Kisses of toddlers, open mouthed
Kisses behind bushes, much giggling
Kisses in kindergarten, the cloak room
Kisses not many, for many years
Kisses of arousal, of discovery
Kisses with tongues, not on lips
Kisses searching, for fulfillment
Kisses beyond time, of oblivion
Kisses serious, of consequence
Not so beautiful kisses, with anxiety
Smoky kisses, whiskey kisses
Kisses desperate, despairing
Kisses obligatory, of ritual
Kisses perfunctory, now meaningless
Kisses diminishing, fewer and fewer
Kisses abandoned, now forgotten
Kisses of excitement, of surrender
Passionate kisses, given freely
Kisses of love, lovely kisses
Kisses of beauty, beautiful kisses
Beautiful kisses, in innocence
Beautiful kisses, in knowledge
Beautiful kisses, in passion
Kisses of beauty, beautiful kisses
Hail, Hail, The Roof Is All Here
There is nothing like writing a check for 5 grand first thing in the morning to curdle your coffee. Last September we experienced a freak late-season hail storm with ice-stones literally as big as hen's eggs. There were some parking lots in our area where every car had broken windows. Of course, the newest part of our house- the roof- was ruined. I'm starting to think that cavemen weren't so dumb. At any rate, after returning home from work Thursday evening, a voice on the answering machine told me that the installation would be earlier than expected, with materials arriving Monday, work starting on Tuesday and finishing on Wednesday- when I can write another check for the other half of the amount.
Yippee. The glories of home ownership. Is that thunder that I hear?
The joys of childhood- skipping, hopscotch, fishing, biking, and burning things. Not really pyromaniacal pursuits, just burning the trash in an old barrel by the alley- a household chore that was actually a good chance for "creative" play. The flames would dance, sparks would shoot skyward, and carcinogenic smoke would billow throughout the neighborhood. Using a little imagination, the conflagration became the Great Chicago Fire, or Vesuvius Eruptum. If some plastic got into the mix, well, green fire is nice, too. The twins who lived next door would scavenge leftover bits of copper wire from construction sites and burn the insulation off that as well.
By the time I was too too old for such games, the city had banned burning, doing the job themselves in large incinerators, presumably to reduce pollution, although proper exhaust gas scrubbing was to be years in the future. It is a miracle we all aren't dead from cancer already.
"Visualize yourself in these situations:"
Early morning dew on the cool grass
Crushed ice sponge baths
Howling north winds
The cold of deep space
"Feeling any better now, my dear?"
Þetta Er Allt Að Koma
Things are going great! For the first time in memory we, and all of our children, and all of our siblings and all of their significant others are gainfully employed. Our youngest has moved out, we'll have a new roof over our heads soon, spring is finally here and ...
... what? The sum total of human happiness is not measured by my yardstick. There are still the great miseries of war, famine and disease. And there are still the small miseries of betrayal, violence and heartbreak. Love is grand until its not. Life is good until fate steps in.
Maybe all we can be is thankful for small favors.
Maybe all we'll ever have is one good day.
It's the possibility of another that keeps us going...
Saturday, the Weaver and I attended a museum exhibit about Bob Dylan, the "Bard of Hibbing". It covered the years 1956-1966, from Bob's very earliest musical efforts up to his Blonde on Blonde album and his motorcycle crash.
The show, originally put together by the Experience Music Foundation in Seattle, had been augmented by local artists, friends and relatives. These homey touches- Bob's yearbook was there (his ambition after graduation was "to join Little Richard") some items about the "neighborhood" Bob frequented when he lived in Minneapolis, and vintage photos and memorabilia of the venues and performers he knew. Anyone who has been involved with the music scene here is well aware of the shadow Mr. Dylan casts over all of popular music in the last 45 years, his local connections have not been forgotten- there are numerous stories about Bob spending time in Minnesota (he has a farm about 40 miles northwest of town), and he has spent time "hanging" with local musicians (he even patronized consignment shops), he recorded half of "Blood On The Tracks" here, as well as writing many of his songs while at the farm.
