Wednesday, December 25, 2013

The Snow Maiden

I often listen these days to the Classical Morning program that airs on Swedish Radio from Monday through Friday, but that's also available through the Internet. Their selection is always interesting and frequently includes women composers. The director and beguiling voice of the program is Erika Libeck Lindahl.

On Christmas Eve they featured Peter Tchaikovsky’s incidental music to Snöflickan or The Snow Maiden, a play by Alexander Ostrovsky, which premiered in 1873 at the Bolshoi Theater. 

There are variations of the snow girl, Snegurka, in Russian fairy tales. I remember one story from Andrew Lang’s fairytale series. Childless parents make a girl from snow, who comes to life and brings them joy. Eventually, of course, she melts when the weather warms. Another version, the one used by Ostrovsky and Tchaikovsky, has echoes of The Little Mermaid. The Snow Maiden is unable to fully love, even though she likes a shepherd. As soon as her mother allows her this gift, love makes her heart warm. And she melts.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Bodil/ Sven

Last week, hurricane-force winds and storm surges knocked around the countries of Northwestern Europe, including Denmark and Southern Sweden. A few seaside towns in Denmark were evacuated and the major bridges closed, including the Øresund Bridge from Denmark to Sweden. Trains stopped running and the Danish headlines shouted that Bodil was on its way and Bodil was here. Floods followed and the winds even toppled the tall Christmas tree in Copenhagen's City Hall Square.

Until recently Danish storms were either unnamed or named for the dates they occurred on. This past October, huge winds swept through Denmark at almost 200 km an hour, the highest wind speed ever recorded in the country. That storm was initially known as the St. Jude Storm, but the Danish Meteorological Institute retroactively decided to call it Allan, perhaps with the idea that since such storms were likely to become more frequent due to climate change, they should have their own personal names. So after Allan came Bodil.

At least Denmark called the Category Two Hurricane Bodil. The Swedes decided to call the storm Sven. This wasn't simple contrariness; in fact Swedes claimed that Sven was Sven before Bodil was Bodil.

Did the storm undergo a gender change crossing the body of water that separates Denmark and Sweden? In some places the media decided to play it safe, and the words Bodil/Sven appeared on TV screens beneath scenes of storm-tossed waves and smashed boats and submerged houses.

A Danish site observed that according to Danmarks Statistik, nine people in Denmark are actually called Bodil Storm. Additionally, 13,250 women have Bodil as their first name and 1,866 Danes have Storm as their last. Employees at the Danish Meteorological Institute said they wanted a first name that was fairly well known, so that no one would feel particularly "singled out." 

The British seem not to have worried overmuch about hurting anyone's feelings.The European Windstorm Centre, a UK-based forecaster, gave the storm the name Cameron.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Healing with Frogs

 At the SASS conference last May in San Francisco Tom DuBois, a folklorist and professor at the University of Wisconsin, presented an engaging paper on his work with a grad student, Jonathan F. Lang. The two of them had teamed up to investigate the science behind the medical healing practices that Johan Turi described in his books An Account of the Sami (1910) and Lappish Texts (1918–19). Although the practices often sound arcane, DuBois rightly supposed that many of them must have been efficacious enough to have been remembered. Lang researched these healing treatments, many of them related to ethnobotany and animals, and DuBois supplied the context for Sami folk healing in Northern Scandinavia a hundred years ago. 

Their scientific paper, “Johan Turi’s animal, mineral, vegetable cures and healing practices: an in-depth analysis of Sami (Saami) folk healing one hundred years ago” is now available online from the Journal of Ethnobotany and Ethnomedicine.

I recall when read An Account of the Sami (in its earlier translation by E.Gee Nash, Turi’s Book of Lapland), that I was struck by Turi’s references to treatments using frogs:  “The frog is a creature that, if one dares takes it in one’s hand and the frog happens to pee, that hand acquires healing power. If one only presses an affected area with such a hand, the pain will diminish at once. And the frog is also a remedy for when one has skin eruptions around the mouth: one presses and rubs the frog on the affected area.”


But it turns out that the Sami were on to something. As Lang found in his research and literature review:

“The ways in which Turi suggests to use frogs—i.e., either to directly rub a live frog on the affected area or to ingest a frog dried and cooked in milk—suggest the presence of bioactive compounds in frog skin. In the 1980’s it was discovered that frogs secrete antimicrobial peptides in their skin. These peptides inhibit the growth of bacteria and fungi, and induce osmotic lysis in protozoa.”

