Meta Level Literature

After having marathon slept night before last, no wonder I couldn´t sleep. I finally dozed off at half past ten in the morning, and made sure I got up at two in the afternoon, to prevent becoming too freakishly out of touch with any form of normal life.

The upside of insomnia is that one has what seems like endless hours of silence and stillness to read and think. I finished Gerald Murnane´s "Barley Patch", an unexpected and truly original find, thanks to a favorable review in some newspaper or other. I really can´t say I have come across anything like it. It´s not really a story, as such, more like an exploration of a mind, a consciousness, that may or may not be the author´s own. He paints pictures with his words, of flat landscapes with mostly grass, some trees, one or two storey houses; he dwells on men with an obsession for horse racing, convents, boys trying to meet girls, the nature of reading, and whether or not one should write.

Some readers might find him repetitive. There are turns of phrases that keep coming back, in different ways. They are elements of his imagination that he uses like a child uses building blocks to make different structures. One gets the impression that he is showing us how he works. I´m sure I would have much more to say on that subject if I had read anything else by him, but he is a completely new aquaintance for me.

I keep returning, throughout the reading, to the photo of the author himself. Looking for clues, perhaps. I find none. He is rather handsome, I think. He seems unaware of himself. He seems not to pose for the camera.

I know I will read more by him, I know this book will mean a lot to me and perhaps I will return to it later. That does not mean that I recommend it to anyone. If you´re looking for a story, an adventure, something that has a beginning and an end, look elsewhere. This is a book for those who are interested in literature and the mechanics of it, if you will. It´s solid stuff, a real nugget of preciousness in an ocean of mediocrity. They say he is on the short list at the Swedish Academy for the Nobel Prize, and I can´t think of a more worthy recipient of that award.


Day of Bliss & Happiness!

We have been to a wedding! It was, as one would expect, a wonderful ceremony, a great party, the weather was perfect, everyone (especially the bride and groom) were happy on the side of delirious. It could not have been better, I couldn´t think of a better way to spend Midsummer´s Eve.

Far-fetched literary connection: the groom had made an unusual choice of music for the intro and finale of the ceremony (catholic, in church), something I had never heard of (being old and, frankly, fine with that), Game of Thrones. A book and tv series, apparently. Hasn´t registered on my radar, even though I look through the tv programmes regularly to see if there is something interesting to record and, perhaps, watch. Clearly a choice of some profound meaning, and it´s those little touches that makes a wedding personal and particularly memorable, I think. We should all be doing more of that.

Plus, there is something very narrative about the way a wedding is planned, don´t you think? Choreographed, almost. It isn´t just the ceremony, but all of it, the party, the gestures, the dancing, the cheers and the songs and the games. Love it. A tale of love. A lovestory.

But the way the bride held her hand during that choreographed, but very sincere, kiss on the church stairs, that just can´t be foreseen... 

On this particular occasion, a friend and collegue of the bride held a drumming ceremony for the couple when they arrived from church, where she asked for blessings from the north, south, east and west, and her four children stood in each direction blowing soap bubbles! Just sooo unusual and it felt almost like another wedding ceremony, certainly just as solemn and ceremonial. Loved it!

The bride was, as one might expect, totally totally lovely and beautiful and radiant and smiling and just so full of joy and happiness that it could have brought tears to a salt pillar. And the parents of the happy couple were all smiles and laughs and beaming pride and hugs and everything!

There were games to test the couple´s compatability (a bit late in the day, perhaps) and potentially embarrasing, but they passed with aplomb, getting it right every time. The bride identified her groom´s leg among several other men´s legs, the groom identified his bride´s hands among several other ladie´s hands, and they played the game of "Who does what?" and came out agreeing on almost everything.

Now, they say a bit of rain on the day of the wedding means luck for the marriage (or is this a saying invented to comfort those who find their garden parties soaked?) and we had absolutely nothing to complain about, weather-wise. However, one disaster happened - the wedding cake crashed! This amused everyone exept perhaps the poor creature who started moving the retched, wobbly table the cake had been stood on, but I´m sure she brightened up later.

And even if the cake as a whole wasn´t much to look at after that incident, it sure tasted well enough and there was more than enough of it for hefty portions for all! The gent placed at my right got one of the pretty roses and I saved the image for posterity.

