Decades-long Quest for Levantine Pudding


Mouhalabieh (pic by Patricia latelierdescouleurs on Pinterest)

The summer after my high school graduation I went to Israel to do unskilled labour on an archaeological excavation. Reading a guide book I found mention of a Near Eastern dessert pudding called mouhalabieh, “delicacy”. I asked for it at a couple of restaurants, but no luck. One Jerusalem café owner laughed and pointed to the ads in a newspaper for porn movie theatres in Tel Aviv, “There’s your mouhalabieh!”.

The memory floated up from deep storage the other day, and I googled for recipes. Turns out that I have kind of made mouhalabieh / muhallebi / malabi many times already. It’s simply sweetened milk thickened with starch: blancmangé or maizenapudding in Swedish. What mainly differentiates the Near Eastern version from the Northern European one is that it’s flavoured with rosewater and / or orange blossom, and topped with chopped nuts.


December Pieces Of My Mind #2


Walked around Lakes Lundsjön-Dammsjön. The colours are quiet this time of year.

  • In this fantasy novel by Naomi Novik, a Lord of Faerie invests money in a woman’s money-lending and goods trading business. Capitalist.
  • Handled some replica muskets. Learned that they are too heavy to aim without a support, and that the trigger has no spring. It’s just a lever: if you pull the trigger slowly, there is no spark from the flint.
  • Pharrell Williams: “Clap your hands if you feel like a room without a roof, that is / Clap your hands if you feel like an untenanted ruin / Because I’m happeeeeeee”
  • The Franciscan monastery of Lapis Albus – Visovac, on an island in River Krka, has an anti-Serbian memorial room reminding visitors of anti-Catholic acts committed during the 1990s war. The Church (es) does not seem to be a force for peace or reconciliation here.
  • I just bought the e-book version of a fat scifi novel I’m already reading on paper. Because I need the search function to make sense of a few things.
  • Saw some Geminids.
  • I’ve never paid much attention to Lady Gaga, but her singing on the tune “Shallow” is pretty damn impressive!
  • Oh great. The wifi driver on a semi-old Samsung laptop running Windows 8 is not part of the operating system. It’s a separately installed program called Qualcomm something. The kind that you clean out as a matter of course when you find a lot of small useless programs cluttering up the machine. Fortunately wasn’t super complicated to fix using another machine that was still online and a USB stick. The Samsung laptop itself has no IP jack.
  • German-Swedish archaeology professor Jörn Staecker has died aged 57. )-:

Thirteen Years Of Blogging


16 December, and another blogging year gone by! I will remember 2018 as

  • The year with the incredibly hot and dry summer
  • My first post-academic year when I had five jobs
  • The first election year when I was politically active
  • My last Fornvännen year

Dear Reader, what will you remember 2018 for?

December Pieces Of My Mind #2

  • Copenhagen has a major laughing gas habit. Little metal ampoules littering the streets. They’re sold for whipped cream siphons. Saw them all over town this past summer.
  • Um. I calculated how many issues of Fornvännen and Folkvett I’ve co-edited. 128 issues.
  • I’ve got mixed feelings about having left academic teaching. On one hand I enjoy it and I always get a really good response from the students. On the other hand, given the extremely poor career prospects in archaeology, I am convinced that in most cases a) students are better off long-term without these courses, and b) they serve no societally useful purpose.
  • Nacka’s Social Democrats just elected me to serve on the municipal Education Board. We have over 100,000 inhabitants and some of the country’s best high schools.
  • I recently learned that Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land is from 1961. It wasn’t a response to hippie weirdness. It inspired hippie weirdness.
  • Me: the Geminids. Autocorrect: the feminists.
  • I wonder how Serbian and Croatian atheists get along.
  • Wise words from Birger Johansson: “Re-incarnation without the transfer of memories is pointless. Memories are what distinguish you from your clone [or twin]. Deleting the memories equals the death of the individual.”
  • Once talked to a guy who made inane political arguments based on folk etymology, or rather, on random word similarities. “Democracy is just THEM-ocracy”, that sort of thing. He didn’t say these things to illustrate his points, he thought he was somehow in contact with the essence of things. Not surprised to learn now that this is a characteristic of Rastafarian preaching.
  • Keep seeing Americans use “inhale” as if it meant eat or drink.
  • On our way to the restaurant there was a tiny drizzle. During our meal there was a huge hailstorm with closely spaced flashes of lightning. Then when I went back to the hotel through the thick drifts of melting hail, there was a tiny drizzle again.
  • New story collection by the amazing Ted Chiang on 7 May! This is a very big deal, given how rare and wonderful his efforts are.

