Monday, October 20, 2014


Lonely is the wearer of the crown:

Her anxiety grows while her subjects await her arrival:

Finally, the moment of glory:

But it is the Princesses who really have the most fun:

Minneapolis, 1977

By Professor Batty

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Saturday, October 18, 2014

Die Wunderkammer

   Die Wunderkammer is the German expression for "The Chamber of Wonders"—a cabinet of curiosity. Yesterday the Minneapolis College of Art and Design opened their own version in an occasionally unsettling mélange of paintings, sculpture, photography, fossils, human teeth, animal bones and other oddities.

   Artist Denise Rouleau basks in the attention:

   Conversations animated; observations intense:

   With an occasional flash of style:

   And what memento mori exhibit in Minnesota would be complete without a contribution from its own mistress of the macabre - Caitlin Karolczak:

Exhibited artists include:

Amber White
Aaron Culey
Brooklynd Turner
Caitlin Karolczak
Denise Rouleau
Erin Elizabeth Hunter
Joan Bemel Iron Moccasin
Kathryn Warren
Kelsey Zigmund
Mark D. Roberts
Michael Thomsen
Paula Barkmeier
Richard Johannisson
Sara Suppan
Shanice Jackson-Ellison
Sonja Olson
Tyler Peck
Vivian Charlesworth

The work will be on display from October 17-29

By Professor Batty

Comments: 1

Friday, October 17, 2014

The Key

   “I’ll see what Tina has that we can use to clean this up.” Sean said, turning to leave.

   Mary stifled a sneeze and looked at what had once been Emily’s studio. "Very humble, just the minimum needed to create art." thought Mary.  She closed her eyes and suddenly had a vision of Emily working here with her baby cooing along side her in a bassinet.  The sensation gradually grew more intense; it seemed to Mary that she was seeing the room through Emily’s eyes—as if she was inhabited by Emily's memories. When Mary opened her eyes the vision faded, as well as the eerie feeling of possession.

   “A half dozen old towels and a pail of warm, soapy water.” said Sean as he walked back into the studio. “Where do we start?”

   “I’ll take the the commode, why don’t you do the trunk?”

   “Tina wanted us to bring down anything of value for the auction.”

   “Certainly. That wheel might be a little awkward, but there isn't anything in here that looks to be very heavy.”

   Mary began to clear a layer of dust from the commode.

   “This is a nice piece: walnut, brass pulls, marble top. Has some paint on it, but it should clean right up. The drawers are locked. Sean, would you be a dear and go down and see if Tina has any old barrel keys?”

   “Barrel keys?”

   “A key that looks like the barrel of a pistol—hollow, with a tab on the end. It would be a shame to force these drawers open. Is the trunk locked?”

   “No. The hasp is gone. I'll go see what Tina has in the way of keys. Be right back.”

   Mary found herself alone again and, in a way, she was glad that Sean had left. She closed her eyes in an effort to reconnect with the spirit of Emily but saw nothing. Mary then directed her attention to the trunk. After wiping it off it appeared to be nondescript save for a couple of old shipping labels. While she tempted to open it Mary decided not to, thinking that Sean should be there as well. Leaning against the wall behind the trunk was what appeared to be an old style wagon wheel. It was at least five feet high, with a wooden band for the rim. As she began to clean it, she realized that it wasn't a wagon wheel at all. Its construction more akin to a clothes-drying rack. Supporting that notion were pieces of what appeared to a stand on the floor beneath it.  The rim was decorated with chipped, yellowed decals of flowers.

   Sean soon returned with a ring of old keys.

   "Tina said that Uncle Henry never threw anything away. She found these keys in a drawer in the garage. She told me that he used to buy a lot of stuff from old estate sales. One of these might fit, or maybe none will." Sean said.

   "My mother had an old dresser with locks like these. She always kept one drawer locked. I was fascinated by it; by the fact that she kept some things secret from me. Once I tried to pick it with a bent paper clip but I couldn't open it." Mary said. "Let's see what we can do with a proper key."

   "Nancy Drew." said Sean, laughing at the sight of Mary bending down as she fiddled with the keys.

