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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.

Olsen letter #4b

Here is the second part of the letter written by my great-great-grandfather to my great grandfather, whose beginning I posted on Tuesday. The previous letters are posted here, here, here, here, and here.

I also want to tell you that I have been fishing this winter too with our seine; ja, thanks be to the Lord who gave to us out of His blessing this year also. We got ourselves a nice little share, but we haven’t gotten it settled yet, for the berth-holders have postponed it until the first of April. We had our berth on an island called Hovring—that is right across from Kopervik, and we were there a month. There hasn’t been such a great herring catch in 35 years as this year, for imagine, the herring have been all around Karmøy this year. There was no renting of berths here this year. There was plenty of herring, but no seines at home then. There has also been good codfishing here for those who have been at it, but I for my part have not taken part in it, so that there is no fish to be found in my house now, and I haven’t gotten a herring home this year either, but that will have to be as it may be. We were so far away that we couldn’t bring herring home, and when I got home Mother was so unwell that I couldn’t go away codfishing.

But the worst of all for me was that she could not talk with me. You can believe that we had much to talk of together, but it was impossible for me to understand her, other than yes and no. I went home every single Sunday to her, if I was away. The last evening I was home with her, she could not talk any more, but she got up to prepare something for me to take with me. The next Friday I came home, and then I ran home from the valley, because I heard there that she was now worse than before. Continue reading Olsen letter #4b

Olsen letter #4a


Katrina and Ole Olsen Kvalevaag

It’s been a while since I shared one of my translations of the letters from my great-great grandfather to my great-grandfather. (The first three are posted here, here, and here, and here.) This one is the most dramatic of them all. I’ll give it to you in two parts, but this section is the meat of it. Five years have passed since the last preserved letter, and John has moved from Illinois to Iowa.

[Envelope postmarked 7 IV 97, addressed to Mr. John Walker, Radcliffe, Harding co., Jova, North Amerika]

Kvalevaag, the 7 April 1897

Mr. Jan H. Olson,

Dear children of my heart,

I received your very welcome letter this afternoon, and re-read it with tears, and I want to answer it right away if I get the strength from the Lord to manage a letter to you at this time. I saw and heard from your letter to me that all was well with you when you wrote to me, which was precious to me to hear from you.

Ja, dear son and daughter and children, I have another piece of news to tell you today, and that is that the Lord has called your mother from me to Himself; and now, God help me, I am left here forsaken and alone as a wild bird, and have no one to cling to. Ja, God must now be my comforter and helper both now and preferably forever. Continue reading Olsen letter #4a

Olsen letter #3

[Tonight, the next Ole Olsen letter, one of the shorter ones. Letter 1 is here; 2a here; and 2b here. I know nothing about the life of the author’s father, my great-great-great grandfather (whose name was also Ole Olsen), except that he once sailed on a merchant voyage to China.]

Kvalevaag, the 12th December, 1892

Mr. Jan Hendrik Olsen,

Dear Son, with your wife and child,

After receiving recently your very welcome letter, with the accompanying contents which were a joy for us here at home, that all is well worth praising and thanking the Lord for, who holds His hand over us in every way, both for soul and body, and also provides us each day with all that we poor humans need for daily life. Ja, it is grace upon grace from our Lord that He is so good toward us poor sinful creeping things, who do nothing but what is against Him. Ja, Lord help us all to appreciate Him, that He is a good Father toward us, but I see that things have worked out poorly for me. I want to grumble against Him, that I always get too much suffering from Him. Oh, wretched man that I am, when and where will it be otherwise with me? The Lord knows. God help us all.

Also, as before, I can note for you children that the Lord, in His eternal grace and mercy, has borne us in His patient arms up to this day, granting us to remain in the day of grace thus far. Ja, that is a great thing the Lord has done for us, to bear with us a while longer here, we who are so disobedient toward Him as we are, ja, Lord help us.

