Friday, November 21, 2014

Special Effects

   After Sean returned from the grocery he spent time going through his mother's things: all those personal effects which had been shipped to Tina en masse after her death. He put all of his mother's clothes into boxes intended for the thrift store. Mary and Tina had both looked at them previously, noting that they were now at least fourteen years out of date and suited neither of the women's tastes or sense of style, neither woman wanted to wear business clothes from the nineties. Sean's mother's computer was a relic now, it did boot up however, and he was able to transfer the files to a portable hard drive through the adapters he had brought from Seattle. Sean would deal with her hardware when he disposed of his own college computer. He put aside a box of his mother's papers. Mary was napping; she had been asleep when left to get groceries and was sleeping again when he got back. Just as he finished loading the car with his mothers clothes, Mary came out of the house with her laptop.

   "Drop me off at the Mudpie, will you? I've got to get in touch with the law office." said Mary. "I think I've finally recovered from last night. Your grandmother can be a hard person to have hanging around—on the inside."

   "Tina told me that you had had another 'visit' from Emily." said Sean. "Are you alright?"

   "It's a little unnerving at first, to have someone else living in your head. But she's on my side. I'll be fine."

   They drove into town where Sean dropped Mary off at the coffee shop and then went on to the thrift store, dropping off his mother's clothes. He took a stroll around the store; it was a habit from his college days when he would rebuild his wardrobe every few months. Those trips he made in college weren't about needing clothes, they were about building a new identity.  Although his current tastes ran toward Generic Pacific Northwest, he hadn't dropped the habit completely. He hadn't had much luck lately in Seattle; most quality menswear he found there was usually worn out.  Decorah might be different he thought, as he picked up a wool Pendleton shirt. It was his size, but when he tried it on it was cut strangely;  it was one of those modern made-in-Mexico shirts.  Someone else evidently couldn't wear it either.

   Back in the coffee shop, Mary had connected with her lawyers. Everything was quiet in Seattle, with no further developments in either her or Sean's connection to the sale of ADR. The legal team had kept a monitor on activity concerning the picture of her naked that had turned up on the internet and found that new postings of it had suddenly ceased; it was also disappearing from forums where it had been previously posted. Her lawyers thought it might have something to do with the fallout from a recent celebrity phone hacking case and that no site operator wanted to undergo of that kind of criminal investigation.

    "Any news from Seattle?" Sean said, as he sat down next to Mary with a cup of coffee and a scone.

   "Good news, that is to say, no news." said Mary. "Anything good at the thrift store?"

   "No. But they did take my mother's clothes. Can I use your laptop to check my mail?"

   "The ultimate test of a relationship. I guess this means that we might as well get married, it's like sharing a bathroom. I'm done with it for now, I'm going outside and check out the town a little. I'll be back in twenty minutes or so."

   "I'll put the seat down when I'm finished. See you in a bit."

   As Mary left the shop she noticed a storefront across the street. It was apparently an antique store of some kind. There was no proper sign but its windows were filled with miscellany: obsolete machines, broken toys, rusty tools and retro appliances. There were also small paper signs taped on the windows, hand lettered, containing rants concerning religion, politics and world unrest. She went up to the door and found it to be unlocked. Mary opened it timidly, then walked inside. The shop's interior was full of things arrayed as if they had been in a gentle explosion: one strong enough to place them chaotically around the room, but gentle enough that nothing was destroyed. Mary started to get a sensation of cold descending again, although this time she remained in control of her emotions.

   "Hello? Is anybody here?" Mary said. She heard a rustling sound coming from the back of the shop, followed by a high, reedy voice:

   "I'm here, just having a little tea." An elderly man emerged from the rubble. He was tall, but stood erect, with piercing blue eyes, thin white hair, and pale, almost translucent skin. "How can I help you?"

   "I… Is this an antique store, or a museum?" said Mary. The feeling of Emily's presence was getting stronger. "I was curious, I hope I'm not intruding. There are so many interesting things here."

   "Well it isn't really a store, but it isn't exactly a museum. That said, everything has its price." said the man. "You aren't from around here, are you? Are you a student at the seminary?"

   Mary felt a tightening in her larynx. She began to lose control of her vocal apparatus and to her surprise found herself speaking in Emily's voice.

