You don't know what you've got till its gone.
Why should I care? A little bar in a city far away is going to be torn down. Sirkus, an artists' hangout in the old part of Reykjavík, is slated for demolition. When I was there a year and a half ago, I spoke with the owner of a yarn shop on Laugavegur about the plans for the area; this news came as no surprise to me. Still, its destruction seems to be a symbolic statement, a rejection of the Boho values and artistic ideals this humble pub represents.
It's a tough call. It is a small, architecturally nondescript building. But the scene that exists within it is world renown; with its funky, ever-changing decor it is truly a unique place, a destination. I can understand the need for redevelopment, the nearby houses on Hverfisgata are in need of some serious renovation. I fear that the developers will try to create another Kringland (which is only about 2KM distant), a place of ZERO interest to a tourist or other student of Icelandic culture.
Hats off to "Mr. Destiny" in his efforts to save Sirkus. If it must go, may it be reborn, in all its quirky glory.
Why should I care?
Because it is real.
Antarctic Update - 4
My eldest called yesterday, this time from McMurdo Base, he's left the field and is going to New Zealand in a day or two. We talked a bit; his project went well, he may have to undergo a period of adjustment- he's used to sleeping in a tent where the temperature is usually around 45° F. and finds himself now uncomfortably warm indoors. When he said good bye, he was on his way to take a shower.
His first shower in eight weeks.
Was it Something I Said?
According to my site meter (the little blue ball near the bottom of my sidebar), about every three months or so there is an e-mail referral to this site. On Tuesday I had three! One in Ohio, one in British Columbia, another one somewhere in New York. Are these people communicating to each other? Have they unearthed some precious nugget of a blog post here and now simply must share it via e-mail? Has one of my doggerel verses struck a chord and is being attached to dozens of communications? Is the Daisy Ashford Defense League planning a denial of service attack on FITK?
I may never know.
It's kind of bugging me.
Who ever you are, stop in and say hello in the comments.
UPDATE: Make that four, just got another one- this time from Wisconsin.
The Young Visiters
Costume dramas can be tedious affairs- every detail is just so, with a script based on a "sacred" classic of literature. The sixth or seventh remake of a Jane Austen work carries with it a fair amount of baggage. With that in mind, one can imagine my surprise when I discovered a DVD of a BBC production of The Young Visiters, faithfully recreated from the "novel" of the same name by Daisy Ashford. Daisy wrote this masterwork in a fortnight in 1890. She was nine years old at the time.
The film is a delight. Noted actors from the British stage and screen (Jim Broadbent, Hugh Laurie, Lyndsey Marshall) bring this sweet, naive tale of high (and aspiring) society to life with no condescension and, in the case of Mr. Salteena (Broadbent), a touching tenderness. This is Victorian England in all its pomp and glory, as seen through the eyes of a precocious young girl. Her plot may be a bit far-fetched, but her innate understanding of human nature is very clear and true. A welcome tonic for any who may be suffering from a Merchant-Ivory overdose.
Long before it had become a pointless exercise, even before it had become a bad habit, there were times when the social use of Cannabis Sativa was an event, scheduled for a week-end evening perhaps, when a group of us innocents would partake of the herb.
The conversation certainly was not elevated, I seem to recall that "Oh Wow!" was the most memorable phrase. But the antics, oh the antics! There would be one event that would trigger it- a gesture, a posture, even a little dance perhaps? And then a response, going around the group, it would mutate and transform into a strange tableaux, each person becoming a mime, performing in a deranged play. Oh Wow!
It seemed like such a good idea at the time.
Existing in scattered bits and pieces for years, its entropy has finally started to reverse, now being re-assembled into the form of a Fender™ Deluxe Reverb amplifier. I had picked it up for a song; some misguided soul had tried to turn this beautiful tone machine into a snarling Marshall™ monster. All new components, better than the originals, but retaining the "iron" of the old unit- the transformers, chassis, tubes and switches; these things remain just about as good as they come. So let the winter winds blow, I'll ensconce myself in the basement: soldering, drilling, re-animating this artifact of the sixties, carefully putting each piece into its proper place until it sings again.