Ja, so I , Father and Mother, tell you that we have managed to be up [and about] every day this year too. God be thanked for it. But it should perhaps also be said that we aren’t always equally energetic, especially Mother, but what can we do? We must go on here as long as we can keep moving, for I have no one to trade off with at my side; ja, that is how things have turned out for me. Ja, God knows that it is often hard for us to think of, that we in our old age should have it so hard and weary as we have it. Ja, ja, that is our lot, but God who sees and knows all, He has a way out for us too, when He thinks it good. Ja, His will is best. Continue reading Olsen letter #3

Olsen letter #2b

[I hadn’t intended to post the rest of the second Olsen letter right away, but again I’ve got no clever ideas tonight, so here it is. By the way, there probably won’t be a post from me tomorrow night, as I’ll be driving up to Fargo in order to be on the spot for my 10:00 a.m. speech on Saturday. lw]

[Attached page:]

I must also tell you that here in Kvalevaag there will certainly be many weddings this summer. Anne Sirine and E. E. Ylveland the shoemaker will be newlyweds this next Thursday, that is July 9, and the wedding will be at the Mollene home. And Daarte Andresen will marry again now, and the banns have been pronounced; she will marry Ole Svehaugen Ylveland. Also there will probably be a wedding in our house this fall, according to what I hear, for Berthe. She will marry a widower. He has 3 children. The oldest is in confirmation. He is an engineer [i.e., operates a motorized boat], and makes good money, and he is said to be a nice man, so they say, and so he seems to be; I can say no more about that so far. So it looks as if we will see her married, if we weren’t able to see any of you who are in America married. You can tell your wife Lava that I will soon go and visit her family, and then I will write soon to you that I have been down south there, for I will take the opportunity to go to Stavanger and see about a net boat for us, for the net must and shall go out, if I live so long.

Ja, now I’d better close for this time of writing to you, for if my writing has taken time, I have done a good job of telling this and that. I must tell you that old Grandfather is still living, but is now very poorly and awaits death each day. Grandmother is now a little better than he. Continue reading Olsen letter #2b

Olsen letter #2

[Having no useful thoughts to share this evening, I turn to the second installment in my translations of a series of letters from my great-great-grandfather in Norway to my great-grandfather in America.lw]

Letter addressed to: Mr. John Walker, Millington, Po., Ills., Kendall Co., North Amerika.

Kvalevaag, the 30 June, 1891.

Mr. Jan H. Olson

Dear children,

Having received your lively letter, for which I am very thankful, and say thank you for, and from which we can see and hear both of and from you, that everything is well and good with all of you in every respect, ja, it is precious to hear from one’s dear ones that everything is fine in every way, for which we must thank the Lord, who upholds us each day. Ja, it is grace upon grace for our part that He does not turn His back on us also, as so many others have done in our misery, and at an inconvenient time. Ja, thanks and praise to His holy name for all good both for soul and body. Ja, I can also tell you today that we are all sustained in life by God thus far, although in many infirmities, so that we aren’t always so brisk in health, we who are now old. Mother especially has [been] and is so very poorly, and so she has been for a long time now. She spent no little time in bed, but now in Pentecost she has been in bed most of the time. But what shall we say? We have to suffer through anything. We endure much evil and hard work every day, for we haven’t much help in our old age.

I myself have been sick a while, but now, thank God, I am better again; and it’s a good thing, because I haven’t had much of anyone to help me with the farm work this year. There’s me and Marte [sister] and the mare—we are the ones who have done the farm work this year. I myself have plowed every furrow this year. I haven’t hired a day-laborer this spring, but now I am going to have hired help with me in the peat bog, for you have to have people for that, and I was ready, although I was alone, as soon as the others. And for that I can thank the Lord, who has strengthened and helped me, and He is a good helper to have with you in everything.

Ja, it is certainly hard to think that we, who have brought up so many as we have, are now alone in our old age. Ja, it is sorrowful to think of, that we should have two sons in America, and [they] go and work for day wages, with nothing of their own to hold on to, and will not be at home in their own home and country. Ja, it is amazing how a person can be, ja, I often wonder about it when I think of you, that you could forsake your dear home, and live in that America. Ja, it is certainly said of America, this time by me, “for I would not live there, although I got gold and green forests.” Ja, I know that for sure. Continue reading Olsen letter #2