Category Archives: Uncategorized

For your Spectation

I have a new column up at The American Spectator Online today: Slaves to Intellectual Fashion: 1619. A little more fiery and dismissive than my usual stuff, I think. This particular initiative gets my goat in a personal way. I consider it slander against a country I love and am grateful for.

The weekend was good, thanks for asking. We had a couple Viking groups at Nisswa, Minnesota for a one-day Viking event on Saturday. I took a few pictures, but they weren’t very good. Having 2 groups together made it possible to have some relatively impressive battles, with (I guess) 15 to 20 guys all together. I did not participate in those. I sat in my pavilion in Viking splendor, dispensing wisdom and information to all comers. Also selling books.

It was nice, the weather was beatiful, and I stayed with some very gracious hosts in Brainerd. All in all, pretty rewarding. The scuttlebutt is that the event will happen again next year.

Watch for ‘Wisting’

I have approval now to tell you about another Norwegian TV miniseries I helped translate. You may recall the name Wisting, because I reviewed several of the books on which this series is based, written by Jørn Lier Horst. I couldn’t say it at the time, but I got interested in the books when I worked on the TV scripts (though I admit I only helped with a couple). The books seem to be out of print in English right now, but I suspect they’re preparing a new edition to tie in with the miniseries.

Should be interesting. It’s been broadcast in Norway already, so I would look for it to show up on Netflix or something before very long. Recommended, with cautions for the sort of things you’d expect.

The Donald and the Erik

Scrupulously researched portrait of Erik the Red from Arngrimur Jonsson’s Gronlandia (ca. early 17th Century).

Sorry about the lack of a post last night. I actually posted one, and WordPress disappeared it. It vanished into the ether, like a childhood friend of Stalin. I don’t know what my sin was.

Let’s see if this one stays up.

Last night’s post wasn’t anything you’ll miss much, just a reminiscence from my childhood. Not even very dramatic. Maybe I’ll write about it again someday.

One of today’s big news stories is that President Trump, apparently, would like the US to purchase Greenland.

It ain’t gonna happen, according to the Danes. They have no need, or wish, to part with one of the very few remnants of their once-extensive empire.

And after all, people live in Greenland. I would hope they’d have a say in the matter.

Still, it’s an intriguing thought. It occurs to me that Donald Trump and Erik the Red, settler of Greenland, are kindred souls.

Both are larger-than-life characters, combative, practiced in self-promotion. The saga famously says that Erik called his country Greenland “because people would be more inclined to move there if it had a pleasant name.”

Thus he’s been called the first real estate developer.

I like to think that if Erik and Donald could meet, they’d take to one another right off. Sit down over some mead (though I understand Pres. Trump doesn’t drink) and talk deals.

I suspect Erik could have been talked out of Greenland, for a sweet enough offer.

Alexandria the Great

Photo credit: Chris Falteisek

For a few days I was a rock star. Granted, I was a rock star with “selective appeal,” but a couple hundred people in Alexandria, Minnesota treated me like a celebrity.

The event was the Tre Lag Stevne. The Bygdelags (as I explained last week) are organizations composed of descendants of immigrants from various Norwegian regions. The three “lags” who met for the stevne (gathering) were groups from Gudbrandsdal, Hedemark, and Trondelag. They invited me to lecture twice on Thursday – once on the Lindisfarne raid in 793 AD, and again on the book Viking Legacy (which I translated; might not have mentioned that to you before).

The audience was attentive, smart (they laughed at my jokes) and appreciative. They descended on my book table like a flock of seagulls and snatched up every copy of Viking Legacy I brought. On top of the sales, I got an honorarium which was generous by my standards.

I have no complaints.

The next day I had to be in a meeting in Fergus Falls, just a little up the road, so I stayed a second night. I had some free time – and when Walker has free time in Alexandria, he can’t resist visiting the Kensington Rune Stone Museum. I’ve been there before, but I heard they’d made some changes.

Photo credit: Lars Walker

This is the stone itself. I have grave reservations about its authenticity, but you can’t deny it’s become a part of history in its own right.

Photo credit: Lars Walker

This display is the main thing I came to see. They did an upgrade to the museum a few years back, and decided to include a tableau about the real Vikings (even if the stone is genuine, it’s not a Viking artifact. Its date is 14th Century, long after the Viking Age ended). The person the museum hired to make costumes for the Viking family was my friend Kelsey Patton – who also made the Viking trousers and summer tunic I’m wearing in the top picture.