   Mary returned Sean's laughter as she began trying keys in the top drawer.  "Today's episode is 'The mystery in the old attic'. Here… I think this is the one… it fits but the lock is pretty tight…. it won't open… the bolt didn't move."

   "Try it in another lock." said Sean.

   Mary tested the two lower drawer locks and the result was the same. Then she tried it in the nightstand's door which easily opened. Inside were several glass bottles and tins, most with paper labels: turpentine, thinner, acetone, among containers with other artist's materials. Those bottles fitted with corks saw the stoppers disintegrated and were empty.

   "No treasure yet." Sean said as he picked a small oil can out from inside the nightstand. "This oil might do the trick on those drawers."

   He squirted oil into the top drawer's lock as Mary worked it with the key. This time the bolt did move and they were able to open the drawer.  It contained miscellaneous drawing tools as well as several pencil sketches of various scenes, overdrawn in ink. Sean began leafing through the pile but stopped when he came upon a rendering of the entrance to the Ice Cave.

   "One of Emily's power spots?" said Sean.

   "There are markings on the back of some of these," Mary spoke, looking at the pile of overturned drawings, "Hold these up to the light."

   Sean went through the pile again, holding each drawing so that it was illuminated from behind. Most had markings on the back which aligned with some feature on the front.

   "Look, there are those rocks in the pasture again." Mary said, "and the mark on the back is right behind on the spot where I saw her standing. It's as if Emily left us treasure maps. First the code book, now this. There must be some underlying logic in all of this."

   "But what? It'll be tough to match up the other drawings with the area, a lot has changed around here in sixty-eight years." said Sean as he went through the pictures yet another time. He pulled out another drawing from the stack and looked at it closely. "This one, I know where this is. It's under the bridge that goes over the creek." He held it up to the light. The drawing showed the bridge and the creek clearly. The mark on the back was centered on one of the limestone blocks which comprised one of the bridge's footings. "This one we can find, it's just down the road a bit. It might be the key to the others."

   "Let's see what's in the other drawers." said Mary.


By Professor Batty

Comments: 1

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Dramatic Reykjavík

Note:  a slightly different form of this post was originally written for the I'd Rather Be in Iceland Blog.
   Those of you interested in exploring Icelandic culture may find that a visit to one or both of the two major theater companies in Reykjavík to be most rewarding. They aren't usually listed in most tourist guides for a couple of reasons:  they are not active in the high tourist season and the plays are all in Icelandic. If you do happen find yourself in town between September and May you would be wise to check them out:

Þjóðleikhúsið, Reykjavík

   Þjóðleikhúsið, the National Theater, is located in an intimidating structure on Hverfisgata, with a smaller "box" theater situated on the street behind it—Lindargata. Þjóðleikhúsið produces a mixture of plays every season, including serious drama by foreign playwrights, modern Icelandic drama, several productions for children, and  contemporary Icelandic comedy. These are world-class productions with fantastic sets and brilliant direction. They feature many of the fine actors you've probably already seen in Icelandic films. The smaller Kassinn (box) venue features intimate productions and are usually somewhat "edgier". Baltasar Kormákur's 2006 production of Peer Gynt was the most intense theater experience I've ever had. The main stage offers a little more traditional fare (but only a little), Hallgrímur Helgason's Þetta er allt að koma in 2004 was a wild ride through Icelandic consciousness.


   Borgarleikhúsið is the City Theater. Located on the south end of Kringland, it usually runs a little lighter in tone, with an emphasis on musicals and family fare (Mary Poppins, for example). The smaller theater offers current playwrights; on a recent visit I saw John Logan's Red (Rautt), a Tony-award winning play about the artist Mark Rothko. The theater complex is newer than the Þjóðleikhúsið and contains a vast lobby (for both venues) well worth a visit on its own.

