Corona Diary – Day 100

Wednesday, 24 June

I’m going to “soften” my social isolation now and Day 100 seems like a good point to do it.

It’s not entirely rational as the threat from covid-19 is by no means over but maintaining isolation until (if?) a vaccine is available seems a tough prospect. It will, however, be softening with a small s as I am still going to be very careful, avoiding crowds, generally keeping my distance and wearing my last stand of the Zombies mask but I will at least meet my grandchildren outdoors.

The translation market has shown faint signs of life so I’ve had a bit to do. Otherwise as a major spare time activity, I’ve been reading the Cambridge Companion to the Bible. This not because my rugged materialist philosophy of life is crumbling from fear of the approaching reaper but because an ability to find one’s way around the Bible would be useful when looking at church art, to know better what I was looking at. Growing up in the 50s and 60s, you couldn’t help picking up some information about the book, but it was often of poor quality, disjointed presentations of more spectacular episodes (Samson, Jonas and the whale, Moses in the bullrushes, Noah’s ark and Adam and Eve), which didn’t give much of an idea of the structure of the Bible or any ideas about how the texts had been selected and edited.

The Cambridge Companion is more intended to be dipped into although I read it as a continuous text until I got half way through the various prophets when I got tired. I’ll do the same at a later date for the New Testament but I feel a need now to get back to current reality so I’m tackling Picketty’s Capital in the twenty-first century, which has been sitting on my must-read shelf for a good while.

I’m not discontented with my reading about the Bible, however – it’s given me a slightly better framework for my intended use and the ragbag of associations in my brain is better ordered.

The Bible is a curious book or rather a curious combination of books resulting from Christianity’s only partially successful takeover of the Jewish religion. It’s amusing to think of what could have been the result if Christianity had developed a similar relationship with the old Asa religion instead of supplanting it. Editing the Nordic sagas and combining them with a New Testament to form the basis of a religion would be a challenging occupation (the occasional brutality wouldn’t be too much of a problem as there are some pretty wild episodes in the Old Testament capable of getting God hauled up before the International Criminal Court in the Hague, which Christianity takes in its stride). I shall make a note of this as a rainy Sunday activity.

The Bible is also interesting from the point of view of translation as it made its way from Hebrew to Greek and Latin. I was attracted by the word “prophet”, ultimately from the Greek prophetes, an interpreter/spokesman. According to the Online etymology dictionary “The Greek word [prophetes] was used in Septuagint [the translation of the Bible from Hebrew into Greek] for Hebrew nabj, “soothsayer”. Early Latin writers translated Greek prophetes with Latin vates, but the Latinized form propheta predominated in post-Classical times, chiefly due to Christian writers probably because of pagan associations of vates…The Latin word is glossed in Old English by witga”.

All of these “vit” words go back to Sanskrit (wit, witness, “vidja” (knowledge) in Sanskrit.

Other words I’ve learnt in the past week or so are “tetragram” (four-letter word), “plangent” (loud and resonant noise with a mournful tone) and “prequel” (as the opposite to “sequel”), which makes me feel that I should have known it before but in fact didn’t.

I also have a somewhat clearer idea of the distinction between the figures of speech synedoche (“all hands on deck” where a part represents the whole) and metonymy (“Crown lands” where an associated word is used).  It’s probably not difficult to find examples where the distinction is difficult.

As I am now changing my social isolation, this will be my last Corona Diary blog post but I shall continue my blog “unnumbered”.

Corona Diary – Day 94

Thursday, 18 June

Between my flat and the old royal graves the roads (vägar) are named after Nordic gods and goddesses. We have Torsväg, (Thor). Odensväg (Oden) and the goddess of fertility, Frej (Freisväg) although strangely enough no road for Ull, Thor’s stepson, a good archer, skater and skier, who is otherwise popular in these parts (he does have a “quarter” (block) named after him elsewhere). Perhaps the city fathers thought that he was doing well enough already with all the place names starting with Ull around the river, which may have been cult places for him.

Close to where I live is Hugin’s road, one of Oden’s two ravens who flew out in the morning to check the state of the world and came back by breakfast to inform Oden of what was going on. The other more shadowy raven Munin has a street too. And there is one for Balder, Oden’s second son, who all animate beings and inanimate things had promised not to hurt except for mistletoe. Loki, father of the Midgard serpent and the Fenris wolf and of dubious repute, deceived the blind god Hodr into throwing the mistletoe at Balder, who was killed. I can’t quite envisage how a soft and yielding plant could do such damage even if it were toxic. There are odd echoes of Achilles heel in the “toe” but here it’s just a confusion and the name derives from twig.

