Friday, February 17, 2012

Uff Da! Viking Blood

When I was the age I should have been reading about spunky girl detectives or Victorian maids, my dad brought home a copy of Njal's Saga, finally in paperback after a thousand years in vellum. Njal's was one of several Norse sagas originating in tenth-century Iceland, and I devoured it. I'm not sure why. I might have been trying to locate some sign of gusto in my heritage. I'd already preferred to think of my own origins as leaning to the Norwegian side, although it was not a spicy bunch, my maternal relatives pale and mild-mannered and modest to a fault. I discounted the contribution from my dour Puritan forebears who were brought into the gene pool to introduce blotchiness. But I simply had nothing in the way of ethnicity. Norwegians have ethnicity in the same way dust bunnies have personality: they might, but nobody cares. As a people, they could use some horseradish. I wanted zest and mettle. I wanted brio. I wanted family that would laugh haw-haw-haw right there at the dinner table.

Njal and his friends delivered. The saga gallops along in bite-sized chapters, each one introducing a character without fanfare and killing him spectacularly. Wonderful characters: Ulf the Unwashed and Brynjolf the Unruly. These were people who expressed themselves with a broad-axe. They did not shrivel and die; they were cloven down the middle, landing east and west at once. The more gifted ones lasted a few chapters but that was all; the biggest heroes took down dozens first, single-handedly, lopping off limbs and heads until finally succumbing in a picturesque way astride a mountain of severed body parts. For instance, they could be ripped open and have their intestines nailed to a tree and be marched around it until they ran out of guts. And not only did they march, but they laughed heartily, haw-haw-haw, right up until their diaphragms came loose. An insult to their manhood was all that was required to get the ball rolling, and then vengeance kept it in play for generations. Any one of these men was one tiny-penis joke away from being decapitated. These were plot-driven people; these were people I could be proud of.

Trouble is, they didn't resemble my living Norwegian relatives in the least. My relatives were not threat to anyone who wasn't a standing field of wheat. They landed in a featureless plain and bundled up and they perfected the art of beige cooking, and gosh-darn they were nice. Somewhere in the latter part of the nineteenth century they had gotten weary of strapping themselves and their possessions to a steep fjord, and they traveled to North Dakota, where someone laid a potato down on the ground and it stayed put, and that was good enough for them. It was darn good, in fact.

What had  happened to my spear-wielding precursors, who might try to win a woman's' heart by murdering someone for her? It seems to me that it is just possible that they sliced and lopped their violent selves right out of the genetic stew, leaving behind only a handsome bunch with strong character and an inoffensive nature. Could that work today? We have a surplus of world leaders who suffered slights in their youth and were belittled by their fathers or a generic woman until they felt a war coming on. Could the kind of man who would go to war because someone said something bad about his daddy be persuaded to gird up his loins and his genetic material and go one-on-one with an axe till his violent ways are selected out? Sadly, no. And it doesn't work if he just gets a hundred thousand kids to do the war for him.

51 comments:

  1. Your punchline is profound as usual.

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  3. Wait...what day is this? *shakes off disorientation* OK...good. Murr on Friday. I can deal with it. But I thought my mother-in-law invented beige cooking, and she's from the West Coast. Of Canada...but still.

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    1. I wish you could shake off my disorientation. I didn't intend to put this in on Friday. Don't get used to it!

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  4. Good for the Vikings who went out there and fought their own battles.

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    1. I will admit I prefer other people to fight my battles for me, while I sit at home snacking on cheese.

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  5. You have answered the riddle of why my husband's cooking is so beige. It's his heritage. I wonder if I've ever seen the color of his blood. Yep, your punchline caught me by surprise, but I can't figure out why it should have. I was surprised by Murr on Friday, but I am always happy to have you any day of the week! :-)

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    1. May I assume your husband has never asked you to stitch up his gushing hand?

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  6. Beige is not only a modern-day Viking colour, it's a palpably Canadian colour, too, eh. Despite a flag of mostly red. (Linda has already pointed out our quintessential beigeness.) We're getting pretty good, at home and elsewhere, of following a "keep the peace and be of good behaviour" mentality.

    But wall-to-wall beige can be pretty boring, I admit. A bit of daring-do would be good for us. Healthy for us, even. Eh?

    We've got lots of good Norwegian people; maybe they could re-invigorate us, once they re-discover their Viking genes. One can always hope.

    In the meantime, "uff da!" is the word (or words) of the day.

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  7. Beige cooking I thought was an English trait. Maybe Ukrainian too, as my son said Pepper, the exotic spice of eastern Europe.
    That farm picture sums up a great deal of the prairies. How do you keep from going mental? Loved the potato that stayed put. Now that is flat.
    It would be nice if our fearless leaders led the battle charge as in the old days. They and their cheerleaders might think twice if they were the ones facing sword and axe.

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    1. Well, I never lived on the prairie, but it does appeal to me. I don't know why. And who says I've kept from going mental?

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  8. Having been raised in MN, Land of the Beige and Home of the Frozen, I underwent a similar period in my childhood where I read copious amounts of information about the Inuit...

    Loved how you wrapped this up.

    Pearl

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  9. Put the leaders out in front? I love it! Think, "Celebrity Death Match" with the Bush family VS some prominent Ayatollahs. I don't see our current press as being the bust 'em in the chops with a broadsword type, but every government needs competent administrators more than it needs bloody-minded heroes.

