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Impulsive, madcap me

I’ve gone a little nuts in the last two days, and it bothers me a bit. I expect it’s a sign of oncoming dementia.

What I mean is, I spent money on two things that were not absolutely necessary for me to have, and which were not books.

First of all, I replaced my cell phone. I’ve had my old, bare-bones one for several years now, and had been thinking it was time to replace it. My service provider offered a very good deal on a new Nokia. It has a camera, which is cool, though I don’t think I actually have the technology to upload its pictures anywhere. (Remember, I’m paying 10 cents a minute for calls on this thing. How many pictures do I take that are worth a dime?)

Also, it’s got a flip cover. So at long last, I have a Captain Kirk phone. This is extremely satisfying to my inner Sheldon Cooper.

Also, I’ve registered for the Vinland Seminar in Chicago, in October. Because of my acquaintance with some of the organizers, and my long-distance acquaintance with one of the speakers, Prof. Torgrim Titlestad (who did me the honor of mentioning one of my books in a couple of his), I decided I ought to go. It will be an opportunity to rub shoulders with some experts in the field of Viking studies, in particular Prof. Birgitta Wallace, who used to be the chief archaeologist at the Leif Eriksson Dig in Newfoundland. She carries the eternal honor of finding the butternuts. And if you don’t know what that means, you should research it.

Also I have permission to hawk my books there, so maybe I can make back part of my expenses.

Next week, I’ll probably run off to Vegas and get married. I’ll keep you posted.

My way or the Seg-way

Me on my Segway. Artist’s conception.

So I had a birthday recently, and my family gathered on Saturday to make a big deal of it. In their own, uniquely Walker way, of course.

The perfect Walker celebration involves finding an activity that’s a) something the subject’s interested in, b) fun, and c) slightly humiliating.

They found the perfect thing. First of all, it was a tour of St. Paul, the more colorful of our Twin Cities (there are two of them, reading from left to right, in case you’re wondering). Secondly, it was a history tour—right down my alley. Thirdly (and this was the clincher) it was a Segway tour, giving me (and, to be fair, all of us) the opportunity to look like dorks on the hallowed avenues of our state’s capitol.

It was a huge success. Honestly, my conservative, hidebound reservations about the Segway remain firmly in place. But it would be vain to deny that the things are easy to learn and a whole lot more fun than you think they’ll be.

The wonderful thing about a Segway is that it’s intuitive. You lean forward and it goes forward. You straighten up and it stops. Lean back (just a little) and it goes into reverse. You lean on the handlebar to go right or left. Because the machine senses your movements, and there’s no intermediate stage of controls and levers, it soon starts feeling like a part of you. When you have to yield it up at the end of your allotted time, you miss it, like an amputated (if numb) limb.

I hasten to add that this has not turned me into a “small is beautiful” greenie. The trouble with the Segway is that fun is about all it’s good for. When I ask myself, “What’s this marvelous device in service of?” the only answer I can come up with is, a showy toy for people with a lot of surplus money. It’s a cheap way (cheap in mileage, not in initial cost) to get around town, but most of us carry things when we travel, often bulky things. You can hang a backpack on a Segway, but that’s about the limit of its carrying capacity (I wonder if they sell a trailer).

My hope for the Segway is that American ingenuity can find a way to translate this cool technology into something actually useful—a new generation of wheelchairs, for instance. This is too good to languish as a rich man’s toy.

To my family, in any case, thanks for a very enjoyable day.

A side order of pictures

Photobucket works for me tonight, so I can share some photos from Nordic Fest in Decorah, Iowa.

Here’s an eager crowd learning all about Vikings from the Skjaldborg guys.

Decorah 1

Here’s the Vikings extracting much-needed sustenance from pork chops, the national cuisine of Iowa.

Decorah 2

And here’s my friend, under my own awning, showing off the mail shirt he’s making.