There were dozens of neighborhood theaters in my hometown. With names such as The Alhambra, The Empress, The Capri and my own favorite The Camden. My mother had sold tickets there before I was born, she would let my dad and my older sister in free. These small theaters were of a different scale than their mighty downtown brethren, and they only ran second or third run movies. On Saturdays there were matinees. Some times these were just collections of cartoons, or theme-less groups of comedy shorts from the thirties and forties. We went anyway, entering through the dingy art-deco lobby, quickly gobbling our candies and popcorn. For when the lights went down and the curtains opened we were taken away to another world- a world were everything was larger than life, where the men all wore suits and the ladies fancy gowns and pearls and every one was beautiful. Our parents in real life wore work clothes and print dresses and were plain. Our parents in this "alternate reality" were named Brando, Monroe. In it we visited Oklahoma! and took in a West Side Story. We fought world War Two and settled the Wild West. The Beatles even appeared, in a Yellow Submarine!
By the early seventies most of them had closed. The Broadway (pictured) stored appliances and household furnishings. The Empress hung on for a while, playing porn films like "Deep Throat" to furtive businessmen on extended lunch hours (there was an illuminated clock next to the screen!) Finally, the oldest of them all, my beloved Camden, was bought out by a Jesus People church. When they tired of taking care of an old, run-down auditorium it was demolished.
There are far more movie screens now, in multiplexes in the suburbs. Nowadays, in those parts of town where my old haunts were, people don't go out much after dark.
Love In A Balloon
We should float away, just you and I,
In a balloon in the clouds in an azure-blue sky.
Pillows we'd bring, with champagne and fruit,
We'd take off our clothes and really get to it!
Leaving below the world's misery and strife,
Aloft we'd be cooing, in our glorious high life.
If a shower should try to dampen our spirits,
We'd sing even louder, with the seagulls and parrots.
We'd come back to earth as the sun made its setting,
And remain in the basket for a little more petting.
Then back home, to our cottage, finally to bed,
Turn off the light- no more need be said.
Jimmy From Inverness
Received a late Christmas card last week. Jimmy from Inverness, bus mechanic and world traveler extraordinaire sent us a package full of notes, clippings and curios, as is his wont to do every couple of years. We met Jimmy on a "golden Cirlce" tour in Iceland in 2000, he was notable for his lack of jacket and his scarlet hair. He flew back to Minnesota with us and we let him stay with us a while and I drove him around a bit. He was interested in the Vikings- his people came from the Orkneys- he could have passed for Eric the Red himself.
His letter mentioned the bridge collapse and he hoped we weren't directly involved. And, inside the card, was this post-it:
Merry Christmas to you Jimmy, the pleasure was all ours...
Being the coldest day of the year (so far), it seemed to make perfect sense to finalize plans for a spring break vacation. This has recently become a regular thing, the first late-winter/early-spring trip was Iceland in 2000. Colorado Springs, Seattle, The Boundary Waters and Hawaii have joined the list of destinations, this year there were several options:
Seattle - 4 visits in the past 4 years...A standing invitation from some of our favorite people in Raleigh, a few days in Asheville, then perhaps a day-trip to Richmond? Hmmm.
Iceland - not again for a while, and probably not in the spring...
Boundary Waters - three times in the last two years is enough for now...
St. Croix - maybe next year, there is a familial connection that colors that choice...
NYC - well, that would require a lot of planning...
North Carolina - BINGO!
At any rate, the tickets have been purchased, come the 15th of March and we'll be flying Northwest Southeast.
Thursday evening found me braving the elements (single digit temps) to attend a City Planning meeting. There were five presentations/action groups presented over three hours- you could attend three of your choice (one per hour.)
The first one was a Keynote (Powerpoint) presentation from a branding firm. Their thing was creating a multi-use logo or brand for cities, used to coordinate and exploit a cities' self-promotion. They were some nice fellows from South Carolina, they showed a bunch of logo themes they had done for a variety of small towns across the United States. (Prophecy: Ours will be an Orange Jack-o-lantern.)
The second hour was spent in a discussion group (one of five) that had gathered to suggest ideas for the future of two areas in the city. One area consisted of two 40 acre fields (see photo above) that adjoin the new library and the Rum River Trail. There was a table of developers who wanted to put in high-rise condos and a strip mall (there are three half-empty strip malls within a mile of the site already) but most folks thought it would be a good idea just to let them be. The other area was a commercial district that had lost out to the new mega-shopping complex, no easy solutions there, although the idea came up of tying new development to a nearby hospital complex.
