#5 Thing to do in Hyattsville

Petrichord @ My Dead Aunt’s Books

A couple years ago, Robert Harper moved his used-book store from Riverdale into a downtown Hyattsville space shared with the SoHy Co-op. On March 15, My Dead Aunt’s Books launched what Harper intends to be weekly Tuesday-night musical event.

The series opened with Petrichord, a three-piece band specializing in contra-dance music. A blend of traditional and new compositions, several from violinist Colleen Holroyd. In the first set, she was joined by celloist Sophie Chang. Bobby LaRosa brought a mandolin to make a trio in the second set.

It was a blast just to be with live music only a few feet away. Prince George still recommends masking indoors, but who even notices these days. It was clear from the outset that the band enjoyed performing in front of real people. Copious toe-tapping to various reels, jigs and waltzes from Scotland, Ireland, Cape Breton and the DMV. Through the window behind the band, everyday life on Route 1 as the sunset set aglow the brew pub across the street, a full moon emerging from the deepening blue sky.

Most of the pieces were at a gallop, a lively carousel in an old barn. I especially enjoyed it when the pace slowed. A waltz in the first set was transcendental: the vibrations from the strings in My Dead Aunt’s wood floor brought me to a walk along a country road with two old friends. A reel in the second set was contemplative, like listening to a well-educated, three-handed clock that felt good about itself.

During a break, Sophie mentions that she has at times counted wrong and stopped a tune before Colleen did. Had I known this was possible, the dramatic tension would have been great, waiting, unsure, whether they might not all end at the same time. It didn’t happen at the Dead Aunt’s show, but you never know. Bobby mentioned “counting without counting,” which sounded like a subconscious awareness of when the planned number of cycles has taken place. With a caller and live contra dancers, he said, it’s easier to know when to keep track.

Harper has several shows set for coming weeks. And Petrichord is enthusiastic about an April 7 gig at a live contra dance at Glen Echo Park. That’s beyond the realm of Prince George, so get your passports and visa in order. Or just sneak over the border, as The Drift does.

Book Review: The Unseen

Roy Jacobsen

The deeper you go in this, the better it gets. Translated from Norwegian, The Unseen was shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize in 2017. The story is set on Barroy, an isolated island off the coast of Norway populated by one small family early in the 20th century.

It’s a remarkable portrait of a small group of people living close to the land and sea. The family scrapes every useful resource they can from their rocky home. With one eye on the future, they make incremental improvements, sometimes creating infrastructure with no immediate use.

When Hans rediscovers an old telescope, he sets it up to look at the larger island, barely visible to the naked eye across the open sea. He finds features of the town that he’s familiar with but cannot see its harbor, which lies below the horizon. The curtains in houses make him uncomfortable. He backs away. Hans and his father agree they don’t need the telescope, which is likely why he never played with it as a boy.

Jacobsen rolls you along in the story, even if it takes a while to get the hang of how the pieces fit together, at least for me. Sentences end unexpectedly with an image or idea you didn’t see coming. Hans has been clearing a nearby empty islet to expand the family’s farming, but he realizes he is a fisherman at heart. Jacobsen writes: “What was once intended to be no more than a slightly extravagant extra piece of land is in the process of becoming an existential abscess.”

And one of the strongest style points is the peculiar dialect the islanders speak. The translated narratorial voice is straight-forward, albeit with many artful constructions. But the dialog – there’s not a lot of it – is something else, almost a secret language.

“Hvur lovely tha hair is,” Maria says of her daughter, Ingrid, who will gradually become the family’s leader. Even with context, I wasn’t always sure whether “hvafor” meant “however for” or “why.” Wait. Is that how contemporary Norwegians speak English? Kudos go to the translation team, Don Bartlett and Don Shaw.

The Unseen is a great read, not an easy one, but worthwhile. And it’s not too long.

Research Notes: Henry Rupert

Henry Rupert was a Washoe kid born in 1885, when there were still echos of the old life, when hunter-gatherers lived in harmony with the planet – and for the most part, among themselves. The Washoe had a specialized niche, wintering on the lower-elevation near Genoa, Nevada. They moved to the higher elevations of Lake Tahoe in the summer. Unfortunately for them, their summer territory was overwhelmed by White people and effectively ruined for Washoe purposes. Same deal with the winter grounds.

As a boy, Rupert was sent to the Indian school in Carson City. He ran away the next day. And again. He eventually absorbed enough modernity to become a typesetter for the Reno newspaper.

But Rupert also learned the old ways, became a shaman. He had dreams. Experienced dizziness and fainting when the lean-to and the ground whirled around him. You may have had such experiences yourself. He watched an elder shaman, Welewkushkush, healing people. Welewkushkush walked under the waters of Lake Tahoe without drowning. You have probably not done that.

Welewkushkush told him: “All kinds of sickness will look pretty tough, but it will melt.” He did his first cure, of a man with alcohol poisoning, in 1907.

Rupert learned hypnotic techniques in Reno. He trained with Monkey Peter, a well-regarded shaman. He acquired a second healer helper, a Hindu spirit, who taught him new techniques. Later in life, he would find third spiritual helper, a Hawaiian. Never stop learning. Eventually, Rupert divined that spirit and mind were both composed of ethereal spirits, and that the spirit world has three planes. (It still does.)

Rupert’s reputation as a healer spread. He successfully treated Northern Paiute and Western Shoshone patients, as well as Hawaiian, Filipino, Mexican and White people. Many were psychosomatic cases, including a World War II vet with visual hallucinations. His annual visits to a sacred Washoe site on the east shore of Lake Tahoe, eventually established the cultural significance of Cave Rock and became the legal basis for preserving the site from further development. It already had two holes blown through it for U.S. 50.

Rupert was buried at Carson Indian School, the place he’d first run away from. The cemetery is off from the campus in the sagebrush scrub and has about 170 grave markers, though time and climate have eroded much of the information that was inscribed upon them. The U.S. government recently launched a project to investigate unnamed graves – there could be 200 of them at Carson – and more fully document what generations of Nevada Indians experienced there.

Glimpse: from Claudine vs. the Ants

The pilgrims toured the still, shuttered school, but David the whole time was thinking about the secluded burial ground. He had not been back there since the debacle with Hendrik and the hitchhikers. He was drawn to it, even though he knew the others would follow him. He paused at the historical marker outside the cemetery, aware of the pilgrims behind him. Finn started to open the cemetery gate.

“We don’t want to go in there,” David said, holding it shut. He would not make the same mistake twice.

“It doesn’t say we can’t go in,” Roslyn pointed out.

“This is close enough.” David stood guard at the gate. “Some of these people were born before the intruders arrived and lived to see a way of life vanish. They didn’t have a word for wilderness.”

“Now I remember,” Hendrik said. “You had some kind of out-of-body experience here when you were a kid.”

David was surprised Hendrik remembered that much. “An old man was being buried. His astral body was still here, and I was aware of his spirit friends as he journeyed toward them.” He turned, noticing ant mounds scattered among the tombstones, grasses, sagebrush, greasewood. “I never met him while he was alive.”

David handed the car keys to Hendrik and pointed down the access road to the prison.

“We should go see if their dad is still there,” he said.