   "Edwin Duddle, this is Emily speaking. This woman you see before you is Mary, she is going to marry my grandson, Sean."

   "Emily? Is that you, speaking through another?" said Edwin, recognizing the voice. He took this manifestation calmly, almost as if it were something which had happened to him every day. "I've been waiting for your return."

   "Edwin, will you give Mary the book I left with you?" said Emily.

   "I will do that thing for you, Emily, I will get it." Edwin went to the rear of the store, back into the office from where he had emerged. By the time he returned with the book, Mary had full control of her faculties again. Emily was not present.

   "Emily's gone. Mr. Duddle? Did you know Emily Carroll?" said Mary.

   "Oh yes, Miss… Mary. I knew her, it was 1946, just after the war. I was just a kid, in high school with her daughter Tina. That was when she came back from New York, and had her second child, Marilyn. I knew her. I spent quite a bit of time at the Carroll place. Emily taught me drawing. She told me many strange things. And now she's back, in you. It's her way. Tina knows about these things too." Edwin said, handing her the book. "I see that your instruction has begun."

   "It has." Mary said, and as she said it she could see that Edwin's head was ringed by a faint circle of light; a halo. Mary knew that it wasn't a physical manifestation, but it was projected onto him from her understanding- a 'gift' from Emily, no doubt. Mary felt that it was a sign that she could trust this man.  She looked down at the book, at its binding which had some of the same characters as the ledger which Tina had given her. She put it in her purse and said:

   "Edwin Duddle, I accept this as a gift from Emily, coming through you."

   The old man reached out and gently touched Mary's fingers.

   "I've been waiting so long." he said.




By Professor Batty

Comments: 1

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Sugar Mountain

Pascal Pinon press conference, Reykjavík, 2009

Oh, to live on sugar mountain
With the barkers and the colored balloons
You can't be twenty on sugar mountain
Though you're thinking that you're leaving there too soon
You're leaving there too soon…

                      ~ Neil Young

   The end of a dream, childhood's end. In Neil Young's Canada it was turning twenty, when 'kids' were no longer allowed in an amusement park for youngsters. I've been nurturing my own dream these last fifteen years; a dream abetted by many fine people on both sides of the Atlantic. For me, Iceland's allure was always more than its natural wonders, although they are considerable.  Right from that first windy March day when I stepped into the Keflavík terminal.  Iceland: its nature, its people, and its culture, have held me in their thrall.  As I became further immersed in its literature, cinema, music and theater, I was overwhelmed.

   Recently, however, I've been losing the spark.

   Icelandic pop music, always quirky, is an acquired taste, but a taste that needs to be nourished for it to thrive. Except for a few reliables, I'm starting to starve. My limited impressions of the recent Iceland Airwaves music festival (from what I was able to see on line) wasn't encouraging: in the span of four years since I last attended it appears to have morphed from a mix of unique, artistic, and very musical acts to a uniform parade of post-punk screamers.  Of course I wasn't there, and subtlety never goes over very well in video clips. Still, it's a marked change: music made with an emphasis on shock value, more of a unpleasant burlesque than an expression of the human spirit.  A freak show. Looking back, I was spoiled and/or lucky in my Airwaves experiences (2006 and 2009).  In 2012 I attended some good shows (not in Airwaves) but some of the acts, although polished, were an exercise in cognitive dissonance, i.e., Icelandic bands playing in a faux American style. I won't despair of Icelandic musicians yet: there seems to be a trend of them becoming astute social commentators and political activists.

   Iceland is a literary beacon, and it that area it continues its appeal. The problem here is dilution, the market almost dictates more Icelandic mystery fiction following Arnaldur Indriðason's successful Inspector Erlendur series.  I'm guilty of it myself. And after reading the third or fourth work of mediocre Icelandic fiction in a row I find the whole genre to be losing it's appeal. The more esoteric works still captivate me so I won't give up on Ice-Lit quite yet.

   Icelandic films, when I can see them, are still excellent, but the economic hardships imposed on the industry since the Kreppa has reduced their amount and distribution. Again, the world cinema market in films is over-saturated. I find it hard to choose anything to watch.