Decorah 3

The big thing that kept occupying my mind all weekend (and my friend got pretty sick of hearing about it too) was the fact that when I attended Luther College, which is also in Decorah, it was forty blankety-blank years ago. Forty years.

When I consider that fact, I’m not surprised by how much has changed. I’m amazed anything remains the same. The fact that some of the same buildings yet stand in Decorah, and that a few of them even serve the functions they did back in my time, seems somehow against nature. When I think that forty years have passed, I imagine that the very hills should have been brought low, and the river should have o’erflowed its banks and found a fresh course. Everybody should have flying cars, and we should all be taking our sustenance in tablet form.

Well, that last part did sort of come true. I do not lack for pills in my diet in this strange old world.

Don’t Blame Star Wars for Bad Summer Movies

Danny Leigh of The Guardian states it isn’t fair to say summer blockbusters are all terrible because of the legacy they have in Star Wars. He writes:

Blame Lucas, by all means, but let’s have a little more accountability all round: blame Francis Ford Coppola and Roman Polanski, too, for never regaining the majesty of The Godfather or Chinatown; blame the fractured way we access entertainment; blame the Weinstein brothers for helping to botch the resurgent interest in smart but populist cinema during the 90s; and, if we’re going to be thorough here, why not blame corporate studio ownership and mass consumerism as a whole?

Tivoli report, 2010

Tivoli Fest in Elk Horn, Iowa this year was good. Exhausting, as always, for an old man like me, but good. I have no complaints.

I didn’t take any pictures. I took my camera, but did nothing with it. There are plenty of pictures, taken by others, on Facebook, but I myself didn’t see much that was different from last year, so the pictures in my report from a year ago ought to serve adequately.

Our first activity was a “Viking wedding.” A couple already married legally (or soon to be married; I didn’t ask) were given a heathen ceremony next to the replica Viking House. I attended out of politeness, and wished them well, and was relieved to learn that the celebration wasn’t going to be so authentic as to require three solid days of drunken feasting.

One of the most important questions in planning any event is “What will I forget to bring this year?” The answer for 2010: my sleeping bag. Once again I was using a borrowed club Viking tent, and I had an inflatable mattress to sleep on. I always keep a waterproof tarp in my car, so I tried using that for warmth. By the middle of the night I found it inadequate, and so I put on the shirt I’d worn the day before. Shortly before I got up, I had the thought, “You idiot. You brought two cloaks. What do you think a cloak is for?”

Saturday was well organized. We had group battles (seven men per side) scheduled for 12:30, 3:00 and 6:00. Lots of fun. I think I was left standing once, but only because I’d been (theoretically) badly wounded in the right arm, and so fell back, out of the fight.

We had the same Scottish cook as last year, and the food was good, plentiful and (relatively) authentic. Once again there was a haggis—a “beef haggis” (somebody said such things are acceptable in a pinch), and I thought it better than last year’s. The evening was given over to conversation, ranging from the scholarly to the scatological. I had the great pleasure of having a conversation with an Englishman (who bought one of my books). His opinions weren’t at all the sort that I expect from Englishmen nowadays, but maybe that explains why he lives in Iowa now. He’d studied history and archaeology, and been a Saxon reenactor, in his homeland, and I like to think I was able to talk to him on something approaching an equal level. He did disappoint me, however, by informing me that my proper Anglo-Saxon pronunciation of the name of the Venerable Bede (Bae-deh) was pretty much a waste of time, because everybody pronounces it “Bead” over there, just like over here (on the rare occasions anyone ever talks about him at all over here).

Afterwards, another delightful fireworks display, marred only by the fact that a couple fires started in the launching area. This engendered considerable mirth among us Vikings, and several guys speculated about the fate of “One-eyed Bob and his crew of four-fingered pyrotechnicians” who (they were certain) were in charge of everything. The volunteer fire department came in to douse the fires, but in fact left one of them smoldering, and it flared up again. But then I went to bed, and apparently no disaster followed.