But Bob Dylan is really all about the songs. After seeing a wall with the cover records of Blowin' In the Wind by 100 different artists (including Marlene Deitrich!) one starts to get an impression of the mark he has left. The fact that his newer songs are being covered as well, in a variety of genres, speaks volumes about his longevity. His musical "godfathers"- Jimmie Rodgers, Woody Guthrie and Hank Williams, all had relatively short careers. Bob's longevity means that we can hear not only his songs of youthful vitality, but also songs from his maturity and even his seniority.
Bob has been nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature; the only Minnesotan to ever win that prestigious award has been Sinclair Lewis- who also came from a small Minnesota town. Bob would be in good company.
After the Exhibit, we walked over to "Dinkytown" on Positively 4th Street and ate lunch in a building that once was a drug store and had been "remodeled" to look as if it had suffered an explosion of some sort- it was open to the rafters, the outside walls were showing between "artfully" exposed lath and additional random brickwork placed gave the entire enterprise a decidedly theatrical effect. Also visible, on what would be the second and third floors, were the original windows, one of which had been in a small room that Bob rented when he was first starting his career; $30 a month, a mattress and a hotplate- with the window's ledge acting as a refrigerator in the winter.
Burning Down The House
News from Reykjavík, via Kristín, Audi, and Elise, concerning a fire in a couple of the old buildings in the downtown area. You can see video footage here. Everything changes all the time of course- the disco Pravda had pretty well concealed its history with a nondescript facade- but, all things considered, the old town area is quite small and it has been losing its older structures with some regularity. There have been a least a half-dozen demolished within a kilometer's radius in the seven years since my first visit. These were old houses; a story and a half and often covered in colorful corrugated siding. They were modest and humble, awkward anachronisms persisting in the twenty-first century.
But somehow charming.
What they will be replaced with will determine in great part the future of the Reykjavík City Center. The corner of Austurstræti and Lækjargata is an essential part of a central hub- I hope that due consideration is afforded to the idea of erecting a structure there which reflects both a respect for the past and a sense of imagination for the future.
I'll leave you with this image of a charming fellow that I met a few years ago while poking about in the attic of an antique store that once stood just a block away on Hafnarstræti, now the site of a less-than picturesque parking lot:
He appears to be waving good-bye.
Cedric Adams And Me
CAUTION: Long and pointless post about someone from the past that almost nobody remembers, and even fewer care about. You have been warned.
Cedric Adams was a Minnesota-based writer, radio and television personality, master of ceremonies and all-around bon vivant who was active from the early thirties until his death in 1961. He got his start writing patter and "snappy" jokes for the legendary Cap'n Billy's Whiz Bang which was some sort of a spiritual predecessor to Mad Magazine. He was an announcer at the pioneering WCCO radio, and became the biggest media figure in Minnesota for over two decades. If he were of this era, he would have blogs, podcasts, a cable show and would probably be considered a bit insane, but harmless (think Larry King.) I can't even imagine how much time I spent in my impressionable youth listening to this genial blowhard prattle on about nothing. At his peak he was doing seven newspaper columns, eight TV shows, and fifty-four radio shows each week. He was even interviewed on Edward R. Murrow's Person to Person (June 8, 1956.) In addition, he would tour the state with talent and variety shows- the acknowledged predecessor and inspiration to Garrison Keillor and his Prairie Home Companion. His rotund figure could be seen at all the finest of Minneapolis' restaurants and nightspots.
I was young, perhaps eight or nine, and an informal rite of passage of children growing up in the fifties was to be on a TV "Kiddie Show". All the local stations had at least one, some of which would, ala "The Peanut Gallery" on Howdy Doody, have seating for twenty or thirty youngsters, and would, at some point in the broadcast, pan the camera over our cherubic faces. A group of us kids went downtown (chaperoned by our mothers) and, because we were a bit early, found ourselves waiting on the sidewalk outside of the studio lobby. It was there where I spied the great man walking across the intersection arm in arm with a rather glamorous young woman.