The third hour was a look at residential property, a kind of pointless effort in that the housing market is undergoing a huge convulsion right now (maybe you've heard something about it?) Our city is "affordable" meaning older, smaller homes. With people defaulting on big loans on their McMansions it's pretty easy to see where they will end up- here. It looks as if it will take about 7 to 10 years before things pick up again, just in time for us to sell out- to facilitate our move to the poor house.
The Results Are In...
Blogometric analysis has confirmed my worst fears. Confusion characterizes the most common blog entries, posts containing actual content (i.e. music, travel) the least. Perhaps I should enroll in blog school or attend a seminar.
I am afraid there's not much hope for an immediate improvement. Bear with me dear readers- for the winter blahs have settled in.
Buying groceries, once a social gathering among townsfolk, has become a laboratory for marketing scientists. Every package is designed for maximum appeal: colors, fonts, images, all arranged in a way to break down a wary shopper's defenses. A little bit of festive suggestion- anything to make one's day a little brighter or to ease one's anxiety- at 2 for 1. Never the less, we are basically creatures of habit, so even these ploys lose their effectiveness after a time.
But the check-out line! This is where the great morality plays of the modern age are acted out- in tabloid magazines. The mighty have all fallen here- great pop culture icons showing their feet of clay (or their cellulite.) I read these headlines and I feel a little pity for those on the way down (it must be hard to be young, beautiful, famous and rich) but mostly I feel grateful for not being on those covers myself. I've enough flaws and failings of my own, I'm grateful that I don't have to see them being touted from the covers of millions of glossy scandal sheets. Still; I look; I feel the need to satisfy a perverse itch- I believe the Germans called it Schadenfreude.
ABC's of data storage and retrevial
I learned the alphabet by the time I was 5. This understanding has served me well (probably the second most useful thing I know, rated right above counting and just below toilet training.) As I grew older, I found out that all sorts of things are ordered alphabetically. Great idea. One system works with many things, in the same way.
Libraries used to have card catalogs (I've got some of the drawers of my local library's old card catalog in my basement with miscellany stored in them in alphabetical order. The labels are on each drawer, written by me with just the right information I need. It isn't rocket science. A third grader could have done it.
Lately, in the name of progress (?) I've come across some storage systems that aren't based on the alphabet. My old e-mail provider (excite.com) had a very nice address book- one click and automatically all the names in alphabetical order were there, with as much other information as I'd care to add to each name. I could sort my mail in various categories, it was all nice and neat, and done just the way I wanted it. Recently, this particular e-mail provider decided that I shouldn't be allowed to receive all my e-mails. Oh I still got all the spam all right, but not my credit card statements. You can see where that situation might pose a slight problem.
I've always had other e-mail accounts, but Yahoo required me to go through about six pages of ads just to see my mail, and gmail would always laugh at my dial-up service:
"This seems to be taking unusually long to load, try signing in using basic html...)"
So, by default, I've found myself using Google's gmail. I figured out how to export my address book and dropped it in. No personal info on my contacts made the leap, besides, there was no place to put it anyway. Some of the contacts were old, some I wanted to rename, some were new. The new and renamed contacts were put in at the top of the list- no alphabetizing for you, sir! When I went to the contact list, it showed me seven names, those names it thought I should see! Another click and I was then allowed see all the names (which was what I wanted to do in the first place! The archives were another story. Instead of a list, I was asked to google- search for my own email. ("Let's see what was the name of that guy, what was the exact name of the thing we were talking about?") I give up.
I made my peace with gmail (still think its organization is dumb, however) and moved on. The other day a saw that Firefox (a pretty good browser IMHO) had a beta version 3 available for trial. I had used the beta of version 2, it worked great. So I downloaded and installed it.
What was an efficient, reliable and quick method of bookmarks in FF 2 (located in the Apple Menu, so as not to add another "taskbar") became "smart bookmarks" in FF 3 with a new, dedicated bar, an incomprehensible (to me at least) system of storage, complete with bookmark folders that I couldn't rename or delete! I could use my old bookmarks, but they were under several layers of folders. There was even a "search bookmarks" function. Grrr!
K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple Stupid.)
Maybe Opera would do me better...
Finally got the chance to view Heima, the new DVD by Sigur Rós, the Icelandic post-rock band. It is, on its surface, a chronicle of a series of concerts the group performed in Iceland throughout the summer of 2006. I've seen them perform before, but this is far more than just a concert film. It is a beautiful tribute to Iceland and its people, transporting and transcendent.