Photo credit: Lars Walker

Here’s a surprise – the museum has a Viking ship, in a barn outside. It’s a ¾ scale replica of a Viking knarr (a cargo ship), which was built as a project some years ago by the American Museum of Natural History. Somehow it ended up here.

An interesting and profitable few days. Thanks to everyone who made it possible.

One of the better days

Today I was a rock star. A rock star for a very small public, I’ll grant you, but I’ve rarely faced such an appreciative crowd as the people at the Lag Stevne at the Holiday Inn in Alexandria, Minnesota today.

The Bygdelags, as I explained yesterday, are groups of people whose ancestors came from various regions of Norway. Genealogy is one of their primary interests. So they like history, and they were primed and ready for a morning lecture on the 793 AD Lindisfarne raid, and an afternoon lecture on the book Viking Legacy and its themes.

They ate it up. They listened with rapt attention, laughed at my jokes, and asked good questions afterwards.

And then they bought up my entire stock of Viking Legacy, plus a good number of West Oversea.

I am a happier, and more prosperous, man today.

Thanks to all the Lag folks.

Reporting from the field

I write this from a motel in Glenwood, Minnesota. I’m speaking at a bygdelag meeting in Alexandria tomorrow, and I figured I’d take a room up here so I wouldn’t have to get up tomorrow before it was tomorrow. Glenwood is sufficiently close to Alex, and the rooms are a little cheaper here.

Bygdelags are an old institution among Norwegian-Americans. They started as social organizations for people who came from particular regions or neighborhoods in the old country. Nowadays (much consolidated due to falling membership) they’re largely about mutual support in genealogy. (Or so I believe; I may learn other things tomorrow.)

They asked me to do two lectures — morning and afternoon. They specified that they wanted to hear about the great 793 AD Lindisfarne raid (considered the start of the Viking Age) at 9:30 a.m. So I did some research and was happy to add to my store of knowledge. In the afternoon I’ll do my extended infomercial on Viking Legacy. My hope is to sell a lot of books.

Sorry, the lectures aren’t open to the public, as far as I know.

Weekend and Monday report

Today was a good day. I got some translation work, after a month of nothing. Oddly enough, it was in Swedish, which constituted a bit of a challenge. My boss said she understood some of it would probably baffle me. But I think I got most of it OK. If you can read Norwegian, reading Swedish is generally just a matter of lateral thinking. It took me about 5 ½ hours.

The weekend involved the great, biennial (means every other year; I still have to look it up) Walker Family Reunion. This year we held it in the Depot Park in Kenyon, Minnesota, instead of one of the old family farms. The Depot Park is next to the municipal swimming pool, which goes back all the way in time to my childhood. After the Chicago & Great Western Railroad tore up their line, the depot was given to the city as a picnic shelter, and moved across town. It’s decorated inside with a number of historical signs – the old apex of the false front of the Kenyon Opera House (a fancy name for the vaudeville theater), the scoreboard from the old ball field, the railroad crossing “X” sign, etc.

This was almost – but not quite – the year my generation got to be the Old Folks. But one representative of my dad’s cousins showed up – using a walker, but there and welcome. Then of course there’s the cousin who’s the son of the youngest daughter in my great-grandfather’s family, who married late. So he’s almost young enough to be my cousin, but is in fact my great uncle. Or something.

Nice day, lots of food. Many stories told. “You still working at the library?” they ask. No, other things are happening now. Movie scripts? Really? And we always thought you were respectable!

Nothing went wrong at all, and yet when it was done I felt like I’d done nine rounds with Evander Holyfield. Hours and hours of human society. Oh, the humanity! I collapsed into bed and slept like an honest man.

‘This very day was Cassius born…’

Photo credit: Sophie Elvis @thetechnomaid

In case you missed the parades and fireworks, today is my birthday. I won’t tell you how old I am, for online security reasons. Let’s just say I don’t think I can get away with calling myself middle-aged anymore.

It’s a challenge to write about one’s birthday without sounding self-pitying — probably because I am pitying myself to a degree. Birthdays, especially when one is alone, are mostly opportunities for ruthless self-examination. And those are seldom occasions for merriment.

My brother and his wife bought me lunch the other day. I took myself out for lunch today. I thought about buying a little cake, but I’d already sabotaged my diet pretty ruthlessly. And events beyond my control are coming up that promise to subvert it even more.