"Hiya Cedric!" I shouted. He smiled the beatific smile of a local media star- and gave a friendly wave in our direction as he and his companion continued to the corner then into a nearby "lounge" (to rest, no doubt, from his busy schedule.)
"Was that woman Cedric's wife?" I asked naively.
"That was probably his secretary," said my mother, who seemed a bit put out by the whole scene. I absorbed this information but imperfectly, although I did think that it might be fun to walk arm in arm with an attractive young woman some day.
There is little on the internet about him now; his "work" really didn't age very well. It was short-form writing- gossip, factual tidbits, mild jokes and news read cold from the wire. The forerunner of USA Today?
Somewhere Just A Little Bit Ahead of The Curve
"Can you tell me what music is? It's completely intangible. It's something you can't grasp. You see art, watch people dancing, but you have to give part of your life to hear music. It grips you, gets into your soul, the most sublime of all the arts... There's no logic to it at all." - George Martin
A recurring theme at FITK has been promotion of various practitioners of Icelandic music. The Airwaves Music Festival was featured here, as were posts on Icelandic Musical Collectives and Sigur Rós.
Last week I finally got some time to listen to my recordings from the Airwaves festival and the best of them sounded every bit as good as I had remembered. I'm eagerly awaiting new releases from Ölóf Arnalds, Valgeir Sigurðsson and, of course, Björk (love the hair, btw). I´ve commented on Amiina's Kurr and have also purchased Jóhann Jóhannsson's User's Manual. I recently read with pleasant surprise an article in the New Yorker by Alex Ross, who name-checked several of the acts I've "discovered" recently. Mr. Ross is a great champion of "New Music", in all its guises, I find it most gratifying that I am not alone in my enthusiasms.
Ach! Lonely indeed is the voice of the prophet! A solitary figure trudging through a spiritual wilderness preaching salvation to the heathen and receiving only blank stares in recompense.
A Man With Guns
I had written a post for today, I'll run it some other time. It just seems kind of futile after watching the news tonight. Everyday life- its humdrum routine- goes on for me while in another part of the country the unthinkable occurs. Again. A man with guns, killing for no reason, or the reason being the joy of killing. American has a lot of that. 30+ people killed, about a month's total of traffic fatalities in a mid-sized state. About a month's total of U.S. troops in Iraq. Something here is out of whack- a culture of weapons, a transportation system, a war. Death is inevitable, but not this kind, not this much. Part of being a man is dealing with rage. That isn't anything new. But having an arsenal of weapons, in a culture that glorifies them ("be like Rambo- a big gun makes a small man powerful"), enlarges the Man's rage into something else. Something completely out of proportion to the cause of the rage.
We have met the enemy, and he is us.
Flippist Archives IRS Audit
"Welcome Mr. Batty, we here at the IRS would like to go over a few items on your recent return..."
uh oh, here it comes...
"You have declared Flippist Archives as a non-profit, is that not the case?"
"Well, I think you can easily see that I have not earned any money last year..."
"It is not a question of money earned, it's your deductions... for example, $2000 spent on sardines?"
"...umm those were for my dependents..."
"Thats another questionable area- you have 23 cats? These are your house pets?"
"No, no, they're quite wild, I listed them under non-game wildlife..."
"And this entire Icelandic operation? Including tickets to a "Music" festival, and to the theater, and swimming pool admissions? How can you possibly justify these frivolous pursuits?"
"...er, you had to be there?"
"Mr. Batty, I'm afraid I've no other option than to... RIINNNG! RIIINNNG! ...excuse me.... yes, yes he's here. What? Oh I see. Alright, I'll see to it, right away...
Mr. Batty, I've just been informed that your return has been reviewed by higher authorities, and you are free of any further obligations..."
...I knew that my old college roommie Dubya would see me through...