Regardless of what the music Sigur Rós is (and there are certainly grounds for serious criticism of it) I have never seen a musical film so accurately and deeply connect with the culture that gave it birth and nurtured it.
There are some minimal interviews with members of Sigur Rós and Amiina, (their four- woman string section); they come across as egoless as could be imagined. One section of the film has the eight of them in a recording studio, playing acoustically, demonstrating a group-mind-set that is almost unnerving.
The box set comes with an artistic photo album and another DVD of full-length concert performances- I'll save those for another night.
Strike Vote Monday
The shooting of four Kent State College students, and President Nixon's response ("They're a bunch of bums") in 1970 convulsed the country. Several universities shut down in response, the "strikes" as they were called lasted a few weeks, barricades were put up, large protest marches were staged and at first nothing changed. Classes resumed, Nixon expanded the war... and so it went. In a few years Nixon won re-election, in a few more he resigned in disgrace ("I am not a crook!")
In the smaller schools, the community colleges and high schools, this movement was sensed, but only a little. Children of suburbia, in the transition to adulthood, were taken aback by the events, not in the political sense, but in a social sense. They were nice kids, obeying the rules and trying to get ahead. Still, there were times when the world stopped, if only for a moment.
Tin soldiers and Nixon coming,
We're finally on our own.
This summer I hear the drumming,
Four dead in Ohio.
Gotta get down to it
Soldiers are cutting us down
Should have been done long ago.
What if you knew her
And found her dead on the ground
How can you run when you know?
Let Me In
The sound came from the rear entry, a small fist hitting a battered aluminum storm door.
"Let me in!"
The door always stuck in the frame, he didn't have the strength to open it by himself.
"Let me in!"
I let him wait a bit, I grabbed the camera and exposed a couple of frames.
"Bang! Bang! Bang!"
Throughout the time he was growing up, I had kept him at a distance. I was working or, what was even worse were those times I was distracted with my own idle amusements.
"LET ME IN!"
His school achievements, his races with the cross-country ski team. The trips he and his brother took, with their mother, but not with me. I was always on the other side of the door.
And then he was gone, first to college, then grad school, and now far beyond any door that I could open.
"...let me in..."
Always on the other side of that door.
"... let me in... let me in... dad..."
... some people will post anything on their blogs!
Another call from 85° 45' S latitude tonight. The Antarctic explorer, calling home, via satellite. A good crew, lots of work done, some more remaining. A quick storm dropping a few inches of snow halted work for a bit- a snow day in Antarctica! Three more weeks, then a couple more spent in NZ. He sounded well, a little tired perhaps, he has to wear a mask to sleep, it's as bright in the tent at "night" as it is in the "day". I might have imagined it, but he sounded a bit lonely, perhaps. A long way away, from here, from home, from anywhere.
Singing in Bath
The hottest summer in British history found me in Bath, the home of the ancient Roman spa. Stall Street, lined with its stone faced buildings, is a resonant spot, the hum of traffic and the babble of tourists give it a lively air. In the summer, professional acappella singers perform in the evenings in the relatively sheltered area of Abbey's Gate, doing a mix of traditional and light classical fare. During the day, however, the amateurs busk, some better than others, some barely musicians at all, hoping for change or a pound coin placed in a battered guitar case. On that particular day there was one such performer who stood out from the others- a woman in tattered clothes, about thirty years of age, with three grimy children in tow. She had the look of one who had spent too much time in Paradise and now, now that she had returned to earth, found herself in purgatory. She sang only one song, in a piercing, raspy alto, never quite making it all the way through. Her children clustered near her, fear and sadness in their eyes, no youthful exuberance in their demeanor. The woman sung as if reproaching all who wandered down those reverberant streets: the prosperous, the tourists, business people, beautiful young women and handsome men, all of these she rebuked. The song was not an old song, and not British, but was one which I knew well:
How many roads must a man walk down
Before you call him a man?
Yes, 'n' how many seas must a white dove sail
Before she sleeps in the sand?
Yes, 'n' how many times must the cannon balls fly
Before they're forever banned?
The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind,
The answer is blowin' in the wind.
How many times must a man look up
Before he can see the sky?
Yes, 'n' how many ears must one man have
Before he can hear people cry?