The article has many more fascinating links between science and Sami folk healing.  

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Sami rapper Nils Rune Utsi

One of the things I find most interesting about doing public readings on anything to do with Scandinavia and the Sami (most recently during my promotion of With the Lapps in the High Mountains) is coming in contact with people's yearning for the Nordic countries based on family lineage, travel, and reading. In addition, people sometimes come up and tell me  that they have always dreamed about visiting Lapland or are interested in Shamanism. There's a romantic aspect to the many questions about drumming, otherworldly journeys, and especially joiking. My interest in the Sami tends to be a little more cultural/historical and political,  but I also love joiking, both historic joiking and more contemporary adaptations. Here's an example of how the Sami language continues as a living tongue through the medium of rap.

Nils Rune Utsi is a Sami rapper from Maze, a village not far from Alta in Northern Norway. There was a recent spotlight on him from the BBC, complete with rap music.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Readers write about With the Lapps in the High Mountains

When a book is a hundred years old, translated from Danish, and published by a university press, you can't count on finding your readers, much less wowing them. I do hope that Emilie Demant Hatt's narrative about the Sami in 1907-8 finds an academic audience, of course. She is an early example of a collaborative ethnographer and participant-observer who paid special attention to the lives of women and children, which surely makes her unique in the annals of early anthropology.

But I'm happy to report that during my readings the last month I've noticed readers falling for Demant Hatt's lively writing and sense of humor. Here are a few comments that people were kind enough to send me:

I just finished the book and wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed it!  Emilie Demant Hatt’s writing, as translated and edited by you, was very engaging…I really felt like I was there with her every step of the way on those arduous treks.  I had begun to get an idea of Sami life from Palace of the Snow Queen, but this book greatly increased my understanding and respect for a truly remarkable people. 
I finished With the Lapps in the High Mountains and absolutely loved it. No wonder you were so taken with her story. And your translation is so fresh and flows beautifully. I really could not put it down and found every little bit of her observations of Sami life fascinating. She comes across as such a good sport and never whines--I loved her understated mention of hardships.
 I am enchanted with your book With the Lapps. It is mesmerizing. 

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Readings this weekend for With the Lapps in the High Mountains

With the Lapps had a lovely launch at the Nordic Heritage Museum May 21 in Seattle. The crowd responded to Emilie Demant Hatt's writing in the best possible way, by laughing at times and leaning forward at other times, caught up in her adventure driving a reindeer in hard, snowy conditions. It was a great honor and pleasure to be able to introduce this remarkable woman to English speakers. I also showed some slides of Emilie's photographs and artwork. Again, I was thrilled to see how the audience responded to her as an artist, as well as a writer and ethnographer.

This weekend I'm lucky enough to have the pleasure again of talking about Emilie. I'll be reading tomorrow night at the always effervescent Swedish Club in Seattle. Somehow, I just love that place, and the view from the dining room, where the event takes place, is spectacular.

On Saturday, June 1, I'll be at Elliott Bay Books, also in Seattle, and one of my favorite bookstores in the world. That's in the afternoon.

Information for both readings, and for a couple of upcoming readings around Puget Sound, are in the post below. Hope to see you there!

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

With the Lapps Event Schedule around Puget Sound

Today is the official publication day for With the Lapps in the High Mountains by Emilie Demant Hatt, published by the University of Wisconsin Press. I'm thrilled to see this fantastic book finally available to an English-reading audience.

I'm heading off to San Francisco tomorrow for the Scandinavian Studies conference, where I'll present a paper on her: "My Nomad Year": From Tourist to Participant-Observer--Emilie Demant Hatt Among the Sami 1907-8.

Below is the schedule for readings from the book in the Puget Sound area. I'm especially looking forward to the launch May 21 at the Nordic Heritage Museum. If you live nearby, please join me in celebrating With the Lapps!

Seattle Book Launch
Nordic Heritage Museum
Tuesday, May 21, 7 pm
3014 NW 67th Street
Seattle, WA 98117

Swedish Cultural Center
Friday, May 31, 7 pm
1920 Dexter Ave. N.
Seattle, WA 98109
(206) 283-1090

Elliott Bay Book Company
Saturday, June 1, 2 pm
1521 Tenth Avenue
Seattle WA 98122
(206) 624-6600

Village Books
Thursday, June 13, 7 pm
1200 11th Street
Bellingham, WA 98225
(360) 671-2626

The Writers’ Workshoppe
Wednesday, June 26, 7 pm
234 Taylor St.
Port Townsend, WA 98368