   Nothing lasts forever. The most poignant example of this is the musical group Pascal Pinon (pictured above, at the age of fifteen) who created a body of work which perfectly expressed the dilemmas inherent in a girl's coming of age. Of course, now that they have matured, they couldn't continue to play the ingenues; adult women having to perform songs of their adolescence would be mortifying. I'm grateful for that which they have accomplished.

   The medium of 'blogging' (what does that mean anymore?) has changed as well; it's hard to keep a fresh approach to something with a limited audience. Sometimes life gets in the way. That said, I'm still amazed at Alda and Auður's contributions over the past ten years: establishing world class portals that are the entry points into their wonderful, strange and troubled island. Auður, in particular, is going above and beyond what anyone expects of a blogger. In contrast, I've noticed that my 'Icelandic' posts here have dwindled recently and, unfortunately, a return trip to recharge my 'batteries' seems unlikely. The continuing economic hardships in Iceland haven't helped diminish my sense of pessimism either.

   I'm now twenty three times over, and then some, but Iceland still casts a spell.

   I'm thinking that I'm leaving there too soon.

By Professor Batty

Comments: 1

Monday, November 17, 2014


Minneapolis, 1997

   Kelly was a refugee from art school; she worked in the photo lab with me for a few months. There were a lot of people in and out during that time: lots of jobs available, not much chance of advancement in the photo biz, therefore: easy come, easy go. While she worked there she did throw a party with music and a good mix of people. It was held in a very nice 1920s architect-designed house located in what was now a sketchy neighborhood which had seen better days.

   The flow of the party had definitely ebbed when Kelly began to read to us. Not poetry but pornography. It was some classic, literate, porn. It may have been The Story of O. Kelly proved herself to be an excellent interpreter; we were spellbound.

   A short time later Kelly and her husband left the city for a life on a dairy farm in rural Minnesota.

   It is unknown if she reads to her cows.

By Professor Batty

Comments: 0

Friday, November 14, 2014


   "Mary's still asleep?" Tina said to Sean, who had just entered the kitchen.

   "She had a rough night last night, I think. She was up for a while, I don't know how late it was when she came back to bed." said Sean. "She's sleeping now, I didn't want to wake her."

   "We're just about out of groceries, would you be a dear and run into town for me?" Tina said, I've got a list."

   "No prob," Sean said, "is ice cream on it?"

   "Get what you like dear, enough to last us through the week. You have any idea how long you'll be staying?"

   "Oh, I don't know. It's up to Mary I guess. She has to talk to her lawyers this afternoon, something may have come up but I hope not, not before Thursday at the least." Sean picked up Tina's shopping list. "Is Fareway still the best store in town?"

   "It's the only real store, unless you wanted to drive all the way to Prairie Du Chien."


   Sally O'Donnell closed her suitcase. She had spent the previous night in a flurry of activity, copying files and emails from Roger Ramsen's computer, visiting the hospital where Roger was in intensive care, talking with Roger's daughter Nora Clarkson (the wife of Senator Clarkson) and making arrangements to fly back to Seattle, where she had a condo. The prognosis on Roger was grim; if he did recover at all he would be significantly impaired. Sally knew that Nora would be consolidating her control over Roger's estate, Sally and Nora had never been close and since the disaster of 'Billygate' Sally had felt a definite chilliness from Nora. As a mistress, Sally knew she had no power and, having read Roger's will on his computer, knew that she was going be left out in the cold.  The USB drive she filled with Roger's files was insurance against getting blamed for any of Roger's misdeeds, criminal activities which Nora might try to pin on her. Sally was a partner in a company operating on the west coast that gave self-help seminars to failing real-estate agents. It wasn't a complete scam, but it had done very well after each burst housing bubble; Sally thought her role was that of a cheerleader—for the losing team.


   "Is Sean around?" said Mary. Tina was making coffee.

   "Sean's in town picking up some things." Tina said. "Are you hungry? Can I make you some eggs? I don't have any bacon, or bread. Or would you rather have cereal? He said you had a bad night."

   "I'll take some eggs, and the cereal." Mary said. "I was up reading some of those letters to Emily that we found yesterday. Tina, do you know who 'John" was? He evidently wrote the letters, but the the return addresses had been torn off of all the envelopes."