And the German contingent (the groom´s mother is a Berlin lass and several families had come from that far away for this happy event) slipped one by one into the kitchen, where stood a television set, because, as you might know, Germany played quater final against Greece in the European Championships! I know  the Greeks wanted to "whip Merkel´s ass", mixing sport and politics as one should not, but they found themselves beaten by 4 - 2, I´m afraid... I think we all routed for Germany and was happy to see them win! 

And the wedding waltz, Strauss, of course!

The wedding ring had been designed by the groom (or perhaps they were both in on it, I´m not sure) to match the engagement ring, an heirloom piece worn on the right hand. And note the spectacularly beautiful nails!

We turned home late, late or perhaps I should say, early, early, and we were met by the rising sun. The amount of sleep I needed to recover is in direct proportion to the success of the party, I assure you: 14 hours straight!


Poetical stories

It´s continuing to be hard to get to sleep and I´m doing most of my sleeping in the afternoon these days. Not that it matters, all I´m missing is bleak skies and rain. Last night I read Ray Bradbury, a fairly recent collection of short stories titled "We´ll always have Paris". Twenty-two stories, of which only one can be said that it´s some kind of sf.

Many of the stories are about aging, actually. About being too tired to live, not remembering where one is, being alone and having lost everything, being afraid to die. Many of the protagonists cross boundries, national, professional, sexual. In the title novel, a night-walking tourist in Paris follows a young man and has some kind of sexual/emotional encounter in a basement somewhere, while his wife is expecting pizza at the hotel.

Several of the novels are about trying to get back home, about a longing for the way things were, like the couple of runaways from a mental hospital or old folks home (are they ill or just suffering from dementia?), trying to figure out if they are in their hometown or not. As it turns out, it´s a movie set and the whole, archetypically familiar street is just made out of plywood and plaster. A similar fake town is set up on Mars to prevent an expedition of thirty men to go bonkers from being sixty million miles away from home.

It´s also about how real joy and real entusiasm for living is not welcome in the world, is regarded as a disturbance by the neighbours, like in Bradbury´s own favourite novel "Massinello Pietro", which he says in the foreword is practically all true. It´s about an old man who has lost everything and is about to loose what little he has left, his animals, his home, and his life. A man who dances in the street, not for a living, but to give his fellow men joy.

So yes, there are common themes if you think about it. But at the same time, it´s a bunch of short stories not in the least connected, not in their content anyway. And I realize as I read that this is the reason I find it so hard to remember much about short stories I have read. I´m a fast reader, a bit of a pudding reader, as it happens, and there are just too many impressions at one time in a collection of short stories for them to really settle into my brain. Bradbury said in some interview that several of his collegues have told him he is actually a poet. And perhaps that´s true, even the novels he has written are either collections of shorter stories more strongly connected that these are, like "The Martian Chronicles" or rather short, like "Fahrenheit 451". And as those who know me are aware, poetry isn´t really my thing. And perhaps it´s all due to the speed at which I read.

A bit of a revelation, I find. And I´m wondering if I should see that as a challange. To try and read something more slowly. Take my time and smell the roses, so to speak. I shall consider it.


The Truth Game

I am currently reading two books that I´m struggling with, for different reasons, so what do I do? I pick up a third!

The other day I say the film "Infamous" with Toby Jones as Truman Capote and Sandra Bullock as Harper Lee, and not least: Daniel Craig as Perry Smith. If you know your history, I don´t need to say more, now you know the film is about Capote´s writing that one famous fact-fictious novel of his, "In cold blood". Which I have owned, but never read. Passed it on, actually. I have read enough about the case though, and Capote´s involvment.

Truman Capote is an interesting character, a self-made man who kind of imploded after that book was written. Harper Lee was his best friend, and she apparently never even attempted another book after "To kill a mockingbird", which is considered the American novel of all time, or so one might think, considering every American (that is, citizen of the USA) seem to mention it as the best (perhaps only) book they ever read. I have not had the pleasure, nor have I seen either of the films made on it. As far as I could tell, Bullock played her very well, as a very nice, feet-on-the-ground kind of lady, just the type of best friend someone like Truman Capote should have.

Anyway, watching that film made me curious about his failed, uncompleted, last novel, "Answered prayers", and I promptly picked it up from the library and found it was a quick read, only took me a few hours.