   Don't let the language barrier prevent you from attending one of these plays. You might want to avoid overly "talky" dramas, but I've found that the expressive acting in most plays usually makes up for my lack of literary comprehension. A play you are familiar with, for example Shakespeare's Macbeth, would lose little in translation. The tickets are reasonable (4400 kronur, about $35 or £24) and while it is possible to order on line, it requires some help from Google translate. You might want to visit the box office a couple of days in advance for the performances often sell out. If you are by yourself, or can't convince your traveling partner to come along, you'll have a better chance of scoring a single ticket to a popular show.  Part of any theater experience is people watching during the intermission and the Icelanders do enjoy dressing up for the occasion so dress up yourself—and you'll become part of that show! The matinees are somewhat less formal.

   A big part of Iceland's appeal for me is its spoken language.  Attending a play there is an opportunity to hear it at a very high level.  This form of Icelandic culture, when distilled into a dramatic context, creates memories which you'll never forget.

By Professor Batty

Comments: 0

Monday, October 13, 2014

Auður Update

   It's October, that time of year when the professor's thoughts turn to Iceland. As any regular reader of FITK knows, some of the the prime inspirations for this blog were Iceland and my all time favorite Icelandic blogger Auður Ösp Olafsdóttir. I consider her I Heart Reykjavík website the finest Icelandic travel site anywhere. She has managed to create and maintain an informative and entertaining site while still retaining a personal touch. Her humorous "Learn Icelandic" podcasts allow the listener to get a sense of her low key yet engaging personality.

   Recently she has become the focus of international attention, with mentions in the Sunday travel section of The New York Times and this segment from the website Daily Travel Podcast.

   Speaking as one who is usually allergic to podcasts, I found this one to to be well worth thirty minutes of my time—especially around the 19 minute mark when Auður opens up about her personal history leading up to her starting I Heart Reykjavík.

By Professor Batty

Comments: 1

Friday, October 10, 2014

Emily's Return

   Mary sat down and began to look at the book that Tina had given her. It was a small, grimy, leather-bound ledger with a crumbling cover. Its pages, although yellowed, were still crisp and covered with vaguely mid-eastern characters: Hebrew, Aramaic, Phoenician, augmented with a few diagrams. Mary first thought was that it might be a hoax, or perhaps a spoof of some actual document from antiquity, but as she examined it further patterns began to emerge.

   "There's something there, I need to scan these pages and run them through an analysis." Mary said. "There is some kind of punctuation going on, some of the characters are in two forms, upper case and lower case, perhaps."

   "I wouldn't know where to begin." said Sean. "And if we did find out what the characters meant, what language would it be written in?"

   "I have a feeling that the content is in English, if Emily wrote it. A key would help, but I think any reasonably sophisticated frequency analysis should be able to crack it. My system in Seattle can do it. I'll use my phone to image each page and then send them via my laptop to my server." said Mary, as she took her phone from her purse. "I hate to say it, but I'm hungry again. "

   "I'll make us some lunch. Is tomato soup and grilled cheese OK?" asked Tina.

   "Wonderful" said Sean, "I'll give you a hand."

   "Yummy. This won't take too long…" said Mary, "… I'll be there by the time it's ready, thanks."

   In the kitchen, Tina and Sean began to make lunch. As he opened the soup cans Sean looked at Tina and said:

   "This is just like when I was little, isn't it, Tina?"

   "The bread is better… " Tina paused as she buttered, "… and the cheese. No more Wonderbread and Velveeta. The tomato soup hasn't changed though, but I'll usually add some basil… " Tina put the sandwiches on the griddle. "… Sean, do you think Mary is up to this? She seems to be aware of what she's doing, but I'd feel terrible if anything bad happened to her."

   "I don't know. She's still the same person. She's never lacked for nerve." said Sean. "But I understand what you're saying. When I saw her in the Ice Cave today: I mean, she was actually glowing, with arcs of light coming from her fingertips. She was in a trance for several minutes and when she came out of it she wasn't fazed a bit. Most people would have had a nervous breakdown if that had happened to them. From what I know of her past all of her life has been a struggle against people who have told her 'you shouldn't', 'you can't', 'it's not allowed'. And yet, in the end, she's always gotten her way. This thing, whatever it is that she's up against, is the kind of challenge she's been looking for."

   "How about you, Sean? Was it a struggle to make her love you?"

