several thousand soldiers are also stationed here, who stand guard keenly on the walls.

The Christians, more than a thousand souls, live in a suburb named Kombella where the Catholics have two Franciscan monasteries and one Carmelite one, which enjoy great privileges here, and walk in their processions about town, as safe as if they were in Rome. The Christian congregation there grows day by day so that they can no longer fit, but have to move elsewhere. I once saw more than 60 Persians and Moors in a church who have allowed themselves to be baptised by their own free will, and have received the Christian creed. This city is famous among the Persians and is called Koss de Iessedh because the most beautiful women live here.

Chapter 36: Persia, Korastan & Kurbazarihan
Korastan is a little open town, roughly a little larger than Strängnäs, everyone who lives here is Christian and they have two Catholic monasteries here, and an Armenian one. They associate very well with each other, and are extremely keen to receive a European Christian, particularly one who can speak some Latin with their priests, because they think (as the monks have deceived them into believing) that the Latin language is a language of angels, and only religious officials may use it. This was a very good-hearted and merciful people who beseeched me to stay longer with them. Some of them are merchants but most are farmers.

Kurbazarihan is a little town where all the inhabitants are Jews, and all are silk weavers, and they are severely forced and pressed by the ruling lord named Mahomet Roskar. I must say that they were roguish people, because they sold us food and water for money, and grain and dates, and it was all spoiled and also very little of it. A few Muslims lived there, they were much more honest than the Jews.

Nils Mattsson Kiöping in Persia

Here’s another chapter of my ongoing translation of Nils Mattsson Kiöping’s 1667 travelogue. I have introduced a paragraph division for legibility.

Chapter 34: Persia, nature and culture
It is a very fertile country with wheat and barley, which they sow twice and reap twice a year. Also a very mountainous country, where lovely grapes grow all year round, both winter and summer, so that when one vine blooms, then the second is unripe, the third half ripe and the fourth ripe. And this goes on continuously every year. They also love gardens greatly, where they have all sorts, roses as well as fruit trees such as pears, white apples, almonds, plums, all kinds of sweet and sour limes, as well as several unknown to us, very large and delicious melons and watermelons, which cool a person excellently.

They have many wondrous springs or fountains in their gardens. Here are found the best horses that can ever be in Asia. So much dates grow in the countryside that they even feed their donkeys, sheep, oxen and cows with them. Here are abundantly found the best sheep that can ever be in the world. Of the most valuable trees, there are very tall cypresses here, and another one called Arbor de Raiss, which is at least one Italian mile around with the twigs, and more than 6,000 men could stand under it, and regardless of how hard it rained, not a drop would fall on them. Its branches are so long that they hang to the ground, and grow up again, they droop down again, and grow up again, so that one twig can easily reach for more than half a quarter mile from the trunk itself. It has large leaves but bears no fruit, but when you break a twig from it a white sap oozes out, which if it gets into a person’s eye, they will soon go blind.

Here are also a lot of deer, wild boar, which the Persians do not eat, but they do eat wild donkeys. Here is also a beast of prey which they call jackals, not unlike a wolf. These catch or greatly wound both birds and beasts, indeed, if they do not protect their dead in solid and deep tombs, then they dig them up and eat them. The Christians believe that this is the hyaena of which the naturalists write.* Several kinds of bird are found here, but no geese, only chickens and partridges, several hundreds together in the flock. Large and small turtle doves, cranes, herons, storks, kroppgäss** etc. The pelican is also seen here, but it never cuts up its chest over its dead chicks,*** nor is its beak suitable for it to cut with in this manner, as the naturalists report.

The Persians are white in complexion, though tending a little toward yellow. They are a proud, greedy, warlike people, similar to the Poles in their dress, except for the headgear, for which they have a mandel or turban. The King can in a matter of days muster several thousand cavalry of which some are equipped with mail coats, bows and arrows, and some with pikes. He uses nothing in particular for the infantry, they have extremely heavy muskets, and strike the cock over towards the muzzle and not to the stock. Their fuses are of cotton. On campaign he also uses cannon, but they are all managed by Christians. At the time when I was there, the artillery was directed by an Englishman and a Holsatian.

