I have been thinking about ‘waste’ and its value quite a lot while in Svalbard. Pyramiden one might think is an extreme example. However, though teaming with things that are no longer in use for their original purpose, there is a significant amount that is not in fact discarded or unwanted, either being valued as cultural history (for some) and embedded with memories and stories. Or, in the case of metal structures and machinery, being harvested for scrap metal to be sold when shipped out. Which is to say nothing of the relationship or potential conflict between the two…
'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.
Last month I presented a seminar on 'Putting value theory into action', in our Aberystwyth departmental seminar series 'Dialogues in Human Geography' alongside the imminently interesting Jon Brettell talking about puddles (yes, puddles!). It was a good challenge to finally bring together my thoughts on value and how to relate it to Svalbard. Presenting in front of colleagues and friends always seems more nerve-wracking than a room of strangers too, so I'm glad I made it out of the other side unscathed!
Read on if you want to hear what I said... :)
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’...
From 2 -9th July I joined the KTH (Stockholm Royal Institute of Technology)/ Illinois University field course: Environment and Society in a changing Arctic on their trip to Petunia Bay (we named our camp 'Avangostad' in honor of the course leader/ benevolent dictator, Dag Avango). What an incredible and magical week this was! Coming into a group of 35 Swedish and U.S students and leaders as a stranger, to join them in their field camp in a relatively remote location in Svalbard; well, it was a leap of faith from both sides…