   "That was probably one of her sugar daddies. Emily was discreet. It could have been anyone, that is, anyone with the money to support her in style. I took a look at those dresses you unearthed. She couldn't afford that kind of wardrobe with money she earned from her paintings."

   "Tina, about Emily." Mary said, quietly. "Emily came to me last night. It was as if she was in me, somehow. I heard her voice."

   "Yes. I know what that is like. Let her help you, but don't let her take over. She's only as powerful as you allow her to be."

   Mary ate her shredded wheat in silence as Tina scrambled four eggs. When they were done Tina placed the plate in front of Mary and said "Take it all, you're eating for two now."

   "More like eating for three. What do you think Emily wants with me? What is the purpose of all these revelations?"

   "What is the purpose of any revelation?" Tina said. "What good has any prophecy done? We're all still down here on the ground, crawling around as if we were ants on a big rock. Overall, nothing ever changes much. Changes? Indoor plumbing, now that was a change for the better."

   "When she's with me and even before that—ever since I became pregnant—I've felt on the verge of a greater understanding, a new awareness, something that could change the world."

   "Be careful, Mary. I'm not saying that to discourage you, I just don't want you to end up the way Jesus did."

   "Well, I'm not the blessed virgin, so at least that part of the story will be different. I'll be careful, but not timid."

   "That is your nature, is it not?"


   Sean approached the supermarket checkout line with a full cart. The tabloid magazine cover stories were all about media stars—television, movies, music. The iceberg lettuce of culture, he thought, to be grazed upon and forgotten with no nutritional value. Still, it was hard to ignore. Sean's own taste of fame had been exceedingly bitter: arugula. He could understand why many celebrities eventually became hermits.

   "Hi Sean." said the cashier. "Do you remember me? Suzie Johnson? I heard you were in town."

   "Ah, oh yeah, Suzie. It's been a long time. How on earth did you recognize me?"

   "Oh, I followed that story about you, when you were in Iceland, you and your half-brother. Who's that woman who's here with you? I mean, I'm not trying to be nosy, but… you know, people talk, and you're probably the most famous person from Decorah."

   "Mary is my fiancee." said Sean.

   "Oh." There was a long pause in the conversation. Suzie finished scanning Sean's groceries. "What brings you back?"

   "We're in town to help Tina sort through my mother's things. She's selling the farm and moving into town. Last winter was pretty hard on her. How about you? What are you doing these days?"

   "I'm married, with a seven year old." said Suzie.  "She's great. Life is pretty good, I guess. No international adventures. Just a regular life. I never got out of Decorah."

   "It's good to hear that you're doing okay.  Nothing wrong with having a regular life."

   "Forgive me for asking, but when are you getting married?" Suzie asked.

   "Any day now… maybe Thursday."


   As Sean put the groceries in the car he thought about how his life had played out so far, how different his path had been from Suzie's.  The play-acted 'wedding' which he and Suzie had performed when they were children had been silly, but was, in its own way, perfect. A moment of happiness; the same moment that everyone is searching for. And no matter how long the happiness may last it remains but a moment in time.


By Professor Batty

Comments: 2

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Young at Heart Records

 One of the things I used to look forward to whenever I went through Duluth was a stop at Young at Heart Records, established in 1959. Richard Wozniak, the proprietor, was in his sixties when I first discovered the store (while touring with The Explodo Boys) and he kept the shop open until he was well into his eighties.  All the musicians who had gigs in the Duluth area knew of the store. It was a little shy of the newest releases but was a treasure trove of older country, 40-80s pop, soundtracks, spoken word and other arcana. Richard was a friendly man, especially if he could connect with your interests. He wouldn't stock off-color records; he was averse to vulgarity. I heard a story about a collector who would only be in town on a Sunday; when he called Richard and explained that he'd only be in town for the day Richard said he wouldn't open "on the sabbath", although he did relent when the collector guaranteed to purchase $500 worth of stock.

   The heart on the threshold was only the beginning of his hand-made heart-themed decorations: lots of recycled doilies, valentines and magazine and promotional materials pasted on boxes and pink walls:

   Many of his handmade display bins ended up in the Minnesota History Museum. The Duluth paper ran an excellent series of stories on him and his wonderful shop.