The National Trust in the UK is a curious, yet wonderful, creation. Curious in that this government-chartered organization assumes the trustee status of private property, wonderful in that they then use this power for the public welfare. An excellent example of this, the Petworth House (located about 60 miles south of London) is a glorious paean to British eccentricity. The building itself is imposing but architecturally not extraordinary- a large manor house, in the French style. The marvelous Victorian kitchen has been restored- in the tourist season a full staff prepares delicacies for the visitors to sample- a delight for those with culinary interests. The extensive grounds were done by the pioneering landscape designer Capability Brown, retaining its function as a deer park to this day.
But the real interest here is art. The house features a room full of excellent wood-carvings (condensed from various rooms) by Grinling Gibbons and an enormous staircase with the walls covered in murals depicting various nobility in allegorical scenes (no shortage of ego here) that must be seen to be believed. The 18th and 19th century saw a tremendous growth in the estates' art collection; under the patronage of the 3rd Earl of Egremont, J. M. W. Turner found a second home at Petworth, painting dozens of works there over the years. That art collection is still intact, and is breath-taking. Turner, considered a fore-runner of Impressionism, is featured with numerous paintings. Turner was concerned with light, indeed, some of his work is almost abstract in its use of color and lighting effects. That Turner worked in the late 1700's and the first half of the 1800's makes the modern appearance his art all the more enchanting. There are many other works as well: Antiquities, sculpture, Titian, William Blake, Van Dyck, Reynolds- even a tiny Hieronymus Bosch makes an appearance. Best of all, the gallery has minimal curation. It's just the art, wall to wall and floor to ceiling, in a wild display- all competing for your attention.
Turner bequeathed his own collection to the British Government and established a fund for "decaying artists". His major works are highly prized- selling well into eight figures- when they occasionally come up for auction.
The Two-Edged Sword Of Satire
There has been an issue that has remained a continual undercurrent in the Blogosphere: freedom of speech. It has surfaced in a storm of sorts recently, with this blogger calling for a "Code of Conduct" where "Civility will be Enforced." Hmmm. For another look at this, check out this additional "exchange" with the Fake Steve Jobs. FSJ is a satirist, not a comic, although he is often tasteless, he can be humorous and even brilliant at times. The definition of satire is "a literary work in which vices, follies, stupidities, abuses, etc. are held up to ridicule and contempt... (and) the use of ridicule, sarcasm, irony, etc. to expose, attack, or deride vices, follies, etc. (Webster's New Universal Unabridged Dictionary.) Satire is not nice, and can be cruel- but only a dictator need fear it. If it stings, then it's true. If it's off the mark, without a grain of truth, then the satirist makes an ass of himself. The word Sarcasm is from the Greek Sarkazein and means to "tear flesh like dogs."
Blogs are personal. If you don't like a blog, don't read it. If you want to criticize something in it, use the comments, but if you go too far, don't get upset if your comment is deleted- it's not your blog. If you post something vile, expect like in return. This blog has been lucky, I've only deleted a few comments (besides spam), and then only because they weren't germane to the post.
One of those commenters who was deleted wrote me an angry e-mail, saying that I wasn't being "fair" and that his remarks should be reinstated. This blog, and most blogs that aren't expressly stated as "open forums" aren't fair. They are not democratic. They represent a person, and you ultimately have to accept (or reject) them as such. This blog was set up to explore ideas, and communicate those ideas with the world. From the very beginning I have made this clear here. Many of the posts that I write are started simply because I am curious myself to see how they end. I'm not comfortable with expressing myself in a vulgar or confrontational way, but I respect the right of others to do so, without any group of "enforcers" determining what they deem as a acceptable form of expression. If an "Internet Taliban" ever does gain real power then the use of the blogs as a means of inter-personal communication will cease, and the world will be poorer for it.
This blog has a very small readership- perhaps a dozen regular readers, and a few dozen more each day who end up here through search engines. But they are from all over the world, interested in a wide variety of things, and sometimes we do connect. This is a good thing. There are occasional problems, but I believe that, in general, people are good. I don't think I need a self-appointed "Sheriff" enforcing his fuzzy vision of right and wrong on what is, basically, none of his business.