Yes, 'n' how many deaths will it take till he knows
That too many people have died?
The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind,
The answer is blowin' in the wind.
How many years can a mountain exist
Before it's washed to the sea?
Yes, 'n' how many years can some people exist
Before they're allowed to be free?
Yes, 'n' how many times can a man turn his head,
Pretending he just doesn't see?
The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind,
The answer is blowin' in the wind.
This was another context for a Bob Dylan song, one where the original message had been turned a bit, it seemed forced and strange, I was not moved.
Yesterdays post was a difficult one. The sensitivity and complexity of the subject matter- war, violence, racism, sexism, human evil and suffering is overwhelming. The picture I posted could be considered beyond the bounds of civilized discourse. If anything, the post was directed at the indifference that we, the people of these United States, have displayed toward this type of activity now and in the past. War, violence and degradation will always be with us, but when it is sanctioned, either overtly or tacitly by the government and its people, it causes me to question the validity of our entire system. The underside of the American experience is a long-held belief in our superiority over "other" peoples and cultures. This belief is changing, albeit slowly; is the current occupation of Iraq an aberration to this trend, or have we really made no progress at all as a civilization?
And if I hadn't posted the photograph, would anybody have believed my story?
For some reason, perhaps influenced by numerous stories of atrocities in the media, I recently recalled a visit I had made in 1976 to a very strange museum which was located in Northfield, Minnesota. It was a private museum, located in an old brick house and its attached buildings. It had, in its yard, a dozen or more old train bells; inside it had several ornate music boxes. There were displays of pioneer tools, old clothes and a human breast. My memory is pretty good, but the thought of that display made me wonder if it it had ever really existed. A short search through the photo archives soon turned up the negative for this print:
The text reads:
Breast of a colored woman tanned by
the father of F. A. Zuger. Donns. T
Texas in 1910. The hide was stolen out
of the laboratory at the state university
of Iowa by a school mate. Given W. F. S.
in Feb. 1948
W.F.S. was probably W. F. Schilling, the founder of the museum, who was a civic leader in Northfield for many years. The museum closed soon after my visit, with significant items going to various historical societies, and the rest going to auction. The fate of this item is unknown to me.
In what kind of a state did I grow up? Thirty years before I was born a multiple lynching took place in Duluth, fifty-five years before that the largest mass execution in US history took place in Mankato, not far from the museum. This "artifact" was on display for years without controversy.
Our state is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year. Due to budget constraints the festivities will be modest; I remember the Centennial, it was quite the big deal.
The dark side of Minnesota's history won't be forgotten this time, although this tasteless incident will be. With war, torture and all the related atrocities stemming from the US invasion of Iraq with us on a daily basis, I wonder how far we've come, and how far we have yet remaining.
The Long Haul
So that's that. The holiday season is officially over (no, the Superbowl doesn't count) and thus begins the long stretch until Memorial day- the next real (i.e. paid) National Holiday. Memorial day has actually become four or five holidays now- Flag Day, Fourth of July, Veteran's day, Armistice day, V-E Day, V-J Day, (there are a few others,) days which require proper flag protocol (not to be confused with the flag flying at half mast, which is becoming the norm), if you ever see an American Legion calendar there are at least a dozen days per month that require special flag ceremonies.
But the winter months are relatively free of holidays, unless you are a federal or state employee- Martin Luther King Day and Presidents Day are stuck in there (not paid to most workers) and of course there is Valentine's Day, which was actually a social holiday that has been usurped by florists, candy makers and greeting card companies.
Therefore, five solid months of work.
Of course there is a spring break, if one is lucky enough to get one... hmmm... now that is something to look forward to...
And Now, For Something Completely Different...
The new year augurs ill, I'm afraid. Barring a twist of fate, we'll be stick with Dubya all year (he'll leave office January 2009) and if there is anything we can be sure of it will be more wrong-headed incompetence from him and his cronies. The situation in the Mid-East looks as if "We ain't seen nothin' yet." Watching the value of the dollar (and my retirement) shrink by double digit percentage points every year makes me laugh (to keep from crying.)
So we enter the new austerity regimen at FITK- terser posts, leaner prose, more taut poetry, not a word wasted! Even the sidebar has been trimmed a bit (don't worry, all the links are still there, they've just been put under sub-headings.)
This year I'll even (mark these words) lose twenty pounds!