By Professor Batty

Comments: 0

Monday, November 10, 2014

In Her Own Words

Joni Mitchell
In Her Own Words

Conversations With
Malka Marom

ECW Press, 2014

   Another bio of Joni, this one based on taped interviews from 1973, 1979, and 2012. The author is a musician and a professional interviewer who was also an early fan of Joni's from the time they were both playing in Toronto in the mid 60s. She has remained friends with Joni over the years and the relaxed nature of these edited conversations show it. In addition to her conversations the short excerpts from other musicians which Malka includes are helpful in explaining Joni's unique collaborations, especially in the 70s 'jazz' albums. The three interviews overlap in subject matter: her childhood, in particular, is dealt with in detail, as is her relationship with Leonard Cohen. Her life in California, which has been extensively covered elsewhere, is given less coverage compared to other aspects of her career. In filmed interviews Joni can appear testy but the printed page serves her words better, her wide-ranging intellect is on display here without the distraction of visuals, the interviews are edited extremely well.

   The book is also filled with extended excerpts from her lyrics: fine for the well-known songs but they can become somewhat esoteric on her more obscure titles, although always pertinent.  There are just enough photos and glimpses of Joni's artwork to compliment the text; the entire book is beautifully designed. If you were to read only only one bio of Joni, this would be the best choice.

By Professor Batty

Comments: 1

Friday, November 07, 2014

Love Letters

Miami Beach
June 3rd, 1939

Dearest Emily,
   I live in a dream of impossible visions. Visions of your body, your lips, your acceptance of me into your most private domain. I had hoped that this reality would come to pass but the fact that it has come true is almost more than I can bear. To-night a brilliant moon lights my little tropical paradise. The caress of the waves on the shore reminds me of our passionate embraces. If I have inspired your life of art you have lifted me in my mundane world of commerce. I work here with a joy which comes straight from you. I am going to plan a trip in the winter and this time I bring you down here with me. You would be enthralled by the scenery. I could work with you around dear. You are inspiration for many things. Please answer this my gipsy love.

  Let your light in the window of love shine on me.

  Your darling,

   Mary, being unable to sleep, had gone down to the parlor with the box holding the letters she and Sean had uncovered in Emily's studio. The events of the last few days had left her with an urgent desire to learn more about Sean's grandmother. Mary was just as keen on figuring out what her role in this strange plan was: something great and mysterious and profound, a thing bigger than she could even begin to imagine. Mary thought that perhaps a few answers to these mysteries might be found in the letters to Emily.

June 11, 1939

Dearest Emily,

   Our boat leaves for the mainland early tomorrow morning. I am hoping upon hope that I will find your return letter. In the same way the waves caress this island I wish I could caress you. Sometimes with the softness of a quiet enfolding; other times with a rush of passion which, in the way each wave contains an underlying savageness, alternates with its recession, only to recoup its vigor for one and then yet another thrust.

   Dancing with you was exquisite joy… as your nude body met mine in that most ancient embrace. Your quiet acceptance of me the rest of that day was also a joy. I felt that I belonged to you—in the way that a dog wants to be firmly owned. Our days together, the trip to Harlem - all was fun.

   Of the prosaic things of life let me write but little. My work progresses speedily and well. On this desert isle the main occupation is work - the next is swimming followed closely by fishing, these pursuits are diminished by your absence.

   Good night darling - when you took me you threw a lighted match into a hayrick and this conflagration is the result.


   Mary put down the letters. She thought about the distances that had existed between Emily and her lover—not just space, but time as well. Modern life, with its instant communication, shortened the time needed to allow feelings to develop. When nothing is anticipated, nothing has value. Does anyone even write love-letters anymore?  Modern life was sorely lacking in romantic correspondence.  She continued reading:

July 6th, 1939
Dry Tortugas,

Dearest Em:

   Two of your letters arrived yesterday and I have read them over and over. You have filled up my life; filled a void I never knew existed. Emily, I have a habit of keeping my friends. It is important to keep the sweet, clean
streams of friendship clear and unpolluted with the mud of commonality. Our rivulets of love have merged to create a beautiful river; the river becomes a torrent—an unstoppable force of nature. The memory of your song and your lithe body dances through my brain. The reality of our night-less night returns in all its glory. The coming of that dawn was merciless as it rendered asunder the engulfing fabric of the velvet darkness. Your pearly body—as beautiful as a fawn's. Your arms–a softness that bespoke tenderness. Your embrace—a strong grip on life. A life—where nothing can keep us apart. A love—beginning the first night I saw you.

