It´s alive! Accessible archeology

As someone pointed out, it´s been a while since I posted last. Well, what can I say? It´s summer, lots to do, places to go. Things to prepare. Weather to enjoy. And I haven´t even gotten to polishing all the windows...

However, I have gotten through a couple of really nice volumes on the Bronze and Iron Age in Sweden. First, "Stuga och säte" (=cottage and seat, roughly translated) by Lena Edblom, which is a study of the field archeology and reconstructive archeology that has been done at Gene Old Village near Örnsköldsvik in Sweden. This is the best description of an Iron Age house and farm that I have come across. Would be fun to visit, it looks like this:

Cool, or what? It´s really interesting to read how they have tried to make it work according to the theories, and some of it has really not been very straight forward at all. There is nothing "primitive" about the way these houses work, it´s not done in a day by any dummy come off the street. Experts in all kinds of building techniques come together and scratch their heads. Apparently, it´s fundamentally important where a house is built, as much as how it´s built. And these houses were large. Very large.

My next read was Maja Hagerman´s "Försvunnen värld" (= lost world). She is a science journalist and archeology and Swedish pre-history is her special field, she has written a couple of great books about how Sweden came to be. She compiles the current opinions of the scientific community, translates and communicates to ordinary folk like me what is known about this foggy time in our history. This book is about the largest excavation ever in Sweden, and it came about because a new road was being built north of Uppsala, and acres and acres of land was being literally dug out, and with it all traces of human activity.

It´s a thick volume and Hagerman gets a bit too chatty at times. Or perhaps it´s just that I don´t want to know how much the archeologists didn´t have time to look at, or couldn´t afford to handle. And it seems that it was dug by rivalling teams, which is just soooo dispiriting. I want the scientific community to be one big happy family, all focused on one thing: me becoming better informed. And themselves and every other person who should be interested, which is everybody.

I will not go into detail about what they found out, that would make a very long post indeed, but I´m pleased to find that my own very speculative ideas about what went on in Bronze Age and Roman Iron Age here in Sweden seem to be verified. Haha.

And, for your enjoyment, some bling collected from a headman´s grave. (Not from this particular dig, though.) That´s a roman coin there, from year 290, and the ring with the red stone is roman, too.

I think there is a treasure hunter in every archeologist, deep down, no matter how happy they are about their postholes. Actually, if I hadn´t seen hundreds of episodes of "Time Team", I wouldn´t have been able to follow Hagerman´s story quite so easily. Have I recommended "Time Team"? In Sweden, they are currently showing episodes from 2007 on channel 9. Tune in and enjoy.


Imagining the children

This, "The Box" (Sw "Lådan") is the first book by Günter Grass I have ever read, even though I usually make some kind of effort with the Nobel Prize Laureates. I saw "The Tin Drum", the film, when I was in high school and I liked it well enough, even though at the time it was not really a film I would have gone to see. My taste in all things has improved, or so I´d like to think.

This is his latest, a novel for sure, but autobiographical. What he has done is to fictionalize his own children (6 biological, 2 aquired by marriage) and let them meet a number of times to discuss different aspects of their childhood. A somewhat fragmented imaged appears, of Günter Grass as Vatti, the father.

The children are actually not in any conflict about what kind of father he was: he was hardly ever there. He had his study in the attic, he didn´t play, he was often away on political crusades, he remarried. He had four children with his first wife, one with his second, one with a passing acquaintance, got two extra when he married his last. Instead, there is a lot of talk about father´s companion, "our Mariechen" (our little Marie), an elderly woman with a camera. Marie is not a real person, she is far too extraordinary for that. Rather, she is what is extraordinary about Günter Grass. She is his imagination. Her pictures show not what the camera has been aimed at, but what is the dream connected to that subject. Her photos of the bombed out houses in Berlin, for example, shows how they were furnished before the war. Her photos of little Nana (the girl who never got to live with her father) shows Nana, her father and mother dancing among the clouds together.