There is also a road named after Snorre, the Icelandic scholar and after arrangements associated with the pagan period so that we have Holmgångsvägen and Envigsvägen, both of which seem to mean single combat (I must check the difference). When these streets were named in 1948, the city council was concerned that they might stimulate fights but they were assured by their naming committee that “holmgång” was not just any old dust-up but a test of strength subject to very strict rules and codes of honour. I haven’t seen anything awry when I’ve passed by just the odd person washing hisher car. Once we’ve stopped keeping our social distance, I’ll pop over and ask “Excuse me, but do you ever go berserk?”.

My favourite is Idunsvägen. Idun is the goddess that guards the apples that the gods and goddesses have to eat to stay young. I’ve been along that road and believe that there are apple trees in the gardens, unknown whether the denizens just like apples or are playing along with the myth.

I shall check again when the apple are in fruit. If there aren’t any apples in these roadside gardens, there should be so I will take a bag with me to eat and discreetly throw the cores into the gardens.

At the very top of the district is Greta Arvidssons väg, a prominent archaeologist and then below past my house all the names are of literary figures, especially those with a Finnish connection. This is fun too but I’ll save these for another blog post.

Sources: Nordiska Gudar och Hjältar, Anders Baeksted (1986); Dictionary of Northern Mythology, Rudolf Simek (2000) and Uppsalas gatumamn, Mats Wahlberg (1994)

Corona Diary – Day 91

Monday, 15 June

Tired of debating with myself whether a 22 km bike ride there and back would be too much for me on a hot day, I get up at 5 am and set off an hour later for the “row village” of Ekeby just off the road to Sala. It’s a pleasant journey in the cool of the morning, with just one awkward section when I foolishly attempt to rebel against the cycle path’s counter-intuitive meandering, ending up at the side of highway 55, a wannabe motorway, no place for a silver top on a bike. But after a couple of hundred metres diesel trudge, a traffic light suddenly appears. I award God a half quality point for this miraculous intervention (it would have been a whole quality point if the boring old green, yellow, red had been replaced by a messenger angel with a shining selfie stick pointing out the way ahead….). But shortly after I’m off the wannabe motorway and all is peaceful and bucolic. I’m tempted to stop to examine the flowers but am eager to get my journey done before the sun gets high in the sky.

I want to see Ekeby as it’s arranged like many mediaeval villages were in Sweden before the eighteenth and nineteenth century agricultural reforms, the so-called partitions, the Great Partition (storskifte), enskifte, laga skifte, with increasing degrees of compulsion. Previously, the farms had been gathered together in traditional villages (in a row of buildings with the amount of frontage depending on the amount of land owned), with houses on one side and farm buildings on the other. The farmers then owned strips of land, some on better and some on poorer land, scattered around the village. They were often dependent on one another, working together and deciding what to grow. The agricultural reforms aimed to concentrate land holdings and, after the “laga skifte” partition in 1827, enabling a single farmer to demand partition, the farms were often moved away from the traditional village. The farmers became less dependent on one another and employed more landless labour.

This process can be viewed in many perspectives – agricultural efficiency, social divisions (the landless as cause and effect of the partitions), the effect on the rural community, its different impact in different parts of Sweden (weak in Dalecarlia/Dalarna, for example, where many villages remain intact), the effect of differing traditional provisions on inheritance on the division and sub-division of the land, and the ideological justification and interpretation of the partitions.

Ekeby is unusual as it not only has a row but also a ring road around the core of the village like many mediaeval settlements, which apparently has only survived here. The village with its cluster of falu red buildings is visible from some way off. It’s an idyllic place but didn’t obviously look like a collection of working farms. I wonder what happened to land ownership here. Did the survival of the village mean that the partition of the land didn’t take place or was there some other reason for the survival of the traditional village? (photos on my facebook page).

There’s no noticeboard at the village to explain what we are looking at. I don’t suffer from craft shop deprivation but it would be interesting to know more, to understand that the differing countryside in, for example, England and Sweden but also within Sweden. isn’t just natural phenomena but the result of distinct historical processes.

A couple of notes on terminology. As far as I can see “partition” is the word used, although what actually happened was more of a re-partition (and joining together rather than splitting). I’ve also sometimes seen the word “enclosure” used although enclosure in England differed. There it was a matter of enclosing or privatising common land and I’m not sure that this played such a major role in Sweden even if the causes, aims and effects of agricultural reforms bore some similarities.

“Row villages” also has an awkward translation flavour – it comes over as reihendorf in German, which may be more convincing. There might be a better technical term.