   About this strange island I find myself 'stranded' on: a long sliver of sand, drenched in sun, surrounded by azure seas, beautiful for bathing. Animals: rats and a few goats, beautiful blue herons, a comical pelican. Plants: various cacti, coconuts, scrubby cedars, some incongruous white lilies. I found a new specimen of flora, “The Moon Flower”, nestled in a secluded spot. Closed during the day, I discovered it open during the last full moon. The flower had turned its face so that the the lunar orb was shining down on the blossom; a beautiful sight. It reminded me of how you looked down on my upturned face with the light of desire, that grace followed by the offering of your breasts held up for me to kiss: first one then the other—a mental picture which brings a surge of blood—my erection is the only proper compliment. I hold the memory of that scene as my inspiration. You cannot fail me dearest one. The years ahead hold no dread for me if they increase as love has: my love for you and yours for me.

   Good night, and a kiss rides the moonbeams north…


   Mary shivered with expectation. Reading the letters made her begin to feel very close to Sean's grandmother. Mary's sense of time had begun to dissolve: sitting in Tina's parlor, surrounded by antique furniture, it was if the year had become 1939 and she felt as if she was Emily. Mary picked up the next letter:

July 28th, 1939
Washington, D.C.

Dearest Emily,

   I returned to an orgy of work. Some of my projects have suddenly became insistent and I am tied hand and foot now. It will be impossible for me to go up to New York on the 3rd as I had hoped. If I am upsetting your plans let me know. I have to be in Washington on the 4th for at least three meetings with government officials, probably more, which means I cannot possibly take any time off for at least three weeks. The situation in Europe is changing rapidly: the Germans are looking to invade Poland which means war between them and France and Britain. I fear the USA will be not be able to keep out of it for long.

   My next scheduled trip to New York is on the 23rd of August. On the 28th I leave for Boston for meetings on the 29th. I will remain there until Thursday the 31th then head back to New York. It looks as if the best time to get together is Saturday the 26th. If you can make it then we will dance together—some place in New York, perhaps Harlem again—just you and I—and after that we will go somewhere to finish up the night.

   We were so delightfully intimate on my last trip. I feel as if I am finally beginning to know how the little girl who you were grew into such a delightful woman. I certainly wish I had a photo of you when you were young. You must have been charming—still innocent and gentle—yet always containing the possibility of a volcanic eruption, a cataclysm hiding underneath an untroubled surface. A paradox of tranquil compassion and violent passion. The gentleness which flows from your hands is like the softness expressed in the way a baby plays with its mother’s breast as it feeds. It has always been one of my regrets that my hands are not soft enough in caressing you - there is too much desire in them. I cherish the softness. One of the special things about our relationship is that in it we both can escape into our simpler selves. I feel tired when I leave you but I feel a new self within me - at peace with the forces in the world which trouble me and rejoicing in the world I've found in you.

   For the next five weeks I must work like a fiend.

   Drop me a line soon dearest…
   Yours, John

   Mary returned the letters to the box. Waves of confusing emotions swept over her: desire, revulsion, a simultaneous sorrow and exhilaration—all these sensations were intermixed with a growing feeling of an interconnectedness with all creation. As the feelings grew they began to overwhelm her. She started to cry. At first simpering sobs, then full on wailing. Her tears poured out without restraint, only to be supplanted by wordless convulsions causing her body to be twisted in anguish. In a break between spasms, Mary could feel a coldness wrapping itself around her. She heard a voice in her head, at first distorted, it became quite distinct. A woman's voice, the voice of a stranger, but Mary instantly knew who it was.

   "Don't weep, dearest Mary, for in all these things you shall prevail." said Emily.

   And Mary was comforted.



By Professor Batty

Comments: 3