I should point out that this current upheaval was precipitated by this post and answered by this post. The principals made this joint statement. Draw your own conclusions.
The recent flap concerning radio "personality" Don Imus calling a women's basketball team "nappy-headed ho's" is related in a way. Both this and the Kathy Sierra incident involved sexual taunts directed at women. Imus used a "Forbidden" race word as well (which is getting far more attention than the sexual insult), but his situation is somewhat different. His show is a public institution, a for-profit enterprise supported by sponsors, and licensed by the Federal Government for broadcast in the public interest. He should be held responsible if he oversteps his mandate- Al Sharpton, who has in the past said many inflammatory remarks on his radio show, demands that Imus lose his job. Does anyone really want Al Sharpton as the final arbiter of language?
There is a remedy. If reasonableness is out of the question there is another answer. It is imperfect, but it has managed to survive for a couple of thousand years. It is called Law. If it is criminal act (a real possibility in the Sierra case), arrest the culprit and try him in court. If it is civil, sue him in court. If it is in bad taste, or bad judgment, or even mean-spirited and evil, deal with it- life is like that sometimes. But don't use what considerable fame or influence you have to bypass the Law with threats and sanctions- you then become as one with the "criminal".
My Trip To Rehab
It was in late March of 1971. My then current girlfriend, a Preacher's Kid, was attending one of the higher-ranked Liberal Arts Colleges in Saint Paul, Minnesota. PK called me up one day, and asked if I could do her a favor. One of her fellow dorm residents had undergone some kind of nervous breakdown and was institutionalized. The task of cleaning up his room had, for some reason unknown to me, fallen to her and she needed help in collecting his things; she had access to a car; we could bring him a few clothes and the cash that was buried in the things that had been strewn across the room. The room was a disaster (I had not yet experienced the joys of dorm life, my neat little room at home was atypical for most males my age.) We managed to get most of it put into bags for storage, found about $20 in loose change, and took it and a few things he could use with us.
The drive to Center City was awkward. The young man had made a quite an impression on PK, and when he broke down a bit of her youthful optimism was shattered as well. PK wasn't the kind of girl to get into trouble (excepting me, of course) and wasn't experienced in any of the antisocial and reckless behaviors that seem to be the norm of the post-high school years. PK couldn't understand what had gone wrong, how someone so promising had turned so self-destructive. I spoke of my similar problems the previous year, and how it was just dumb luck that I hadn't ended up in the same fix, or worse.
We were expected at the Center, they chatted us up a bit, then we were shown into a room outfitted with two-way mirrors- I suppose we were watched to make sure we wouldn't import any contraband. After a short interval the committed one was brought in, looking ill-at-ease, but glad to see his classmate nonetheless. PK asked him how it was going, he said it was hard, the program was really oriented toward older alcoholics; he knew he had serious problems, but most of the people in his groups were coming from a different place, and had a different "dynamic" in the way their disease expressed itself. He thought there were some good things about treatment, but he had doubts about its effectiveness.
We left him, and on the drive home PK was visibly upset. I asked her to pull over for a bit, to get a chance to gather her composure. When we had come to a stop on the shoulder she broke down in tears. I drove her back to the dorm. We split up (I told you I was trouble) soon after.
Hazelden, the grand-daddy of modern intensive care addiction and alcohol treatment facilities, started in 1949 in a farm house in Center City, Minnesota. Many many people- the famous, the not-so famous, and the not famous at all- have gone through treatment there over the last half-century. The "Minnesota Model"- approaching the problems of addiction and alcoholism with a disease model has been widely emulated. I never found out if PK's classmate successfully overcame his problems, a lot of people I knew developed the same ones. The programs at Hazelden have changed- there are special groups for young people- and while the initial success rate still isn't very high it does start a process- a process that, over time, manages to help most people. The most important lesson of all this is, of course, to start.