Dalecarlia, an English or rather Latin term, is hardly used in everyday English (unlike Gothenburg).

Dalarna does not require any unfamiliar oral gymnastics (also unlike Göteborg) so most English people are probably happy with that. I learnt the other day that Dalecarlia is an exonym or xonym (like Germany or Sweden) – an external name for a geographical place, group or people (while Dalarna and Deutschland are endoyms (or autonyms) used internally; a satisfactory acquisition along with ethonym and glossonym.

Corona Diary – Day 86

10 June 2020

Confronted by a very fast road without a cycle path, I abandon my plan to cycle to Ekeby, a small village that has kept its mediaeval structure and not moved all the farms out of the old village in connection with the eighteenth and nineteenth century land reforms, the so-called partitions.

I see from my map that I am close to Hässelby Park, which is also on my list. The guidebook is lyrical about its oak and other deciduous trees and I go there instead in the hope of walking through something like an English wood.  But it’s rather a disappointment as there are too many sombre, acidic spruce and pine trees among the fresh green. Either I have not found the right place or it’s only lyrical to a Swedish eye, more accepting of the conifer as a fact of life. I’ll have to sit and dream in the English Park at Drottningholm instead.

I return by a roundabout route past Ulva kvarn, an old mill which has been there in various forms since the fourteenth century. The café is open and there’s hardly anyone around so I decide to risk an outdoor coffee, my first commercial coffee since I started my self-isolation (pics on my Facebook page).

I’m tempted to make a detour to Ärentuna again to see if I can get into the church but a headwind is dampening my euphoria. But I can cope with it and notice that I don’t feel I always need to get off and push my bike uphill. I’m getting used to riding a bike again and I even overtake a lady cyclist as I near home. I resist the temptation to shout at her as I overtake “you make me feel like Achilles”, which could be misunderstood (I have learnt not to make jokes in situations when I don’t have an explanatory leaflet (with footnotes).  She would probably not have been quick enough to answer “surely, only like his vulnerable part.”

15-20 kilometres is enough for me and I’m glad to be back to start working on planning a summer trip around Uppland.

Corona Diary – Day 83

Sunday, 7 June

I’ve finished reading “The Global Gamble” by my old friend, Peter Gowan. I have had a bad conscience for never having tackled it but now, twenty years after its publication, I’ve done so, thanks to Corem-19. But otherwise, I’ve mostly been occupied by the less worldly of my interests, and then too in a rather scattered, unconcentrated way; perhaps due to my long period of self-isolation or maybe a physical reaction from spending too much time in my dust-laden flat.

I’ve been working through a local guide “Hitta Uppland – Guiden till Naturen och Kulturen” with a view to travelling around the county in the summer. There’s a lot to see – I’m attracted by the coast and the old metal-working and Walloon areas in the north of the county.

Another place that interests me is Balingsta to the west of Uppsala. Here a new neo-gothic brick church was built in 1872 and the decayed mediaeval church abandoned. I was somewhat puzzled when googling on the church to find pictures of a romanesque church, which was neither brick nor neo-gothic, the explanation being that in 1917 it was decided to restore the old church and Adrian Crispin Peterson’s nineteenth century creation was demolished in 1934 (There are over 30 other of his churches so I suppose the loss of one is bearable). The abandonment of the old church seems to have been a matter of dispute for the parish. I read originally that the new church was disliked because it was considered alien, not in the spirit of the prevailing national romantic style. And I suppose discussions in the parish could have been in that direction although a key player in the restoration of the old church was not profoundly a Swede but a new priest, an Englishman by origin, Edward Holliday-Owen, born in Chester, who had spent many years in Sikkim as a missionary. Nathan Söderblom, the archbishop approved of this project and the restoration project was financed by Alfred Berg. the banker and owner of nearby Wiks slott. Why and how Holliday-Owen came to Sweden and how he learnt Swedish and was able to serve as a priest here, I don’t know but I shall dig in the Uppsala newspaper archive when it’s safe to do so to find out more about him and what happened to the church.

I want to read more about neo-gothic churches in Sweden. I know that, just as in England, there was subsequently criticism of some of the more ardent proponents of the style such as Helgo Zetterwall. The turn back to the gothic style was accompanied in England by a fascination with the mediaeval period. I don’t know if there was any equivalent to this in Sweden or how the neo-Gothic related to the later national romantic style with its more muscular references to the past.