I can see how it failed. It really isn´t badly written, but it lacks something. Heart, maybe. The three completed chapters were eventually published in magazines and most of his close society friends (Capote loved hobnobbing with New York society´s most luminous stars, he called them his "swans") dropped him like a hot plate after that. No wonder. "La Cote Basque" is really only about a man (a thinly veiled Capote himself) sitting with a female friend in a restaurant, hearing all kinds of juicy gossip about the women sitting at the tables next to him. Apparently, all those stories were true, told Capote in the strictest confidence. I would have dropped him, too.

Now, if people like Capote were to be believed, the priviliged classes think of nothing else, do nothing else, than sordid sex, particularly with people they are not married to. Sex as power games. Across every kind of "normal" boundry. I don´t know. Perhaps this tale says more about Capote than about any of his social circle. In the film, Perry Smith says about his books that they are "cold". Capote is annoyed and says something like "the man is a killer and he accuses me of being cold?". Well, I don´t know if that really happened, but I agree with Perry, Capote is cold. There is no heart in this story, there is no sympathy with anyone. If the people he betrayed really thought of him as their friend and confidant, they must have been devastatingly hurt.

There is one passage in the novel that seems key:

””Because something is true doesn´t mean it´s convincing, either in life or in art. Think of Proust. Would Remembrance have the ring that it does if he had made it historically literal, if he hadn´t transposed sexes, altered events and identities? If he had been absolutely factual, it would have been less believable, but” – this was a thought I´d often had - ”it might have been better. Less acceptable, but better.” I decided on another drink, after all. ”That´s the question: is truth an illusion, or is illusion truth, or are they essentially the same? Myself, I don´t care what anybody says about me as long as it isn´t true.””
A page further down, he settles for "truth as illusion". "Illusion as truth", he says, is another matter. Fact-fiction on one hand, parables on the other, right?

Food for thought, eh? And isn´t this what has been discussed so passionately on the Swedish literary scene for the past decade? How much truth are you allowed to write if you call something a novel? This spring alone, two candid stories about growing up with famous and crappy parents have been published and both are called novels. Perhaps only for legal reasons, or because everyone now knows that our memories are ficticious, or perhaps mythological in the way they structure themselves. Doesn´t mean they don´t contain any truth though. One true fact is related to truth like one single letter is related to a sentence. Isn´t that well put? 


Underground, part III - over ground

From the parking lot the fort really looks like an old-fashioned castle, don´t you think? One gets that same feeling as if one was standing in front of the Tower of London or some other such structure. Except this one is is blasted out of the granit with dynamite and made from the material at hand, the ground, literally.

The view from the top, to the south (yes, that is South River down there) is nothing but spectacular. From some of the forts you can see all the way to Luleå, or so they say.
They had a couple of military vehicles on display and the children made the most of it.
We then walked all around the fort, where a number of trenches was dug into the mountain, like huge motes, only not filled with water, but rubble from the blastings.

There were lots of old abutments where there had been masts of different kinds, radio, radar, whatnot.
A loophole facing the direction of the great Enemy on the eastern border.
When I took this I was aware of the colour of the photographer´s jacket and the discarded fueltank. I did not see the man standing in the trench above us, though. What are the odds that he would be wearing that exact nuance?

It was rather difficult to walk down here, the rubble and the barbed wire, still there in some places (though I think it´s been cleared out for the most part), made you realize that trying to take the fort by trying to storm it on foot or any kind of wheeled vehicle would be pretty hard.

The top of the fort is covered in concrete that has been coted with tar. We were not allowed to go to the very top, but in the distance you can see one guy standing there, to the irritation of some visitors. When I pointed out that he had some advanced camera gear with him and was most probably a professional photographer, the grumbles seemed to wane.

A last look at the place before we got back to the car. All in all, it was a very nice visit, and perfect weather to do it, really. It would have been much less rewarding to walk around it if the rain had been pouring down.
As we left, we saw what I think is the last bit of snow from this winter. When did I say this was? Oh yeah, the 26th of May...


Underground, part II

I love stuff like this, proof that there were real people here. This is an instruction sign, how to operate some of the machinery and the title of the page is: "Save your own cunning method. Do like this instead." Irony, huh.
On these contraptions shells were transported to the cannons on top of the fort.

I love how these soldiers walked by, slightly faster than the other visitors, as I was taking the picture. You get the impression of ghosts passing, haunting the place.