Farewell to Fornvännen

Yesterday was my last day as Managing Editor for Fornvännen, Journal of Swedish Antiquarian Research (est. 1906). I started in April of 1999 and so I’ve been involved in 20 annual volumes of the quarterly, almost 80 issues. It’s been fun, and a great education!

From the start I purposely grabbed as much responsibility as I could. A main reason was sheer careerism: I needed a better platform in academic archaeology than the shaky one I had as a PhD student. Another reason was that originally I was paid by the hour, so the more work the better. Fornvännen has been my one steady source of income for all these years. The Royal Academy of Letters is a very good employer and takes care of its people.

The Fornvännen editorship was the one big occasion where academic nepotism worked for me rather than against me. My thesis supervisor got me the job when I was only 27. As for being an academic platform, it certainly gave me more professional recognition and expanded my contact network enormously. But through the years I found that academic job application referees didn’t value the editorship very highly.

An unexpected drawback was that good editors make enemies in their line of daily work. One influential professor apparently became my sworn Nemesis after I turned down an exceptionally bad debate piece of hers. I guess it’s give and take: without the editorship far fewer colleagues would know who I am today, but fewer would also bear a grudge against me.

Still, the editorship was fun and valuable to me through the years, just in itself. But I always also saw it as a means to an end: tenure. In 2016-17 I finally came to accept how little meritocracy there is on the massively over-populated academic labour market in the Scandinavian Humanities, how gross the nepotism is there. I abandoned all ambition in that direction. And I’ve grown quite tired of copy editing and proofreading. So in February I told my co-editor friends that I’d do the four issues for 2018 and then resign on November 30.

I look forward to seeing what my highly qualified successor Dr. Peter Carelli, Editor-in-Chief Prof. Mats Roslund and the other eminent members of the editorial board will do with the journal. I wish Peter a long, happy editorship!


November Pieces Of My Mind #3


Bobergs Storgård, Fornåsa parish, Östergötland

  • After a friendly meeting and lunch with my successor Peter Carelli, I just handed in my keys to Fornvännen’s editorial office. 80 issues! Wonder where I’ll be working a year from now.
  • Charlottenborg’s manor house near Motala lost its third floor when an owner installed a fish farm up there which leaked and caused severe rot.
  • Oh, the excruciating feeling when you help a not very computer savvy person and you realise that they’re double-clicking when they shouldn’t.
  • Theobromine isn’t psychoactive. If it were, then pushers would be selling it in the street. In fact, the compound is useless as a drug. People just eat chocolate for the fat and sugar.
  • I wonder what it would cost to get Annie Lennox to record a new vocal track for “The City Never Sleeps” where she sings “You know it feels like ancient sushi” instead of “You know it feels like distant thunder”.
  • Dreamed that my buddy had bought completely ineffective insulation strips for an extremely draughty window at their desk.
  • DNA genealogists are now analysing samples of the stamp glue on letters from long-dead relatives.
  • Studying post-war popular music styles with Jrette. Music-nerd-dad heaven. ❤
  • I’ve been an Amazon customer since 1997.


