On my way back from the Tyrol, I stayed in Munich en route to the airport, and visited the Dachau concentration camp museum- it was the first Nazi concentration camp and served as a template for many of the others. I think it’s important to visit these places, so it’s not just an abstraction in a history book, and to remind yourself that these things can happen again in “normal” places like the suburbs of a large modern European city. I think it’s especially important in the current political climate too, with the rise of the far right, and populist politicians creating scapegoats out of groups such as immigrants.

The museum is free (and compulsory for all schoolchildren in the area to visit), but you can also pay to support it by going on a tour, which I did. These photos are mostly quick snaps which I took in the gaps of the tour.

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British Museum Sketches

Here’s some more old sketchbook pages I scanned, this time from the British Museum. (Unlike the V&A they let you use pens and have plenty of stools to give out). The first one is metal grave goods from the Bronze Age, mostly from Central Europe and Wales. I studied Ancient History as my BA, and Bronze Age ritual landscapes and grave goods are something I’m particularly interested in. Something I’m well aware a lot of people will find horrendously boring. For the best grave goods though, see the Scythians, the nomadic horsepeople of the southern Russian steppes, Ukraine and Kazakhstan. Magnificent golden jewellery, carpets, embroidery and intricate tattoos.

These are some carvings of chickens from a mural from Lycia in the southwest of what is now Turkey. Not a famous item at all, so a nice uncrowded room to sit in. The British Museum has so many rooms that it’s almost impossible to visit them all in one day. I have visited them all over the years, and as most tourists cluster in the Egyptian and Athenian rooms, you often have the other galleries all to yourself. To be honest, the British Museum has so many treasures, they could easily send back the disputed items like the Parthenon sculptures and have lots of beautiful items to fill the galleries with (whether the items which no-one is currently clamouring for were themselves legitimately acquired is another matter, up until the 1950s or so, a lot of, or perhaps the majority of anthropologists and archaeologists were essentially robbers and con people- here’s looking at you Schliemann and your dynamiting of the ruins of Troy to get to the gold).

These sculptures are from 520-450BC as I have helpfully written on the drawing. This was the period when Athens was at its peak. People often have this idea that the Ancient Greeks, Egyptians and Romans were concurrent, but this is not the case. The Roman empire didn’t even get going (or even have emperors) until the first century AD, and the Egyptian civilisation lasted for several thousand years. Even with periods like the Trojan War and Persian War, people kind of conflate the two together and assume they happened close to each other. In reality though, the Iliad was written around 800BC (whether Homer was a single person or a kind of collective oral narrative tradition is something that is up for debate) harking back to glorious legends of the deeds of the Mycenaean ancestors around 1200BC, and the Persian war was 499-449 (please remember BC dates go backwards). The Greco-Persian wars were also recorded by actual contemporary writers too (whatever your opinion of Herodotus), and the Iliad is essentially an oral tradition written down four hundred years or so later. Troy was a real place on the coast of Turkey, and there is archaeological evidence that there was conflict there at about the right time, but who knows about Achilles, Menelaus and so on.

The era of these carvings was also the period of the Persian war (please do not see the film 300 for any kind of information whatsoever- don’t even talk to me about that film), and Lycia was on the Persian side. The Lycians/Luwians who lived in the area (and had their own language– which is likely to be the same one the Trojans spoke- Troy is not very far away) are one of the less famous civilisations of the era, mainly because they were surrounded by large bossy neighbours like the Athenians, Assyrians and Hittites.

Tuesday the 13th

No posts for a week. I stayed with my dad for most of last week to go to a family wedding, took my laptop with me to do some work while I was there, but then stupidly forgot to bring the power cord with me. Here’s a relaxing video. I actually really don’t enjoy those “relaxing” videos of people whispering or crinkling things, they don’t relax me at all (and some of them are definitely aiming more at “attractive woman pays attention to you” than soothing sounds), but I like this one. Best enjoyed with headphones.