On the border between Parthia and Persia is a little town named Ilsikas where live only Muslims and all are farmers. Here also is grown the best wheat in the country, for which they are very famous, and when they say that “this is Nun de Iesikass”, then they love it more than any other grain grown in the country.

* Africa’s hyaenas and South Asia’s jackals occupy similar ecological niches but are not in fact closely related.

** Uncertain. Da. kropgaas and Ge. Kropfganz mean pelican, but NMK mentions the pelican separately here. In analogy with Sw. kroppduva, a kroppgås might be a goose that can inflate its crop. But geese have no crops to inflate, and NMK states that there are no geese in Persia (which there are in fact — he may be thinking of domestic geese).

*** Referring to the earlier version of the pelican’s tale where it kills and resurrects its chicks, not the more widespread one where it simply feeds them with its own blood.

Nils Mattsson Kiöping on the Trail Of Travelling Bengt

Bengt Bengtsson Oxenstierna (1591-1643), portrait by Jakob Heinrich Elbfas, Wikimedia Commons.

Here’s another chapter of my ongoing translation of Nils Mattsson Kiöping’s 1667 travelogue. I have introduced a paragraph division for legibility.

Chapter 33: Persia, the Shah’s hunts and Bengt Oxenstierna’s graffiti

For hunting he uses falcons, among which is a white raven with a red beak, which is as swift in striking birds as the falcons. He also has 200 leopards which have been trained so that no game in the fields or forests can pass them by without them catching it in three leaps. And if he does not catch the beast in three leaps, then he puts his tail between his legs, goes back and is ashamed.

Summing up, this King’s splendour, along with the activities in this city, of all kinds of crafts, of the number of people, is too hard for me to describe from fresh memory, and it would take a long time. Instead they who have Olearius’s diary about the Holsatian envoys’ journey to Persia can experience this city’s characteristics in detail.

Thus I want to move on briefly to the Kingdom of Persia itself, and name the towns that I have visited, and describe them in simple terms. Here in Issphahan and the suburb Julfa, where all Christians live, I found the late Lord Bengt Oxenstierna’s name in an Augustinian monastery inscribed with a nail on the wall in Latin. And it goes as follows in Swedish.

My GOD is a good companion to me
And virtue is in close company with me,
Thus I fear no danger,
I was not proud even in success;
But I go everywhere unafraid

Bengt Oxenstierna, a good Swedish Baron
In the year 1611,
Since our Saviour was born.

Adam Olearius (Ölschläger; 1599-1671) served as secretary to an ambassador from Frederick III, Duke of Holstein-Gottorp, to the Shah of Persia. Olearius published a book about his experiences in 1647 which appeared in English in 1662.

Bengt Bengtsson Oxenstierna (1591-1643, posthumously known as Travelling Bengt) was a Swedish royal councillor and diplomat who travelled extensively in continental Europe and the Near East. He was the first Swede to make a documented visit to Persia and served briefly at the court of Shah Abbas I. NMK’s reported year 1611 is however erroneous. Lord Bengt began his journey to Persia in 1616, so the inscription may have read 1617. NMK reports similar inscriptions in Shiraz and Baghdad, see ch. 41 and 48.

NMK’s Swedish version of the inscription is in rhymed couplets. If the original inscription was indeed in Latin, then NMK must have translated it rather freely. I have aimed to preserve the sense but not the rhymes.

I wonder if NMK really did see any inscriptions of Bengt’s or if the insistent references to him are attempts by NMK to borrow credibility for his book.

Nils Mattsson Kiöping at the Court of the Shah

Here’s another two chapters of my ongoing translation of Nils Mattsson Kiöping’s 1667 travelogue. I have introduced a paragraph division for legibility.


Chapter 31: Persia, Isfahan

Issphahan is the royal seat of Persia and is in its extent three times the width of Paris in France. And though I have never been to Paris, and so cannot know about its size, it is true that Isfahan (which was once, and still is on maps, named Hagistan) is so large that it takes six days on horseback to travel around it outside the walls, but three days inside them. It has four suburbs, of which the finest is Julfwa, which is at least as large as all of Stockholm with Norrmalm and Ladugårdslandet. Here all the Christians live and have their own jurisdiction and court.

