"Ruins challenge us to make sense of them, as they frame emptiness and dramatize the evanescence of meaning...we need to make them speak and militate for our theories" Schönle, A. (2006 p. 652)
Whilst the fascination with ruins in academia and beyond can be questioned for it's potential for nostalgic views on troubled pasts through the attractive aesthetics of urban decay, or 'ruin porn', there are still important stories, experiences and lessons to be learned from such sites (DeSilvey and Edensor 2013)....
'Pyramiden has captured a part of my heart - so many secrets, stories, such beauty... Diolch yn fawr!' Samantha Saville, Aberystwyth, Wales, UK.
The guest book at The Tulip Hotel, Pyramiden, in which I attempted to sum up the impossible, has entries from 1987 up to 2000 (I guess some tourists found it after the settlement closed in 1998) and then resumes again in 2014.
Last year I visited the town as part of the fieldtrip visit to Petunia bay and discussed a key text on Pyramiden. For this trip, spending a couple of nights at the hotel and wandering the streets, hills and through the buildings of this Soviet-time settlement,sometimes alone, has been another quite magical experience. Perhaps that its history is so recent, yet seems so distant and another world away from the one I was growing up in is what makes it so very intriguing. That you can glimpse the different layers of development, inhabitants and activities in the peeling layers of the disintegrating structures and their contents at every turn had my imagination firing on overdrive.
Quite a bit of the week's discussions have been around cultural heritage, how that is defined, protected and managed in Svalbard. Time with my trusty field assistant is running out, so we went on an excursion to go and experience some local cultural heritage...or did we? Gruve (mine) 5 was built from 1957 and extracted coal from 1959 to 1971. All artefacts on Svalbard before 1946 are protected as cultural heritage within the Environmental Protection Act, as well as other newer things that are deemed significant or interesting enough. It seems Gruve 5 is heritage enough not to be pulled down as a blight on the landscape, but it doesn't come under the governor's wing for priorty protection either (which after going through a number of official documents and web searches is as close as I can come to being sure of it's status!). We found it incredibly interesting to imagine how such a structure was built, operated and what working conditions were like there. As well as observing what was taken away for use elsewhere and what was not. Just how valuable is that experience though, and how do you compare that to others elsewhere and by other people...?
Right at the beginning of this blog I mentioned reviewing the book Persistent Memories: Pyramiden - a Soviet mining town in the High Arctic, by Hein Bjerk, Bjornar Olsen and Elin Andreassen, (2010).
Now I have visited Pyramiden myself, I feel in a stronger position to say something about its subject matter as well as having a greater appreciation for the book itself. So here goes.
Despite the old adage, ‘never judge a book by its cover’...
Well we had an amazing little holiday travelling round the West of Iceland: lava fields, volcanic craters, natural springs, waterfalls, seals, a glacier, crazy mossy/ lunar looking landscapes, snow-topped mountains, a Viking… But the reason for being there – the Nordic Geographers Meeting, also far exceeded expectations. I’ve had a really good time there meeting new people, gathering ideas and generally absorbing lots of key insights on the conference theme – Geographies of Responsibilities.
I’ll try and summarise the highlights in this post...
Just before attending this event  I remember questioning why I was going. Sure it sounded interesting, but I had umpteen assignments, marking, supervisions, all sorts that were looming, should I really be going to a conference that I’m not presenting at? Well, I’m really glad I did, it was an inspiring day full of interesting people and perspectives, lively cross-disciplinary discussions and I have to say I learnt a lot about what I need to learn more about! I won’t mention all the speakers, but here is a round up of the discussions and questions that sparked particular interest for me.
Thinking about temporality
The centre’s director, Graham Dawson got the day off to a good start by getting my brain ticking over the ways in which understandings of the past can be useful, not just interesting. Apparently this quote’s famous, but it was a first hearing for me: ‘The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there’ L. P Hartley: The Go Between (1953) – into which he interjected that the same could be said of the future. But how to do we ‘go’ to the past or future? These are key ponderances for me as I am thinking through the different temporalities my proposed case study sites invoke. Indeed climate change as an entity has time woven into it in every strand.