The newest-looking part of the interior was the doors to the ammunition rooms. And yellow is the colour that signals danger. What a good thing that the rooms are empty!

On top of all the dehumidifiers were small notebooks, the same kind we used to have in school, practising our English vocabulary, among other things. I love such details.
I did feel some kind of regret going out into the sunshine again, at the thought that we will be the last people to see this mountain from the inside. Unless some team of archeologists dig it out in some distant future, like Howard Carter exploring Egyptian tombs.
It really would have been rather difficult to get in at the time. Now, with no one standing guard, the wires are cut and adventurous kids are entering. And I have heard there are pictures posted on the internet, perhaps from this very fort.
There were several deep trenches dug into the granite outside the entrance, which we were also free to explore. The forrest had already begun to claim them, but some clearing had been done recently, perhaps for our convenienc.
There were some royal autographs on the walls near the entrance. These were from 1903, when Prince Carl and his Danish wife, Princess Ingeborg, visited. Carl was the son of Oscar II, whose name is also on another wall, probably being the first royalty to visit. Ingeborg´s grandfather and Carl´s uncle were Karl XV, so they were cousins, once removed. Or some such relation.

There are also the names of King Gustav VI Adolf and his English wife Louise, and our present king, Carl XVI Gustaf.
One would think that shells like these should litter the ground up there, but this was the only one I saw, just inside the gates. Perhaps they were more focused on the big guns.


Underground, part I

It´s freezing cold. It´s June and bloody, freezing cold. We have had one, single warm day this entire spring, and that was last Saturday, the 26th of May, and where do you think we spent that day? Underground.

There was an open house at one of the big forts in Boden, not far from us. There are five big ones, and one of them, Rödbergsfortet (=Red Mountain Fort) has been turned into a museum. This one, Södra Åbergsfortet (=South River Mountain Fort) will now be closed, probably forever. Closed as in buried under meters of soil. I believe the main concern is the so called "urban explorers" going in and getting hurt. Of course this was an opportunity not to be missed, and we were not the only ones to think so. The queue was long, some turned the second they saw it, others, like us, waited patiently for the almost hour and a half it took to get in. It was the only time this year so far I could have had use of a hat and some sunblock.

Because so many people turned up, the original plan of guiding groups was cancelled and more help had to be called in. We were allowed to walk by ourselves, around 50 at a time, and guards/guides were placed at strategic places to help us not get lost and answer questions. Some of them didn´t really know much, but many of the visitors were very knowledgeable and more than happy to share.

There are a lot of people, not just in Boden, who have strong connections to the forts. Many have had fathers, husbands and brothers working there (not so many wives and daughters, perhaps) and since everything was top secret during the Cold War, there was always something of a mystery about them. Walking through this old underground castle was clearly emotional for some.

This is the old office of "fältväbeln", the lower rank officer who was in charge of the place, making sure that the fort was running smoothly and everyone had everything they needed. A bit like a porter in an Oxford college, I suppose.
Not a fancy sign, exactly. Not much in this place was made to impress.
There were some old maps and notes, guard lists and such lying about. Some snuck a page or two in their pockets and handbags - I suppose anything might work as a souvenir.
Condensation is a really big problem down there. These are the barrack rooms, and they all have sloping roofs and rain gutters. Also, there are dehumidifiers all over the place.
We took our time, taking pictures everywhere. Some walked past us pretty fast, we heard some say it only took ten minutes to get through it. I didn´t time us exactly, but I´m sure we spent almost an hour in there. There were lots of nooks and crannies to expore.
 This lamp is signaling that the shock wave doors are to be kept shut. Words like that, "shock wave", "gas confines", reminded us of the whole zeitgeist of the Cold War. When my husband was doing his military service, the threat from the East was percieved as very real, indeed.

It seems now such an eerie place to be working at, but I suppose in it´s active days there would be loads of people here, lots of noise and activity. I wonder how much real fear they felt, the people who spent their whole working lives in places like these.

There were lots of rumours and myths regarding these forts. That they could shoot down ships in the harbour at Luleå, for example. This was not true, we have been told. But they liked to spread these kinds of tales, and perhaps they didn´t have to do a lot of lying themselves. Stories about what´s hidden often become exaggerate and fictionalized. Having something interesting to tell is social currency, and some of those tales were probably sold to spies, as well!