The judge is an Armenian and keeps court as magnificently as a Prince. And if it happens that a Turk has done an injustice to a Christian, then the case will be heard in the Turkish Kadi, and the Turk punished by his authorities. But if the guilt is with the Christian, then he is sent to the Christian Council, and they cannot pardon anyone, but must immediately punish the criminal.

The Christians can freely practise their faith here, indeed, the King himself often joins their congregations and watches their divine service with great solemnity. The monks are in great favour with the King, and are strictly protected, particularly the Augustinians, because they have a beautiful church there. The Carmelites have two, the Franciscans also two, but the Armenians have six.

Chapter 32: Persia, the Court of the Shah

With respect to the splendour and court of the Persian King, the ruling Lord at the time when I stayed there was a very pious and young man named Shah Abbas [Abbas II, regn. 1642-66], whom I and many other European Christians served as soldiers for 18 months. In 1652 his age was 22 years. He already had a little son and a daughter, and in addition to his recognised wives he had 400 concubines, all of whom were daughters of the country’s most important lords. He is certainly a Muslim, but nevertheless he likes to hint that he is friendlier to the Christians than to his own people.

All his tableware such as dishes, plates and bowls is of fine gold, indeed, some are so large that you cannot carry them in your hands, but on your head. Many are even so heavy that they have to carry them on stretchers trimmed with gold. And on all these vessels, instead of royal arms, he uses a mark roughly like this: [INSERT SCAN HERE].

In his stable where the royal horses are fed, which are 100 in number, there is exceptional cleanliness. All are tethered with golden chains and shod all around with golden shoes, covered with the finest golden cloth that is made and woven in the country. The vessels or tubs in which water is fetched for them are all of fine Arabian gold. For each horse in the stable hang beautiful saddles with saddle blankets, finely decorated, one better than the next, with diamonds, turquoises, rubies etc. and also the most splendid that can ever be, studded with big pearls. Summing up, everything you see there is nothing but pure gold, indeed the hinges that the gates hang on, as well as everything else.

On one side in the gate house he has a mountain cat standing, which harms people when he can reach them. He is the size of the largest lynxes but grey in colour.* On the other side a mountain rat shut in a cage: she was so tame that she took bread from people’s hands. Every time I walked past her she scratched the bars with her claws because I always gave her something to eat from my hand. She was just like a rat in colour and shape, but was the size of a half-year-old pig. Outside the gate lay nine lions which were only tethered with thin ropes around their necks, and each had a little dog to to play with. One was white as snow but tawny at the front, the others were pale, and none of them did people any harm.

* SAOB suggests that this is a Pallas’s cat, Otocolobus manul. That feline is however typically far smaller than a lynx.

Nils Mattsson Kiöping in Tabriz and Hamadan

Here’s another two chapters of my ongoing translation of Nils Mattsson Kiöping’s 1667 travelogue. I have introduced a paragraph division for legibility.

Chapter 29: Persia, Media
Media is not a particularly large country and also belongs to the King of Persia. A very dry, mountainous and infertile place. There are no towns to speak of here, only Tauriss or Tabriss, which was in ancient times called Eccbatana,* and is now very dilapidated and ruined by the Persians, because in the time of Shah Gesi the inhabitants rebelled and wanted to make a king of their own. Thus the aforementioned king had all strongholds torn down and most of the inhabitants deported.

Here in Tabriz is shown the lavish palace of King Ahasuerus,** and although it is very broken down, you can nevertheless tell that it was once an amazingly fine structure. Just outside of it a Franciscan monk named Father Hieronymus showed me a spot where he said that Haman was hanged.*** This Tabriz is right along the Caspian Sea: they trade mainly in fish.**** Here at Tauris or Tabriss (once called Eccbatana) are many high mountains which Alexander the Great conquered first before charging the town, and he got such an enormous treasure that it could not be described, which made Alexander so arrogant that he wanted to be hailed as a god. Here are also many memorials to this day of Alexander the Great.

* Tabriz and ancient Ecbatana are in fact neither identical nor located near each other.
** The King of Persia in the Book of Esther.
*** Again, see the Book of Esther.
**** Tabriz is in fact hundreds of kilometres from the sea and not very near any lake either.