    The glory of Norwegian food is lard. If you substitute healthy oils, you loose half the flavor. The food is not beige if it's done right. It is golden and crispy!

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    1. Cage matches would be a lot cheaper all around.

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  10. Wow. Those ancient Norse definitely had horseradish personalities.

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    1. Except maybe for Brynjolf the Unruly, which I am not making up.

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  11. Well, the Italian side of my family is NOT known for beige cooking. But the Jewish side of my family sure is!

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    1. And you get haw-haw-haw at the dinner table on both counts.

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  12. How did they get those people to look up long enough to take those pictures?
    Back then they were called "Leaders" because they were out in front, not like now where they don't even go to the country they attack. Chickenhawks!

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    1. Those are MY people! My mommy is in front in both photos.

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    2. How did they not get blown away in the wind? Truth is, they are nearly MY people, too, although I always pictured myself more like the guy in the middle picture.

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  13. Like Pearl, I have grown up amid Minnesota's famed beige Norwegians. In grade school, the nuns read us some colorful lives of early saints who were boiled in oil, among other things. A forced march with one's intestines nailed to a tree would fit nicely with those stories. And it certainly will stay with me a while!

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  14. It's stayed with me for fifty years.

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  15. Beige. I think I like it. There is puportedly a Chinese curse which says 'may you live in interesting times'. Spinning your own intestines, or watching others do so would certainly not be dull.
    I like my adventures at least a state away. Beige food? No.

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  16. Of course, it was the cold. Not much to do in the old country during the winter but hack and slay each other as penis petit is all the standard at -30 below zero. Unlike their more southern cousins, the Romans, who hacked and slayed for sport while sported names like Biggus Dickus. And, the difference carries over into their personalities. Who could be gaudier and louder than the pizza eating Italians while the Norsemen pretty much have the same personalities as their boiled potatoes. But it's all good.

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  17. I remain enamored of your writing ability. And, well, you. Here's the thing, though: your post, all the way 'til the end, finds its energy and excitement when you're writing about those crazy, uncontrolled characters that you read about as a kid. You are still in their thrall. Then, when you close with a feeling that it would be nice to excise the violence and breed ourselves into the milder forms of Us that are possible, I have to say,

    to be honest in a way that sometimes blog comments aren't,

    I'm left feeling that it's a nice wish...

    but that you actually find the berserkers more arresting. And maybe that's why warmongers persist today.

    I'm just thinking aloud as I type, not meaning to be challenging or anything!

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    1. Challenge away! I don't always think while I type, myself, but it's a good thing, I hear. I definitely find the berserkers more interesting, as long as they remain fictional. I think sexual fantasies work the same way.

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  18. "They did not shrivel and die; they were cloven down the middle, landing east and west at once."

    That was a killer line...loved it.

    My family and I were from Scotland originally and figure much of that "Braveheart" face-painting and axe-weilding came from being overrun by the Romans from the south and the vikings from the north (and the English got what was left over...). No wonder the Scots were so dour (at least in MY family). Great post!

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  19. "As a people, they could use some horseradish." is my favorite line.

    Your ending punch was brilliant.

    I'd love to name someone Brynjolf.

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    1. It's due for a comeback. "Ulf" is kind of sweet, too.

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  20. every good Norwegian deserves a beer


    http://www.ratebeer.com/beer/new-glarus-uff-da-bock/7468/128878/

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    1. It says it should be served in a "dimpled mug." That sounds precious.

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  21. I remember reading about Fionn mac Cumhaill, known as Finn McCool. One story had him, still a baby, in a big fight with a bad guy. Baby Finn ended up hammering the evildoer into the ground like a tent peg! Yeah!

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  22. The Highland Scots have some complicated New Year's Eve rituals involving going widdershins around the house, blessing the animals, etc., called Hogmanay. One of the stricter rules involves the First Footer, the first man to cross your threshold in the new year. It must never be a blond, blue-eyed man or bad luck will follow. Well, duh, of course not! Was a time when it would have been Njal and his pals, looking for cleavees. The problem was my Dad was a blonde, grey-blue eyed lad (maybe a Viking throwback) so if he went out on New Year's, he had to bring a dark haired friend home with him and push him over the threshold first or Grandma wouldn't let him back in the house. I don't think she would let him haw haw haw at the table either...and porridge is very beige. So maybe it's a Nordic thing?

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  23. Your last line was a triumph. A war-stopper. If only we could send out one warrior, the most verbal one, from each side, just when they are pronouncing why we/they should do what we/they want us to do. A debate to be held on the battlefield. And the winner goes home to beige food and a beige life, while the thousands of young men go on live without PTSS.

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    1. Maybe they could play Words With Friends.

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  24. Hey Murr! It's true - those who go to war really shouldn't ask anyone to fight it for them. Some arm-wrestling in Berlin in 1939 could have prevented the Second World War. Indigo

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  25. Especially if the wrestling arm was around a certain neck.

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  26. Well that just sounds too cool - in literal and figurative senses, particularly if kept to the romance of fiction. Do you really wish for vikings in North Dakota?

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  27. Being half Norski reading this post has helped to make it clear why my favorite media venue is Prarie Home Companion.

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    1. Yah sure. Half of me wants PHC and the other half thinks I should be reading Dickens. No wonder I just watch TV.

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  28. I was going to leave a pithy comment, but as #50 in line, that would be beating a dead Norse.

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