Mariechen takes photos for the children too, like when the boy Taddel misunderstands what he is told about his dad working with the election and thinks he´s gone whale hunting (the word for whale and election is the same in Swedish and, I suspect, German too), Mariechens photos shows Vatti in a boat with a spear in his hand. Or when Lara´s dog Joggi has disappeared, the photos show the dog taking the subway across town, having all kinds of adventures.

When there is chaos in the family, Mariechen comes more seldom. She does not like chaos, and takes no photos of it. This is when Grass divorces his first wife. When the artist can´t work, neither does Mariechen. She works for Grass, and when Mariechen is there, they are all at their happiest. When he moves to northern Germany with his last wife, Mariechen moves with them. But when they move away from there, on his wife´s initiative, Mariechen dies. Vatti is old and it is also the end of childhood. However, the children suspects that Vatti has the camera stashed away somewhere. There is some hope for the artist yet...

I think that what Grass is aiming at is that whatever he has given to his children, is what he has also given to the world, and that is his imagination. Either the result of it or - I think he hopes for his children - the ability to imagine for oneself. He also says something profound about how we remember our childhood - that the sweetest memories are made up. And that is all right. But there is also a deep sense of grief in this story. He lets one of the children mention at the end that the father wanted to gather his children like this when he got the Nobel Prize, but none of them were willing to talk. And now, ten years later, instead the father imagines his children, he imagines them "until they are present and casting shadows" (that´s not a direct quote, but a translation from the text). I can´t help but suspect that his children aren´t much available to speak either to him or to each other. As grown children tend not to be. But then don´t we all tend to think other families are happier than ours. Except Günter Grass, which is why I imagine he has published this book.

Mariechen sometimes takes pictures between her legs.
Grass, who is an artist as well as a writer, has illustrated the book with pictures of Mariechen with her camera, one for every chapter. I think they are charming, an image of the writer´s soul, perhaps. Or at least a splinter of it, an aspect, a recurring dream, perhaps. Maybe she was a real person from his childhood, who became an archetype for his imagination? Who knows? We are his readers, not his analysts.

I think some of the critics I have read have been a bit ungenerous towards this book. Of course, I haven´t read any of his others and can´t compare, but I think this is a very special little book. It says something rather profound about fathers and children, in a way both playful and serious. I´m quite sure that I will never forget it.


Expansion of the Holmes universe

I threw myself at the next Holmes & Russell adventure by Laurie R King, "The Game". This time she mixes Holmes-mythology with something that I´m not at all familiar with, and that is Rudyard Kipling´s "Kim". I had no idea, really, all I know Kipling for is "The Jungle Book" and that´s just courtesy of Walt Disney. According to Wikipedia, Kipling is most known for children´s books celebrating British imperialism and that had definately gone out of style when I was young, if it ever was very popular in Scandinavia. A quick look at the library database tells me that there are versions of it from 1957, 1984, and 2002, so perhaps I just missed it. It´s a classic. What do you know.

Anyway, guess what? When Holmes was "dead" from having supposedly fallen down Reichenbacher Falls with Moriarty, he spent some time in India, working with Kim! And it´s not King´s idea, she has stolen it from a guy called Jamyang Norbu! If only Conan Doyle could have foreseen it all...

It is now 1924, the Labour Party has won the last election, Lenin is lying on his deathbed, and the British and US establishments are becoming anxious about the Communists.  It´s been 30 years since Holmes worked with Kim, who is still a spy for the British government and has gone missing. Other agents go missing too, and turn up dead. Mycroft Holmes wants to know what´s going on and sends Holmes and Russell to investigate. On the boat to India they encounter an American family on their way to visit a maharaja in the north. The son, a self-proclaimed Marxist, attracts Holmes´attention. Not surprisingly, they meet again.

With the help of British officer Nesbit and street urchin Bindra, a few great disguises, magic, and a bit of blind luck, they discover the fate of Kim and saves the British Empire. For the time being, at least. King is mainly focused on the adventure, but she also manages to nudge the Holmes-Russell relationship along an inch of two. Russell is really coming into her own as a powerful and independent player of the great detective-game and Holmes, though always in control of his end, does not always hold the initiative.

I have already bought the next one, "Locked Rooms" from ebooks.com that may soon be my new favourite webshop... But first I shall take a turn with Günter Grass!