Chapter 30: Persia, Hamadan
In this country are two large and important cities: Issphahan where the King of Persia lives, and Amadan. This city of Amadan is eight days’ travel south-west from Isphahan and was once (as still in Scripture) named Susa.* This city is very famous, not only for its age, but also for the fine craftsmen who live there. Here all kinds of golden, silver and silk cloth are woven and made, indeed, the finest tapestries and blankets that can ever be found.

No other people than Jews live in this city except for the Lord who rules it, who is a Persian and a Muslim. They are also allowed to practice their religion freely and have their church there. The Governor’s representatives also forced them to let us see their divine service and other notable things. Thus they first showed us the tomb of Queen Esther and Mordecai, item the tomb of the Prophet Daniel, which the Jews prized greatly. Outside the city at the River Ulaj,** which runs through the city, stood a white pillar where they said that the Prophet Daniel would have had the vision about four great rulers in the world.

The Christian Armenians showed us a beautiful house, though very broken down, which they claimed to be the synagogue from which the Three Kings would have travelled to offer the Saviour gold, frankincense and myrrh. This place is very healthy and pleasant, abundant in all kinds of foodstuffs. Among everything else that grows here is a kind of white wine which, though its taste is a little bitter, is nevertheless very healthy for a person. These Jews have the same manners in selling and buying as the Persians, in that they sell firewood, milk, water, wine etc.: to sum up, all kinds of foodstuffs etc.

* Another erroneous identification: the ruin mounds of ancient Susa are about 300 km west of Isfahan and were the site of only a small village in the 17th century.
** The river or canal Ulai is mentioned twice in the Book of Daniel (8:2, 16) but the name has not been current in recent centuries. NMK is extrapolating from his belief that Hamadan is identical to biblical Susa.

Nils Mattsson Kiöping in Armenia

Here’s another two chapters of my ongoing translation of Nils Mattsson Kiöping’s 1667 travelogue. These chapters about Armenia open the book’s section on Persia under the rule of Abbas II, the seventh Safavid shah who ruled from 1642-66. I have introduced a paragraph division for legibility.

Chapter 27: Persia, Armenia part 1
The Armenians believe that CHRIST is true God and born Man, and as long as he walked here on earth was both God and Man. But as soon as he went to Heaven, he left human nature behind, and is now true God and no Man.

This country is not very large in itself, because I cannot really know the width, not having travelled around it, but only the same way back as I went forth. Although this land is under the King of Persia the inhabitants are nevertheless all Christians. There is no other religion in this country, only a few Muslims who live with the Governor who is placed there by the King of Persia and lives in Eriwana [Yerevan].

This is an honest people, particularly to the Christians from Europe, whom they love like someone descended from Heaven if he only proves that he is not circumcised. For this reason he has to show his shameful parts without any shyness. Most of the inhabitants are merchants who ply a great trade in precious stones and all kinds of expensive wares in India, with the Great Mogul of Tartary [the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan, regn. 1628-58] and Persia, then bringing their wares into Europe.

Chapter 28: Persia, Armenia part 2
In September of 1656 I met two Armenian merchants in Amsterdam, with whom I have on several occasions spoken in Isspahan during the time when I was employed by King Shah Abbas in Persia, that is, in 1652. One is named Karakan and the other Rudolph Constantine.

This country is populous, a humble and industrious people. Here grows an abundance of barley, wheat and wine, as well as much fine cattle and all sorts of foodstuffs. In their religion, particularly with the chanting and other church customs they are not unlike Catholics, except that they celebrate Mass in their native tongue and their priests marry. Their Patriarch at the time when I was there, named Philippus [Philip I was the Catholicos of all Armenians from 1633 to 1655], was a pious and good man who lived in the city Eriwana.

This city is at the foot of Mount Ararat and is an open space and can put up no resistance to an enemy. In the city there are both nunneries and monasteries. On the north side of the mountain is a little town named Nachseidwan, that is, the first settlement. Because the inhabitants fully believe that Noah, after he stepped off the Ark onto the earth, did not only perform his sacrifice there, but also built his first hut.

