Neighbors and Crows

7 April 2001

Marissa's Rules for Good Neighbors:

1. If you feel it necessary to scream at another member of your household, please do not do so at 1:30 a.m., when it may awaken and alarm your neighbors.

2. If you feel it necessary, in the course of screaming at another member of your household, to break crockery in order to make your point, please do not do so at 1:30 a.m., when it may scare the crap out of your neighbors. Also, please reconsider any point that requires shattering for punctuation.

3. If your domestic dispute requires arbitration, please behave in a reasonable and calm enough fashion that the police, who have so generously showed up to arbitrate, do not feel it necessary to use their loudspeaker thing at 2:00 a.m.

Just in case you were wondering.

I read a rather silly Swedish pop song in Karen's journal earlier in the week. And I thought, "Ah ha! But perhaps readers are now thinking that the good people of the Scandinavian peninsula have become silly after years of sober and comprehensible songs!" Not so, dear readers! In demonstration, I will tell you about a Norwegian folk song, "Bonden og Kråka," or "The Farmer and the Crow." It's not as much nonsense as the hat song Karen had, but it's pretty trippy.

The translation reads: "A farmer went walking in the woods, Hei fara in the woods. There in the grove he saw a cawing crow. Hei fara! Faltu riltu raltura!" (I'm going to leave out the nonsense words and repetition from now on. Although this sort of thing makes it quite clear, when you know what languages Tolkien was fond of studying, where all the weird tra la lallies of his songs come from.)

"The farmer thought to himself, 'I wonder if this crow will try to kill me?'" (Crows were evidently much different in Norway in the eighteenth and nineteenth century. No wonder the ancestors on that side of the family left. This may be useful in the Not A Moose book, however, if it was not Norway but the entire Scandinavian peninsula. Because one of my main characters does get to spend a little time in Sweden, and they're going to be in the high up connecty bits of Finland. Suomi. I always feel like such a heel when I call it Finland. I really think people should be allowed to pick out what their own country is named. That goes for Sweden and Norway, too. Ask a Swede to say his country name sometime. It sounds nothing like swee-den. There's no w in it at all. Why did we put a sound in their country name that many people living there have trouble distinguishing? Argh.)

"He strung his bow and went down on his knee. He aimed and shot the crow down to the ground. He brought out his twelve horses, then bound the crow and dragged it back to his barn floor. From the gut of the crow he made twelve pairs of rope." (What's a pair of rope?)

"And the claws he used for shovels. Of the eyes he made window glass and the neck he mounted on top of the church for decoration." (Oh yes. Necks of dead giant crows. I'll bet you didn't know they were highly prized for decoration. Sort of like kukui nuts in Hawaii. Only different. God really likes dead giant crow necks.)

"The beak he used for a horn and also to grind corn." (This is one resourceful farmer! Mark never uses his sax to grind corn. Never once. I knew there was a reason Mom wanted me to find myself a ScanAm boy at college. I didn't know that it was so that he could grind corn. Which, incidentally, was probably not corn at all, but wheat or barley or some other grain. The Norwegian word is "korn," and like the English word "corn," it was not used to mean maize until linguistically recently, if at all. You'll sometimes see fifteenth century English tax accounts that say so many bushels of corn collected. It's a general term for cereal grains, not an indication that our kind of corn existed before trade to America. In case you were wondering. But "grain" doesn't rhyme with "horn.")

"When he had used all he could of the crow, he emigrated to America." I think that's my favorite line. The rest of it kind of fits together. It's all a little weird, but it fits together. But that's the end of the song. He used up the crow and moved to America. Faltu riltu raltura. What could be more natural? No more crow. Let's go to America. I know that's what I'd do.

I should give this song to some ScanStudies person like Marty and see if it's all deeply symbolic about famine and humiliation in Norway. But I can BS that explanation myself, and I like the literal stuff better.

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