When I was out and about yesterday, I sensed a change in the air. The last six weeks of frigid weather had let up a bit. The sun, already a month past the solstice, was high enough to impart a bit of warmth to my usually semi-numb legs. The snow and ice was melting a little, with a few trickles of water trying to flow along side of mounds of dirty slush by the curbs.
It was sometime around 11 AM, central time, when I felt as if a large weight had been lifted from my shoulders, there was a spring back in my step, a spring which I had lost several years ago. I felt optimistic, almost joyful, without knowing why.
My hope is that the feeling won't fade away anytime soon.
Later that night, I saw storm clouds in the distance, in the North-North-East.
P.S. Found a cool new blog today.
Iceland at the Crossroads
"... But there is one thing that we can never lose while one man of this race, rich or poor, remains standing; and even in death this thing is never lost to us; that which is described in the old poem, and which we call fame: just so my father and mother are not, though they are dust, called ignoble thieves."
~Halldór Laxness, Iceland's Bell
In light of the collapse of Iceland's banking system it may be that the above quote, spoken by the heroine Snæfriður in defiance of the Danish authorities, describes the underlying dilemma faced today by the people and government of Iceland. It is irrefutable that vast quantities of money have been squandered and/or stolen from the Icelandic treasury, its people and thousands of foreign investors. It is probable that those responsible for this debacle have read the above quote from Laxness. Evidently they didn't take this plea to heart. This is the gist of it: pure greed, fed by lies, theft, and self delusion leading to utter destruction of the institution they had been entrusted to nurture. The only thing a person in political power need remember is that their primary mission is to serve the people they represent. When that covenant is broken there is no government; it is the end of representative democracy (a tradition that goes back over a thousand years in Iceland) and a return to barbarism. Perhaps they were all sick on the day ethics was covered in school?
I'm not here to beat up on the Icelandic politicians but their situation is, because of its limited scope, a good example to a larger world where the same type of malfeasance is occurring on such an enormous scale as to be nearly incomprehensible. It is much harder to hide on an island. I think the global finance crisis may have its roots with a shift in the perception of the roles of Finance and Commerce. Commerce is industry and trade, dealing with services and goods. Finance is a system which provides a framework within which commerce can operate. When Finance mutated into being a form of Commerce in its own right, with its own self-generated rules, any correspondence of worth tied to physical reality was destroyed. Lacking this grounding the system was corrupted, with the inevitable catastrophic results.
I feel compelled to steer readers to Alda's Iceland Weather Report for deeper coverage of the situation. Her coverage is not merely good blog writing, it's just good writing, period. Her latest interview sheds more light on the affair that anything else I've read on the topic. I wish that other media had half the depth of her reportage. The situation in Iceland is reaching a tipping point, within the next few months there will certainly be a sea-change in Iceland's governing structure. Which direction it will take remains to be seen. In most countries fascism is always the devil lurking behind the scenes in any crisis- although the lack of a significant Icelandic military may minimize that possibility. A constructive solution, on the other hand, will not only change the economic system, but even the culture of Iceland itself. Socialism and Capitalism have always been uneasy partners here. Halldór Laxness, in his novels Independent People and The Atom Station, addressed the evils of class and unchecked capitalism; it's nothing new, although the speed and the scale of the current disaster certainly is.
"Why Iceland?" That is the most common cliche heard when meeting tourists. I ask it of myself- why should I care about what happens in such a small and irrelevant country? It isn't just Iceland. How these problems are dealt with may set an example for many countries in the western world which will be facing similar problems in the upcoming months. Iceland is somewhat unique in that it has an intelligent, productive populace, and is used to successfully exporting its culture and strategic and economic opportunities to the entire world. It would be a great, great tragedy if this flowering were to be "nipped in the bud" by a failure to come to grips with self-governance, causing Iceland to slip back into some sort of dismal economic-political serfdom. It isn't "just Iceland", it is the whole world- waking from a frenzied dream.
When you look at me that way...
I know what will happen.
I will fall hopelessly in love with you.
You will make love to me.
I will marry you.
You will bear our children.
We will raise them.
You'll tire of me.
You'll coolly walk out of my life.
I am helpless to refuse.
All because of that look.
Bad Girls and Wild Women
Blame it all on the full moon.
This weekend was spent wallowing in pop culture, with a focus on the darker side of femininity. Two films, two books, with some unusual parallels and some striking contrasts between them.
First up: Black Snake Moan. This 2007 film is a morality play of sorts, with Christina Ricci and Samuel L. Jackson both seeking some sort of redemption. Set in the modern south, it would be a mistake to watch this as a "realistic" drama. Almost every scene is charged with symbolism and layered with centuries of meaning. Ricci's character, Rae, is a sexual addict with a bad family history. Jackson's Lazarus is a blues man turned farmer whose wife has just left him for his brother. They meet through fate and the rest of the film has them struggling with each other and the voids in their lives. Despite having Ricci's character clad only in underwear and a 40 pound chain for the middle third of the movie, this is a serious examination of race, gender and relational abuse. It ends with some hope of redemption for its characters, but no promises. The whole cast (even Justin Timberlake!) is excellent. The DVD has a feature about the making of the movie which really adds a lot to understanding some of the themes. A big surprise for me and well worth renting.