Sunday we were incited, by bloody-minded festival organizers, to stand along the edges of the street and harass bicyclists participating in the official festival bike ride. There were no casualties. Later I went up to the fire department to enjoy the all-you-can-eat aebelskiver breakfast (an aebelskiver is a sort of Danish pancake, fried in balls rather than flat. Wonderful eating). I did not taunt the firemen on their shoddy performance the night before.

We didn’t do any big battles on Sunday, but the Skjaldborg guys from Omaha gave my group some training in areas in live steel combat where we’d picked up bad habits. It all made sense, and I was grateful for the correction. They also showed us how to fight with an axe, and one of them presented us with our first club fighting (blunt) axe. If anybody from Skjaldborg reads this, much thanks.

Tivoli wouldn’t be Tivoli without rain, but the rain that came on Sunday afternoon was pretty light, so we didn’t have to take wet tents home. I drove down and back with a young member of our group, a new fellow, and having company (especially a C.S. Lewis fan) made the journey a whole lot shorter.

But no less exhausting.

Still, the dream I had Saturday night, of encountering a skidding, out-of-control semi-trailer truck on the highway, did not come true. I am not a prophet, and all things considered, I’m glad of that.

The headless norsemen

I’m low on ideas tonight, so I’ll just pass on the most recent big discovery in Viking studies.

Last summer, a collection of skeletons were excavated at Weymouth, in Dorsetshire in England. They had clearly died violently, and were judged to be victims of a mass execution. The bones were determined to be about a thousand years old

At the time of the news I suggested, on the Viking discussion board I frequent, that the bones were probably those of Vikings. My reason was that we know of only one attempt at genocide in England during the period in question, and that was King Æthelred the Unrede’s massacre of Danes in England, on St. Brice’s Day in 1002. (You’ll know about this if you’ve read West Oversea. You have read it, haven’t you? If not, click on the yellow cover in the carousel to the right. I’ll wait.)

I am so rarely right that I feel I need to preen a little here. According to National Geographic:

Analysis of teeth from ten of the dead—who were mostly in their late teens and early 20s—indicates the raiding party had been gathered from different parts of Scandinavia, including one person thought to have come from north of the Arctic Circle.

I think some Viking enthusiasts are a little embarrassed by this news, as it casts the Norse as victims. This in spite of the fact that many recent books have in fact openly portrayed the Norse as victims (of those nasty Christians).

I, on the other hand, have tried to dispute that victimization meme in my own writing.

But of course anyone can be a victim under certain circumstances. Hell hath no fury like a bunch of villagers who get the upper hand on a raiding party.

And the St. Brice’s Day Massacre is an undisputed historical fact.

More as the story develops.

Or not.

It’s shamed I am. Shamed.

Am I a hypocrite?


Am I for sale?

It would appear so.

As you may recall, I groused a while back about the new animated Disney movie, How to Train Your Dragon. Not merely because of the historically inaccurate horned helmets on the Viking characters, but because of my intense weariness with the innovation—which long since became a cliché—of the sympathetic, victimized dragon.


Guess what? One of our local IMAX theaters (the one at the Minnesota Zoo), has asked the Viking Age Club and Society to be there in costume for the opening, next Saturday. And I’ve agreed to participate.

My price? A free ticket to a movie I’m not even particularly interested in.

It’s for the good of the club, I tell myself. To raise our public visibility and attract new members.

So I’m taking a bullet (or, more authentically, an arrow) for the group.

I’m a hero.

That’s how I intend to look at it, anyway.

Now the only question is, why did they invite us for the 20th, when the official opening is a week later? Sneak preview?

I’ll keep you posted. As it is, we’re scheduled to be at the Great Clips IMAX Theater at the Minnesota Zoo from 9:00 to 10:00 a.m., this Saturday.

For those of you in the area, who wish to come and rub it in.

Update: I just found out this is a special preview. My source wasn’t sure if it was open to the public or not. So if you come to mock me, you may not get in at all. Which only serves you right.