Thursday, 4 February 2010

The Right Tools

I’ve come north equipped with pencils and pens, an assortment of notebooks from many kind friends, and - at the other extreme - a laptop. Between scribbling and typing, I have almost everything I need to work. I could pretend petulance about the frugal internet access, but in truth the isolation is welcome.

So I was amused to read Frederica de Laguna’s account of her sea voyage to Upernavik in 1929 as a young anthropology student accompanying Therkel Mathiassen on the first archaeological survey of Greenland. The excursion has more than a slight flavour of Swallows and Amazons about it, as when ‘Freddy’ describes trying to translate Mathiassen’s article ‘The Question of the Origin of Eskimo Culture’ for American Anthropologist during a heavy swell:

Mathiassen dictates to me, and holds down the typewriter with one hand. The rolling of the ship has made the machine seasick. If it is set crosswise to the roll, every time the boat heaves over, the carriage flies up and shifts into capitals. If the machine is set parallel to the rolling, the carriage sometimes has to go up so steep a hill that it balks. So I have to wait until the ship is leaning over to starboard and then type furiously to make up for lost time, before she begins to swing over onto her other side. And with one hand I grab the typewriter and the edge of the table. It has been interesting work.

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