What are we to do? Longevity is its own punishment.

And then I exchange emails with a friend who happens to have the very same birthday. And he tells me he highlighted his day by scheduling a biopsy.

Perspective. Ah, well. Thanks to everyone who sent greetings on Facebook. I do appreciate them.

A Cambridge education

Photo credit: Ann Bergum Saterbak

Quite a weekend. A real Viking weekend, in the sense that a real Viking weekend consists of unloading a heavy boat, dragging it and carrying all its cargo over a Russian portage, and then loading it all up again. I’ll stipulate that the real Vikings were stronger than me and worked harder, but it was a pretty grueling time for an old man who lives by the keyboard.

The Viking Age Club and Society was invited to set up an encampment at the Isanti County Fair in Cambridge, Minnesota (not to be confused with Cambridge, England, which had its own Viking problems a thousand years ago). The local Sons of Norway lodge, known as Rumelva (Rum River) Lodge, invited us to come, bring our Viking boat, and set up for the public. They paid good money for our presence, and provided generous help in getting us set up and torn down.

They also wanted Viking fights. As it turned out, only one of the young fighters was available that weekend. Which meant that, as it takes two to tango, an old fighter had to step into the gap. And that old fighter was me.

Photo credit: Ann Bergum Saterbak

I can’t complain about the results. I won most of my matches, against a young man recently out of the military. Of course it helped that I was wearing full armor for the first set – helmet, gambeson, mail shirt, and fighting gloves. (Omitted the mail the second time around.) And he had only helmet and gloves.

But it was hot. And humid. Adrenaline took me through the fights, but afterward I was fairly well drained – literally. I’d brought a good supply of water, and I drank it all up. Added some salt too. Even begged some potato chips off the nice ladies at the food stand. And I took a little nap in the Viking bed we had in one of the tents in between bouts.

I’m too old and fat for that kind of nonsense.

On the other hand, if I’d died on the field of honor, I’d be revered by every reenactor in the world. So there’s that. No downside, really.

I sold a fair number of books. Not great, but it could have been worse. Traffic was kind of disappointing – the lodge people said they’d been promised advertising that never happened. More than one person happened by and was surprised to learn there were Vikings there at all.

Still, it was a stimulating weekend, one I won’t soon forget. I hope the Rumelva Lodge people don’t regret their investment in us. I’ll do it again next year if we’re invited.

But I hope younger men will do the fighting.

The prospects are fair

In case you’re in the vicinity of Cambridge, Minnesota, I’ll be playing Viking at the Isanti County Fair there tomorrow. The event goes on until Midnight, I guess, but I don’t think I’ll be there that long. I’ll have books to sell and sign.

Unless my car breaks down. Or I have a heart attack. Or fall down a well, or something. You never know.

For your Friday treat, here’s something delightful I think I haven’t posted here before — though what do I know? It’s Sissel singing “Sukiyaki.” A bizarre fusion of cultures here — a Norwegian girl in a folk costume singing a Japanese song in Norwegian. But you can’t deny it works. She was born to sing this song.

I suppose this counts as cultural appropriation, and is therefore evil. But if she sang it in Japanese, that would be cultural appropriation too. In fact, how can you avoid the conclusion that learning any foreign language at all is cultural appropriation? Hey you, liberal, trying to be multicultural by learning Spanish! Who gave you permission to plunder somebody else’s language?

‘being judged by our children as morally corrupt’

British author Sofka Zinovieff, 58, has written a book set in the 70s about a relationship between a child and an adult who is twenty-five years older. It has been called “a Lolita for the era of #MeToo.” In The Guardian this month, she writes about how her daughter’s generation think they have this morality thing all figured out.

When I asked my 23-year-old daughter whether there was sometimes too much emphasis on consent, she retorted: “You can’t debate the importance of consent when rape is still such a big issue. It’s confusing priorities.”

I tried again with my 26-year-old daughter. “It must sometimes be hard these days for sensitive, intelligent, young men,” I said. “They have to be so careful about what they can say and do.”

“It’s only about not being an ****##$*,” she replied curtly. “That’s not so difficult. It’s just speaking and behaving with respect.”

