At breakfast, I read a review in a recent London Review of Books, “Naked Hermit” by a Mary Wellesley of Matthias Egeler’s “Islands in the West Classical Myth and the Medieval Norse and Irish Geographical Imagination”. Among other things, she describes how Egeler writes about “the common tropes of medieval stories – the temptations of delicious food and women, magical flora, improbable constructions like ships made of crystal. A persistent theme is the unheeded warning”. It sounds wonderful, rich in association and allusion. I immediately want to order it but the GBP 100 price tag stays my hand and keeps me away from Amazon – it’ll have to wait until a visit to Carolina Rediviva is no longer potentially life-threatening. I content myself for the time being with downloading Saxo Grammaticus’s History of the Danes from Project Gutenberg. My Kindle throws up a work by the same author in German, which looks as if it might be the same book but I’m not sure my German is quite up to this.
I spend the morning on a first reading of an academic article for language review. Time then for some exercise as it’s a fine blue-sky cold day. I make for the road behind my house which leads to one of the nine “Linnaeus (Linne) Paths” here in Uppsala, based on the walks that the eighteenth century professor of Botany and Medicine Linnaeus made with his students, looking for plants and insects (the routes of the walks tweaked a bit to allow for the changed shape of the city). The walk I am on will eventually take me to a fine old church, Vaksala, where I want to go some time to see the Albertus Pictus wall painting and where Linnaeus daughter is buried. Somewhere in these parts is a commemorative plaque to her and other eighteenth-century female botanists (it sounds as if a modern hand has been at work here). And now also to see whether I can find Centaurea scabiosa (Greater Knapweed), Matricaria recutita (Scented Mayweed) and Papaver Dubium (Long-Headed Poppy), which the information board tells me that Linnaeus was in search of on this walk.
I follow the trail across the moraine where a retreating glacier has carelessly deposited some giant rocks (no respect for the countryside) and through a very large burial ground at Råby that I must try to find out more about (presumably linked to Gamla Uppsala). Even more pleasurably I find that the trail actually comes out on the road leading to my daughter and son-in-law’s house (it’s shorter by a long chalk than the motor road there).
Leaving the burial ground for a more informed visit, I manage to miss my path on the way back and carry on too far in the wood. And then stupidly, instead of retracing my steps (there are a few people around which puts me off a bit as the path is narrow and I’m afraid I won’t be able to keep the requisite distance), I try to cut through to the edge of the forest so that I can see better where I am. What looks like a thin strip of vegetation morphs into a wide belt of tangled brushwood, which takes a bit of getting through but I make it across an enormous field (no dainty hedge-rowed little plots around these parts) back to the proper path. I’ve anyway done my 10,000 steps today and the feeling of well-being sits in for the rest of the day.
Back home, I wrestle for a while downloading an app so that I can play chess with my grandson on our mobile phones. I am relieved when it works….
Then some household reorganisation – packing a cupboard more scientifically so that my study/living room is less of an obstacle course and more pleasant to be in. And a bit of turbulence preparation by sorting out some of the tinned food to have in an “emergency drawer” in case my daughter can’t get to the shop or there is interruption in supply. Mainly to force myself to prepare food from scratch when I have fresh food and not have a tin feeding frenzy.
Not much time left for other morsels for the mind but I do manage to check through some new words, words which I know but have a hazy idea of and etymologies that have taken my fancy.
In fact, this week I only really have one new word which is “liminality”, a word used especially in anthropology. It originates from the Latin word for threshold” and means (among other things) the feeling of ambiguity or disorientation in a rite of passage where a person has left his or her previous status but not yet achieved the new status.
Then a couple of words that I more or less knew but wanted confirmation of – “sibyl” and “husbandry”. “Sibyl” a female teller of oracles and “husbandry”, which is close to agriculture but often used in the sense of small-scale agriculture (I didn’t know before that it could involve crops as well animals). And “alewife” I had also seen before in the sense of a US fish but did not know that it was also used literally as female brewer. “Hector” in the sense of to hector someone and trope I knew but was curious about the etymology. In fact, “hector” is fairly modern denoting the likely behaviour of the longest serving soldier in the barracks so there was obviously some real Hector who was responsible for that one. And “trope” apparently comes from a Greek word meaning turn but how it got from there to its present sense is not altogether clear to me.
I decide also to add the Calcutta Telegraph to the list of papers I monitor every day. It seems to have an open access website and I prefer it to the other Calcutta papers.
Time now to work my way through my papers and check the news to see what Corona has been up to today.