Sunday, 23 February 2014

Away from my beaten track

It is somehow embarrassing to admit that when one comes to Stockholm as a Finnish tourist with a Finland ferry (or Sweden boat, if one takes a Finnish point of view) one’s view of the town is limited. Depending on the reason from the travel, i.e., if it is for pleasure, shopping or cultural pursuits, the underground will take one to the Old Town and its restaurants, big department stores around Slussen or to the Djurgården or beyond, if one goes to different museums. If one comes from Turku/Åbo, one tries to kill time at the railway station or McDonalds, and if one comes from Helsinki/Helsingfors, one is lucky to leave the boat before it leaves again, if the evening before has been especially ‘eventful’.

For years people have talked Södermalm as an up-and-coming area – and with the Millennium trilogy it has certainly become world famous. Sadly, before today my main experience was the well-beaten track to the local waterpark/swimming pool. I had very little understanding of its history beyond a general idea that it is a hipster’s world nowadays.

Sofia kyrkan (photo: wikipedia, my phone battery died...)

After returning back to Stockholm and cleaning up my flat but before doing my weekly shopping, I decided to go and familiarize myself with the island. It is really an island. As for a tourist, the walk from Slussen to an area higher up to the other side of the cliff seemed out of reach and too far away when looking from the quayside in the Old Town. The Viking Line terminal, technically on Södermalm is cut away from the residential areas by cliffs and roads, so one always just whisked past it.

Today I got up from the underground and started exploring this island that essentially looks like central Helsinki (or vice versa). The stone houses from the late 19th century or early 20th century, some with beautiful Jugend-style decorations, turrets and balconies, line main streets and narrower lanes. The Sofiakyrkan has the same kind of early 20th century styling as does the Tampere cathedral with strong Jugend-influences and beautiful internal decorative details. The outside refers heavily to the medieval church architecture with clear early 20th century style. The location on top of high bedrock rock gives unique vistas across the island.

Historic houses (photo: Lasse Strömberg, Lasse's blog)

The bespoke boutiques, hipster cafeterias and bars, Urban Deli and the bloke working on the computer screen in a ad agency on a Sunday gave away the fashionable character of the area. Nevertheless, the historical reality of the poor area with small cottages for working families became clear when one walked along the fringes of the cliffs where the poor built their tiny homes. There a series of information boards told of tar workers and sailors who filled the island once – with an average 7 persons in every room! It is hard to believe that today’s poor cannot dwell here but populate the suburbs along the farthest underground stations.

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Different circles

This week in addition to writing up an article and making library research for another one I went to a couple of research seminars and lectures in different organisations and institutes. This gave away something special about every institution I visited or I am loosely a member of.

First I headed to the Swedish Institute at Rome as a Stockholm University employer. I also worked an afternoon in the library, since not all books are in all libraries and sometimes you have to crisscross the city in order to collect all you need from the National Library or German Institute, if you are looking for rarer items. This time the Dutch book I needed was in my ‘home’ institution, so I could stay for a longer time and chat with Frederik, Eva and Anette. Part of the seminars in the Institute is in Swedish and this particular seminar presented a series of aquarelles painted by a famous Swedish architect in his more advanced years in Tarquinia. They were not particularly amazing, but the story about a close friend of the Swedish royal family the Institute wanted to keep in their fold was fascinating and the atmosphere in the seminar very cosy.

The following day I could attend the Wednesday dinner in the and meet my friend Elisa and her postdoctoral fellow contemporaries. The event on the day was the Rickman lecture and Professor David Abulafia was giving a talk on thalassocracies. This was a good lesson about the British mores and polite academic discussion in the honour of a passed-away scholar.

Professor Guidi preparing to talk

On Thursday I headed to the Museum of Villa Giulia for an Italian presentation on Veii. A team from the Pigorini Museum and the University of Roma Tre have started excavating a Final Bronze Age burial place with cremations. This cemetery obviously connects with the settlement on Isola Farnese and presented some interesting detail. The archaeologists and physical anthropologists had used CAT scanning in recognising the metal objects and bones inside the pottery urns, when possible. This helped in excavating them in the laboratory. The cremations included some very small children, which shows that at least some children of some status level got formal burials.

The presentations clearly present a new trend, since they were short, concise, well-presented and with lovely, partly personal photos of the people at work and the main results during the first season of excavations. The audience was mainly Italian; I spotted myself and Anette on top of a Dutch archaeologist who has studied in Italy and lived there for years. In the multitude of the overlapping programme – I could not stay in an interesting meeting about sensory archaeology in the Swedish Institute – means in Rome that sometimes very interesting and important results do not reach the international community.

Monday, 3 February 2014

Flushed away

It is fine to make plans, but the winter weather is always unpredictable in Italy. It is fine to hire a car, but you may not get where you had planned. You may also get more Indiana Jones experience than you expect from a simple visit to a museum storage in order to check some finds. I was reminded how we humans are on the mercy of the elements, when the winter rains started properly on Friday early morning with a bang. The lightning hit to a tree just metres from where I stayed. High on a hill over the city of Rome.

It was not this bad, but I saw submerged cars (image: NDTV)

The trip to collect my hired vehicle was just a start of an adventure. By the time half six it had been rained heavily for hours and the streets outside the institute looked like pools. Therefore, I phoned a taxi from the local taxi ranked and headed to the main railway station – the best place to collect your car nowadays in central Rome. I had to wait for the collection point to open, since all the trains were late and the man in the office did come with one. The car hire hall had turned to the safe haven of the street sellers, so I was standing there with a large number of immigrants and station security. I realised that it may be tuff to get out of Rome and back.

There was no point of planning too hard anymore. I could see, if I managed to get out of the town and the people I was going to meet could get to work themselves. When driving across the city centre I could see that the bicycle ways along the Tiber were already covered with the flowing waters of the river and I just passed the check point when the road that passes the Olympic stadium was to be closed near the underpass of the Via Cassia.

Most of the time there are no ditches by the main roads, so the Via Flaminia I was following was turning into pools and rapids in places. I could see why the roads around Rome would desperately need resurfacing in places when the potholes littered the rapids. Although I tried to take the utmost care and avoid driving into them, I could not see those underneath the pools or rapids and hit some nasty bumps along the way. The radio was open, so I could hear, which roads were closed around Rome. If only I could have been certain which one is Via Due Ponti, so I could avoid it on the way back.

I did only the most urgent tasks in Civita Castellana. Not the least because the archaeologist there had to lift my boxes from the highest shelves and his breathing was getting heavier and heavier all the time. A colleague I had hoped to see in Nepi has to wait for another visit, since it took such a long time to get out of Rome that there was no hope I could meet him before the afternoon. In addition, I wanted to drive back when it was light and before any rush hour, so that I could see where I was going in the case there was to be any redirections. My friend had already informed me about the landslide on the Via Cassia near Formello that still blocks that road to a degree today I am writing this. Suddenly, it was wiser to face the pools and rapids of the open Via Flaminia than try to approach Rome from the east. I also had to ditch my plans to have a nice lunch in the countryside; just popped to a Spar supermarket to buy some bread, ham and juice and had a quick parking lot munch.

The following day on my field trip to the southern Lazio the sun was shining all day. However, on Sunday the weather forecast was predicting heavy rain for the afternoon, so I had to forget to see some Republican colonies on the coast. Just not worth getting stuck outside Rome on a short visit.