Church, cathedral, moon, sunrise. (S:t Lawrence’s, Linköping)


Af Chapman, built in 1888 in Whitehaven, Cumbria. Behind the ship, Skeppsholmen with the Admiralty Church and Admiralty House.


November Pieces Of My Mind #2

Sculpture panel by Stig Blomberg in Skandia, a sumptuously decorated 1923 movie theatre in central Stockholm. Those women don’t seem to be big bagpipes fans.
  • I enjoyed Heinlein’s Door Into Summer. But it must have been weird in 1957 too for a grown man to groom an 11-y-o girl, then go into cryo sleep until she’s 21, and marry her.
  • Archaeology studies the lives of people thousands of years ago. Most of us today don’t even know anything about the people who lived in our homes 20 years ago.
  • The European Space Agency was founded in 1975. Australia founded its space agency last year. That’s a country of 25 million largely well educated people. They’re going to do some cool stuff!
  • Black Sabbath’s song “Paranoid” is about depression, not paranoia. The Pixies’ song “Ana” has an acrostic in the lyrics (SURFER), not an anagram.
  • I shared the bench in court with a pregnant judge today. She was an impressive lawyer.
  • My new art film project is Hardcore Hugs, a 10-minute compilation of expressions of tenderness or affection from porn movies.

Boardgaming Retreat 2018


It was really good to come back to the annual boardgaming retreat after a year off. 48 hours at an off-season golf & country club near Trosa with fellow gamers.

I played thirteen sessions of twelve different games. To give you an idea of how popular each game is, I’ve included its current BGG rank in the list below. For instance, Container’s 586 means that right now there are 585 boardgames that the largely US-based users of rate more highly. But they have rated tens of thousands of games!

  • 7 Wonders Duel (2015). Ranked 13. Neat two-player version of the excellent civilisation-building card game.
  • Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra (2018). Ranked 2104. Abstract tile game: a somewhat more intricate take on the basic ideas of last year’s hit Azul. Either is fun, either is enough.
  • Century Spice Road (2017). Ranked 210. This cards & cubes game’s illustrations are nice, but there’s hardly any player interaction. Don’t know why it’s so popular.
  • Chosön (2014). Ranked 3465. Card game with fun illustrations and some unusual mechanics. I’d like to play this again.
  • Container (2007). Ranked 586. Container shipping & trade. We played a recent edition with massive plastic ships that would serve well as close-combat weapons. I didn’t understand the strategy at all, but I’d like to learn.
  • Gaia Project (2017). Ranked 7. Civilisation expansion & development. Scifi re-skin of the 2012 fantasy hit Terra Mystica. Not great, not bad, huge replayability.
  • Heaven and Ale (2017). Ranked 348. Euro game ostensibly about monks making beer, where the theme has little to do with the mechanics and player interaction is scanty.
  • Koba Yakawa (2013). Ranked 2295. Minimalist card game with almost as few components as Love Letter and far simpler rules. Fun for what it is!
  • Secrets (2017). Ranked 2094. Hidden roles game about CIA and KGB agents. I soon became completely confused.
  • T.I.M.E. Stories (2015). Ranked 58. Beautifully illustrated co-op story game, like a shared choose-your-own adventure. The box contains the basic rules and hardware plus one fine scenario. It has roughly the same re-playability as a short novel has re-readability, though. Many additional scenarios are available, each costing 54% of the basic box’s price. Compare this to normal boardgames where you buy the basic box and happily play 25 times without having to buy anything more.
  • Tichu (1991). Ranked 127. Interesting variation on the popular Chinese card game Zheng Fen, which combines trick-taking and hand-shedding. You can easily play Tichu with a normal Western card deck provided you can find four jokers or other extra cards with the same backs plus a felt-tip pen.
  • Twilight Struggle (2005). Ranked 5. Long two-player cards-chits-board game about the Cold War. Fun for modern history buffs.

I’ve blogged before about the retreats in 2010, 2011, 2012, 2014, 2015 and 2016.