I’d like to read some Swedish writers who wrote fiction about Uppland and have so far come across Jan Fridegård, according to Wikipedia “a Swedish writer of the proletarian school”, although he has also written a trilogy about Viking times as well as novels based on his own upbringing. It’s perhaps a bit like Ivar Lo-Johansson and I’ll begin by reading his trilogy about his own life – “Jag Lars Hård”, “Här är min hand” and “Lars Hård går vidare”. I suspect I may own some of this works among those I have at Kungshatt rescued from various library purges.

And for bedtime reading, I’ve been reading Chaucer’s “The Franklin’s Tale”, which has been on my bookshelf for some time. It’s pleasurable to read Middle English but, to enjoy it to the full, I need to get a better annotated Chaucer than the cheapy version I acquired in some charity bookshop.

I feel I’m making good progress with some of my aims and have played a bad hand reasonably well. It always strikes me that “defeat management” is a neglected skill; there’s something attractive about the expression “plucking victory from the jaws of defeat”. Weeping over the absence of aces is anyway a waste of time.

But after more than 80 days isolation, it is beginning to feel irksome and I’m unsure about the next step. I don’t think I can stay in isolation until a vaccine is available in perhaps nine months time or more. I guess I will proceed cautiously, with slightly more social contact but taking great care to avoid crowded situations. It’s more complicated than avoiding everyone, however.

Corona Diary – Day 80

Thursday, 4 June

I’m a bit apprehensive about the distance but I feel I need a change of air and cycle to Ärentuna, a small village about 10 km north of Uppsala. It’s an easy ride, all on the flat, past Gamla Uppsala cemetery and the turn-off to the river bathing spot. Then on to Queen Christina’s long straight road to the north; it’s no longer the main road but it still has a brisk business-like feel to it. I follow it over the bridge, past the military airport and the signs to Uppsala’s second airport, south of Bälinge (what we would call an airfield). The last few kilometres are on a rural by-way to Ärentuna. It’s very pleasant and I recall memories from youthful trips in the Somerset countryside sixty years ago. I’m making for Ärentuna where the fourteenth-century church has wall paintings worth seeing. Some of them are at the National Museum in Stockholm but I believe the interior of the church still looks decorated in the mediaeval way, before literacy, before translation of the Bible into Swedish, before simplicity and introspection. However, I have to re-visit as the church is locked and I can’t find or contact the caretaker. But I’m not bothered to have to come back as it’s a luxurious place, still and surrounded by fields and a few church-related buildings. I wish I’d brought my copy of Chaucer’s Franklin’s Tale, which I started the other day, appropriate for the fourteenth century surroundings. But it’s very fine to sit and muse.

I wouldn’t know from the outside that the church was originally fourteenth century. In England, I could probably tell from the windows and arches but the rounded windows of this church don’t fit in to our pattern of Norman, Early English, Decorated and Perpendicular. I’m not sure but I believe that way of categorising churches dates from the nineteenth century. It would be interesting to know how other countries organise their view of the gothic period. Most churches in Sweden seem to just refer to the century the church was built or refurbished.

There are other things worth seeing in the neighbourhood but I decide not to be over-ambitious and make for home. I’m quite tired by the time I get back but pleasantly so.

It’s very quiet on the work front now – I had an order today for a job in July but I’ve nothing in process just now. I spent yesterday organising a box of family history documents that has given me a bad conscience every time I saw it. I’ve now sorted it by family, the next step being to list the documents, copy old handwritten documents on to archive paper, and to make notes of what has been done where and logical next steps.

Most of this work was done thirty years ago and I’ve only dabbled a bit since then. I wanted the family to know its history and to produce an archive that could be handed down. The common people have a memory of three or four generations and then it’s lost, which I think is a pity. I’ve traced my father’s line back to the sixteenth century, fairly easily as they didn’t move around much but stayed in the same North Dorset village. To get further back to the period before parish registers were kept, you would have to look at the manorial documents, which requires a knowledge of mediaeval handwriting and some latin. And that might not tell you who exactly was in your line but you could perhaps see whether there were people of the same name in the village or not.

There’s a generation missing on my father’s side as his father was 40 when he was born and he was 55 when I was born. My paternal grandfather was born in 1855 and died in 1895, making the Victorian age feel closer for me. Just now I’m concentrating on sorting but I did notice (for the first time) that my maternal grandmother had 13 siblings and my maternal great grandfather couldn’t write but made his mark, a cross, on the marriage certificate. After leaving the army, he became a convict warder at Portland prison, Hardy’s Isle of Slingers so I have Dorset ancestry on both sides of my family although my maternal great grandfather originally came from Ballymena in Northern Ireland (where I believe the late Reverend Paisley came from…).