Zinovieff doesn’t spell out exactly what she’s defending. Perhaps we’d have to read her book to get a better idea. But I wonder if both she and her daughters are saying the same thing: whatever happens in a physical relationship, if everyone continues to say her or she approves of it, then it’s good or at least difficult to oppose; only when someone says he or she has been hurt does the relationship become a problem.

Continue reading ‘being judged by our children as morally corrupt’

The past may change, again

Reconstructed Norse house at L’Anse Aux Meadows. My own photo. lw

There’s news in the Viking world this month. New excavations at L’Anse Aux Meadows, Newfoundland, have uncovered traces of occupation that suggest the Norse remained at the site for a couple hundred years, rather than just one or two seasons, as had been thought.

But it’s not a slam dunk, in spite of the sensationalist headlines you might have seen. The new stuff might not be Viking at all. This from the Canadian Broadcasting Company:

As Ledger explained, what they found is not necessarely Viking, “it’s more likely that this material relay to an Indigenous occupation on the site based on the radio carbondates from the material we got from this layer.”

But what is interesting is that this cultural horizon is where the researchers know that Norses used to be. If archaeologists find evidence that these series of layers that appear to have been trampled by humans or animals come from Vikings, this could be evidence that they stayed longer in North America than we thought.

(Who did that horrible transcription? “relay to?” “necessarely?” I have no idea where the word “Norses” comes from; the proper term is “the Norse.”) But the discoveries are very intriguing. Ever since the early excavations, we’ve been fairly certain the houses at L’Anse Aux Meadows were occupied only briefly, then abandoned. A longer occupation would suggest what a lot of us have believed for a while: that the whole Vinland enterprise was a bigger, more serious thing than Helge and Anna Stine Ingstad, the original discoverers, thought.

What exactly was the site’s function? I’ve been telling people that the best evidence suggests it was a boat repair station. However, I read in Nancy Marie Brown’s book The Far Traveler that there’s actually evidence of only one boat being repaired there. She suggested it was a “staging site” for further exploration and settlement.

I’ve been to L’Anse Aux Meadows (as I never tire of telling people), and even shook the hand of Birgitta Wallace, the second chief archaeologist there (though that didn’t happen at L’Anse Aux Meadows). The picture above is one I took there. I forget the year, 2004 or so.

A while back they found a spot that looked like a second Viking site not far away, but subsequent digging proved it not to be so. Now we’ve got something fresh to hang our hopes on.

Personally, I think the real settlement – where Thorfinnn Karlsefni and Gudrid the Far-Traveler lived, exists somewhere, but may never be found. But I think it’s there.

‘Murder at Shake Holes,’ by Bruce Beckham

Bruce Beckham’s Inspector Skelgill series continues to deliver. Rather old-fashioned, like their hero, they’re heavy on character and puzzles.

Murder at Shake Holes is the 13th in the series (you don’t have to read them in order). I believe they’ve done a “desert island” mystery once before, but it happens again here. Skelgill and his trusty sidekicks, female detective Jones and male detective Leyton, who work in Cumbria, have all been down to London for the presentation of an award for valor. On the train home, a freak blizzard blows up, and the train gets halted by snow drifts in the mountains. Carbon monoxide build-up forces them to abandon the train. Fortunately Skelgill, an experienced mountain rescue team member, knows they’re not far from the Shake Holes Inn, named for the numerous, dangerous potholes in the limestone terrain.

Matters turn sinister when it’s discovered that one of the passengers, a famous economist, is suspiciously dead in his car. He had been carrying a manuscript rumored to carry bombshell evidence against certain international money men. That manuscript has now gone missing.

The group that holes up in the run-down inn is an elite one – a former international model, some Russian business people, a journalist, a young Englishman with clandestine operations experience named Bond. At least one of them is a murderer, and once the snow melts they will certainly scatter. Skelgill must identify the culprit, hopefully before he or she panics and strikes again.

Skelgill is an amusingly quirky and occasionally surprising hero. He seems to have mellowed a bit from the early books – he’s hardly empathetic, but he’s a little less insensitive to his co-workers these days. All the Skelgill books are enjoyable, and I got everything I expected from Murder at Shake Holes. I might note that the author goes to considerable effort to avoid profanity – at one point even mentioning that he’s edited what a character really said. An obligatory hat-tip to contemporary social mores was brief and quickly done with.

I’m less delighted with the present tense mode of narrative, but all the books have been in the present tense and after a while I admit I stop noticing it.

Recommended.