Wherein The Professor Is Duly Impressed
As of late my site meter has been returning many "photo searches", some are for specific tags, some make no sense whatever, some are very odd, but more and more are very specific; ie:
The picture this search found was this:
You may recognize it from my recent trip to Iceland- it is also the model for my "Painting in Progress" (perhaps I should change that title to "Painting in Limbo"!) What is a bit scary is that none of the tag words I used with the picture are in the search. All of the search words form, more or less accurately, a description of the scene. Google, in its omnipotence, has appparently somehow learned to "read" pictures. It may have interpreted the "No Parking" sign (a pictograph) as a street light, but otherwise was completely accurate. The original post had mention of "street light" and "street" and "dark", but no mention of buildings, front, walking, sidewalk, or, in the most mysterious aspect of this whole business: "woman".
Metaphor of life-
Or pleasant diversion?
Both views are congruent.
I have alluded to a third party in my mini-vacation, Icelandic readers will possibly know her already: Salka Valka, the titular protagonist of the novel by Halldór Laxness, whose story filled my spare moments in the weekend cabin.
This book is somewhat obscure in the USA (look for it fetching a premium on Amazon.) It was originally published in Iceland in two parts (Þú vínviður hreini and Fuglinnn í fjörunni) in the early thirties where it created a sensation in the Scandinavian countries. It was published in England in 1936 (translated from the Danish- last printed 1964.) This is one of Laxness's earlier works, written just before Independent People and covering some of the same territory, but focusing on life in a fishing village rather than on a sheep-farm.
The scene is set on the first page:
"When one goes by boat along these coasts on these freezing mid-winter nights, one can't help thinking that there can hardly be anything in the whole wide world so tiny and insignificant as a little town like that, glued to the foot of such immense mountains. God knows how people live in such a place! And God knows how they die! What can they say to each other of a morning when they wake? How do they look at one another of a Sunday? And how does the parson feel when he gets into the pulpit at Christmas and Easter? I don't mean what does he say, but, honestly, what can he think? Must he not see that nothing here matters a bit? And what does the merchant's daughter think about when she goes to bed of an evening? Indeed, what kind of joys and what kind of sorrows can there be around those dim little oil lamps?"
This is a novel about fish. And love. And, surprisingly, gender and feminism. Salka is an unlikely heroine, homely, coarse and ignorant; but not stupid. She is in possession of a vitality which cannot be defeated. Salka's struggle to find her place in a hostile world- a fickle mother, faithless lovers and lack of any real friends- is the common thread woven throughout the work. The book has a complicated mix of sub-themes: illegitimacy, incest, class, domestic abuse, infant mortality, hypocrisy, poverty, Socialism, Capitalism, and Christianity. As a novel of Social Realism, it can be ranked with the finest of Dickens, or even Zola's Germinal. Sprinkled throughout is Icelandic folk wisdom, dark humor, fatalism and a strong sense of the absurd. A tremendous book- certainly worthy of a new translation- but considering that Laxness's great Iceland's Bell wasn't translated into English at all until 2003, English readers may have to wait a while for the proper return of Salka Valka, or else learn Icelandic!
I'll end with a final excerpt from the book, this one concerning love and fish:
"Aren't we to talk about love at all at this time?" he asked.
"I must go out and dry fish," she said.
More on Halldor Laxness at Laxness in Translation
Poplar Creek Retreat Cabin Poplar Creek
A cabin in the woods! The mere mention of it brings to mind images of Mark Trail, Sigurd Olsen, Ted Kaczynski and other rugged individualists who, living humbly, exist in harmony with nature- their domicile a humble shack nestled in the forest primeval.
Really. That's all we wanted. We had booked a new place from a couple we have rented from previously. This place- this "cabin"- was twice as big as Flippist World Headquarters, everything in it was brand new (we were the first renters in the just finished cabin) and it has it all- modern kitchen with all appliances, two bathrooms- each big enough for a basketball team, one with full laundry and the other with a whirlpool.
It also featured porches, decks, satellite TV/dvd/cd, a fireplace and a ceiling fan (each with remote controls), even an erotic print in one of the bedrooms!
But a good woodsman is nothing if not adaptable. We managed to survive, and even had some adventures as well.
The Call of the Wild