Monday, 26 May 2014

Mediterranean in Stockholm

In order to feel myself useful on a family-less weekend in Stockholm, I decided to visit the newly fully opened Medelhavsmuseet, i.e., the Mediterranean Museum. I had visited it years ago – and when I entered the exhibition, it showed me exactly how much in the prehistory that visit was. Not a single major display was where it was then – perhaps with the exception of the teaching displays and the gold collection that must have been even then in a safe room.

The main attraction this time was the fully renewed Egyptian collection that I must say is pretty comprehensive for a relatively small country such as Sweden. However, there used to be an Egyptological museum in Sweden – now incorporated in the Mediterranean Museum – and Egyptology is well and alive at the University of Uppsala. The Stockholm exhibition is of perhaps of a similar size and scope as the one at Cambridge, although the Swedish exhibition lacks any major sculpture. The pieces are relatively small, but it is the breath of the collection that is very good. The displays run from the Stone Age and predynastic times all the way to the 19th-century Cairo. Especially the small items such as wooden sculpture, games and foodstuffs are beautifully laid out.

Brick making and laying - I know who likes this image

The much trumpeted 3D scan of a mummy was a slight disappointment. Not because of the results but because it did take some time before different displays downloaded and the interface was not as smooth as I had expected. I should have remembered a presentation I heard in the CAA-UK about 18 months ago and realised that the touch-and-rotate technology on horizontal display tables is not always as smooth as one imagines on the basis of Startrek Enterprise.

Which side is the real one?

The Greek collection is a standard display and the Roman collection is not much – except when one checks the teaching collection displays upstairs. There are some further, rather beautiful small sculpture and other pieces there. The second major item in Museum’s collection is the Cypriot collection. The tale of the Swedish excavations on Cyprus was celebrated in an art exhibition at the year’s turn in the Moderna Museet and discussed in a research seminar at the University. The Swedes studied mainly the northern coast of Cyprus in the 1920s and 1930s under the British colonial rule. The most significant find is the huge collection of clay idols, models and statues from a ritual display from . Half of this collection is still on Cyprus, but with the clever use of mirrors the visitor is given the illusion of the whole set up. Animals, soldiers, men and women arranged in a triangular format radially away from a white stone on an altar. Amazing find – even if the ‘curse of Gjerstad’ had stricken there as well. Instead of an extraordinary evolutionary pottery typology elsewhere, here he had apparently dreamt up a non-existent series of reoccurring floods.

Researchers inspect with pith helmets on

The most interesting section was not an object display at all. The honour from my part goes to a photographic series that presented the Swedish excavations in Egypt. The astonishing part was not that the Swedes had run or participated in them. Instead they were the photos themselves that stood as testimonies of changing times. I must say the scholars probably could not guess in the early 20th century how hopelessly colonial the pith (safari) helmets will look like in the 21st century. As was customary, the villagers did the digging and sieving and the directors the inspecting, finds processing and mapping. At least one archaeologist was wise enough to sport a beret instead of the pure ‘colonial look’. The contrast could not have been bigger to the 1960s Abu Simbel jigsaw puzzle and the bearded archaeologists and building workers at site. Huge vehicles and cranes moved sawn stone and a beautiful lake-side temple moved onto an empty spot in a moon-like landscape. Priceless!

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Losing yourself

The last two weeks have been very stressful for an absurd reason I am not going to discuss, yet, but things could apparently be so much worse that I do not complain.

I visited briefly the Stockholm Seriefestival, even if the wonderful warm weather drew me elsewhere for the most of the weekend. The very interesting presentation on the gender stereotypes in manga was by a cartoonist Natalia Batista, who herself has drawn Swedish manga. This talk presented the different types, the cute girl, the spectacled boy and girl, the gloomy girl and the prince among others to the full Plattan (well, the seats are only about 30 or 40). These cartoons are age and gender specific, so there are different specialist magazines and collection volumes for e.g. tweeny girls and middle-age gentlemen who like sailing.

I was especially intrigued by the maids and butlers – who are exactly what it says in the name. 19th-century English maids downstairs and butler-like males who serve female readers every fancy – at least in their dreams. Most of the cartoons are not XXX material, so we are mainly talking about daydreaming and everyday escapism here. The really interesting thing was that in Japan they have maid and butler cafes where people can buy company of a maid or a butler for a day. It seems that nowadays a part of the declining population figures in Japan are blamed on manga. And I can see why the career ladies in their twenties who are so-called parasite youth who live at home and have high salaries prefer having a fanciful, gentleman butler for a relaxing day instead of a real boyfriend.

The other extreme of the spectrum was outlined by a colleague whose family was involved in a way in one of those awful stories in the newspapers. It turned out that the culprit was in a world of one’s own having been playing a certain video game since eight years old. Instead of dealing with sometimes irritating human beings, it was easier to just hit and run, play a game, relate to fellow humans in a way an assassin sees a target. No pity, no sympathy, no feelings, except perhaps anger and selfpity. Maybe one has to reconsider son’s tablet use...

That is the way other people lose themselves. However, I was only loosening myself in Stockholm in Eriksdal’s steam sauna... Or sitting on a terrace in Gamla Stan... I do feel sometimes like escaping from the reality, but I just think I will keep within innocent daydreaming!

Sunday, 11 May 2014

It is a house

After some hectic weeks I am having more busyness – this time in Rome. The old sins need sorting out and new plans consolidating, formulating, reformulating and adapting. However, this time around I manage to slip in writing my blog that once again was not my first priority last week.

View of Villa Lante by Teresa Maria (An Amateur's Adventures on Life)

I am staying in a splendid house – a 16th century villa from where I can see all Rome at my feet. This house is Villa Lante, the Finnish Institute, where I am staying once again, since I am just on a short visit the Swedish Institute normally does not accommodate. Since the Finnish Institute celebrated around the May Day, the First of May, its 60th anniversary, it is fitting to laud the place where I have done so much work and that has supported me through the years. The directors come and go, but the house stands firm on the Gianicolo Hill and allows very different scholars and artists come together and exchange ideas. It also allows the Finns an access to the International circle of institutes and the Italian academic landscape.

I first arrived in 1990 and even if I did not expect to return soon, I have stayed here many times over these almost 25 years. I have stayed in every single scholars’ room and the director’s guest room as well. The only place I have not stayed is the director’s flat, but there is a long queue, so I may have to wait for some time. However, as long as I can return and enjoy the friendships and discussions, I can live without. Even if it would be lovely.

No, I was not there (photo by Institutum Romanum Finlandiae)

I have just spent half a week in the house at the same time as the ‘scientific course’ and heard many stories about the 60th anniversary celebrations. Now most of the students have left, but there is another course coming and other lecturers and professors to meet. I can share a glass of wine with the Oxford emerita Margareta Steinby and discuss architecture with the architecture stipendiate. It was also possible to go to the Finnish Embassy for sauna. There is not quite a house like Villa Lante elsewhere (except for the Swedish Institute and the BSR and the American Academy and... if you come from another country).