This country is very famous: firstly, because they remain so constant in the Christian creed, also for their virtue, fidelity and honesty to all people, particularly to the Christians; secondly, for Mount Ararat which is so steep on all sides that it is impossible for anyone to get up there. There are no soldiers in this country, except for a few who attend to the Governor, but none are Armenian natives. Nor are there any other craftsmen than shoemakers, tailors and smiths, but everyone supports himself with trade. Nor can any Roman Papists stay for long here: in particular no monks or priests have any convents or congregations there.

You cannot travel between Issphahan and Armenia in less than 30 days with a guard and company. And with a company consisting of camels and donkeys, you cannot cover more than three good Swedish miles a day. Every year on the 10th of March, when the King of Persia reckons his New Year, they pay their correct taxes so the King will have no reason to complain about them. And once a year they receive a letter of confirmation for their religious customs. As for fish and salt, they get it from the Caspian Sea.

Nils Mattsson Kiöping at Suakin, Egypt

Here’s another two chapters of my ongoing translation of Nils Mattsson Kiöping’s 1667 travelogue. These chapters end the book’s section on the Red Sea region.


Chapter 25: Egypt, Suakin
…where we arrived on the 25th September. When we came there we were severely questioned over whether we were pirates. We bought water from them and loaded the ships with the finest available mummy (or dead human bodies). We bought this mummy from the Jews. We were not allowed to enter the town, so the Jews came to us. Many Christians visited us, and as I understood it, there would be great numbers of Christians there, and the Catholics would have three monasteries in there. They get this mummy from the Arabian desert or Sea of Sand, out of the sand, who has been smothered in it, and shrivelled up from the sun’s heat like a dried fish.

Chapter 26: Writing in the Near East
The Arabs, Armenians, Medes and Persians all use the same letters for writing, also paper made from cotton which is as smooth as if it had been gone over with a whetstone. Instead of a quill they use a straw or a reed. When their children begin to learn to write they are given (instead of paper, quill and ink) a little thin board, about an ell long, and a little sack or bag of fine sand which they sprinkle thinly on the board. And so they learn to draw the letters with their finger in the sand, until they can make them correctly. Then they get pen and ink.

Nils Mattsson Kiöping Still On Mount Sinai

Here’s another chapter of my ongoing translation of Nils Mattsson Kiöping’s 1667 travelogue. I’ve introduced a paragraph division for legibility.

Chapter 24: Sinai part 3
There is nothing on Horeb except for some guard houses for Arab soldiers. Having enjoyed four days and nights there, we said farewell to the Fathers, Catholics and Romans as well as Greeks, who accompanied us with a great entourage off the mountain, as follows. First the Litany was sung and then they read a blessing over us. When the Greek priests learned that we were leaving, their Prelate came to us with his entire retinue in the Carmelite monastery, where we had stayed, and coaxed us to dine with him. First Mass was celebrated, and then the food was set out. After we had eaten there was another Mass, and then we said farewell to them. But both the Greek and the Latin priests followed us off the mountain, singing all the way. All of them were dressed in Mass vestments, some carrying candles, some crosses, books or holy water.

Having thus descended from the mountain in such company, we found a number of mules and water at the ready for our trek to the ship. We reclaimed our weaponry, and again they read a blessing over us and sprinkled us with holy water. We then mounted and left. Two of these monks came with us and showed us many famous sites along the way. In particular, half a mile from the mountain, a completely dry place where they said that Aaron’s children Nadab and Abihu were consumed by fire. From there to another place where they said that the Children of Israel would have raised the golden calf, and worshipped it. A mile further on was a large Turkish church, into which no Christian was admitted on pain of death. There, they said, Moses would have stayed or slept when God spoke to him in a pillar of cloud. And in another Turkish temple which they called Beziel they said that the bush would have stood that Moses saw burn, yet not be consumed. And the monks said that this would be the same bush as they had in their monastery. Muslims venerate these churches greatly.

On the second day we came back to the ship. The crew had caught such an abundance of fish that they could not salt it all. That night so much red sand came flying on a west-southwesterly wind, and with a great storm, that no human could be on deck, so that we had to close all our hatches and pull tarred cloth over the lattice hatches. When this was over (it lasted for an hour) we could see neither deck nor water for all the sand. This gave us a certain indication that the wind had turned, and so we decided to set course for Swaquem, a town in Egypt on the Red Sea coast …