Here’s some other interesting things:

  • The surprisingly interesting story of chain restaurants like TGI Friday’s whose decor was covered with antiques and curios, where they got them all from on such a huge scale, and what they’re doing with them now fashions have changed.
  • Colour photographs of Paris from 100 years ago
  • 21 Fruits and Vegetables you didn’t knew grew like that

  • The worst ideas of post-war town planning
  • The weirdest Russian textbook around (whole course free)

Frimaire, Nivose & Pluviose

I haven’t updated here in a while. I worked long hours throughout January and also moved house. I’ve also now officially deferred my course until next year. I missed too much of the school year when I was ill. I’ll have a little while off, and then look for some work to tide me over. In between all that I turned 31. Ancient, really. I’ll have a bit more time on my hands over the next couple of weeks, so I’d better make use of it. Here’s some links of interesting bits and bobs to tide you over.

    • Here’s a great BBC documentary about 80s synthpop, now available in its entirety on YouTube. There’s a full playlist of all the songs used in the show here.
    • Laura from Behind the Hedgerow blog makes some beautiful clothes for her children.
    • Atlas Obscura is one of my favourite websites both for finding interesting places to visit, and just for casual browsing. It’s full of photos and descriptions of unusual places like this town in Alaska that’s one giant building, or closer to home, the Embassy of the Republic of Texas in London.
    • The BFI presents their selection of top Icelandic films. For a country with such a small population (around 250,000- about the same as my not so exciting hometown), Iceland certainly punches above its weight in the creative fields. Noí Albinoí is one of my favourite films. I haven’t seen all of the others, so I should check them out.
    • The Salvage Project discusses sexual violence in activist communities in the UK. Communities which need fewer of these guys.
    • Links to watch a large selection of films by Andrei Tarkovsky, my favourite director for free online.
    • My favourite Wednesday treat- Rhik Samadder writing about kitchen gadgets. Start with the shivering horrors of the Egg Master.
    • My friend Alex Wrekk has made her zine about being in an abusive relationship and getting out of it free to read online. I’ve got the paper edition from when she officially released it, and it’s well worth the read. In her own words “What if your private life in your relationship is vastly different than what other people see? When do you know you are in an emotionally abusive relationship? How to you gain the strength to get out of it? What do you do when you know you can’t handle the burden alone? What do you do when you feel so alone and terrified of the consequences of leaving, when if it means losing friends, a home, a job and a way life that you love? These are just some of the ideas explored in this zine through a three year personal narrative that also challenges you to examine your relationships with power, to identify how you express the power you have, and also how you relate to the power that of others possess”

  • Angelyne is a pop-culture fixture in Hollywood, known for the huge billboards she hires with just her photo and name and for driving her pink sports car around town. I never realised she made a try at a pop music career in the 80s. It’s pretty good, as a trashy new wave song with slightly disturbing lyrics goes. I found it because there were two articles recently about what an all-round unpleasant person she is to spend time with, and I wondered what the irritating Barbie speaking voice the writers described sounded like, so I went hunting on YouTube.
  • Mallory Ortberg on the poetry of the Beaufort Scale.

Books, books and more books

At one point I was writing brief reviews on here with my thoughts about various books I’d been reading. I’ve got out of the habit of doing that, and meant to get back in to it. I’ve been keeping track of my reading on Goodreads for years, but a listing and a star rating doesn’t feel like enough. I thought it would be too much to do the whole of this year’s reading, so here’s the last few months of books.

1) Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945– Tony Judt
2) The Possessed: Adventures With Russian Books and the People Who Read Them– Elif Batuman
3) My Life in Orange– Tim Guest

4) Fiction Ruined My Family– Jeanne Darst
5) The Phantom Tollbooth– Norton Juster
6) Going Dutch: How England Pludered Holland’s Glory– Lisa Jardine
7) Production for Print– Mark Gatter
8) The Clocks– Agatha Christie
9) 4.50 From Paddington– Agatha Christie
10) The Body in the Library– Agatha Christie
11) The Changeover– Margaret Mahy
12) Affluenza– Oliver James
13) Oryx and Crake– Margaret Atwood
14) The Year of the Flood– Margaret Atwood
15) MaddAddam– Margaret Atwood
16) The Iron Kingdom: The Rise and Downfall of Prussia 1600-1947– Christopher Munro Clark
16) The Secret Lives of INTPs– Anna Moss
17) Thank You For the Days: A Boy’s Own Adventures in Radio and Beyond– Mark Radcliffe
18) The Pagan House– David Flusfeder
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