   "It entered my mind. For a while, when I was with Molly,  I told myself that I shouldn't love her, that it was wrong, that she was beyond me. Maybe she is. But once Molly left I couldn't pass up the chance. And here we are… And here she is."

   "Should I set the table?" Mary said as she walked into the kitchen.

   "Of course, dear." said Tina. "The soup bowls are there—in the bottom cupboard."

   As they ate, Mary seemed preoccupied. Tina spoke:

   "It might be time to have a look at Emily's studio." she said, "You have to figure out how to open the door. The lock is broken; you might have to break it."

   "When's the last time anyone was in it?" asked Sean.

   "1946… " said Tina. "… when Emily left."

   "No one's been in it for nearly 70 years?" asked Mary, "Really?"

   "Well, it is not much more than a storeroom in part of the attic; there is no heat and just a single window for light. After she went back to New York Henry latched the shutters from the outside so that the panes wouldn't get broken.  He would never dream of disturbing her things, he always hoped that she would come back some day."

   "Now I am really intrigued." said Sean. "This is most extraordinary. Are you sure Emily won't mind?"

   "I don't really know. But it has to be done sometime, or else it will just be smashed when the house is torn down." said Tina, between taking bites of her sandwich. "There are tools in the garage."


   Roger Ramsen was in agony. His indigestion, which had been flaring up, had taken a turn into nausea. Suddenly,  pains shot down his left arm. He pressed the page button on his desk phone.

   "What is it?" answered Sally O'Donnell, who had been reading beside the pool.

   "Sally… my heart, heart attack…" croaked Roger.

  "Shit. Roger. Hang up. I'll call the paramedics." shouted Sally.

  When the line cleared, Sally called 911 and reported the situation. She then went and opened the front door and used the remote to open the front gate for the ambulance. By the time she got to Ramsen's office he was lying on the floor, deathly pale.

   "They're on the way, what can I do for you." Sally said, leaning down to the stricken man.

   Roger Ramsen could only gasp in reply.


   The door to Emily's old studio was secured with an old fashioned keyhole style lock.  When Sean tried to turn the handle it was obvious that the mechanism had broken and was completely jammed, even though the deadbolt wasn't latched.

   "I'd hate to bust up a nice antique door, any suggestions?" said Sean.

   "Let me look at that." Mary said. She knelt down and aimed her flashlight into the keyhole. She saw that a piece of the mechanism had fallen down inside the lock. She grabbed a small screwdriver and began to fish around in the opening.

   "I think if I can get this piece out of the way… " she said, "… just a little bit more… "

   A sharp click came from the lock and the door opened a crack, then stopped.

   "The hinges are rusted, put a shoulder on it, Sean."

   As Sean pressed a grating sound was followed by an eerie metallic squeal as the door slowly opened. The room was dark, the way the shutters passed slivers of light into the space gave it a theatrical quality. Sean made his way to the window and found it loose in frame. When he lifted the lower half it was obvious that the sash cord had broken.

   "Is there something we can use to hold this window up?" he asked Mary.

   "Use this hammer." Mary replied, handing him the tool.

   "Still have that screwdriver? I think I can use it to lift the latch on the shutter."

   When Sean tried to force open the shutters they broke from their hinges and crashed to the ground.

   "Are you kids all right up there?" Tina shouted from the stairwell.

   "It's OK Tina, just a little snag with the shutters." Mary replied.

   The room was now bathed in light. The thick layer of dust covered everything in the room. There was an easel, an old trunk, a nightstand, and, somewhat incongruously, a large spoked wheel.

   "Where do we begin?" said Sean as he wiped his hands on his pants.

   "We'll need some wet towels to deal with this dust. I'm feeling a sneeze attack coming on."

   A gust of wind came through the open window.



By Professor Batty

Comments: 0

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Hippies in the Heartland Redux

   It's been a long time since I posted any hippie pictures so here is one from the Iola, Wisconsin, 'People's Fair' Music Festival, June 1970:

   With all of its heavy canvas tents it was more like a Boy Scout Jamboree, albeit one with drug dealers and hard-core bikers:

   Fortunately the weather was fine and many of the crowd simply crashed on the ground:

   It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

By Professor Batty

Comments: 1