Next was In This Our Life, a 1942 melodrama starring Bette Davis and Olivia de Havilland. Set in Richmond Virginia, it was based on the Pulitzer-prize winning novel by Ellen Glasgow and was directed by John Huston. Davis' character Stanley Timberlake (how about that coincidence?) steals her sister Roy's fiance in her frenzied pursuit of attention. The implied incest with her rich uncle suggests the cause of the sexual hysteria present in Stanley's behavior. There is also a racial theme, quite progressive for its era, with a grim, moralistic outcome. This movie is quite "stagey", but Davis really tears into her role.
Turning from the screen to the page, I was thrilled to discover that Lise Erdrich (Louise Erdrich's sister) is also an exciting author in her own right. Night Train is a collection of 31 short (some very short) pieces of "flash fiction" full of wild imagery and uncensored expression. There is a strong undercurrent of American Indian experience. Perhaps best taken in small doses. Were this a blog I'd definitely link to it. Strong stuff, a real trip.
Finally, Last Rituals is a mystery novel by the Icelandic author and civil engineer Yrsa Sigurdardóttir. In it, Þora Gudmunsdóttir, a struggling lawyer and single mother in Reykjavík, is asked to assist a wealthy German family investigate the bizarre, ritualistic murder of their son. This book was a bit of a let-down for me, the writing, while competent, was a bit mundane, thin on psychology; the story's Icelandic backdrops were not very atmospheric. As a mystery there were a few too many quirky plot details resulting in a bit of a messy, improbable ending. It's worth a look- I thought it better than most mysteries I've read lately- but my perception may have been tainted by Arnaldur Indriðasson's superior Inspector Erlandur series.
With the news today comes an announcement from Macy's, the
national department store chain, that it is closing several of
its "under-performing" branches. Years ago I worked in one of
those stores- it was owned by the Dayton family then- where
I toiled in the sub-basement "Moving the Merch" for a
near-minimum wage. Christmas was hectic, with long hours,
Saturdays, and even a Sunday, until the rush was over. One year
management sprang for treats and a holiday party: cake and coffee.
It was mighty big of them (although we did have to punch out)
especially in that the party was held in our work area- so as
to make us feel right at home.
Why we didn't murder them all on that day I'll never know.
While blogging may be relatively new, other forms of short form writing are not. From Pepys to the present, literature has been big on the small, so to speak. Last weekend, while rummaging through the local antique stores, I found a volume of Robert Benchley's essays- After 1903- What? -illustrated by the Aubrey Beardsley-influenced Gluyas Williams.
Benchley, a member of the Algonquin Round Table, wrote short pieces for The New Yoker and other publications and also had a brief career in the movies. These articles portray a mild-mannered man, often bewildered and amused by the world around him. His two or three page ruminations would make for a perfect blog, especially when complemented by Gluyas' sublime drawings.
The older I get the more I realize that a man is a fool to think of himself in first person. With the world changing as it is, there are only second-person plurals.
I could go on looking at life like this forever, just a-sittin' and a-dreamin', with only an occasional attack of nausea.
Good Enough, Smart Enough, Doggone It...
Stuart Saves The Senate
So it's official, sort of. The recount for Minnesota's Senate seat is over, and Al Franken, writer, satirist and SNL alum has prevailed. His opponent, Norm Coleman, said after the November elections (when he held a small lead) "If I were trailing, I would step back." Well, now that he is he has vowed to fight the outcome in the courts- which will result in the denial for me and my fellow Minnesotans equal representation under the law during one of the most turbulent times in US history . Thanks Norm, as always, you have gone the extra mile looking out for my best interests.
And as for Mr. Franken, here is one bit of solid advice.
Two boys in a twenty gallon tub.
Planning their afternoon adventure.
Basking in the summer sun.
When were they ever so little?
The Weblog Awards
...or, THE BLOGGIES! Nominations are now open, you can nominate your favorite weblog in a variety of categories from now until next Monday. If you have a favorite that you'd like to see get some more exposure, check out their website for all the info (the site scrolls sideways.)
While we are on the topic of favorite blogs, Alda at The Iceland Weather Report has been exemplary in her coverage of the current situation in Iceland. Be sure to check her most excellent post about a protest last Saturday. In addition to her fine writing she has included a short video clip of an eight-year-old girl delivering a fiery speech.
You will not find that depth of coverage on the MSM.
Part of my "Icelandic Culture" Christmas gift this year was the 2002 film The Sea, or Hafið, as it was titled in its original Icelandic. A modern family saga, full of dysfunctional relationships, with quite a few laughs for such a bleak film. This is a film that you should be in the mood for, there is quite a lot of bitterness which threatens to turn horrific. The plot revolves around a fish business run by a patriarch who is out of sync with the times. He brings his family together in an attempt to force his will on them- he wants them to continue the fishery in the community, but he finds them all lacking. He is also writing his "memoirs" to set things straight, but all of the family knows only too well of his sordid past. The feelings of disgust are mutual and hilarity does not ensue.
The dynamics of fishing in Iceland is actually covered pretty well, as are xenophobia, small town mentality, and generational divisions. The acting and direction are all first-rate, but the story seems a bit forced. Director Baltasar Kormakúr has had better material. On a scale of one to four (Puffins?), I'd give it a two and a half.
New Year's Eve - 1979
A couples New Year's Eve in a farmhouse somewhere in western Wisconsin. 10 below zero outside, but we were toasty with our Franklin stove. Barb kept saying "It's the EIGHTIES, it's the EIGHTIES!"
At midnight the balloons on the ceiling fell down, all the couples kissed, and it was, indeed, the EIGHTIES.
We were all glad to see the seventies go.